Title: Never Stop Moving
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and its characters are the property of
Showtime/Viacom, MGM/US, 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 it to life.
Category/Rating: Gen/T - action/adventure, h/c, some angst
Characters: Team, though Teyla is the heart (and, yes, of course I hurt Sheppard and McKay, are you kidding? It's me we're talking about here!)
Status: COMPLETE. 23 Chapters
A/N: Taking a risk, I'm using an OC I created in a story called "Failure to Communicate." However, you don't need to read that to follow this. All you need to know will be explained in this story. Honestly, totally don't need to know him at all. I also promise he does not take away from the Team. It's not about him. Cross my heart.
A/N 2: This story was inspired by two things, the episode Submersion (you don't have to see it, it's not referenced—it's the visibly uncertain side of Teyla we see in that episode that brought this story on) and a photo which I'll put at the end.
CHAPTER ONE: ON THE WATER
Sheppard's shout was almost inaudible, nearly drowned out by the heavy whine of the hovercraft's engines and the storm raging outside. The colonel's entire body was tense, working the controls of the unwieldy craft with all the grace of an angry three-year-old. The whole thing tipped upwards on a swell, making him feel almost weightless, then slammed down on the far side hard enough to make his teeth rattle. Breathing out harshly, he tried again, louder this time.
"What?" came the shouted, terrified reply over Sheppard's left shoulder. The boat tipped up and slammed into the waves again, the fat, black rubber skirt doing little to cushion the choppy water they were skidding over, each hit sending his team into chairs and tables and consoles scattered about the small pilot room. Rodney was holding on somewhere behind him. Sheppard grimaced, jaw gritted tightly.
"Look out!" Rodney shouted.
Sheppard saw it at the same time, and wrenched the wheel under his hands to the left, the slick, damp leather sliding under his palms. His right hand shot out to grab the throttle, kicking it down a notch. The ship barely responded, turning only just enough to avoid the other hovercraft trying to cut off their escape. Ronon, the only one of them with a weapon, leaned out a window and shot his blaster towards the other boat, two rapid flashes of red light blinding against the dark, blue-black sky. Teyla was gripping some webbing along the wall near Ronon, just trying to hold on. She looked a little green.
"Damn it," Sheppard hissed, trying to straighten the ship up again, but the hovercraft was stuck now on the heading. "McKay!" he shouted again as he threw the throttle up to a faster speed, giving into the heading for now.
"Again, what?!" Rodney yelled again as he leaned closer, gripping the back of the pilot's chair in which Sheppard was sitting, his presence heavy against Sheppard's back.
"What?" McKay's response was more of a squeak this time, as Sheppard finally managed to get the wheel to turn back to center, his arms feeling like they were going to pop out of his sockets as he pulled on it with all the strength he had. The boat jerked suddenly, sending his team flying to the right as it tipped up. The hovercraft then hit a high swell on the new heading, and came down so hard, it was amazing they didn't flip over.
"I can't control it!" Sheppard shouted.
"What?!" This time, three people shouted that word, and Sheppard felt his teammates eyes on him, drilling into his back. He gritted his teeth, gripping the massive black wheel even more tightly. He'd already wrenched the throttle back up to full speed.
"I thought you said you could work it!" McKay yelled, staggering forward into Sheppard's chair again as the hovercraft hit another large swell. Ronon fell into the front, nearly hitting the Plexiglas windows, and Teyla fell into Ronon.
"I thought..." McKay yelled again, only to be interrupted by weapons' fire nearby, and the crack of bullets hitting the Plexiglas windows on their left, causing Rodney to jump. Ronon shoved past McKay, sending the scientist staggering towards the windows in front of Sheppard, and fired his blaster through an open porthole in the direction of the other craft.
"Damn it, Sheppard!" Rodney panicked, his default anger coming to fore to compensate for the crack in his voice. "You said it was just like flying! You said you knew how to—"
"It's not me!" Sheppard growled, using all his muscles to wrench the stiff wheel in another direction, opposite from their pursuers, all in similar hovercrafts...except the others had probably not been stolen from a maintenance bay. "The controls are messed! She's barely responding! You have to fix it!"
"What?" Rodney was gripping a console to stay in place as they tilted hard. "Are you crazy? I can't fix this boat!"
"That's worse! How am I supposed to—?"
"It's got an engine! You can fix anything!"
"Yes!" McKay's eyes were wide. "With tools! With parts! With a scanner! I've got nothing!"
"Rodney!" Sheppard spared a glance away from the swelling, black ocean to stare hard at the scientist.
Rodney shook his head, "I don't think you understand what I'm—"
"I understand! But if you don't fix this, we're screwed!"
"But..." McKay had staggered forward again, this time up to the windows in the front of the small control room, and Sheppard could see him trying to see through the dark, almost lightless storm—obviously trying to spot the small island housing the Stargate. This whole planet seemed to be made up only of islands, though there had to be a larger land mass somewhere, and the Stargate was housed on one of the smaller ones. The people controlling the islands were the ones they were trying to escape from—though, so far, not very successfully. Rodney stiffened, then pointed out the front, turning to look at Sheppard.
"Look, there's the Stargate! We're not that far! Can't we just—"
"We need to lose them first, McKay! They're too close. They'll be on our heels the second we hit the island. There won't be time to dial!"
"Just do it, McKay! That's an order!" Sheppard glared fully at Rodney, his tone brooking no further argument. The scientist swore, then turned and half ran, half staggered to the door at the rear of the control room leading outside, in order to get down to the engine room under their feet. Everyone jumped as he slammed the door open, upping the noise level as the wind screamed inside, before shutting it behind him. A second later, Sheppard's hazel eyes shifted to Teyla, still next to Ronon. "Teyla, go help him!"
The woman gave a nod, running after McKay, her movements no more steady on the rolling deck. Ronon fired a couple more red energy blasts out into the dark blue mire. Sheppard gritted his teeth...and turned the reluctant wheel away from the Stargate.
Teyla gasped as she pushed the door open, the freezing wind and rain stinging her eyes and stealing her breath. Her hand came up, blocking the worst of it, allowing her eyes to blink open and seek out the shadowed figure of Rodney. She spotted him already in the middle of the main deck below, grabbing the top of the curved ladder in the center leading down to the engine room. The wind was puffing out his jacket, as if trying to rip it off his shoulders. He leaned over to hit the button to open up the hatch...and slipped on the slick wooden deck, landing hard on his knees, his hold on the ladder head the only thing stopping him from falling more.
"Rodney!" she shouted, worried. He didn't look up, probably not even aware that she was following him. You couldn't hear yourself think in this much noise. Instead, she just saw him pull himself up to his feet as the hatch opened fully, then turn to get onto the ladder...and lower himself down through the square hatch to the rooms below.
Realizing he would probably close it after himself unless she moved quickly, she climbed down the steep, slippery staircase from the control room to the main deck, and shouted Rodney's name again. He just continued his downward climb through the hatch, disappearing from view.
Hand over hand, she used the webbed tarpaulin holding down the rescue boats and other items on the deck to pull herself to the opening. Hail pelted her arms and face, and icy water started running down the back of her neck, plastering her hair to her skin. She was shaking with cold when she finally managed to lock a hand on the top of the ladder.
"Rodney!" she shouted, looking down, grateful to see the hatch still open.
Amazingly, Rodney looked up, his blue eyes widening in surprise at her appearance. His hand was hovering over the button to close the hatch.
"John sent me to help!" she shouted.
He frowned, then, with an impatient gesture, waved at her to climb down. "Hurry up!"
She did, swinging around onto the ladder and sliding down, rather than climbing. As she hit the deck below, Rodney, still standing there, hit the button to close the hatch. It was instantly quieter as it shut out the wailing rains.
"Come on," he ordered, turning and climbing through a narrow, oval shaped doorway towards what had to be the main engine room, dripping water the entire way.
She followed, staggering still because of the uneven footing, and immediately started sweating, even despite the storm's chill. The engine room was blazingly hot, the fans holding up the hovercraft obviously not venting the engine heat properly. The room was large, as long and as wide as the boat itself, about the size of a good sized lecture hall. The whole place was lit with a red glow, making it difficult to see clearly. Who lit a room with red light?
Teyla wavered a moment in the door, overcome briefly by the abrupt change from freezing to heat, and a headache started beat against her skull. Breathing out slowly, she looked up, eyes seeking Rodney's hunched form as he obviously struggled against the same problem.
"Fix it," Rodney mimicked as he came to a stop in the middle of the hot room, next to what looked like a marble topped workbench table. "Just do it. You can fix anything, Rodney." He turned in a tight circle, and pulled off his jacket as he did so, dropping the sodden garment to the ground. "I'm not a hovercraft expert! I know nothing about boats! What is he thinking I can..." He trailed off, noting Teyla watching him intently. He frowned. "What?"
She had moved close, standing only a couple feet away on the other side of the workbench, her eyes locked on his. "You can do this," she assured him.
He swallowed, shook his head, and looked up. "Fine. Sure. Whatever. First," he said, "I need real light." He turned in a circle again, and pointed around the room, as if using his finger to focus his eyes as he searched out the light controls.
"Why are they red?" she asked, then gasped as the boat rocked hard to the right. She landed hard against the workbench, and Rodney fell into a metal banister separating this small central area from parts of the engine on that side of the craft. He squawked and backed off, shaking his hands as if they'd been burnt.
"Because," Rodney drew in a breath, as if he'd had the wind knocked out of him, still shaking his hands as he looked up, "it's serving as a warning. The lights probably go red to warn whomever is in the engine room to get the hell out." He didn't see the look of shock on her face that his words engendered, looking instead off to his left. "Ha! There." He moved to whatever it was he saw, a control panel that, to Teyla, looked like all the others in this place. He touched the metal cover...and hissed, drawing back his hand and shaking it. "Damn it! This is hell!" He looked back at her, opening his mouth to call for something, but she was already ahead of him. Grabbing up his dropped, still wet jacket, she threw it to him. He nodded thanks, wrapped the damp garment around his hand, and, using the jacket like an impromptu oven mitt, he opened the control panel...and hit three switches.
Instantly, the red lights changed to very bright yellow lights, and Teyla sighed in relief. Pulling off her own jacket and feeling her wet hair curl in the oppressive humidity, she continued to watch Rodney as he stepped back to her side, his still jacket encased hand gripping the metal banister again. She placed her jacket on the stone workbench and rested her hands on her hips as she listened to him mutter.
He was staring around the room again, his bright blue eyes flickering over everything with an intensity Teyla could only wonder at. She knew what he was doing, and it impressed her more than she could ever express in words.
"Okay...two engines," he said softly, "One for...must be for the lift. Probably the smaller. Which means the larger..." his eyes shifted from the left to the right, raising a hand to encompass machinery behind Teyla, "must be for thrust. But speed we have. It's control we lack...meaning...the hydraulics, are....Gotcha. Ah...that could be a problem...So what are those...?"
Teyla tried to follow, looking at whatever it was McKay looked at, trying to understand his half formed sentences, but...it all looked the same to her. All the machines were painted a faded red color, although numbers had been painted on some of them, and different gauges were visible on each one, all jiggling at various points, many of them clearly over their limits. How he could discern the differences in any of the machinery in here just by looking at them was beyond her.
"Sheppard," Rodney suddenly yelled, "Can you hear me?"
Teyla looked to her left, surprised that she hadn't noticed Rodney move over to what looked like a small grate on one side of the room. He was pushing down on a large white button under the grate.
"Sheppard!" he called, his lips close to the grate. "Look on the controls in front of you! If you can hear me, hit whatever new button has just lit up!" McKay closed his eyes, then looked up at the ceiling, as if he could see through it to where Sheppard and Ronon were.
"Rodney?" Sheppard's muffled voice suddenly came through the grate. It sounded even more surprised than Teyla. "I can hear you! Where are you coming from?"
"There's an intercom, obviously!" Rodney yelled back, "And you have to speak up! We can barely hear you!"
"Right! How's it look?" Sheppard shouted.
"I need you to tell me exactly what's wrong with the steering! And anything else you're having trouble with!"
"Turning! I can't turn right easily at all! And every time I cut back to the left, I lose a ton of speed until I'm going straight again! And they're definitely going faster than us! I think the weather and Ronon are the only reason we haven't been completely surrounded yet!"
McKay listened to this all, then turned around. "Okay! I'll...Okay! Just hang on!" His eyes were skimming across the machinery in the room, narrowing and opening. Finally he nodded. Blue eyes locked on Teyla at the workbench, then he was moving back to her side, waving a hand at her to get out of the way.
"Move," he ordered, eyes already studying the workbench. Teyla moved once, then again as he glared at her. He seemed to be looking for something in the long, coffin-like fixture, bending over and running his hands along the wooden sides. Teyla went to stand on the far side from him, then leaned over the top.
"Rodney," she said, trying not to sound desperate in her need to be useful, "What can I do?"
He glanced up at her, frowning, clearly annoyed at the interruption. Then grimaced further as she gave him her most open look—she had been sent to help. There had to be something she could do...
Rodney pressed his lips in a thin line, then pointed towards the communications grate. "Go over there."
She did without question, and he pointed again. "And stay there. To talk to Sheppard you have to press down that button. You can relay for us while I work. You understand?"
She just nodded, not caring in the slightest how rude he was being. She knew her true value, right now, and it wasn’t much.
Rodney was muttering again.
"Tools. There must be...a ha!" He grinned as he bent down, disappearing fully behind the workbench. Teyla watched as he reemerged with a box—how in the world had he found that? A moment later, he had it open and was rifling through it. "Yes!"
He grinned even more as he showed her what he had found—a roll of thick, darkly colored tape.
"Tape?" she asked.
"Well done!" he replied, still grinning. Then he turned and looked around...and jumped over to what, to her, looked like a series of fat metal tubes that ran from floor to ceiling. Steam was pouring out of them from what appeared to be broken seams over his head. His eyes skimmed up, studied them a minute, then looked down at the ground. He couldn't reach high enough to reach the broken seams. Then he looked back at the workbench, and snapped his fingers. A second later, he'd snapped close the toolbox, dropped it to the floor and pushed it up against the metal tubes. Then he climbed up it, unspooled the tape...and taped up the pipes where the steam was coming out.
She could see the sweat pouring down his face and arms, staining his black T-shirt as he worked.
"What are they?" she yelled when he stopped to wipe his bare arm across his wet forehead.
"Hydraulics!" he called back, shouting more as the hissing rose in pitch where he started to tape up the broken pipes. "They're connected to steering. At least part of the problem is here. But something caused them to overload in the first place, to cause them to burst. For now, though, I just need them to work better, then I can...there!" He ripped the tape with his teeth and looked over at her as he pressed the tape to seal the last broken seam in the metal tube. "Ask him if that's better!"
She reached for the comm., but Sheppard beat her to it.
"McKay! You genius! The wheel's turning more easily! Now the rest!"
"Yes, yes, the rest..." McKay muttered, stepping off the box...and falling hard into the workbench as the craft tipped scarily up on its side again. A faint hiss could be heard from the pipes...the tape wouldn't hold for long...
Teyla had fallen into the hot wall, and hissed as she pulled away, her arm stinging from the contact, already turning red. Looking up, she saw the McKay was now climbing up on top of what looked like part of an engine...
"Be..." she started to call, then stopped before she said the word 'careful.' There was no careful here. He didn't respond—probably didn't even hear her, already intent on fixing the next problem.
She bit her lip. Why was she here, really? What she could do to help?
Because all she could do...was watch.
"What we really need," McKay yelled back at her from where he appeared to be straddling to large pieces of machinery, "is more speed!"
She just nodded, not answering out loud. She had no doubt in her mind that he would give them exactly that.
The fugitive hovercraft, moving more swiftly than before, skidded between two of the windward islands near the Ancestral Ring and suddenly banked hard to the right, almost going up entirely on its side...before landing hard on the inflatable base.
A couple of men were guarding the Ancestral Ring, and they'd been watching the chase with amusement. The hovercraft that the police had been trying to run down was clearly damaged, moving sluggishly, and only the bright red bolts of energy from its pilot house had kept the police at bay. Then, almost abruptly, it started to work better. The police had obviously not been prepared for the sudden burst of speed the tiny hovercraft managed, sending it flying away between the two leeward islands on the far side of the Ancestral Ring's island. The police moved to follow, but now they were the ones who were sluggish. The fugitive hovercraft had disappeared into the foggy night, leaving the police behind.
The two guards had tried to see through the mire, to keep an eye on the chase, but even following it by sound was denied them in the heavy rains. For about ten, maybe twenty minutes, they kept watching, eying the direction in which all the hovercrafts had disappeared.
And then, suddenly, somehow, the formerly damaged hovercraft came from the opposite side of the Ring's island, and was aiming straight for them. It was on its own, having obviously lost its pursuers. Whoever was piloting it was good.
It wasn't until it had almost reached them that the two guards realized it wasn't slowing down.
"Brakes? What do you mean, brakes?!" McKay yelled, standing up next to Teyla on the platform next to the communications grate. His face was bright red, angry. Teyla was leaning away from him, trying not to touch any of the metal walls around them with her bare skin anymore than she already had.
"We're not slowing down! Are there brakes of some kind?"
"Are you kidding? It's a BOAT, Colonel! It doesn't have brakes!"
"But there has to be something! What—"
"Reverse thrusters! Just like a plane! There should be reverse thrusters! Isn't there a reverse button on the throttle?"
"Of course there are reverse thrusters! What do you think I tried first! But I can't get the throttle down that far! It's jammed! I'm not an idiot, McKay! I'm asking if there is another way to slow—"
"No! There isn't! There may be an anchor somewhere on the deck, but—"
"Damn it...okay, okay...hang on...You know, I think we can use this to our advantage. But we'll have to jump."
"JUMP?!" McKay screamed.
The two guards started backing up, watching the craft get closer and closer to shore, aiming straight for them.
"I don't think it's slowing down," one of them said dumbly.
"No, it ain't," the other agreed, his eyes fixed on the ship.
"In fact...is it going faster?"
The second one swallowed, jumping a little as the roar of the hovercraft's engines became even louder over sound of the storm, showing just how close it was now. He took another step back and nodded quickly. "Oh...oh, it's definitely going faster."
"Um..." the first guard turned to his companion, and the second guard met the gaze, and, in that split second glance, a decision was made.
They turned and ran.
Consequently, neither of them saw the four bodies leap off the side of the hovercraft into the ocean just before the hovercraft hit dry land...and didn't stop.
The hovercraft careened up the grass slope, aiming for the small, recently vacated guard house to the left of the Stargate. The massive craft slammed into the side of the wooden structure, splintering it into pieces like it was made of popsicle sticks, and kept going. It aimed straight for the row of trader's shacks on the far side, its seemingly wrathful drive never slowing.
Four figures staggered out of the water, up the grass beach. The tallest ran forward, straight up to the DHD, and began to dial. The other three moved more slowly, and two ended up supporting the third as complaints about a twisted ankle grew louder and more furious with each step.
The wormhole exploded into life, and the tallest turned around, aiming a red lit blaster at the water behind the three people still coming up the slope behind him.
Police hovercrafts, with horns blaring and lights flashing, were now converging on the small island.
But they wouldn't be fast enough.
Ronon shot one more bolt of energy (just for fun) as he watched his team disappear through the wormhole, then followed.
The wormhole shut down just as the stolen hovercraft, still running at top speed through the empty marketplace, tearing through the lean-tos and spindly fencing with ease, suddenly hit a large boulder, tipped up on its side, crashed....
And exploded in a massive fireball.
CHAPTER TWO: FACING THE WIND
"What happened?" Elizabeth's voice echoed through the Gateroom, both worried and, beneath that, a touch petulant.
John sighed as he watched her bound down the stairs towards them, her eyes intent on the four very wet members of Sheppard's Team coming through the wormhole from the Alpha Site, towels draped around their shoulders. He straightened, about to answer, when Ronon, coming to a stop right next to him, suddenly began shaking his head like a massive shaggy dog, spraying water everywhere. Sheppard just closed his eyes and took it—it wasn't like he could get any more wet.
"Oh, good GOD! What are you, Marmaduke?" Rodney hopped to one side, trying to get away from the tall man, only to be caught by Teyla before he fell on his rear. She smiled, lifted him up, and, before he could pull away, slung his arm over her shoulder and held on. He grumpily accepted the help.
Elizabeth's eyebrows lifted as she came to a stop in front of them, her arms crossing tightly over her chest. "Are you all alright?" She could plainly see that they were, other than Rodney's ankle, so it was a bit of a loaded question. Or rather, it was a question intended to mean the opposite of what it actually meant. She was clearly not pleased, and their not being badly hurt would negate the need for a sympathy factor.
"All right?" McKay gasped, unsurprisingly not picking up on Elizabeth's real intent. "Are you kidding? We look like extras from the Poseidon Adventure, how can you even—"
"Doctor McKay may have sprained his ankle," Teyla supplied quickly, "but we are otherwise not badly hurt."
John managed not to groan at Teyla's honesty, but he failed not to grimace. There went that 'out.'
Elizabeth arched an eyebrow at him, not in the least bit fooled. "Good," she said to Teyla. "And your clothes?" She asked because, besides the fact that neither Rodney nor Teyla had their jackets, both had ripped their trousers off at the thighs, making it appear like they were wearing sloppy Bermuda shorts. The towels around their shoulders only added to the effect of vacationers returning from a hellish holiday.
"We ran out of tape," McKay replied, sighing a little and dropping his head tiredly.
"We...," Teyla glanced at McKay, then turned back to Elizabeth, "we were attempting to fix the engine of a hovercraft we had procured, but ran out of the tape we had located in the emergency toolbox. So—"
"We improvised," McKay finished, still with his head down, though he did shoot a dark sideways glance at John. He actually did sound really tired now, despite the snark. Sheppard couldn't actually tell if it was faked or not, though...he had his doubts.
"Yes," Teyla agreed. "We needed to tie off spitting valves and the like, so..." She shrugged, then pulled Rodney higher up on her shoulder. If anything, Rodney drooped further. Sheppard rolled his eyes.
Elizabeth accepted that with a soft, understanding smile, offering Teyla a nod (apparently, the Athosian was automatically seen as blameless, something Sheppard felt was very unfair) before turning a laser-like stare on the Colonel. The eyebrows lifted like a whip-crack.
"Um..." John pressed his lips together, licked them, then smiled. "Your office?"
"I think you'd better," she said coolly. She glanced at Teyla. "See Rodney gets to the infirmary," she offered kindly. "I'm sure the Colonel can brief me sufficiently." Teyla nodded, and started shuffling Rodney away. John glared daggers at the scientist, who threw him a quick, knowing grin before disappearing, eyes sparkling. Bastard! John knew he was faking! Oh, he was so going to get him for that.
Ronon, meanwhile, made to follow Teyla and Rodney, but the sound of Elizabeth loudly clearing her throat stopped that. Her eyes were narrowed, as if daring the Satedan to try to get away. Ronon lowered his head and turned back around. Sheppard smiled at him, and Ronon gave him a dark look.
Elizabeth pivoted on one foot and stalked back to the stairs, Ronon and Sheppard following unhappily behind.
The people in the Gateroom tried their best not to watch, but it was hard to ignore. Especially when each squelching step of Ronon and Sheppard on the stairs left a small puddle behind. They watched as the two men followed her into her office, then stopped on the far side of the desk as she walked behind it. She turned and crossed her arms, expression stern.
"So, I repeat," Elizabeth said, her voice steady and soft inside her office, "what happened? I thought we agreed you were only supposed to shake hands, scan for an underwater Ancient facility, and return...preferably with a nice trade agreement? Instead...you're sopping wet, hurt and, as usual, looking like you only just escaped with your lives."
"Was kinda close," Ronon drawled, shrugging unapologetically. Elizabeth's eyes widened, and she shook her head in exasperation before focusing back on John. He just gave a sheepish smile in agreement, and she lowered her head.
"Damn it, John," she sighed. "What was it this time? And why did you have to return via the Alpha Site?"
"Lost our GDOs," Ronon answered again. Elizabeth stared at him a minute, then looked at both of them more closely, as if realizing for the first time that Sheppard was without his vest and gun.
"I see. Taken from you, I assume. I also assume that you lost all the rest of your equipment as well, except for your weapon, Ronon." Her eyebrows lifted again.
"Turns out," Sheppard said, shrugging, "they didn't like us."
Elizabeth pursed her lips. "Why?"
"It wasn't our fault, I promise," Sheppard said, raising his hands. "At least...not entirely."
Elizabeth's eyes narrowed. "Teyla said they were a peaceful people, and well-known traders in the galaxy. Their oceans providing—"
"That's just it," Sheppard said, shaking his head. "They are traders, and not the regular kind. They're the Gloucester fisherman kind—fiercely competitive and willing to die rather than give up what they see as their domain. When we tried to explain that we only wanted to scan their oceans for a facility, they didn't believe us."
"They thought we were trying to hurt their oceans," Ronon explained.
"Hurt?" Elizabeth repeated. "How?"
"Well...," Sheppard grimaced, "Okay, that might have been my fault."
"He really has to get over the bug thing," Ronon agreed, shaking his head again, sending more droplets to the floor.
Elizabeth winced slightly, glancing at her silk Persian rug (a gift from a former Iranian ambassador), before asking, "Bug thing?"
"They've this ugly black crustacean," Ronon said, when Sheppard seemed disinclined to speak. "Looks like an Iratus Bug."
Elizabeth's expression softened, and she looked at John, who was pressing his lips together tightly and rocking back a little on his heels.
"What did you do?" she asked gently.
"I, uh...might have shot one that was crawling towards me," the colonel replied evenly, not quite meeting her gaze. "Just as Rodney and Teyla were trying to explaining to their leader in his fancy, glass-walled mansion why we wanted to explore their oceans more fully...."
"Glass walled mansion?" Elizabeth repeated. Sheppard winced. "You fired your weapon at a creature in a house made of glass?"
"He shot more than one," Ronon added, smiling a little. "He freaked out and shot every single one in the room, including those in the tanks and three that were hanging on the glass walls."
"I didn't know they were decoration!" Sheppard insisted through clenched teeth. "Or hollow!"
"Walls shattered," Ronon gave a tiny grin at that. "Water and fish and stuff went everywhere..." He had grabbed one of his dreadlocks as he spoke and was squeezing, water dripping steadily down on Elizabeth's rug. She shuddered a little, trying not to react. Instead, she stared at the colonel, eyes pained.
"You destroyed their leader's home." It was more a statement than a question.
"It was apparently a little like their Versailles." Sheppard's features were pinched. "They weren't happy."
"Oh dear God," Elizabeth closed her eyes.
"Didn't matter." Ronon shrugged. "Wasn't like they were gonna help us anyway."
Elizabeth's eyes twitched, and she frowned. "What? Why not?"
Sheppard sighed, "Because they thought Rodney was really trying to steal from them." He looked up, "I just iced the cake, so to speak."
"Yeah, iced," Ronon repeated, and the tiny smile on his face was back.
Elizabeth was shaking her head in confusion. "Steal? Steal what?"
Sheppard shook his head, annoyance in his tone now. "They got it into their heads that we weren't there to look for an underground facility, but to steal their sea-life, to breed our own. And—"
"Compete with them," Elizabeth finished with a single, understanding nod. "I see." She sat down behind her desk. "So, between the mistrust and the," she rolled a hand around in the air, "massive destruction of a sacred landmark...?"
"They arrested us. We escaped. Stole a half-broken hovercraft and found Ronon's gun. Took part in a merry chase, with us as the chase-ees..." Sheppard had been ticking up fingers as he spoke, and he made a fist as he finished with, "And made it home, with nothing more than a sprained ankle and salt-encrusted hair." He smiled, as if to say, isn't that all that matters?
Elizabeth's eyes narrowed, then she seemed to deflate. "So, now there's another group of people who hate us," she stated miserably.
"Yeah," John grimaced sympathetically, "probably."
"Great." She released a massive sigh, then looked up at the two men. "Okay. Cross PX2-557 off our list for now. It was unlikely we'd find anything anyway." She shrugged, and gave an odd, forced looking smile. "You two go clean up. Dry off. We'll talk about this more tomorrow."
The two men nodded, turning.
"Oh, and Colonel?" Elizabeth called, halting John in the door. He turned, eyebrows lifted. She offered a simpering smile. "You might want to go talk to Kate again," she suggested, her voice honey sweet, "about the bug thing?"
He just stared at her a moment longer, then turned and left, not dignifying that with an answer.
Teyla stepped to one side after she deposited Rodney next to an infirmary bed, watching as he pushed himself up to sit on it with a groan. He lifted the towel still around his shoulders and roughly dried his head before dropping it to the side, leaving his hair sticking up at all angles. She pulled her own towel tighter about her shoulders—she felt very cold still. As if on cue, she shivered.
"Yeah, a couple of blankets would be nice, huh?" Rodney groused, having obviously spotted the shiver. He leaned forward off the bed, trying to see around the corner into the main infirmary. He was clearly looking for Carson. "Where the hell is everyone anyway? Shouldn't Elizabeth have radioed down that we were coming? It's like a ghost town." He cupped his hands round his mouth and called loudly, "Hello! Injured heroes returned from the front here!"
Teyla looked up from where she'd been unconsciously staring at the towel Rodney had dropped. Her mind had been wandering, still mostly back on the planet, back in that engine room. Blinking a little at his shout, she glanced across at the clock on the wall.
"It's 2:30 in the morning," she noted quietly.
"Hmm?" Rodney frowned at her, then he too looked across at the clock. He frowned more when he saw how late it was. "Oh. Still, shouldn't—"
"Doctor McKay?" A young, blonde haired doctor appeared from around a corner, smiling brightly. "I got a call that you were back. Something about an ankle?"
Rodney immediately tensed, his whole body going rigid. "Where's Carson?"
The woman's eyebrows lifted, "Doctor Beckett? He's asleep—as is most of the city. You were not expected back for another day, and unless this is a medical emergency he—"
"Hell yes, it's a medical emergency!" Rodney lifted his abused leg, pointing at his ankle, "Mission injury! Not to mention," he plucked at his wet shirt, "possible near drowning. I need a real doctor! Where's Carson?"
The woman stared at him a moment, obviously taken aback. Teyla tried not to smile. Whoever this doctor was, this was clearly her first time dealing with Rodney. Abruptly, the woman frowned.
"Doctor McKay, I am a real doctor. Doctor Beckett may be the chief medical officer, but—"
"Yes, that's right. He's the CMO. And I'm the Chief Scientist. Only chiefs look at chiefs. So why don't you just give him a call and—"
"He's running on very little sleep as it is, Doctor McKay. Please, I am perfectly qualified to—"
"Qualified, sure," Rodney crossed his arms. "But competent? That I don't know. Biro's qualified, but I wouldn't let her touch my ankle unless it was bluer than your scrubs." He lifted his chin, "And I don't know you at all."
Her eyes narrowed, and she crossed her own arms. "You would really wake up Doctor Beckett, who spent eight hours in surgery with Doctor Morrison today and is completely exhausted, just because you don't know if I'm competent?"
McKay smiled, "Yup."
"Well, I won't wake him up." She lifted her chin to match Rodney's.
"Fine, then I will." Rodney reached up to touch his ear, then stopped when all he felt was his own skin. No radio. He frowned, and looked around, obviously looking for a radio. At the last second, he saw the one that the doctor wore. "Um...can I have yours?"
"No." Then she smiled evilly, her hands dropping to rest at her hips. "Want to fight me for it?"
"No, but I bet I could get Teyla to do it. She'd wipe the floor with you—wouldn't you, Teyla?"
Teyla jumped slightly at her name, having drifted off again, and blinked a few times. "What?" she asked. The doctor was looking at her quizzically, and Teyla frowned. What had Rodney been saying? Something about...
"Take her radio from her so I can call Carson," Rodney repeated, pointing at the doctor. Teyla's eyebrows lifted, then pressed down as she gave him a withering look, causing his smug expression to disappear.
"Let her look at you, Rodney," she said firmly. Rodney gave her a betrayed look, as if he expected her to back him up, but Teyla continued to give him a 'don't even think about it' stare. Rodney frowned, and returned his focus to the doctor.
He met the woman's arched stare for a long time, his arms still crossed, and then, without any warning, he deflated, his shoulders slumping in defeat.
"Fine," he mumbled. "But for the record," he peered up at her through his eyebrows, "I'm only agreeing because I'm exhausted and in pain."
The doctor just gave him a wry look, but made no comment as she stepped forward. "Could you remove your boot, please?"
Teyla was leaning against the end of Rodney's bed, back to feeling invisible as Rodney untied the laces and then hissed in pain when he pulled off the wet boot, and the equally wet sock. Both he and the doctor regarded the sock with disgust as he dropped it to the floor, using only two fingers, as if it were something revolting.
He wasn't wrong.
Teyla's eyes drifted from the sock back to Rodney, noting the burns on his arms and hands as he leaned forward to watch the doctor start to manipulate his ankle. He would have to get those seen to as well. It reminded her that he had not complained once about the burns or how he got them. Images of the scientist working doggedly on the hovercraft's engines came to mind, his deft hands solving problem after problem, getting them the speed and the maneuverability they needed for John to outfox their pursuers. John had then used everything Rodney had given him, the colonel's expertise saving their lives...as always.
She could not have done any of it herself. All she had been was in the way. Standing in that engine room, feeling more and more like a liability. John, Rodney and Ronon had all been vital, while she just tried to hold on.
She closed her eyes, stopping her mind from dwelling on her inability to help back on the planet. It was too late to think of such things. Clearing her throat, she straightened. She needed to do something more than just stand here.
"I should return to the Control Room," she said, looking to Rodney.
He just frowned, then winced as the doctor turned his ankle in a way that obviously hurt. "Why?" he asked, clearly thinking it was a bad idea.
"To help debrief Doctor Weir," Teyla said. "She will need to hear—"
"What? Are you crazy? Elizabeth's going to be furious!" Rodney's face was almost comical as he stared at her. Then he grimaced, shaking his head. "Why subject yourself to that? Besides," he looked back at his ankle in the doctor's hands, "it's not like you're needed. Sheppard and Ronon can handle it. What could you possibly add?"
Teyla stared at him, his words sinking into her skin like acid. She knew he had not meant his words generally, but they were so close to her own thoughts, it was like a slap in the face. And, worse, he was right. Utterly and completely. What could she add? Her eyes lowered to the ground, and she gathered the towel even tighter around her shoulders. "I see your point."
"Heh," Rodney smirked, "told you. Ow!" He looked down at the doctor, "Do you have to twist it so hard! Ease up, She-Ra! What part of 'in pain' did you not understand?"
That earned him a dark look, but the woman did seem to lighten her touch a little. Teyla slumped against the bed again, earning her another look from Rodney, though this time he looked a little puzzled by her behavior, as if noticing her depression for the first time. Then he winced again, in connection with one more press on his clearly swollen ankle.
"Ow! Damn it! Why aren't you done?" he demanded.
"I'm done," the doctor said as she lowered his leg, sounding almost as relieved as Rodney looked at that pronouncement. "I think you sprained it."
"Gee, you think?" Rodney asked with false perkiness. The young woman looked up, about to answer 'yes', when she saw the patronizing look on his face. She grimaced.
"Oh," she said, straightening and placing her hands on her hips. "Well, we should probably take X-rays, just in case."
Rodney just stared at her instead of replying, not letting up his glare. She finally dropped her arms and ducked her head, muttering something about going to get it set up, and quickly walked away.
Teyla grimaced, and stepped forward again. She knew he was uncomfortable with anyone checking on him other than Carson, but still...
"Rodney," she said softly, holding her arms close about her as she looked out the way the young woman had left. "You really should not speak to Carson's—"
"You should get something for those burns," he said suddenly.
Teyla looked back, to find him looking at her arms. Frowning, she stretched them out in front of her, turning them inwards to see the damage better. They were dark and puffy and, in some places, almost purple—just like the ones she had been noticing on Rodney's own arms. And now that she was looking at them—they started to ache. She also felt a little sick to her stomach.
"Oh," she said softly, blinking once, "I had forgotten about my arms."
"You forgot?" Rodney snorted. "Your arms look like someone with palsy tried to steam iron your skin, and you forgot?"
"I fell into the engine room wall a few times," she explained, feeling foolish all of a sudden. She pulled them back, once more hiding them under the cover of the towel. "The floor was unsteady."
"Yes," he said, tone as dry as the desert, "because we were on a boat." He fairly popped the last word.
She swallowed, lowering her arms to her sides again. "Hitting the walls must have burned my arms."
"No, really? And here I thought it was a bad tanning bed accident."
"There was nothing to hang onto next to the communicator. I could not avoid—"
"Teyla," he gave her his best 'you are an idiot' stare, "I know. I was there, remember?"
Her teeth gritted. How could she not? He had been there, pulling off the impossible, while she had done nothing but get hurt. Stupidly, idiotically hurt.
"It is nothing," she said, flushing now, both in anger and embarrassment. "I am fine."
"Oh, please," he sneered. "It is not nothing and you are not fine. We're safe; you don't need to be all ridiculously stoic and proud now."
Teyla winced at that. Why was he pushing her like this? It felt like he was being abnormally caustic, but she willed herself not to respond to his tone in kind. She was feeling miserable enough as it was.
"I will ask the doctor for something," she mumbled finally, looking vaguely in the direction that the young woman had disappeared, and then closing her eyes. She kept her face averted from him deliberately.
Fact was...Rodney had never, ever made her feel small, but, for some reason she could not fully explain, he was making her feel that way now. Tears pricked at the edges of her eyes, and she fought to keep them at bay.
"Teyla," Rodney's voice had changed, softened, "are you okay?" Teyla frowned, blinked to get rid of the wetness, and turned to look at him again. He was watching her worriedly—he may not be the most astute of men, but he also wasn't blind. "Teyla, look, I don't know why I just said all that about the tanning bed and stuff. Look, I just, you know, what with the whole being wet and cold and my ankle hurting and the near death experience thing..." He frowned, knowing he really didn't need to explain it to her after three years. "Just...are you really okay?"
"I answered that already," she said softly, looking away again. "I said, I was fine."
He frowned more deeply. "Yeah, I know, but, are you sure? Because I'm thinking maybe that doctor should look at you first. You're acting a little weird. You might have picked up something from the water, you know. All sorts of parasites live—"
"For the third time, I am fine," she said again, this time a little more angrily.
"Oh, Teyla, seriously, look at you. Look at your arms. You're clearly—"
"Why will you not listen to me?" she demanded, finally turning to look at him, ignoring his jump at her snap. " I may not know as much as you, but I should think I know my own body. I have repeated several times that—"
"Doctor McKay?" the blonde doctor had returned, smiling a little too broadly—it was obviously forced. "The machine is ready." She was pushing a wheelchair in front of her.
Rodney, still looking a bit shocked by Teyla's outburst, pointed at the Athosian. "You need to check Teyla. Something's wrong with her."
The doctor's eyebrows lifted, and she looked at the Athosian. "Teyla? Are you—"
"Oh for...I am fine!" Teyla spat, shaking her head. "There is nothing wrong. I am merely tired."
"Oh, come on, Teyla." Rodney frowned, rolling his eyes a little. "Don't be stupid." He looked at the doctor again, "Make sure she's okay. She's obviously sick."
"I am not stupid, Rodney," Teyla said quietly, defensively.
"Really? Because telling a doctor you're fine when you're obviously having some sort of episode seems pretty stup—"
"I am not having an episode!" Teyla snapped. She could feel her face burning, some of the old rage she had once felt at Sergeant Bates returning. She saw Rodney flinch again at her harsh tone, but she no longer cared. "And how dare you call me stupid, twice!"
Rodney, blinking away quickly, started to splutter. "Teyla. I...I didn't mean....Of course, you're not stupid. Not, I mean, all the time. Just...I mean, it's stupid not to be looked at..." He trailed off at her increasingly bilious expression. It sounded like he was humoring her, and it caused Teyla's ire to rise even higher. She moved to face him, crossing her arms despite how much they hurt and lifting her chin.
"Not all the time?" she repeated, furious now. "So you think I am stupid some of the time?"
Rodney's mouth worked, but no sound came out. Teyla leaned forward, able to meet him eye to eye since he was sitting on the gurney.
"Just because I can not do what you do, does not make me stupid, Doctor McKay," she said softly. He backed away, clearly more afraid of the quiet in her voice now than the loudness from before. "Nor does it make me a fool, however much you may think so. And I will thank you not to say such a thing to me again."
And with that, she turned and walked out of the infirmary, not looking back.
Consequently, she didn't see Rodney's slack-jawed expression, or hear him question the doctor: "Where the hell did that come from?"
Teyla's swift stride slowed as she neared the transporter on this level, realizing for the first time that she had no real idea where she was going. She had just been walking, moving through her anger.
But why had she been so angry? And so defensive? She had never felt it necessary to defend herself to Rodney before. She had learned a long time ago that he did not mean what he said, and, when he did mean it, he never meant it to belittle, just "stating fact" in most cases. And, it was true, most of the time it was exactly that—the truth.
She had been acting "stupid" — the doctor could easily have looked at her arms and given her something. She was feeling ill, and her arms did hurt—she should not have said it was nothing. He didn't mean that she was stupid—just that she had said something stupid just then...a distinction she normally would have made without even thinking about it.
But she had not made that distinction. And her reaction had been irrationally angry.
She slowed to a stop, standing still and alone in the empty hallway. She felt tears on her face, and wiped them away impatiently using the backs of her hands before crossing her arms tightly across her chest. They were aching quite a lot now, and she was still shivering with cold. She lowered her head and closed her eyes.
Fact is, it did not take much soul searching to know what was really bothering her.
Rodney had made her feel small...because she felt small. She had never felt so useless as she had in that engine room. It was only compounded by the fact that she had gotten hurt—and she hadn't even been doing anything useful. Everyone had been doing something—John was piloting the craft, using his knowledge of machines to guide them through, as he always did, maneuvering them to safety. Ronon had been defending them—the only one capable of doing so, since he had been able to find his weapon on one of the men guarding them in their cell. And Rodney....Rodney had been achieving the impossible. Yet again.
And she had done nothing more than hit a button on a communications device when ordered. Her only contribution.
And it wasn't the first time that had happened. So often she had felt pushed to the back on missions, watching as John or Rodney pulled off a miracle, or Ronon almost single-handedly defeated some unimaginable enemy. And she just...watched.
What value was she, really? What use? What would her father say, knowing that she had boxed herself into a role of such insignificance? He had raised her to lead, to be at the forefront of the fight...not to just watch.
The Athosian looked up and turned around, to see the young doctor jogging towards her. The woman had a kind smile on her face, and a tube of lotion in one hand.
"Teyla," she let out a breath, "I'm glad I caught you. Doctor McKay explained you might have some burns. This should help." She handed Teyla the lotion, and gave her quick instructions on how to use it. "You may also be feeling a little ill," she added perkily, "sick to your stomach, headachy and cold....maybe a little overemotional?" Her eyebrow arched when she said the last, and Teyla grimaced. The doctor pushed on, "All that will pass. Just rest and drink plenty of fluids." When she was finished, she studied Teyla moment, her eyes narrowing a little in contemplation. She tilted her head. "Are you sure you're all right? Other than the burns, I mean?"
Teyla stared at her, wishing that she didn't feel the liquid burning at the corners of her eyes. She knew what that meant, and she was terrified she would not be able to stop them from falling.
"I am fine," she said, her voice no calmer than she felt.
The young woman frowned some more, and shook her head. "Clearly," she said softly, "you are not."
Teyla looked away, willing herself not to blink, and for the liquid to reabsorb. She did not know this doctor well—she had covered for Carson a few times in the infirmary, Teyla knew, but not often enough to make any real impression.
Fact was, she was a stranger.
"Teyla?" the doctor prompted again.
Teyla's eyes dropped to the lotion in her hand. "Thank you for the lotion, Doctor."
The woman just nodded, the sucked in her lips a little. "Look, why don't you come back? Burns, even first degree ones, can take quite a toll. I can see if there is anything else we—"
"I would rather not."
The doctor's eyes softened. "If this is about Doctor McKay," she tilted her head, "if you like, I can run interference. I know he is rude, but—"
"I know how Doctor McKay can be," Teyla said sharply, frowning. "I would think that I know him a little better than you do."
"Oh," the doctor's face flushed, and she nodded, "Yes, of course. I'm sorry. I only meant—"
"No, it is..." Teyla sighed heavily, and closed her eyes, gathering her calm back around her. "I am the one who should apologize, Doctor. I know what you meant." Opening her eyes again, she offered a smile, which the other woman obviously saw right through. Teyla was feeling out of sorts, clearly, first yelling at Rodney and now this woman who was only doing her job. She shrugged, "It has been a long day."
"Yes, I see that," the doctor's voice was very soft now. "I was only trying to help."
Teyla's eyes lowered. Slowly, she nodded. "I know the feeling," she noted quietly. Then she frowned, "Unfortunately, sometimes we are simply incapable of providing the kind of help that is truly needed. Limited by our lack of knowledge, or of understanding, or of experience. It is something we just have to accept." She gave a single, cold nod, then turned and walked to the transporter. "Thank you again for the lotion," she called over her shoulder as she stepped inside and hit the panel....escaping.
CHAPTER THREE: ON THE WATER'S EDGE
Teyla did feel better in the morning, though still not wholly well. Going through her morning exercises, wincing at each stretch that pulled on her sore arms, she considered her behavior of the night before, berating herself for having reacted as she did. She hated being out of control, and regardless of whether it was a side effect of her injuries, the late hour, or simply the frustrations of the day, she should never have blown up at Rodney in that manner.
With that thought in mind, she resolved to locate him this morning to apologize before she headed out to new Athos.
As was typical, returning Gate teams had the day following a mission “off”—that is to say, there were no scheduled meetings other than a formal one that Elizabeth would schedule to discuss the outcome of the mission, and, at least on Teyla and Ronon’s part, they were expected to relax (no one expected Rodney to relax—the universe would crack if that happened—and John just had too many responsibilities). Teyla usually took advantage of the time to visit her people, but this time she would not leave until she had spoken to Rodney.
Breakfast was quick, and a glance at her email in her quarters told her that Elizabeth had scheduled the meeting for 10:00 a.m. Noting the time on her watch, she knew she had about an hour before then, so…perhaps she should find him now.
The trip to the infirmary did not take long, and she smiled at Carson when he spotted her. He seemed surprised when she asked about Rodney. Teyla herself was surprised when he said Rodney had been sent home last night, not long after she left—she had expected Rodney to stay the night. Thanking Carson, she turned and headed towards the labs. Rodney’s room was next door to his main lab, which was only fitting.
But Rodney wasn’t in either location.
Feeling a little frustrated, she decided to wait until after the meeting to see him. A little downcast, she headed back to her rooms to catch up on the rest of her messages.
Consequently, finding Rodney hovering before her door, gripping something white in his left hand while the other held onto a crutch, instantly brought a smile to her face. He was obviously dithering over whether to knock or hit the chime.
“Rodney?” she called, slowing as she came up beside him, trying to dim the smile she knew she still sported. He looked pale still, and wore his old, long sleeved blue shirt—she recognized it as his softest. He let go of the crutch to raise his hand in greeting, and smiled sheepishly.
