Shift change has long since steadied itself out. Everyone’s where the need to be either by choice or the dictates of work. The Operations Center seems both less crowded and much more quiet, it’s a hallucination caused by shift change. There isn’t any less staff working and no less innumerable items to check off the day-to-day To Do List. Gate technician Chuck Campbell and Czech scientist Radek Zelenka, who joined the gate tech shortly after Radek finished his noontime breakfast in the Mess Hall for his next shift of duty as the chief observing scientist in Atlantis’ command center, sit quietly at their consoles. They’re used to each other’s presences in the room. It’s no longer strange to them to find comfort in the click-clacking of the other’s open laptop and the contented gentle hum of their Ancient computer consoles that they’re splitting their attentions between. Finding it odd or distracting in any way quickly went out the door during their first days in the city. Replaced by blind trust in those around you to hold up their end of the bargain while you held up yours with everything you can give it during the crisis of the moment. There were so many more things so more important than getting the hibby-jibbies about another person judging how you did your job over your shoulder or from across the room. Judging yourself went as far out the door as thinking you’re being judged by others, rise to the occasion or don’t. It was always as simple as that.
Chuck monitors the energy readings and power functions from all over the city, keeping a specific eye on the power drain to the ZPM while he sits guard at the Stargate’s DHD console waiting for the gate to suddenly activate and for him to jump into action as the man with all the answers to the abrupt handful of automatic questions that will come his way because of it. Good or bad, it’s his computer, both Earth and Ancient, that’ll know immediately where the incoming wormhole is coming from, if there’s an incoming traveler, whether or not a friendly most likely initiated the activation if there is a traveler or not, who the friendly or foe might be, and why they’re returning either on time or not or invading Atlantis. If it’s invasion, then he’s going to have to do something no civilian ever expects themselves to do, even associated with a semi-military expedition. He’ll have to activate the gate’s defensive iris shield and whoever is riding the wormhole with intent to come to Atlantis against the administration’s will die as millions of tiny molecules splattering against the universe’s most technologically advanced windshield. And Chuck will have killed the person or persons.
Radek, as Rodney’s second-in-command after the Canadian lead scientist leaves on whatever missions the flagship team’s been given, goes over a list of duties that never seems to get any smaller as he sits at his console. Duties that the ‘Great’ Rodney McKay is trying like a madman to absolutely avoid at all cost to himself. Currently Radek’s supposed to be examining the network of known Stargates calling to each other throughout the Pegasus Galaxy, a wide variety with the land based Stargates showing up on his laptop’s screen as green flashing dots and the orbital space gates designated by flashing blue ones. And the questions at the top of the examination’s protocol list: Are all of the gates talking to each other? Updating each other correctly? As Rodney would put it, real blah, blah, blah stuff. The Czech man with the striking follicle similarities to Ludwig von Beethoven sighs. And after this he’s supposed to go down to the underwater jumper bay and, well, do anything down there. It’s been a job that Rodney has been putting off ever since they first discovered that Atlantis even had an underwater jumper bay built into the bottom of it during their third year here. He starts muttering under his breath in his native language, grumbling that if Rodney was anywhere near as great as he thought he was, he would have fixed most of these minute complications himse—
Doctor Radek Zelenka blinks. No, that cannot be. It simply cannot be. The rhythmic ratta-tat-tat of his fingertips on his sleek black computer keyboard comes to an abrupt silence. Můj bože. The typing suddenly picks up again with renewed vigor. No rhythm to it anymore, just trailblazing. He’s hoping against hope that it’s been there all along, that he’d somehow missed it in his musings on how Rodney dodges doing much of the work around here… But no. Ne, ne, ne. Nemožné, Radek gasps as he looks at his laptop’s screen. Startled by what he’s just seen. He blinks a few more times again to desperately make sure it wasn’t a trick, but it’s a false hope.
Chuck glances over at him, “What is it?”
“We have lost five Stargates,” Radek says. However, Doctor Radek Zelenka is not giving up on this. He cannot bring himself to do it. He runs the log that automatically records what he’s been doing back a handful of seconds and watches the replay… Zatraceně! Yes, yes, regrettably, he had seen it right.
Chuck frowns at him, “What?”
“We have lost five Stargates,” Radek repeats grimly as he keeps his eyes locked on his computer screen. His mind races with all the ideas as to what sort of a solution they’re going to need.
