Bandits Approaching the Entrance
Aurora-class vessel Enterprise
"This is Colonel John Sheppard of the Earth starship Enterprise," John called out over the radio. "How can we be of assistance?"
There were smiles all round on the spacious bridge of the Enterprise. They had been running at max hyperdrive speed for hours, and the geeks had been channelling most of the power from the three ZPMs on board to the drive. The Daedalus had emerged about ten seconds after Sheppard and his motley crew and were going to intercept the other cruiser that was now attempting to de-orbit over Europe.
It wasn't long before Sheppard got a reply from one of the F-302 pilots.
"Enterprise, Echo Leader. Thanks for the assist, but we had everything under control,"
The voice was clipped and emotionless as usual, but Sheppard could tell that the pilot, a veteran of the Battle for Antarctica, and an old friend of the senior Atlantis officer, was grinning widely.
"Is that the voice of Major Dave Franks I hear?" Sheppard asked, "Anyway, drones are that bit more stylish than boring old nukes. I'll see you in the bar later buddy, it's time to call the brass. Sheppard out,"
President Henry Hayes and his successor, President-elect Barack Obama, were just walking into the Den as the two ships had dropped out of hyperspace, and the former senator from Illinois instinctively ducked as a holographic Aurora flew straight at his head like a bullet.
"That's a warm welcome, General Carter," he said as they shook hands. "I see that the situation has changed somewhat since you briefed us,"
"Yes sir, we were expecting Atlantis to be acting as a carrier for the two ships you see here," Carter said, gesturing to the display, which was now showing RAF and French F-302s beating the Daedalus to the second cruiser kill.
Colonel Davis leant over Sam's shoulder and whispered a few words.
"I believe that Colonel Sheppard wishes to make a report," she said.
Sure enough, after a few beats a holographic figure of Sheppard shimmered into existence in the room. It looked around, noting Hayes and Obama with a slightly confused expression before spotting Carter.
"Sirs, ma'am," he said to the trio.
"Hello John, that was good timing from you. What happened to Atlantis?" Carter asked.
"They had a spot of hyperdrive trouble at the outer rim of the Milky Way. McKay was in the middle of fixing it when we left," Sheppard said, his image flickering slightly. "As far as I know, they re-entered hyperspace shortly afterwards. I also know that Woolsey was going to dial you up and check in before he left,"
"We've not heard anything from them. In fact, our Stargate has been inoperational since the hive arrived," Carter said.
"Well, that's too bad. We're here now, so this party can kick up a gear. The hive is in lunar orbit, do you want us to go after them?" the colonel said.
Carter wanted to exercise a touch of caution.
"Hold station between us and the Moon. I want the F-302s to be ready for another sortie before we try anything more. Do you have a strategy for taking out the hive?" she asked.
"We're powered by 3 ZPMs at the moment, Caldwell's got one too, so we can go a few more rounds in the ring with the bad guys. The idea is for the Daedalus to close in and try and wear their armour down with nukes and beams, while we maintain distance and try and destroy their weapons and Dart bays with drones," Sheppard explained.
"I think I can help you out there, Colonel," Carter said. "Doctor Lee is finishing up a program that should let you control the Antarctic drones from up there. It's designed for Atlantis, but I can get Bill to adapt it for you,"
"Hey, whoever said no to more firepower?" the colonel asked rhetorically. "I see that the F-302s are re-entering the atmosphere now. Anything you want us to do in the meantime?"
"No thank you, John. Just sit tight for the moment," Carter ordered. Little did she know that it would literally be only a moment...
The strike force on the hive was still making their way to their various prizes. McKay had guided them around a number of bottlenecks, and there was a long trail of dead Wraith leading right back to the gate to testify to their progress. The force was methodically crossing an intersection of corridors when the background noise of the hive suddenly increased in pitch and volume, and they felt a rumbling under their feet.
"What's goin' on, Doc?" Mitchell asked.
"I don't know for sure, but I'd guess they've ignited their sublight engines and are moving somewhere," the Canadian physicist said urgently.
"They may be moving towards the planet for an attack," Teal'c said gravely, shoving a new magazine into each of his P90s.
"Right. I don't want to let them get that far. Doc, how far?" the SG-1 leader asked.
"Real close!" Rodney said, as Wraith stunner fire ripped past them. Teal'c spun with the grace of a practised warrior, and unloaded a burst from both of his weapons into the Wraith that had been foolish enough to approach.
"I believe now is the time to depart this location," he said with the faintest hint of urgency.
The humans didn't need telling twice. The two Spetsnaz men at point nodded and forced their way into the next corridor, firing occasional bursts to cover the others as they rushed through. Ronon and Teal'c took over the lead, and worked together to devastating effectiveness in clearing the way. Teal'c striding calmly along, dropping any enemy that appeared with a prolonged burst of fire. Ronon was far edgier, and dropped Wraith with single shots from his Traveller energy pistol.