“Hey, there you are. I was just...well, coming to...” He glanced at her door, his face betraying his discomfiture, and when she raised her eyebrows at him as he turned back, he quickly looked down. “Look, I just wanted to say…you know that I…what I meant last night was…look, you’re not stupid, okay?” He looked up again, his brow furrowed. “I never meant to say that, and I certainly didn’t mean it, and you really shouldn’t twist people’s words like that. I mean, you of all people know me. You know how I think. And you know I don’t think that way about you. Have I ever implied that I think that way about you? No. In fact, you’re one of the few people around here I don’t think that of. And yet, you snapped at me for no good….” He stopped suddenly, as if finally hearing himself, then blushed furiously. Teyla couldn’t not smile. Only Doctor Rodney McKay could deliver an apology angrily.
“Damn it,” he snapped. “Why am I so bad at this?” He looked at her as if she could answer the question, a desperate look on his face, his left hand squeezing the object in it tightly. Teyla saw that it was a tube, and on closer inspection, recognized it as the same one that the doctor had given her last night. Seeing her notice it, he thrust hit forward. “What I’m trying to say is, I’m sorry. For being me. For being an ass. I know what I said before about you twisting my words didn’t sound like an apology, but it was. And here. I didn’t trust that pre-schooler doctor to give this to you after I told her you needed it, so I brought you some. You’re supposed to put it on three…Was it three? Might be four….Anyway, put it on several times a day over the burns and it’ll help. There.” He nodded once, as if proud of himself.
She was smiling broadly now, taking the badly squished tube from his hand. The gesture was so sweet, she didn’t have the heart to tell him she already had some. Instead, she just gave him a nod of her own.
“Thank you, Rodney.” She looked down at the tube, “But you do not need to apologize. I was…,” she pursed her lips, “I did not behave well. If anyone should apologize, it is me.” She looked up again, to find him regarding her with a puzzled expression. “I am sorry for my rudeness last night. It will not happen again.”
His eyes widened slightly, but the puzzled expression did not leave. So, he waved a hand, as if to say ‘not to worry’, though she could see he was still blushing, his eyes looking anywhere but at her. “Um, okay. If you say so. Apology, um, accepted. That’s, uh, that’s fine. So,” he glanced at her briefly before looking away, “that means you’re not mad at me anymore, right?”
She grinned, “No, Rodney. I am not mad at you anymore. I was never really mad at you. You were just being you.”
“Good, good. Right,” he heaved a sigh, “in that case, I’ll see you at the meeting, yes? Great.” And, abruptly, without waiting for her reply, he was gone, limping away down the corridor in the direction of the transporters as fast as the crutch would take him.
Teyla’s smile faded as his uneven steps disappeared, and her hand squeezed the tube.
No, my friend, she thought, I was never mad at you. But I am still furious with me.
A little over a week later, Teyla found herself standing still in the mess, resting her tray of food on her arms and looking up at the stairs at the tables. Not far from her, Rodney and Doctor Zelenka had their heads together over a data tablet, their food untouched and pushed to the side. She noted Rodney still had his left ankle propped up on a chair, wrapped in an ace bandage, and a cane resting against his chair. He didn't have to worry about it preventing anyone from sitting with them, though—the mess hall was reasonably crowded today, but no one dared share the table with the two scientists.
And with good reason.
Whenever Rodney and Doctor Zelenka sat together with a tablet, it meant they were working. More importantly, it meant their meal would probably end in shouting, flailing arms and, more often than not, flying food products. Yes, it was always safer to stay away.
She grimaced slightly, and her eyes shifted to a table about three over from the two scientists, where John was sitting with Ronon, the two quietly eating together. Without another thought, she headed over and set her tray down at the head of their table. Two sets of eyes glanced up, and John smiled.
"Hey," he greeted warmly.
"Colonel," she sat down, pushing the tray forward a little to fit better on the table. Her eyes found Ronon's, who nodded at her when she smiled at him. "Ronon."
"Good sparring session?" John asked, biting off the end of a carrot stick after he spoke.
"The personnel who came are definitely progressing," Teyla nodded, lifting a spoon to stir the stew served for lunch. "A number of Rodney's team are actually doing very well. I have discovered, for example, that Doctor Vogel was once on something called a 'high school wrestling team.' He showed me some of his moves, and I think they can be included to make him more effective in a hand to hand fight."
"He's a big guy," Ronon noted, popping several green grapes into his mouth. "Vogel," he added, as if he felt the need to define the pronoun.
"Yes," she nodded, "He is. But I believe there is a lot of muscle under all that..." she trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence.
"Fat?" Ronon asked, with his usual tact. She just gave him a wry look in reply.
"They all need to at least be proficient," John said, grabbing another carrot stick to chew. "Thank you for taking this time to help train them."
"When do I get them?" Ronon asked, speaking with a mouth full of grapes.
"When they're strong enough to withstand your," John pursed his lips, as if contemplating the answer, then smirked, "unique training style."
Ronon just snorted, popping some more grapes into his mouth.
There was a shout, and all three people at the table turned to see Rodney suddenly stand up from his table with Radek, staggering slightly on his still sore ankle. He shouted something which was clearly insulting, because Doctor Zelenka's face turned red, and the Czech responded in his own language, jabbing a finger at Rodney. Rodney just shouted back again in the trader's language—what the Atlantian's called "English"—obviously arguing his point, and crossing his arms. Radek counter-pointed with words of his own, and Teyla frowned. They were both speaking in English now but...she had no understanding of what they were arguing about. Rodney shouted again, and Radek once more responded in Czech. Rodney then replied with what John had once told her was a "Russian insult", grabbed his cane and stormed off at a fast limp, leaving Radek alone at the table.
The Czech closed his eyes, took in a deep breath, then shook his head. Opening his eyes again, he looked down at the tablet still in front of him, and started working again.
"That was a short lunch," Ronon noted, popping the last of his grapes on his tray. "Those two always waste a lot of food."
Teyla offered a crooked smile, noting that, indeed, Rodney had left a half eaten tray of food on the table with Radek. Before she could say something about it, though, Ronon was up out of his seat and heading over to the scientist's table. She and John both watched in amusement as Ronon grabbed Rodney's tray without a word to Radek, who only jumped a little at the interruption of his thoughts, and brought it back with him to their table. Radek watched the Satedan for a few moments, then shrugged...and returned to his work.
Ronon shoved his own empty tray aside, put Rodney's down...and proceeded to start eating it, digging into the half eaten stew with gusto.
"You're amazing, you know that?" John asked, eyeing him in mock disgust.
"Food shouldn't be wasted," was Ronon's only reply, once again speaking around a mouth full of food.
John chuckled...and reached over to grab Rodney's uneaten pudding. Ronon just grunted.
Teyla, meanwhile, was still watching Radek. She was thinking about how little she had understood of their argument, and it in turn, turned her mind to Rodney's work...
She had not forgotten the way she had felt a week ago. That engine room haunted her dreams every night, sometimes imagining herself tied to the walls, fighting bonds that she herself had created, Rodney calling out to her for help, but unable to do anything as the hovercraft exploded around her ears...
Her jaw steeled. She needed to do something. She could not live with this any longer.
"Colonel," she turned her head and leaned forward against the table, "may I ask you a question?"
Sheppard's eyebrows lifted, and he nodded. "Sure."
"Rodney," she licked her lips, as if trying to find the right words, "has had a great deal of schooling to get to where he is, correct?"
John nodded, "Yup."
"Oh, um," John's brow furrowed, "well...he has three PhDs, that I know of, probably a Masters degree or two and, of course, his initial BA and all the post-doc stuff he's done, though that's not so much schooling as..." He trailed off when he saw the puzzled look on her face, obviously realizing that the acronyms meant nothing to her, and sighed. "Years, Teyla. Many, many, many years. I think it would be safe to say that, for at least a dozen years of his life, Rodney rarely saw the sun outside of his lab."
"Explains a lot," Ronon muttered offhandedly.
When they looked at him, the Satedan gave a half smile as he chewed. "About why he lacks, you know..." He waved a food encrusted hand.
"Social skills?" Teyla suggested.
"A tan?" John threw in.
"Friends," Ronon finished, taking another bite of stew. Then he shrugged, "Besides us, of course."
"Of course." John smirked at Ronon's answer, and returned his gaze to Teyla.
"Why do you ask?" he asked her.
"Oh," she looked down, then over at Radek. "Just...thinking about how little I know about what Rodney does. That is to say," she shook her head slightly, "I know what he does, but not how he does it. And..." She turned her gaze to John, "What about you, Colonel? How much training have you had?"
His eyebrows lifted, "Me?"
"Uh, well," John looked uncomfortable, as he usually did when asked to speak of his past, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck before answering. "I actually had a little bit myself. Besides all the pilot training, I did a fair bit of schooling, needed to know my way around machines and technology and stuff, the same as anyone in my line of work. But, of course, field training is what taught me most of what I know." He shrugged, then smiled, "As you both know, until you get out there, it's all theory. When it's real, that's when you really learn."
"Can't argue with that," Ronon said, ripping at a chunk of bread and chewing.
Teyla grimaced slightly, knowing that John was beginning to sense where she was headed, and was trying to prepare for it. But she set her jaw and simply nodded. John's eyes narrowed.
"What's this all about, Teyla?" he asked.
She tilted from side to side before answering, drumming up courage. "Well," she gave a small smile, "much in the same way we have been teaching the scientists how to handle themselves in a fight, I was wondering how difficult it would be to learn a little of what they are skilled at. You, for example, are able to do both." She smiled again, "It is enviable."
John's eyebrows shot up, "Seriously?"
Teyla gave a single nod. "Yes."
John looked away, his face showing a hint of embarrassment, "Yeah, but, Teyla, as I said before, what I do, a lot was just learned in the field, and you are already—"
"Actually," Teyla interrupted, "I was thinking more particularly about what Rodney does. When I was younger, I was often told I had an aptitude for mechanical things, and I thought—"
"Whoa," John leaned forward, "What Rodney does? Teyla, hang on. Before you go any further, look..." He grimaced. "I get what you're saying, I do, but...I'll be honest here. I'm not sure how much of what the scientists here do can be easily taught. Rodney....Rodney in particular...it's more than just learning and knowing his stuff. Rodney is," he held up a finger, "and don't you dare tell him I said this," his eyes narrowed, "but he really is unique. He works at a level no one here can reach, not even Radek. It's a natural gift he has. What he does for us out in the field is...well, no one else could do what he does."
Teyla lowered her eyes at that, considering his words, then looked up, readying herself. "I am not speaking of reaching Rodney's level, Colonel. I am talking about reaching a level where Ronon and I could be of more use to both him and you when we are off world." She glanced at the Satedan, who was now looking at her like she had done something horrifying by including him in this thought. She gave him a stern look, "Did you not once tell me you wished you knew a little more of what Doctor McKay does? When we were keeping watch on M2G-332?"
"I was bored," he defended. "We were on a mission, and I had nothing to do."
Teyla's eyes narrowed, and her lips quirked in amusement. "You were not bored, Ronon. I think I know you a little better than that. You were anxious, as was I, about the fact that, as is often the case, you and I were unable to provide the sort of help Doctor McKay or Colonel Sheppard might have needed, should something have gone wrong."
Ronon just shrugged, as if to say, 'you can think whatever you want to think. I'm not admitting to anything.'
"But," Sheppard frowned, still watching Teyla. "I'm still not sure—"
"All I am trying to say, Colonel," Teyla looked at John to interrupt him, then back to Ronon, "is that Ronon and I are often only in the background on our missions and even on Atlantis from time to time, because of our limited knowledge on the technological front." In return to this, Ronon just sort of grimaced at her, so Teyla returned her attention to the Colonel. "This is something that has been concerning me a great deal lately, John. Both you and Rodney have certain vital skills we do not. If something were to happen to either of you while we are off world...." Her eyebrows lifted, knowing she did not need to complete the sentence.
John frowned, then frowned some more. "I'm not saying it's not a good idea, Teyla, it's just..." He looked down at his now half-eaten purloined pudding. "What could you learn?" he asked eventually.
"I do not know. Obviously, most things are not..." She shook her head. "Maybe nothing," she admitted, her voice softer.
"Well," John sighed, then smiled, "You know what? Go ahead. Knock yourself out. I agree that it's a great idea, if it works. But, as a warning, I'm not sure how big Rodney is into teaching people, even you."
Teyla looked at him, then smiled. Her eyes shifted back to Radek. "I was not thinking of asking Rodney."
CHAPTER FOUR: FEELING THE WATERS SHIFT
It was a little over a month later when a very strange message was relayed to Atlantis via the Alpha Site, delivered by a tearful and concerned Doctor Simpson, saying she needed help. Elizabeth frowned, not sure what to make of the request, and encouraged the Site's chief scientist to come through as soon as she could.
A beat later, Simpson was through the wormhole from the Alpha Site, moving almost at a run. Her straight, long dark blond hair was clipped painfully tightly behind her head, as if forced back in a fit of fury, and bloodshot blue eyes locked on Elizabeth as the leader leaned over the balcony. An older dark-haired Athosian woman, whom Elizabeth knew to be called Dora, followed her.
"Doctor Simpson?" Elizabeth straightened up, worried by the grim faces both women wore. "What is it?"
"Someone has Connam," Simpson replied, and her arms shook a little at her sides. "We have to go and get him! Now!"
The traveling Pegasus trader, Eric Connam, had been visiting the Alpha Site on and off quite a lot over the last year, always bringing his overburdened flatbed truck of goods, his massive Pegasus version of a draft horse, and a ready smile. Those amongst the expedition who did not go off-world on missions—which was most of them—looked forward to his visits with great excitement, lured by the promise of real otherworldly goods. They traded things they'd brought from Earth – binoculars, reading glasses, penlights, and anything else they could buy at the local convenience store – in return for clothes, weird technology that Connam had found, unusual stones for jewelry, and really any other curios he might have picked up on his travels.
Connam loved the Atlantians, not just for their extremely unique goods, but also because he had become absurdly fond of one particular Atlantian—Doctor Simpson. A fondness that was reciprocated by the very independent (but still a sucker for fresh picked daisies) scientist.
So, when he was late for his "anniversary" of the first time he'd met Simpson—one which she had been looking forward to for weeks—she had become worried.
And, when his absence grew into almost a week after the scheduled date, she had politely asked some of the Athosians to ask after him on Belkan.
It wasn't good news.
"Apparently, there is this planet..." Simpson was nervously smoothing down her trousers as she paced inside Elizabeth's office, the wrecked look on her face the only reason McKay didn't immediately jump on the unfinished sentence. Sheppard's whole team was there, along with Dora, who was watching the agitated blonde scientist with concern.
Sheppard cleared his throat and sat forward. "Uh, what kind of planet?"
"A bad planet," Simpson replied miserably, still pacing and not really looking at anyone in the room. Sheppard shared a look with McKay, as if to say, 'when are they not?'.
Elizabeth's eyes narrowed briefly. "A bad planet?"
"Well..." Dora stepped forward, the tall woman looking to Simpson for permission to speak. The blonde gave it with a sharp nod, and turned around so that her back was to the room. She was still shivering a little.
"Well," Dora said again, this time to the room at large, "not a bad planet, exactly. More a planet we do not know much about, other than rumor. The people there are famous for being both isolationist and for being technological savants."
"Savants?" Sheppard repeated, glancing again at McKay, who had frowned at the word. "What does that mean?"
"The planet is the current home of the Kaveer," Dora said, looking at Teyla.
"Oh," Teyla breathed out the word heavily, and all eyes turned to her. She grimaced under the scrutiny, meeting all their eyes evenly.
"The Kaveer," she explained, "are a nomadic people, much like the Athosian people were. They rarely stay in one place for too long. Once there is a threat of Wraith," she sighed, "they move on."
"They were never known to be an aggressive people, at least, not in the past," Dora said, taking back the thread. "Recently, however..."
"In the last fifteen or twenty years or so," Teyla agreed, nodding.
"...they have been earning a reputation as difficult and miserly," Dora continued. "They used to be frequently seen at the markets, like the one on Belkan, trading the technology they had invented in return for foodstuffs and other necessities. But the last time I remember meeting one was when I was still a child..." Dora brushed back silvering hair as she spoke, the only visible sign that the woman's age was about the same as Elizabeth, despite an unlined face. "They traded tools such as heaters, fire-lighters, air coolers...things like that."
"But they are rarely seen now," Teyla said. "There was a rumor for a while that the Wraith had finally wiped them out, as has happened to so many others who have reached too high a level of development." She gave a soft, sad smile at that before continuing. "Then they came back, but are still seen only rarely."
Dora nodded. "When they do come to the markets these days, it is only to seek out unusual technology, and usually only if tipped off that something new has been found. They do not trade for foodstuffs or cloths, as they used to. We simply assumed that they had managed to become more self-sufficient than they used to be.” Dora shrugged, glancing at Simpson, who was still standing tight lipped across the room from her, a study in tension. “They also no longer trade their technology. Not without something impressive in return. They hold their work and science very close.”
“So,” McKay pursed his lips for a moment, “let me get this straight—we’re talking about a community of scientists here?”
“In a way,” Teyla agreed. “When I was little, I remember meeting a Kaveer my father was friends with at the markets, and he did remind me a little of Doctor Zelenka in his exuberance. But…not since then. And no other Kaveers I have met were like that—they were more,” she frowned, as if seeking the right analogy, “like the Genii.”
“Oh, that’s not good,” Rodney noted quietly.
“You mean, more militant?” Sheppard pressed. Teyla nodded.
“It is worse than that now, Teyla,” Dora said. “You have not traded as much in the markets lately, so you would not know the most recent gossip.” She turned to look at the gathered group. “These days, the Kaveer have earned another reputation—as thieves.”
Dora nodded. “A rumor has been circulating that, when they can not trade for technology they find interesting, they steal it. Or...that they trick those whom they believe to have knowledge of new technology to visit their planet," she glanced at Teyla, "and those people are never seen again."
"Dora, please," Teyla frowned unhappily, shaking her head a little, "you should not propagate such rumors." Teyla looked to Elizabeth, "Theft is not unknown at the markets, of course," she said, her brow furrowed as she returned her gaze Dora. "But kidnapping? The Kaveer...?"
"I understand your reticence, Teyla, I do. Unfortunately," Dora grimaced, "we have reason to believe the rumors are true. We even, to a degree, have proof."
Teyla frowned more at that, and Dora nodded. Simpson emitted a tiny whimper, and her arms cinched even more tightly around her thin frame. Teyla glanced at the other doctor, before focusing back on Dora.
"What sort of proof?" she asked carefully.
"We visited the planet," Dora said. "Under the pretence of seeking a new trade alliance, we thought we might see if we could find out what happened to Connam."
"And did you find him?" Sheppard asked, leaning forward on his knees.
"No," Dora shook her head. "But," she grimaced, pursing her lips, then looked Elizabeth straight in the eye, "we did see Dodge."
"His horse?" Sheppard straightened in his chair. Connam's large draft horse was an unmistakable creature, nearly one and a half times the size of a large Clydesdale and ridiculously strong.
"Dram," Dora corrected, but she was nodding, knowing that was what the people from earth called the creatures. "We saw her grazing in one of the fields near the main compound, boxed in with a variety of other animals, her coloring and size making her instantly recognizable even though she appeared...unwell." She shook her head, "There was no sign of either the trader's wagon, or the man himself. And we were able to see quite a bit."
"Oh, that is wrong," Sheppard nodded. He looked at Elizabeth, "She's right. Connam doesn't let Dodge just wander. Not unless he can see her. And wherever Dodge is, the wagon should have been nearby."
"Yes, but...." Elizabeth frowned at her military commander, "surely, Connam does not always need to be near his animal. When he visits other planets, does he not stable...?"
"No," Dora answered for the colonel. "Connam sleeps in his wagon. And he doesn't let his dram get that far from it, either. And I have never seen Dodge look that thin." She frowned. "Connam would never allow it."
"He loves that horse," Simpson sniffed, finally rejoining the conversation. She was looking at Elizabeth through watery eyes. "As much as he loves that wagon. He once told me that he rarely lets either of them out of his sight, because of what they mean to him. If Dodge is wandering alone, where he can't see her, then something has happened to him."
"I have to agree. I have worked with him a great deal over the past year," Dora glanced at Simpson, "there is something wrong."
"I think they're right, Elizabeth," Sheppard agreed, his expression grim.
"Yeah," McKay raised a hand, "me too."
"If he is in danger," Teyla said, stepping forward to show her agreement, "then we owe it to him to try and help. After all, he aided in our escape from—"
"I know," Elizabeth raised a hand to cut her off, shaking her head. "I was there, if you recall." The expedition leader sighed and glanced around the room, meeting the faces in front of her one by one. Finally, she gave a nod.
"Okay," she said, "but we are not going in without some sort of plan." She looked at Dora, "we need everything you can tell us that you saw on that planet, and everything you know about the Kaveer." She then turned to the red-eyed Simpson, her face solemn. "If he is being held there against his will, we will get him out."
CHAPTER FIVE: HEADING INTO THE FIRE
"I hate these kinds of plans," Rodney sighed, rubbing at the tiny scar on his shoulder where Carson had implanted a sort of 'on and off' trigger for his subcutaneous transmitter. It would allow him to signal for help once they found Connam. "Why is it always me that has to walk into the lion's den, eh?"
"Because you’re the least tasty looking," Ronon informed him over the radio, and Rodney could easily imagine the smart ass grin on the Satedan's face. The scientist glared at the underside of the jumper as it lowered down from the ceiling in front of the Stargate.
He moved down a step from where he was standing on the main stairs, pointing up at the jumper. "I'll have you know plenty of people think I'm—"
"Uh, guys?" Sheppard's amused voice interrupted, "can we argue about McKay's tastiness later? We're about to pass through the Gate. Rodney? Are you and Teyla ready to follow?"
"We are ready," Teyla assured, standing on the steps at Rodney's back, resting a hand on his other shoulder. Her subcutaneous transmitter had been similarly altered, but she gave no sign of discomfort (Of course, Teyla could have her arm sawed off, and she'd probably just grimace slightly. She and Ronon had tied for the title of 'most unlikely to ever admit to pain' down in the labs.)
"Good. Just keep your radios on. We'll be listening."
Teyla smiled. It was the smile of someone who has had the same instruction repeated to her several times. "We will." (Teyla had also won for 'most likely to eventually slap Colonel Sheppard.' Naturally, Rodney had thought up that category—he was quite proud of that one.)
Sighing again, Rodney looked down, fiddling with his vest as if checking his pockets, then rubbing his chest—to his surprise, he was missing the weight of the P90. To give the illusion of harmlessness (which, let's be honest, wasn't hard), he was unarmed except for his knife. Teyla was the only one carrying weaponry.
Another reason he didn't like this plan.
He looked up, fixing his eyes on the two people watching them from the Control Room, and raised his voice to be heard more clearly. "I just want to go on record as saying, I hate this plan."
"So noted," Elizabeth said from where she was leaning over the balcony, Simpson standing by her side. The expedition leader turned her attention to the jumper as it finally settled just above the Gateroom floor, "Good luck, John."
"See you soon," he promised, just as the jumper shot through the wormhole to Kaveer. Rodney sighed heavily, then moved to follow on foot, Teyla at his side.
"And be careful," Elizabeth called out as they stepped through the event horizon.
The plan was pretty simple, in that much of it was going to be off the cuff. John, Ronon, Major Lorne and three other marines were to stay hidden in the cloaked jumper, so that it seemed as if only two people had come through the Gate—Teyla and Rodney. When the Kaveer showed up, Teyla was to introduce Rodney as a scientist wishing to trade knowledge. Rodney was to carry enough toys with him to impress, without giving any indication of exactly where they came from. The hope was that they would be taken to the same place as Connam, and Teyla would separate from Rodney and see if she could find the trader. Once she did, either she or Rodney would signal Sheppard in the cloaked jumper, and they'd get them all out.
Dora's information on the planet was pretty sparse, and, in the end, the best they could do was work off assumptions. For example, Dora said that there were no people watching the Gate but that, somehow, the Kaveer had been alerted to their presence. Before Dora and her companions had moved more than a half a mile down the road leading away from the Stargate, they had seen a transportation vehicle bearing down on their location. Therefore, there was obviously some sort of sensor on the Gate alerting the Kaveer to any wormhole activity. Hopefully, it was not a camera, so they would not see the Jumper before it was able to cloak.
She also informed them that the Kaveer lived inside a series of white-walled compounds several miles away from the Gate, protected inside a shallow valley of sorts. She saw no overt signs of weaponry, advanced or not, and the people they had met were peaceful, albeit reluctant to engage in talks.
The planet itself was apparently fairly flat around the Stargate, and the flora was low-lying. No trees, except a few stunted juniper like bushes here and there, and a lot of sagebrush like grass. In general, it sounded a lot like a desert location, similar to that of the American Southwest. The compounds themselves did not sound large, and there was no indication of any other structures outside of the ones Dora saw. Of the population—it was small. Maybe a couple hundred, at most. That was not atypical of most Pegasus populations these days.
It was also, apparently, very hot and very dry. Dora recommended bringing plenty of water, and suggesting that their usual black uniforms "might not blend."
Consequently, Rodney and Teyla were wearing light and beige colored clothing as they walked through the Gate, slipping sunglasses over their eyes to fend off the harsh glare of the sun. Only their tack vests remained black.
"Christ," Rodney swore, resting his hands on his hips and looking up at the unyielding sun, "she was right about it being hot."
Teyla just grimaced, not disagreeing as the heavy air settled around them like a thick cloak. She could feel the sweat prickling at the base of her neck already.
"That must be the road," she said, pointing to where a rutted, dirt track led clearly away from the Stargate.
Rodney just nodded, then looked up again at the cloudless blue sky. Of course, nothing was visible, though he knew the Jumper had to be just overhead. They were to maintain radio silence as long as possible, but it was still a bit disconcerting not knowing for sure that Ronon, Sheppard, Major Lorne and the other marines were up there, watching their progress. He just had to have faith that they were, and that they could hear every word he and Teyla said.
With a sigh, he pulled out his handheld Lantean scanner, doing a quick review of the area. His eyes lifted as he noted something a few feet away from the Gate, hidden inside a juniper-like bush. Walking up to it, he ran the scanner over it.
"A sensor," he noted. "Not visual, but auditory. A listening device—its how they know when the Gate is activated." He smiled a little, leaning over to peer at it—it was a little rudimentary, but obviously effective. "Hello," he called into the bush. "We're coming to find you. Just wanted to let you know." He straightened and ran the scanner a little more over the area. He found a few others sensors, but little else. Fact was, there wasn't much else to see at all, other than the DHD, which looked like it always did. Still, he frowned.
"What is it?" Teyla asked, coming up along side. "Is something wrong?"
"No, just...there's an unusual level of power flowing to this Gate from the DHD." He glanced up at it, as if expecting it to look different. "It's drawing power at a rate I've only ever seen our Stargate do. It's odd."
"Odd...in a bad way?" she asked, sounding worried. "As in, would it effect our ability to dial out?"
"No," Rodney frowned, then shook his head. "It's just odd. I'm not sure what it is." He glanced over at the DHD, and headed over to it, feeling more than seeing her match his stride. "If you thought we had the time, I could take apart the DHD and see what extra—"
"Unfortunately," Teyla rested a hand on his arm before he reached the device, "I do not think we do have that kind of time. After all," she glanced at the juniper bush, "did you just not inform the Kaveer we were coming?"
Rodney grimaced, screwing up his face a little. "Right, right," he said to her, punctuating it with a sigh, "let's go."
"They're coming in loud and clear, at least," Major Lorne said, settling back in the co-pilot's seat of the air conditioned jumper. He smiled, trying to inject an air of levity. "And considering how red-faced McKay looks already, gotta say, I'm glad we're not out in this heat."
Sheppard grunted noncommittally at that, his eyes not leaving his people on the ground. They'd been watching Teyla and Rodney mill about, as Rodney located the sensors that the Jumper had picked up instantly without even trying. Now, the two were quietly walking away, towards the road.
John was frowning now, looking off generally into the distance, where the Jumper had shown a concentration of energy spikes. The road leading away from the Stargate headed in that same direction. McKay said something over the radio about picking up the same energy readings on his little scanner from that way, and Teyla asked how strong they were. The scientist's answer matched what the Jumper had told them already—powerful ones.
"Wonder what he meant about the Gate drawing more power than normal," Lorne said then as they moved slowly away from the Gate, tracking their people below. In clear response to his thought, the HUD changed, showing readings on the Gate. Unfortunately, the information that skimmed past meant little to the men on the ship.
John glanced at the HUD screen Lorne pulled up, then mentally swapped it back to the life signs detector. Rodney and Teyla glowed a different color than the rest, their transmitters working nicely.
"Let's just focus on our people," he said, the soft edge in his tone the only sign that he was worried. Lorne grimaced, and returned his gaze forward.
As expected, the two Atlantians hadn't moved far down the dirt road before a clearly discernable dust cloud appeared on the horizon. Teyla stopped in front of McKay, holding up a hand to him, and waited, her P90 resting across her arms. Rodney lifted the scanner in his right hand, focusing it on both the dust cloud and whatever else he could pick up. The readings were strong, but disparate—he didn't know what he was seeing...yet. He really wanted to take out his data tablet, to do a more thorough and more expanded search of the power readings he was getting from all around them, but that required two hands, and, with only Teyla guarding him, he wanted to keep one hand free so he could pull the 9MM out of her thigh holster, if necessary. She had left it loose, just in case.
He put his scanner away when Teyla gave him a look, and made sure he was on her right side, where her berretta rested.
The dust cloud eventually resolved itself into a vehicle, and, for a moment, Rodney almost smiled.
It was a jeep. Or, at least, it looked like a jeep. Four wheels, basic steel frame...engine....
Then it backfired, and Rodney's smile fell. That sound was much too familiar. And, as it got closer, his fears were confirmed. Yes, the front still resembled a jeep, but it was just ornament—someone had added a glass windshield and a more protective front end, but it was no mere jeep. The vehicle was much longer, and, when it turned on a corner, revealing more of its side and girth, Rodney knew.
It was Connam's truck. What they called a "wagon" was in reality an early model of a flat-bed truck, though most of the time, Connam let Dodge pull it like a wagon to hide its true nature and it was covered with a thick cloth.
Teyla seemed to sense his unease, and looked back at him just in time to see him cross his arms.
"Connam's truck," he explained shortly, not hiding the anger in his voice. "I'm not surprised Dora didn't recognize it—they've changed it. But...it's definitely his wagon."
Teyla's eyes widened slightly, and she looked back towards the vehicle. If there was any lingering doubt in her mind about whether Dora was right, and that Connam was in trouble, that answered it.
"Rodney," she said, her voice soft, "let me speak. If you say anything, I fear your anger will—"
"I get it. Be my guest. The less I have to say to these people, the better." Fact was, he was furious, and it would take all of his self-control not to blow up at these Kaveer people the moment he met them. But they had to find Connam first...
Then he would tell them exactly what he thought of thieves and kidnappers.
She nodded, her eyes drawn briefly to the gritted jaw, before turning her gaze forward.
"Here they come," Lorne said, leaning forward in his seat. Ronon was standing now, his hand resting on the blaster at his waist. John was leaning forward as well, his eyes on the truck.
Rodney was right. It was Connam's. He'd recognize it anywhere.
Though Teyla knew Connam, she had spent only brief moments with him. Unlike the colonel and Rodney, she had no real reason to ever be in contact with him and had never made much of an effort to actually meet him, except once in order to thank him. For that reason, she hoped to be able to keep her emotional distance a little better.
The truck rumbled up next to them and slowed to a stop. Three people looked down at Teyla and Rodney, one standing in the back, and two sitting up front. The driver was a younger woman with thick brown hair, the mass curling around her head like an animal's mane. Next to her was an older man with gray hair and a ruddy complexion, dark brown eyes measuring the two Atlantians with a dark gaze. In the back, a younger man stood up off the flatbed, holding what could only be a blaster rifle. It reminded Teyla of the ones he had seen on Sateda, and she wondered if Ronon was thinking the same thing from up where he was watching them.
"Hello," she said, stepping forward. "My name is—"
"Teyla Emmagen," the older man said, cutting her off. "Tagan's daughter. I recognize you. I am Cleran, one of the leaders of the Kaveer. Your people were here recently. We already informed them that we would not be interested in a trading alliance." His eyes lifted briefly, looking past her to McKay. Rodney glared unblinkingly in reply.
"I am not here on behalf of the Athosians," Teyla noted fluidly, not breaking a beat. "I am here on behalf of a different set of people. They learned of your aptitude for technology, and they would like to offer their expertise in return for—"
"What other people? There are no people left in this galaxy who come even close to our level of technology," Cleran said rudely.
"Arrogant much?" Rodney sneered, his tone razor sharp.
"Doctor," Teyla admonished quietly, before looking back at the Kaveer. "The people I speak of are called the Terran. And Doctor McKay, standing behind me, is one of their chief scientists. He—"
"Scientist," Cleran lifted his head, "Really? And what exactly earns you that title, sir?"
Rodney gave a tiny smile, "Um, my vast knowledge of just about everything? Believe me, if that's the extent of your level of technology," he looked disdainfully at the truck, then back at Cleran, "then Teyla misled us as to how advanced you are. That backfire we heard as you were driving up here? You might want to consider checking the air intake manifold for a leak, or, more likely, there is unburnt fuel lodged in the exhaust system. Have you had it cleaned regularly? Vehicles that, shall we say, old fashioned?" he curled his upper lip, "require constant maintenance, something you clearly have not been doing."
Cleran's eyes narrowed as he studied Rodney, meeting his gaze without either concern or curiosity, his face tightly wound. Teyla tried not to show how proud she was of the man with her—Rodney could really perform wonderfully sometimes. Finally, the Kaveer's jaw unclenched long enough to speak again.
"You have shown yourself to be an experienced engineer, at least," he said, though not without some disdain of his own. Rodney snorted, and Teyla flashed him another warning look to stop him from retorting. Cleran, meanwhile, kept talking. "But...the fact is, as Miss Emmagen knows, we are not a friendly people. We are secretive and we are isolationist. We would only consider an alliance if we thought you had something to trade that might be worth something to us."
"I am certain," Teyla interjected, "that Doctor McKay has much that would interest you, Cleran. His people are new to trading, having managed to remain hidden from the Wraith for many generations, and they have used their own isolation to great effect. This weapon," she patted the P90 she held, "is just one of their advancements. I have seen many others, all very impressive, and you know that the Athosians are not prone to exaggeration."
"If they are so advanced," Cleran sneered, "then what would they need from us?"
"They are currently experiencing a," Teyla pressed her lips together, then continued, "a lull, for lack of a better term. All science survives firstly and primarily on inspiration, and the Terran people are in need of new ideas to further their progress. They hope, based on what I have told them of your people's work, that you might be able to help. I believe working together could aid both the Kaveer and the Terran."
Cleran's eyes remained narrowed, though now they were focused on Teyla. "And what exactly is your stake in this, Miss Emmagen?"
"I believe it benefits all the humans in this galaxy to improve their technology, as a means to fight the Wraith. Also," she glanced at Rodney before turning back to Cleran, "these people are my friends. They came to the Athosians aid during a culling, rescuing almost all my people. We owe them a debt."
Rodney stiffened a little, obviously not expecting that. She wondered if he knew she meant every word.
Cleran grimaced, glancing from Teyla to Rodney and back again. Finally, he gave a slow nod. "I see. Well...that was eloquently put, Miss Emmagen." He licked his lips, and looked at Rodney. "I will take you to our leaders, if," he raised an eyebrow, "you can answer two simple questions for me."
"Crap," John muttered, glancing up at Ronon. The Satedan's hand wrapped more tightly around his blaster, as if he could shoot through the Jumper's windscreen. "They know about us."
"You sure?" Lorne asked. "That didn't sound like—"
"Oh yeah," John replied, his eyes dark. "They know."
"Just two questions?" Rodney said, attempting coolness. A thousand throw-away answers flashed through his mind—everything from 'I seek the holy grail' to '42'. Showing what he felt was great restraint, though, he just raised his chin and waited. Cleran gave a small smile.
"First, what is it you wear in your ear?"
Rodney's eyebrows lifted, trying not to show his relief at the easy question, and unconsciously reached up a hand to touch his earpiece. He had honestly thought they were going to ask about the Jumper. Letting his hand fall before it actually clicked the radio, he shrugged.
"They're radios. In the event Teyla and I are separated, we can stay in touch."
Cleran's eyes narrowed, but he nodded. He had obviously already guessed as such.
"Second," he continued, "before you and Miss Emmagen came through the Ancestral Ring, our sensors picked up something else first. It sounded like a machine, but it disappeared almost instantly. Then you two came through. I would like to know what it was that preceded you." His eyebrows lifted, then narrowed. "Meaning, what...or who...is here with you?"
Rodney froze, almost missing the feigned expression of puzzlement that Teyla was throwing at him.
"What?" he asked.
"You heard me, Doctor McKay. Answer the question. What came through the wormhole with you?"
All the answers Rodney had planned to reply to such a question—all the answers he'd been told to answer with when John had drilled him—completely fled his mind, and he knew he had to look bad. Teyla's stare, begging him to say something, was beginning to hurt, and his mind was yelling at him to speak—but his vocal cords felt weirdly paralyzed.
Say something! Say something! SAY something!
Teyla sucked in a breath, as if to answer for him, and the movement sent a shock into his brain. His vocal cords suddenly released, and he almost gasped as he spoke, words tumbling out like an out of control steam train.
"Here with us? Something here with us? I...I don't know what you're talking about. We brought nothing with us. All we have is what you see. What else could there be?" Crap. He knew was babbling, but he just couldn't stop. "I mean, you don't see anything, do you? So, clearly, there's nothing else here. Just us. Alone. By ourselves." And he smiled. "Alone." Oh God, why did he have to smile? Teyla looked pained where she met his eyes, but she showed none of it as she returned her calm gaze to the Kaveer.
Cleran, however, was clearly not an idiot. "I did not say you brought it with you, Doctor McKay. I am saying, it preceded you through the Ancestral Ring. And, it is obviously still here with you. Now, what is it?"
Rodney just shook his head. "Got me. Teyla?" He glanced at the woman still standing protectively before him. "Any ideas?"
"I assure you, Cleran," Teyla said, trying to overpower Rodney's nervousness with her own hypercalm. "Rodney is correct. All you see is all there is."
"Oh," the Kaveer's eyes narrowed again, "I highly doubt that."
"Look," Rodney stepped forward, "do you see anything else with us? Any other people or other equipment? No. There's just us. We, uh," he threw a hand out, an idea suddenly popping into his head, "We may have been a little over cautious, and sent a small device through to ensure there were no Wraith around, but other than that...."
"Device?" Cleran appeared puzzled, and Rodney blinked a few times, his mind already reeling with ways to cover his lie. "What device?"
"Ah, this." He grinned and quickly pulled his scanner out of his pocket. Turning it on with a quick mental command, he turned it around to show the screen to Cleran. "It's a scanner and a relay device. Right now, it's detecting life signs in the immediate vicinity. As you can see, there are only five. Us." And he grinned some more. Damn it, why couldn't he stop smiling? No one ever trusted him when he smiled. He finally managed some self control at that thought, and the grin was reeled back into a self-satisfied smirk. Better than nothing.
Cleran's eyebrows lifted, studying the scanner with interest. Its simplicity and power had obviously distracted him, and, for the first time, Rodney actually saw the edges of a scientist in the older man. "What else can it do?"
"Besides scan for life sign readings? It can detect power sources, take energy readings, track people...and generally function as a PDA."
Cleran's eyes lifted from the scanner, "PDA?"
"Personal digital assistant. It can maintain logs, act as a mini computer for data, that kind of thing."
"Oh," Cleran actually looked impressed for the first time. "Well, that is...can I see it?" He held out a hand. McKay smiled softly, and shook his head. He'd already come up with a good lie for this one—had used it on other worlds.
"Unfortunately, it only works for me. It's tailored to my personal ident."
"My fingerprint. It recognizes and works for me only. Here." He handed it over. "See for yourself."
Cleran's eyebrows lifted as he held the now dead scanner, and he sat back, slumping a little. "Oh. Well...huh." He pressed a few of the buttons, then, when still nothing happened, he handed it back to McKay with a frown, his brow furrowing even more as he saw the screen light up the instant it touched Rodney's hand. "Fascinating," he admitted softly. Rodney tried not to grin again. He had now lied twice! He'd not only covered up the Jumper, but had found a way around explaining the ATA gene. How do you like them apples!
"Cleran," the boy in back warned softly, and Rodney's mental glee immediately dimmed. "Do not forget...the object? That came through the ring? I am sure it was larger than that scanner thing he carries." The boy shifted his gaze to McKay, narrowing in distrust as he regarded the Atlantian. "How do we know you did not leave something at the Ancestral Ring?"
"The ground is flat," Teyla said, sweeping her arm towards the Stargate a couple hundred yards away, "you can see there is nothing there."
"Leyna?" Cleran glanced over his shoulder at the woman driving. The brown haired woman nodded, reached under her seat...
And pulled out a pair of Bushnell binoculars.
McKay's breath caught at the sight of them, at the oddity of earth equipment in a stranger's hands, and he was about to say something when he felt Teyla reach back and hit his arm. Still...clearly, the wagon and Dodge were not the only things the Kaveer had absconded from Connam. Luckily, none of the three Kaveer noticed his reaction.
The woman was standing up on the seat now, focusing the binoculars on the Stargate. After a few seconds, she lowered them again and shook her head.
"Nothing that I can see," she confirmed.
"Here, wait," McKay wasn't sure why he was doing this...but found he couldn't resist. "Try these. You can see farther." With a quick motion, he pulled his own pair of binocs from his vest and held them up. Three sets of jaws dropped, and then sealed as he handed them up to Cleran. The older man looked at the binoculars a moment, then at McKay, his eyes narrowed. Teyla shifted closer again to Rodney, once more protecting him with her body. Cleran gave her a disdainful glance, then turned and handed the binoculars to Leyna. The other Kaveer studied them a second, then held them up to her eyes, turning once more to look at the Stargate. She gave a soft sigh, lowered them, and nodded.
"He's right. These can see farther." As she spoke, she looked at the Canadian, her expression curious. He smiled back at her.
"They're called binoculars. That brand is Bushnell," McKay nodded at the pair, "like yours. It's one of the best. Of course, there are plenty more where those came from. Manufacturing them is a piece of cake."
Teyla was staring at him, looking torn between hitting him...and hitting him hard.
Cleran, however, was offering a half smile.
"You have made your point," he said calmly. "We'll take you to meet the other leaders." He thumbed over his shoulder. "Climb in the back." As he spoke, he grabbed what could only be the microphone to a radio transmitter from somewhere near his feet, and reported into it. "This is Cleran. We're bringing them in."
CHAPTER SIX: ILL WINDS BLOW
"I'm going to kill him," Sheppard whispered. "'Plenty more where those came from,' my ass."
"It worked, though," Lorne said, trying for a confident smile.
"Too well," Ronon said, obviously agreeing with the colonel. "Sheppard...this is not good."
John didn't reply, just lifted the Jumper up a little higher and flew slightly ahead of the wagon as it turned and headed back down the road.
The road leading away from the Stargate was flat, but the landscape around it was more uneven than it first appeared, dotted with mesas and the occasional soft depression, some as deep as fifty feet. In the distance, they could make out a series of low lying hills shielding this valley from the worst of the wind, which explained the lack of air movement. McKay's gaze lifted to trace along the ridges, then higher, to the sky itself.
He wondered where Sheppard was. Part of him was really tempted to wave...
Teyla cleared her throat, and Rodney's eyes lowered to meet hers on the other side of the flatbed, his half raised hand lowering back to his lap. She gave an understanding smile, and he returned it with a wry twist before turning his head forward again.
A few kilometers later, the road curved along the top edge of a large, but shallow basin, the base of which was about a hundred feet down and maybe ten kilometers in diameter. The walls of the basin were smooth and vertical, like the edges of a kitchen sink, and sitting in the center of the basin, about where the drain would be, were the compounds.
Dora was right about one thing, Rodney noted, the compounds were very simple structures. There were five, each in the shape of a square, and they stuck out starkly from the red and pale green earth surrounding them, mainly because they were almost totally white. Looking a little like a child's hopscotch set up, four of the compounds were smaller and formed a sort of quad, while at the top was a compound twice the size of the smaller ones, capping them. At a guess, the smaller compounds probably housed living quarters, farm equipment, kitchens and maybe a mess. The larger compound was where the Kaveers worked on their "technology." A single, low lying outer wall ringed all the compounds, and what looked like a thicker wall surrounded each one individually. Inside that was a series of smaller rectangular structures like army barracks. It looked a little like the Alpha Site—except for the walls.
The compounds were also very boring looking. If these people were really as innovative as Teyla and Dora intimated, they clearly wasted none of that imagination on making their setting beautiful.
Outside of the compounds, the ground had been tilled in squares fed by irrigation streams. There were also untilled squares with animals fenced inside, but from this distance, they couldn’t make out any of the species.
Eventually, the truck slowed and then turned, tilting a little as it settled itself on a downward slope—the way in, apparently. The driver shifted downwards, and the engine groaned in reply. Once they were fully heading downhill, the truck picked up speed again, and Teyla gripped the edges of the flatbed, to stop herself from sliding on the wooden clapboards. She didn’t look happy.
They hit the hard dirt bottom at a good pace, and the driver shifted up, quieting the motor.
It backfired again. McKay grimaced.
They were passing through the outlying pastures now, and it gave them a better view of the animals. There was a mixture of cattle like creatures, pigs that looked more like boars with pink skin, and what had to me some sort of cat headed goat (and wasn't that disturbing). There were also a handful of meeners and, of course, Dodge. She towered over the other animals and, as Dora had said, she looked thin…and forlorn.
She stood by herself along one side of a squared enclosure, leaning against the wooden fence, her head down but not eating. The scientist grimaced—he had never seen Dodge uninterested in food.
McKay took a closer look at her as they rumbled past and sighed. Damn it. They were going to have to rescue that damned horse as well, weren’t they? Horrible thoughts of manure piles in the back of the Jumper came to mind, and he screwed his eyes shut, willing the image away. Consequently, he didn’t notice her look up as they passed by, obviously recognizing the familiar sound of the truck's engines. Her baleful eyes stayed on them until the truck rounded a corner behind some thick juniper and, abruptly, they were just yards from the structures.
The truck passed by the four smaller compounds before leading up to the larger one, and McKay noticed that the walls higher, and the silver in them glittered in the sun. They were reflective…were they solar panels?
The ground shook softly, then rumbled, like it had a stomach ache. He was about to question why when the overpowering smell of sulfur hit his nostrils and water suddenly erupted out of the ground in a powerful stream about a mile away off to their right…
“A geyser,” he whispered, watching the liquid and steam reach a point about fifty feet high before dissipating. Even from this distance, he felt his face grow wet from the powerful jet, though it dried quickly in the hot air. A rainbow cut through the water—it was beautiful.
