BIG A/N -- I just wanted to say that I wrote this before I saw Adrift, and my beta will attest to that (plus, you must all know by now after three years of writing SGA fic that I definitely don't write quickly). It's sort of strange, because, I think one of the reasons the ep resonated so deeply with me is that it had very, very similar themes to this fic. So, I am a little worried about that. But, well, can't do anything about it now. There are no spoilers at all for that episode, obviously, but, like I said, similar themes.
Right. Okay. Enough of that. Onwards.
This fic is an imagining of, potentially, Carter's first crisis on Atlantis, so it's AU. Note: I have read no spoilers for season four. This is just wishful thinking about what may come.
STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story was created for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s), not me. Thank you to the amazing writers, producers, actors, crew and directors who bring these shows to life.
Characters: Carter, McKay, sides of Radek, Miko and Chuck, and a dash of Sheppard.
A/N – Carter worries me. She worries all of us SGA folks, I think, because we don't know what to expect of her. So it was interesting to read Amanda Tapping's interview a couple weeks ago when she said that, apparently, Carter isn't sure what to expect of herself, either. In Amanda's words: "[Carter is aware that she is replacing a much-loved leader when she comes onto the show—or into the galaxy. And so she's very aware of treading lightly. In a lot of ways for me, as the actor, it feels like playing a much different character. She's almost not as confident, because she is out of her comfort zone." And, she said, "I'm painfully aware that I have a lot to prove." Her words swirled around in my brain, and this came out. This is not SG-1's Carter. This is Carter standing on the shoulders of the giants of Atlantis, to paraphrase the Newton quote, and trying not to fall off.
I hope you like it.
Description: City in peril, check. Sheppard and team on a suicidal mission, check. McKay acting like an ass and doing his own thing, check. We've seen it all before—but Col. Sam Carter hasn't.
Only one man in a thousand is a leader. The other 999 follow women. – Groucho Marx
She had been here before. Standing on the ground floor of Stargate Control, staring up at the monitors, trying to find a way to stop a massive asteroid from impacting the planet.
Except, she hadn't been here before.
This wasn't Earth she stood on, and that asteroid wasn't an asteroid. It was the remnants of three melded together Ancient warships aimed at Atlantis, sent on a collision course by the Asurans. In 35 minutes, they would hit the City dead on.
And this time, she was in charge.
There was no Hammond to call, no Jack to bounce ideas off of, no President to get the okay from, no SG-1 ready to back her up. It was just her. She was the top of the pyramid, and she had never felt so on the edge in her life.
The situation was extreme. The City's shield wouldn't stop the ships—Ancient warships were programmed to fly right through the dome, to be welcomed while all else was kept out. Drones sent on intercept hadn't done any damage—just bounced off the warships' own combined shield.
There was no way to stop them.
The City's control room was abuzz in activity, and her mind raced to stay on top of everything that was happening. Rodney, standing five feet away from her, was yelling over the radio at Colonel Sheppard, who was currently trapped on said plummeting warships with Teyla and Ronon. The three members of Sheppard's Team had attached a Jumper to the largest of the three congealed Ancient warships in a now failed attempt to take control of the ships from the inside or, if that failed, to use the Jumper like a tugboat and push the warships away from the City. Unfortunately, the Jumper had just become part of the whole—the same Asuran nanites tying the three warships together had just sucked up the Jumper like a long lost son.
Carter had already evacuated the bulk of the personnel through the Gate—leaving only those necessary to deal with this particular crisis—about twenty people who could easily escape via Jumpers should worse come to worse.
Which looked like it might happen.
She looked over Radek's shoulder, checking his work as the Czech scientist sought to find a way to bolster the City's shield, to block out the warships. But, so far, every change to the City's shield's frequency had resulted in the warships immediately adjusting their own shield frequencies to match. They were just too closely linked. A glance at Chuck's station showed he was monitoring time and distance and trajectories, feeding whatever he could glean to Rodney and Radek. Behind her, she could hear Miko Kusanagi's fingers flying over a keyboard, the woman searching the database for flaws in warship design that they could exploit.
Carter's head lifted to look over at Rodney, who was gesturing wildly as he rattled off orders to his team on the ship. He was trying to give Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon a means to override the controls on the warship, but Carter already knew it was futile. The three congealed warships were all capable of working separately—even if Sheppard managed to get one of them to respond, the other two would just compensate and wrench control away again. McKay was wasting precious time trying.
And they needed to start facing facts.
"Rodney," she called when he seemed to have stopped yelling, walking across to his side. He was typing furiously into the laptop in front of him, bent over because he was standing before the station, not sitting.
"What?" he snapped, not looking at her.
"I need you to think of a way to detonate those ships from the inside."
"No," he said, turning away and moving to another laptop. He clicked his radio as he reached it, "Sheppard, you copy?"
"McKay," Sheppard's voice answered over the com, and Carter glanced towards the screen showing the still plummeting ships, "the navigation is locked. I tried all the tricks you just gave me, and it's still locked. What else you got?"
"I'm working on it. I think I can find a back way into the warships' engines. Maybe get them to fire in the wrong direction."
