It's funny how things change. This started out as an attempt to do a simple, light "Christmas on the Daedalus" story. At some point it turned into a story about the Daedalus crashing on an ice world and pretty much everybody getting whumped. Er ... oops.
This is another long one, similar in length to "That Which is Broken". I'm about half done at this point -- so look for updates coming quickly at first, with longer gaps between them towards the end. After finishing up the mega-epic that was "Running on Empty", I needed to follow up with a story in which everyone had a role to play ... so this is that story. Although obviously Rodney and Sheppard have bigger roles than everybody else. I just can't help myself.
Thank you so much to the people who have reviewed my stories. Even if I didn't answer you individually, I am incredibly flattered by your kindness and cannot thank you enough.
Title: The Killing Frost
Characters: Pretty much everybody. McKay, Sheppard and (surprise!) Caldwell get the biggest roles.
Rating: Gen; T for language and violence
Season/spoilers/warnings: Kind of open-ended. You can fit this into continuity wherever you like. They have the Daedalus but not the Orion; otherwise, it doesn't really matter and will probably be superceded by canon at some point anyway. It takes place sometime after "The Long Goodbye" and all of Season 2 is up for grabs as far as spoilers. The only Season 3 spoiler is a very, very mild one for "McKay and Mrs. Miller" in a flashback to Rodney's childhood.
Disclaimer: Atlantis and all its characters do not belong to me. I only play with them and I make no profit from this.
Summary: When a scientific mission goes wrong, the Daedalus crashes on an ice planet along with most of Atlantis's scientists and a ruthless saboteur. Can rescue come before injuries and the elements take their toll?
The Killing Frost
Impact plus 0 hours, 4 minutes
He woke to darkness, broken by the fizzling sound and leaping blue sparks of torn electrical wires. Somewhere, something was burning -- he choked on the smoke, but couldn't see flames. There were people around him in the dark; he could hear moans, cries, soft voices in a hush of panic.
For a minute he didn't know where he was or how he got here. He thought maybe a bomb had gone off. He'd been in the Middle East, been in Bosnia. This was very like the aftermath of an IED. Then he began to remember, and a shudder went through him, leaving him wrung out and aching. He couldn't believe any of them were still alive.
After a moment's panic when he found he couldn't move his legs, he realized that something heavy was on top of him, pinning him down. Further investigation proved that the heavy thing was one of his people; he touched a jacket-clad arm, but couldn't tell who it was, or even if he or she was alive.
Sitting up, he caught the unknown person's head under his hand and felt a military buzz cut. He thought it might be Sgt. Barrett; the young technician's station was near his own. Touching the throat, he felt a strong pulse and breathed out slowly in relief, lowering the young man gently to the floor and sliding his legs free.
When he tried to stand, a wave of dizziness made him clutch for a hard object which proved to be the edge of his command chair. He used it to lever himself upright, and discovered that at least part of his disorientation was due to the Daedalus's deck listing about fifteen degrees towards the back of the ship. Wherever they were, they hadn't fetched up level.
He still couldn't believe they were alive -- he remembered too vividly how the planet's surface had swooped towards them in the viewscreen, in an instant leaping from a small bright ball to a blue and white quilt of clouds filling the screens; remembered Barrett screaming that they were going much too fast, Hermiod's calm voice over the ship's intercom saying that he was going to try to dump inertia in the ship's atmosphere; remembered turning to look at Weir -- she'd been on the bridge, standing behind his chair -- and seeing the planet's swirling surface reflected in her wide, frightened eyes. And then it was all gone in a jumble of noise and violent motion. He couldn't put the pieces together. He touched his forehead and brought his hand away wet. Concussion, maybe.
But he could stand, and right now, he needed to figure out how bad their situation was. "I need a report," he said loudly, pitching his voice above the soft moans and frightened whispers. "And if anyone has a flashlight, let's get a look around."
"Colonel Caldwell, thank God, sir." He recognized the fervent voice as belonging to Major Perry, his executive officer. A moment later, several flashlights snapped on throughout the room, illuminating a haze of smoke hanging in the air. The bridge did, indeed, look as if a bomb had gone off. Various members of the crew were picking themselves up or leaning on each other as they struggled out from under the debris. Someone was crying softly; he heard another voice, trying to soothe, and heard the weeping person say, "I think my leg's gone."
"Power's totally out, sir," Perry reported from one of the consoles.
Caldwell's radio crackled. "Bridge, this is Engineering. Is anyone alive up there?" It sounded like Novak, although her voice was harsh and rasping, and she broke off in a coughing fit.
"This is Caldwell. We're still getting things sorted out up here. How is it on your end?"
There was a hesitation. "Not so good, sir," Novak said. "We've got fires down here -- we're trying to get them out, but we have no power at all, no lights, and we're having trouble finding the fire extinguishers. Everything's turned upside down."
In the background, Caldwell could hear rapid, raised voices, including the unmistakable, strident tones of Dr. McKay -- complaining about someone's ineptitude, from the sound of things. Obviously he hadn't been injured in the crash, at least not too badly. "Casualties?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. Lots of injuries, at least two dead, I think." In the background, Caldwell heard McKay say, "Where has that lazy Czech gotten off to --" and then breaking off, in a voice of pure horror, "Oh shit, Radek!"
"We could use some medical help down here, sir," Novak added. "I have to go --"
"I'll try to raise the sickbay, and also see if I can get someone down there to help you with the fires."