“What do you mean,” Chuck gets out of his chair and walks over to Radek. He looks over his friend’s shoulder down at the computer’s screen.
“Five Stargates have gone down in the network. They are all in the same localized area of the Pegasus.”
The scientist’s blue eyes scan the gridded close up view of the Pegasus Galaxy on his screen, specifically a quadrant of its space where a somewhat large grouping of planets are. Some on the outskirts of the grid still have blue or green indicators flashing showing that their Stargates are still active, space and land alike, but at the core of the grouping are four planets and a moon that have all gone dark. No longer registering Stargate indicators despite the outline of dots being there. The Ancient machinations are simply not lit up.
“Is it just a minor glitch in one of the gate’s systems that could possibly be affecting the other gates in its immediate area,” Chuck tries. It wouldn’t be like as if they haven’t encountered that before. In fact, it was actually a lot less common in this galaxy than the Milky Way. The Wraith help keep the Stargates running as close to tip-top spec as possible, but still, there are some occasional minor malfunctions or technical hiccups that can’t be avoided no matter how attentive you are to maintenance.
Radek shakes his head, having already figured out that that is not the problem, “No. There are numerous failsafes built into the Stargates’ programming as well as into the Stargates themselves by the Ancients to specifically prevent something like this from occurring so as not to strand any people that might be on those worlds.”
“What do you think is going on then?” If it’s not a maintenance issue…
Zelenka looks up at Chuck over the brim of his dark-framed glasses, “I do not know, but whatever it is, it is not something that can happen without outside intervention.”
Chuck knows that look in his friend’s blue eyes and that tone in his voice. He nods then immediately straightens up and taps his earpiece, “Gateroom to Mister Woolsey.”
During a momentary lull in the West Pier conference room as each man looks for whatever paperwork has what they’re going to discuss next on it, Richard casually reaches up and taps his earpiece, “Woolsey here.”
“Sir, we’ve lost five Stargates,” Chuck tells him.
The paper rustling goes dead silent. Everyone’s froze.
“What,” Woolsey asks, stunned and confused. He hopes he heard that wrong, so very, very wrong.
“Sir, we’ve lost five Stargates,” Chuck repeats with the tone of voice that tells anyone listening that they didn’t imagine what he said. If only Woolsey knew that he had had the same reaction to the news when Radek’d first told him it and if only Woolsey knew that the news didn’t get any less strange when you knew the details as they stood right this very early moment in the day’s crisis.
“We’ll be right there,” Richard tells him. If that’s all anyone can say, then the reality is beyond belief and it’s not as if this belief was any good to begin with. Richard Woolsey breaks the radio link as he stands up and makes for the door. His staff immediately get to their feet and follow.
Atlantis Expedition Commander Richard Woolsey and his personal staff enter Atlantis’ Operations Center. Despite the immense midday light streaming in through its back wall of nothing but windows overlooking the planet’s ocean vista, this room always seems to be the darkest in the city. Somehow in an eternal state of battle readiness. Built-in war room. The personnel that work this shift sit in their seats at their designated stations, working hard and diligently and adding to the idea of the Rebel forces in the Yavin 4 war room observing the battle going on around the Death Star. One half expected to see Princess Leia’s concerned face illuminated by the glow of the DHD console or something. The fact that the personnel’s already in lock down mode says that there were orders given before Woolsey had even shown up. Another serious sign. No one would preempt the chain of command’s authority like that without due cause. Chuck Campbell immediately turns away from Doctor Zelenka’s station to greet them.
“What happened,” Woolsey demands the instant his feet cross the room’s threshold. His senior staff in toe.
“Radek discovered five Stargates went down in the network, Sir.”
The attention turns to Zelenka.
“There are indications that this is no systems error,” the scientist starts.
“What planets are they?” Woolsey asks as he comes up to stand behind Radek.
Radek turns back to his laptop as the group crowds in.
“P1W-001, M1W-001, PWW-014, P1W-005, and P1W-003,” he answers.
“Three of those planets have gate teams on them right now,” Martin Gero adds as he leans in, staring at the screen.
“I want every bit of information we can get on all five of those worlds and why our teams are on three of them,” Woolsey orders.
The West Pier staff immediately scatter behind him. Tapping their earpieces. Excitedly chattering to the low-ranking personnel that answer to them.