Chapter fifteen: End Game
Rodney heard the distant tremor, as the lights pulsed around him, on and off, finishing their desperate SOS. His head snapped up. "What was that?"
There was nobody near him except for the new scientist – what was his name? The gossip. The one who'd overheard their fight so long ago. The one who'd talked. The one who'd told everyone that he…
No. No. It didn't matter. It didn't matter at all. "Find out what happened," he ordered. The scientist seemed to hesitate. "Go!" Rodney commanded.
"I want to help…"
"Then help!" Rodney stopped, raking his hand across his face. Too late now. It couldn't have been another bomb because the Ronon had gone after the traitor. And that meant… That meant that it was too late already. Carrick was already here. Too late to get the sensors back online. Too late to raise the shields. Too late for everything but fighting. He had failed.
"But I don't…"
But if it was too late, then the ship was here, and Sheppard was home. That meant… "Sheppard went undercover," he blurted out. "Everything else was an act. Someone was passing information on to the enemy. He's here now – Sheppard, I mean. The traitor… Ronon took him. I never hated Sheppard. It was under orders all the time." And still the scientist hesitated. "Go!" Rodney snapped at him. "Go!"
This time it was Rodney himself who called him back, just as he was on the point of leaving. "Tell people," he said, because it might not matter, but perhaps it might matter more than anything else. "Tell them what I said. Sheppard's one of the good guys. And tell them… Tell them to focus on getting radio communication back. It's too late for anything else now."
The scientist nodded once, then left, but it didn't change anything. Rodney had failed, and everything was unravelling all around him, and Atlantis was still blind. They'd die knowing the truth, but they'd still die.
But still he kept on working.
Sheppard heard Manning cry out. The pain was still slow in coming, but he could feel the slow flow of blood on his chest and at his back. "Don't," he managed to say, but Manning was already up, standing in front of him, quivering in anger. "Manning," he hissed. "Don't."
But Carrick had eyes only for Sheppard. He stood there, Sheppard's own pistol in his right hand, cold-eyed with victory and contempt. "I knew all along, of course."
Maybe it was the flow of blood. Sheppard just nodded, inclining his head slowly.
"But you gave me what I needed," Carrick said, "and I stayed one step ahead all the time. Atlantis is crippled and defenceless and ripe for the taking."
"Yet here you are, talking to me. Guys like you can never resist gloating." It was stupid, of course, but if you couldn't be stupid when you were dying, when could you be? Nothing ever seemed quite real at moments like that, but there were parts of it – the eyes of your enemy; his finger on the trigger; your city spread out before you – that seemed like the most real thing you had ever experienced.
"Not any more." The finger tightened.
"No!" Manning threw his body in front of Sheppard's. "Don't–"
"Sergeant!" It was a snap of command; it was a cry torn from the soul. Sheppard threw himself at Manning, twisted his body around…
And when the pistol fired again and then again, he had no idea at first which of them had been hit, but he saw the blood pooling on the floor, and then he was striking it, blood against his cheek.
He saw everything in strange and lurching movements. He saw Carrick's feet walking away. He saw a door close. Far away, echoing, he heard the sound of many boots. Then even that was fading.
Ronon saw the drone strike the tower above the west pier. He gave a fierce grin."He's here."
He tried his radio. Still dead. Lorne was on the far side. Teyla was crouching low. Other men still came up in ones and twos, reporting for duty, strapping on weapons, receiving orders whispered face to face. Once they went away, though, and took up their places in hidden corners out of sight, there was no way to keep in touch except by physical signals. Ronon didn't like it. Take away their technological advantage, and he feared these people would fall apart and fight like children.
He would still fight on their side, though.
"Stop." He felt Teyla's hand on his arm, and realised that he had been edging forward. He hated this inactivity! He had set traps in his time, and had waited, patient and unmoving, for hours, but there was a difference between being able to do something when you had to, and actually liking it.
"Wait," Lorne had said. "We want them all before we spring the trap. We want them to think they're getting in unopposed."
