"Elizabeth?" It wasn't really a question so much as a warning. John was back in the jumper bay, waiting for someone, anyone, to show. The bugs were right outside, so anyone coming through the door at this point wasn't an option. "Can you hear me?" There had been no response over the comm, and he was hoping, in the back of his mind, that they didn't suddenly change the plans on him and all leave. "Elizabeth, come in!"

"John?" The voice was faint, but there.

He released the breath he'd been holding. "Finally! What's our status?"

"Not good. Still have over thirty percent of the city to evacuate. Some aren't leaving."

"What?" He shook his head; there was no time for dueling heroics. "You heard from Radek?"

"No, I haven't."

"Shit. Rodney?"

"The same. John? Maybe you should . . ."

"No. Look, they'll be here, I'm not leaving yet." Not that he could. The scratching outside was growing louder, like running nails over a chalkboard. It wasn't long until he realized just what the sound was.

They were using their saw-like legs to cut through the door.

"Radek! Why the hell aren't you in the jumper bay?" Rodney gasped. He had slammed right into the smaller man, nearly dropping the generator on his foot.

Radek's eyes widened in shocked relief. "Rodney! Oh thank the heavens! I thought you were," he took in his friend's appearance, "my God, what happened to you?"

"Nothing. You ready?"

"I have to reconfigure the . . ."

"Yes, yes, yes, now let's go, shall we?"

"No! Not that way." Radek grabbed Rodney's arm and spun him. "This way. That way is infested."

"Whole bloody city is infested," Carson said, rounding the corner. "Look, I'm sure the entrance to the jumper bay is blocked by now. How are we getting in?"

Rodney's head snapped around as he thought. "This way." He launched down the hall awkwardly with the two men behind him. Four minutes and four flares later, they were in a transporter.

They materialized in the jumper bay.

John jerked his gun around, and paled with relief when he saw the men coming towards him. It was all he could do not to fall against the open hatch. "What took you so long?"

"Don't ask."

As glad as he was to see the three of them, it was Rodney's eye that he caught, and his stomach clenched at the sight. He backed aside and let them through, pointing to Lt. Bamber. "Get the jumper two prepped. We're going now!" He sealed the hatch behind them and jumped into the pilot's seat. "Elizabeth," he cued, "I have them. Heading out now!"

The voice was still faint, and fearful. "Good luck, John!"

A second clench. "Are you okay?"

"They're here . . ."

"Fuck!" He slammed his hand down on the console and looked up as the roof pin-holed, then spiraled open. "Buckle up people!" Bugs dropped onto the jumper as it rose, thudding against the hull. He couldn't help but think that he shouldn't be hearing that.

The ocean below them was black. Bugs crawled over each other like stepping stones, heading for the city. The horizon was blue, and it gave John hope. "Radek, now would be a good time to use this thing."

"We're good, go, go, go!"

John activated the scoop, and the waters were clear. He checked for Bamber, found the other jumper hovering to his left, and headed out.

The island was only twenty minutes by jumper. It wasn't far enough for his liking, but they were out of time.

He landed a bit more roughly than necessary, and waited for jumper two to land. Then they launched into action.

The back hatch opened. Radek began the process of disengaging the wraith scoop while John and Rodney set up the generator. Carson knelt beside them, listening to Rodney's nervous chatter, watching as he steadily regained his focus. There were small, ugly scratches on his face and neck where the bugs had clawed at him. His arms were a mess. It looked like they had tried getting inside his friend by any means necessary, they were becoming that desperate.

It didn't bode well for the people that remained on Atlantis.

Rodney was working furiously. His hands shook. The third time he dropped his tool, John placed his own hand over Rodney's, forcing him still, forcing him to take that breath that would steady him. Rodney did so, gave a small nod of thanks, and blinked at his work in deep concentration.

"Radek," he said in a voice that sounded more like Rodney should sound, "get your ass over here and hold this damn wire. There. Thank you." He clipped and pinned, and sat back. "Now. Throw the switch."

The switch was actually a tiny lever on the side, hand prepped by Rodney himself. It clicked on.

The mess of equipment inside the jumper began to light up and hum. Rodney, John and Radek bordered the odd-looking contraption and carried it outside as Carson directed them. They sat it forty feet away from the jumper. "How do we activate the shield?" Carson asked.

"Remote," Rodney said simply, and hurried to jumper two.

