A heavily damaged Wraith hive ship barely escapes destruction by an Asuran cruiser. Guide (who will, much later, become known to the Atlantis Expedition as "Todd"), the hive's commander of the dart wings, returns aboard from his dart and surveys the losses and damage along with the ship's leading clevermen -- Spark, pallax to Queen Snow, and Seeker, an old friend of Guide's. The hive ship will survive, but ship and crew cannot afford many more such close calls. The Ancients are gone from the galaxy, but their creations, the Asurans, relentless, remorseless nanotechnological constructs driven by the Ancients' core command to fight the Wraith to extinction and equipped with copies of the Ancient's own unparalleled technologies, are winning their war of genocide. The alliances that brought the Wraith to the gates of Atlantis have fallen apart, and Guide's weakened hive may become prey to one of the hives that have fared better so far if the Asurans do not get it first.
Guide, Seeker, and Spark discuss the hopeless situation with the queen of their hive, Snow, a young but strong-willed queen of the line of First Mother Osprey. Complicating the matter is the fact that while Spark is pallax, Guide loves Snow deeply and wishes to become Consort, the queen's official mate (as well as first in rank on the hive after the queen herself). Seldom-Seen, Hivemaster and the Queen's brother, is willing to support Guide as consort but not at the cost of a spurned Spark leaving the ship; nor would he support Spark if that meant Guide (and Seeker likely with him) would leave instead.
Snow refuses to give in to despair and approves a plan proposed by Guide, Seeker, and Spark: another hive managed to discover a way to deactivate the attack command in the Asuran base code; however, their attempt failed because the code must be changed at the Asuran central data core, in the heart of their capital city on Asuras. Otherwise, the code change will be wiped out by the Asurans' civilization-wide periodic update from backups stored in the core. The trio propose to infiltrate the Asuras solar system in a recovered derelict Ancient freighter, then make their way to the core in darts and upload the code patch, thereby ending the war with the Asurans at the push of a button.
Seldom-Seen, who is an expert at camouflage, supports their plan and promises to back a personal alliance between the three officers, wherein Guide would become Consort, Spark the Master of Sciences Physical, and Seeker the Master of Sciences Biological—if they return from the mission alive. In a last-minute decision, Snow joins the mission herself in the place of a second computer expert from among Spark's men, stating that while she may risk the future of the hive by risking herself on the mission, the Wraith as a species will have no future if the mission fails, as the Asurans would likely soon wipe them out; Snow brings leadership and inspiration (sometimes quite personal) to the mission, as well as considerable programming skills.
When the purloined freighter enters the Asuran home system with Snow at the helm, Guide, Seeker, and Spark, along with extra dart pilots, hide out in its cargo bay alongside darts modified to avoid detection by Asuran sensors; they hardly dare breathe, for the ruse of an empty freighter on an automated recall course must hold long enough to reach dart range of Asuras. The gambit succeeds and the dart pilots make a beeline for the planet with Snow, Guide, Seeker, and Spark stashed in the darts' pattern buffers. The foursome are dropped off in the city-ship that serves as the centerpiece of the Asurans' sprawling capital, within walking distance of the data core. Aided by Seldom-Seen's camouflage devices, they avoid detection until they reach the data core.
Once they hack the Asuran system and begin programming the code patch, the Asurans become instantly aware of them and converge on their position. By the time the first few Asurans make it through the door and are disintegrated by the strike team's modified stunners, the code patch is complete; however, there are now seven minutes remaining until the new code is disseminated to the entire Asuran collective in the next system update. The Asurans, as expected, have adapted to the modified stunner blasts and the team, now defenseless, must flee. They manage to get to an outside ledge on the city-ship and the sole surviving dart lands nearby; the pilot informs them that the city-ship has raised shields—they are trapped inside.
Guide takes the dart's controls and beams the rest into the culling beam buffer; the Asuran shield is inferior to Ancient designs and can be weakened sufficiently by destroying any one of its ten emitters, located within the shield's perimeter. The city begins launching Drone weapons and Guide misses the target on the first pass; he takes another pass and succeeds in hitting the emitter, weakening the shield enough to allow the dart to punch through. The dart makes it to orbit, where several Asuran cruisers box it in; it has now been over seven minutes and the Asurans are still attacking. Guide begins to despair of failure; unable to call in the hive ship for pick-up into the middle of an Asuran cross-fire, he aims the dart at a cruiser's bridge in a suicide run. Just then, however, the cruisers all stop their attack and make back for orbit of Asuras, ignoring the dart completely. The mission has succeeded, and Guide calls in the hive.
Back aboard, Guide takes his place as Snow's Consort, Spark is made Master of Sciences Physical and, to Guide's mild chagrin, remains pallax, and Seeker is made Master of Sciences Biological. Seldom-Seen reflects on recent events and looks forward to a bright future for the hive, with a solid alliance of four great officers in control under Snow, as a new day dawns for the Wraith in the Pegasus galaxy.
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