With the Jaffa and the Satedan in the lead, they soon arrived at a closed door that would not open, despite McKay's best efforts.
"I'm fairly sure that the ZPMs are somewhere in the inner sanctum behind these doors. I'm not sure of it's layout, though," he said, withdrawing the data probe from the wall. Lorne nodded. He thought that things had been too easy so far.
"Anyone got C4?" he asked of the SGC personnel. Major Peterson of SG-3 stepped forwards with two bricks and a remote detonator, the latter of which he tossed to Mitchell with a feral grin before affixing the explosives to the door. The team retreated to a safe distance, and prepared to rush the door after the explosives blew.
"Ready?" Mitchell asked of everyone. Without waiting for an answer, he punched in his code, paused to say "Fire in the hole," and flipped the switch. A thump shook the deck beneath them, and the team sprinted back down the corridor to take advantage of the element of surprise.
Back in the Den, the Asgard sensors picked up on the movement of the Hive almost instantly. The glowing red dot looked very innocuous, but in reality, a thirteen kilometre long ship brimming with hungry Wraith was now bearing down on Earth.
"Time until they reach orbit?" Carter asked quietly.
"Not long at all, ma'am. Daedalus and Enterprise are requesting permission to intercept," the duty airman reported.
"Give them the go. I don't want that Hive entering orbit above this planet!" she said, the edge audible in her voice.
Many hundreds of miles above, on the bridge of the Daedalus, Caldwell was taking stock of the situation. He typed a heading into the computer.
"Engage sublight engines, max burn along the supplied vector on my mark," he said.
"General Carter has cleared us to engage," the communications officer reported. Caldwell needed no time to wait.
"Light 'em up," Caldwell ordered. The sublight engines flared, sending the ship out of Earth orbit and flinging it once more towards the Hive. On the opposite side of the planet, Sheppard was doing the same.
"Round two just begun, people," Caldwell said confidently, settling in his chair, "and this time, the gloves are off. Fire a salvo of Mark Eights when in range," he said.
The Apollo craft of the Sixties and Seventies had taken days to cover the distance between the Earth and Moon. Forty years later, the technology employed by the ships facing off over the blue-green planet below enabled the same journey to be made in minutes, and with a far more deadly intent. Fifty seconds after igniting the sublight engines, the closing velocities of the ships meant that the holographic cursor on the Daedalus's bridge window that marked the enemy ship started flashing a deep scarlet.
"Fire," Caldwell ordered. Three Mark Eights shot out from the Tau'ri ship, and the datalink from the Enterprise showed that Sheppard had let loose a cloud of drones. The shields of both ships flared brilliant, electric blue as the Hive's deadly weapons fire struck home. Thankfully, damage was slight, limited to a few shakes, as the shield systems had vast power reserves to draw upon thanks to the ZPM.
Major Marks counted down the seconds to impact.
"Mark." he said, as the various explosives detonated.
On board the Hive, the strike force had split up into pairs and was sweeping the heavily-guarded area in which Rodney had detected the ZPMs. The Canadian's sensors were nearly useless in locating the devices now because of their extreme proximity.
However, that was the least of their problems. The teams looked up warily as several strong vibrations were felt, and then promptly knocked off their feet as the nuclear missiles struck home against the hull armour, causing massive tremors throughout the Hive.
Teal'c was the first to rise, helping a dazed Colonel Mitchell to his feet.
"It would appear that Colonel Caldwell has arrived," he said with a hint of amusement. When Mitchell did not respond, he shook the colonel firmly, who blinked several times.
"OK Teal'c, I got it, thanks," he said before calling out on the radio.
"All teams, what is your status?"
"This is Daniel. Vala and I are fine,"
"Ronon and I are unharmed," Teyla said.
"Smith and Peterson ready,"
"Lorne and McKay, standing by,"
Mitchell blinked several times to clear his head whilst the rest of reports came in. Once everyone had done so, he addressed the main order of business.
"Anyone got anything interesting?" he asked, to a chorus of negative replies.
"Lorne here, nothing as ye-" the major said, before pausing. "Hang on. We've just entered a large chamber. McKay's looking with some interest at the walls,"
Mitchell checked his DF indicator.
"Hold tight, we're on our way,"
"First attack moderately successful," Marks reported. "Volume of incoming fire has decreased, but the enemy is about to enter LEO,"
"Damn. Bring us around for an attack on their sublights," Caldwell said.
The Daedalus skimmed the surface of the Hive at high speed, so that the enemy guns would have great trouble tracking them. As they passed over the rear of the ship, the communications officer spoke up.