Radek pulled the scoop from their jumper and followed the men. John pulled him inside and yelled for Lt. Bamber to take off. Radek quickly attached the scoop to the jumper's power systems as the craft rose into the air, then looked at Rodney. They hovered a good hundred meters from the shore and two hundred in the air.

Radek took a deep breath. "Are we ready?"

"Do it," Rodney said. His voice was low, and his eyes still haunted.

"Activating the shield," John said. A pinkish bubble, much like bubblegum in fact, appeared over the island, stopping a good six meters from the ground on all sides.

Radek activated the scoop. A white beam fanned over the water, and the dark bugs materialized in the water, one hundred meters from the shore.

The bugs seemed confused, and stopped. For a moment, John almost felt sorry for them. They bumbled over each other, trying to find their safe place.

There was no time to hang around and see if the plan would work. Atlantis was overrun. They flew back quickly.

There were bugs in the water around the city, but not nearly as many. What was horrifying was the way they were crawling up the towers, hiding the majestic sprawl, covering the iridescence with greasy earthiness. The city was sinister, not magical.

John growled deep in his throat and started scooping every one of those bastards.

Elizabeth was beyond tears. She lay cowered beneath the console, sobbing, kicking at anyone that tried to help her. Several others were in a similar state, unable to believe the threat was gone, that after being completely covered by a nightmare they were set free. The personnel that had been guiding the people through the gate had returned to a gruesome sight and retreated as ordered, shutting the gate down behind them. But unable to sit still and let the city be taken over, they had redialed, were relieved to find they could get through, and prepared to launch a final stand. They had appeared in the gate room to see the white scooping beam, and to hear the terrified cries of the people who had been preparing to die.

Dr. Lind was at Elizabeth's side, trying to cajole her from underneath the counter. It took some time for her to realize the threat was over. With a tear-streaked face, she climbed out, shakily looking at those around her, trying to regain her composure. She settled for leaning on Dr. Lind's shoulder, and started giving orders to scan the city, to contact Colonel Sheppard, and to assess the damages. It was in a small voice, but it was said, and carried out immediately.

"I'll be damned." Radek rose from his seat and leaned over John's shoulder. "It worked."

The island was crawling. The atmosphere inside the bubble was hazy with heat and moisture, and the bugs were scurrying on land as fast as their multiple legs would allow.

"Setting free the second batch," John said in reply, and nodded to Radek. He released the scoop, and more bugs materialized in the water, and instantly started for the island.

"Is that all of them?" Carson asked.

"I hope so."

They watched as the waters lightened below them. "What about the bodies." It was a flat question, asked by Rodney, as though he really didn't want to know the answer.

John considered tact, and went for brutal honesty. "Probably should incinerate them."

"Right." Rodney's face fell, and he walked back to his seat and slumped.

Below them, the process they had inadvertently interrupted, continued.

Epilogue

The nightmares persisted for many of the people of Atlantis. Dr. Kate Heightmeyer had her hands full, as did Teyla, who had managed to avoid most of the carnage when she retreated to the mainland to prepare her people, should the threat arrive on shore. Ronon had suffered enough horrors to fill a lifetime, and this incident was but another subject to keep him awake. Carson dreamed of bodies screaming for him, none of which saw him or even knew he was there.

Elizabeth dreamed of an invisible enemy that she couldn't communicate with. Until she found that the only way they could communicate with her was to enter through her eyes, and mouth, and anus . . .

Every night, John watched his friends disintegrate before his eyes. Carson, Radek, Teyla, Ronon, and Elizabeth, all with him doing nothing more than standing there, watching, firing bullets that popped like fireworks overhead and decorated the carnage at his feet. Rodney's imaginary demise was the hardest to stomach, because looking at his friend's healing wounds during waking hours just brought the dream to life. He wasn't sure which hurt more, that Rodney had such a close call, or that it had to be Carson who saved him.

For Rodney, it was more than being eaten. Upon their return, he had holed himself up in his room and wrapped himself tightly in blankets. He knew John was outside his door, but he didn't respond. He dreamed of total blackness that was so absolute it consumed him in a way that the bugs never could. There was no such thing as light. No hand to reach down and help him out of the abyss.

Over the next few months, the nightmares eased as the scientists managed to track the migratory patterns of the whales, and "introduce" them to a more distant island, one that would serve as a final resting place for the gentle creatures, and one that the bugs could find and use to keep life going, while avoiding the life that already thrived.

Or tried to.