“What is it?” Teyla asked, looking over at him. There was awe on her face—obviously, this was something she had never seen before.
“We call them geysers back home,” he said, still smiling at the utter coolness of the phenomenon. He then proceeded to explain the dynamics behind what created them, chattering on about superheated water and magma flows and the potential power. It was when he was explaining the theory behind geothermal power that he noticed Cleran and the armed boy in the back were both watching him intently. Their expressions were no longer guarded, however. For the first time, they actually looked interested. McKay took the opportunity to ask Cleran a new question, hoping they might be more open to answering this time.
“Is that what you are using to power this place?” he asked. “Geothermal energy? I ask in part because, curiously, this isn’t the first such plant we’ve come across in this galaxy. Unfortunately, the people using the last one we found weren’t aware of the dangers of not regulating their use of such energy, causing….”
“The supervolcano,” Teyla nodded, remembering all too well. She looked up at McKay, “Those earthquakes we felt. Could that happen here?”
McKay opened his mouth to answer, but Cleran spoke first.
“No, Miss Emmagen. It could not. We are very conscious of everything we are doing, paying specific attention to how much we use and when. Primarily, we use solar energy and oil-based generators to provide the power we need for our work and daily lives. We only use the geothermal energy…when the others are not enough for our needs.” He looked at McKay, “That isn’t often.”
McKay just grinned in reply, happy to have finally gotten an answer to something. Teyla, however, was still lost in her memories.
“But the earthquakes…” she said, not hiding her worry. Cleran just shook his head.
“Some instability has existed here since we arrived. It has never worsened, nor would I expect it to. Although,” Cleran actually smiled as he looked to Rodney, “you may be in a position to help us determine that, Doctor McKay. Can that scanner of yours…?”
“No,” Rodney shook his head. “It’s not designed to do more than take current readings. However,” he tapped the laptop on his back, “this is. It's a portable computer. If you just let me hook it up to whatever—”
“Hook it up?” Cleran’s eyes immediately darkened. “What do you mean, hook it up?”
McKay frowned, “I can not take readings in a vacuum, Cleran. I will need historical data to make an analysis.” His eyes narrowed, “As I’m sure you know.”
Cleran’s jaw steeled again, and he grimaced, leaning back against the front seat. McKay shrugged and looked across at Teyla on the other side of the flatbed. She just shrugged back.
After that, there wasn’t much time for talking as they rumbled through the gates of the main compound, and found themselves greeted by about a dozen new people in the same neutral colored clothing. A number of them wore what appeared to be weapons at their belts—an odd mix of Genii and, curiously, Wraith technology—and stood as soldiers or guards would. McKay saw Teyla's arms tense, her fingers curling around her P90. Rodney wondered briefly why they hadn't asked to take it from her—maybe because they were not worried by it?
That couldn't be good.
A salt and pepper haired woman stepped forward as the truck came to a stop, and she studied both Teyla and Rodney with dark blue eyes before turning to Cleran. Her arms crossed over a thick set of white linen robes, and there was no questioning her authority from her stance. This was the leader of the Kaveer.
“I assume you have a good reason for this, Cleran,” she said, the implied question clear. "Your message over the link was not very informative."
“I do, Metra." He stood up on the floor of the truck, "May I introduce Doctor Rodney McKay and Teyla Emmagen. Doctor McKay,” Cleran looked at the man, “is a scientist.”
“A scientist?” Metra smiled, though not in amusement. “How so?”
“Tell me I don’t have to go through this again,” McKay moaned quietly. The older man ignored him.
“He came with this,” Cleran offered in explanation, lifting up the binoculars McKay had given them. When Metra frowned, he tossed them to her. She caught them and quickly lifted them to her eyes, and, for a moment, her frown disappeared. Then she lowered them and looked at the binoculars more carefully.
“These are a better design,” she said quietly, “but bear the same strange symbols.” She ran her finger across the 'Bushnell' name and logo on the side, then looked up. "Where did you get these?" she asked, scrutinizing McKay.
The scientist was immediately about to respond that 'they made them,' but Teyla was quicker, resting a hand on his arm to stop him from talking.
"We have access to a great many different technologies," she said carefully. "We are here because we hoped to broker a mutually beneficial trading agreement for goods such as those."
The woman looked at Teyla, as if dissecting her, then turned her gaze back to McKay. The scientist just gave a quick nod, smiling weakly.
"What she said."
Metra's eyes narrowed, and, for a moment, she seemed to be considering something. Then, abruptly, she smiled. If the last smile was not all that friendly, this one was almost feral.
"Please," she said, stepping back and sweeping a hand out, "why don't we continue this conversation inside. You look in need of water and shade. And clearly," she looked back and forth between the two strangers, "we have things to discuss."
"I don't like this," Ronon muttered, pacing back and forth inside the jumper. In the background, three marines kept their distance in the back of the craft, watching Ronon like they might a caged tiger. The Satedan pulled his gun, twirled it, then roughly shoved it back in his holster as he stepped up between Sheppard and Lorne. "Those people are trained—look at the way they stand. We should be down there with Teyla and McKay."
"Yeah, because you'd never give our real intentions away," Sheppard muttered, alternating between listening in on the conversation over the radio, watching Teyla and McKay on the ground through the windscreen, and calling up life signs on the HUD. As Dora had suggested, the population was not large—there were perhaps only a couple hundred people here, most of whom were scattered in the smaller compounds. He also visually tracked Connam's truck as the driver took it around the back of the compound and parked it in the rear, alongside a set of other mismatched vehicles. There was also a fuel dump back there, and some small outlying structures—generators perhaps? His mind filed the information away, already sketching out scenarios in his sharp mind.
"I'm just saying..." Ronon muttered.
"I know what you're saying," Sheppard replied, glancing over his shoulder at his friend. "And I know. I feel the same way."
Ronon just gave him a disgruntled look, then turned and paced towards the back. The three marines clambered to stay out of his way. Sitting in the co-pilot seat, Lorne tried not to smile at the effect Ronon had on his men.
Sheppard, meanwhile, was back to scanning the ground with the Jumper's sensors. It appeared solid—what they saw was all there was. No underground chambers, no hidden rooms...just boxes sitting on dirt, and lots of power being generated and shifted around along above and below ground wires.
It actually seemed a little foolish. Surely the way these compounds stuck out made these people sitting ducks. How were they not long ago culled by the Wraith?
In response, the HUD suddenly flashed up with new information, and Sheppard's jaw dropped. His was not the only one.
"Is that...they have a shield?" Lorne asked, reading the same information as the colonel, his blue eyes wide.
"Apparently," Sheppard leaned back, "Damn. I wonder if it cloaks them as well..."
"Probably," Lorne frowned, looking down at the structures. "Sir, if they have that kind of technology, these people are a hell of a lot more advanced than they let on."
"Or," Sheppard eyes narrowed, wishing that McKay was up here, because he'd know the answer to this already, "the technology isn't theirs."
Ronon suddenly snorted, and stepped forward again to the front, arms cinched tightly across his chest. "Wanna bet they found this place twenty some odd years ago...and that's why they stopped trading?" He looked at the men with him, "Because they didn't want to share their good fortune?"
"Or they brought it here, after finding...or stealing it...from somewhere else," Lorne suggested carefully.
Sheppard grimaced and shared a look with the major across from him in the co-pilot seat. The younger man just gave a shrug back.
"Think about it, sir," the major said quietly. "If what Dora says is true, and these people are stealing technology—this technology could be stolen too."
"I did think that," Sheppard replied, looking back out the window. "I just don't like it."
"We should be down there," Ronon growled again.
"We need to give them time," Sheppard said, gritting his teeth. "Give Teyla time. She'll find him."
"Do you think Connam's on his own?" Lorne asked suddenly.
Sheppard frowned, then looked at the major. Lorne arched an eyebrow, and Sheppard snorted. "Right." Abruptly, the HUD shifted, showing life signs again. Dots blinked all over the compound, most together, but some were scattered and solitary. Most interestingly, about six of them were very evenly spaced in the back of the large compound that Rodney and Teyla had just entered.
"You know," Sheppard mused, "if you were to planning on holding prisoners, you would probably not want them near the living quarters or food storage. You would either put them on their own, or, if you didn't have a separate structure for them..." his eyes narrowed, "you would keep them in the main structure, where no one lives."
Lorne nodded, catching onto the train of thought easily, his eyes narrowing on the six dots in the back of the compound. "And either those people are very good at standing the same distance apart..."
"Or they're in cells of some kind," Sheppard finished. "Which means, if Connam's anywhere...he's there."
Teyla walked inside the main complex first, her eyes studying the plain, featureless white walls, wondering at the dullness of the architecture. The floor beneath their feet was black, a sort of strange, plastic material that Rodney had called "linoleum." There were no other colors visible anywhere—as if the very idea of color was an anathema to these people.
Rodney stayed close behind her, not quite on her heels but close enough. She could feel his fear, almost as if she could taste it. To all outward appearances, he just appeared vibrantly angry and arrogant, but she knew, the more either of those two character traits were present, the more frightened he really was.
Metra strode ahead along the narrow corridor without pause, boot heels echoing on the hard surface, never looking back once. She either did not care or was not concerned about whether she was followed by the Atlantians. In moments, they emerged into a massive rectangular room filled with a mixture of technologies. Large video screens filled walls, and consoles and work stations were evenly spaced in all directions. Even to her untrained eyes, Teyla could see Genii, Hoffan, and even some Wraith technology in the works around the room—but it was mostly Lantean.
A Kaveer sat at each station, some with headphones on, others without, numbering almost thirty in all. They all looked up at the strangers entering their domain with interest, and one young man actually stood up. He was taller than most, with thick black hair and a mean twist to his mouth. Metra arched an eyebrow at him as he walked up next to her, and he nodded back.
“It’s still there,” he said, his voice deep and gruff, “but now it’s almost directly overhead this compound. We still don’t know what it is—our current theory is that it is a relay device of some kind, perhaps linked to their radios, allowing them to communicate over greater distances—maybe even across subspace.”
“A relay device,” Metra said, pursing her lips. “Interesting. Thank you, Baret.” She turned around then as McKay and Teyla came to a stop not far from her, her blue eyes now ice cold as she regarded them. For a moment, she just stared at them both…then she looked over their shoulders and gave a single nod.
Suddenly, both felt their arms grabbed and wrenched back. Teyla's P90 was pulled from her, and someone else took her 9MM...and tossed it to Metra. The leader of the Kaveer immediately turned it around and pointed it at the Athosian, her thumb clicking off the safety with shocking naturalness.
"Oh hell," McKay groaned, looking over at Cleran standing a few feet away, "it was the binoculars, wasn't it?"
Cleran just smiled.
CHAPTER SEVEN: LIGHTING THE FIRE
“Don’t,” Metra warned Teyla, who was struggling against the hold on her. "Look to your friend, Miss Emmagen. He understands." Teyla frowned, and turned to her left. Someone was pressing a knife to Rodney's throat now, and his jaw was trembling. She hissed out a breath, and turned a furious glare on Metra...but she stopped struggling.
“Your transmission devices,” Metra spoke evenly, as if she weren’t holding them hostage, “are interfering with our equipment. Would you be so kind as to remove them?”
Before either Teyla or McKay could answer, they felt the radios looped off their ears and the walkie-talkies pulled from their vests. Teyla’s jaw hardened in anger, while McKay just looked scared.
“What is the meaning of this?” Teyla demanded. “Let us go.”
“Who were you communicating with?” Metra asked in reply, taking McKay’s radio from one of her lackey’s hands. She studied it a moment before looking at McKay, “Who else is here on our planet? What is your intention?”
Teyla hissed, “We told you why we—“
“I am not asking you, Athosian!” Metra snapped, glaring at the shorter woman. “You are not the one who interests me here.”
Teyla’s eyes narrowed, but she did not speak again as Metra moved closer to McKay. The scientist, for his part, had been standing still since the knife was lowered away from his throat, though, with the rude words to Teyla, his eyes had lost a little of their deer in headlights look. He pressed his lips together tightly as Metra leaned in, the Kaveer doing a wonderful impression of a Wraith Queen.
“I repeat,” Metra said, lowering her voice to a more threatening tone, “who were you communicating with on these devices?”
“They’re called radios,” McKay answered, his voice just as low and threatening. “And we already answered that question. Ask Cleran.”
“You obviously lied before. There is something else here, something that came through the wormhole before you did. We were not quick enough to catch it on our camera, but we know it’s here.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Then he frowned as the remainder of what she said clicked in his head. “You have a camera on the Gate?”
She gave a small smile, “You failed to inspect the dialing device, Doctor McKay. There is a camera installed on its base. Unfortunately,” he smile fell, “the angle is poor. All we were able to see was a boxlike contraption, before it disappeared.”
McKay gave a weak shrug, glaring a little at the two men still holding onto his arms, then looked back at Metra. “I still don’t know what—“
“Has anyone ever told you what a terrible liar you are, Doctor? Baret,” she looked to the man standing on her right. “Please show Doctor McKay your screen.”
Baret nodded, walked back to his station and pressed down on some crystal keys. As he did so, he looked up at the screen on the wall nearest his station.
A very familiar looking sensor screen appeared, shaded in dark blue and with pale green concentric circles. It was identical to every sensor screen on Atlantis. And it showed, plain as day, a red dot hovering over the compound with the following label: "GS-3221X". McKay grimaced.
“You have managed to get Lantean technology to work for you.”
“Lantean…as opposed to Ancestral.” Metra nodded, eyeing him curiously. “Interesting that you should call them by their given name, and not the name that so many of the ignorant use. But, to answer your question, yes, we have. Though not all of it.” She lifted an eyebrow, “To be honest, it was almost by chance. Many of our best scientists could not get the technology to function, then, one day, it just did. I wonder…” she stepped forward, studying McKay’s eyes as he purposefully kept his diverted from hers, “would you happen to know why that is?”
McKay glanced at her briefly, then away. Apparently, that was all the confirmation Metra needed. She smiled suddenly, almost gleefully, and nodded.
“There are definitely many things we need to discuss then, Doctor McKay. But first,” she stepped closer, and leveled her gun at his chest, “tell us what it is that came through the Ring before you arrived.”
Rodney’s jaw shut, and he looked past her, towards the screen where the Jumper’s call-sign blinked unconcernedly. GS…Gate Ship…it was a good thing they didn’t know what those two letters stood for.
“We have answered your questions,” Teyla said evenly, reinserting herself into the conversation. “You will not learn anything different from us. You have made a great mistake, threatening us this way. Now, let us go, or, I promise you, you will not like the consequences.”
“Or, really?” Metra’s lips curved into a sneering smile, regarding Teyla like one would a bug. “I think, perhaps, it is you, Miss Emmagen, who has underestimated us.” Her eyes flicked up to whomever was holding her. “Take her to one of the cells. She is of no use in this matter.”
“No, I will not leave Doctor McKay! You cannot—” Teyla started to fight again, and got smacked soundly on the side of the head, causing her to lose her sight momentarily. When she came to, she was being dragged away, already far across the large room from Rodney. She looked up, blinking through was felt like liquid on her face, and caught sight of him watching her worriedly. “Rodney!”
“I’m okay!” he shouted back. “It’s okay! Just don’t forget me! And stop bleeding!” He sounded scared, but more for her than him. She also understood the underlying statement—he expected her to stick with the plan…to get Connam out if she found him. But, he also wanted her not to leave him behind.
That was something that would never happen.
“They’ve been found out,” Ronon said, glaring at the silent communicator. It had gone dead right after the woman, Metra, had requested Teyla and Rodney remove their radios. No way would they have done so without at least an argument. “We shouldn’t have let them just—“
“They’re still alive,” Sheppard said, his own eyes on the HUD, looking at the two blips representing Teyla and McKay. They were being separated—which could mean that Teyla might still be following the plan, and going to try to find Connam on her own. “We need to give them more time.”
“No!" Ronon snarled. "It was a bad plan! I say we land this thing and go in there, tear these people to pieces!”
“And hurt potentially innocent people in the process?” Sheppard argued back. “No! We are going to give Teyla and McKay a little more time. We have seen nothing yet to indicate they are in any real danger. For all we know—“
“For all we know, they’re torturing McKay and taking Teyla to be shot!”
Sheppard’s eyes widened, staring up at Ronon like he had two heads. “Okay, you’re seriously pessimistic, you know that? I thought Rodney was bad, but you’ve no faith in anyone, do you?”
“I don’t trust people who hurt my friends,” Ronon defended, crossing his arms angrily. “And these people have definitely hurt Connam. I don’t know him that well, but he’s a friend of yours, and that makes him a friend of mine. So, no, I don’t trust these people and I think we need to get Teyla and McKay out of there…now.”
John’s jaw tensed, but…he couldn’t fault that logic. Fact was, he was itching to get in there as well.
“Okay…” his eyes narrowed, studying the terrain and the location of the various vehicles in the back of the compound along with Connam’s truck. They all looked like fuel based vehicles, just like back home. He also quickly mapped the locations of all the Kaveer on the ground. “Okay,” he said again, “we’re going to give them ten more minutes. If we don’t hear from them, then we’ll go in, get Teyla and McKay out. But, we’re going to need a plan.” He looked up again at Ronon. "And I'm thinking it's gonna need some explosions."
Ronon's answering grin was a wonderfully terrible thing to behold.
Stripped of his vest, Rodney was shoved into a chair in front of Baret's station, flinching away from the suddenly large looking man. Baret could give Ronon a run for his money—though the Kaveer had a lot less hair. Rodney spotted Cleran on the other side, kneeling down and going through his vest, pulling out the scanner and also pulling off the laptop from the back. He was about to say something about being careful with everything when something blocked his line of sight. Metra had come up close to the chair, standing inches from him, her stance ramrod straight. When he leaned his head back to meet her eyes, she pointed to the Jumper's call sign on the Ancient sensor with Teyla's gun.
"Tell us what that is."
Rodney pursed his lips and made a show of looking intently at the screen. He saw the ship moving, flying towards the rear of the building. Was Sheppard following Teyla?
"Um...a sensor grid?" he answered, leaning back in the chair and looking back up at the older woman. He could feel the sweat on his face, giving away his prevarication as effectively as if he'd come out and told them it was a toaster.
Metra's jaw tensed, pushing the gun closer to his face. "I would not test our patience, Doctor McKay. I repeat, what is it?"
Rodney looked back at the screen, then down at the crystals making up the keyboard of the console. Not all were lit up, and he noticed several were cracked.
"This is damaged," he said, not looking up, trying to stay focused on the technology and not on the threat from the obviously dangerous woman. "Was it like this when you found it?"
"You're stalling," she said.
He bit his lip, his eyes looking anywhere but at her face, "I'm just saying...maybe, because it's damaged, it's showing false—"
Someone clubbed the back of his head, causing stars to flash across his eyes. He didn't think it was Metra, because he didn't see it coming—so it was probably Baret. He breathed heavily through the sharp pain, the air loud in his ears, catching himself with the console.
His hands splayed across the crystals, feeling the power thrumming through them, sensing the knowledge inside their workings just like he did at home. Looking up, his eyes darted around, and he saw more Ancient consoles, and more grids, all of them connected. Like reading a book, he quickly absorbed and catalogued the configurations of the consoles and symbols on the keys—recognizing all of them. My God—they were all Ancient weapons systems and shields. Were they active? How did they get here? Or did the Kaveer find them here and—
"Doctor!" Metra slapped his face, and Rodney's vision grayed, his cheek stinging from where a ring on her finger had cut him. Breathing hard, he raised a hand to his burning face and sharp anger suddenly clouded his judgment—he hated having his thoughts interrupted—and he glared up at her.
"It's your equipment," he snarled without thinking, resting both hands again on the console. "You figure it out."
Metra almost smiled at that, her eyes shining with a strange mania. Her gaze lifted, looking over the top of Rodney's head, the smile turning into a leer. "Bring me the shock stick," she ordered, before returning her gaze to Rodney's. She grabbed his chin roughly in hard, callused fingers, pulling his head up. "You will tell me what I want to know, Doctor McKay. Believe me. I know fear when I see it—beneath all that bluster, you are a weak man."
Rodney swallowed, some of his anger fading in the face of such coldness. His hands remained on the console, and the warmth of the crystals was like a beacon to him. He looked again at the sensor grid when she let his face go, his chin throbbing with the bruises sure to show up where she'd gripped. Metra asked him again what was on the screen, and his focus landed on the dot showing the Jumper, giving his friends away....
To hell with this.
He wasn't even sure he'd actually done it until he heard all the shouting, and felt himself pulled away and thrown to the floor, sliding across the black linoleum material on his back. And then he was being pulled up by his jacket, and Baret was in his face. The black haired man seemed huge now...huge and angry...and the coloring...
Reminded him of Kolya. He was scrambling at the hands holding him down, breathing fast.
"What the hell did you just do?!" Baret roared, his voice echoing in McKay's head like a bullhorn. "How did you turn it off?!" He was shaking him, hard. Behind Baret, Metra was shouting as well, similar questions, similar demands, but he could barely hear it over the man holding him down. What was he going to say? That he simply touched it and thought, off?
"Tell us how to turn it back on!" Baret yelled, shaking him again, McKay couldn't breathe. "Now!"
McKay's eyes closed. He wouldn't give Sheppard away. Not now. "I can't!" he shouted, using the last of the air in his lungs. "I don't—"
Baret hit him hard enough to knock his head back against the black floor with a large crack.
He didn't know anything else after that.
Two guards led Teyla down a narrow hallway, the walls were just as white as everywhere else, the floors just as black. She wiped a hand across his face, trying to get rid of some of the blood she felt drying on her cheek and forehead. By the time they emerged into a long, but narrow room, her vision was no longer blurry and she felt well enough to stand up straight. Which was just as well—because she had found what they had come here to find.
Squinting a little against the bright sunlight streaming through a bunch of small windows, she found herself facing a row of cells. At least a dozen of them. And half of them were filled—and, based on the colorful clothing, not by anyone who was Kaveer.
The long row of cells were separated only by bars, allowing the prisoners to see each other down the corridor. Thus, it was easy to spot Eric Connam not far from where she stood, sitting on a pallet and looking bored out of his mind.
The trader looked just about the same as when Teyla had last seen him, although scruffier. His faded blond hair was dirty and loose, not hidden under the plain brimmed hat he liked to wear, and the long handlebar moustache seemed to weigh heavier than usual on his face. The normally well trimmed beard was unkempt, and shaggy, but not unattractive. The main difference was the lack of animation. While not a young man—he was possibly in his late forties, early fifties—Connam had always seemed to Teyla to be filled with energy, always in motion. Now, though, his eyes were downcast, studying the black linoleum floor with a listlessness she had never seen him own.
Of course, that all changed the moment he saw her.
They walked Teyla right past his cell, and his eyes drifted up in curiosity…and instantly widened. He was on his feet and gripping the bars of his door, mouth opened to say something, most likely to protest. She gave him a look, begging silently for him not to say anything, not yet, and it seemed to work. He closed his mouth, but he didn’t take his eyes off her.
They shoved her into the cell next to his, and she had to catch herself before she went down. Turning, she saw the two guards who had brought her here were smiling, one holding the P90 close in his arms like a baby while the other simply raked his eyes over her. She stood up proudly, not ashamed by her looks, and simply gave him her most acid stare back.
It seemed to work. The second guard sneered and backed away after the door was shut, heading back to the corridor leading back to the main room. The first, the one with her weapon, simply hovered, moving to lean against the wall on the far side of her cell, his interest not totally on the P90.
Reaching up, she brushed more of the sticky hair from her face, grimacing a little at the tackiness from the dried blood and the sting of the cut along her hairline. All things considered, it did not feel that bad of a wound. It probably looked worse than it felt, although she was going to have a headache for a while. Her hand then drifted down to her neck and along her shoulder, until she felt the soft lump.
She pressed down, grimacing a little at the subtle pain, then let go. She repeated it a couple of times, then stopped.
“Colonel,” One of the marines was manning the controls of the jumper and watching the HUD while Sheppard outlined his plan to Major Lorne, Ronon and the other marines. At the sound of his name, John came forward, looking up at the screen. Teyla’s life sign blinked on and off three times.
“That’s the signal,” the marine said.
“Right,” Sheppard said, looking to the men behind him. “Here we go.”
CHAPTER EIGHT: OVERTURNING THE EARTH
Rolling her shoulders, Teyla stepped forward to the bars, paying no attention to Connam, though she knew the trader was still watching her. Her lips lifted in a soft smile, and she tilted her head as she watched the guard fiddle with the weapon he had stolen.
"It is called a P90," she offered, "it’s a sub-machine gun."
His eyes lifted, their color a dark chocolate brown. They regarded her without much interest or warmth.
"It carries 50 rounds inside its magazine," she continued, walking up to the wide bars and slotting her arms through to lean on the central beam. "It's clear, see? That way you can tell how many rounds you have left."
The Kaveer tilted the weapon up, looking at the magazine and the still full set of rounds inside.
"It's light," he grunted, obviously interested despite himself. "I've never seen a weapon this light."
"It's an impact resistant polymer," Teyla smiled some more, quoting her own training on the weapon. "Makes it much lighter than the heavy metals the Genii use."
The Kaveer's eye tilted up to look at her again, the expression narrowed. "The Genii make good weapons."
"Yes," Teyla conceded, "but these are better."
His eyes looked down again, then, suddenly, he swung the weapon up and pointed it at her. Teyla tried not to react to the hostility of the move, but she couldn't stop the flinch and she pulled her arms back a little. The young man smiled. It was an evil, cold smile. Teyla's jaw hardened.
"You have more of these where you come from?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
Teyla gave a single nod.
He smiled some more. "We may want to know where that is."
The Athosian pursed her lips at that statement, then gave a slow nod, as if she were willing to provide that information.
"My goal," she said, stepping carefully with her words, "is to bring you and the people who made that weapon together, as allies."
The young man snorted, "Allies. Sure." He had lowered the weapon again, and was inspecting the flashlight and the sight.
"It has two firing modes," she said, leaning forward again through the bars, trying once more for casual, "semi-automatic and fully automatic. It means you can fire a single bullet, or a spray. It has a manual safety, located under the trigger, and a laser sight, for better aim."
He was no longer leaning against the wall, and, unconsciously, had stepped forward, closer to her cell. "A laser sight?" There was no mistaking the underlying excitement in his voice, it was almost boyish, like he had been given a new toy.
"Yes, see? The switch is there," she pointed vaguely towards the barrel of the weapon. He frowned.
"There. And that's the switch to change firing modes."
"This one?" He was closer now, showing her the side of the weapon, where the switches were.
"No, no, there, see it?" She continued to point generally, not focusing her hands.
He was frowning deeply, completely caught up in the weapon. Standing in front of her now, he showed her the weapon. "Show me."
"My pleasure," she purred.
Reaching forward, as if to touch the weapon, she grabbed the thick material of his robe on his chest. Before he could react, she wrenched him forward, slamming him bodily into the bars, crushing the P90 against his waist where he still held it with both hands. Before he could fall backwards, she got one hand on the barrel of the weapon to hold him still, and socked him with the other through the gap in the bars hard enough to break his nose. From the resounding crack and the flash of pain in her knuckles, she knew she had succeeded in doing just that.
He fell back with a cry, both hands going to his now bleeding face, while Teyla kept hold of her weapon. With surprising ease, she slid it through the bars and had it pointed at the boy's head.
"The switch to single mode firing is here," she said coldly, clicking the switch. "And right now, the safety is off."
He was holding both hands to his nose, eyes wide as they stared at her in shock. "How...what...?"
"Keys," she spat. "Open these doors. Now!"
"Teyla!" Connam finally spoke, leaning against the bars separating the two cells. "Woman, what are you doing here?"
"Rescuing a friend," she replied, not taking her eyes or her aim off the young guard as he fumbled to open her door. "Faster!" she commanded the guard.
"But," Connam looked genuinely bewildered by that answer, "You mean me? You came for me?"
"Doctor Simpson insisted." Teyla smiled as she continued to stare down the barrel of her P90, brown eyes never leaving their focus on the guard as he sniffed and pulled the door open. Blood ran down his face from his nose in a dark rivulet, and he sniffed again when she stepped out, grabbing the keys from him and gesturing him inside.
Connam's eyes were wide now. "No, no, Teyla, this is a bad idea! Are you crazy? Do you know why I am here? Because I refused to tell them who provided me with the items the At—" he cut himself off before saying the name Atlantian, glancing up at the walls in case they had ears, "...that our mutual friends gave me. And you just come walking in here? You're exactly what they want!"
"I think you underestimate us," Teyla said, locking the guard in the cell then turning to unlock Connam's. She looked up at him, her eyes earnest as she worked. "We came as soon as we learned you were here."
Connam's head shook vigorously, his shaggy blond hair flying. "No, you don't understand. Teyla, these people, they're dangerous! They have weapons, dangerous weapons, and they're hungry for more. They kill people for it. I've seen...I've seen them...." He frowned, as is unable to continue as he stepped out to join her. "You should not have come! I can not repay you for the danger this has put you and the others in!"
"There is nothing to repay, Eric," Teyla said, jogging over to the corridor and glancing down it. She had not missed the cameras mounted on the walls overhead. As if on cue, a stunner flash flared down the hall, almost taking her head off before she ducked back, but not before she saw the handful of guards running towards her.
Without hesitation, she pulled out a canister of tear gas from her vest—grateful the guards hadn't taken it—pulled the pin with her teeth, and tossed it down the hall...then sent a hail of bullets from her P90 after at.
"That should slow them down," she said, jogging back to Connam as tendrils of the gas floated out of the corridor. Coughing and words shouting for retreat echoed from somewhere down it. Teyla looked around. "Is there another door?"
"Yes, but..." Connam pointed to another door at the far end of the row of cells. It obviously led to the outside. "There are guards out there. Many of them. You've overcome one guard, but they have a small army here! I've seen them. Teyla...they're ruthless, these people. I have seen military societies, and these people rank up there with the most frightening I have ever met. They've killed at least two of my fellow prisoners since I've been here, torturing them for information with some of the nastiest implements ever devised. I have no doubt that, had I given the impression of being more knowledgeable about Doctor McKay and the others than I am, that—"
"Then these others are like you?" Teyla asked, looking at the five others now pressing against the bars, watching them with wide, hopeful eyes. Many did look beaten, and one or two had clear burns up and down their arms—she did not want to know where those came from.
"Yes. But how...?"
"Teyla!" Lorne's voice came through a window in one of the empty cells near where they were, and Teyla grinned, looking up.
"Teyla, if we blow through this wall with C4, can you get out this way?"
"Then stand back!"
Teyla gave the keys to Connam, "Free the other prisoners," she ordered. "Hurry." She jogged back to the hallway leading up into the main corridor...and almost had her head taken off again by a stunner flare. The smoke from the tear gas had obviously faded already—they were coming down again. Grimacing, she pulled another canister from her vest and tossed it after the first.
And then Lorne's voice shouted, "Fire in the hole!" and Teyla yelled to the other prisoners, "Get down!"
Sheppard let loose the first drone, hitting the fuel dump, and grinned like a wolf as the erupting fireball turned his world orange. He let out a whoop and fired another at the first of the Kaveer's transportation vehicles.
Rodney jolted awake at the first explosion to total and complete chaos. People were running around and over him, and he found himself forgotten on the floor, lying on his side, hands curled up by his head.
Metra's voice was shouting orders somewhere nearby, and the room was rocked with another explosion, this one closer. Someone yelled that the building's wall had been breached, and McKay risked lifting his head and pushing up a little on his arms. Dizziness instantly assaulted him, and he had to take in a deep breath before he was able to stop the bile rising in his throat, hating the burning in his esophagus as he swallowed it back down. Blinking rapidly, he saw Metra not far from him, waving a black stick around that looked like a cattle prod—with electricity buzzing at the end.
His lips parted, momentarily shocked at the realization that they had probably just been about to use that on him to wake him up. Was that the "shock stick"?
"I need this working!" she was screaming, pointing at the still dark sensor grid. "Who managed to get it working before?"
"Doctor Chressa," Baret shouted back, the large, dark man pressing the keys down on the Ancient console in obvious frustration.
"Then get her! Now. You," she pointed to someone, "Get the weapons systems and the shields online, now!"
"But they're all tied together!" the person replied, sounding panicked. "Whatever that man did, he turned them all off at once!"
"Find a way to bypass what he did, then! Are you scientists or not?!" Metra was clearly furious. "I will not be outsmarted by some outlander! I want that ship brought down! Now! If you can't use the Lantean equipment, then use the Genii missile launchers!"
McKay's eyebrows lifted, thinking about what that could mean. Ship? The Jumper must have...
Another explosion, this one louder and even more ferocious, and now McKay could hear the rattle of machine gun fire.
The Jumper was firing! That's why it had decloaked. Yes! They were being rescued! He smiled in relief, not quite managing to stifle a laugh at the same time.
He must have made a sound loud enough to be heard, because Metra suddenly whirled around to stare down at him. Her eyes were wild, her silvered hair a bird's nest on her head, appearing to him like demoness standing at the gates of hell. Before he could utter a word, the black rod in her hand swung down, pointing at him.
He screamed in pain as electricity fired across every nerve ending in his body.
"Who are they?" Lorne yelled as Teyla ushered all five prisoners through the large hole in the wall along with Connam. She was squinting against the heat pouring in from the outside—the world beyond was literally on fire as the Colonel had exploded every vehicle except for Connam's truck. He had essentially created walls of fire to prevent anyone from coming around the left side of the structure behind their backs. He must have lit a shallow gas pipeline to do that.
"More abductees!" she yelled back, trying to be heard over all the noise. "We have to rescue them as well!" Ronon was inside, firing down the corridor into the main complex, and Lorne's marines were around the right side of the building on the outside, holding back the Kaveer trying to attack from that direction. "What's the plan?" she yelled again.
"I'm taking Connam and, I guess these others, with me and my men on Connam's truck," he shouted. "Colonel's going to make us a way out. We pick up Dodge and get to the Gate and through. You and Ronon get McKay, and find another way out of the building. Wherever you go, the Colonel will pick you up. Then you cover us in the Jumper until we get through the Gate, then come after."
Teyla nodded, "Understood!"
"Good! Now go!"
Teyla didn't question, she just ran over to Ronon's side. He had stopped firing, squinting down the darkened, smoke filled hallway. A brief pause in explosion and gunfire occurred...and they heard someone screaming.
Ronon bellowed and was down the hall instantly, Teyla on his heels.
Sheppard swung the Jumper around, narrowly avoiding being hit by the missile shot from what looked like an air to ground missile launcher—circa 1950. Had to be Genii design. There was so much black smoke, he was having trouble discerning exactly what was happening below, but he had the life signs up on the HUD, so he could see Lorne and his men clearly, as well as Teyla, Ronon and McKay via their subcutaneous transmitters. He grimaced a little as McKay's "dot" seemed to flicker.
"Sir! We need a hole!" Lorne shouted on the radio. "Twelve o'clock of your current position!"
Sheppard nodded and swooped down, letting loose another drone into the wall blocking Lorne from freedom. The major was sitting in the driver's seat of Connam's truck, the trader by his side, and the other marines in the back with the other freed prisoners. They were still firing on the Kaveer, who were continuing to fight despite obviously being outclassed in firepower. He watched as the truck roared and blew through the hole he'd created, then out into the red plateau. He lifted up and sent another drone in the direction of the small army looking to chase them.
A quick mental check told him he only had about four drones left.
He glanced again at the HUD, noting that Ronon and Teyla were almost on top of McKay.
"Come on, guys...." he whispered.
Another missile launched, and he swerved out of the way, then dove down, blowing the hats off the ducking Kaveer soldiers.
The pain let up, and McKay found himself panting for breath, still shaking uncontrollably. The world was a blur around him, distorted by the tears filling his eyes. He sensed more than saw Metra kneel next to him, and he blinked in her direction, just trying to see her clearly.
"Tell us how to turn the Lantean machines back on!" she demanded.
He wanted to tell her to go to hell. He wanted to act brave and determined and strong.
Instead, he just whimpered.
He felt her slap his face, and the sting of it felt odd with the tingling electricity still dancing along his skin. "Tell me! Now! What is the trick! How did you—"
"Get away from him!" Ronon's voice boomed from somewhere. McKay tried to smile, but his lips wouldn't work. Nothing worked—except his ears.
"Who are you!" Metra demanded. "How did you—" Then she shrieked as a blast of red light flared out...and was blocked by someone throwing themselves at Metra, pushing her out of the way. Black hair made Rodney think it was Baret. Ronon's fire nevertheless clearly hit both people, sending them flying away from him, somewhere out of sight. He wanted to follow them with his eyes, but found he didn't even have the strength to lift his head up. Machine gun fire filled the background, and Teyla's voice was clear, loudly proclaiming that everyone in the room lower their weapons and get down on the floor.
The next thing he knew, he was being lifted up by his jacket, and that's when he knew he was still shaking violently—because whoever touched him seemed to freak out a little, almost dropping him down again. He tried to explain, to say he couldn’t get it stop. But no sound came out.
"What did they do to you?" Ronon asked close to his ear, but it was obviously rhetorical. Rodney felt himself bodily lifted to his feet (still definitely Ronon—no one else could do that with such little obvious effort), then tipped over and across a strong shoulder. Fireman's carry. "Let's go." Ronon announced gruffly. "Teyla, grab his vest! You, Cleran, drop his laptop! Yes, that thing in your hands! Now!" Rodney felt the Satedan's ribs expand each time he shouted, and he thought he could hear his heartbeat as well...but that might have been his own. "Where's the nearest exit?" Ronon asked then.
"That way," Teyla replied from somewhere far away. "Give me that!" she snarled then.
Rodney had no idea whom Ronon or Teyla were talking to, but he felt the tall man's muscles shift under him, and they were turning...and jogging. He gasped in pain as the bony shoulder dug into his abdomen, Ronon's grip tightening around his legs. He blinked and grabbed at the back of Ronon's flapping, long great coat, one hand wrapping around the sheath of his sword.
He felt bone-weary and sick, his blood rushing to his face, the bile he'd managed to swallow before rising again up his throat....or down, since he was facing towards the ground. All he could see was black linoleum and the back of Ronon's calves and feet. His body still shook. Could Ronon feel him shaking? He felt like there were a hundred ants crawling up and down his body. Everything hurt, ached....
There was more gunfire, and he caught flashes of red light from Ronon's gun, reflecting mutely off the shiny linoleum.
"This way!" Teyla called, and he felt Ronon's muscles shift again as he turned.
Abruptly, they were outside, the black linoleum replaced by too bright red sand, and he winced at the assault of sunlight on his corneas. Even upside down, it was too much after the black from before. His world began to spin.
"Colonel! Down here!" Ronon boomed, and McKay shut his eyes.
Air blasted, lifting up Ronon's coat, nearly smothering Rodney. There was more gunfire, and he guessed Ronon was firing as well, though he could only guess that from the way Ronon seemed to turn this way and that with him still on his shoulder.
"Get him inside!" Was that Sheppard's voice?
And suddenly, he was inside something cool, the familiar black metal surface of the Jumper floor visible. He wanted to hug it.
"Ronon! What's wrong with him? McKay? You okay?"
He wanted to answer Sheppard's question, but words were too hard to form. But it didn't matter, because Ronon answered for him.
"They did something to him." Good answer, Ronon. McKay almost smiled, but his face didn't want to work.
"We're in! Go!" Teyla called them, and Rodney vaguely noticed the sunlit metal floor turning dark as the back hatch shut. "Go! Go! Go!"
He felt Ronon press against a bench and slide him off his shoulder. Smaller hands helped, and he suddenly was sitting upright, looking at Teyla. She was very blurry, but he could see that she was smiling at him.
"You're safe," she whispered.
So Rodney promptly leaned over and threw up at her feet.
CHAPTER NINE: FROM OUT THE EARTH
"What the hell did they do to him?" Sheppard demanded, lifting the Jumper up and turning to avoid two more missiles. Damn it, how many of those damned rocket launchers did they have? "They barely had him alone for more than ten minutes!"
"Don't know," Ronon answered from the back, sounding calmer now that they were flying. Sheppard listened to the sounds of the Med Kit being pulled down, and Teyla saying soothing things to Rodney, though there was a tight edge to her voice. Sheppard bit his lip, wishing he could turn around to see them.
"Is he okay?" he asked, climbing up high and searching visually for Connam's truck on the ground.
"Don't know that either," Ronon replied, sounding distracted now. "He was shaking like crazy when we found him—he's got some marks like he's been hit, too."
"There's...ugh." Teyla didn't sound too happy, and Sheppard, unable to fight the need to see them any longer, risked a glance back. He saw her shaking something off her right shoe as she and Ronon finished settling McKay on the floor of the Jumper on his side. Ronon was grabbing a blanket and pillow from overhead, obviously to tuck around the man.
Teyla looked up at Sheppard, her expression upset as she opened the first aid kit. "There is blood on the back of his head. It looks like he might have hit it."
"Or someone hit him," Ronon muttered, gently tucking McKay inside the blanket and putting the pillow under his head. He then stood up again when Teyla handed him something to clean up the vomit. Sheppard returned his full focus to the front, moving swiftly to avoid any last missiles. He'd flipped the cloak into a shield, but even one hit would drain power, which he hated to do.
He spotted the truck, the flatbed looking ant-sized from this height, and jetted forward to catch it up. He couldn’t see too clearly from this distance, but he thought he could see Dodge's coloring riding in it. They'd picked up the horse—good.
Ronon spoke again from the back, his voice still quiet. "McKay? You hear me?"
"Wait, he's awake?" Sheppard asked in confirmation, wishing he had a rear view mirror on this thing. He kept looking generally where one would be, just in case the Jumper was clever enough to read his mind and provide one...but no such luck. "I thought he was unconscious?"
"Nah, just out of it. You in there, McKay?"
"Sh...shocked me..." McKay said then, barely audible even inside the quiet Jumper. "S...some kind, kind...of...electroshock...."
"Electroshock? Jesus..." John swallowed hard. Damn it. "It's gonna be okay, McKay," he called back. "Just hold on—we're going to get you home. Ronon..." his voice softened, "keep on eye on him." It was taking all of his willpower not to destroy the Kaveer compounds altogether. He'd seen fellow soldiers turned to mental mush by electroshock in prison camps, their minds never fully returning. If they hurt McKay permanently—he was coming back here to make sure the Kaveer never hurt anyone again.
"Will do," Ronon said. "Not going anywhere," he added quietly. It sounded like it was meant more for Rodney than John.
Teyla was already moving forward, walking a little unsteadily herself. She had dried blood on the side of her face, and when she sat down a little more heavily than usual into the co-pilot's seat, Sheppard guessed McKay wasn't the only one hurting.
"How about you?" he asked, guiding the Jumper down, closer to the truck he could see climbing up out of the basin in the distance. Lorne and the others were already almost back on level ground. Squinting a little, he saw that Dodge wasn't actually on the truck...she was in front of it, charging up the road at a fast clip with someone on her back—one of his marines, based on the coloring of the uniform. Whoever it was—he could ride.
He swung the Jumper in a tight circle, and called up the HUD, checking for activity behind them. No one seemed to be chasing them or the truck—yet. That didn't mean there might not be more surprises, however.
"I will be fine. I got hit on the head, but I did not lose consciousness. It is merely an irritation." Teyla leaned forward, squinting as Sheppard had in the direction of the truck when they turned around again. They were gaining on it quickly now. "Is that them?"
"The Kaveer had Lantean technology," Teyla said then, changing the subject and looking over her shoulder at McKay. "They could see the Jumper on their sensors."
Sheppard's eyes widened, and he looked at her. "What? You mean they could have fired on us before? Then why didn't they?"
"They did not know what it was they were looking at. They were trying to get Rodney to tell them, but...." She trailed off, her lips pressing themselves into a thin line. She didn't need to finish.
"Tough little man," Ronon muttered, still in the back. Sheppard risked another glance back, and saw that the Satedan was now sitting next to McKay, leaning his back against the hatch, one hand resting on Rodney's forehead. The scientist himself was just a lump under the gray military blanket.
"Oh, Christ," the blanket wrapped body sucked in a breath, "Do you have...to call me little? M'not little..."
Sheppard smiled when he turned back around, throwing a quick, grateful thank you to whomever was watching over his team. If Rodney could whine...
"I'm talking height," Ronon replied quietly, and Sheppard could hear the smile in his voice. "Not girth."
"Ha ha," McKay muttered softly. "Very funny."
"Actually," Teyla was looking forward again, her brow furrowed, "I just realized..." She gave a small impressed grunt, and she looked back again at the men in the rear of the Jumper, then at Sheppard. She smiled. "I just realized, the machines were dark when we found him. He must have shut them off."
"Of course, I...shut them off," McKay mumbled, sounding less shaky. "Why do you think," he took a breath, "they did this to me? They don't know," he took in another deep breath, but Sheppard could hear a smile this time when he continued, "about the gene. And they," another breath, "call themselves scientists." He snorted a little at the end.
Sheppard grinned, but didn't turn around again to look at McKay, as Teyla had.
Damn, he loved his team.
Metra held her still burnt left arm close to her side, refusing to look down at the dead form of her second in command at her feet. Baret's lifeless eyes stared up at nothing, the blackened hole on his back from that monster's weapon still smoking.
Someone handed her the Genii wrist communicator, and she clicked it on.
"Minister! What is going on? All the Lantean systems are down under here, and we heard explosions! Are you—"
"We were attacked, Commander," Metra snapped, cutting him off. "I need you to send as many men as you can up to the surface, to guard the Stargate. You must stop the escapees. At the very least, you must stop their ship."
"It's Lantean, I'm sure of it. We must have it—in pieces if that's the only way. Do whatever you can."
When the Jumper reached the basin's edge, Connam's truck was already on the flat, moving swiftly down the dirt road at a good clip, though not as fast as modern vehicles. It was probably the old thing's top speed—which the Jumper clocked at 42 miles per hour. Dodge still led, galloping at her own top speed—which looked to be faster than the truck. The huge creature could really move—he knew some horses could move that fast, but not something that looked like an elephantine Clydesdale, and surely not for longer than a sprint. He tried to see who was riding her, but the hat obscured the marine's face. Whoever he was—he looked born to it.
"Major," Sheppard called, hitting the communicator, "You okay?"
"Shaken up, sir," Lorne replied over the radio, his voice nearly drowned out by the truck's engines. "But I think we're good. How's Doctor McKay?"
"He's awake, sort of. We'll know better when we get him home. Hey—who is riding Dodge?"
"Corporal Dunne, sir. Boy just jumped up and took off. We're just trying to keep up." Lorne sounded amused by this, but the truck's engine was roaring—they really were pushing it to the limit.
"Guess we all have hidden talents," Sheppard answered. "Speaking of home, I'll dial the Gate for you—send you to the Alpha Site, because of all of our unexpected extra guests. You just head straight on through—don't even slow down. By the way, how's Connam?"
"Ask him yourself, sir. He says he needs to talk to you. Here he is..."