Unstated, behind it was all, was the desire to see Sheppard alive before they let the enemy know that they had been betrayed.
And there was nothing yet. Still nothing. And so Ronon crouched and waited, and although it was almost unbearable, it was better than the sort of waiting they had been doing for days.
Soon they would come, and then it would end.
Someone had knocked on Chris' door, ordering him to arm himself and report for duty down near the North Pier. It made no sense. Everyone was running around like headless chickens… No, actually, it seemed quite organised, really, though that was probably only a front.
He had no idea what was happening. Some attack, or something like that. A scientist guy had set bombs in various control rooms; he knew that much. That was why there was no radio communication. Why people went from that to expecting an attack, he had no idea.
No-one else seemed to be questioning. They were in their positions, staring intently at the place where they expected the enemy to come. Lorne and the other officers had issued orders, and they had all jumped.
For the briefest of moments, Chris had considered refusing, but his training was too strong. Whatever you thought privately of an order, you obeyed it. He wanted to leave Atlantis, but he didn't want a black mark on his record. So he'd do what he had to, but in private he'd laugh at these pathetic idiots who ran such a rotten base that one of their own could sabotage their communications and leave them running blind on a fool's errand.
Sheppard had been in charge for far too long. The rot had spread through them all.
"Sir." The voice brought him back from the place where he had gone. One of mine. Got to… "Colonel Sheppard. Colonel. Sir."
He opened his eyes. "You hurt?"
Sheppard swallowed. No blood yet in the back of his throat. "No lying to… to your commanding… officer, sergeant."
He felt someone touch him. The hands felt far away, beyond the pain. "You saved my life."
That part was jumbled. "I think… you saved… mine, too."
Had to sit up, though. Had to carry on. Atlantis was… And Carrick… He'd brought them here. His plan. His responsibility. He tried to sit up, but the hand held him back; tried again, and pain ripped across his body. One bullet straight through his shoulder; he had known that already, before the pain. The deepest, grating pain was in his side. He didn't know. He didn't know if he could…
"What did Carrick mean, sir?"
He blinked and managed to bring Manning's face into focus, swaying in and out. No time, he thought. Got to… And he tried again to sit up, forcing past Manning's restraining hand. No time, but Manning had believed… Manning had thought… Manning had been… "Was undercover the whole time," he managed to say. "This was the plan. Guess it… it went south."
"So you didn't…" There was relief there, but something more.
"No." But this time there really was no time. "Can't talk now. Got to…" He managed a smile. It was that or screaming, when he managed to stand up. "Got to fix this mess. Got to save Atlantis."
Rodney made the last connection. The life-signs detector appeared on the big screen. He saw people in the Control Room, clustered around the controls. Three dots in the communications suite. Four around the shield generator. Two in the Chair Room. God, were they going to use drones? Blow up the ship – but Sheppard was on it! and surely it was too late, anyway, because it must have already landed. The enemy was already in Atlantis…
Dots, he thought. Dots that weren't friendly dots. Everyone on Atlantis was now fitted with a transponder, and the life signs detector had been calibrated to know them. Look for the enemy dots. Enemy dots moving towards him, hunting him down, preparing to drag him from his lab…
No. No. None of those. Look near the west pier; that was where Sheppard was supposed to land, though only if the plan was already shot to pieces and they were moving on to the last hope that was Plan B. No friendly dots at all out on the pier. So that meant that Sheppard was… No. Still on the ship. Perhaps the ship was shielded. Not dead. It didn't mean that he was dead.
But the unfriendly dots… "Oh crap," he said aloud, because there were lots of them, there were so many of them. "He's supposed to be a petty gang leader, for crying out loud", not someone with fifty dots on his side, no, more like a hundred. They were spilling out, flooding across the west pier, heading towards the place where the friendly dots were in place, waiting, but not enough of them, surely not enough.
He looked elsewhere. "What are they doing?" he cried. "Sleeping?" Because there were still a few dots in the mess-hall, and still several dots in private quarters, and in one place there were two, almost on top of each other. "Having sex while Atlantis burns!" he cried. "And you–" He jabbed at a stationary dot. "Wake up! Get your weapons on. Go join the fight. Save us."