"Right," Sheppard said. "We'll be waiting, and trying to break into the systems from up here."
McKay nodded, "Right." He was attacking keys, and schematics of Ancient warship engines flashed onto the screen before him.
Carter's jaw set. "Rodney."
For a moment he ignored her, still typing madly, then he abruptly turned to glare at her. "What?"
"Don't look at me like that," she snapped. "You know we need to find a way to bring those ships down before they hit this city."
He just stared at her a second longer, then turned away again. "So," he muttered, "put someone on it."
"I'm putting you on it."
He closed his eyes briefly, then shook his head, his jaw rock-hard. "I can't. I'm busy. Radek!" He turned and pointed to the Czech.
"Yeah?" the other man perked up.
"Put Miko on the shield. Carter needs a way to blow up those warships before they hit."
"But, Colonel Sheppard and the others could still be—"
"I know. I'm working on that. You work on finding a way to cause the warships to self-destruct." And with that, he turned and went back to work on the warship engines.
Carter closed her eyes, then opened them again. Damn, he was infuriating. "Radek!" she shouted, turning around to face the Czech, and saw him jump in his seat. "Get back to working on bolstering the City's shield. We'll need that, even if the ships break up before they get here. Miko," she turned to the woman, who looked like a deer caught in headlights, "work on the warships' engines. Rodney," she turned back to the chief scientist, ostensibly, her chief scientist now, "I need you to find me a way to detonate those warships. You have the most experience working on them."
Rodney stared at her for a moment, then shook his head. "Yes, yes, I do. I do have the most experience working on Ancient ships, which is why I need to be the one working on finding a way—"
"The City comes first, Rodney."
His eyes just narrowed, and she could see him fighting to hold back his words. Finally, he turned and growled something under his breath. She watched to make sure the schematics of the warship on his screen moved to focus on its self-destructive capabilities, then nodded.
"Thank you," she said.
He didn't answer her, his fingers flying once more over the keys, eyes watching the screen without blinking.
She drew in a slow breath, then walked over to where Miko was now pulling up information about the warship engines. Carter studied the information a moment, wishing she had had more time to memorize the technology of Ancient warships before she'd come to this post, but she had to rely on Rodney and the others right now to do what was right.
"How's it going, Rodney?" Sheppard called over the radio. Carter glanced at Rodney, then clicked her radio.
"He's working on it, Colonel," she said. "How are you doing?"
"Getting a little nervous, Colonel," Sheppard replied with a chuckle, though it was obviously forced. He was going for light-hearted, but she could tell he wasn't comfortable with her yet. Fact was, no one was comfortable with her yet. It was strange—she hadn't expected open arms, but she hadn't expected it to be this hard either. The looks she'd gotten when she'd been promoted to this position from the Atlantis team had been a mixture of fear, distrust, dislike—from those who felt she was standing in someone else's place—and, to a degree, cautious optimism. They just didn't know what to expect from her.
Worse, once she'd sat in Elizabeth Weir's chair for the first time, she wasn't sure what to expect from herself. All she knew was, she had been asked to come here and protect Atlantis, and the IOA had not been subtle about the idea that her job was not only to protect the City from outside, but from the inside as well. She was supposed to protect the people of Atlantis from themselves—particularly from the ego, recalcitrance and nonconformity of its chief military officer and its chief scientist. It was an ugly burden, and one she had not gotten a grasp on yet—after all, she had spent the best years of her life following a man who hadn't played by the rules, and had learned to both idolize and emulate that behavior—but Jack had never been here, in charge in a place where people didn't know him and didn't trust him. He had never been so alone. She may have ten years under her belt at the SGC, but, right now, that could have been ten minutes for all the good it did her in these people's eyes.
The City came first. She just had to keep telling herself that. The City comes first. You have to be the leader, have to think of the collective good, have to...to...
"What is our status, Colonel?" Sheppard asked then, and she heard the tone in his voice—the one that said, he was willing to die for them, if need be. He must have guessed by now that they would be looking for a way to trigger some sort of self-destruct.
Suck it up, Carter. You know what you have to do. And he knows it, too.
"Radek is still trying to modify the City shield's, Colonel," she replied, lifting her chin and shutting down the emotions under the surface. "And Doctor Kusangi is working on finding a way to affect the warships' engines."
"Kusanagi is doing that?" Sheppard asked, and there was a clear question in his voice.
Carter nodded, though she knew he couldn't see her. "I've asked Rodney to seek out ways to destroy the warships from within."
Sheppard was silent for a moment, then, "Understood."
Carter sighed softly, grateful. "Thank you, Colonel."
"Just..." Sheppard paused, then, "Rodney, I had a thought."
Carter gritted her teeth at Sheppard skipping over her again, but didn't say anything as Rodney looked up from his station.
"What?" the scientist asked, sounding hopeful.
"We tried to use the Jumper as a tugboat, and it went and got itself integrated by the damn nanites. But, here's a question, can Atlantis' Chair still remote control the Jumpers? Sort of like an override?"