"Thank you, sir." Novak signed off, but not before Caldwell heard McKay speaking again in the background, in a low, broken-sounding voice, and he realized that he didn't want to know if the soft-spoken Czech scientist was one of the two dead people Novak had mentioned.
It should have been so simple. Just a short hop through the Pegasus Galaxy, escorting some of the physicists to take readings from a couple of nebulas in the hopes of finding a new way to track Wraith ships in hyperspace. McKay had a theory about energy trails in interstellar dust clouds -- Caldwell didn't understand it, hadn't really paid attention to the explanation, but the important thing was that they might have a new weapon to use in the war, and he'd readily agreed when Elizabeth had asked for his help. And when Elizabeth herself wanted to come along ... well, what was one more civilian added to the bunch? It was a 12-hour round trip, they'd hardly be gone long enough for her seat to get cold back in Atlantis, and if Elizabeth Weir wanted to see a nebula up close with her own eyes, why not.
He remembered the look of her eyes in the light from the screens as they dove into the planet's gravity well ... remembered the calm terror on her face. Wondered how many civilians they'd lost on this "simple" trip, how many of his people they'd lost.
"Sickbay, this is Caldwell. Report."
"Ling here," came the brisk voice of his CMO. "Good to hear your voice, sir. We're ... pretty shaken up down here. From the look of things, I think we're going to be very busy for a while." She paused, then asked, "What happened?"
"Don't know yet." All he knew was that one minute they'd been in hyperspace, the next they'd dropped out and were about to smack into a planet. "We've got casualties up here and in Engineering. Let me know when you're kitted up and ready to go."
"Yes sir. Ling out."
"Colonel?" Perry was kneeling in the mess of debris behind Caldwell's chair; it looked as if part of the ceiling had collapsed. "I've found Dr. Weir, sir."
That didn't sound good. "Is she alive?"
There was a brief, ominous pause. "I don't know, sir."
Impact plus 0 hours, 5 minutes
"Colonel Sheppard, we've lost contact with the Daedalus."
In Elizabeth's office, Sheppard raised his head from the card house he'd been meticulously constructing with the piles of paperwork on her desk. His original idea had been that he'd surprise Elizabeth with his energy and efficiency -- prove that he wasn't just a place-filler, holding her spot until she got back, but actually capable of doing her job, and maybe doing it even better than she could. That was before he found out just how stultifyingly boring Elizabeth's job actually was.
"What do you mean, you've lost contact?"
"Just that, sir," said the Canadian tech, Grodin's replacement, whose name Sheppard still couldn't remember. "We were receiving a transmission from the ship when it all suddenly went dead. We didn't get a distress call. It's just -- gone."
Sheppard swept a hand through his fragile construction and watched it flutter down as he rose from the desk, trying to think like Elizabeth and to damp down the part of his brain that wanted to immediately charge to the rescue. "What could cause that?"
The tech hesitated. "Well, a lot of things could cause interference -- but just cutting out like that? I'm not sure, sir. Something must have happened to their communication array. There were no problems at all beforehand. They were in hyperspace and had called in to send us some of their data from the nebula cloud, when we quit receiving from them."
"Hang on, I'm coming down there." As he trotted down to the gateroom, Sheppard asked, "Could something in the nebula have done it?"
"I don't think so, sir. They were well out of it."
"Are they near enough that we can pick them up on our long-range scanners?"
"No, sir. Not at all."
"Could they have been attacked?" He didn't want to think of it ... but damn, a Wraith hiveship could have dropped out of hyperspace right on top of them.
"I have no way to know, sir. We just have nothing to work with. I'm trying to get them back, but ..."
The gateroom was in what Sheppard recognized as its quiet emergency mode -- no panicking and there was no immediate threat, but everyone was moving with a sense of purpose and urgency. Feeling useless, Sheppard stared up at the hanging computer screens that he couldn't decipher, and tried not to listen to the tiny voice in the back of his head chanting Elizabeth and Rodney are on that ship.
He needed to do something, needed to help somehow. He'd run search-and-rescue operations before, in Afghanistan and elsewhere on Earth, even for Rodney after his puddlejumper crashed into Atlantis's sea ... but never in space. He felt desperately out of his depth, didn't even know where to begin. What would Elizabeth do? She'd probably be coordinating things, calling people, getting experts down here. Experts ... scientists ... Sheppard tapped his radio. "Science department, this is Colonel Sheppard. I need to talk to ... er, whoever's in charge down there." Embarrassingly, he really had no idea how the chain of command ran in the civilian areas of the city. When Rodney was gone, he'd normally pass science questions to Zelenka -- but, of course, Zelenka was on the Daedalus as well, leaving Sheppard without a go-to person in the labs.
A crisp female voice came back: "This is Dr. Simpson. Is there a problem?"
"I'm not sure yet," Sheppard admitted. "We've lost contact with the Daedalus. It may be nothing, but I'd like to get a science team started on it, in case they don't resume contact on their own."
To her credit, Simpson didn't argue and didn't ask stupid questions. "You're in the gateroom?" At his affirmative, she said, "I'll be right up there. Please fill me in."
As Sheppard began speaking, he felt himself settling into the familiar pattern of doing something. It didn't matter what; as long as he wasn't sitting idle while his friends were in trouble, he wouldn't be twisting himself into knots. The worry was there, but he could submerge it in the back of his mind, and do what needed to be done.