"Colonel!" Connam's voice was strong over the connection, louder than Lorne's calm tones. "I need to warn you—we're not out of this yet. I tried to escape when I first got here, and I was prevented from reaching the Gate. There are defenses between here and there—weapons that come out of the ground. I nearly had my head taken off by something a bit like a laser beam."
Sheppard just blinked at that, not sure what to make of the information. He frowned, looking at Teyla, who was already trying to search for evidence of this weapon with her eyes through the Jumper window. The Gate wasn't visible from this altitude—too many small mesas in the way.
"A what?" McKay called from the back. "Tell me...he didn't say...laser beam..."
"Unfortunately, he did." John blew the air out of his cheeks. "Okay," he said into the radio, "We'll keep an eye out for it. Connam, Major, watch yourselves." Turning off the com link, he turned to his right. "Teyla, get ready to dial and send your IDC. I don't want them shooting Dunne when he comes flying out of the wormhole on that horse." He smiled suddenly, unable to resist adding, "If any of them saw Time Bandits, they might have bad flashbacks."
Teyla gave him a confused look. "Time Bandits?"
"Oh, right." His lips twisted ruefully. "Never mind."
"McKay says to tell you you're an idiot," Ronon called from the back. "Time Bandits shouldn't give anyone bad flashbacks—it was a comedy."
"Yeah, thanks for that, Rodney," Sheppard replied, smiling tightly. "Still gave me bad dreams," he muttered under his breath. He'd seen it on his 13th birthday—for a whole week he kept waking up, expecting horses to explode out of the wall over his bed.
The half smile on his face faded as he spotted movement up ahead. Straightening up in his chair, he frowned as it was clear that something else was moving towards the Gate...fast.
"There is movement up ahead," Teyla said, obviously having spotted the shadows at the same time.
John called up the HUD, calling for life-signs, and swore. There were at least three dozen dots moving towards the Stargate—Kaveer soldiers—and more kept popping up. They were just appearing on the screen, as if out of thin air. Where the hell were they coming from? They couldn't just appear from nowhere!
Unless they were coming up out of a shielded underground facility.
Why did every planet with bad people on it have to have a shielded underground facility?
"Major," he called, hitting the com link, "we've got trouble. Kaveer soldiers attempting to intercept. Whatever you do—don't stop, but tell everyone with you to get their heads down."
Connam climbed into the back of his truck with the other kidnapped scientists and two of Major Lorne's marines. He hunkered down, but kept an eye on the sky.
The Jumper, which had been shadowing them, suddenly shot forward like a bullet, and he couldn't resist watching as it climbed high into the sky...then suddenly dove.
Peeking over the top of the flatbed, he watched as the ship aimed for a group of about fifty Kaveer soldiers running towards the Stargate from the left, the group still about two hundred yards away (but much closer than the truck). The ship flew so low as to force half of them to dive down to the ground. It then lifted and turned tightly as the still standing Kaveer soldiers started shooting at it. Flashes of light appeared around the Jumper, as the bullets impacted off some invisible shield.
It dove again, and the rest of the soldiers dove to the ground.
The Jumper lifted and turned once more, practically pivoting in place...and its weapon bays opened. Connam's jaw fell as what looked like a mini-sun lifted from the right side of the ship and skidded across the front of the group of people. It didn't hit any of them—instead, it just circled around them, pinning them inside the circumference it created. Then the weapon impacted the ground about a dozen yards directly in front of them and exploded. Those soldiers that had gotten to their feet were rocked backwards.
The Jumper turned again in the sky and moved to settle in front of the now mostly prone men and women, its weapons bays still open. The threat was clear—move, and the next weapon the ship fired would blow them to bits. The Kaveer didn't move—they just stared at the hovering ship, fully aware they didn't have a chance in hell against something that powerful.
Connam grinned, and was tempted to wave at the cowed Kaveer. It was only then that he realized they were almost at the Stargate. His eyes moved away from the Jumper guarding them and to the Gate, happy to see the chevrons glowing and spinning...
He had no idea how he was going to repay them for this. But he would find a way.
Doctor Chressa, a petite, gray-haired woman with wide, dark green eyes, staggered into the room, pushed by a soldier. She paused when she saw Baret, who was still lying on the ground near his station, putting her hands over her mouth in shock.
"Chressa!" Metra shouted, getting the woman's attention. "Get over here! You turned this on before; you need to show us how you did it."
"Oh, Ancestors preserve us..." Chressa shook as she stepped gingerly over Baret's body, obviously trying not to look down as she did so, and stumbled over to the console Metra pointed at. The leader of the Kaveer rolled her eyes—she hated the weakness of the older scientists. Chressa, meanwhile, huffed a shaking breath as she studied the dead keys. "I just...I just hit these three keys together," she said. Trembling, pale hands reached down and touched the keys, and the crystals lit up. Metra's brow furrowed, sure she had seen Baret hitting those same keys multiple times trying to achieve the same thing.
Whatever. Metra shook her head sharply—she didn't have time to think about that right now. Around the room, the other Lantean equipment came on line one after another. People dove for their consoles as soon as they started working.
"That's it!" Metra said, "Get the shields up! And bring that ship down! Now!"
Teyla finished dialing, and the Gate burst to life. "Alpha Site," she called into the radio, "this is Teyla Emmagen. We are coming in hot. We have Eric Connam, his truck and dram coming through. I'm sending my IDC." She hit the small device on her wrist as the colonel stared unblinkingly at the obvious commander of the Kaveer. The soldier stared back through the windshield, jaw tensed and waiting, equally unblinking.
"We hear you. Come on through," someone replied through the com.
At the words, Sheppard lifted the Jumper up into the sky and turned it sideways so that they could see the Stargate at the same time as the Kaveeran soldiers.
Teyla grinned as she watched Dodge leap up and into the wormhole, especially since she was pretty sure Corporal Dunne was grinning as the powerful creature carried him through.
The truck went through a second later, and Connam waved as they hit the event horizon.
"We did it!" Teyla smiled, standing up a little in her seat. "They're through!"
"Right," Sheppard said, quickly turning the Jumper around away from the soldiers and back to the Gate. Turning it sharply in the air, he aimed straight for the wormhole, mentally slowing the Jumper down to give the truck enough time to get out of the way on the other side. "Alpha Site, we're coming through, and we have a medical emergency. Have a team standing—"
"COLONEL!" Teyla screamed, but Sheppard was already banking upwards, the inertial dampeners unable to completely compensate for the sudden shift in altitude. Teyla nearly fell out of her seat, while everything in the rear of the Jumper shifted loudly...and painfully.
"What the hell?!" Ronon shouted from the back, where he'd fallen hard into the back hatch.
"They have a shield!" Teyla shouted back, her eyes wide where she stared at the shimmering Gate shield covering the open wormhole, which the Jumper just narrowly avoided being squashed against.
And then the Kaveer opened fire.
CHAPTER TEN: DODGING THE FIRE
"Alpha Site," Teyla called into the radio, "we have been prevented from following! The Stargate on this side has a shield! I repeat, the Stargate has a shield!"
"What?" McKay called from the back just as Sheppard banked the Jumper hard and around, turning it back towards the Gate. The colonel’s eyes were instantly drawn to the two dozen or so Kaveer troops still on the ground, scrambling to regain their position guarding the Gate and the DHD. Their machine guns were already firing, and the first grenade launcher fired, forcing Sheppard to swing sharply to the left to avoid it. Shit.
"Where the hell did they get a shield?" he muttered, mentally checking that the Jumper’s own shield was still at mostly full power—the weapons firing on them weren't have too much of an impact, thank goodness. "McKay," he called back, "they’ve got a lot of weapons pointed at us. Are you feeling well enough to—Jesus Christ!"
The massive bolt of energy nearly blinded them, cutting across the Jumper’s bow and flaring like a sun where it impacted the Jumper’s shield. For what felt like hours, there was nothing but orange light, filling everything, saturating the world in and around the Jumper. The controls flashed and sparked, nearly going dead before the beam cut out.
It had lasted less than a second.
Blinking against the spots in his vision, Sheppard barely managed to level out the spiral they had fallen into, just seconds before the Jumper crashed into the ground. He heard things fall heavily in the back, and guessed that Ronon and McKay were both now on the floor of the Jumper again.
"Hang on!" he yelled, pulling hard on the controls to aim the still shuddering ship up and away from the sand-crusted ground.
"A bit late for that!" McKay yelled back, sounding both utterly panicked and very annoyed. Oh yeah, he was feeling better.
"Look out!" Teyla screamed, pointing to the left. It was an unnecessary shout, as Sheppard was already banking up and to the side, just narrowly avoiding being hit again. There was more banging around from the back—the inertial dampeners weren’t doing a good job. The Jumper was responding sluggishly in general—as if unable to give him the power he needed to climb.
"Are you trying to make me throw up again?" McKay demanded, his voice breaking. "What the hell is happening? What is that thing?"
"I don’t know! You tell me!" Sheppard answered, fighting with the controls—it felt like he was trying to pilot them through molasses. "The Jumper’s been damaged! McKay! I need you up—"
"We’re coming!" Ronon growled back, grunting a little. Glancing over his shoulder, John saw that Ronon was almost physically carrying McKay forward, and there were boxes and equipment scattered all over the back. The scientist had his head down—not as well as he sounded then. He turned back, and swerved to avoid another strike.
"Teyla, What’s happening?" Someone demanded over the com—it sounded like Lorne, radioing in through the still open wormhole. "Are you under attack?"
"Yes!" she shouted back, leaning to peer out the front window, trying to see the source of the beam, just as Sheppard was. "The Kaveer have some sort of energy weapon! Do not send—"
"Gate just shut down," Sheppard interrupted, glancing towards the ground. Sure enough, the Stargate was inactive. Teyla stared at it, then back at the colonel as he spoke again, Sheppard banking hard around another cut from the beam. "The Kaveer must have shut it down themselves, remotely."
"Should I…?" Teyla put her hand on the Jumper’s DHD.
He shook his head. "I’m guessing, we dial it up again, they’ll just put the shield back up. We have to find a way to get rid of it…and shake this damned beam!" The last was delivered in a frustrated yell as he banked sharply to the left, narrowly avoiding being hit again. "Where the hell is it coming from? I can’t see anything that looks like a—"
"There!" Teyla pointed to what, at first glance, looked like a rock formation about twenty meters from the Stargate. "It’s coming from inside those rocks." Then her eyes widened, "correction, it is those rocks." Sure enough, as they watched, the rocks and the ground around them took on a blinding yellow glow…and a beam scarred the sky, aiming straight for them.
"McKay!" he yelled again, banking out of the way at the last second.
"I’m here!" Rodney answered over his shoulder. "Just give me a minute!" He sounded tired, but Sheppard couldn’t focus on that now. A quick glance back showed McKay in his usual seat, attacking his laptop with shaking hands. He was still bundled in the blanket, ashen faced, but wearing that determined frown that meant he was not going to collapse until they were safe. Ronon had a hand on his shoulder, as if forcibly keeping him upright.
A proximity sensor went off, and Sheppard’s eyes returned to the front, narrowly avoiding yet another strike by the weapon, whatever it was. "I need options, McKay," he ground out. "What is that thing?"
"An energy weapon, obviously—a powerful one. It’s…it and the Gate Shield are both being powered through the DHD, which is being powered by...something below the ground. Whatever it is, it’s Ancient. They must have had a facility here, once upon a time." McKay sighed heavily, his voice a sort of low burr as his fingers rattled across his computer keyboard.
"Can we take it out?"
"No, your brain."
McKay snorted, "No. It’s…," he took a deep breath, "it’s under the ground. Those rocks…I don’t think they’re real, I think they’re a hologram. And…oh nuts…"
"There’s a shield covering them. Just like the Gate. I think it’s all one component." His voice seemed to fade a little, and there was an edge of pain to it. Sheppard frowned, circling around the Gate again—they needed a way out. He looked at the soldiers gathered around the DHD, watching them…waiting for the beam to finish them off.
"If the DHD is powering them, can we take out the DHD?" Ronon asked.
"What?" McKay seemed startled by the question. "No, of course not. You take out the DHD, you take out the Gate’s power as well. No power, no wormhole, remember?"
"Then how are we going to get home?" Ronon ground out, staggering forward into Sheppard’s peripheral vision as the colonel dove under another cut from the beam.
"How about just trying to survive the next five minutes first," McKay snarled. "Sheppard, Look..." The HUD appeared, and Sheppard swore, already grasping the problem before McKay explained it for the others. "When that beam hit us the first time," Rodney sucked in a breath, "the shield took almost all of the Jumper’s power to deflect it and damaged some of the control systems. If we get hit again, the shield won’t hold, and the Jumper will be out of power. It’s mostly out of power now. Sheppard, you have to get us away from it."
Sheppard gritted his teeth, narrowly avoiding another hit with a painful jack-knife like turn to the right. "Will leaving the atmosphere do it?"
"Maybe—but when I say that we don't have much power, I mean, we don't have much power. We go up there—we'll only have hours before we have to enter the atmosphere again."
"No, I...oh..." McKay’s voice grew small in the background, just as Sheppard turned them particularly sharply. "God," he whimpered, "I’m really not feeling well."
"Sorry, Rodney," Sheppard replied, his whole body tensing as he plunged the small craft downwards, orange light flooding the cockpit from another near miss. "I really am. But I don’t have much choice here."
"Yeah, yeah." The scientist sucked in a deep breath. "Right. You're...doing great. Um...so, heading up?"
"Soon as I can get a break." Sheppard pulled them sharply to the left. "We need a plan."
"You have to lower the shield."
"Are you crazy?" Sheppard asked, swerving around yet another cut from the beam. "If I do that, and it hits us—"
"It’ll cause damage, yes, but we might survive. If it hits us while we have the shields up, the Jumper will cut out, and we’ll crash and die. Which would you rather?"
Sheppard just swore again, and turned off the shields with a mental nudge. He turned the Jumper up, straight towards the blue expanse overhead, needing to get distance, swerving from side to side as the beam sent pot shots after them.
It was worse than trying to avoid the beam off Doranda—that one was random. This one was aimed—and aimed well. The proximity sensors would not stop screaming, as if the weapon was jacked into them. It was taking everything John had to keep them from being hit.
He kept having to break his climb, to swerve down and to the side, keep the weapon guessing but also slowing them down. Still, the higher they got, the weaker the beam's strength seemed to get—its color less vivid. It's accuracy seemed to falter as well—missing by yards instead of feet now.
Sweat dripped down his face. Oddly, he was reminded of that first time flying O'Neill back on earth, being targeted by that drone. If Beckett hadn't turned that thing off at the last second, they'd have both died. This energy weapon thing wasn't a drone, but...the feeling of 'no way out' was the same. He had to get out of range...just get a little bit further...
They were just reaching the limits of the lower atmosphere when Rodney spoke again.
"It’s working," he said, his voice sounding hopeful for the first time as a flash of yellow burned off to the right. "It’s lost most of its power."
"We're hitting the limits of breathable air, here," John confirmed. "We just have to go a bit further..."
"Assuming that it can't follow us into space."
"What?" Fear spiked through John. "You said leaving the atmosphere—"
"No, I didn't! I said 'maybe'! I'm just trying not to throw up on this teacup ride from hell!"
"It's weakening! It is! Just keep what you're doing!"
John gritted his teeth, wishing he could wipe the sweat off his forehead. Proximity sensors were not screaming as often in his ears, but the Jumper was still panicking. He swung them side to side, trying to stay random, to stay clear.
"We're leaving the lower atmosphere," Teyla said.
"And the beam is definitely not as strong," McKay said.
"Yeah," Sheppard muttered, turning to look over his right shoulder at the scientist. "I think we might be—"
The rest was cut off as the beam sliced through the left side of the Jumper right next to Sheppard’s head, entering somewhere near McKay’s station and leaving through the windshield. Teyla screamed as Sheppard was catapulted sideways towards her, and McKay fell back out of his chair to the floor. Ronon was thrown against the right side of the ship, sprawled across his chair.
And the Jumper fell.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: FALLING THROUGH THE AIR
Rodney fell back onto the floor, head hitting the hard surface with a crack, the smell of burnt metal and burnt flesh singing his nostrils. It was overpowering.
He had heard Sheppard’s yell and Teyla’s scream before he hit, but, after...there was nothing but his heartbeat. It pounded inside his ears, inside his chest, down to the tips of his toes, louder than he had ever heard it. It was like his blood was demanding to be freed of the confines of his body, and was slamming its fists against the walls.
And outside his body, the world had gone gray, color washing out of it like an old movie. It grew smaller and smaller until it was just a pinpoint, something far away and hard to reach, like looking through a set of binoculars backwards.
Vaguely, he became aware of a growing burning sensation in his chest, but he couldn’t seem to do anything about it, couldn’t move anything at all…
And then something hit him, hard and painful across the face. The world rushed back as he took in a great gasping breath, blasting him with noise, noxious fumes and vivid color. Someone grabbed his shoulders and shook—hard. Blinking, McKay tried to focus, to break through the chaos, to breathe.
He finally made out Ronon leaning over him, obviously shouting, but his voice was lost in the wind in his ears. Ronon shook him again, then pointed to his left. As directed, McKay turned his head that way…and saw Teyla on the floor with a clearly unconscious Sheppard in her arms. She stared at him, wide eyed and terrified. Blood coated her arms, and there was a smear of it on her face.
She shouted something at him then, and reached out with a free hand to grab her chair—she looked like she was barely holding on, like she couldn’t hold herself steady. Sheppard’s head lolled into the crook of her arm, his face slack.
Beneath them, the floor tilted and rolled, sliding them all around, and McKay didn’t understand why. Were they still on that hovercraft? It was not until he looked beyond Teyla, and saw the orange world rushing up at them through the half busted windshield…
McKay’s eyes widened, and he moved to stand. He wouldn’t have made it on his own, but Ronon grabbed and pulled him up, practically carrying him. He still couldn’t hear, but he could see, and, with Ronon’s help, he was lifted over the pilot’s chair, which was on its side on the floor of the Jumper and…God, it was on fire…
Shaking, the wind tearing at his face through the hole in front of him, he grabbed the dead and dark controls.
He had to struggle to keep his eyes open, the wind through the broken windshield strafing his corneas like sandpaper, so he was squinting through his eyelashes as he tried to get the Jumper to wake up, to respond. When the left hand control came off in his hand, he let go and pressed his left hand down on the console, begging it to react, to come alive again. For a moment, he thought it was over, they were dead, and he was shouting though he couldn't hear his voice…then the console suddenly lit up. It flickered a little at first, as if uncertain, and a portion on the left nearest to the damaged hull didn’t light up at all. Then the right hand control began to respond to his commands, and, with a thought, he managed to turn on the shield and repressurize the cabin. The wind immediately cut off—and he could hear again, though it was muffled, his ears and nose throbbing with sharp, needle-like pain, though it was nothing compared to the ice pick slicing through his skull.
He didn’t care. He just had to stop them falling.
He pulled back on the right hand control and closed his eyes, imagining in his head the Jumper leveling out. He felt the floor under his feet shudder and shake, as the Jumper fought the pressure of the wind and the engines struggled to stop their downwards plunge.
All he thought about was leveling off, regaining control, not crashing…
The Jumper stopped shaking, and he risked opening his eyes, blinking against the bright light pouring inside from the blue sky now filling his vision. The Jumper was not quite level, tilted on his side, and he recognized that it was because he couldn’t control the left hand drive pod. He wondered if it was damaged, and, if so, how badly. Did the same beam that cut through up here strafe the drive pod?
They were still flying, so it had to be working…he just lacked control. The Jumper was following its own course--taking them back to the Gate. Back to the Kaveer.
No, no, no! Not that way! The Jumper shuddered, fighting him, and he shuddered with it. He pressed on the right hand control. Away...away...from the Gate. The Jumper jerked like a rubber band, and they were whipping in circles.
Sicker than ever, he let go, and the Jumper headed off in a new direction. He didn't know where. He didn't know anything. He couldn't think anymore.
He couldn't stop shaking, and neither could the ship.
"I have to land," he said, softening his voice to a whisper. It just sounded so loud inside his head, worsening the sharp, biting pains in his ears. His earlier headache was nearing migraine levels as a result—it was amazing he was still conscious.
"Where?" Ronon asked, sounding very far away, but also strangely close. It was then McKay realized that Ronon was right behind him…holding him up. He didn’t even notice the hands under his arms, taking much of his weight as he leaned over the console.
"As far away as I can get from the weapon," he replied softly, wondering if the beam was even still shooting. Had it stopped firing when they were hit? It must have, because they weren’t hit again while they fell, or when he leveled out.
"There was a small canyon about ten miles away from the Stargate to the left—I saw it when we were flying around before," Teyla said, speaking up from where she was sitting, still holding Sheppard up. She too sounded like she was speaking through a pillow. "Can you take us there? It had shelter and water."
McKay wanted to shake his head, but he knew it’d be a bad idea. "I don’t think I can turn, except in circles," he admitted, his voice shaking a little. "Straight line only. No left hand control."
"Just get us as far away from the Gate as you can, then," Ronon said.
McKay's vision was graying, and he jerked his head up. The Jumper had drooped a little, and he felt it shudder.
"I need..." His vision was spinning, he was bottoming out. "I need to land. Now."
"There. Those rocks," Ronon said, stabbing a finger towards the outside. "Defensible, if nothing else."
McKay followed the direction pointed, blinking too dry eyes, and saw a large collection of boulders a few miles away, putting them about fifteen miles from the Gate. The Jumper seemed to be swaying, but staying afloat, so to speak. He nudged the right hand control and kept his left hand on the console, willing the ship not to overcompensate.
It shifted slightly—they were on course. He blew the air out of his cheeks, and tried to ignore the roiling nausea in his stomach. He focused on the rocks, thinking only about reaching them…then crossing over the top of them…and landing. At some point, he had closed his eyes—something he didn't notice until he hit ground. He'd been flying by pure mental picture.
The Jumper skipped on the ground, jarring them, then settled, sighing like an old, rusted Buick.
McKay took off the shield and immediately slid down, so that he was sitting on the floor, leaning against the underside of the console. Ronon let him—either that, or he wasn't fast enough to stop him. His head tipped forward—he only wanted to close his burning eyes for a second…
"No, McKay, don’t pass out…McKay!" Ronon grabbed Rodney’s arm, trying to pull him up out of the little niche he’d slipped into between the console and the chair, but the scientist was out again, and this time he wasn’t responding to the shaking. He'd gone completely limp, and, with Ronon's awkward position behind him, the sideways chair preventing him from achieving any decent balance, he wasn't able to stop the man's fall. Backing away with a swear, he pressed a hand to the side of the limp man's neck. McKay’s skin was cold, clammy and, if possible, even more pale, although his cheeks and forehead were now bright red from windburn. Ronon muttered a swear, straightening up from his crouch.
He needed a doctor.
Turning, Ronon reluctantly climbed back over the still smoldering pilot’s chair, the upper left hand corner of which was burned clean off. If Sheppard hadn’t turned in his chair to look at McKay the second that beam hit, it would have taken the colonel’s head with it.
Teyla was watching him, still holding onto the colonel. The beam hadn’t actually hit the man, but it had gotten close enough to burn him through his shirt, leaving portions of his upper left arm and his left shoulder bare and blood-slicked. The force of the blast had sent him hard towards Teyla, and his head had cracked on the DHD. There was blood everywhere.
"How is he?" Ronon asked, kneeling down next to her. Sheppard was lying with his back pressed against her abdomen, his head on her left arm and her hands holding him up around his chest.
"I don’t know," she admitted quietly, looking down at him. "All I could do was hold on."
Ronon nodded and reached forward, holding a hand to Sheppard’s neck on the right hand side. A steady pulse made itself known, and he didn’t seem to be having any difficulty breathing. His eyes closed briefly in gratitude—he’d been afraid Sheppard was dead.
Hell, until McKay had gotten those controls to work for him, he thought they were all dead.
Refusing to think about that further, he looked over at the blanket that McKay had dropped when he fell back. Without a word to Teyla, who was watching his every move without blinking, he picked the blanket up off the floor, shook it out, then climbed back over the pilot's chair to the scientist. Gently, he wrapped the blanket around the scientist's shoulders, then pulled McKay away from the console he was leaning against. As softly as he could, he placed him down on the floor on his side, curled inside the small space under the console like a cat, wrapped as warmly as Ronon could manage in the blanket.
That done, he straightened up and brushed his coat back, revealing his blaster. Pulling it out, he checked the charge then looked to the back.
"I need to check the perimeter. I don’t know how fast they will get to us out here."
"We…" Teyla closed her eyes and swallowed hard, as if to suppress the panic evident in her voice, and she seemed to shake herself slightly. The fear was gone from her face when she spoke again, her tone calm and collected as she returned her gaze to his. "We landed about fifteen miles from the Stargate, in a direction away from both those troops and the Kaveer compound. I do not know what mode of transportation they have, but I did not see anything quick enough to get them here in less than an hour. Did you?"
Ronon frowned, closing his eyes and trying to imagine the army at the Gate. He recalled no signs of any transport. Wherever those troops had come from, it must have been close.
"Considering that the weapon that was firing at us was underground," Teyla said again, "I would guess that there is a hidden facility underground as well. That is probably where those people were hiding. My guess is, it is shielded, which is why neither Doctor McKay's scanner nor the Jumper registered those life signs."
"So," Ronon frowned, "they could have more stuff under there."
She nodded, "They could."
"So, what do we do?"
She looked down at the Colonel, then up at him. "What you said. Go check the perimeter. I'll take care of the Colonel and Doctor McKay. Then, when you return, you can finish tending to them while I run some diagnostics."
Ronon had been staring at the back hatch, but when she said that, he returned his gaze to hers. "Run some what?"
"Diagnostics." She nodded up in the direction of the control panels. "I should be able to determine if the Jumper can be repaired or flown further away. And I can inspect the drive pods. At the very least, I can—"
"You're serious. You know how to do that stuff? When did you learn about—"
"Yes, I am serious," she snapped, glaring a little at his incredulous expression.
"Yeah, but...what good does it do us if it can be fixed if they're both..." he waved at John and Rodney. Teyla grimaced, unconsciously pulling John in a little closer, as if to protect him from Ronon's suggestion that he wouldn't wake up. She shook her head.
"Just go, Ronon. Go and see what you can see. We will discuss it when you return."
He frowned, but, after a moment, nodded. Striding to the back, he hit the back hatch and stepped out into the harsh sunlight as soon as he could.
Teyla let out a heavy breath and dropped her head. She held onto John a moment longer, then moved to lie the Colonel down gently on the floor so she could fetch the Med Kit.
CHAPTER TWELVE: STOKING THE FIRE
Teyla did what she could for John, cleaning his shoulder and arm and wrapping them loosely with sterile bandages from the Med Kit. After gathering his arm inside a sling to keep it immobile, she checked his head, grimacing at the ugly gash on his hairline where he had hit the corner of the DHD. The bleeding had stopped, but there was bruising. She was in the middle of cleaning that as well when he stirred.
A low groan whispered out, then ended in a grunt when he winced, obviously feeling the pain. Teyla stopped her ministrations, holding the Q-tip back and watching as his eyelashes fluttered, gamely trying to open. She let out a soft breath of relief.
"Colonel," she called softly. "Colonel, can you hear me?"
He grunted softly again, then, with obvious effort, pulled his eyelids back so that he was blinking at the ceiling of the puddle jumper. His eyes rolled once, as his eyelids fought to close once more, but they settled and the bleary gaze shifted from the ceiling to Teyla. She checked his pupils—and found them even. The bruising on his forehead did not seem to reach his eyes, but she was no doctor. He frowned and blinked some more in her direction—she was fairly sure it was because of the pain he was in.
"Colonel Sheppard," she called again, "John. Can you hear me? And see me?"
His eyes pinched in response, the frown not letting up. "Both," he answered, his voice soft. He swallowed harshly. "Teyla," his eyes closed for a longer period this time before reopening, "You okay?"
She gave a tiny smile—she had expected nothing less. It was one of the reasons she would follow him to the ends of the universe. "I am fine," she replied, the smile evident in her voice. "A little bruised, but all right. You gave us a scare."
His lips quirked in his typically sardonic fashion. "Sorry for that." He blinked slowly, then grimaced again, eyes shutting tightly as he rode out the pain he was in. When he opened them again, he was obviously fighting to stay awake. "Ronon? Rodney?"
"Ronon has gone to study our landing site, in the event we may need to defend it. Rodney...," she licked her lips, "Rodney is sleeping." She smiled weakly at the lie, feeling her nerves fighting the smoothness of the motion, the muscles twitching around her lips. She was wishing more than knowing it to be true, but she did not want John to worry about Rodney now—not when he was so badly hurt himself and could do so little about it.
John frowned, his eyes squinting more as he obviously sensed the uncertainty in her. Before he could question it though, he shifted...and gasped loudly, the breath turning into a painful groan. His right hand reach up to touch his bound left arm.
"No, don't," Teyla said, catching his hand. "You are badly hurt. You must leave it be, for now."
He had opened his eyes again, and she could see water in them as she placed his right hand back down, holding it a little longer than necessary. It was cold—which worried her. John's eyes rolled back in his head when she leaned away from him, and he blinked slowly, turning his head towards her once more.
"What...my arm?" He swallowed again, and his eyes closed once more.
"You hurt your left arm when the ship was hit. I wrapped and bound it to your chest."
He gamely tried to blink his eyes open again, but it was clearly a losing battle. "Where's...?" The question died on his lips, his shallow breaths deepening as he drifted back to sleep. Teyla bit her bottom lip, wishing she could do more for him.
"Rest, John," she said softly. "You need rest. I will explain later."
He didn't need the command, already asleep again. A combination of pain and warmth—she could still feel the heat from his arm...she just hoped it wouldn't get infected.
She finished bandaging the cut on John's head, and stood up slowly, intending to move over to Rodney. She winced a little as her back spasmed, her own muscles feeling the strain of the day—she could still taste the metallic flavor of adrenalin on her tongue, reminding her of just how incredibly scared she had been. All of her muscles ached, as if she had been running for hours. She licked her dry lips, sighed and shook her head.
Keep moving, Teyla. Never stop moving.
Leaning down to pick up the Med-Kit, she hugged it to herself as she stepped across some debris on the floor and climbed over the smoldering pilot's chair to the left side of the Jumper. She studied Rodney's broad, curved back as she set the Kit down, garnering comfort from the regular way his back expanded and retreated beneath the blanket Ronon had tucked around him. She recalled how soft Ronon’s touch had been when he took care of Rodney, as if handling a child. Teyla had been mesmerized for a moment, watching Ronon ministrations, wondering a little at how gentle the often fierce Satedan could be. If she ever questioned the strength of Ronon’s love for the three of them, she just needed to remember how he could be when any one of them was hurt.
With a soft sigh, she knelt by Rodney's head and brushed back the blanket, revealing the scientist's pallid face. She swallowed, trying to remember that the bruising on his face and the dark blood caked at the corner of his lips had been there before, from when they had found him.
Rodney had no other overt injuries, other than the bruises on his face and the wound...wounds? there was too much blood to tell...on the back of his head, so there was little she could do for him. She checked to make sure the wound had stopped bleeding, then gently prodded his shoulder, calling his name. He showed no signs of wakefulness—as limp as a rag doll. Grimacing, she leaned over and pulled up an eyelid…then the other. The pupils responded—that was a good thing. Her jaw clenched, regretting how little she could actually do—especially if she could not wake him.
She also tried not to think about how much trouble they would be in without him.
Getting up with a heavy sigh, she looked down at the two men, then stepped once more over the chair and into the rear of the Jumper. With only a slight tremble of nervousness, she reached up and pulled down the left hand control panel, then turned and pulled down the one on the right. All the crystals were currently dark—which made sense, as the Jumper was powered down. Looking around, she spotted Rodney’s off-world backpack, which John had obviously decided to bring along, just in case. Grateful for the colonel's foresight, she opened it and pulled out the scientist’s data tablet, turning it on then grabbing for the connection wires to attach it to the Jumper’s control panels.
She had just gotten them powered up when Ronon returned. He stopped just outside the open rear hatch, dust floating all around him like tiny diamonds in the sunlight, and just looked at her standing before the open control panel. She smiled weakly, shifting Rodney’s tablet in the crook of her left arm and gripping the tablet’s stylus in her right hand. She opened her mouth to explain what she hoped to do, but he just shook his head.
"Do whatever you think best," he said, pushing past her to the front, obviously intent on checking on the two men. Teyla just watched him go.
"I believe Colonel Sheppard is only sleeping," she said as Ronon crouched down to check on the Colonel. "He woke once, but he was in a great deal of pain. If he is more lucid next time he wakes, I shall give him some morphine." Ronon did not reply, just glanced at the bandages, then leaned in close, as if to check the man's breathing—his ear going to Sheppard's chest. Whatever he heard must have satisfied the Satedan, because he backed away and turned his head to look at Rodney over his shoulder.
Teyla held the tablet closer to her chest as she spoke again. "Doctor McKay, however, appears to be deeply unconscious. He has not responded to me at all."
The Satedan just grunted, climbing over the chair to check on Rodney, and he repeated the ear to the chest thing. He hovered a little longer than he had with John, then drew back, a dark expression on his face. The frown deepened the more he stared at the scientist. Teyla was about to say something about concussions when Ronon sucked in a sharp breath.
Suddenly, he erupted back to his feet, kicking viciously at the ruined pilot's chair, sending it back towards Teyla. She jumped, then frowned, feeling her own anger growing inside her.
This was no time for that!
"I know," he snapped brusquely, pressing his hands to the side of his head beneath his dreads, clearly trying to get his rage back under control. He sucked in another breath...then let it out slowly. He lowered his hands, looked over at her, and nodded.
Moving to where he had kicked the chair, he reached down and lifted it up, hefting the heavy, leather seat like it was weightless, and carried it past her to the very back, next to the open hatch. Dumping it in the left hand corner so that it was out of the way, he then continued forward to the top of the ramp, to stand guard, his gaze watching the wall of boulders hiding them. He had only been standing there for a moment before his blaster was out, the gun twirling around his restless hands. Only the tension in his jaw gave away the continuing depth of his frustration.
Teyla sighed, and placed the data tablet in her arms down on the Jumper’s bench. Crossing over to his side, she raised a hand to shade her eyes as she peered outside, also studying the semicircle of rocks. The bright, orange sunlight felt harsh, reflecting off the glittering desert landscape, and intensifying her own still painful headache. Two Tylenol from the Med Kit swirled in her system—they would have to do for now.
"What did you see over the rocks?" she asked, her eyes tracing the dragline that the Jumper had made in the soft, red earth when it hit the ground. It had not been soft landing.
"Not much," Ronon said, drawing up slightly. He found comfort in reporting—something Teyla knew well. "Land’s pretty flat between here and the Gate, but there are some things blocking the view—buttes and stuff. I couldn’t see the Kaveer, but you know they’re coming."
She nodded, and took a step out down the ramp, just to feel the sun on her shoulders for a moment. They warmed beneath the cloudless sky, the sun soothing on her face as she tilted it upwards, closing her eyes to feel the heat caress her cheeks and eyelids.
"They want this ship," Ronon commented behind her. "Think that's why they didn't fire again. We'd be dead otherwise."
"They want us as well," Teyla noted darkly, opening her eyes again to look out at the desert.
Ronon stepped forward so that he was by her side, and he pointed in a northerly direction, as if she could see through the rock wall hiding them. "There are a handful of sliver canyons cracking the ground between us and the Gate, which should help slow down ‘em down some—you can see ‘em pretty clear from atop the highest of the rocks." He pointed vaguely up to where a large, thumb shaped monolith stood about fifty feet away, towering well over their heads. "Should help."
"Well, that is something," Teyla said, sighing a little. "How long do you think it take them to reach us?"
"On foot? Fifteen miles is a long way to cover fully armed. So, few hours, give or take. But, if they have transportation—which, seeing as they definitely had some vehicles in that compound—"
"But the colonel blew those up," Teyla interjected.
"Yeah, but stands to reason that they might’ve more hidden down inside wherever they came from." Ronon scowled a little. "And, if they do, we might have less ‘n an hour. Depends how easily they can get over the canyons."
"I see. How safe are we here then?" Teyla asked.
"Not much. You and me, we could maybe hold off a dozen men or so from those rocks, but only if they come from the general direction of the Gate. If they send more men, or come from another direction, we won’t last long."
"Then we need to move," Teyla said.
"Yeah." He frowned. "I saw some mesas not far from here that we could hike to. There might be some caves or something. There’s also a sliver canyon about a mile off that we might be able to hide in. We leave now, we should make it to the canyon pretty quick, even carrying the two of them." He nodded at John and Rodney.
Teyla’s eyebrows lifted, looking up at him. "What, on foot?"
"Yeah," he said, offering her a puzzled look. "How else? You just said we need to move."
"Yes," Teyla agreed. "But I meant, we need to move the Jumper."
"The Jumper?" he repeated, his eyebrows lifted. "How? You thinking of carrying it? Because you’re doing that alone."
"No." She gave him a dark look, not missing the sarcasm. "If we wake Colonel Sheppard, we can fly it further away."
Ronon frowned. "Not sure that’s such a good idea. Doesn’t this thing show up on their sensors? They’ll just keep coming, because they’ll know where to find us if we stay with it."
"We cannot leave the Jumper," Teyla said, shaking her head. "It may be our only way home."
"Maybe, maybe not," Ronon replied, frowning. "All I know is, this thing," he reached back and tapped the ship, "sticks out like a fly in milk. We’ve a better chance if we ditch it. I can keep us hid."
"I understand, Ronon, but—" She paused suddenly, then turned her attention to the shadowed interior. She thought she had heard a soft moan, and she lifted her eyebrows at Ronon. John was coming around again. "That is likely Colonel Sheppard, waking up. If it is, he should make the decision. At the very least, if he can, he might be able to fly us further away from the Kaveer."
Ronon grimaced, but did not disagree, and she felt him follow her as she headed back inside.
First thing he tried to do was move his left arm, and it was only after the attempt that he remembered why that was a really bad idea.
Hissing in pain, John woke to a burning sensation all up and down the arm, from shoulder to elbow, and, the closer he got to waking, the hotter it got. His attempt to move it, even a little, had turned a smoldering ache to flaming, seeming to send searing agony up and down his entire body (even though, rationally, he could tell it was concentrated on his arm). He must have yelled out, because sound filled his head, intensifying the dull throb behind his left temple to a pounding maelstrom—a second agony that was only getting worse the more he tried to get away from it. His feet pumped, seeking purchase, and his eyes struggled to open, to free himself from the bonds of the pain he could not contain.
Then someone was holding onto him, talking rapidly, her words attempting to soothe. But all he could feel was the burning and the pounding in his head.
Then, a soft pinprick on his right arm, and a sort of stuttering coolness spread through his frame, taking away some of the pain…but not all.
It was enough to allow him to focus on words, though. And who spoke them.
"…morphine for the pain. I am sorry, John. I wish I could give you more, but we need you to stay awake. Can you hear me? John? Can you open your eyes? You managed it once before, remember?"
The pain lessened, and he shook, feeling the still boiling heat in his left arm but feeling cold everywhere else. Trembling, and hating that sensation almost as much as the pain, he forced his reluctant eyes to open, blinking a lot when they filled with water. What the hell had happened?
"John?" Teyla was still speaking, somewhere above him. "John, look at me. You recall what I told you before? You are badly hurt—you were too close to the energy beam when it hit. Thankfully, it did not actually hit you, but it got close enough for the heat to burn through your clothes. I believe the damage is at least second degree and…and…? John? Are you even hearing me?"
Somewhere in the middle of that, he had finally managed to turn squinted eyes on the blurry face leaning over him. It was definitely Teyla—even blurry, she was beautiful.
"Hey Teyla," he croaked out. His throat felt like sandpaper as well—was there any water?
"Here," Ronon leaned in then, holding a canteen. Carefully, he dribbled some water into John’s mouth, and the colonel smiled softly in gratitude.
"Thank you," he said softly, still unable to focus on either of them clearly.
"John," that was Teyla again, "John, I hate to do this to you, but I need you to sit up. Do you think you can sit up?"
He blinked a little more, and saw dried blood on her face. He frowned. When had that happened?
She seemed to grimace slightly, as if she had heard that question before. "I am fine, John. Can you sit up?"
He grimaced, and, with a solid weight pushing at his back—which he recognized as Ronon—and Teyla pulling on his right arm, he somehow managed to sit up. He stomach rebelled briefly, and his equilibrium swirled a bit, but he was sitting. His vision started to clear, and he got a good look at the Jumper. For a moment, he just stared.
What the hell…?
And then his memory came back like a slap to the face…the Kaveer, the shield on the Gate, the weapon. He thought he had avoided it, thought they had gotten away. How could he have been so careless!
The damage looked impossible to quantify—the beam had obviously punched a hole through the side of the Jumper just behind where he’d been sitting. How the hell was he even alive? Half of the front windshield was missing where the beam had exited and a portion of the controls on the pilot’s console were gone—about where his left hand usually sat.
Trembling more now, his eyes were drawn downwards, looking at the arm slung tight to his chest—the one that felt like it was ten sizes to big. His fingers did not look damaged but…
Ow. Owowowowowow. He’d tried to move them, to curl them. The pain was intense, and he found himself slumping forward, his vision graying at the edges. Teyla’s hand pressed against his chest, tipping him back up and into the warm lump behind him. He could feel himself trembling again, and hated his body for appearing so treacherously weak when his team needed him.
"You must stay awake, John," Teyla said, leaning into his line of vision. He lifted his gaze to hers, blinking away some of the water in his eyes, and breathed in slowly as she continued. "Your arm is badly damaged, yes, but it is still there." Her hand on his chest lifted to his unhurt right shoulder, squeezing it, "I have cleaned and bandaged it, but there is little else I can do for you right now. John…we need to know, do you think you feel well enough to fly the Jumper?"
He looked at her, then grimaced, looking over her shoulder at the dead console. "The controls are gone," he said, coughing a little because of his dry throat.
"Not completely. Rodney was able to fly it to here. We just need to fly it a little further, to get more distance between us and the Kaveer. Can you—"
"Rodney?" John straightened, suddenly aware that he had not heard a single word from the scientist. "Where is he?" The beam had cut through behind his chair, but it hadn’t been that far from where McKay had been sitting. The already hurt McKay.
Vaguely, he recalled being told that Rodney was sleeping...but if he was this hurt and they were trying to wake him to fly the Jumper, then McKay had to be worse off. Teyla's clenched jaw as she regarded him added credence to that.
"Where is he?" he asked, not hiding the command in his voice.
Teyla shifted to the side, allowing John to see what he hadn’t before while she was in the way. Curled in on himself under the pilot’s console was Rodney—just brown hair sticking out from a gray blanket. He looked dead.
John felt his eyes water again, but not from pain. "Is...is he...?"
"He is alive," Teyla assured him. "John…John! Look at me!"
His eyes had glazed over at the sight of Rodney, unable to think about anything but whether he had lost his friend. At her shout, he swallowed at looked back at her, taking in the determined look on her face.
"John," she whispered, "I know the Jumper looks terrible, but we have to move. If you cannot get the Jumper to power up and fly, then we need to escape on foot. Our chances of surviving if we must do the latter are not good, especially not with you and Rodney hurt as you are. And so, I ask you again, will you try to fly the Jumper?"
He took in a deep breath, and, slowly, nodded. He understood. It was a desert outside—Teyla and Ronon on their own could probably escape detection, but not with him and Rodney—not with them both hurt. Not unless...they left him and Rodney behind…
"We are not leaving you behind," Teyla said firmly, grasping his right shoulder more tightly. John blinked—had he said that out loud?
He grimaced, knowing she meant it. And knowing Ronon would echo it. He let out a sigh.
"Help me up," he said.
John felt arms wrap suddenly around his waist from behind. Before he knew what was happening, Ronon had him lifted to his feet, his world tipping all around him in crazy, red, gold and black relief. He breathed heavily, trying to fight down the nausea. Then, almost abruptly, he was carried over and stood up before the pilot’s controls, looking out through a hole in the windshield bigger than his head. He did not want to know what had happened to the pilot's chair that should be here—but guessed it was probably why he wasn't more barbecued.
"Please, John," Teyla was standing next to him, Ronon still holding him up by his waist. "You must try."
John nodded again, then looked down at the arms around his waist.
"Let go," he ordered, swallowing down another bout of nausea. "I can stand." The arms immediately released, and John staggered a little as his shaky legs took his full weight. He looked down to help find his footing, and saw Rodney by his feet, preventing him from moving too far forward.
Swallowing down the bile in his throat, he leaned over and rested his right hand atop the panel.
The Jumper flickered…then came to life. John’s eyebrows lifted in surprise, honestly amazed. No plane could sustain this much damage and have worked—but then, this wasn’t a plane.
Gritting his teeth, he mentally pictured the Jumper rising up out of the sand, and the floor tilted slightly. Outside, the world shifted—they were moving.
But…he couldn’t direct it. His hand slid down, grasping the right hand control, but there was no left hand control. More to the point, he would not have been able to use if even if the control had been there—his left arm, for all intents and purposes, was as broken as the control.
"We just need distance," Teyla told him. "We don’t need to head in any particular direction. Thus, straight ahead," she gestured to the landscape before them, "is good enough."
"Actually, look there," Ronon was pointing towards something in the distance—it looked like greenery. "Could be an oasis, or the top of a canyon with some water. Can you get us there? It’s far enough away—gotta be at least twenty miles."
"I can get us there," John said, more for their sake than because it was true. He nudged the ship forward—and instantly felt the drag on the left side. The right engine pod was overcompensating for what had to be damage to the left. The ship started to veer and stutter. In case the Jumper crapped out, he kept them close to the ground—that and the fear that, any higher might make them a target again. He was making an assumption that the energy weapon could not fire this low to the ground—or perhaps it was hope. He vaguely recalled thinking that the beam should not have been able to bend as much as it had when it was targeting them. Every time he had attempted to put sideways distance between them and the weapon, it had cut them off.
His jaw began to ache as he gritted his teeth even more tightly, trying to mentally balance the two engine pods in his mind and keep them moving straight. It felt like he was trying to drive a truck through molasses.
Teyla and Ronon said nothing about their slow progress, until Teyla looked behind her.
"Ronon," she said, "you should watch the back. The rear hatch is still open—it’ll enable you to watch for the Kaveer."
"Sheppard, you gonna be okay?" Ronon asked, and John nodded. He felt stronger now, even if he was forced to keep all his attention on the ship. If they needed any kind of maneuverability in this thing, they were screwed.
But they were moving.
His world soon narrowed to Teyla by his side, Rodney’s warmth at his feet, the pain in his left shoulder and upper arm, and the feeling of a very sick Jumper at his fingertips. He could feel himself trembling, but, except for his left arm, his body felt strangely far away.
They were moving faster now, and he desperately wanted to look over his shoulder, to see what they were leaving behind—but was afraid to lose his concentration. He did not hear any weapon’s discharges from Ronon’s weapon, but that did not mean they weren’t in danger.