Back to the pier. The dots were almost engaged. The friendly ones at the front were entirely still, while the ones at the back darted around, seeking better positions. Which one was Teyla, he wondered. Which one was Ronon? And none of it made a blind bit of difference. He knew where the enemy was, but he had no way of passing that knowledge on to the people who needed it. Some of them had hand-held detectors, of course, which would help, but the range wasn't as good, and if those with the detectors couldn't communicate with those without...
He clenched his hand, fingers digging into his palm. "Transporters! We need to disable the transporters." They had all the friendly dots they were likely to have. If the unfriendly dots reached the transporters, they could go anywhere in an instant. "Like here," he said, "and… and… and places where Radek and the others are working. Important work. They… they can't defend themselves like I can." If the transporters were disabled, it would be hand to hand fighting in the hallways, but doors could be barricaded and the enemy could be contained.
"Transporters!" he shouted. He jabbed at the screen, at that little cluster of dots in the Control Room. "Disable the transporters! Sam! Get those transporters offline."
But there was nothing he could do to make himself heard, but back near the west pier, unfriendly dots started winking out, which was something, at least.
"What can we do?" Manning spoke from behind him.
Sheppard steadied himself with a hand on the back of the chair, smearing blood there. "We could fly away," he said. "Steal their ride, but that doesn't help. Fire drones, but that will… that will hurt our guys…" His vision greyed for a moment. "Go out there…"
And that was what he burned to do. To fight the same battle that his men were fighting. To find his team. To fire a gun. To kill Carrick. To do something. He had been away from them for too long – much further away than they had ever known. Lost. Living a lie. Just to stand out there and fight, fully himself again…
"Where we'd die," he said, because sometimes that was the hardest lesson to learn – that sometimes you had to stand back, and couldn't fight. Two unarmed wounded men out on that pier could do nothing. Two men inside…
He dragged himself over to the controls, where the Genii scientist had sat. "Sometimes," he said to Manning, "you have to be able to know when you're beat. You have to know when…" He coughed, and almost passed out, his hand splaying on the controls.
"Lie down, sir."
"No." He dragged his head up again. They had no bandages present, and their clothes were filthy. Perhaps he only had minutes, but he would ensure that those minutes were full.
The enemy fanned out. They were clearly intending to split up into pairs, and spread themselves through Atlantis to wage warfare by stealth. It was what Ronon had expected. From now on, without radios, it was every man for himself.
He met Lorne's eye from where he was hiding, announcing his intention without waiting for consent. Then Ronon started hunting.
Jessica was working on the shield. It felt better to have something practical to do with her hands. She wasn't in charge, just doing what she was told. It was better than talking. It was better than dealing with… all that.
They talked around her, though. No-one really knew what was happening. Ewan Cameron – she'd seen him around, but not really talked to him – had planted bombs. Someone was coming to attack them, but no-one really knew who. No-one knew why.
"Colonel Carter and Doctor McKay'll fix the communications," she heard someone say. "I saw Major Lorne gathering a team."
Silence for a while. Then somebody said it. "I'd feel happier if it was Colonel Sheppard."
Teyla had said that Jessica had nothing to feel bad about, and then there had been that announcement… But Jessica couldn't help but think that she had helped fatally weaken Atlantis, and now they were under attack, and they couldn't defend properly because they were already broken. The scientists had less faith in the military than they had had when Colonel Sheppard was in command. The unimpeachable was tarnished. The invincible was broken.
No, she thought, as she focused on her work. Perhaps not broken. People were afraid, but they were doing what they had to. They were pulling together. And slowly, beneath their hands, broken things were being repaired. That's what they did.
If Manning hadn't been there, perhaps Sheppard would have let himself slip into the darkness completely.
He had tried to hail Atlantis. There was no response. He had tried…
No. Just to stay awake. To stay conscious.
"Calling the cavalry," he told Manning. He wasn't entirely sure that he was making much sense.
