They make it back to the control room in time for Rodney’s latest discovery, one which has him positively jumping for joy. When Ronon asks why he looks “like a Satedan guanto cat,” he explains that this planet might be just what they’re looking for. Activating a hologram of the shell, he points out the hundreds of nodes spaced out along the installation’s exterior. The Ancients built the shell millions of years ago, but it was largely a side project until the war with the Wraith, when they needed a relatively safe place to house millions of displaced human refugees. Napier became a refugee world, safe behind such thick armor, and they retrofitted it for battle by installing hundreds of defensive batteries. He still needs to check how many of them remain operational, but this place has the potential to serve the same purpose now as it did then; provide a safe haven for the people affected by the war and protect them from Wraith attack. It would certainly be more secure than just dumping everyone on some run of the mill world and leaving them exposed and defenseless.
While he continues his research, the others fan out through the hallways. After Ronon turns down a side corridor to explore on his own, Sheppard and Teyla keep going down the main path in silence until the Colonel finally clears his throat. Apologizing again for their earlier argument, he asks if she really thinks things in Pegasus have gotten so desperate that their fight against the Wraith needs to take a back seat to humanitarian efforts. Teyla admits that there’s no easy answer, and she recognizes that they’ll just be overrun if they pour all their resources into relocation and medical assistance. That was their problem for centuries before the Expedition arrived; they spent all their time and effort on rebuilding their settlements after a culling and nothing more. They stopped fighting back in favor of trying to end short-term suffering, and obviously it solved nothing. The Wraith struck again and again, any gains they made in living conditions were erased, and the galaxy remained trapped in a cycle of death and destruction.
She understands why Atlantis wants to explore every avenue for advanced technology they find, as they need every advantage they can get to win this war. Looking around, she admits that this installation may well hold the key to the next victory, but she can’t help but remember the burning city below. The Expedition has spent five years now accumulating Ancient relics and developing newer and more powerful weapons, but rarely have Pegasus natives felt the benefit of them. She knows it’s not her place to dictate how they should do things, but she feels that if she and Ronon are going to work with Atlantis, the city should at least take their viewpoints into consideration. Laughing, John says that inner fire is what made him want her on his team in the first place, and if anything he’s overjoyed to hear her speak her mind so readily. Turning serious, he promises that if they can, they’ll help planets in need wherever they can. They can’t always predict what impact their missions will have, but if they mess up, he’ll find a way to fix it.
Teyla smiles at him, grateful, but her smile fades when she notices something out the nearby window. Pulling John’s arm, she asks if she’s seeing what she thinks she is, and Sheppard turns to see what she means. Outside, a faint blue-green light flashes in the distance before fading into the dark, a phenomenon that he only identifies with one thing; the opening of a hyperspace window. Radioing Ronon to fall back to the control room, he tells Teyla that they should go link back up with McKay and see how those diagnostics are going. They may end up needing those defensive batteries sooner than any of them thought.
They make it back to the central center just as Rodney gets the results of a sensor sweep of the area. Sheppard’s guess was right, and a hyperspace window opened several thousand kilometers out. It looks like they have a hive ship and two cruisers on their doorstep, but for now don’t seem to be moving. Their arrival can’t be a coincidence, and McKay is certain they’re here to investigate why their darts didn’t return through the stargate. Hopefully the sight of a planet encased in a metal shell gave them second thoughts about launching another attack, but at any rate, their stalling will buy them some time to prepare. Knowing that they’ll need to fight sooner or later, Rodney says that about 70% of the installation’s batteries are online, giving them roughly equal coverage all the way around Napier. Most importantly, though, is that the guns surrounding all the entry/exit holes are all operational. They shouldn’t have a problem intercepting any darts that try to get through the shell and down to the planet below.
At least, that’s how the situation would look in a perfect world. Unfortunately, they have a small problem that could make the sudden appearance of a Wraith battle group decidedly more complicated. John mutters that there’s always a plot twist, wondering what the issue is and if it can be resolved. Pulling up a chart of the installation’s key systems, McKay highlights a small flashing red bar in the bottom right corner. That bar represents the available power left in the station’s zero-point module, and that’s their problem. The ZPM’s nearly depleted after 10,000 years of keeping an entire planet warm, hovering around 1.5% capacity. Left alone, it’ll probably power the shell for another decade or two, but it won’t be long before the whole thing shuts down and plunges Napier into darkness. And a new ice age wouldn’t be far behind. If they activate the defensive array, given the amount of firepower they’d need to take down three Wraith ships and hundreds of darts... he’s almost certain they’d drain it completely.