The green they saw in the distance had transformed into the tops of trees, and, as he climbed a little higher, he could see the fir-like trees were dotting a downhill slope falling away from them, covered thickly with sage and juniper-like bushes. Lifting the ship up over the trees and bushes, he saw that the red earth gave away to sun-bleached rocks and, abruptly, a very wide, very deep verdant canyon. A wide, muddy looking river flowed down in the depths, surrounded by trees and plants on all sides. It could have been the Navajo National Monument back home—just without the cliff dwellings.
He could feel the morphine starting to fade, and as his mental state cleared, so did the pain return. His left shoulder was soon in agony, threatening to overwhelm him, and his headache had really begun to beat angrily against his skull.
He was grinding his teeth now. He no longer fought to stay awake, but to ignore the burning pain that wanted to drown out everything else.
Floating the Jumper down, he managed to turn it just enough to allow it to land gently on a small island in the middle of the shallow river, bushes and dry looking trees on all sides. The sand here was whiter, softer.
It’d make a good vacation spot.
Letting out a deep breath, he called up the HUD to try to determine the extent of the damage, not wanting to have it distract him before.
"Power levels are low," he remarked tiredly, knowing Teyla was still hovering by his side. "And the left engine pod is most definitely damaged. It did not retract when we landed—which probably made whatever damage the beam caused even worse." He let out another breath and stepped back, automatically shifting to the side to avoid the chair that wasn’t there. His right arm crossed under his left, cradling it lightly. Teyla shifted with him, then bent down to check once more on Rodney.
Ronon came tramping in from the rear, holstering his blaster.
"That put at least thirty-five, maybe forty more miles between us and them," the Satedan said. "Gives us at least a couple of hours to head out on foot and find someplace better to hide." He nodded at John. John sighed.
"Leave the Jumper?" Teyla asked, looking up from Rodney’s side.
"We don’t have a choice. We stay here," Ronon shrugged, "we die." He sounded almost casual about it.
"He’s right, Teyla," John said, moving back to Rodney’s chair and gingerly sitting down. His head was throbbing again now too, and he balefully regarded the Med Kit—some Tylenol would be nice.
Appearing to read his mind (or perhaps he had spoken out loud again), Teyla moved over to the kit and pulled out the bottle.
"I do not see how leaving the Jumper is beneficial," she said, uncapping it and spooling a couple of pills into her hand. "If we can just effect some repairs—"
John shook his head, then frowned when it increased the throbbing. Note to self, John, don’t do that again. "I can probably figure out what’s wrong," he said, "but not how to fix it. Rodney’s the only one who can—"
"I might be able to fix it," Teyla said, handing him the pills. He stared at her a moment, not hiding his surprise, then down at the pills. Popping them, he took the canteen Ronon handed him and swallowed them down.
"We’ll need more water," he said, handing the canteen back to Ronon and closing his eyes. His good hand rubbed at his forehead, carefully avoiding the bruise he knew was forming on it.
"Colonel," Teyla’s voice had deepened, the only sign that his response had annoyed her, and she moved into the back, pointing up at the two still open panels, "the controls in the rear of the Jumper appear to be intact, although there are clearly a number of burnt out crystals. Still, it is possible that the issues surrounded the lack of maneuverability can be—"
"Teyla..." Opening his eyes with reluctance, Sheppard leaned forward on the chair, resting his right arm on his leg and looking back at her. "I appreciate what you’re saying, I do." He squinted a little at the bright sunlight that backlit his teammate. "But this Jumper is a beacon to the Kaveer. They have it on their sensors. Who knows what other sorts of weapons or technology they may have—and so long as we stay with the Jumper, they will know exactly where to find us. Ronon’s right—continuing on foot may be our best chance."
"Surely we can not leave the Jumper here for the Kaveer to find," Teyla argued, her brow furrowing. "Who knows what they might do to it. Especially if they can get it working—we know at least one of their members has the Ancestor’s gene. That kind of technology in the hands of people like this…"
"This thing isn’t repairable, Teyla. Look at it," John turned his head to look at the front before returning his gaze to hers. "Whole left hand side of the controls in front are missing. I could barely manage any speed with it like that, much less hope to avoid anyone shooting at us."
"This ship can be controlled in other ways," Teyla answered, gesturing to the panels. "Over the last two months, I have been working a little with Doctor Zelenka. He has been providing lessons, so to speak, on the Jumper, and he also gave me some reading materials. I am fairly certain I can at least—"
"Yeah, but, Teyla...even if you could fix it enough to provide some control, you can't do anything about the shield over the Gate or that energy weapon. The Jumper just isn't useful to us—right now, it's only a danger. Ronon's right." He sighed, leaning back. "We have to leave it."
"And the longer we delay," he continued, "the easier it will be for the Kaveer to find us, especially if we're carrying Rodney. We need to leave sooner rather than later."
Teyla frowned then shook her head, her gaze meeting his squarely. "John, this is not just about keeping the Jumper out of the Kaveer’s hands. Look at the environment out there," she waved a hand to the hot, red colored planet outside the windshield. "We have no gear or protection for a prolonged stay in the desert—certainly, we do not have enough food—and it will take weeks before the Daedalus will be close enough to rescue us. It was on its way to Earth when we last had contact a few days ago—they'll be there now, or almost there. And even if the three of us could survive, which, in your state, I highly doubt, I know Rodney will not. Moreover, the Kaveer have the advantage of knowing this land better than we do—it would be miraculous if we are able to escape detection for that long. If we have any hope at all of surviving, we need this Jumper."
"Or," John said, his voice tight, "You could leave us behind."
Her eyes widened, then narrowed fiercely. Walking back up to face him, she crossed her arms as she looked down at him sitting in Rodney's chair. "Absolutely not."
"Teyla, listen to me..." He took a breath, recalling his thoughts from earlier, the argument he'd planned for this moment. "If you and Ronon leave, get yourselves to a safe distance—they won’t kill us. I’m pretty sure of that. They might even be able to help us. If they want our knowledge, they’ll need to keep us alive. They—"
"Torture people," Ronon growled from the back, appearing with a couple of canteens over his arm. "Probably you, since they know McKay’s got the information they want. McKay showed off enough to make that obvious to them. We’re not letting that happen."
"Ronon is right, John," Teyla said, nodding to the Satedan. "These are cruel people—what I saw in the faces of their victims was enough to convince me of that. I will not let them anywhere near either of you without a fight."
"What she said," Ronon affirmed. "We’re not leaving you behind."
He frowned—didn't they get it? The point was to give them a chance! "Just think about it for a second. If you escape now, you can return to rescue us," John said. "Just go and…"
"Not happening," Ronon crossed his arms. "And you know it."
John frowned even more deeply, "I could order you."
"And we could ignore you," he replied.
"And we would," Teyla affirmed.
John took in a deep breath, and winced as it shifted his hurt arm. When he looked up again, their expressions had not changed. Damn.
"Fine. But that brings us back to the original point," he focused on Teyla, "if all four of us are going to be hiding—then we need to get away from this Jumper, now."
If anything, Teyla's expression grew even more determined.
"And I reiterate what I said before—if all four of us go out there," she looked past Ronon towards the back hatch, "then you and Rodney will not survive. You will die in that desert."
John lowered his head to his chest, trying not to sigh. "Teyla...either we all go, or you leave Rodney and me behind. Those are the only real options here."
"What if I told you that I believe this Jumper could still get us home, even damaged."
John frowned—he hadn't seen that coming. He lifted his head, and found himself meeting a pair of brown eyes that desperately wanted him to listen to her. "What?"
"Doctor McKay once before wrote a program that could disable a Gate Shield. If he is still able to do that, he will need the Jumper to relay it. And if he can disable the shield...then he may also be able to disable that weapon." Teyla sounded pleased with herself.
John gave a small head shake, still leery of doing that too much, "I'm pretty sure that's a special program he uploaded into the Ancient mainframe on Atlantis. Unless he—"
"Doctor Zelenka told me that the Jumpers are designed to interact with Ancient technology," Teyla said. "It is why they always show up on Ancient sensors, but no other technology can detect them when they are cloaked. Rodney should be able to upload whatever he needs into their database using the Jumper's interface—he just has to program it to do so. In fact," her eyebrows arched, "Rodney might even be able to take us off their sensors as well."
John just stared at her, then closed his eyes and drew in a slow breath. "Teyla, I'm not disputing it's a good idea..." He opened his eyes again and gave a quick head tilt, "A really good idea. Just one problem," his eyebrows lifted, "McKay's unconscious."
Ronon suddenly snorted, drawing both Teyla and John's gaze to him before she could reply. The Satedan was wearing a crooked smile.
John frowned. "What? What's so funny?"
"Nothing," Ronon shrugged. "Just, thinking maybe Teyla's idea could work. Bettin' McKay could do it."
John's frown turned to bewilderment. "What? How? McKay's—"
"...Standing right behind you," Ronon said, pointing between them to the front of the ship.
John and Teyla whipped their heads around, to see Rodney leaning heavily against the broken console, glaring at them with pain-filled blue eyes. The blanket was still around his shoulders, slipping as he tried to straighten his half bent over stance.
"Nice of you to finally notice," Rodney snarled, his voice as soft as sandpaper. "Took your time. Seriously, how did the two of you not see me getting up?"
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE WHINING WIND
"Rodney!" Teyla's call was filled with relief, but Rodney just shook his head, then winced when the motion obviously caused pain.
"Sure, now you see me." He swallowed, and one trembling hand drifted to his chest. "I'm clearly hurt, in need of care, and you two don't even spare a glance in my direction. What is up with that? I could have been dying here! I might still be dying! Oh, but, no..." He flapped a hand at them then, as if to gesture them away. "You two just continue to ignore your good and probably mortally injured friend Rodney—go back to your little argument and I'll just collapse from agony." He finished the long speech with a harsh cough, bending over some more.
Ronon grinned, pushing between Teyla and John and handing Rodney one of the canteens, uncapping it as he did so. Rodney's hand shook when he went to take it, so he balled his hand into a fist, his jaw tensing. When he opened his hand again, it was still, and he was able to take it with a steady hand...for about a minute. It was shaking again when he lowered it from his lips. He sighed a little.
When he handed it back to Ronon, who was still smiling, he turned what could only be described as a death glare on John and Teyla.
"Now," he said, "I'm going to admit that I don't entirely remember how we got here, or where here is, but I know this ship is not supposed to look like this." He held up the unattached left hand control stick and took a few unsteady steps forward, blinking around at the people with him as if everything was too bright. "I also know that, based on what I heard, you," he pointed the control at Teyla, "are right. And you," he pointed it at John, "are so, so, so wrong. You wanted to drag me out there?" He pointed towards the back hatch, and the world outside. "Are you insane? Desert! Des-ert! People die in deserts!"
John just blinked, "Rodney, I..."
"No, no, don't even try. You...you..." McKay shuddered slightly, then put his hand to his mouth. Suddenly, he was staggering quickly to the back, nearly colliding with the edge of the hatch, before leaning over the edge of the ramp and throwing up.
John sucked in a breath, grimacing...and tried not to be grateful that McKay had made it outside before doing that. Ronon, meanwhile, just let out a soft sigh and followed the scientist, still carrying the canteens.
Teyla, on the other hand, stayed exactly where she was, arms still crossed, her eyebrows lifted. It was the sort of look she gave him whenever she knew she had won an argument.
John gave her a wry look, and stood, teetering a little, pressing his legs against Rodney’s chair to steady himself. He frowned, wondering why even just standing had managed to make his arm hurt. Damn it.
Teyla was already moving, reaching for his good arm as if she could help. "John, are you..."
"I'm fine," he said quickly, drawing his right arm away from hers. "Thanks. All right," he looked towards the back, "if he's really okay, and he can do it...we go with your plan. But I’m going to get Ronon started on preparing packs, just in case."
She nodded, though she smiled briefly with the acknowledgement that he was giving her 'plan' a chance now.
"Thank you, John."
"Thank McKay's thick skull," he replied, smirking a little. "Takes a lickin', keeps on tickin'." She just smiled back softly, not getting the reference, but not needing to. Returning his gaze to the back, he noted Rodney had gone the rest of the way outside after throwing up, and had sat himself down on the bottom of the ramp, his head against his knees. "Whatever Zelenka's taught you, go ahead and do what you can. I'm going to go and make sure Rodney can really do this—especially since it probably means he has to fly the Jumper as well."
Her eyebrows lifted—she obviously had not considered that. "Fly it?"
"It all depends on whether we get the left hand controls back," he explained. "And if we do...whether both left and right can be controlled with one hand…" He trailed off, not needing to point out the obvious.
She gave a grimace, but nodded. "Of course."
John gave a single nod in return, then turned and slowly made his way into the back, trying to jar his arm as little as possible as he walked. Following him, Teyla stopped near the control panels and picked up the data tablet off one of the benches. She started tapping the pad with the stylus, and John tried not to smile as he continued his journey into the sun-drenched world outside.
Ronon was squatting next to Rodney, who was still sitting with head against his knees and his boots half buried in the soft, pale sand. Spotting John, the Satedan nodded, stood and, holding up one of the canteens, indicated he was going back to the spring he found for more.
"When you get back," John said, "start preparing packs." Ronon gave a dark grimace in reply, but didn't disagree. With one final tap on McKay’s back, the tall man jogged off into the desert.
Rodney lifted his head to watch him go, then tilted it up towards the sky as John gingerly set himself down beside him. The colonel tried not to groan as pain spiked up his arm and straight for the knot he could feel forming on his skull, but the sound came out anyway. Rodney, looking washed out in the bright light, squinted worriedly at the sound.
"What happened to your arm?" he asked softly. "You look awful."
"Apparently, I was a little too close to that energy beam when it sliced through the cockpit." John adjusted the sling, hissing as it rubbed against too sensitive skin. He could see blood spots already prickling through the white from the top of his shoulder all the way down the tricep—Teyla was right, he wouldn’t survive in the desert with this arm. It would get infected very easily, even despite her ministrations—he’d last a couple of days, at most. Thinking about it made it worse—a wash of hot and cold ran through him, spiking the pain even more. He gritted his teeth to stop another groan from escaping. Amazingly, it worked, and he expelled his breath in a heavy sigh.
"Ouch," Rodney said in commiseration, not missing the play of pain across his friend's face. "Sorry." He tilted his head a little, his eyes a little hooded. "And your head? What happened to that?"
"Whacked it on the DHD."
McKay smiled. "You know, that bruise on your forehead is impressive. Like Tiffany Glass. It’s a vivid reddish purple." His shaking right hand pointed up at his own forehead, starting up near the hairline and then moving down. "Runs from hairline almost to the top of your eyebrow. It’s going to compete with your nose for size soon. Although," the small smile grew, "not many things can compete with your nose for size."
John gave him an arched look, wincing a little when his eyebrow obviously impacted bruise. "You’re not serious. You did not just pick on the size of my nose."
"Call ‘em like I see ‘em." Still smiling, the scientist had turned his face back into the sun.
"Girls love my nose. It's majestic."
"Sure it is. Majestic like the Rockies, or maybe the Himalayas...."
"Least I don’t have a head the size of a beach ball. Has it always been that big? How did you keep it propped up when you were smaller—those sticks they use to hold up orchid branches?"
Rodney just grinned. "Big head, big brain. It’s all relative."
"Big head, big ego, lots of hot air," John replied. "And sadly, not a lot of hair..."
"Ouch!" Rodney said, giving John a mock wounded look. "That's low, Sheppard. You do not pick on a man's hair!"
"Yeah, but it rhymed so nicely," Sheppard smiled wickedly. He pointed up at his own head, and the rakish mop on top. "And I'm not going to lose my hair. Thicker than ever."
"Yeah, just like your skull," Rodney replied.
"Ach," John chuckled. "Okay, I walked into that one."
Rodney’s grin grew wider, then started to fade. After a moment, he tilted his head down and looked forward, squinting at the sandy valley. The expression on his face was blank now.
"You know," Rodney frowned. "I've been trying to remember what happened, exactly. Last thing I remember clearly, we were nearly through the atmosphere—I had thought we had made it. Then it's just lots of swinging and jarring and bright orange light…"
"That’d be the energy beam."
"Probably. Whatever—what I mean is, it’s all just a blur. Thing is, according to Ronon, I supposedly stopped us from crashing. Flew the ship and landed it…and I don’t remember anything about that. Total blank." He frowned some more, then looked at John, who, taking a page from Rodney’s book, was now the one tipping his head back and letting the sun caress his face. "Isn’t that strange?"
"Not really," John replied, lowering his head again to look at Rodney. "You got knocked on the head…twice. Concussions often do that—make you forget what happened that caused the accident. Just one of their lovely side effects. You'll probably remember eventually."
"Oh," Rodney said again, and he rubbed at his chest. Then, "Is vomiting another?"
"Just try to keep it outside the Jumper, will you?" John pursed his lips, as if considering something, "I wonder if we could position you next to that hole in the side, so every time you had to throw up, you could just lean out."
"Har," Rodney grimaced. His voice softened, "Another thing, I’m not sure there’ll be much more to throw up soon. Look," he held up a hand, which was shaking, just as it was before when he tried to take the canteen from Ronon. "Gotta be my hypoglycemia. I mean, with everything that’s happened, I bet my blood sugar is—"
"Could also be adrenaline. Or nerves. Or it could just be psychosomatic." John smiled as he tipped his head back again. "I’m going with the third one."
Rodney spluttered, "Psychosomatic? It’s a real condition, Colonel! I suffer from it daily!" He winced, as if it hurt to yell, and rubbed at his forehead. John pretended not to notice.
"Carson thinks it’s mostly in your head."
"There’s a lot of things in my head, Colonel, but this isn’t one of them. Just because the Voodoo King thinks all things that can’t be surgically removed or genetically altered isn’t a real disease—"
"Carson’s a brilliant doctor. You know, I think he’s smarter than you."
Rodney’s eyes widened, showing all the whites. "Oh…oh, you take that back, you…you…" He groaned suddenly, leaning forward and pressing a hand to his stomach. Then he shot a glare at John so dark, the Colonel actually flinched a little before grinning broadly. "You’re just messing with me, aren’t you?" Rodney snarled at the grin. "Sick and injured man, here! How can you be so mean?"
"You're one to talk," John grinned. "You called my nose big."
"Yeah, but making fun of you makes me feel better."
John snorted, but didn't disagree. Fact was...he felt exactly the same. "Yeah," he admitted quietly. He wondered, sometimes, just how attached he'd become to fighting with Rodney. The back and forth, the constant one-upmanship, the completely pointless mocking....And the greatest thing of all, it was all water off a duck's back. He could hang up on McKay when on the radio or the phone—Lord knows he did it at the end of almost every conversation he'd had with the man back on Earth—and it never mattered. McKay never, ever took offense. And McKay could call him any insult, vilify and malign him every which way to Sunday, and John always knew it wasn't how he truly felt. It had never occurred to him that it was anything but McKay being McKay. He'd never had a relationship with anyone like that before—not even his family—who, really, were the ones you were supposed to have a relationship like that with. Family always loves you, no matter what.
He snorted again, and looked over at Rodney. The scientist had his eyes closed again, leaning forward so that his head was getting very close to his bent knees.
"Hey," he called.
Rodney jerked a little and looked up, blinking out at the landscape.
"Don't fall asleep," John said.
"Yeah," Rodney gave a single nod. "I know. Because if I do, you'll kill us."
That startled John—McKay was serious. "Come again?"
McKay’s lips twisted, "I may be a bit addled, but I’m not deaf. You told Ronon to prepare the packs. You’re seriously considering us traipsing into the desert."
Oh. John grimaced, but gave a nod. "If we have to, yes."
"Crazy. I won't survive a day out there." He looked at John, "What if they have rattlesnakes? Remember Emergency? When Johnny Gage got bitten? He was down for the count almost instantly. The rattlesnakes in Pegasus could be ten times worse. Hell, they could be Wraith rattlesnakes!"
"There are Wraith bugs, there could be Wraith rattlesnakes. There are probably even Wraith scorpions out there somewhere."
"Or Wraith McKays. The deadliest creatures of all!"
"I'm being serious!"
"So am I. McKay, look...." John frowned, realizing Rodney's anger wasn't overcoming his fear this time. He leaned forward, grabbing at a long piece of dry, yellow grass with his good hand to poke at the sand with. "How much of my argument with Teyla did you hear?"
The scientist gave a soft sigh, "Not much. All I really heard was my name, bandied with words like, 'if McKay can do this,' or 'if McKay can do that,' followed by, 'then we don't have to go die out in the desert.' So," he sighed again, "I figured I should get up, because I didn't want to die in the desert."
Sheppard gave a small smile, then looked down. "Yeah. That's about the gist of it."
McKay raised his still shaking hand to his head, and, as much as John tried to pretend it wasn't serious—that shake was anything but psychosomatic. McKay was also talking much more slowly than normal—he was almost drawling.
Yeah...He and Rodney were in real trouble.
"What do you need me to do?" Rodney asked quietly, rubbing his right hand with his left now. Rodney hadn't noticed...but his left hand wasn't shaking as much as the right. John had to push down the urge to freak out about that. He was grateful Rodney hadn't noticed—had attributed the trembling to hypoglycemia.
"Fix the Jumper."
"Obviously. What else?"
"Knock out that Gate Shield."
McKay nodded, "Sure. What else?"
"Take us off their sensors."
"Easier and easier. And...?"
"Stop them from firing that weapon."
"Ha, and I thought you were going to ask me to do hard things! Silly me. Anything else?"
"Just that us...," John pursed his lips, then gave a slow head shake. "We may only have a couple of hours to get that all done before we have to move the Jumper again. And...the Jumper only has a few hours of power left."
Rodney made another 'ha' like sound, this one almost a cry of pain. "Fabulous," he said shakily. "Maybe I'll turn water into wine while I'm at it. Would that be good?"
"Actually, no. Not in a desert. Wine into water would be cool though. Could you do that?"
Rodney didn't answer. He just curled his knees up higher and lowered his head against them fully.
"For the record?" he muttered, his voice muffled by his knees.
John did the only thing he could. He rested a hand on his friend's shoulder.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: WINDS OF CHANGE
Rodney felt the feather light touch of Sheppard’s hand on his shoulder, and his quiet, "I know." The hand stayed there only for a moment, warming his skin through his jacket, and then it was gone. It was all he needed, though, to pick up his head and set his jaw. He squinted into the too bright light of the desert, ignoring the flashes of pain behind his eyes, and started thinking about what he needed to do.
Two hours. He needed a shortcut around the code he needed to write, to think of alternatives to what needed to be done, to get them home.
Pushing up off the bottom of the ramp, he staggered heavily when his balance suddenly fled—the world had turned sideways, bending almost on its axis, and it was only by sheer luck that his sense of equilibrium came back before he fell over.
Panting a little, he held onto his knees, bent over like an old man, and breathed through the dizziness. His world had grayed there—it was amazing he didn't faint. Pass out. Oh, who was he kidding?
Oh yeah…this really sucked.
"You okay?" John asked, the question almost too soft to hear. It meant he was honestly concerned, and Rodney grimaced. Of course, he wasn’t okay! But, though he never said it, he knew Sheppard’s injuries were a lot worse than his. Knew that when he’d been rattling on about snakes and scorpions, he was thinking more about just how long they would be here if they were forced to hide. All he’d done was knock his head a couple of times—with Ronon and Teyla to protect him, he’d likely survive…but, with that arm, Sheppard wouldn’t.
And Rodney wasn’t about to let that happen.
Come on, McKay. Get it in gear.
Straightening, he turned and looked down to where his friend was still sitting on the bottom of the ramp. Sheppard was pale, whiter than the sand beneath their feet, making his eyes vividly dark where they peered up at him. His left arm was bandaged from shoulder to hand, hidden inside a sling, but flecks of blood were visible even through the sling’s thick material. Damn, that had to hurt. He might have to revise his answer to "least likely to admit to pain."
"Fine," Rodney said, finally answering the question he’d been asked. He reached out a hand, offering to help Sheppard up, hating the visible tremor and the numbness he felt creeping down his right arm. He’d have to eat something…provided he could keep that something down.
Sheppard looked at the hand, them, with a twist of his lips, took it and let Rodney pull him up. He teetered as well, once he was on his feet, and Rodney grabbed Sheppard’s good arm to stop the other man from falling over.
"Okay?" he asked.
Sheppard gave a nod, then took in a breath and straightened up fully. He smiled at Rodney.
"Fine," he echoed. It was about as believable as when Rodney had said it.
"Good," Rodney said, not wanting to dwell on his friend’s lie. "You’ll need to be, because I’m going to need your help."
Sheppard’s head tilted, the smile turning wry. "Whatever you need."
Rodney didn’t smile back, because he hadn’t expected Sheppard to say or do anything else. Instead, he just walked up the ramp and back into the cool darkness of the Jumper, unconsciously rubbing his right hand with his left.
And then he stopped.
Teyla stood before the left hand control panel, Rodney’s tablet on her arm. She was reading something on the display. Rodney frowned, what was she…?
Oh. Right. Nice of her. She had set it up for him—he wondered who had taught her to do that? Sheppard?
"Thanks, Teyla," he said, stepping forward and reaching for the tablet. "I can take it now."
"Oh," she looked up at him, her eyes a little startled. "I…uh…"
"She’s running the diagnostics for you, McKay," Sheppard supplied smoothly, stepping up next to Rodney. He had said that as if it were normal. "Should probably let her finish."
Rodney blinked once. Teyla was running what? Maybe it was a joke? One he didn’t get…. He frowned—he hated jokes he didn’t get. "What are you talking about? She can’t run diagnostics, Sheppard. She doesn’t know—"
"Power levels are down to only 4.7 percent," Teyla said suddenly, interrupting him. "That should give us approximately three hours and ten minutes of flying time, provided we do not use either the shield or climb too high in the atmosphere. However, if we do not fly too fast, we can cut down on the amount of stress absorbed by the inertial dampeners—and perhaps eke out a little more power from the cells."
Rodney froze, eyebrows high on his forehead. Had he just walked into an alternative universe? Where the hell did she learn…?
"Like going 65 instead of 80 on the highway," Sheppard mused by his side, "to save on gas."
Teyla just looked at the colonel blankly.
"If you say so," she said.
Rodney blinked, mentally unfreezing in order to give Sheppard a sideways glare. Why did he always have to analogize everything? It was like a sickness with the man.
"Also," Teyla looked down again at the tablet, "the control crystals interfacing with the left hand drive pod have become either burnt out or fused, rendering the bulk of them useless. I do not believe they are repairable, but they can probably be bypassed temporarily, or perhaps replaced. I have also determined why we felt some drag on the left side when flying here—something has obviously interrupted the power flow to the pod and perhaps damaged the engine coils themselves, causing the short in the crystals. I am not sure what yet. I need to go outside to see."
Rodney had returned his gaze to hers, and was now studying her without blinking. Part of his mind had taken the information she had reported, already storing it and suggesting changes, solutions. The other part was still stuck on the fact that it was Teyla telling him this. What the hell?
"Give me that," he said, reaching again for the tablet. Teyla’s jaw hardened at the order, but she did as she was instructed. He pulled it from her grip with perhaps a little more force than necessary.
"McKay…" Sheppard warned, but Rodney cut him off with a raised hand.
"Wait," he snapped.
Sheppard waited—Rodney didn’t have to see his face to know that the Colonel was pissed at him right now.
Tablet warming his arm, Rodney hit a few keys and brought up the power consumption screen. A glance up showed him that the tablet was connected in the right place to the panel. Looking down again, he noted the tablet said exactly what Teyla had just told him, though she had obviously extrapolated the parts about not flying too high and the bits about the inertial dampeners—both of which statements were correct.
Her time estimates were correct as well.
He tapped over to another screen, glancing at the information on the left hand controls on the display. From what he saw…she was right about the left hand drive pod. He could double check, pull the crystals, which is what he would do if it were him…but he guessed she already had, which is why she had made those statements. Nothing on the tablet contradicted her.
His eyes lifted, finding her standing quietly before him, arms clasped behind her back and her chin lifted proudly. She was a study of calm, patiently waiting for him to say something. He almost bought the veneer, so used to seeing it on her face, but then she blinked and, for a brief second, he saw her jaw muscle flex.
It was a flinch.
It was a flinch!
My God…she was nervous! He snorted. He couldn’t believe it! She was waiting for his approval! Because she had actually learned how to….Hang on a minute…how…?
"How did you learn how to do this?" he asked.
Teyla nodded, as if having expected the question. "Doctor Zelenka has been teaching me, when he can. He has been doing maintenance on some of the newer Jumpers. I have been helping. He also gave me the links to parts of the database which discuss and describe the Jumpers and their systems," she shrugged, "to read in my spare time."
Rodney frowned a little at that. Zelenka? She had asked Zelenka to teach her?
Why hadn’t she asked him?
Not that he cared of course. Not at all. Not even a little. After all, he’d have probably said no. It’s not like he’d have the time to…
Oh, for Christ’s sake, McKay! Focus!
He looked down again at the tablet.
"I see," he said, fingers wrapping a little more tightly around the leather grip.
Another second went past, and he felt Sheppard shift next to him. Before the colonel could say something, though, either to yell at Rodney or commend Teyla or, heaven forbid, come up with another unnecessary analogy, McKay was shoving the tablet back at Teyla.
"Go on, then," he said. "Finish what you started. I have to get going on taking down that Gate Shield and that weapon."
"And taking us off their sensors," Sheppard added.
"And taking us off their sensors," McKay agreed, not looking at him. He shoved the tablet at her again, and she hastily grabbed for it when he abruptly let go, nearly dropping it in the process.
Without looking at her again, he pushed past, aiming for the front. He didn’t look back to see her face, or Sheppard’s. He didn’t want to. He just settled into his chair and checked to see that the laptop was still there. It was. And it was still on—the power surge caused by the energy beam hadn’t killed it. Will wonders never cease.
His fingers started rattling the keys, calling up everything that the Jumper had automatically recorded about the Ancient machines on this planet—shield, weapons, facilities...everything.
He had just started reading the data downloaded on the shield when something rather obvious occurred to him. Why would he need to write a back door program for this Gate, to take down that shield…when they weren’t coming in the back door? They were already on this side...
With that almost hopeful thought in the back of his mind, he turned his attention to the weapon.
His lips pursed into a dark frown as he read the details of what exactly had taken them down.
The hope disappeared instantly. Crap.
Teyla swallowed, her eyes looking towards the bowed back of Rodney sitting in his chair up front. She couldn’t see all of him, just the back of his head, his back and his chair. He was already working, typing away on the laptop with a speed she knew she would never master.
She looked down at the tablet, and frowned.
She couldn’t tell…Was Rodney mad at her? For once, she had absolutely no idea what had gone through his head. His expression had shifted from puzzlement, to anger, to something indefinable. For a moment, she thought he had looked hurt, but she had no idea why. Hurt because she could do something only he could do before? It’s not as if she could ever take his place…
She shook her head sharply. Now was not the time. Turning once more to face the panels, she suddenly realized that John was still standing there, not more than a foot away. He was smiling softly.
"Nice job," he commended, his voice not over a whisper.
She just gave him a nod in acknowledgement, thanking him. "I—"
"Sheppard," McKay snapped from up front. "Get up here. I need you in the co-pilot chair."
"Duty calls," John sighed. Arching an eyebrow, he winced when it impacted the bruise on his head. He snorted. "Gotta stop doing that." With another nod to Teyla, he moved past her to the front, and gently set himself down in the co-pilot’s chair. He adjusted the sling on his arm, and for a second, Teyla saw the lines of pain in his face before he slammed his mask of nonchalance back down on it. She pulled the tablet closer to her body—maybe she should check his dressings. They could probably…
Rodney suddenly swiveled in his chair to look at her, and Teyla almost jumped at the intensity on the scientist’s face.
"You need to get outside," he said. "If there is something wrong with the power getting to the pod, as you say, it’s likely because something had interfered with the power conduits. Probably when we landed—it’s possible the pod didn’t close all the way and earth damaged the underside, where the conduits are. If the pod got striped, then that would definitely impact its ability to open and close. The pod getting striped might also have shorted out some of the engine coils, which might overloaded the conduits—another potential source of damage. Check it now. You might also see if the drone bay on the left side was damaged. My guess is, if the pod got striped, then so did the bay, which could be a problem since we don’t have a blow torch. Check the connections on the doors—and make sure the metal hasn’t fused. I also need to know if the pod will be able to retract on its own, because we don't want to get stuck again, yes?"
Teyla blinked at the overload of information thrust at her. "I…yes, right." She nodded and backed up a step. "I…I’ll just…"
"What are you waiting for? Go!" McKay ordered, turning back around with a frown. Teyla jumped. Hastily, she put down the tablet and almost ran outside.
It wasn’t until she was out there, watching Ronon jogging back from wherever he had fetched more water, that she realized she had just been ordered around by Rodney…like she was one of his, as he called them, lab rats.
And she had reacted just like one too.
She gave a short laugh, covering her mouth to hide her smile.
The confused look on Ronon’s face when he got closer, obviously spotting the extremely pleased expression on her face, was priceless.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: REBUILDING THE FIRE
John waited patiently where he sat in the co-pilot’s chair, trying not to relax too much, though an unwanted drowsiness was quickly subduing him. Despite the situation, despite the danger, he could feel exhaustion born of fighting pain settling over him like a heavy blanket.
Rodney, meanwhile, hunched in his usual chair and shadowed completely by the sun pouring in through the hole over his head, appeared focused on his laptop. Sheppard squinted against the uneven light, watching as screen after screen of information popped up on the monitor, McKay searching and absorbing and assessing each one like a channel surfer. The scientist had yet to say anything to him since he’d ordered Sheppard to sit and ordered Teyla outside to check the left drive pod. The only change had been a definite tensing of the shoulders early on—John hadn't wanted to ask what had caused that.
Footsteps banging on metal had him glancing to the back, to see Ronon had returned. The Satedan was carrying full canteens and nodded at the colonel as he set them down. He then started pulling the packs out of the storage bins, to start filling them.
Sheppard thought about helping, but moving now seemed like it might be difficult.
McKay was typing now, both hands dancing over the keys, except for when the right hand would lift off and McKay would flex it, as if it ached...
“Okay,” McKay said suddenly, breaking the colonel from his reverie. “Here’s what I’ve got. As you know, their sensors picked up the Jumper—”
“Which you need to fix,” John commented, almost yawning but somehow keeping it down. “Take us off their sensor grid.”
“Actually, no. That would be a bad idea.”
John frowned, sitting up a little and wincing at the pull on his arm and shoulder. “Bad idea? McKay, do you not get that they know where we are. We’re—”
“Yes, I know. It’s like having a big red target painted on the top of the Jumper’s roof, I get that. Especially when you’ve got a weapon that can pinpoint you anywhere you are when you’re in range—still don’t know how you avoided it for so long, by the way…” He paused, looking over his shoulder at Sheppard. “Seriously, how did you avoid it? We should have been hit every time it fired. It had a direct line on us—as certain as if we’d been connected to it with a string. Should have been easier than shooting ducks in a barrel.”
John just blinked at him, “What?”
McKay scrunched his eyes closed, sighed, then opened them again. “Forget it. Just…you’re a really good pilot, obviously. I forget that sometimes.” He turned back to his laptop.
John frowned. McKay was complimenting him? But they’d gotten hit! They’d almost died!
“McKay, I’m not that good. We got hit, remember?”
“Let’s put it this way, Colonel,” McKay said, still not turning around. “I’m really glad it was you piloting. Anyone else, we’d have been hit sooner, and we’d be dead.”
Sheppard had absolutely no answer for that, startled a little by the absolute certainty in McKay’s voice. Luckily, McKay didn’t seem to expect an answer, already speaking again.
"The reason I'm so sure of that," he drew in a breath, "is because the beam is not a beam."
That caused John to blink a few times, and he frowned. "Uh, McKay...we saw—"
"It looks like a beam, but it's not. Did you not find it odd that it wasn't a continuous line, if it was a laser? It looked more like shots fired from Ronon's weapon, remember?"
"I...okay, fine," John didn't understand why this mattered. "So, it fired blasts, not a beam. What does that—"
"It's not a blaster either." McKay finally turned all the way around in the chair. "It's a shotgun."
John met his gaze evenly, still not catching on. He wished he wasn't so tired and his head didn't ache so much—it felt like McKay was talking it riddles. He didn't normally take this long to understand his friend. "A shotgun."
"Hundreds of bullets, except, not bullets. What Ancient weapon just looks like a streak of yellow when flying through the sky, instead of the ugly octopus it actually is?"
And, suddenly, John got it. His chest tightened, an odd counterpoint to the weariness weighing down the rest of him. "They're...tiny drones? Hundreds of them?"
"About the size of bullets, yeah. Nanites were obviously not the only things the Ancients were good at making small." He frowned, and rubbed a little at his head. "That's why you couldn't get anywhere, when you tried to head us to the side—and I remember you trying to send us sideways a number of times." He pressed a hand to his stomach as he spoke, showing which part of his anatomy probably remembered best. "We're just very, very lucky that they don't have the power of real drones. They petered out every time they missed us, exploding in the air where we should have been every time they fired, but for your skill as a pilot getting us out of the way."
John just stared, trying to wrap his mind around that. Tiny drones...
"Does..." His eye twitched. "Does that mean they have a chair?" Which would mean—they had gene carriers, more than one.
"No. I think, if they did, they wouldn't have sent single shots. They were aiming them manually—probably using the Jumper's call sign on their sensors as the target for their computers. If they'd had a chair, they probably could have filled the sky with blasts from the weapon; it would have been like trying to fly through a fireworks display." He looked back at his computer over his shoulder. "It also means...that they can target us wherever we may be...including here. If we're in range. Drones don't need to be fired in a straight line."
John turned to look out the windscreen, as if expecting to see a beam of yellow light streaking towards them at that very minute.
Rodney sighed lightly, and turned around in the chair so that he was facing his laptop again, his back to John. He rested his head against his left hand, kneading his forehead a little. "What saved us is that they clearly want the Jumper as intact as possible. It's why they haven't fired again. They could have easily hit us when we were falling." It sounded like Rodney was beginning to remember what had happened, and John returned his gaze to him.
"This isn't good," he commented quietly.
John eyes searched the floor, and then he looked up again at Rodney's bowed back.
"You really need to get us off their sensors. Now."
“Well, yes, but see..." Rodney looked over his shoulder at him again. "There's a problem with doing that."
John frowned, "Problem?"
"Well, what I was trying to say before you distracted me—“
John snorted. “I distracted you? You’re the one who—”
“—Is that it’s a good thing we’re on their sensors. It means that their tech recognized the Jumper. Better yet, when it did that, the Jumper automatically jacked itself into their mainframe. According to this,” he waved at his laptop, “both times we were hit, the Jumper broadcasted for help and the Ancient systems here responded. There’s evidence in the ship’s logs that an automatic pilot function tried to turn on—but you overrode it,” he glanced at Sheppard again, “unconsciously I assume. I think I remember doing the same, sort of.” He grimaced, clearly not totally sure of that.
John frowned more, thinking briefly about some of the sluggishness he’d felt from the ship after they’d been hit that first time, when the Jumper's shield had deflected the attack. Had it been fighting his manual control? Trying to land itself so it could be repaired? It never even occurred to him that that could have been the problem. He’d thought it was just related to their loss of power.
“So we’re jacked into their mainframe,” John said, trying to pull his wandering thoughts back to McKay’s words. “What does that mean?”
“It means,” Rodney gave the hint of a smile, “next time we dial the Gate from the Jumper, the Jumper’s controls will override the DHD controls on the ground—as it always does—which includes the Gate Shield. They won’t be able to put the shield up, not unless they’ve written code to specifically reject that of a Jumper’s overriding control…which I doubt.”
John frowned, looking down at the DHD. There was a smear of blood on the corner—his, he presumed. “Mmm.”
“Mmm? The best you can offer to that is a Mmm? This is good news!” McKay winced after he raised his voice, and his right hand lifted and rubbed on his temple. “Unlike the weapon, I don’t have to write an override program for their Gate Shield now. Good news,” he repeated petulantly, lowering the hand.
“Not disagreeing,” John said, frowning still. He sat up a little in the seat again, aware he had slumped down once more. He was much too lethargic—he had to shake it off. “Just…you need to be sure about that. I mean, why didn’t that happen before?”
“Because, when we dialed before, their Ancient systems were still turned off, so there was no clear signal telling the Ancient systems what had formed the wormhole. Now that the system is back on, it should recognize the Jumper.”
“Should recognize the Jumper.”
“What if it doesn’t?”
“But what if it doesn’t?” John repeated, stressing the words.
“It will!” Rodney repeated, stressing his words as well. He winced again, and the hand went back to his forehead, the base of his palm kneading the skin above his left eyebrow.
“But what if you’re wrong?”
“I am not wrong!” Rodney snapped, face reddening in anger. “Ow…” The hand on his head moved to pinch his nose between his thumb and forefinger. He let out a deep breath. “Look,” he said again, speaking more softly, as if his head hurt too much to shout, “the only reason there is a shield on that Gate is because there must have been an Ancient facility here, maybe even another city, like Atlantis. If there was a facility, then they brought Jumpers here. The fact that our Jumper appears on the sensors and an automatic pilot tried to take over proves that. And since the Jumpers are designed to override the DHD on the ground, that means overriding the Gate Shield because the shield is generated through the DHD on the ground. Unless these people have seen a Jumper before, then they should have no reason to…”
“Stop,” John held up a hand, “I get all that. I got all that when you first said it. All I’m saying is…make sure you have a backup plan.” When McKay opened his mouth to protest again, John lowered his head and spoke again. “McKay, look. I believe you. I trust that what you’re saying is correct. What I don’t trust is that these systems will work as you expect them to. Too many things we’ve come across, for one reason or another, don’t. How many times have you said to me that something doesn’t ‘make sense’? You need to have another plan ready in case something goes wrong.”
When he received no answer to that, he looked up. McKay was looking down at the floor of the Jumper where the pilot’s chair used to be, his eyes shifting back and forth as he thought through what John had just said. Finally, the blue eyes closed.
“Then I can’t do it,” he said finally.
“Can’t do what?”
“In the time you’ve given me…I can’t do everything you need me to do.”
“It’s not a matter of trying, Colonel,” McKay snarled, opening his eyes again to focus on the floor at his feet. “It’s a physical impossibility. Writing code like you want is tedious work that takes days, not hours. It took me that long to write the one for Atlantis just to take down its Gate Shield via the Jumper. You’ve given me two hours to do that and take care of the weapon and fix the Jumper and…even with help," he glanced towards the back, where Teyla had been and where Ronon was now, packing bags, "my head is not really functioning at top capacity right now.” The blue eyes returned to meet John’s hazel ones, and the pain in them was clear. “The only backup plan I can give you is this—if the shield goes up then we land right in front of the DHD, I jump out, pull the necessary crystals from the Gate to take down the shield without electrocuting myself, which is next to impossible, and then we go—hopefully with me still alive.”
John’s jaw tensed, then loosened. “You can have more than two hours.”
McKay was honestly surprised by that. “How? You said they’d be here within—”
“Take us off their sensors now—you can put us back on them later. Then I’ll fly us further out and we’ll—“
“Oh,” McKay gave a headshake. “No, no, we can’t.”
“These people may not know about the gene, Colonel, but they know their equipment. It was obvious to me that they’ve been using these cobbled together systems for years, and they’ll know how they work. I hack in and pull us off their sensor grid, there’s no way I can do that without them noticing. And they’ll be able to figure out pretty easily how I did it. They’ll be a clear entry point. Once they’ve found that, they’ll be able to block the Jumper from using it again to access their systems. No…” He looked down at his laptop, “right now, they don’t know I have access. We need to keep that access undetected for as long as possible.”
John sighed, closing his eyes again. “But if we don’t get off their grid, besides being a potential target this whole time for their weapon, they can find us, McKay. No matter where we go…”
"And if what you're saying about the weapon is true, I'm betting they won't be too happy with our flying further out to get more time. They might fire on us anyway."
"I know that too."
“And if we can't move and they can find us, then the time we have is very, very limited. And you just said you didn’t have the time to get us out.”
Rodney sighed heavily, and started rubbing his right hand with his left again. “What do you want me to say? I already said we could do it in that time…just…we’re going to have to take a lot of risks. Like taking the risk that the Jumper’s dialing will override the shield. That’s all I’m saying.” Rodney’s jaw set, and he was holding his right hand in a tight fist now, probably in an attempt to stop it shaking. “Frankly, I don’t see we have much choice. We can’t wait for rescue. You can’t wait for rescue.”
John grimaced at the finality in McKay’s voice. So that’s what was driving McKay so hard. Getting him home, because of his arm.
He closed his eyes. His left arm was tingling by his side, aching, and he felt like he could feel every pulse of his blood through the arteries and the damaged veins. Thank goodness for the morphine—he had a feeling he wouldn’t even be able to think right now if not for that.
And, he thought, if it were just him at stake…he’d insist that they take the risk. Hide. With the Jumper off their sensors, it’d be easy to do. They could fly to the opposite side of the planet, hunker down. But McKay wasn’t doing so hot either. Thankfully, Rodney didn’t seem to be aware of it, and for once his hypochondria about hypoglycemia was coming in useful, but the scientist needed a doctor as badly as John did. McKay was so focused on the shaking in his right hand and assuming it just meant he had to eat something, that it obviously had not occurred to him that his left wasn't shaking as badly, or at all really, not since he'd calmed down. His right hand was demonstrating weakness, a lack of control....
It wasn't hypoglycemia McKay needed to worry about—it was what two hard cracks to the skull had done to his head.
He opened his eyes again, finding McKay looking directly at him. There was no arguing with that unblinking gaze. It was the same face that Teyla and Ronon had worn earlier.
Who was he kidding? Even if McKay didn’t also need a doctor, there was no way his team was going to do anything but find a way out of this place today, because of his arm. He was constantly thirsty from all the fluids he was losing, leaking into his bandage—burns that bad meant infection was a foregone conclusion without treatment. He would die. And they knew it. And they weren't going to let that happen. He didn’t know whether to love them for that…or hate them for the guilt it laid at his feet.
“Fine,” he said finally, because there was nothing else he could do about it right now. “We take the risk.”
“Wait.” Ronon had moved forward, and was watching them from where he was leaning against the bulkhead. Neither John nor Rodney had noticed, but they looked at him now. Ronon nodded towards McKay's laptop. “Why don’t we just take the ship off the sensors, then, tomorrow or something, attack the compounds and turn their stuff off again? This time,” he looked at McKay, “you do it so they can’t turn them back on.”
McKay blinked, wearing the expression of someone who had just heard an incredibly stupid idea. “Attack their compound?”
“We’ve got the Jumper.”
“A badly damaged Jumper that can’t turn left, yes.”
“We’ve got drones.”
“Only three, though,” John noted.
“That’s enough,” Ronon said.
“Except,” McKay added, “they’ve got rocket launchers and an energy weapon.”
"We'll be off their sensors," Ronon shrugged, “we cloak. Can't shoot us down if they can't see us.”
“You can’t fire a drone with us cloaked,” McKay argued, “even if I could guarantee the cloak would hold.”