"Sir, we're picking up radio chatter emanating from inside the enemy ship," he said, focusing intently on his screens. "It's carrying standard SGC encryption,"
"Can you contact them?" Caldwell asked. "I wouldn't want to blow up our own guys along with this sucker,"
"No need sir, they're contacting us. The signal carries Colonel Mitchell's authorization code," the man reported.
"I assume that we have Colonels Caldwell and Sheppard to thank for all the shaking here that's making it rather difficult to carry out our mission," Cameron said, irritated.
"The enemy is in Earth orbit, Colonel. What else are we to do?"
"Well, you could wait for us to find and pull their ZPMs,"
"We didn't know about that plan. Who is with you and how the hell did you get on board the enemy ship?"
"I've got SG teams 1, 3 and 8, along with Atlantis teams 1, 2 and 3. We got on board by means of a Stargate that these bastards stole from somewhere in Pegasus,"
"We can't let up in the attack, Colonel. Doctor Lee and Colonel Sheppard are preparing to fire the Antarctic drone platform,"
"Like I said, give us a few minutes to pull their ZPMs and this ship won't be a problem any more,"
"Very well. We'll disengage and pull back, but we're going to attack again in five minutes, ready or not,"
"Plenty of time. Mitchell out,"
The two Earth ships pulled back from the hive, which sensed an opportunity to strike. Both ships were sprayed with fire, and alarms started sounding across the bridge of the Enterprise. Colonel Sheppard seemed unperturbed.
"Don't worry, people. It's just the auxiliary sensor pallets," he said, mentally switching the alarms off as they shot away from the Hive.
A message nagged at the edge of his awareness.
"Colonel Sheppard, why are you disengaging?" Samantha Carter's voice was more urgent than Sheppard had ever heard it.
"About a dozen of our guys and another dozen of yours are on board the enemy ship, trying to sabotage," he said across the airwaves. "We're giving them five minutes,"
"You'd better be right about this," she said. Sheppard wondered if the President was till there. What the hell, he thought.
"We'll be fine, ma'am. Sheppard out," he said curtly.
Back on board the Hive, the Tau'ri soldiers were combing every inch of the large room for the ZPMs. Teyla was in the centre of the room, reaching out with her ability to read Wraith technology. Her mind noticed four crystalline masses in the walls.
"I believe that I have located the Zero Point Modules," she called. "They are in the walls at right angles from each other,"
The Athosian gestured at four points, and small groups flocked to each one. Knives were used to slice into the walls, and eventually the power sources had been found.
Mitchell didn't want to waste time.
"Pull 'em out on my mark! Three, two, one, mark!" he shouted. Several strong pairs of hands grasped each ZPM and pulled, and with a sickening series of squelching sounds, they were extracted. Rodney immediately grabbed each of them and put them in his pack, but the others were warily scanning the area.
"Why are the lights still on?" Ronon asked gruffly, drawing his weapon.
"I don't know! Maybe they have a more efficient power grid than I thought, or they have a large net of capacitors. Either way, we don't want to stick around!" he exclaimed, as the room gave an almighty rumble.
"No kidding! Lets move!" Mitchell shouted, and the strike force ran out of the room, retracing their steps back to the Stargate, as many more creaks and rumbles spread though the oversized ship.
"Energy readings from the Hive have dropped like a stone, sir," Marks reported.
"Yet they're still firing. Why?" Caldwell asked.
"Best guess, they've got banks of capacitors for each weapon. They've lost most of their other systems, but they're still got weapons," the dependable Major said.
"Get Sheppard back over. Can we get a lock on our people?"
"No sir, they're still jamming us,"
"They're operating at lower power now, can't you burn through the interference?"
"No sir, we're not getting any locators or human lifesigns. The hull is just too dense," Marks said.
The battle continued afresh after the brief hiatus. The hive was now much more vulnerable, as the tensor fields that maintained the hull's rigidity were gone. The hive still packed a mighty punch, with concentrated fire still lashing out and splashing against the ZPM-boosted shields of the Daedalus and Enterprise. Caldwell was well aware that the Hive still had it's original Wraith power sources on board, and so could still maintain limited fighting ability.
The commanders of both Earth ships were planning their next steps, and reverted to stand-off tactics, throwing limited weapons fire from long range to keep the hive's attention away from the planet below. After about ten minutes of this, Sheppard was wondering how long the Hive would take before it died, when the sensors picked up major changes in the ventral structure of the enemy's hull.
"Daedalus, it looks like something's happening. The might be pulling a trick on us. Standby," he said.
He did not have to wait long for an answer. A lone cruiser accelerated down from the main hive, directly into the upper atmosphere, barely missing the floundering Daedalus, and heading for the Japanese Home Islands that were almost directly below.
I very much appreciate the positive comments for this. Particular thanks to andrewjameswilliams for reminding me of the structural issues that the hive would face once stripped of it's ZPMs.
We're building up to the big finale, and almost all of the pieces are in place...