"Transmitter," he said. "Inside me. Too weak… That's the thing… with the Daedalus. Asgard are great guys, but they're not… Ancients. This small transmitter…" He waved his hand vaguely over his body. "Too weak for the Daedalus to pick up that far away. So Atlantis had to relay it on, and if they couldn't…"
He had no idea what had gone wrong, but it had to be the traitor's doing somehow. He hoped it was just communications that were hit. Maybe they were all dead. But, no, somebody had done that thing with the lights. Rodney all alone in his lab, bodies piled around him… No. He cracked a smile. Thinking like Rodney now. I'm supposed to be the positive one.
His own blood pooling beneath him. Manning hurt worse than he was letting on, and broken inside even worse than that. My responsibility. My plan.
"But I know… the frequency," he managed to say. "Ancient ship. Ancient transmitter. United States Air Force SOS." Another smile. "Know when you're beat. Know when to call for help."
But it would take time, of course, if it happened at all. So many other things that could happened to delay the Daedalus. So many things that could happen before it came. "Can't stop yet," he told Manning. "Got to do more."
He trailed off. Sheppard knew what he had been going to say, though. He pressed his lips together, and managed to stand.
Ronon killed two, and then he killed three. Gunfire stuttered, mixed with the sound of stunners, and any element of surprise was over. It was hand-to-hand battle now, and the Atlanteans knew the terrain, so the enemy shouldn't have had a chance. But the Atlanteans were deaf, and the enemy was communicating with radios of their own.
He paused just for a moment. "Teyla," he hissed. "Cover me."
Rodney ran to the transporter, and hammered on the door. Nothing happened. "Sam!" he cried. "Bless you!"
Then he hammered again, and kicked it, hard enough to hurt. He was stuck, too.
Teyla cut one down, then dodged behind the corner as a stun beam smashed into the wall where she had been. Another shot, and a piece of debris grazed her arm. She heard the sound of Ronon's weapon, but then she heard the sound of gunfire behind her, higher up, and deeper into Atlantis than the enemy should have been able get. They were creeping through the line already. She fired another burst.
Ronon was back at her side. "Got one of their radios," he said. He tossed it at her. "Find out what they're planning."
She took it, but she nodded in the direction where she had heard the fighting. "I fear it is not going to plan," was all she said.
They were blind and deaf. She had fought like this for years, living without the technology that the people of Earth took for granted, but perhaps she had grown soft. It felt fragile to be without it. It felt as if they had already half lost.
Friendly dots were going still. Rodney saw an unfriendly one break through, and then another, and then another. He saw them move to places where there were no friendly dots to stop them.
"There!" he shouted. "There! You idiots! You morons! Stop them!"
And he couldn't go anywhere, because although he was toned now, and he worked out – because you had to count running for life with your team as working out, didn't you – the city was huge, and with the transporters out, there was no way he could get anywhere useful. All those stairs, with enemies stalking him on them…
He let out a breath. Radek was working on the radio communications. "If only I'd gone myself. Zelenka's such an idiot."
Another moment. He looked at the unfriendly dots on the screen – fewer than there had been a few minutes before, he was sure of it.
"No. No. Zelenka's good. He'll fix it."
No-one came back. He was entirely by himself.
"We're through," Teyla heard on the enemy's radio.
"Stay hidden for now," another voice said. "Let them think–" It broke off.
Teyla was breathing hard from the fight. She forced herself to stop breathing; forced herself to stop moving.
"You can hear me, can't you?" the voice said. "It is an obvious trick. Is this the valiant Major Lorne, filling a dead man's shoes? Or the lovely Teyla Emmagen, or Ronon Dex, or one of the good little soldiers?"
"Carrick." She heard Ronon breathe it.
"Your Colonel Sheppard brought me here," Carrick said, "and then I killed him."
The radio went dead.
"Carrick!" Ronon roared. "Carrick!"
Teyla grabbed him, clapped a hand to his mouth. "Be quiet!" she hissed, but she wanted to scream it, too. Dead. John was dead. But there was no time for grieving. There was no time…! If anyone else had heard that… "What have we done?" she said aloud, but the tears had to wait, and so did the grieving.