“What?” John and Ronon both said that, and McKay lifted his eyebrows in surprise.
“Oh come on,” the scientist griped, “be logical! There’s a massive hole in the hull! That screws with the external sensors on the ship. Even if we could cloak, it probably won’t hold. I wouldn’t recommend relying on the shield for the same reason, even if we were confident we had the power to maintain it. At best, we're talking minutes of time only.”
John groaned. He hated logical.
“Then, we attack on foot,” Ronon said. And John turned to look at the Satedan. McKay just lowered his head. “Look,” Ronon pressed, “we attack the Kaveer compound, turn off those Ancient machines. Then they couldn’t raise the shield or fire their weapon, and we can go home.”
John sighed. How he wished it were that easy. “It’s not a good idea, Ronon,” he said tiredly. Ronon frowned.
“Because there’s more to it."
“What does that mean?”
“He means,” McKay snapped, “that, besides the compounds we’ve seen, they obviously have an underground facility. What if it has an auxiliary power room, like Atlantis? What then? We attack there as well? And, by ‘we’ I’m assuming you mean you and Teyla, because Sheppard’s about as capable of fighting off an army as I am right now. So, the two of you, with no proper gear for this environment, in a place you have never seen, against an army? Tell me,” McKay raised an eyebrow, “how do you think you’d fare?”
Ronon just stared at him, then looked at John. The Colonel gave a single, reluctant nod.
“He’s right, Ronon. We wouldn’t stand a chance.”
The Satedan grimaced, anger sweeping across his face suggesting he thought they were wrong, and turned around, storming back into the rear. John blinked when he saw that Teyla was back inside, standing near the control panels. She was watching him worriedly. When he caught her staring, she quickly looked back up at the panels.
The Colonel sighed—oddly, despite the argument they’d just had—he still felt like he could sleep.
Stay awake, he commanded himself.
Sighing again, he turned back to McKay. Rodney was leaning forward, his head in his hands.
“Hey,” he called. “You okay?”
Rodney lifted his head up, squinted at John, then rubbed his temples again with the butts of his palms. He obviously wasn’t going to answer what he felt was a dumb question. But that wasn't what John really wanted to know. The colonel leant forward, so that he could lower his voice.
"Is it getting worse?" he asked.
McKay grimaced, his hands dropping into his lap. "Yeah. Feels like a migraine." He snorted. "Actually, felt like a migraine before, but now it feels like a super-migraine." He gave a tiny smile at the use of 'super,' clearly aware of how stupid it sounded. "I just need to keep something down. It'll go away."
John said nothing, just gave a nod. “What about the weapon?” he asked, needing to keep his mind moving.
Rodney lowered his hands and stared out through the broken windshield. “That…is going to be hard.”
What isn't, John thought aimlessly.
“Except that,” the colonel tilted his head, “if you lower the shield, that will lower the shield protecting the weapon as well, correct?”
“So, then I can blow it up. A single drone should do it, since we know where it is.”
Rodney’s brow furrowed, and he gave a headshake. “No, you can’t.”
John closed his eyes in exasperation, then opened them again. “Why not?”
“Because we can’t see the weapon,” Rodney replied, shifting his gaze from the window to meet John’s. “We aim a drone into its general location, it could hit the weapon, yes, but it could hit a lot more as well. We don’t know what’s down there. What we do know is that these people are powering their weapons and shields using geothermal energy, which means the ground below them could be very unstable. We could cause serious damage.”
“So, people could die.”
“So there could be innocent people down there!” Rodney was frowning deeply now, his expression showing his bewilderment that John apparently wasn’t ‘getting’ it. He was rubbing his right hand with his left again, the action clearly unconscious. “Who knows how many? If you could blow up the Genii underground bunker, would you?”
John blinked slowly, and McKay’s eyes reflected a moment of dismay at the hesitation. Then John lowered his head. This was where Rodney and he differed. John would not kill unless he had to, but if the Genii became a threat again, there was nothing he wouldn’t do to protect Atlantis. That being said…
“No.” He would not destroy the Genii, not unless he had absolutely no other choice, and even then, he would do everything in his power to avoid killing innocent civilians. And…the same was true here. Rodney was right—there could be many more people than just soldiers and scientists down there. “I would not destroy the Genii’s home. But in this case, here, with the Kaveer…I would fire on that weapon if there is no other option, and take the risk of it doing more damage. Besides the necessity of getting us home, they need to be stopped, Rodney. What if they go after Connam again? Or any of our friends on other worlds?” He looked up at Rodney again, his expression stern. “Which means you need to give me another option.”
McKay’s jaw tensed then loosened. “Using the Jumper’s interface, we add a command element to the weapon’s control systems preventing it from firing on the Jumper. Even better, I can do it before we take the shield down, so we don’t run the risk of being hit before we dial.”
John gave a huff of surprise. “Really?” Well, hell, why didn’t he say so in the first place? Hell of a lot better than running the risk of being hit before they could blow it up.
“Yes, really. I’ve already uploaded everything on the weapon's controls into the Jumper’s interface. But,” McKay held up a shaking finger, “while inserting the command line into the weapon’s matrix may not be hard, making sure the Kaveer don’t immediately erase it is more difficult. What I need to do is hide it within a block of redundant coding, then put up firewalls and passwords that, with any luck, will take them months, if not years, to break down.”
“Huh. And you can do that quickly?”
“With your help, yes.”
“My help?” He frowned. "How? You need me to make the connection?” He waved at the Jumper's console. He assumed Rodney needed him for his more powerful control over the gene.
“No,” McKay grimaced, “Well, yes, when the time comes. But right now, I need you to make me puzzles.”
John just stared, unsure he had heard that right. “Puzzles?”
“Mathematical puzzles, brain teasers, theorems requiring proofs. As many as you can remember or make up, the more complicated the better. I need to write the code, do all the work of setting up the interface, and build the firewalls, then go to work on the Jumper with Teyla—I don’t have time to actually come up with clever passwords. Way I see it, every puzzle you make for me, I can just insert in as the password for the firewall.” He smiled, “It’ll drive them crazy.”
John still stared, then blinked. “You need me to do math,” he stated. It wasn’t a question.
“I know it’s probably been a while since…”
“No, no,” John waved his good hand, “it’s cool.” And, really, it was. Actually, it was more than cool. It was really cool. He couldn’t help it—he smiled—and then quickly hid it. Rodney gave him a disgusted look, not fooled by John’s attempt not to geek out at the prospect, and turned around.
“I saw my vest on the floor in the back,” the scientist said. “My other laptop is hopefully still attached to it or nearby. You can use that.”
“Okay,” John was grinning again, glad that Rodney had turned around so he didn’t see it. He flexed his right hand, grateful suddenly that it was the left that was hurt. “Cool.”
“Not so much,” Rodney replied, already typing away. “I may have to downgrade you to ‘fine’ for that grin you gave me.”
John grinned even more. And, curiously, found he suddenly felt a lot more awake. He turned in the chair, planning to go and fetch Rodney’s other laptop, but Teyla was a step ahead of him. She was walking towards him from the back, holding Rodney’s laptop outstretched before her like a tray of pastries.
“Have fun,” she offered warmly. John grinned again.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: TESTING THE WATERS
Teyla felt like a rock in a stream as Ronon shifted all around her, working to fill four packs (three heavy, one light) in case they still needed them. She noticed him glancing out through the back hatch every so often, eyes scanning the canyon walls. They were a long way from the edge, meaning anyone sneaking up on them would be easily seen long before they were in range, but it was obviously bothering the Satedan to be on the low ground.
Ronon eventually disappeared, heading outside with an explanation about seeing aloe-like plants, useful for burns. It was fairly obvious to the other three, however, that the Jumper was making him stir crazy. His taking both his blaster, his sword and a 9MM was proof enough of that.
Teyla finished piecing together the last of the diagnostic information for Rodney, blowing the air out of her cheeks as she triple-checked one more connection. She wanted to be sure of everything before she spoke to him.
Her nerves were frazzled—she could not recall the last time she had been this nervous to speak to someone. Even her first conversation with Michael had not caused this much insecurity—or perhaps it was just a different kind of insecurity. Indeed, part of her did not understand why she was even nervous. It was just Rodney—someone she knew, someone she loved, and, someone, if she were being truly honest with herself, she often felt 'older' than. But the irrational part of her still felt just like the little girl showing off the first fighting sticks she had ever made to her father, terrified that the great Tagan would be disappointed.
Glancing down at the watch, she saw that nearly forty minutes had passed since they had landed here, twenty since she had returned back inside after inspecting the left drive pod—that was a long time. Too long. Grimacing, she was well aware that Rodney would have taken far less time—but he hadn't said a thing to her, seemingly engrossed in what he was working on. Still, if the time estimates that she and Ronon had come up with were right about the Kaveer, that only left less than an hour and a half to do the repairs she believed could be made. It was not going to be enough time—not unless Rodney helped her, and even then....
But the alternative was impossible. They could not run. She had to make this work.
She sighed again and checked the readout on the last connection. Satisfied with what it said, she unhooked the tablet and moved into the forward compartment.
John was typing one handed on a laptop in what was normally Ronon's chair, using the small shelf next to it for the computer. McKay was opposite him, in his usual chair, doing the same—though he was using two hands. A half eaten power bar was next to the laptop—the other half had been thrown up through the hole in the hull within minutes of Rodney eating it. She was glad she had not been outside when that had happened. Both men had canteens resting near their stations—while they had access to fresh water, they were both taking advantage of it for as long as they could.
"Rodney," she called softly. He stopped working, his left hand moving up to knead his forehead. Turning in the chair, he looked up at her, frowning a little and squinting.
"You've done it?" he asked, his voice roughened by his obviously sore throat.
She gave a nod.
"So?" His eyebrows lifted.
"The control crystals for the left hand drive pod are not salvageable—not even for temporary use. However, Doctor Zelenka taught me that many crystals can swapped around, substituted for the broken ones. All you need to do is reset them to blank, and then, when slotted in the appropriate slot, the Jumper itself will reform the connections necessary to make them work for that slot's function." She paused, not sure what she was waiting for until Rodney gave a single nod, his eyes narrowing a little.
"Right. So?" he asked, impatience lining his voice. "Tell me something I don't know."
She frowned slightly. "Well, as we can not leave the atmosphere, I recommend pulling the control crystals for the artificial gravity and life support to use as blanks. I can reset them, and put them in the slots for the left hand control crystals."
He snorted. "Well, that's a painfully obvious solution. Wait," he looked past her to the control panels, then back at her, his brow furrowing even further. "Are you saying that you haven't done it yet? You've just been...checking them? But it's been...," he looked down at his watch, then frowned. Grimacing, he looked up at her again, his eyes narrowed almost to slits. "Well, it's been a really long time. What the hell have you been doing?"
"I, well..." Teyla sucked in a tight breath, trying not to show any reaction to his rudeness. She had expected it, though that didn't stop it from stinging. "I have been—"
"Oh, don't bother." McKay waved a hand. "You'll do it now, and do it quickly, I hope." His eyes continued to measure her, and Teyla shifted, uncomfortable. "Right," he said then, "what about the fact that the controls on the console are shish-kebab?"
Teyla nodded. "A long wire, connecting the crystals in the control panel in the back to the data tablet," she said, speaking quickly as Rodney rolled his hand at her, gesturing her to hurry. "Place the tablet on the console in front of the pilot's side, and, with your left hand, use the arrow keys for direction."
Rodney snorted a laugh. "The tablet?" he scoffed. "Oh, that's funny! What a terrible idea!"
Teyla kept her jaw firmly set, still refusing to show any sign that he was hurting her. His eyebrows lifted again at her thin lipped stare.
"Oh, you're serious?" he said, as if shocked. "Teyla, come on. It's too cumbersome, for one thing, and won't balance with the right hand controls. It'd be like fighting with a sword in one hand and a butter knife in the other. Think of something better."
She blinked. "Better?" But there wasn't anything better, she thought worriedly. She had thought about this a great deal. She had been proud of the idea, had even checked that there were wires in the back that were long enough to stretch to the front. But Rodney was shaking his head slowly, as if he could read her mind.
"Yes, better. That tablet won't work," he stated firmly, all traces of mockery gone, leaving only irritation. "The arrow keys are too small, and the touch pad is finicky at best. Are you trying to kill us?" He was watching her intensely, and Teyla found herself frowning in the face of his stare. "You need to think of something better," he repeated.
"I..." she looked down at the tablet, at the tiny keys. The tablet was all she knew—it is what Radek had taught her on. She was sure it would work. Maybe...maybe if he just tried it first, before dismissing the idea, he—
"Come on, Teyla," Rodney snapped. "You said you wanted to do this. So do it. The tablet will not work. Don't try to think of ways to convince me otherwise, just accept that it won't, and think of something else. Find another way. Now, what else is there besides the tablet? Think!"
She flinched a little, and then ground her teeth together. She caught John watching them, eyeing her worriedly and sending dark looks at Rodney—but he did not interfere. For some reason, she was glad of that. This was not John's fight. Raising her chin, she turned and looked around, her mind skipping to the other pieces of technology on board. There were the two laptops, of course, but surely they needed those for the work Rodney and John were doing. So what did that leave? There was nothing else. The only other technology on board was the defibrillator, Ronon's blaster and....
...and Rodney's scanner—the life signs detector.
Could it work? She knew it was a powerful and supposedly versatile piece of technology, but she had never seen it used as anything except as a scanning device. But...that did not negate the possibility that it could do more. Could it function as a control device? After all, it was designed to read the minds of John and Rodney when they used it, so perhaps...perhaps it could read their minds and help fly the Jumper. Could it be "reset" like the control crystals and its programming changed to work as a control?
"The scanner?" she suggested, looking back at Rodney. He gave a tiny smile.
"The scanner?" he mocked in a sing song voice. "Yes, the scanner," he sneered. "Well done. Took you long enough." Teyla tried not to frown, to demonstrate any evidence that he was having an affect on her. But it rankled—if he had already known the answer, why had he forced her to come up with it herself? Was he playing games with her? Trying to make her feel like a fool? She was about to say something about not needing to be condescended to when she saw him run a hand down his face, his tiredness showing through. She pressed her lips together tightly—she would berate him when they returned home and he was feeling better.
"The scanner's in my vest pocket, still," he said, lowering the hand. "And you won't need to string wires. Once you've replaced the crystals, connect the scanner to the panel using the wires. Either Sheppard or I will then ask it to download what it needs to act as half of a steering wheel. Once reprogrammed, it can be held anywhere in the Jumper and will control the left hand side."
"It can do that?" John asked. Teyla wanted to smile in gratitude, glad that John didn't know it could do that either.
"Sure," Rodney said, shrugging a little. "Probably don't even have to..." he stopped talking, staring vaguely towards the back hatch when Ronon suddenly reappeared inside and dropped something that looked like a bunch of plants on the floor of the Jumper, and then his brow furrowed. He looked at John, "What was I saying?"
John's own brow furrowed, "The life signs detector. It can be used to control the Jumper."
"What? No. Don't be an idiot. The scanner can be used as a substitute for the left hand control stick—to control the left hand drive pod. It can't control the whole Jumper—that'd be insane!" Rodney snapped. "Weren't you listening?"
John's eyebrows lifted—that had been over the top rude, even for Rodney. Teyla's irritation from earlier melted away in the realization that the scientist's unusual acerbity may not be entirely of his own conscious making. Rodney, however, seemed unconcerned with his overly dark behavior, and looked back up at her.
"So, we have control. Of course," his eyes narrowed, "control doesn't mean a damn if we don't have a drive pod that works."
She gave a nod. "Yes, it is damaged," she admitted, and he raised his eyebrows as if to say 'obviously'. She frowned again. "The pod has a broad, black stripe along its left side and part of its underbelly. It destroyed a number of the engine coils—but not many. The main problem is that at least half of the still intact coils have been cut off from the Jumper's main power cells—the conduits melted and snapped. However," she took a breath, "I think I can fix it by replacing the damaged conduits."
"Replace them how?" he asked, one eyebrow arching. "With what?"
"As you suspected, the beam also striped the drone bay doors before finally breaching the hull. The metal is completely fused—they will not open...."
"Wait," John interrupted, speaking up again. "There were two drones in the bay on that side. As you saying they're not accessible?"
"Yes," Teyla said, shifting a little so she could see the colonel as well. "You will not be able to fire them."
"Well, hell!" The colonel rested his head on his right fingers, careful of the bruise, closing his eyes. "You realize that means we only have one drone in our arsenal?"
"I am sorry, Colonel," she said, not sure what else to say. Rodney snorted lightly. John just sighed.
"No," the colonel said, lifting his head so he could wave a little at her, "it's not your fault. I just...." he pursed his lips. "It's good information to have. We'll just have to plan around it." He rubbed at his head again, and tried to smile up at her. He looked terrible—wan and strained. Perhaps she should give him the rest of the morphine...
"Well, Colonel," Rodney sneered, peering down his nose at John, "if you're done whining now, Teyla was going to tell me how the left drone bay door not working was going to save the Jumper's left drive pod." He looked up at her, his eyes half lidded, as if she were boring him, John's muttered comment about it not being a 'whine' falling on deaf ears. McKay's eyebrows lifted. "Well?"
"Oh, yes," she looked behind her at where she had opened the bench, which accessed the wiring for the drone bay. "I was planning on pulling the conduits for the drone bay doors and swapping them for the ones on the drive pod. It should—"
"It will. But, think, if enough of the drive pod coils are damaged," Rodney said, "too much power will just overload the conduits again. It explains why the conduits are melted—too much power trying to access the coils that were damaged by the weapon. The power must have backed up and—"
"Yes, I know," Teyla said, cutting him off this time, "and I have a solution for that as well. I can adjust the power crystals to seventy five percent capacity, which is about right for the number of remaining crystals on the left engine pod."
"But the right drive pod will—"
"I will adjust the right drive pod's power usage down as well, to keep the two sides balanced. The Jumper will not fly as fast, or be as agile, but it will be balanced and provide the maneuverability we need."
Rodney was watching her now, his eyes narrowed. She wasn't sure but—was there a hint of a smile on his lips?
"And," she said, feeling like she was, as John said, 'going for broke', "I can reroute all the unused power into the shields. It should bolster them to at least twenty five percent. The shields are running at only twelve percent power right now."
Rodney did smile this time, a tiny one on the corner, almost invisible. "That is," he said, his eyes meeting hers knowingly, "provided the shields stay up at all."
"True." She grimaced. "I do not know how to fix that problem."
"You can't. Not in the time we have." He gave a nod. "Okay. Fine. Go do it. And don't waste any more time like you have been—we don't have the luxury for training wheels right now. Replace the conduits first—that's the trickiest part—and let me see what you've done when finished. Then start on the crystals."
She stared at him a moment, blinking a little. She had not planned on working on the conduits alone—she had never actually done anything like that. The crystals she had worked before, under Radek's supervision, but wiring was something he had yet to let her touch.
Then there was the time factor. There was no way she could possibly do all that in the limited time they had left.
Her hesitation must have been obvious, because Rodney was suddenly turning again in the chair to look at her.
"What?" he asked, frowning. "What's the matter? Why aren't you moving?"
"By myself?" she blurted out, hating her voice for how young it had sounded at the question.
"Yes, by yourself. You said you could do it, so do it. Everything you said was right. There. Now go. Shoo." He flapped a hand at her and turned around again. "I'm busy here."
"But I have never—"
"Yeah, well, welcome to my world," he sneered. "I already said I'd check your work when you've finished, which is more than anyone has ever done for me since I've been here. So go. Now. Clock's ticking. Tick tock, tick tock." He had already resumed his typing.
Teyla frowned, and turned to look at John. He didn't help any, just looked up at her with an unhappy grimace and a 'you sort of asked for this' look on his face. Lowering her eyes, she nodded.
She had. After all, this was what she had wanted...wasn't it?
Gripping her hands into fists, she nodded again to herself and turned to grab the tool kit in the back. She brushed past Ronon, who was half kneeling next to the cactus like plants he had dumped on the ramp, stripping them of their skins, and walked down to the sandy canyon floor. Not sparing a glance for the desert around her, she moved to the left side of the Jumper, intent only on the drive pod. She was aware of Ronon watching her go out of the corner of his eye, a frown on his face. He had obviously heard her report to Rodney inside as well, and the caustic way Rodney had treated her. Refusing to give him a chance to provide any sort of pity or understanding, she moved to the far side of the open engine pod, away from his gaze, and set the kit on the sand.
She straightened again, stretching her back first to relieve the knots, and was about to kneel down to check the underside of the drive pod when she heard her name called.
For a moment, she was confused as to its source—thinking it was coming from somewhere outside, but then she looked up at the Jumper. She was standing right below the hole in the hull—the voices she heard were John and Rodney. Briefly, she considered saying something, to let them know she could hear, but curiosity got the better of her...and she scooted closer to the hole to hear more clearly.
"...not going to ease up on her, Colonel. She wants to be like Zelenka, then I'm going to treat her like Zelenka."
"But she's not Zelenka, Rodney. She's not even one of your lab rats. She's Teyla—your friend, and someone who is doing her best with only a couple months of training on this stuff. You didn't have to be so damned harsh!"
"Harsh? You called that harsh? Please, I could have filleted her if I wanted."
"Are you kidding? Did you hear yourself?" John answered. "You did fillet her!"
There was a pause, then, "Well, she's tough. She can handle it. She has to understand that she can't work at Radek's pace. Out here, she has to think and work faster."
"And putting her down and calling her ideas terrible is going to make her do that."
"Oh, please," John jeered. "It's like you went to the boot camp school of project management. All I'm saying is, give her a break, okay?"
"A break? I don't have time to give her a break. She's a big girl, Major. If she's angry with me, I'm pretty sure she'll let me know. Probably with sticks."
There was a pause, then, "Colonel."
"You called me 'Major'."
"I did? Why did I do that? Hunh." There was another pause. "Whatever, I need to get back to this."
"Wait," the colonel sounded exasperated, "look...how about you give her some encouragement, at least?"
There was another pause, then, "No. She'll know it's fake."
"It doesn't have to be fake encouragement, McKay."
"Yes, it does. Teyla knows me, Colonel. She's smart, smarter than I think you're giving her credit for, and she knows that any platitudes I throw in her direction are going to be just that, fake. If she does a good job, I'll tell her, but I'm not going to hold her hand on the way there. She knows what to do. I've told her so. She does it, then we live. That should be enough encouragement for anyone."
There was another pause, then, in a monotone, "Wow."
A heavy sigh. "I know what that means. You think I'm being an ass. Well, you know what? I am. And I'm not going to stop being an ass just because you think Teyla deserves better treatment than my scientists. She doesn't. Right now, she is one of my scientists, and she's getting the work done, which is more than she's been doing for the past...however long it's been. And, I might add, is more than I'm doing right now with you carping over my shoulder like a mother hen!"
"Well, maybe if you worked and thought faster, you could help her!"
There was a long pause, then, "That was low."
"Really? But I thought being mean was a way to get someone to work faster!"
There was no answer to that. Then, "Point taken."
"Thank you," John replied.
"I...I am doing my best, you know."
There was a soft sigh, "I know, Rodney. I know. I'm sorry."
There was a snort followed by a short laugh. "You're such a sap. Apologizing—you're too easy."
John groaned, "My God, you are such an ass!"
"Just saying, I'm not going to apologize to Teyla. And she won't expect one. You, on the other hand..."
"Oh, you'll apologize," John said, sounding confident. "When we get home, I'm scheduling you for more of her classes. See how long your smugness lasts in there. Oh yeah, you'll be apologizing."
Rodney huffed. "That's it, I'm not talking to you anymore."
"Why can't I get the last word?"
"Because I'm better than you. Now get to work. Tick, tock, tick, tock, remember?"
Rodney made a sound like he was being strangled, John laughed, and then there was nothing more except for the tapping of keys on keyboards.
Teyla stepped away from the hole, and frowned.
She rubbed at her arms, kneading the muscles in her forearms, then looked down at the tool kit. She wanted to absorb what she'd just heard, to take it in and mull it over...but McKay was right. There was no time. Still, something he had said had rubbed her the wrong way enough that it was sticking out in her mind.
He thought she wanted to be Doctor Zelenka. He was wrong. Radek had taught her to be careful and methodical as she worked through the Jumper's systems, something which made her take too long on the diagnostics. She knew that now. If they were going to survive this, she could not be Radek.
She had to be Rodney.
And if she were going to be Rodney, she did not need encouragement or platitudes or kindnesses. She just needed to get this done.
Nodding in determination, she knelt down to get under the drive pod and shoved her hands into the circuits.
And then pulled back a second later with a yelp as sparks erupted from the pod.
Should probably cut the power first, she thought, a wry smile on her face as she flapped stinging fingers in the wind.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: THE RUMBLING EARTH
For the next hour, other than Teyla occasionally asking Rodney questions, the atmosphere in the Jumper fell into a tense quiet. Ronon stayed outside, walking the perimeter, using all his senses to watch for anything that might be approaching, aware that it could be from any direction—even the sky, if they decided to fire their weapon. John diligently wrote every puzzle he could think of, then fell into a light slumber, eased that way by the rest of the morphine. Rodney just worked. The main evidence that he was in trouble were the short, monosyllabic answers he gave to Teyla and those times when she caught him pausing for too long over his keyboard—like his brain had briefly shorted out.
She finished replacing the conduits and adjusting the power to the two drive pods and the shield. She had not yet started on the crystals, but, because she felt more confident about the latter, decided she should interrupt Rodney now…just in case she might not be able to do so later.
“Rodney,” she called, hating the glazed way he seemed to have once again stalled over his laptop. He jerked a little, and frowned, turning to look up at her.
“I have done the replacements.”
“The power conduits, I have swapped them out, and I have adjusted the power relays.”
He stared at her a moment, as if uncertain about what she was saying, then seemed to shake himself, looking down at the floor.
“Yes, yes, of course. I…right.” He frowned again, and looked up at her. “So, you need something from me?”
“I need you to look over the work.”
“Yes. Of course. Fine. What was I…?” He turned in the chair and looked at the screen on his laptop. “Right.” He turned around fully to face John in the chair opposite. The Colonel was leaning back, his mouth agape as he breathed heavily in a morphine induced slumber, snoring lightly. McKay snorted at the sight. “What an image. Lovely, Sheppard, lovely.” He reached forward and tapped John’s knee. “Wake up!” he ordered, raising his voice so it was a little higher than the almost whisper he’d been using.
Sheppard jumped, and instantly winced, leaning forward, his right hand wrapping around his left wrist. “G-ah,” he groaned.
“Yes, yes. Bad arm, we know. I need you awake. Are you done?”
Teyla grimaced, hating that they could not let John sleep, hating that Rodney had to be pushed like this, hating everything about what was happening.
John, meanwhile, was blinking open his eyes and looking blearily at Rodney. “What?”
“The puzzles. Are they done?”
“Oh, um,” John squinted at his monitor, rubbing at little at his scratchy sounding throat, “Yeah.”
“Think you can input them for me, so I can help Teyla?”
“Uh...,” John blinked again, finally looking more awake. “I…I don’t know anything about writing computer code, McKay.”
“You don’t have to. Strictly cut and paste. Transfer your data to my laptop.”
John nodded numbly, sat up slowly and typed something. Behind where he was sitting, Rodney’s laptop beeped softly. Swiveling in his chair, Rodney opened the file John had sent. He read few lines of what was written there and, despite himself, started to smile.
“Oh…these are clever. I recognize the first two. Good God, Fermat's Last Theorem? Nice. Be nice if it takes them three hundred and fifty years to crack it, eh? And this one..." He narrowed his eyes at the screen. "What is this one?”
“I made that one up,” John said, smiling despite himself. “I’m not even sure it’s solvable. I mean, it's not as clever as Fermat's, but...way I see it, there are multiple rational results depending on which proof you work, but only one of them will be correct. They’ll really, really hate that one.”
“Perfect.” McKay smiled and highlighted the one John just described, and copied it. Flipping over to his earlier screen he leaned back so John could see it more clearly. “See this bit here? It’s already set up. You just have to…” he trailed off, and Teyla leaned a little closer to see as well. McKay dropped John’s math puzzle into what looked like a lot of confusing text, all of which looked the same to her. “There. Just like that. This specific line of coding repeats every other page. Just keep dropping what you did into it wherever it appears until you’re done. I set up at least thirteen of these, so…” He shrugged. “Then it’s just a matter of translating it into Ancient, then uploading it and transferring it. Easy.”
John was peering at the nonsensical text, his expression as befuddled as Teyla’s had been. “Sure,” he muttered weakly, “easy.”
Rodney gave a weak smile and pushed back. “Right.” With a soft sigh, he stood up quickly…
And toppled over.
John yelped in pain as he’d attempted to stop his friend and got his arm jarred badly. Teyla, however, had no such problem. She dove down, catching Rodney’s head and shoulders before they hit the floor, her back flaring in pain from the awkward snatch.
“Rodney!” she called, shifting his weight in her arms to hold him closer, twisting him so she could see his face. It was completely slack, the eyes closed. “Rodney?” Juggling him more against her legs, she rested a hand on his neck, feeling the sluggish pulse, and looking worriedly up at John. The colonel had tears in his eyes from his own agonizing pain as he met her gaze.
“What just happened?” he asked, his voice hoarse.
“I do not know. He is unconscious. Rodney!” she tried calling his name louder, but the scientist was oblivious. Whatever had just happened to him, it had happened fast. “Rodney,” she tried again, “you must wake up. Please wake up!” She looked up at John again, “Is this related to his…his hypoglycemia, as he calls it?”
“No,” John replied, still cradling his arm. “That’s…no. This has nothing to do with that—he wouldn’t even be feeling the effects of that for hours yet.” The blood spots were getting rapidly thicker through the bandaging, and his face was etched with pain. “It’s his head—those two knocks he got. He’s been dizzy and overly agitated and disoriented. His right arm was trembling while his left was not, at least not to the same degree—something’s very wrong with him.”
Footsteps running towards them had her looking out the back hatch just as Ronon banged up the metal ramp, his face filled with worry. He looked at Teyla, Rodney then at John.
“What just happened?” he demanded.
“Rodney…fell.” It was all Teyla could say. “He fainted when he tried to stand up.”
“Bad timing,” Ronon said, jogging the rest of the way inside and practically jumping over Teyla and Rodney to get into the front compartment. He ripped open the nearly empty medical kit next to the pilot’s console and pulled out the smelling salts.
“What are you doing?” John asked, still just trying to breathe through his own pain and sounding rougher than sandpaper. “And what do you mean, ‘bad timing’?”
“Getting the smelling salts,” Ronon replied, pulling them out and tossing them to Teyla. “He has to wake up.” She caught them one handed, her other arm still wrapped under Rodney, holding him up.
“Why?” she demanded.
“Because they’re here. I saw them on the edge of the canyon, the light reflecting off their binoculars—they were looking right at us.”
Teyla waved the smelling salts under Rodney’s nose, and nearly sagged in relief when he jerked slightly.
“Rodney,” she called, tapping his arm. “Rodney, wake up.”
Blue eyes blinked open, then rolled and pinched shut. He groaned.
“I am sorry, Rodney, but you need to wake up. Please.”
“Why?” he asked peevishly, sounding like a child who did not want to get up to do his morning chores.
“The Kaveer are coming. You must help me finish.”
“The Kaveer. Please, Rodney. You need to wake up.”
“Tired. Head hurts.”
“I know, but you—“ She stopped as Ronon suddenly got in her line of sight, grabbing at Rodney’s arms and gripping hard.
“Wake up, McKay! Now!”
Rodney’s eyes snapped open in surprise, staring up at Ronon with confusion, and wincing as it movement obviously caused his head pain. “What?”
“Bad guys coming,” Ronon almost shouted. “Jumper needs finishing. We have to go home. Now get up!”
Rodney blinked some more, then looked over at Teyla, in whose lap he had been. She just gave him a sad look, wishing she could do more. “You must get up, Rodney,” she said.
Rodney still seemed confused, but allowed Ronon to pull him sharply upright.
For which Ronon paid a price in the form of whatever else Rodney had in his stomach on his shoes—which wasn't much. Mostly water. It didn’t seem to bother the big man, though, as he just slung the scientist’s arm over his shoulder and dragged him outside. Teyla bounced up to her feet, glanced at John, who just gave her a nod and returned his attention to Rodney's laptop, already clicking away one-handed—trying to finish the code. Then she jogged outside after the other two.
Ronon was holding Rodney up next to the engine pod, the scientist pale as a ghost.
“What am I looking at?” Rodney asked weakly, still obviously confused.
“The power conduits,” Teyla replied, getting up close to the engine. She knelt and pointed to the underside of the drive pod. “I’ve replaced them. Did I do it correctly?”
Rodney stared at her in total puzzlement, but, with Ronon’s help, knelt down to peer under the drive. He stared for a moment, then said, with some curiosity.
“You replaced these?”
“Yes,” she replied, her brow furrowing with worry.
“They look okay,” Rodney said, and Teyla’s whole face relaxed.
“Oh.” She wanted to smile, but then Ronon was pulling Rodney back up and the scientist teetered like a leaf in the wind. Rodney grimaced, holding the hand not gripping Ronon’s shoulder to his head. He did not pull away from Ronon’s support, showing that he was indeed badly off.
“Right, right,” Rodney muttered, as if pulling his mind back from someplace far away. “You had to replace those…and adjust the power to balance the two sides. Right?” He squinted at Teyla, who simply nodded. “Did you adjust the power?”
“Okay. Show me.”
She nodded, and turned to run back inside, glancing up at the canyon’s edge as she did so. She could see the people up there—black dots on the skyline, like small bugs. They were coming down what must be some sort of pass, disappearing inside a ripple in the canyon wall. They were moving very, very quickly—some sort of transportation was bringing them down.
Once inside again, she grabbed the tablet, still resting on the bench beneath the left hand drive pod and connected to the panels. Turning, she held it up just as Ronon dragged Rodney inside. The scientist let Ronon sit him on the bench and reached to take the tablet. With a frown, Rodney studied the readouts on the tablet.
And that was when the Jumper's radio connection came alive.
“Doctor McKay. Teyla Emmagen. I assume you can hear this transmission.”
It was Metra.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: TURNING INTO THE WIND
For a moment, no one moved, looking towards the radio controls in the front of the Jumper like it had turned into a tentacled alien. Then John pursed his lips and turned in his chair to look at Rodney and Teyla. Teyla stepped forward, as if to answer, but John raised his good hand.
“Let’s see what they want first.”
“Doctor McKay. Teyla Emmagen," Metra called again, her voice as crisp and cold as ever. "As I said, I assume you can hear this transmission—we are using the radio transmitters that we took from you earlier. We have reached the location of your landing site, which your scout has no doubt already informed you. He saw us descending into the canyon. We should reach your ship shortly. Accordingly, I strongly recommend you respond.”
John tensed his jaw, then, slowly, he stood and walked carefully up to the front. He looked down at the console, then placed his hand on it. A HUD came up, showing life signs quickly closing down on their location.
“I’m going to cloak,” he said then, pressing down on part of the undamaged console. “Here’s hoping it works.”
Ronon, Teyla and Rodney all automatically looked up at the ceiling, as if they would be able to see whether it the cloak worked or not from the inside. Obviously, they couldn’t.
“Well,” John said, reading something on the console, “according to this, we’re—“
“Hiding your ship from us is not going to work,” Metra said then, unknowingly confirming that, yes, the cloak did still work, despite Rodney's dire predictions. “You are still on our sensors. I have confirmation of your location from our facilities next to the Stargate. In addition, as you may or may not have discerned, our weapon is currently targeting you. Should you try to move or fly away, we will fire and we will not miss. So, again, I suggest you respond.”
“Why did you cloak when you knew they could still see us on their sensors?” Rodney asked, pushing himself up off the bench so that he could see Sheppard better. When he wobbled, Ronon grabbed his arm, steadying him.
“Because I don’t want them to see inside.” John looked back at his teammates. “How close are we to being done?”
Rodney’s eyes pinched, then, pulling his arm from Ronon’s hold, he tottered forward to his station so he could peer down at the laptop. “Did you finish?”
“No,” John replied. “I only got about eight of them in.” He gave a wry look, “I’m not totally sure I’m dropping things in the right place. It all sort of looks the same to me.”
Rodney gave a nod, and gingerly sat himself down in the chair. “I’ll check it.” He looked past John to the HUD, the life signs moving much too quickly. “What about the Kaveer?”
As if on cue, the radio came alive again. “You must realize that your position is untenable. We could easily destroy you right now, as we could have done at any time in the last hour. However, you must also realize that, if we can avoid it, we do not wish to destroy your ship, nor, Doctor McKay, do we wish to kill you. You clearly have knowledge we can use. That, as Miss Emmagen can tell you, gives you some leverage. We are willing to deal on the basis of that. Will you respond?”
“We’ll deal with them when they’re closer,” John said. As such, he continued to ignore Metra’s demand, walking back to Rodney to peer over his shoulder as the scientist scrolled down the coding he had written and which John had modified. “How’s it look?”
Rodney frowned, finding what looked like a mistake on the screen and fixing it. “Getting there.”
“How long before it’s ready to go?”
“I don’t know. Ten minutes maybe? I still have to translate it, then upload the program into the mainframe.”
“Make it less.”
Rodney scowled, but John was already looking to Teyla.
“Have you finished the repairs?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I believe I have restored power to the drive pod, and balanced out the power output to both engines, but I have not restored control to the left drive pod as of yet.”
“How long will it take you?”
Teyla shook her head, “I do not know. I have never…” she paused, then continued. “I would estimate twenty minutes, perhaps? It might be longer.”
John grimaced, then pursed his lips. "No disrespect, Teyla..." He looked down at Rodney. “How long would it take you, McKay?”
Rodney closed his eyes, then glanced over at Teyla. She had her lips pressed together tightly, but, at his questioning gaze, she gave him a small nod. She understood. Rodney gave her a nod in return, then turned to look up at Sheppard.
“I…haven’t seen the extent but…I could probably get it mostly restored in a few minutes.”
Teyla showed no reaction to the news, her eyes returning to John’s to meet them evenly. She had a lot to be proud of in what she had done, but there were things where Rodney would always be better.
“Sheppard, they’re really not far,” Ronon warned, now watching out the back. “You want me to move to a better position? I could flank them.”
Sheppard glanced at him, then up at the life signs detector. He frowned, and shook his head.
“Tempting as that is, Ronon, they just need to hit a button to destroy us. We have to play this out, just until McKay’s done.” He turned his eyes to Teyla, who was watching Rodney as he continued to work on the weapon program he’d created. “We need to stall—which means we need to pretend to negotiate, and there’s only one of us who has the skills to do that effectively.” Teyla lifted her head, her brow furrowed as John continued. “Metra wants to make a deal, Teyla—you’re the only one who can talk her language. She wants this ship and she wants Rodney, and maybe the rest of us too. Well, she’s getting nothing, but you need to convince her that we are…open…to the idea. Think you can do it?”
Teyla’s eyebrow lifted, and she gave a small smile. “Of course.”
“Okay. Ronon,” he looked to the Satedan, “You’re her backup. I’ll help Rodney.”
“What do I tell them about why Rodney is not with me?” Teyla asked.
John gave her a small smile, “I’m sure you’ll think of something.” He stepped back then, nodding his head towards the radio controls. “You ready?”
Teyla closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them again, and the leader of the Athosian people once more stood before them. Striding forward, she hit the radio transmitter.
“Metra, this is Teyla Emmagen.” Her eyes met John’s confidently as she spoke. “We are ready to negotiate.”
Teyla stood several feet from the bottom of the Jumper’s ramp, Ronon by her side. Both were fully armed. From all outward appearances, she and Ronon were standing in an empty clearing. As the Kaveer approached, however, it was clear they knew that the Jumper was here somewhere. They moved cautiously, their weapons fanning out away from Teyla and Ronon’s positions.
The soldiers were only a couple dozen thick, riding on small, hovering ships that appeared to skim above the sand like a hovercraft over calm seas. They were very quick—clearly far more advanced than the trucks they had blown up at the compound. Upon seeing them, Rodney had made some quiet remark about how George Lucas was going to be pissed over copyright infringement.
Metra and the soldier with whom John had had a staring contest back at the Stargate were in the lead vehicle, and it slowed to a stop about ten feet away from Teyla’s position. The tall Kaveeran woman stepped out onto the ground, brushing dust and sand from the sleeves of her cream colored robe, and moved forward to face Teyla. The soldier, obviously a general or commander of some kind, wore more tan colored clothing, and he stood at attention at Metra’s back. The rest of the Kaveer flanked them.
“Metra,” Teyla greeted, giving her a head nod.
“Teyla,” Metra greeted back. She did not look at Ronon. “Where is Doctor McKay?”
“He was injured in your attack on our ship,” Teyla replied. “Your weapon impacted the left hand side, where Doctor McKay was sitting. He is resting inside where it is cool, along with our pilot.”
“Ah, yes, your pilot,” Metra gave a small smile, and glanced at the soldier with her. “Commander Cray said he appeared to be military. As I assume Athos has not yet developed a military, he must be of the Terran people?”
“His name is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, and, yes, he is Terran.”
“He was injured as well?”
“He was, although not badly. Colonel Sheppard is currently covering our position from inside the ship. He will fire if we are attacked—you may recall the strength of the weapons that the Jumper holds.” Teyla lifted her eyebrows.
Metra’s lips pinched slightly, but her cold eyes suggested a hint of amusement. “I see. I take it you do not trust my word that, while we spoke, you would not be harmed.”
“I am more concerned about what would happen if these negotiations were to falter, Metra,” Teyla replied just as smoothly. “You said nothing about what would happen then.”
“That is true,” Metra said, smiling with all the warmth of an iceberg. She looked down, then up again, “Although, you are aware just how vulnerable your position is, yes?”
Teyla gave a nod. “Yes, although,” she said, in imitation of Metra's tone, “I should tell you—the ship has a self-destruct sequence. It is on automatic. It is currently counting down from twenty minutes and, if either I or Ronon do not return to turn it off, this clearing, and everything in it, will be destroyed, including you. As such, those of your soldiers attempting to flank us…and yes, I can see them…should stop now. It would only take a nod from me to have the Jumper explode now.”
Metra’s jaw firmed up slightly, “I see.” She met Teyla’s stare for a moment longer, then nodded to the solder by her side. “Commander, if you will.”
The older general grimaced, but tapped his wrist communicator—Genii design. “Retreat to original positions,” he ordered.
For a moment, nothing happened, and then the number of soldiers standing behind Metra and the Commander thickened.
Teyla gave a nod, “Thank you. Now," she inclined her head, "what are your terms?”
“Sheppard,” Rodney whispered, pushing back from the laptop, “I need you to finish this.”
John looked back at him from where he’d been leaning out the back hatch, listening to the dealings. At McKay’s call, he frowned then gave a headshake, pointing to Teyla and Ronon outside, only a few yards away.
“Just do what you were doing before,” McKay whispered. “You were doing it right, mostly. I can get started on the controls.”
John frowned, looked once more at Teyla and Ronon’s backs, then turned to head into the forward compartment. He took Rodney’s seat as McKay stood up very slowly, obviously trying to avoid another “fainting” incident like before. John stared at the screen, then, with a frown, started clicking keys. McKay watched for a moment, then moved slowly over to the control panels.
Rodney felt old. Very, very old. His vision was swimming, and everything ached. The thing that bothered him the most, however, was his right hand. His fingers were numb, and the trembling he now realized was more related to his forcing it to move when it didn’t want to.
Breathing through the pain, he lifted his hands to the panel on the left side of the Jumper and started pulling crystals. Unlike Teyla, he knew exactly where everything was and what he needed it to do. Whipping out every dead crystal, he dropped them to the bench then turned carefully around to look at the other panel, trying to keep the worst of the dizziness at bay. Pulling a bunch of new crystals, he pulled down the stylus attached to the panel and, within moments, reset each one. Turning again, he started slotting them into the first panel, smiling as they lit up, one by one.
Until he got to the last.
His smile fell.
“Sheppard,” he stage whispered, stepping back and rubbing his right hand with his left. “Sheppard, we have another problem.”
There was a soft sigh from the front, then John was standing next to him, cradling his left arm and looking very much like the morphine had worn off.
“What now?” he whispered quietly.
“This,” Rodney pointed to the still dead crystal. “It’s not the crystal that’s dead, it’s the connection to the mechanism. Teyla must not have noticed it before.”
“Mechanism for what?”
“Retracting the left drive pod. She must have assumed it was power related. The connection is dead between here and the pod. The physical mechanism itself must be broken.”
“But,” Sheppard looked towards the back, where Teyla was still very calmly talking to Metra, “wouldn’t she have noticed if there was damage to the physical mechanism when she was outside?”
Rodney frowned at that, then grabbed his tablet. He tapped the screen a few times, then shut his eyes tightly. John waited, then hit his shoulder.
Rodney sighed softly. “It’s not her fault.”
“What’s not her fault?”
Rodney looked up at him, his expression pained. “I shouldn't have made her do it alone. When she replaced the conduits, she must have cut the connection from here to the mechanism. I didn’t see it when I looked, but since the command is not showing up on here,” he tapped the tablet, “that means that the Jumper’s interior controls don’t even know it exists. The only explanation for that is that she severed it manually somehow. Unless I go outside, I can’t see if it’s fixable. And the cloak is too close to the skin of the Jumper—they’ll see me.”
John stared at him, “Are you saying we can’t retract the pod? We can’t take the Jumper through the Gate?” His eyes narrowed, “I don’t want to leave these people a Jumper, McKay.”
Rodney pursed his lips. “Well…there is another way to retract it.”
“There’s a release and retract mechanism—a lever—built into the exterior of the hull.”
John blinked. “Exterior,” he repeated. His eyes narrowed. “As in, on the outside of the Jumper?”
“It’s just above and in front of the pod.” Rodney looked towards the wall on that side, “A person could conceivably climb down the side while we’re in the air and work the mechanism. They would have to jump off before we hit the event horizon, however, or they could get trapped in the small space between the Jumper and the Gate. They could then follow us through on foot…”
"Climb down the side...while we're in the air."
"And while we're being shot at."
"I can try to expand the shield, just like you did underwater when you came to rescue me that one time. There may be enough power, now that Teyla's boosted it."
"What about wind? And air pressure?"
"I can modify the shield to take care of some of that."
"Some...but not all, I take it."
"No—we need to breathe, and we need to feel some pressure change."
John looked down, then back up at Rodney. “Does Teyla know where the lever is?”
Rodney’s jaw flexed, then he nodded.
John looked down, then up again. “Okay. You done with the rest?”
“Almost.” Rodney turned, and staggered, hitting the bench with his knees as his arm reached out to brace himself on the side of the Jumper. It was fairly loud, and John grimaced, looking out the back. Commander Cray was looking in this direction, his eyes narrowed.