Rodney seemed to pause, then his eyes lit up, and he looked over at Radek.
"Program's still in the system from the Siege," the Czech confirmed, his own eyes bright.
"What?" Carter asked, looking at the two of them. "What program?"
"No time to explain," Rodney said, jumping of the dais he was standing on and running out of the room. "I'll be in the Chair Room!"
"Rodney!" she shouted, trying to stop him, but he was already gone. "Damn it!" she swore, her hands gripping themselves into fists. Her gaze turned to Radek, but the Czech had his head down, obviously trying to hide from her. She then looked to Miko, but the Japanese scientist seemed to have nearly disappeared behind her desk. "Fine," she said, lifting her chin. Turning, she walked over to Rodney's station, quickly absorbed what he had been working on...and started typing.
"Twenty minutes to impact," Chuck intoned from his station by the DHD. Next to him, Radek swore under his breath in Czech. He was still working on the shield, but, clearly, without much success. Miko, also, seemed very quiet—as if she couldn't spare a thought from what she was working on.
Carter, meanwhile, had found a way to convince the warships' power cores to overload without letting the warships know they were doing it. A series of unconnected commands, delivered on the bridges of all three ships at the same time, would create a chain reaction that, eventually, would create a terminal overload.
She stared at the information, rereading it a second time before looking up. Her gaze lifted to the monitor showing the incoming ships.
"Sergeant," she said, leaving her station to walk to his, "how far away would the ships need to be such that an explosion wouldn't damage Atlantis?"
Chuck frowned briefly, but he answered. "Ten minutes."
She pursed her lips. "Does Doctor McKay know that?"
Chuck nodded, "Yes."
Carter grimaced, but gave a nod in return. "Okay." Turning away, she clicked her radio. "Colonel Sheppard."
"Hey," he responded instantly. "What's the news?"
"I found a way to overload the warships' power cores."
He took that in. Carter imagined he was looking at Teyla and Ronon at his side, checking their reactions. God, how could she do this to them?
"I see," Sheppard said, no hint of anything but strength in his voice. "Okay. Tell us what we need to—"
"Wait!" Rodney's strident tone burst over both the radio and through the Control Room. Carter swung around in time to see the scientist running up the stairs from the Gate Room below, his data tablet on his arm. "I have something!"
Carter lifted her eyebrows, and actually smiled. "What?"
"I've rewritten a remote program we created during the Wraith siege to override the Nanites control of the Jumper." Rodney handed the tablet to Carter, who took it and quickly started reviewing the work he'd done. "It'll take a little time to get it integrated into Atlantis' systems, but I should be able to use the Chair to control the Jumper's engines and separate it from the warship."
"Well, that's great," Carter said, looking down at the tablet. "How long?"
Carter looked up at McKay, her eyes soft. Fifteen minutes. There wasn't enough time. "Rodney, those ships are practically right on top of us, with three warship engines driving them at full speed. If we wait fifteen minutes for your plan to work, then input the self-destruct and give Sheppard's team enough time to—"
"Then we've missed Chuck's ten minute barrier, I know that. Chunks of the exploded ships could be large enough to breach the shield, and there could be damage to the City. But," he gave a shrug, "we can rebuild."
"With what?" Carter asked. "And how do you know that the damage wouldn't be too severe to fix? And, tell me, if the pieces of the warships that fall to the city still have working nanites on them, what do we do when they infect the City?"
Rodney paled briefly even as he frowned. "Then we'll shut the nanites down. We've done it before. And we can rebuild—given enough time."
Carter grimaced, looking again at the pad, then back up at Rodney. "I'll give you ten minutes. If you can't do it by then—"
"You know I can't. I can't make the computers work faster than they work."
Carter pursed her lips together, and she looked down. "Then I'm sorry, Rodney."
He stared at her, then let out a slow exhale. "You're kidding."
She looked up, frowning slightly. "No," she said quietly, "I'm not."
He just continued to stare at her, then, oddly, he smiled, snorting a disbelieving laugh. "Well then," he said, taking back his tablet and walking to the empty station next to Miko, "I guess we know where we stand." He looked at Miko's station, eyes narrowed. Leaning over her shoulder, he hit a few keys, and Miko shook her head. "Try that," he said to her, and the Japanese scientist sighed and started to type. Carter frowned at the interaction.
"What are you—"
"Does it matter?" Rodney asked, looking at her. "Thing is, Colonel, you haven't really left me much choice, have you?" Never taking his eyes from her, he hit a couple of keys on his tablet, then touched his hand to the Ancient console, his gene causing the console to flash.
Immediately, the room powered down, screens locking up, and a plain white box appeared, a cursor flashing on one side. Miko gave a little squeal of surprise.
Carter whirled around, her eyes wide with shock. "What the hell have you done?"
"Locked you out," he said, his chin lifted. "Agree to let me run my program to save my team, and I'll let you back in."
Oh God, Carter thought, her heart hammering in her chest as she met Rodney's unflinching gaze, I've become the bad guy.
"Eighteen minutes to impact," Chuck said worriedly, looking up from his watch.
To be Concluded in Part Two