Chris dropped the radio he had snatched from one of the dead enemies. Colonel Sheppard… Colonel Sheppard had…
"I knew it," he muttered, as rage filled him, mixing with the adrenaline of the fight. Blood stained his clothes. He had fought in earnest for the first time in months, and there was no commanding officer to tell him what to do, and that felt scary, a little, but good, too, because with the quality of the officers round here…
Colonel Sheppard brought me here.
Not the poor victim, then. Not the poor hero who cracked under pressure and ran away like a wounded animal. A traitor. A traitor to his precious Atlantis, which still adored him. Chris had been ostracised for saying a word against him, and now Chris as the only one who knew just how fallen he was.
He'd show them. He'd show them Colonel Sheppard's body, caught red-handed in the middle of the enemy base. He'd capture the enemy ship, too. Two birds with one stone. Show them what they were spurning when they ostracised him, and expose the lies of their false god.
But he had to start walking in the end. "Rodney?" he heard.
He had jabbed at his radio and begun to answer before he realised. The radios were back! Radek must have…
It was Sam. "I could have fixed them quicker," he found himself saying.
"Everything's back except the shield and the long-range sensors."
"Yes, yes," he said, because he was all alone, and the city was huge, and what on earth was he supposed to do about it?
"No," Sam said. "Wait a minute. Someone's hailing…"
He tried one last time. "Atlantis. Do you read?"
"Yep. In the flesh."
He was clinging to consciousness with his fingernails. The response made it harder, rather than easier. He was no longer on his own. Time to sleep.
"Are you…" He stifled a cough, his fingers digging into the edge of the console. "Is everyone…?"
"We're fine." It was Colonel Carter, he realised. "Are you–?"
"Fine." He curled his fingers tighter. "Listen. The Daedalus…"
"We couldn't get the message though, I'm afraid. It's hand to hand, but Major Lorne reports that they're holding their own. We got communications back just in time, and the enemy doesn't have much fire power, and are mostly armed with stunners."
Which meant nothing at all. He wanted to be out there with them. There was no reason to stay. The Control Room could deal with the Daedalus when – if – it arrived. If he stayed here where Carrick had left him for dead… Guess I'm just a stubborn son-of-a-bitch, he thought. "I'm going out there," he said.
A large explosion rocked the corridor just ahead of them. Someone swore over the radio.
"They have explosives," Teyla said. Her face was a grim mask, set solid with grief.
Lorne issued orders, but Ronon thought they came too late. The forces were scattered. The enemy had gone to ground. He'd killed at least six, but it was too late for them to assemble any clear picture of how many had gone in.
"I can't…!" someone gasped over the radio. "Damn. I saw him. I couldn't stop him. He got past."
When he had first come to Atlantis, Ronon had studied it to work out how he would take it. It was too much of a maze. A single man could wreak havoc if he managed to get into a good hiding place. I know, Sheppard had said with a grim smile, when Ronon had passed on his assessment. It had been several months before Ronon had discovered the story behind that. This was not just a single man, but many. They had weapons and explosives. The defence was scattered. Radio communication was back, but it only told them only how scattered they were, and it was too much to hope that the enemy wasn't eavesdropping on their communications, as they had done with the enemy's.
Another explosion sounded above them. Over the radio, there were screams. Ronon felt fury rush in to fill the hollows of his heart. With a roar, he raced forward.
Sheppard dragged himself to the door, then out into the corridor. Manning walked beside him, his face flushed, blood leaking from his arm. "What a pair we make, huh?" Sheppard said quietly.
A few more steps. He had no weapons. Perhaps it was just foolish romanticism. To die on Atlantis, beneath its silver towers… No-one's going to die, he tried to tell himself, but it was hard to believe that. To die trying to fight, not just sitting where he had been put, waiting for the cavalry… He had always been stubborn. He had always been obstinate. And that's what got you your black mark, John, and banished to Antarctica. Another step. And that's what brought you here.