“Sorry,” Rodney whispered weakly, sitting down. For a moment, he just breathed, blinking slowly as if to refocus his eyes. Then, finally, he reached for his vest on the floor and pulled it up. Taking out the life signs detector, he hit a few keys, then looked up at John. He held the scanner towards the colonel. “Hook this up to the third and fifth crystals on the bottom row of the panel using the same wires as for the tablet. Once the scanner’s screen lights up, just mentally think about downloading the control for the left hand drive pod.” John nodded, taking the now 'former' life signs detector.
Rodney watched him for a moment, then stood very, very slowly and headed back into the forward compartment. “I’ll finish the program,” he whispered, settling back into his chair.
John grimaced, hating how much weaker Rodney sounded every time he spoke. It was like slowly watching a flame gutter and die. Forcing that thought back, he put the scanner in his mouth—he couldn’t wait to have two hands back—and reached down for the tablet to unhook it.
CHAPTER NINETEEN: PLAYING WITH FIRE
“It still puzzles me, Metra,” Teyla said, tilting her head, “why you insist that an alliance with us, or an agreement to share technologies, would be of no value to you. You have seen a little of what we have—why close yourself off to more?”
“If your Doctor McKay stays behind, along with this ship, what more could we possibly gain from an alliance with you?” Metra asked, although she obviously meant it to be rhetorical.
Teyla shook her head. “That is the point, you have closed yourself off to finding out." She frowned at Metra. "Surely you must realize there is strength in numbers. Everyone in this galaxy fears and fights the Wraith. Since my people have allied themselves with the Terrans and the Genii,” she arched an eyebrow, "amongst others, we have all benefited. The Wraith are no longer such an unbeatable foe. There is hope in what we have accomplished, something I do not believe this galaxy has known since the Lanteans left.”
“On the contrary,” Metra said somberly, “we have only known hope since we came here, to this planet, and isolated ourselves. Twenty years ago, we were nearly wiped out in a culling that was clearly a punishment not just for our advancements, but for sharing those advancements with others. We were given up to the Wraith by people we once called friends, and we are not about to make that mistake again.”
“Not all alliances come with betrayal,” Teyla argued.
“The Genii have been so trustworthy, then? They are a people you would have at your back in a fight at all times?”
Teyla paused, then smiled softly. “The Genii have proven themselves several times over the last year. Right now…I trust them more than I do you.”
Metra smiled mockingly at that. “Regardless, the point is, we do not need or want any alliances—not with you, not with anyone. From our perspective, the only thing you have to offer is your ship and your scientist. Now,” she inclined her head, “you have heard our terms, and it is obviously a generous offer.”
“It is not generous if it means leaving one of our people behind. I already warned you, Metra, that we can not just agree to such a term, but if we could agree to a sharing of our respective scien—“
“I repeat, isolation has worked very well for us for the last twenty years—we have no reason to change. There is nothing you have other than what we can take right now.”
“In other words, you will not negotiate further.”
Metra inclined her head. “Correct. We have agreed that you may keep your weapons, and we have agreed that you, Specialist Dex,” Metra’s eyes flickered to the Satedan, still standing quietly by Teyla’s back, “and your pilot, this John Sheppard, may leave unharmed. In return, we will keep the ship, Doctor McKay, and you will give your word that your people will never attempt to attack us again.”
“That is not reasonable.”
“We do not need to be reasonable. Again, what you have seen is only one part of our defensive and offensive capabilities—if you try anything, either now or in the future, to stop us from getting what we want, you will fail. Should you attempt to take your scientist and this ship back, for example—you will not succeed.”
Teyla gave a wry twist to her lips, eyes dropping to the sand beneath their feet, then lifted them again.
“I need a moment to confer with the others on board. I assume you will grant us this moment of privacy?”
Metra nodded, holding up the radio she had confiscated from Teyla. Commander Cray held the other. Both made a show of turning them “off.”
Teyla nodded, and walked several feet away, towards where she knew the Jumper was hidden. Ronon moved with her. When her foot tapped hard metal—meaning she had reached the end of the ramp, she looked up at Ronon and hit her radio.
“Colonel,” she called softly.
“I heard everything,” John replied from only a couple feet away. “These people are seriously beginning to piss me off." He sighed. "Just hang on—we're close. Pretend you are providing me with the details of what you’ve just gone over.”
Teyla nodded, and proceeded to describe the deal they had been offered over the "radio", and some of the terms.
“Is it done?” Sheppard whispered, moving back into the forward compartment. Rodney turned in the chair to peer up at him, blue eyes looking almost too soft to be his.
“It’s done,” he answered weakly, looking back down at his screen. “I’ve translated it into Ancient, and transferred it into the Jumper’s mainframe. We just need to tell the Jumper to send the data.”
“Good. Soon as I give the signal, tell the Jumper to send it.” He reached up to grab at the buckle for his sling, fighting with it. “But first, help me get this thing off.” It was said through gritted teeth—he had to mentally slam down the almost blinding agony that came with jarring the limb.
Rodney frowned, not missing the pain in the colonel’s voice, and looked up again. “What? Why?”
“Because if I’m going to fly this thing, I’m going to need both arms.”
“But…you can’t. The burns—you need to keep your left arm elevated above—“
“Rodney,” John looked directly at him, “I’ll make this simple. You can’t fly. You’re dizzy, you’ve called me ‘Major’ twice and called Ronon ‘Ford’ once, and, frankly, I’m not even sure you can see me clearly right now. Hell, you can’t even turn your head without turning two shades greener. There is no way I'm letting you fly this Jumper, especially not if Ronon or Teyla are going to be on the outside of this thing while we’re in the air. Now, my arm may hurt—it may hurt a lot—but I’m the only one who can fly this Jumper right now, and that means I need to get this sling off.” His eyes narrowed to slits. “Are you really going to argue with me about this?”
Rodney closed his eyes, then, with a hard swallow, admitted, “Clearly...no.”
“Then help me take this sling off, and then give me your jacket.”
With a grimace, Rodney stood up slowly, reaching for the buckles holding the sling in place. He was nearly finished with the clasps on the side when the second half of John’s sentence clicked in, and he frowned. Blue eyes shifted to John's face.
“Why do you need my jacket?”
“Because I have some things to say to these people and I’m not about to let them see my arm like this.”
Rodney grimaced—and, curiously, looked a little jealous. John smiled, mentally picturing a healthy Rodney laying into these people—it would be an evisceration—but, fact was, he was the only who hadn't had a chance to say something to the Kaveer. It was only fair that he have the last word—it was his turn.
And it was his people they had threatened.
Suddenly, his arm dropped down, released from the sling before he was ready for it. He hissed in a sharp breath at the searing spikes of pain all down the limb, catching it in his other hand before it fell too far. Forcing back the water in his eyes, he waited as Rodney shucked his jacket and then offered it to him like a tailor. Gingerly putting his left arm through the left sleeve, Sheppard looked out the back to focus on something else, anything else. He saw that Teyla and Ronon were still pretending to confer, and beyond, to where the Kaveer looked to be at the end of their patience.
He gritted his teeth—they weren't the only ones.
Rodney brushed some dust off the back when the jacket was finally on. “What if the shield doesn’t hold when I expand it around you guys?” he asked quietly, straightening the shoulders—a little broad on Sheppard, but then, Sheppard liked his clothes loose (and he was particularly grateful for it now). “They have a lot of firepower out there,” Rodney added, his voice quavering a little.
“But what if it doesn’t?”
“Then get the hell out of here.”
Rodney pressed his lips together tightly, obviously not going to answer that. Sheppard knew that meant he wouldn’t leave. Still, it was worth a shot. McKay stepped back as Sheppard tugged the left sleeve of Rodney’s jacket down a little more. Rodney then came around the front and zipped it up, since Sheppard’s left hand still didn’t seem to want to do more than wriggle a little.
“Thanks,” John said quietly. Rodney just gave a nod.
“You’re all set, though it’s odd to see you in blue.” He smiled crookedly, “Sort of like seeing clothes on pets—it's just wrong.”
Sheppard tried to give him a dark look, but ended up with a crooked smile, so he ducked his head to hide it. He could see Rodney smiling smugly out of the corner of his eye. Checking his weapon, John drew in a deep breath and looked up, eyes finding the Kaveer. The smile disappeared. He patted Rodney absently on the shoulder, and walked past the scientist to the back hatch.
Rodney walked into the forward compartment, typed a few commands on the unbroken right side of the console, closed his eyes for a second with his hand on the console…then turned to watch.
Teyla and Ronon didn’t react as the Jumper appeared out of nowhere, and John strode down the ramp towards them in Rodney’s jacket, every inch the officer he was. His head was raised, dark eyes zeroed in on the leader of the Kaveer. Teyla and Ronon stepped to each side as he centered himself between them on the bottom of the ramp. They stepped up to stand on the metal on either side.
Metra’s mouth had fallen agape at the sudden appearance, obviously not aware that the Jumper was quite that close, but she shut it when she found herself the focus of his intense gaze.
“You are the pilot,” she said, “John Sheppard. I am—”
“I know who you are,” John said, his eyes narrowing. “You’re the leader of this sorry excuse of a people. Teyla has said she offered you an alliance. She was being too kind. Me, I would never have proposed or accepted an alliance with anyone as contemptible as you.”
“Contemptible!” Metra snorted, “How dare—“
“Shut up,” John snapped. “You no longer have the right to talk. You lost that right the moment you turned a gun on my people. Now,” he tilted his head, “I am here to tell you what the final deal is, and this one is not up for negotiation.”
Metra sneered, “Please, who do you think you—“
“As of this moment, you are shut down. You will not commit theft or burglary, you will not threaten anyone, or kidnap or torture anyone ever again. You are not to speak to any of our people or our friends unless they approach you first. And if we, or any of our allies, ever hear that you have violated these rules, we will return to this planet to destroy you.”
“Destroy us?” Metra jeered. “How could—“
“This ship is the smallest in our fleet, Metra. Believe me, between the Hive ships we’ve captured and our own vessels…you wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“Your fleet,” she repeated, brows drawn down, obviously not missing John’s shameless exaggeration about ‘hive ships we’ve captured’. “Even assuming that was true,” she sneered, the skepticism thick on her tongue, “I think you underestimate us, John Sheppard.”
“Oh, no, Metra, this whole time, it is you who have underestimated us. Unlike you, we really can kick your ass.”
Her eyes narrowed, “Our weapon—“
“Oh yes,” John smiled, “your precious weapon. Hey, McKay—you worried about their weapon?”
“Not anymore,” Rodney replied from inside.
“See, here’s the thing,” John returned his attention to Metra, “I wanted to destroy it, but McKay argued that, perhaps, you might someday be worthy of a weapon that powerful…so we’re leaving it be. That, and," he arched an eyebrow, "he was afraid to hurt innocent people. Personally, I don't think anyone that can allow kidnapping and torture is innocent, and I'd be happy to wipe you all from the face of this planet. But, unlike you, I can be reasonable. Still, I think you’ll find that using your weapon,” he gave a dark smile, “is going to be difficult for a while.”
Metra frowned, then looked at Commander Cray. He lifted his communicator watch to his lips, asking hurried questions over the link back to the people at the base.
“Now,” John continued, “if I were you, I’d back off, because when we leave, we’re not going to care if we hit any of you on the way up.” He looked at the two people with him, “Teyla? Ronon? Time to go.” On cue, Teyla and Ronon walked up the ramp into the Jumper.
“You won’t make it off this planet!” Metra snapped at John’s retreating back as he made to follow. “Did you forget the shield over the Gate?”
John turned, looking at her over his shoulder, while Teyla and Ronon stood inside the shadowed interior, dark knights to his still sun drenched king.
“If I were you,” he offered darkly, “I would not make any more threats you can’t follow through on. We have not taken away all of your defenses, but it would be easy for us to do so. Right now—be glad we’re letting you off as easily as this. I wanted to fire a drone into the earth’s core—I wonder how long you would last with this world exploding around your ears?” He finished his statement by reaching over and hit the lever for the hatch.
Metra came alive then, finally seeing that they were getting ready to leave. “No, wait!” She stepped back into the protection of her soldiers, pointing at the ship with a long nailed finger. “Stop them! Kill them! Don’t let them leave with that ship!”
Gunfire and stunner fire erupted in the clearing, and glanced harmlessly off the Jumper’s shield. John just watched it happen, smiling coldly at Metra the whole time until the back hatch closed.
A minute, the Jumper was in the air, both engine pods flaring up with a blast of hot air, the heat impressionable even against the desert heat. It swiveled in the air, then bore down and skidded across the tops of the heads of the Kaveer, forcing them all to duck. Then it was up high, flying swiftly out of the canyon.
Metra shook her head, and pulled up her wrist communicator. “Fire the weapon!” she yelled. “Take them down! ” Her eyes followed the Jumper, the ship looking tiny now against the massive canyon walls, until it popped up and disappeared over the edge. It was only after it was out of sight, clearly on a bee-line towards the gate, that she realized someone was yelling at her over the communicator.
All the voice said was, “The weapon won’t fire! I repeat, the weapon won’t fire! We’re blocked out!”
Metra lowered her wrist, still staring at where the Jumper had disappeared. She could hear Cray ordering the soldiers at the Gate to fire with their standard weapons as soon as they saw the Lantean ship, but Metra was begin to wonder if…possibly…they might have made a mistake.
CHAPTER TWENTY: RIDING THE WIND
Ronon was laughing, standing just behind John while Rodney sat in the co-pilot’s chair and Teyla stood behind the scientist, holding on to the back of his seat. She was smiling, also amused by John forcing Metra and the other Kaveer to duck as they took off.
"Glad you liked that," John said, smiling wryly.
"I almost wish you had hit some of ‘em," Ronon replied, grinning now.
"Yeah, well," Sheppard banked them gently to the right to avoid a mesa, "it wasn’t entirely of my doing."
Ronon’s laugh faded, and Teyla looked over at the colonel. For the first time, she noticed the beads of sweat on his face.
"Colonel," she said, "are you all right?"
"Let’s just say," John took a breath, "that I’m glad flying the Jumper is mostly a mental exercise and not a physical one." He looked down at his left hand as he spoke, which was wrapped tightly around the scanner. It was trembling slightly. He was keeping the scanner about level with the right hand control, meaning he was standing bent over the pilot’s side of the console—he really wasn’t well enough to be standing for this long, Teyla thought, especially not in such an awkward position. A tiny shift in his left hand, and the Jumper banked back to the left. "Still," he continued, "I think I’m getting the hang of this now. Definitely easier than that hovercraft was—gotta love power steering." He tried a small smile, but Teyla wasn’t buying it.
"Shield strength is down," McKay said then, his voice sounding about as strong as tissue paper, "because of all the shots they fired at us. It’s down to eighteen percent from the twenty-five that Teyla boosted it to. Of course," he glanced at John, "if we had left a little sooner, like instead of you, say, standing there and taunting them the whole time the back hatch was closing, we might not have lost as much power."
John quirked a smile at the grumpy tone, banking the ship around a thin, finger-like monolith (he was staying as low to the ground as possible). "What are you trying to say, McKay?"
"Did you really have to stand there and smile that whole time while they shot at us?"
John’s smiled deepened as he glanced askance at Rodney, saying with total certainty, "Yes."
Rodney rolled his eyes and returned them to the console. "Idiot."
The Jumper shuddered suddenly, and everyone looked up, as if they could see the source. Rodney frowned and tapped a few things onto the console, then grimaced and reached over to the touch pad controlling the inertial dampeners. He proceeded to dial them down to low. Immediately, they could feel the increased pressure inside the ship.
"What did you do that for?" John asked, frowning.
"You have to go slower. Inertial dampener strength is fluctuating."
"I don’t know, just go slower." McKay rubbed at his head, "Speaking of problems, we need to tell them about that other problem. Won’t take long to reach the Gate."
"What problem?" Teyla asked.
"We can’t retract the left drive pod," John said.
"What?" Teyla looked confused, and glanced back at the still open control panels. Her eyes caught site of the darkened crystal stuck in on the left side. "Did you not replace the crystal?"
"It’s not the crystal," Rodney replied, still rubbing his head. "The panel is not connecting to the mechanism."
"But," Teyla was honestly confused now, "I checked the mechanism—it appeared intact. I thought it was just the power not reaching the—"
"Yes, well, you were wrong," Rodney snapped, not looking at her, keeping his eyes focused on the console. "The control link has been severed."
She came around the chair so she could see more of his face, and saw the blush on his cheeks even under the windburn. Her chest tightened as she understood what he wasn’t telling her.
"Was it my fault?" she asked softly.
Rodney glanced at her for only a second, then looked down at the console again, which gave Teyla the answer despite his next words. "No," he said. "It doesn’t matter. The problem is, the only way to retract it," he licked his lips and looked over at John, "is the manual lever on the outside of the craft."
Teyla’s eyes widened. She felt Ronon shift closer to her side, peering over her shoulder to see Rodney.
"What're you saying?" he asked, staring hard at McKay. "You sayin'…we have to climb outside of the ship?"
"That’s what he means," John answered. The colonel glanced at them. "Teyla, do you know where the lever mechanism is?"
Teyla was still trying to mentally figure out how this could have happened, and jumped a little at the sound of her name. "What?"
"You know where the lever is to retract the pod?"
"Oh," Teyla gave a hesitant nod. "Yes, but—"
"I’m going to get us high—out of range of their guns—and hover," John said, as if he hadn't heard her 'but'. "You, with Ronon to anchor you—are going to have to climb out onto the hull and…hang on. Rodney says the shield should protect you from the worst of the wind, but you’ll still feel it, and the changing pressure when we dive down. It also won't stop you from falling. I'll try to go as slow as the Jumper'll let me, but it's acting...." He looked down at the console, "It's not so easy to control right now. Just, when I tell you over the radio to hit the lever, you need to retract the pod then jump off before we go through the wormhole—then follow on foot."
"How do I anchor her?" Ronon asked. Teyla glanced at him, amazed that the Satedan wasn’t even questioning the insanity of the idea of working on the ship while in mid-air.
"We don’t have a space suit in back," John replied, "but we have a couple of those transportable magnetic grips that are supposed to be used in anti-gravity situations. They look like palm-sized Frisbees with handles on them. You attach one of ‘em to the top of the Jumper, then stay up there while Teyla climbs down the side. Teyla can then use the other one on the side."
"Frisbees?" Ronon repeated.
"They’re small metal discs," Rodney clarified, "with plastic handle-grips on the back. There’s a button on the handle that turns the magnet on and off."
Ronon nodded, getting the idea. "Where are they?"
"Should be where we normally store the suit," Rodney said, turning a little in his seat to look at the rear. Ronon nodded and went into the back. Teyla stayed where she was, still not sure she could do this. Her uncertainty must have shown on her face, because Rodney was frowning at her now.
Then, oddly, he gave her a soft smile.
"You can do this," he assured quietly.
He said it exactly the same way Teyla had said the same to him so many times, most recently in the engine room of that broken hovercraft. Oddly, it made her more confident—and she gave him a nod.
"Now," Rodney said, looking again to the back where Ronon was pulling down rope as well from the overhead bins, "here's the way this will work. We’ll only partially open the hatch, then Ronon can climb up and onto the top of the Jumper—"
"It’d be easier to climb onto the side then up," Ronon noted, looking back at him. "There's that pretty wide space between the ship and engines when fully open, that platform thing, and then those grooves on the hull would work nice as a ladder."
"No," McKay said, a touch angrily. "Don't even think about getting anywhere near the back or inside of the engine pods. They are incredibly hot—bone melting hot. You climb out the side, you’ll lose body parts. Only safe way to approach them is from the top and the front—no heat gets vented that way. The lever is near the front of the pod just for that reason."
Ronon's eyebrows arched at that. "Good to know."
"Right. Now," Rodney expelled a heavy breath, "once you're both up top," he pointed up at the ceiling, "Teyla climbs down the side and into the front of the open drive pod, to the platform. There's a tiny gap, about twelve inches wide before the actual engine starts. You should be able to...sort of," he waggled the fingers on his left hand, "perch on it. But, Teyla, you know the pod will retract incredibly fast once you pull the lever." He gave her a pained look. "You'll have to get up out of it really, really quickly, or it'll crush you."
Teyla let out a heavy breath, her arms wrapped tightly around herself. Instead of answering, she turned to watch Ronon as he tied the rope around his waist, the Satedan creating a rather impressive looking knot that might have been a slipknot. Pursing her lips, she lowered her gaze, then returned her attention to the front...and saw that Rodney had taken advantage of her distraction to shut his eyes tightly and lower his head, pinching the bridge of his nose with the fingers of his left hand. His right hand was lying listless in his lap. Had it moved at all?
Teyla frowned, and glanced at John. The colonel's jaw was tightly held, his eyes focused only on the desert they were flying over and around. There were dark spots on his left shoulder and upper back showing through the jacket, and he was sweating enough to stain the top of the jacket’s collar.
That's it, she thought, her eyes narrowing in determination. Enough dithering.
"All right," she said suddenly, turning and striding back to Ronon. "We’ll take care of it." She glanced back at Rodney when Ronon handed her one end of the rope. "Will the shield prevent us from jumping off the ship?"
"No," Rodney said, lifting his head up, blinking quickly as if just waking up. "The shield is smart. When the shield detects something on the inside trying to get out—such as the two of you jumping off the hull—it will instantly shut down for as long as it takes to let that thing out. It’s a bit like the old Red Baron—the propeller looked like it was one solid circle when it was in the air," he twirled his index finger on his left hand in a circle as he spoke, "but they could shoot bullets from a machine gun through it."
"That was because of timing with the gaps between the propeller blades," John noted absently, "not because the propeller stopped working every time the gun was fired."
"It was just an analogy!" Rodney huffed.
"Not a very good one. Besides, it’s not one they can understand."
"Oh, so, what, you’re the only one who can come up with analogies?"
"Apparently. At least my analogies make sense."
"It was a perfectly good—"
"Rodney? Colonel?" Teyla called, finishing tying the knots on the rope around her waist. The other end was attached to Ronon and, beyond him, to one of the two magnetic grips he’d found. It was currently hanging loosely from his waist. He handed her the other and she tied it to the tail end of the rope so that it was attached to her waist. "We’re ready."
"You’re wearing a radio, right?" John asked, glancing back at her. "Because you won’t be able to hear…" he trailed off when he saw her tapping the earpiece she had obviously already put on. Ronon had lifted his dreads to show he had his on still.
"Good," John said, turning his attention back to the front. The Gate finally came into view as he circled them around one last mesa. There were several dozen Kaveeran soldiers on the ground around it, all with guns and rocket launchers pointed at the Jumper. He sighed a little. "Shield should protect you from their weapons as well," he said. He lifted the ship higher…and then set them to hover about a mile away from the Gate—well out of range.
"So long as it holds," Rodney muttered quietly to himself. He turned and hit a few pads on the console in front of him, then turned and watched as the back hatch opened about halfway. Like a monkey, Ronon climbed up, then turned and pulled himself up onto the roof.
They heard some banging overhead as he obviously shifted forward, then it stopped. For a brief second, Teyla had the horrible image of Ronon plummeting off the side of the ship, having slipped, and they would never have even seen it happen. Only the rope dangling down and connected to her waist told her he was still up there. She gripped her hands into fists…then felt the tug on the rope at her waist.
Time to save the day.
Despite being told the shield would protect them from the worst of the wind and air pressure, it was not a solid barrier. The shield had to be porous to let air circulate inside, something Teyla immediately felt when the chill of the high altitude hit her bare arms. Gritting her teeth, she pulled herself up onto the metal, grooved roof, refusing to let a little cold bother her. Ronon was lying on his stomach near the front, and was twisted around so that he could see her. His right hand appeared to be gripping one of magnets, which he had attached to the roof, and the other was pulling on the rope attached to her.
She got to her feet, trying not to look down at the world hundreds of feet below, and gingerly made her way towards him, her feet sliding along inside the long grooves on the roof.
"I’ve got you," Ronon promised as she reached his side, Teyla kneeling down so she could hear him better. He was staring up at her, his eyes fearless. "I won’t let you fall."
She nodded, knowing that he would do everything in his power to keep that promise.
"Thank you," she said, meaning it sincerely.
As carefully as she could, she turned and moved over to the left side of the Jumper's roof. With her heart in her throat, she peered over the edge, forcing her eyes to only look at the drive pod about ten feet below to avoid getting vertigo. She then shifted forward on the roof so that she was about level with the front of it, and knelt down.
A soft puff of wind caught her in the face, and she froze, waiting for it to die down again before she moved. Taking in a deep breath, she pivoted around, so that she was facing Ronon and her back was to the sky, and with the mental image of a ladder in her head, stuck out her right foot.
It met nothing but air.
Bringing it in closer in, her toes searched until she caught the edge of the first groove on the side of the Jumper.
Without taking her eyes off of Ronon, she put her weight on it…and started to lower herself down.
She then did the same with the left foot.
It got easier after that. The regular sized distances between the grooves became known to her feet, and, luckily, the grooves were deep enough to give her a good grip. She shook a little when she dropped low enough that she couldn’t see Ronon anymore, but she didn’t stop.
Just like climbing down a steep rock, she told herself, or a vertical ladder.
You are not, she added, clinging to the side of a spaceship in mid-air.
Ancestors help me.
Pulling in another breath, she finally reached the front of the drive pod. When it was open like this, a portion of the hull was extended out like a cupped hand, and the main engine extended up out of it. There was a small space, about a foot long, between the front where the hull extended out, and the engine itself. Rather than climbing down onto the platform, as Rodney had suggested, she stepped out so that she ended up straddling the space—one foot on the side of the ship, one foot on the outer edge of the expanded hull. It was the only way she could think of to give her the means to jump out quickly enough. But...could she reach?
Carefully, she crouched down as low as she could, imagining herself bending like a spider. The mechanism to retract the pod was located about six inches above and in front of the pod—a simple lever hidden behind a small door that Doctor Zelenka had once described to her as being like a petrol cap cover on a car. Someday, she was going to understand what they were all talking about when they said things like that.
With her right hand, she attached the magnetic grip to the hull not far from the lever’s hiding place, and felt marginally better when it held. Her knuckles quickly turned white from holding onto it too tightly. With her left hand, she reached forward and opened the small door, revealing the lever. Her hand hovered over it for a second—then retreated. She had the reach—she could do this.
Ignoring the shake from adrenaline that caused her left hand to tremble, she reached up and tapped the radio in her ear.
"Okay," she said. "I am here. Just tell me when."
"Right," John replied, sounding calm and determined over the radio. "Hang on."
"Hanging on," she replied.
And the Jumper moved.
The wind was painful. Teyla found herself trying to get closer to the hull, both arms pressing towards the metal and ducking her head down. If this was what it was like when there was a shield…she prayed that it didn’t fail.
Blinking, she watched as the ground below her got closer and closer, until they could only have been about twenty feet above the ground. It flew past in a blur of red and orange. John was obviously trying to do as little maneuvering as possible, but when the gunfire started—he started to swing them a little.
Her hold on the magnetic grip tightened so much, her fingers began to hurt. Her feet pressed tighter into the metal grooves she had found, suddenly fearful of losing either one or the other and then falling backwards…right into the engine.
All it would take was one little slip…
She gritted her teeth and forced her head up a little, trying to see the Stargate.
She screamed suddenly as light exploded just inches away, and a blast of hot air lashed her arms and face.
Rocket launcher, she realized. It had hit the shield and exploded just next to her! The shield could not take many of those. What had Rodney said—eighteen percent? It had to be less than that now.
The gunfire got louder, and she felt the Jumper slow down and start to swing more from side to side. Missiles shot past the hull, barely missing them. Still, they were finally going slow enough that she could lift her head fully.
And she saw bolts of red light shooting into the Kaveeran soldiers. Ronon! He must be firing on the Kaveer from above. Apparently, he took Rodney’s obscure story about the Red Baron to heart.
For a brief second, she considered trying to help—she had her 9MM strapped to her thigh—but then another blast of wind caused her to teeter a little and she decided that holding on was really all she could manage right now.
Her eyes were attracted to the Stargate then, as she recognized that the chevrons were lighting up around the ring. She pressed tighter to the hull and bit her bottom lip, watching as the wormhole formed…
Relief flooded through her when no shield appeared.
She could only imagine the grin on Rodney’s face at that one!
Smiling a little, she leaned out a little more because there were only a couple hundred yards away now…
The soldiers continued to fire, getting more desperate the closer they got. She saw another rocket launcher fire, the arc aiming straight for the Jumper...no, she realized, for Ronon. She watched it disappear from view up high, and, with a blast of light, obviously hit the shield over Ronon's position, erupting in a muffled explosion.
And then, like dam had broken, she was hit full in the face with the force of the wind. She shrieked, her voice lost as the wind roared around her. One of her feet slipped, but she managed to hang on, pulling the shaking foot back in place before it touched the exposed coils.
Gunfire pelted the side of the Jumper, and she ducked, amazed that she hadn't been hit. Looking to her left, she gasped a little at how close she was to the soldiers. The Kaveer could not possibly miss hitting—
A streak of yellow shot forward from the Jumper, aiming directly for the line of soldiers closest to Teyla. Not as foolish as before, the Kaveer saw the drone and ran for their lives. The drone—the only one in John's arsenal—exploded against the ground just inches from the line of running men and women, blasting at least ten soldiers who weren’t quick enough into the air.
And that’s when she realized she could hear John yelling over the radio, "NOW! TELYA, NOW!"
With a mental shake, she reached forward and grabbed the lever. The wind was fiercer now, and she was being buffeted from all sides—it was if John couldn't slow the ship down any more. Her fingers wrapped around the cold metal...and she pulled.
With a groan of metal and a hiss, the engine died instantly, folding down into the extended hull and the pod retracted. Letting go the magnetic grip, she leapt upwards to flatten herself against the upper part of the Jumper, pulling up with her arms and tucking her feet as high as she could as the pod disappeared into the side with an audible click. Looking forward then, her eyes widened at the sight of the wormhole only yards away.
Fear lit through her like a flame, and she let go...and fell backwards. She could only hope Ronon was jumping as well.
She hit the ground with painful, bone-jarring force—she had been unable to prepare for the fall. It felt like she had loosened ever tooth in her mouth as momentum rolled her across the harsh, hard crust like tumbleweed, and she felt the stickiness of blood on her arms where the rough ground cut at her.
Finally, she stopped, and, shaking violently, she tried to push herself up, to get herself to the Gate. All she could manage to do was lift her head.
And smile as the Jumper disappeared into the event horizon.
They made it.
And then something hit her hard in the back, and the whole world went black.
The Jumper skidded to a halt in the Gateroom; John and Rodney were flung harshly forward without inertial dampeners to cushion the hard stop.
Gasping in pain, John collapsed to his knees, and peered through the broken windshield at the beautiful steps rising before him—thank God.
"John!" Elizabeth’s voice called out through the Jumper’s communications array, "What…?"
"Don’t raise the shield!" he yelled, feeling the ship starting to lift up. "Teyla and Ronon are right behind us!"
"They’re on foot!" he explained. "Raise the shield as soon as they’re through. And have medical teams in both locations!" The Jumper began to turn around automatically, sweeping them up towards the control room so that they could see Elizabeth’s worried face where she leaned over a balcony. Her eyes obviously widened at sight of the broken windshield, then at the two bedraggled men visible behind it.
Something exploded against the back hatch, and, though John couldn’t see it—he guessed it was one of the Kaveer’s weapons that caused it, again, probably the rocket launcher.
The Jumper finally turned all the way around, and he could see the Gate…just as a very bloody Ronon staggered through with Teyla in his arms.
"Shield!" the Satedan yelled, falling to his knees and gripping his burden tightly to his chest. "And I need a medical team! She’s been shot!"
"Raise the shield!" Elizabeth ordered, probably already running down the steps to the Gateroom floor. "Medical teams to the Gateroom and the Jumper Bay. Now!"
John closed his eyes and lowered his head against the half broken console as Carson’s brogue filled the radio, demanding more information. Elizabeth answered that Teyla had been shot, Ronon was covered in blood, that John looked ill and Rodney was unconscious.
He wanted to help explain as the Jumper continued its gentle rise, to say that Rodney’d cracked his skull and that he’d burned his arm and shoulder…but he was so tired.
The scanner dropped from his limp left hand, clattering on the metal floor. Tilting his head sideways on the console, he looked to his right, and blinked tiredly at Rodney. The scientist was leaning back in the co-pilot's seat, his head turned away from John, so that all he could see was the back of Rodney’s head and the sharp curve of his jaw. Rodney had been awake going through the wormhole, but John could tell he wasn’t now. Rodney’s arms were loose, dangling limply from his sides, fingers still. He looked asleep.
No. He looked dead.
Frowning, John somehow managed to get to his feet.
"Rodney?" he called, staggering the two steps to his friend’s chair. "McKay?"
He turned the chair towards him—Rodney showed no reaction. His eyes were closed, his face a deathly white, even his lips were pale. Frowning again, John reached out to touch McKay’s neck with shaking fingers.
And felt nothing.
Fear exploded through him as he felt the Jumper finally set down, meaning it had landed up in the Bay. He turned and hit the control to lower the back hatch and screamed out the one name he most needed right now.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE: FLOATING ON THE WATER ONCE MORE
Things became a bit blurry for John after that. The rear hatch opened and people swarmed inside, asking questions and generally overwhelming him. He tried to answer, but until Carson stood right in front of him, shouting his name, he was pretty sure he wasn’t making sense.
Carson ran inside, and almost took a header over a loose chair thrown to the side in the back of the Jumper. What the hell? Maria helped him up, then she was past him, moving into the front with Carson limping quickly to catch up—that was going to leave a vivid bruise on his shin tomorrow. He felt more than saw Doctor Cole on his heels, bringing up the rear with medical supplies and the other medical personnel.
John was on his feet, looking pale and stricken, eyes wild as he tried to back away from the onslaught of bodies. Beckett stopped when he saw the mess of the front console and the huge hole in the windshield (and the lack of a pilot's chair—so that's what it was), then turned worried eyes on John as Doctor Cole bent to look at Rodney.
"He was alive before we came through," John was saying to Maria, who was trying to get him to sit on the console, but the colonel's gaze was fixed on Rodney. "He was talking to me as we hit the wormhole, I’m sure of it. He was just talking to me!"
Beckett turned his eyes, to see Doctor Cole pressing her hands to Rodney’s neck, her features grim. She looked up at Carson with a slightly uncertain look, but gave a nod. Carson let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
"He’s not dead," she said, looking up at John now. "There’s a pulse."
"But…but…" John seemed genuinely confused, "I…"
"Colonel," Carson moved to stand before John, displacing Maria. "Colonel!" he said again, when John still didn’t seem capable of looking at him directly. The shouted rank got John’s attention, and pain-filled hazel eyes finally focused on him. Beckett frowned at the sheen of sweat on the man's face—he could feel the heat of a fever from here.
"Can you tell me what happened? What’s wrong with Rodney, and what’s wrong with you?"
"Me? No, Rodney…Rodney hit his head. Twice. Hard." The colonel tried to see around Beckett as medical personnel picked Rodney up out of the chair and towards a waiting gurney. "He was dizzy, agitated—more than normal, he snapped at Teyla—and he fainted twice. His right hand showed signs of weakness. Oh, and he vomited several times—maybe four, five times in three hours? I thought…he’s not dead? But, there was no pulse—"
"There was, son," Carson soothed, reaching to rest a comforting hand on John’s left arm. "You just didn’t feel it. You made a hasty conclusion. He’ll be fine, just—"
He was unprepared for the shout of agony at the touch on John’s arm, and his eyes focused on the limb, instantly spotting the spots of blood. His eyes widened.
"What the hell?"
"Burned," John gasped, pulling the arm away and leaning over, bent at the stomach. "Badly. I can’t…can’t…." It seemed to break the camel’s back, because the colonel suddenly tipped the rest of the way forward. Carson barely caught him, one arm around the colonel’s chest, John's head and left arm hanging over Beckett’s right arm. It gave the physician his first view of the blood spotted left shoulder, and grimaced. His balance started to falter, so he turned and yelled for help. Maria and Sergeant Greene dove in to gently pull John from him.
"Careful of his left arm and back, and cut that jacket off!" Carson paused a second when he realized the jacket had blue panels instead of black…what was John doing wearing Rodney’s jacket? He looked out the back, just in time to see Rodney already being wheeled out of the Jumper Bay by Doctor Cole. He hit his radio—Morrison was their only fully qualified neurosurgeon.
"Doctor Morrison, Rodney’s on his way down to you. I want a full CT scan of his head—it could just be a concussion, but from what Colonel Sheppard just told me, it sounds likely that there’s a bleeder. Doctor Cole, make sure you check him for other injuries as well, and check his vitals—The colonel said he'd vomited a few times." He drew in a breath. "I’m on my way with the Colonel. He said something about bad burns on his left arm—Keller, you have experience, right?"
"Yes, sir," the woman replied over the radio.
"Good, because, based on all the blood I can see, he's losing fluids rapidly. He's also showing signs of an infection—he's feverish."
"Understood. I’ll get everything ready."
He jogged out of the Jumper to catch up with his team as they started wheeling the Colonel away. He grabbed the side of the gurney, and frowned at the egg-shaped purple bruise on John’s forehead, then tapped his radio again.
"Morrison, the colonel gets the scan after Rodney." He pulled in a breath, jogging with the gurney towards the infirmary transporter. "Biro, Jackson, Lu, what’s the story on Ronon and Teyla?"
"Teyla has sustained a gunshot wound in the lower right quadrant of her back," Biro replied efficiently. "She also has minor bruising on her head and multiple cuts and lacerations on her arms, although they appear superficial. Lu has gone ahead to prep a room for surgery, to remove the bullet."
Carson grimaced, "Blood loss?"
"Not much, sir. It apparently happened just moments before she and Ronon came through the Stargate. We’ll know more once we run tests and get her into the OR. She woke up briefly when we got her up on the gurney, but she is unconscious again now."
"What about Ronon?" They had reached the transporter, and had to wait a second as Rodney was transported first. The doors opened and they wheeled John inside.
"A twisted ankle, at the very least," Nathan was the one who answered this time. "Cuts, bruises and a first degree burn that looks like he was near an explosion. The blood he's sporting does not appear to be his, though. It's likely Teyla's." He sounded a little aggravated by something. Carson could easily guess what, if Ronon was awake while all his teammates weren’t. As if on cue, Nathan confirmed his thoughts. "He’s awake and very agitated about the rest of his…Yes, I’m talking to Doctor Beckett, I…what? No, just tell me and I’ll…Hey!"
"Beckett!" Ronon’s voice was tight and angry over the medical channel, and Beckett smiled dryly. "McKay and Sheppard?"
"I’ll know more once we’re in the infirmary, Ronon. And I’ll see you there in a few ticks as well, alright? Just let Doctor Jackson take care of you, and give the man back his radio."
"No, you need to know—Teyla got a knock on her head at one point, though I don't think she fell unconscious or anything. And McKay was tortured with some sort of electric shock. He was still feeling it when the Jumper was hit and he knocked his head that second time. You know that he knocked it twice, right?"
Beckett breathed out slowly at the barbaric thought—electric shock—good Lord. Swallowing, he tapped his radio. "Cole, Morrison," he barked, "You hear that?"
"Yes, sir," Cole answered, and Morrison grumped an affirmative as well, finishing it with, "sick bastards. Could complicate matters."
Beckett didn't disagree—hopefully the CT Scan would show more.
"Ronon," Beckett called, "Anything else?"
"Think that's it," Ronon replied.
"Okay, son, give the radio back. I'll see you in a minute."
"I’ll see you there," Ronon acquiesced unhappily.
"Sir?" Nathan sounded worried, obviously back in control of his radio.
"Oh, nothing. Just checking. ETA two minutes, sir." He meant it as a warning. Carson shook his head as his team slid the colonel’s gurney through the main doors of the infirmary.
Ronon hated being the only one awake. He hated it almost as much as being told to sit back down every time he stood up. As if he weren’t embarrassed enough by the fact that he had twisted his ankle jumping off the roof of the Jumper—that blonde doctor had insisted on wrapping it and keeping him confined to a bed until they had the personnel to spare to give him an X-Ray. She had said he was nicer than McKay, but that did little to mollify him. She just didn’t know him well enough.
He looked at his right arm, which had red streaks down it. The Kaveer missile that had knocked out the shield had exploded just to his right. Most of it was absorbed by the shield just before it cut out, but he had felt the heat blast. His skin had apparently felt it enough to burn through his clothes. Great.
He pressed fingers to it, then lifted off, watching as the finger shaped white marks faded slowly against the dark red skin.
Like the cuts from the cactus plant he’d landed on, it would heal. Everything would heal.
He’d be fine.
But he hadn’t been able to stop the others from getting hurt. Hadn’t stopped Teyla from being shot. Or Sheppard or McKay from….
He sighed and gripped hands into fists, gaze turning to take in the rest of the infirmary, where the rest of his team were. There was a lot of running around, and Carson had disappeared to perform the surgery on Teyla. He promised to come talk to him as soon as he knew anything, but that didn’t make the frustrated warrior feel any better.
He hated waiting. He was bad at it. He needed to be moving!
He went to push off the bed again, but, almost as if she had seen it coming, the blonde doctor was at his side, glaring at him. She could not have been an inch over five foot four, giving Ronon a large height advantage, and her limbs looked as strong as twigs. And yet, for some reason, he found himself retreating from the power of her stare.
"I will restrain you, if necessary," she snarled. "Don’t push me."
Ronon growled, but settled back down. She gave a sharp nod, then walked away briskly. For a brief moment, he was reminded of the way Melena could put him in his place like that. A familiar pain filled his chest, and he rubbed at it. Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back against the pillow.
He had lost Melena. And then he had spent seven years alone.
He might as well have been dead. At times, he had felt dead—his body just hadn't stopped running yet.
Having these people in his life...they had given him his life back. He could not lose them. Not now. Not so soon!
He opened his eyes at the soft voice, recognizing the tightly controlled tone despite the gentle cadence instantly. He tipped his head to the left and looked at Elizabeth. She smiled.
"Hi," she greeted.
"Hi," he answered, frowning a little. "You want to know what happened?" he guessed. She gave a nod.
"If you are feeling up to it. I…" she looked into the depths of the infirmary, at all the white clad figures running around, then back to the Satedan. "I wanted to try to give you all some space, but," she gave a head shake, "waiting is not my strong suit."
He actually quirked a smile at that. "Yeah."
She gave a grateful nod, then tilted her head. "So…what did happen?"
He gave a heavy sigh. He hated talking to Weir. It wasn't her fault—he just always felt like she was interrogating him when she spoke to him. "Starting when?"
"From after Major Lorne made it through the Stargate with Connam, the other kidnapped scientists, and Connam’s truck."
Ronon nodded, pulled in a deep breath, and started to talk.
He was grateful when Weir, for once, did not interrupt. It was probably the most he had ever said to her in one sitting.
Teyla was the first to wake, and actually felt fairly strong despite being told she had been shot twelve hours previously. Several people, a tired Carson included, expressed the sentiment that she had been very lucky. She just arched her eyebrows, smiled at them, and thought it probably would have been luckier not to have been shot, but perhaps she was misunderstanding them.
She was placed next to Ronon, and she smiled over at her friend, who, when she first saw him, had been looking extremely bored. He grinned back, his face open and almost innocent, not hiding how glad he was to finally have company. She wondered if he knew how much it lit up his face when he did that. He became almost a different person, one she felt only she, Rodney, John and Carson had ever seen.
Still, after speaking with Elizabeth—who quizzed her a little more on her personal opinions concerning the Kaveer— then chatting with Ronon, and several more naps, she found herself growing increasingly anxious when the twenty-four hour mark finally passed with no new news on either John or Rodney.
She found herself plucking at her bed covers and wanting to pull her knees up to wrap her arms around them—except, of course, for the fact that she couldn’t without pulling the stitches in her back. It was simply not comfortable for her to just sit with her legs outstretched.
She curled her toes and tapped her feet a couple times.
Right after she had woken, Carson had briefed her and Ronon on John’s condition. Second degree burns, as she had thought, localized on his upper left arm, left upper shoulder and part of the scapula. They had cleaned the burns and taken steps to debride the skin. He had apparently been suffering from the first stages of an infection when he came through, and they were taking steps to get rid of it. He had also been fairly badly dehydrated, and they were waiting to stabilize him before they could operate.
The word "operate" had caused both she and Ronon to straighten a little, but Carson waved them down, explaining that, due to the severity of the burns on his upper arm, they were going to use a skin graft to stimulate healing.
They had taken John into surgery not long after that. When Carson saw them again, looking even more tired than before, he had been all smiles. The prognosis, at least at that time, had been good, but they wanted to keep John isolated until they were sure the risk of infection had lessened.
John was going to hate that, Teyla mused, sinking back into her own bed. But at least she knew that he was alive and that, at least, in the few hours since Carson had delivered that news, he appeared to be improving.
But on Rodney…there was still no news.
Twenty four hours had passed. All she knew was that Rodney was unconscious and unresponsive.
Carson had explained that Morrison had found a subdural hematoma in Rodney's scan, but it had not been large. There had also been some obvious swelling, which they were reducing with medication. In other words—they had not needed to perform surgery. Still, John had been right—Rodney had had all the signs of a traumatic brain injury. With the two knocks to the head, particularly a second so soon after the first, it was a logical conclusion. Thing was, Rodney had also been suffering from being badly dehydrated—mainly from all the vomiting—and his blood sugar and electrolytes were scarily uneven—he had been, in fact, hypoglycemic. That, too, could also cause the symptoms John had described. Then there were the aftereffects of the electric shock—yet another potential source of a number of the symptoms, such as the trembling hand. They had found contact burns on Rodney's right shoulder—perhaps where he had been touched with the torture device?
It was, to put it mildly, a cascade of problems, all of which, separately, could have caused the downward spiral Rodney had exhibited on the planet. How much was damage to his muscles, how much was damage to his brain, and how much a blood-sugar problem, however, was a question they did not have the answer to. They were treating each one as best they could, but...
Well, until he woke up, they just would not know how well he would recover. Their main reason for hope was that Rodney had been conscious, mostly, and working right up until the point he fell unconscious. None of them had mentioned any evidence of slurred speech just slower speech, so...cognitive functions had been good. That was something.
All they could do, Carson said, was wait.
Teyla had smiled wryly when, at that news, Ronon had repeated, for what had to have been the third time since she had been placed next to him, that he "hated waiting."
She did not blame him.
She looked up at the clock again. Carson had told them about Rodney's condition twelve hours ago.
And nothing had changed since then.
Yes, she thought, she too hated waiting.
Teyla was not sure how much later it was when she woke again, but it was to find the infirmary darkened for night. She tipped her head to the right, seeking out Ronon, and frowned when she saw the bed was empty.
A soft sigh from down near her feet had her lifting her head up, and she spotted Radek sitting in a chair down by her legs. He was sitting forward, elbows on his legs, and his head lowered, as if he found something fascinating about the floor.
"Radek?" she called softly, grimacing a little at how dry her throat felt. He looked up at her voice, and his smile was amazing. She couldn't help but smile back. Fumbling a little, she found the controls for her bed by her hand and propped it up so she could see him better.
Zelenka popped up from his chair, going for the nightstand where a jug of water and a cup was sitting. He quickly poured a small amount and handed it to her.