Tapping his radio, Sheppard tells the pilots who brought Keller’s medics in to get back to their ships and make for orbit. They have six jumpers, which should be enough to slip in and wreak havoc on the hive ship before it knows what’s happening. If they can limit the battery fire to last-ditch defense of the entry holes only, they might just be able to repel the attack and save the ZPM for a few more years. Remembering Teyla’s insistence that they stop acting so unilaterally, he also tells his men to get a radio to Oman. He’ll explain the situation himself and outline exactly what they plan to do. There’s no time to go into details about the shell, its purpose, and the ZPM, but the least they can do is warn them about any Wraith that might slip through the line of fire. Looking over to Teyla, he smiles at her nod of approval, then tells everyone to get moving. They have an invasion to stall.
It doesn’t take long for the Wraith to make their move. Not ten minutes after arrival, the first wave of darts launch and make their way toward three of the shell’s openings. In the control room, McKay monitors the sensors and fidgets nervously, waiting while the enemy fighters draw closer and closer. After what seems like an eternity, he shouts for Sheppard to engage, watching as drones start shooting from suddenly-visible puddle jumpers. Caught in a crossfire, the darts are forced to break formation and scatter, pulling around to regroup. In the process, many of them end up right where Rodney wants them, and he fires a series of precise shots from the installation’s batteries to shred a whole squadron of darts. At the secondary control panel, Teyla warns John that the hive’s remaining darts and cruiser escorts and moving in to reinforce what’s left of the first wave.
Sheppard spots the inbound hostiles and tells four of the jumpers to get in firing range and cause whatever chaos they can. Meanwhile he and another pilot cloak and head toward the hive, targeting its hyperdrive and power conduits. They get under the hull and open fire with a dozen drones apiece, causing multiple secondary explosions that tear through the ship’s back half. Confident that it’s out of the fight, they head for the cruisers and help the other pilots disable the first, then the second, then begin mopping up what’s left of the darts. Rodney and Teyla provide covering fire and intercept any fighters trying to make it past the shell, but all in all it’s not needed. One couldn’t ask for clearer cut a victory, leaving even Sheppard surprised at how easily they repelled the attack. He’s about to tell everyone to head for the surface when McKay notes that the heavily damaged hive ship isn’t as dead as they thought. And what’s worse, it’s heading straight for the planet.
Eyes wide, Sheppard realizes that there’s only one thing the Wraith could be doing; they’re going to ram the installation! He and the jumpers break position and streak off toward the hive, but it’s clear they won’t be in firing range long enough to blow the ship apart. Gritting his teeth, he tells Rodney to fire the full defensive array at full power, it’s the only chance they have of stopping a collision. Shocked, Teyla says that they’ll risk draining the ZPM completely, but John shoots back that the alternative isn’t any better for the Napieri. At least with this option there’s a chance to save the shell and the people below. When McKay hesitates to activate the battery, Sheppard snaps at him to do it, and he reluctantly brings the remaining guns online and opens fire on the hive ship.
Dozens of batteries begin tearing whole chunks out of the Wraith vessel, but it looks like too little, too late. A large section slams headlong into the shell, cracking the exterior and smashing through. The jumpers, having dived in to try and cut off the approach, are knocked in all directions as organic matter and metal go flying in every direction. On the other side, the heating system flickers out for kilometers around, leaving a massive gap in the installation’s coverage while wreckage from the hive crashes to the surface in a brilliant fireball. Running to the monitor, Teyla breathes easier upon seeing that the region is uninhabited, but Rodney’s main focus is the shell. Knowing he’s not going to like the answer but hoping for the best, he asks mumbles that they need to know how bad the damage is. There’s a long silence while the scan commences, during which Ronon asks why the jumpers floating in orbit aren’t moving. No one responds to attempted hails, and the trio exchange looks worriedly.
Some time later, Sheppard comes to, having bashed his head when the hive’s explosion sent his jumper into an uncontrolled spin. Checking in with Rodney, he ignores the scientist’s concern and asks what happened. The results of their earlier scan aren’t good; they managed to keep power usage low, even with that last-ditch assault on the hive, but the crash severed several key power conduits to their side of the installation. There’s hardly any power getting from the ZPM in the control center to the entire western hemisphere, but so far the system remains online. But it’s not at all stable, flickering in and out wildly and darkening skies momentarily before coming back to life. They need to get to the surface and find out what’s going on. John agrees, angling for the control center and telling his team to head to the airlock. He sends out a text message for the other pilots when they come to, ordering them to form up and watch for any other Wraith activity in the meantime.