"Sir." Manning saw it first. Sheppard's vision was beginning to dissolve into patches of grey.
He blinked them away as best he could, and cursed under his breath.
Carrick had not left the ship unguarded.
His lungs were screaming for air by the time he reached the communications suite. "Doctor McKay," the gasped, when they saw him. "We're almost–"
"And now I'm here." He leant with one hand against the wall, struggling for breath. The place was a blackened mess, and several of the scientists had bleeding fingers.
He staggered forward; pushed them to one side. And so it was that a few minutes later, he was the first to see what lay in the sky above them.
"Carrick!" Ronon screamed over the stolen radio. "Carrick! Come out and face me!"
Teyla tried to hold him back, but he pulled himself away from her. He stood in the open, because even now he trusted Teyla enough to cover him. Whirling round, he shot at a man who tried to take aim. He spun behind, and killed another. "Carrick!"
More explosions. He wondered who was dying. But Sheppard was already dead. Dead at the hands of Carrick. All of this, all of this, at the hands of Carrick.
"Hand to hand," he snarled into the radio. "Man to man. Just us. Finish this."
No-one came. But the bullet that struck him made him falter, and the next one drove him to his knees.
He heard Teyla screaming his name, then heard her suddenly cut short. Blood dripped from his leg. His head sagged, but still he shouted his enemy's name.
The sounds of battle grew further away. The radio had come back on, but Chris had torn his headset off, and refused to listen. He was working alone. They had forced him to do this. It was their fault, and they couldn't expect obedience, not after all this. Lorne was probably in on it with Sheppard, anyway.
There was little cover on the pier, but he used what he could, clinging to shadows. The ship was there, resting near the sea, with at least a dozen of the enemy lying fallen near its hatch. Chris took his time, took aim, and killed the guard nearest the entrance. He saw movement at the door, and shot again; missed, and tried again. Another enemy guard fell to the ground.
And then there was someone else, and Chris held his fire just in time. Not dead after all. No, of course he wasn't dead. He was in league with the enemy, so of course the enemy wouldn't have killed him. They were laughing at them – laughing. Colonel Sheppard was the enemy, and it was Chris' duty to kill him. Hadn't Colonel Sheppard himself had killed his commanding officer on his first active mission on Atlantis? But he'd do this face to face. He wanted them man to know who had killed him. This was justice, not murder.
He began to move forward, his P90 ready in his hand.
"Take this." Sheppard stripped the second fallen man of his gun, and passed it to Manning. The first one was already gripped in his right hand.
Standing up, though, was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do.
He watched the Marine walking towards him. "Thanks for that," he managed to say.
He thought of how Manning had reacted. But now Manning was clinging to him, holding him up. "I know this looks bad…" He had been gone for days, and was now emerging from the enemy ship. Lorne knew the truth, but perhaps Lorne hadn't had chance to tell everyone. He went for the snap of command, because it was simpler than finding words. "Report."
The Marine – Hudson, he realised, who had been chosen to overhear his fight with Ronon and Teyla – had his gun pointed at Sheppard's head.
Manning reacted, raising his own weapon warningly. "It isn't what it seems."
"Of course you'd believe him," Hudson spat, but his eyes never left Sheppard's. "Colonel Sheppard, I–"
But Sheppard was no longer listening. He saw something else behind Hudson. "Carrick!" he gasped.
He heard two gunshots go off simultaneously. He tried to move, but his feet wouldn't co-operate. He stumbled, then fell, then struck the ground on hands and knees, then rolled onto his side, onto his back, where he could see the silver towers of his home, pale against the blue.
end of chapter fifteen
On to chapter sixteen
Note: I'm going to post the last two chapters tomorrow, since it suits me better this way than posting the final one on Wednesday. Chapter 16 will be posted in the morning (somewhere between 7 and 8.30 UK time) and the final chapter some time after I get home from work. However, to avoid spamming the community, I will only post the links on the Sheppard h/c community when both chapters are out. Anyone who particularly wants to read chapter 16 early will need to visit my journal direct, or get it from ff.net.
On to chapter sixteen