"Carson said I could give you a little water when you woke," he said, still smiling. She took it gratefully, downing it slowly as she studied the scientist. He wiped down his hands on his trousers as she finished the small amount of liquid, then he took the cup back from her with a smile.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"Surprisingly well," she said. Her eyes shifted to Ronon's empty bed. "Where is Ronon?"
"He has been discharged. He went back to his quarters for a shower, but he'll be back. He asked me to keep you and Rodney company until he returned."
Teyla's eyes widened at the added name, and she shifted, turning her head to the left. Sure enough, Rodney was lying in the next bed, looking too still but definitely there. He was connected to several monitors, but it was clear he was breathing on his own, which had to be a good sign. She grinned, looking back at Radek. Her smile fell when she saw that he wasn't smiling as she was. She swallowed, feeling the dryness returning already.
"He hasn't woken?" she guessed.
"No," Radek frowned. "Not yet. They put him here so you and others could talk to him, and I did for a while. He showed no signs..." he trailed off, pursed his lips, then returned his attention back to Teyla. He smiled again.
"So," he said, "I saw the Jumper. Ronon told Elizabeth you did most of the work?"
She gave a soft smile, "Yes. Rodney repaired the panels, but I worked on the outside of the craft." Her smile fell then, remembering what her work had done. She lowered her head, looking at her hands. "You saw the conduits I replaced?"
"Yes. You did a remarkably good job."
She frowned. "Except for severing the connection to retract the drive pod."
"Yes, well..." Radek shrugged. "You could not have known. I never shown you what all those wires do under there. It's very difficult work. You will get better."
She stared at her hands a little while longer, then up at Radek. "Will I?"
"Are you kidding? I do not believe you could fail at anything you put your mind to. You remind me of all the people I used to look up to, growing up, fighting for knowledge and freedom when my country was still under the yoke of..." He stopped, then shook his head. "Let's just say that you are an impressive person."
"Doctor McKay was not very impressed," she said, lowering her head again.
Radek's eyebrows lifted. "What? You mean...but Ronon said you two worked together. He seemed to imply you worked together well."
"I made mistakes," Teyla replied, she glanced to her left at the sleeping man. "And Rodney did not appear pleased at the news that you were teaching me."
"Mistakes?" Radek's eyebrows lifted. "Something tells me that is you who was disappointed, not Rodney. He is used to mistakes." His eyes narrowed then a little bit as he contemplated the second part of her sentence, and then he frowned. "How do you know he was not pleased at my teaching you about the Jumpers?"
"He," Teyla gave a grimace, "he seemed almost hurt, as if afraid that I was taking away something that had been his."
Radek continued to stare at her, genuine puzzlement on his face. He shook his head again. "Teyla, you know that can not be true. Rodney knows no one could replace him—it's one of his most annoying traits. No, if he looked hurt it was because..." He trailed off again, and then, slowly, started to smile.
No, Teyla realized, he started to smirk.
"Oh," Radek grinned, placing his hands on his hips and looking across her to Rodney's bed. "You are a petty, petty man, Rodney McKay." He stepped back, walking around the bottom of Teyla's bed and over to Rodney's. Once there, he leaned over and studied the other man's quiet face.
"You need to wake up, Rodney," he said, his voice an odd mixture of deep-seated concern and humor, "because I so want to throw this into your smug face. She asked me, not you, and you can't stand it! Wake up!" he said again. "Wake up so that I can hear you admit that she thinks I'm a better teacher than you!"
He stood for a moment over Rodney's bed, and, slowly, the smirk on his face faded, until his lips were just pressed into a worried line. He swallowed, then turned to look at Teyla. Smiling at her nonplussed expression, he walked back over and patted her hand.
"So, why don't you tell me a little of what you did, and we can start thinking about what you need to learn next, hmmm?"
Teyla blinked, lifted her eyebrows a little, then, slowly, smiled.
Well, that was one mystery solved. Never in her life would she have thought Rodney McKay might have been jealous.
Of course, thinking about it now...it seemed like the most obvious thing in the world.
She was such a fool.
John was weak. He could feel it in his bones—like he'd been wrung out to dry.
He was also very alone and very, very bored. He was in the isolation ward—everyone who came in wore a lot of white. He had always hated the color white—and this just solidified that for him.
He knew they were watching him for infection and to make sure that the burns were actually healing (and that he wouldn't need further treatment), but he hated being isolated like this. He knew Teyla and Ronon were okay, or going to be, but he also knew that Rodney had not yet woken up.
And for a reason he could not fully explain, he felt like Rodney's coma was his fault. Like Rodney was just waiting for him to be the one to wake him up. Irrational, yes, but...
It just reinforced his need to get out.
He watched the clock like a crazy person, feeling each second take off another inch of his life.
Forty-eight hours, Carson had promised, and he'd be free. It had been thirty-nine so far. He'd slept through most of that, but for the times he had been awake, seeing no one but Elizabeth once, Carson a couple of times, and various other medical personnel (including that doctor he still did not know the name of—why was it so hard for people to use the man's name in his presence?), he'd been deeply and horribly bored.
That was what he hated most about the infirmary—really any infirmary. The tedium. It was not just boredom, it was the tension that went along with being sick, or knowing others were sick, and you could do nothing about it. Thank God for Carson—the man was the only light in this whole place. He supposed the other medical personnel were all good people, but Carson actually gave the impression of warmth. It made it less terrible.
But Carson had a lot of people to take care of, and the isolation ward was not the easiest place to just come in for a visit.
As if on cue, he heard the doors swish open, and he turned his head.
Carson came in, wearing a broad smile. "I've brought someone to keep you company, Colonel."
Behind him, wearing head to toe white...was Ronon.
And John burst out laughing.
When Ronon scowled, it only made him laugh harder.
They'd clearly had a bit of difficulty finding a suit that would cover Ronon's hair, so, instead, the suit's hood was loose on his back, while his hair was wrapped up in a big white plastic bag, sealed in place with what looked like saran wrap. It looked like he was wearing the largest, whitest shower cap ever made.
He looked like a complete and total dork.
And John had absolutely no issues with telling Ronon that between gasps of laughter.
"They made me do this," Ronon muttered, somewhere between embarrassed and very annoyed. John, who had almost stopped, instantly started laughing again. Carson came around the side of the bed, and patted John's right shoulder, encouraging him to calm down.
"Now," he said, "I'm guessing you don't want him to go away, now, so be nice."
John sobered a little, hiccupping a few more chuckles, and grinned up at Ronon.
"You have...," he started, and found he had to draw in a breath because he'd expended so much air. Letting it out again, he grinned up at Ronon. "You have no idea how much I needed that," he said, meaning it sincerely. Ronon obviously heard it in his voice, because he merely gave a dry smile, then hooked his foot around the nearest chair to John's bed and plunked himself down.
John tried not to look at the white cloud like thing around his friend's head, but his eyes just kept drawing to it like it was the light at the end of a tunnel. A half dozen jokes covering everything from elementary school play costumes ("be the cloud, Ronon!") to Albert Einstein's large Satedan cousin popped into his head, and he couldn't help but wish McKay was here to see this...
And that was all it took to completely kill his humor. Ronon frowned at what was probably a very obvious change in expression—John knew he wasn't doing a good job holding his emotions inside right now, he was just too sick—and sat forward.
"You thinking about McKay?" he asked. John felt his right eye twitch. Damn—he really was easy to read wasn't he?
Ronon just nodded. "Figured you might be. Since you know me and Teyla are okay, the only one left that could sober you up like that is McKay, right?"
Okay, John thought, so maybe not as much easy to read as easy to deduce. He gave a nod. "Yeah." he grimaced. "Any change?"
"No," Carson said, still standing on the other side. "I'm sorry, John."
John dropped his eyes, then looked over Carson's shoulder. "Is anyone with him?"
"Teyla," Ronon answered. "Right next to him in the infirmary. She's gonna switch off with me in a while, though, 'cause she wants to see you too. Beckett," he looked up at Carson, who had now moved to the foot of the bed, "said we could come in here, even though that burn doctor didn't like the idea."
"Doctor Keller may have more experience with burn treatment that I do," Carson acknowledged, "But I have more experience with the four of you. I know what treatment will work best." He backed away, and smiled again. "Now I'll leave you two to chat."
"Wait, Carson," John held up a hand, "You...do you have a minute?" John loved Ronon like a brother, but Ronon had an unfortunate habit of not being a talker. And right now, John was really feeling starved for conversation, and he knew Ronon really wouldn't mind.
Beckett hesitated, then came back to the bed. "Actually," he admitted, "I'm supposed to be off-duty right now, so...," he shrugged, "Aye, I do. What can I get you?"
"Oh, nothing," John grinned. "Just remembering that, you were going to tell me more about that dog of yours, and I'm guessing Ronon'd be curious. What was his name again?"
Carson blinked a couple of times, then grinned. "Truth be told, John, I didn't have just one dog. There were always a bunch running around. Mum had this thing for strays, and seeing as she was a vet, she often brought the strangest ones home with her...." As he started talking, John settled back, feeling the presence of Ronon by his side where the Satedan had draped an arm on his bed, and let the soothing cadence of Carson's voice relax him. The Scot told the best stories—often involving too many cousins, too many pets, and, occasionally, terrible bodily injury to one of his family that, somehow, never killed anyone. Just made them more Scottish.
He and Ronon listened to Carson talk until John fell asleep again.
Teyla leaned forward in the chair, both arms propped up on Rodney’s bed. She held his right hand between hers, massaging it slowly and methodically, remembering that this was the hand that John had said was weak. Funny—John's left arm had been damaged, and Rodney's right arm had stopped working...she could not help but think there was something balanced in that.
Laughter filtered out from the direction of John’s room—where Ronon and Carson had entered not long before—and she smiled softly. She was glad to hear John laugh—he had seemed too quiet ever since Teyla had been told he was awake in there. She knew he would be worrying about each of them, but particularly Rodney, since he was the only not yet on what Carson called "the Road to Recovery."
Of course, she had seen Ronon’s getup as well—the wrap around his hair. Her smile grew. She had hoped John would find laughter in that.
Gently, she ran her fingers down Rodney’s still ones, pressing into the fleshy sections between the knuckles and then working her way back up.
When she had broken her arm once as a child, she recalled Charin working her hand like this when the pain seemed too much to bear. Repetitive and soothing—it was one of those memories that stuck with her, the remembrance of Charin’s patient and unselfish kindness.
Her eyes glanced to Rodney’s face—there was no indication that he was aware of anything at all.
Sighing softly, she worked her way down to the palm, kneading her thumbs into the base.
"Did you know," she asked softly, pushing her thumbs now into the center of his palm, "that I used to watch your hands?" She dug deep, smoothing the dry skin. "I used to wonder at how clumsy you could be when walking or running or fighting, yet, when you were working on something, your hands were so quick. Your eyes would shift around, and I would try to guess just how many thoughts and ideas were touched and rejected in those short, brief moments before your hands and fingers would blur across the keyboard or inside some machine or over a console. Never hesitating." She worked her way up to the fingers again. "I was envious. I still am—I will never know that kind of speed, Rodney."
The fingers were cold and dry. She could feel the roughness of his skin, as if he had absorbed the desert through them. There were tiny white scars on every knuckle and on the tips—from the myriads of cuts and burns he had received over the years. The nails were cut short—one or two even looked ripped.
"It seems fantastical to me," she continued, "that so much flexibility of mind and dexterity of hand could be trapped inside…such an inflexible frame." She smiled, recalling her attempts to teach Rodney how to fight. It had been like trying to teach a mountain how to become an ocean. Recently, John had suggested she was being too kind to him—and that perhaps Ronon might be a more motivational teacher. She had acquiesced to allow Ronon to take over—after all, in two years under her tutelage, Rodney’s skills at unarmed combat had really only progressed from terrible to less terrible. Part of her was not sure he could ever really learn—meaning Ronon will probably just give poor Rodney more bruises.
A little like those times John had forced Rodney into flying lessons. The colonel had let Rodney fly her and some others over the mainland once, and it had amused her no end how many times John had been forced to point out that Rodney was not flying in a straight line. Something else the scientist seemed incapable of doing. Of course, that made more sense to her—she wondered if John understood that as well as she did.
The Jumper was flown primarily by mental control, and as Rodney never thought in a straight line, how could he be expected to fly in one?
She smiled indulgently, moving down his hand again, this time reaching his wrist and upper forearm. She kneaded the skin on his forearm for a little while, grateful for the feel of his steady pulse beneath her fingers, then moved slowly back up again.
She was pressing her thumbs into the base of his palm when she spoke again.
"I had a nightmare last night," she said, her voice whisper soft. There was no one nearby, but it felt better to keep her voice down. "We were in the Jumper, and you were yelling at me to fix something in the control panel. I was trying, but you needed it done faster. I could not keep up with you. Each time I tried to work faster, my limbs felt heavier and I could not reach the things you needed me to reach. But I knew…I knew…if I could just finish, we would be all right." She pressed her lips together tightly, and lowered her head, her hands stilling their massage. "When I awoke I wondered," she looked up at his pale face, "do you know that nightmare?"
She waited a minute, then lowered her eyes again.
She resumed kneading his palm, thumbs once more kneading deeply into the center.
"But for all that," she continued, "it was better, far better, than the dreams I had after we visited the water planet. I dreamt then of being trapped, bound to the walls, their heat burning through my skin, while you yelled for help that I could not give. All I could do then…" she closed her eyes, "was watch. I had no hope. This time…," she gave a small smile, her eyes opening again, "I had hope. I just had to finish this time. And part of me knew I would be able to…someday." She smiled more broadly, and started working her way up his cold fingers again. "Nightmare though it was, it showed me I just need to keep learning, to work faster, and never stop moving. Just like you. Just like everyone here."
She lowered the hand then, gripping it between her palms, holding it as tightly as she could.
"Rodney," she said, "I am sorry that I asked Doctor Zelenka before asking you. True, I did so because I knew you would turn me down, but I still should have asked. I think, if you had asked anyone else to teach you to fight, or how to act when in a negotiation, or for anyone else to stand by you other than myself, John or Ronon…." She looked up at his face, "It would have hurt."
She gave a weak smile, then looked down again. "I know it could be dismissed as ego, but, I have thought about this a great deal since we returned, and I understand now that this is also about loyalty. About friendship. I sometimes forget that I am not alone, that I do not have to fight or learn alone. We support each other. And you would have supported me—like John, you would have questioned me at first, but, in the end, you would have supported me in your own way, even if you weren’t the one to teach me. How you treated me back on the Kaveer’s planet, calling me one of your 'scientists', is proof of that for me. I should have remembered how loyal you are. And that support will go both ways, I promise you—we need to stand together. And when it comes down to it…," she paused, looking down at the cold hand in hers. "And when it comes down to it," she repeated, more softly, "I know we will." Teyla closed her eyes, her smile growing almost whimsical as she whispered, "The four of us will probably even die together."
She sighed, memories drifting softly through her head, from early ones like John and Aiden risking everything to rescue her and the others from that Hive Ship and bringing them here to Atlantis, hearing John and Rodney’s upraised voices as they defended her to Sergeant Bates after she brought Aiden home, all three of them going with her to that planet to find that hidden Wraith lab, even when they had Hive ships bearing down on them, to more recent memories, like going to Sateda to rescue Ronon and having that talk with John on the Daedalus, a talk she almost felt silly for needing to have now. A part of her would always feel like an outsider, needing to thank the people from Earth for allowing her to stay here, to aid them, for helping her or Ronon or others from this Galaxy when they should really just leave....
But she had never been an outsider with John or Ronon or Rodney. Nor had Elizabeth or Carson ever treated her as such, not after the first year. Yet she had gone to thank John on that ship. Why did she have such a difficult time remembering that she was not alone?
Well, she would remember it now.
And she was not going to lose one of them. She refused to allow it.
She let go of Rodney’s hand, resting it gently on the mattress, and stood up. Her back pulled, but she expected the pain, worked around it. On her feet once more, she slid up to the head of the bed and reached a hand to gently brush at Rodney’s forehead.
"You must wake up," she said quietly. "You are not allowed to leave. You are still needed." She leaned in close, and with as much steel as she could put in her voice, demanded, "Rodney McKay, you will wake up."
She waited a moment, studying his face...then closed her eyes. Leaning back up, she refused to feel disappointed—she may not have Rodney's speed of mind, but she had something he did not—patience. Nodding to herself, she turned and made her way back to her own bed.
Her gaze was drawn to the side as laughter once more echoed from John’s room. The colonel would be out here soon, she knew. Perhaps John would be able to do what she and Ronon had so far been unable to.
She closed her eyes, feeling the tiredness flow through her once more.
Consequently, she did not see Rodney’s right hand curl and settle on its own.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO: RETURN OF THE MIGHTY WIND
By the end of day four, ninety some hours after returning from the planet, John had not only been allowed his freedom, but both John and Teyla were allowed to move around the infirmary on their own two feet, to get their strength back. John still felt as weak as a kitten, but Teyla, as usual, barely looked hurt. The woman had an ability to heal that was borderline unnatural. Still, despite obviously being well enough to leave, she did not ask to be discharged. She seemed perfectly happy to stay in her bed. And without any catastrophes requiring bed space, Carson was more than happy to let her stay.
And John was happy to stay in his as well, now located on the other side of Rodney from Teyla. Normally, he'd be begging to be discharged, but he wanted to be there when Rodney awoke, just like Teyla did. Besides, since three of his closest friends were going to be in the infirmary anyway (and Ronon seemed disinclined to spend his downtime elsewhere), the only benefit to leaving was privacy. Once Rodney was awake, he'd probably want it, but not now.
Not until Rodney was awake.
Of course, he was not a fool. Four days had passed. Rodney was officially comatose. He responded to stimuli, showed significant brain activity, and was not on life support, but he was not waking up either. Still, neither John, Teyla, Carson nor Ronon ever spoke of 'if' Rodney awoke, but 'when,' even if the other members of Carson's team had tried several times to impress upon them the negative side effects of such a long period of time. They started all their sentences with "even if he wakes up soon" and followed it up with phrases like: "long road to recovery," "brain damage," "potentially permanent physical, cognitive and behavioral impairments," and "serious long term effects." Carson had stood with the team, but John had not missed the earnest talk Doctor Morrison and Doctor Cole had had with Carson the day before, when they took him "aside". When Carson returned, he had an even more determined set to his jaw than before. The chief of medicine was a believer.
And he was not alone.
Sometime around lunchtime, Ronon came in pushing a wheelchair, and announced he was taking Teyla for "a walk." Carson then disappeared to get dinner.
Again, John was not a fool—it gave him his first opportunity to sit alone with Rodney. They wanted him to find a way to get through to Rodney as much as he did.
They needed their scientist back.
"Ronon’s taking Teyla for a walk," John said, leaning on Rodney’s other side. "Or rather, a push. She’s in a wheelchair because the wound on her back is still healing. Knowing Teyla, though, she’s bound to be up sooner rather than later." He reached over and flicked Rodney’s left wrist. "Just like I imagine you should be. Lots of great scientific discoveries happening, you know, while you’re being lazy and lying here. Pretty sure Zelenka’s solved the power distribution problem on the South pier—you know, the one that kept causing those two towers that look like bug heads to light up in the middle of the night? Shined right into my window, those freaking things. Anyway, Zelenka’s fixed it. He’s fixing lots of things, all without you. Just one brilliant thing after another…."
The colonel looked up, checking for a reaction, any reaction, on McKay’s face.
"Did I tell you that Elizabeth has given the go ahead for the Daedalus to visit the Kaveer planet when it returns? We’re going to make sure that they haven’t gotten the weapon up and running—which, considering that trick we played with the math puzzles, I can’t imagine them doing for a long, long time—and just reiterate the warning. Really, we’re just going to fly in, show off the ship a bit, then take off. Elizabeth’s going to leave behind an opening salvo in the form of a letter, though, in case they ever want to strike up an alliance. Of course," he pursed his lips, "you know that I’d rather have nothing to do with that. But, well, everyone deserves a second chance, I suppose." He looked up, then smiled. "No scientists are going down there, though. Just military. I thought I’d send Lorne. Some women think he’s good looking, so maybe he can charm that harridan of a leader. Me," his smile fell, "I still want to strangle her." And probably will until you wake up, you bastard.
He stared at Rodney’s face for a little while longer, then sighed and went back to playing ‘flick the hair on Rodney’s forearm without hitting his skin’. Obviously, he hit skin more often than not, which, to be honest, was sort of the point—it was one of the most annoying things he could think to do to someone. He’d earlier tried pinching Rodney, but, sadly, no response. It had worked before, after a disastrous cave in when Rodney had feigned sleep because he was feeling sorry for himself, but…this time was obviously different. So, he’d gone for a game of greater irritation—hence the flicking.
"Did you know that Canada has been purchased by the United States for development? Apparently, the US decided that they needed more mall space, and Canada decided the price they were offering was worth it. It’s going to be a whole new state. I think they’re calling it, the ‘Upper United States’. Nice ring to it, don’t you think? The UUS?"
He finally stopped the flicking, drawing his right hand back and resting it on the bed. There was a loose thread in the blanket…and he started picking at it.
"I also heard that Hockey is no longer going to be their national sport. Or an international one either. They’re even cutting it out of the Olympics. Something to do with the melting of the polar ice caps—they’re going to cart all the ice used to form the rinks up to the poles to add to the caps. Seems silly to me, but, hey, I’m not an ice…scientist…person. What do they call those?" he looked again up at his friend’s face. "You would know, is it a geologist? Or an ecologist? Or phrenologist?" He waited, hoping to be corrected (the last time he'd mentioned phrenology in front of Rodney, it had resulted in the funniest set of facial expressions he had ever seen from the man, as McKay reviled it as the fakest of all fake sciences...after medicine, of course). He frowned and looked down again at his worried thread. "Either way," he shrugged his good shoulder, "hockey’s gone. I hear Canadians are going to make American football their new national sport." He smirked, pulling and tugging at the thread between his fingers.
The smirk faded after a while, and he found he was really pulling at the thread. It was annoying him. He wanted it gone.
"Nuts," he muttered, rolling the snapped thread between his fingers. Opening his hand, he let the thin, pale fabric drift to the cold, dark floor.
He stared at it for a moment, then lifted his gaze, blinking at the pale, beige colored blanket, and his friend’s lifeless hand lying atop it.
Damn it, Rodney. What the hell are you doing!
He let out a heavy breath, and closed his eyes.
"It’s been almost four full days, Rodney," he said then, opening his eyes slowly and turning them to focus on the still features. "Don’t you think you should be waking up soon?" He watched for a moment, then grimaced. "You know, I think Ronon’s going to try to yell you into waking. He suggested it to me and Carson yesterday, and seems convinced that it’ll work. Maybe it will. But, seriously, you don’t really want Ronon in your face, do you? Just saying, you might consider waking up now. Save his vocal cords and, possibly, not give you a heart attack the moment you wake from this irritating coma of yours. So, what do you say?"
He waited, probably too long, not really wanting to give up on the hope that it would work.
"Okay," he said finally, his eyes dropping back to the blanket. "You can have a little longer to sleep. But, be warned…I’m pretty sure he’s going to give it a go tomorrow. Don’t say I didn’t tell you so when it happens." He smiled softly, still not looking up.
John looked up, then smiled brightly as Doctor Cole approached—she was pushing a wheelchair.
"Hi," he said, nodding to the chair. "Nice wheels."
"They’re for you," she said. There was a touch of blush on her cheeks as she continued, "I was wondering if you might like some freedom of your own, seeing as your friends are not here. I could," she shrugged, "take you out to some of the balconies."
John's eyebrows lifted slightly, and he gave her a slightly shyer smile. Aw crap—he really never did see this sort of thing coming. "Uh, thanks, but, uh," he tapped Rodney's arm, "I've gotta keep an eye on Rodney here. He's sort of my friend too, you know."
Her eyes widened in sudden understanding, obviously replaying what she had just said in her head.
"Oh," she flapped a hand, "I did not mean to imply that Doctor McKay was not also your friend. I only meant—"
"I know what you meant," John said, smiling more deeply. "It's okay." He tilted his head, studying her. "You don't know him very well, do you?"
Cole pursed her lips around an embarrassed smile, "No. Not really. I've only had to deal with him once so far and," she shrugged again, "it was not the best of introductions."
"I'm sure it wasn't," John replied, smiling more. "He's something of an ass."
"Yeah," she said, sounding a little noncommittal in her response. Clearly, she was not certain if he was joking or serious. John, of course, was totally serious. But, until you knew Rodney, you wouldn't know why his being an ass was one of the reasons you ended up liking him.
"Well," she said finally, smiling softly, "I'll leave you, then." She turned away, then bit her bottom lip, obviously debating something. Then she turned back. "Just," her eyes were sad now, "you do know...you will have to leave at some point."
He stared at her a minute, and felt his smile grow cold. "Sure."
She sensed the mood change, and backed off. "Anyway, uh, let me know. I can…" she licked her lips nervously, "I’m sure I can get someone to give you a push around."
"Thanks," he said, feeling a little guilty—he hadn't meant to be mean. He tried to warm his smile. "Maybe when Beckett returns." He gave a half shrug, careful again to use his good shoulder, "He’s just getting dinner, right?"
She seemed puzzled, though she smiled at him, so the ‘warmer smile’ must have worked. "Doctor Beckett is not on duty."
"Oh, I know," he waved his good hand at her. "But he’ll be here, trust me."
The puzzled look remained even as she smiled again. Resting the chair against the bottom of his currently empty bed, she tapped it. "Well, it’s here if you need it."
"Thanks," he said.
At that moment, Carson entered the infirmary, carrying a tray of food and grinning at something. Cole frowned at his presence.
"Sir, it’s been almost four days. Shouldn’t you be rest—?"
"I am, Doctor, I am," he said, sidling around her and over to John’s bed. Seeing John in the chair and not the cot, he lifted an eyebrow. "Trade?"
John grimaced, but stood up and climbed back into his bed so Carson could sit down. Cole watched for a moment longer, then turned and walked away, shaking her head slowly.
"She thinks I work too hard," Carson stage whispered to the colonel.
"You do," John stage whispered back.
"But not right now," the doctor replied settling back and propping his feet up on Rodney’s bed, balancing the tray on his lap. "Right now, I’m hanging out with two of my best friends. So," he popped a French fry into his mouth, then grimaced a little at the obvious sogginess of it, "what have you been chatting about with Rodney?"
"The United States buying Canada. I’m not sure he believes it."
"Aye, well, that’s because it’s not true."
"Sure it is," John grinned.
"Oh, no, son, you’ve not got the whole story," Carson said, shaking his head. "Canada’s merely trading Quebec for Hawaii. I hear the Americans are looking forward to getting some actual culture, while the Canadians just want to know what it's like to get a tan."
John laughed, and Carson popped another soggy French fry with a smirk.
John woke with a start, fighting back the vestiges of a nightmare that clung to his mind like a spider web. The images that had terrified him in his sleep faded almost instantly, but the fear they had engendered remained.
He let out a slow breath, and studied the ceiling, letting the simple, geometric patterns center him.
Once his heart rate was back to normal, he blinked across at the clock—four in the morning. Of course it was. What other time would it be?
He let out another calming breath and looked over at Rodney on his right.
God, he hated seeing him so still. It was wrong. Rodney was never still.
And, for the first time since returning, he felt real anger. He shifted up on his right arm, so he could face the other man.
"You're waking up tomorrow, McKay," he whispered darkly. "Just so you know. I've had enough of this. Consider it an order."
And with that, he settled back, closing his eyes and setting his jaw.
Rodney would wake up tomorrow.
And either he, Teyla, Ronon or Carson would be the one to greet him when he did—he was sure of it.
Of course, he was wrong.
Because, on the next bed over, as John fell back to sleep, a pair of slightly confused blue eyes blinked open slowly and looked around.
Since when does Rodney McKay wait for tomorrow?
"What do you think it is?" Connam's soft voice asked, set barely above a whisper. John blinked awake, frowning briefly at the quiet sound. It was so low spoken, it was amazing he had woken at all. Connam? When did Connam get here?
"I was thinking," Connam continued as John's eyes lost their blurriness and he was able to focus on the pale dawn light filtering into the infirmary, "of giving it to your Doctor Simpson as a gift, but, then, knowing what you all went through for me...well, I wanted you to have it. If, that is, you think it might be of some use to you. Think of it as partial payment—my debt to you is great, I know that."
John forced his eyes open wider, and full clarity came back. Connam was on Atlantis? The man had never actually been allowed here. Elizabeth must have finally okayed it. Well, seeing that the man had undergone torture without giving them away—that seemed about right.
"It's a power relay of some kind," Rodney's sleepy voice said. "A small one. Pretty."
For a moment, John actually stopped breathing.
His head tipped to his right, and stared at the sight of Connam sitting by Rodney's bed. The scientist was lying on his right side, propped up on his right arm, meaning his curved back was to John. He was studying a small, perfectly spherical silver ball in his left hand that was currently glowing a soft white. He could just see Rodney's profile—half-lidded eyes focused totally on the toy.
"Yes, well, if you want it..." Connam smiled again, looking pleased with himself. John could see Rodney's muscles shift in his pale face, the left side of his mouth deepening in a frown.
"Connam," Rodney made to hand the ball back, his voice whisper soft and crackling like paper, "As I'm sure Elizabeth told you, you don't owe us anything for the rescue. We don't need payment."
Connam looked pained, "But I have to pay you back. You don't understand—there is no parity I can presently offer, for what you did for me. Even if you calculated the fact that the Kaveer kidnapped me to learn about you, I put myself in that position to begin with. I took Dodge through to their world, foolishly thinking that I could handle whatever might be on the other side. And now, look at the four of you! Teyla shot, Ronon badly bruised, you ill, and Colonel Sheppard...." Connam trailed off as his eyes lit upon the Colonel's. The trader suddenly grinned. "You're awake!"
Rodney shifted then, looking over his shoulder at John. The two men just regarded each other for a long moment, and then John broke out with a huge smile. Rodney returned it with a tentative one, obviously not understanding the reason behind the massive grin on his friend's face.
"Didn't mean to wake you," Rodney said quietly. John's eyes opened wider, and he sat up abruptly, ignoring the tug on his still immobilized left arm.
"Carson!" he shouted. "CARSON!" Before any medical staff could come in to stop him, John was out of the bed, stumbling to Rodney's side and gripping the man's left wrist in his right hand, as if to prove that the other was awake and alive. "Teyla!"
Teyla had awakened at the first shout, and she was already sitting up, rubbing her eyes with her fists. When she lowered them, she smiled deeply. "Rodney?" she called sweetly, causing McKay to turn his head towards her. The scientist frowned, and turned his attention back to John.
"Now you've woken her. I was trying not to, you know," he said, his words still soft. The frown turned curious, the blue eyes dropping to his arm. "And why are you gripping my wrist? It's not like...ow! Hey, tight. Tight! Sheppard, let up! It's not like I'm going anywhere."
Connam looked genuinely confused by all the excitement, and stood up from the chair he'd been in. He then backed up rapidly, backpedaling out of the way as a whole bunch of people suddenly descended on Rodney like locusts, none of whom the trader obviously recognized. Making a wide circle, Connam found his way around to the far side of John's bed, just as the colonel was forced back into it by Maria, the nurse patting the colonel's messy hair before turning to help the doctor's checking on Rodney. Carson was not among the crew, but he imagined it would only be seconds before Carson was here.
John noted Doctor Morrison in the front, asking Rodney questions, and getting increasingly peeved sounding answers—all of which sounded correct to the colonel, and delivered with the perfect level of snark. John settled back into his bed, a huge grin on his face. He tipped his head back, then to the side, his grin growing larger at the sight of the totally bewildered trader standing there. Connam was blinking across at Rodney's suddenly popular bed, holding the now unlit sphere to his chest as if afraid to drop it. He'd grabbed it when all the people in blue and white arrived.
"What is happening?" Connam asked, finally looking down at John.
"Why don't you tell me?" John replied. "I take it Elizabeth let you come through the Gate?"
"Oh, yes!" Connam smiled again, and the excitement was clear in his eyes—and the slight hint of avarice. John mentally made a note to have them watch Connam's interactions with some of the more gullible staff while he stayed. "Your gracious Doctor Weir informed me of your return, and that you were all currently in hospital, having been wounded in your escape from those blackguards. I expressed a desire to see you if I could, and she instantly let me come through to this...this amazing city of yours." He looked around, all wide-eyed with wonder, then returned his attention to John. "She did tell me, seeing as it is barely dawn here, that you would probably all be asleep but that I could sit with you until you awoke. However, when I arrived, I found Doctor McKay awake and working on one of your rather neat data devices—he called it a tablet? We talked for a little while until...well, until you woke up." His expression grew puzzled again, and he looked across at the commotion. "I do not understand what is happening now, however."
"Rodney sounded fine to you, right?" John asked, glancing over at the scientist and noting the tablet on the side table. Where the hell had he gotten that? Connam, meanwhile, had returned his gaze to John's, and gave a quiet nod when John looked up at him again.
"He seemed quiet...or weak, might be the better word, as one would expect from a patient in an infirmary, but...otherwise, he seemed himself." He tilted his head, then his eyebrows lifted as comprehension finally set in. Eyes widening, Comman looked at Rodney's bed, where Morrison was now having him grip something in his right hand (much to McKay's obvious annoyance), then back to John. "He was not awake before?"
"No," John replied. He was still smiling, and he reached up his right hand. "Can I see that?" he asked, opening up his palm. Connam nodded immediately, and dropped the sphere he'd been holding into John's hand. It started glowing, warm and a little tingly against his skin. He stared at it for a minute, then up to Connam.
"Thank you, Eric," he said. "We'll keep it. Partial payment."
Connam's relief at that was abundantly clear, and he grinned. "Thank you, Colonel! Thank you so much. You have made me feel so much better." He patted John's good arm, then looked up, eyes drawn to the doors when Ronon suddenly burst inside, panting and wearing the loose clothing he normally wore when running, and there was sweat on the man's face. He must have run full tilt to get here. Connam greeted him with a smile, and John did too. Ronon nodded at them, then jogged to Teyla's bedside, where he grabbed her outstretched hand. Connam's hand on John's arm gripped briefly, then let go. "I'm just going to say hello to your friends," he said, "and I'll be back."
"Take your time," John said, watching as Connam once more gave the medical personnel a wide berth as he made his way to where Teyla and Ronon were.
John held the still glowing sphere to his chest, met the eyes of Teyla and Ronon across the room, and let the now very aggravated tone of a tired and bothered and, inevitably, angry Rodney McKay wash over him.
Oh yes, he loved his team.
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: ON SOLID GROUND ONCE AGAIN, MOSTLY
Three weeks later, John was very gingerly going through a series of Tai Chi-like motions with Teyla in the gym. Strength training, now that he had his left arm back and most of his range of motion. The arm was sore, and he knew he'd be feeling the scars for a long while, but it was definitely healing.
Besides, that new cute brunette in Rodney's labs had told him the scars were sort of sexy. And, honestly, who is going to disagree with a cute brunette?
What was her name again?
Teyla crouched, one arm raised over her head, the other pointed towards the ground. John attempted to crouch with her, to mimic the action. She had an impressive amount of flexibility he was pretty sure he'd never achieve, but he did try. He felt himself teetering on his legs...but didn't fall.
"Well done," Teyla said, smiling softly as she straightened. He straightened with her.
"Balance still sucks," Ronon noted from where he sat sprawled on the bench under the window.
"Thanks," John replied, twisting his torso in imitation as Teyla turned herself around, her arms stretching out to either side. He hissed a little at the pull on his upper back, and his left arm instinctively tucked into his chest. She glanced at him, and released the move.
"Sorry," she said.
"No, no," John said, giving the reluctant arm a shake. "It's all good. Keep going." His shoulder was throbbing a little, but not too much.
She nodded and transferred her weight to one leg, stretching both arms forward. He had an easier time with that one, though the weight-bearing leg shook a little.
"Balance still sucks," Ronon said again. John gave him a dark look.
"Money where your mouth is, Dex," the colonel snapped, managing to get the shaking under control with a couple of foot shifts. Teyla's lips quirked in an amused smile. Ronon just arched his eyebrows, stood up, and mimicked the motion without any difficulty. John just sneered.
Ronon grinned, and sat back down.
"Why are you still here anyway?" John demanded, as Teyla finally released the move, which was John's cue to slump back to a resting position. Thank God.
"Entertainment," Ronon replied. The Satedan had been practicing fighting techniques with Teyla when John had arrived, and had apparently decided to stick around to watch the "strength training", though he himself wasn't partaking.
"You must be really bored," John said then, sighing a little when Teyla crouched low and did something that looked like it would definitely end up with John sitting on his rear if he tried it. Still, nothing ventured...
A second later, he fell on his ass with a painful grunt. Damn.
Ronon chuckled. "No," he said, "this really is entertaining."
The glare John gave him had sent many a marine running off in fear. Ronon just grinned more.
Teyla stood up and rolled her neck. She looked at John, who was still sitting on the floor where he'd fallen. "Need a hand?" she asked kindly.
John sighed, and managed to get back to his feet on his own. She smiled...and then crouched down again.
"Aw," he whined, taking in a deep breath before following her lead. He wobbled dangerously but, miraculously, stayed on the balls of his feet this time. Now, if he could just balance his arms like she had them....
"Right," Ronon said suddenly, pushing himself up off the bench and stretching. "Gotta go."
John instantly stood up from his crouch, not hiding his surprise. "What? Why?"
The puzzled look he got in response was priceless. "Why do you care?"
"No, I…" John frowned, "I didn’t mean that you couldn’t leave. I was just," he gave a shrug—trying not to be pleased when both shoulders lifted without too much pain, "I was thinking about maybe getting some dinner soon. Thought you two might come along. Maybe pick up Rodney, too."
Ronon gave him a shrug back. "Can’t."
Ronon’s jaw tensed slightly. "I have to tell you everywhere I go?"
John's eyebrows lifted. The defensive nature of the answer only made him more curious. "No, I just…" he tilted his head, "You have other plans, I take it?"
Another shrug from the big man. "Yeah."
John smiled, and couldn’t resist the next question. "Can I ask with whom?"
"John…" Teyla’s voice warned from behind him. He ignored her. Sure, he was needling a rottweiler, but it was fun. Ronon, meanwhile, had turned his back on John in order to pick up his things.
John smiled wickedly. "Is it with a girl?" he asked.
Ronon turned to give him a dark look over his shoulder, and John’s glee increased.
"It is a girl!" he said. "You’ve got a date!"
"It’s not a date," Ronon snarled. "I don’t date."
"Straight to your quarters then, I understand."
The look John received for that could compete with standing behind a fired up Jumper engine on the list of things he should avoid in the future. But then again…fun!
"Oh, come on," he said, moving to stand next to Ronon by the window. "I’m just kidding. So who is it?" He raised his eyebrows. "That red-head from Rodney’s labs with the curly hair? The lovely, blonde Doctor Cole? The short-haired brunette in maintenance?"
John had been so busy teasing the Satedan, he hadn’t heard the gym doors open. Turning his head, the grin on his face instantly faded at the sight of Doctor Biro standing there, squinting into the gym with the look of someone seeing a room for the first time. She blinked a bit, wrinkled her nose at the heavy scent of sweat, then focused her intense gaze on Ronon. They eyes were narrowed behind the glasses.
"Ah, there you are," she said, as clipped as ever. "Are you ready? I have two western blots that I’ll need to get back to in an hour, so we should go now." Her upper lip curled, "Of course…if you wanted to shower first, I would not mind."
"Nah, I’m good," Ronon replied, throwing his bag over his shoulder and turning towards the door. "Let’s go."
"No, really," Biro backed up a step as he got closer, "I’m fine with you going to take a shower. I mean, I know some women swoon at the smell of ‘musk’, as they call it, but to me, it’s just unnecessary body odor. Why don’t you shower and then meet me in my lab in ten minutes." Without waiting for an answer, she turned around and walked away down the corridor. "We can begin then. Don’t be late! Losing ten minutes of our time together because of your laziness to clean up before meeting me is already a demerit, Specialist Dex!" The last was delivered out of sight of the gym, almost swallowed up in the halls as she disappeared.
Ronon stood in the doorway a minute, peering after her, then lowered his head. With a heavy sigh, he walked the rest of the way out of the gym and the doors shut behind him.
John stared at the doors for a long minute before turning his gaze on Teyla. She had a darkly amused smile on her face.
"Biro?" he asked, the name coming out almost as a cough. She gave him a nod.
"Ronon decided, instead of studying engineering, as I am, that he wanted to learn a little more about medicine, your medicine, beyond just first aid. I understand that his former lover was a physician, and, perhaps in her memory, or simply because he wants to be able to do more for us in the field, he asked Doctor Beckett who might be able to teach him. He asked for someone who would not be intimidated by him, someone who would do most of the talking without really expecting answers, and someone would not talk down to him but would simply show him what he needs to know." She tilted her head towards the doors, "Doctor Beckett suggested Doctor Biro."
John’s eyebrows perked, looking again to the doors. "Oh. Huh."
"It was a good choice, I believe," Teyla continued. "Doctor Biro is not intimidated by anyone and, I think we can agree, she really does not need another person in the room to carry on a conversation." She smiled more, turning her head to the doors fully. "I recall once having lunch with her about a year ago, and I do not believe she allowed me to put in one word edgewise. It was one of the strangest conversations I have ever had. And, afterwards," she turned her attention back to John, "she thanked me for providing so many insightful ideas. It was very odd."
John frowned briefly, then, with a crooked smile, gave a single nod. "Hey, whatever floats his boat."
"It is good for us to expand our learning," Teyla said, settling down into another exercise stance. "I imagine that Ronon’s increased skills in medicine will become of great use in the field. You may also be interested to know that he has set up a time to work with Doctor Brown in Botany—she was apparently very excited by the aloe-like plants he brought back from the Kaveer’s planet, and has asked the Daedalus to grab more when it goes. John, you need to straighten your back more." The last sentence was said because John had settled down into the stance in imitation of Teyla. He straightened his back. She nodded, "Good." She slowly raised her left arm, drawing it around and forward.
He felt the still very raw flesh on his left arm straining as mimicked her, the muscles shaking a little. He breathed out slowly, hearing the exhale shake a little as it crossed his lips.
"It’s always good to learn," he agreed, pushing his arm forward as Teyla did, the slow and steady motion putting stress but not impact on the limb. He looked forward to having his strength back again.
He breathed out, then pulled the arm back in and straightened. Opposite him, Teyla shifted and sinuously switched into a new stance. He adopted it as well, though not with the same grace.
They went through about a half dozen more moves before the doors to the gym opened again, and Rodney stepped inside. It showed one of the differences between Rodney and Biro—Biro had very clearly avoided allowing even a toe to cross the threshold, but Rodney just walked right in as if he owned the place. Of course, he did that everywhere he went.
"Hey," he called, looking up from the tablet he was carrying on his left arm. The damn thing was like an extension of his body at times—when in the city, he was rarely without it. John nodded at his friend, making a quick assessment of the man's condition—something he'd done often since Rodney was discharged last week. Except for still being paler than normal—the smudges under his eyes still too dark for John’s liking—Rodney almost looked like his old self again.
"Hey," John replied, straightening again from the crouch Teyla had put him in. She stayed down, holding it a little longer than he did.
"Have you come to exercise, Rodney?" she asked, not shifting her pose.
"No. Do I look like I’ve come to exercise? Please. I’m not that much a glutton for punishment." He tilted his head at Teyla as she finally straightened up. "Are you almost done?"
"Nearly," John answered, rolling his neck. "What’s up?"
"Sergeant Johnson’s team is back from M3K-211."
"That’s the hayseed planet, right?" John was rubbing at his left forearm and elbow now, just below the burn scars, to encourage more blood circulation. Rodney gave a small smile at the description.
"They are sort of Beverley Hillbilly-ish, aren’t they? Especially that grandmother with the shotgun." He shuddered slightly, his right hand resting atop the tablet.
"What is a hayseed?" Teyla asked, stretching her arms a little in front of her, her eyebrows lifted in curiosity.
"Oh, um…" John frowned, trying to think of a good explanation that didn’t sound condescending…and failing. He gave a rueful smile. "I’ll tell you later."
"So, anyway," Rodney was flexing and unflexing his right hand now—it was apparently still giving him slight spasms of pain, but less and less so as time went by, "they brought back a few interesting things from the ruins of the Ancient lab we found there. One of which," he tapped a few things on the tablet, then turned it around to show them a picture of something that looked like a battery, "was this."
John peered at the screen, then arched an eyebrow. "Energizer? Or Duracell?"
"Ha, ha," Rodney sneered, turning the tablet back around, looking down at the picture. He frowned then, "Weirdly, you’re not totally wrong. We’re not completely certain yet, but we think it might be a portable generator of some kind. One that draws energy from the environment surrounding it when it’s on—namely, it captures and uses radiant energy." He swung his right hand around in a circle then rested his hand on the tablet again. John frowned.
"It's a generator?" he repeated.
"Well," Rodney grimaced, "Okay, it's more like a battery, a universal one and one that's constantly recharging. You can put it in place of whatever power source might be failing or has failed, and it will, temporarily, stand in the place of that power source, drawing on whatever energy it can find around it. It may not be a lot of power, in fact, it’s probably very little, but it could be better than nothing in a dire circumstance."
"It draws power from…anything that it can find in the environment around it? Like," John’s brow furrowed, "people? Or plants?"
"Oh, no, don’t be an idiot," Rodney waved a hand, then frowned as he considered John’s words. "Well, I don’t really know about plants, but I’m sure it can’t draw energy from people. That’d be ridiculous."
"But, could it?"
"No," Rodney looked down again at the screen. "Well, probably not. At the very least, I’m sure there are fail-safes. I mean, what would be the point of, say, using it to bolster the power of a flashlight in a dark cave if it’s going to kill the people using it? Besides, people don’t radiate much energy."
"Sounds a bit…" John fumbled for a word, then, oddly, remembered one that Grodin used to use all the time that seemed to fit, "dodgy to me."
"Dodgy," Rodney repeated, looking up at him through his eyebrows. "It’s not dodgy. It’s very cool. Not that I’d expect you to appreciate that."
John just grinned, and moved over to the bench to grab his towel. Teyla was already wearing hers around her neck, and had put her things away. She was standing patiently by the window. He gathered up his sticks and started stuffing them in his bag with his towel, giving her a smile as he did so.
"Anyway," Rodney said to John’s back, sounding, oddly, a little nervous, "I was wondering if you’d like to come and look at it. It’s not on, and, in fact, may not even be fixable—it’s sort of damaged. And, like I said, we’re not really sure if it is what I think it is, even though I’m usually right about these things, but, if nothing else, it might be neat to check out, see if we can find something on it in the database that will give us a better idea."
John shook his head as he grabbed up his bag, turning to throw it over his good shoulder. "Thanks, McKay, but I think I’ll pass." He turned and gave a half shrug to the scientist. "Researching broken Ancient batteries is not really my thing."
Rodney gave him an annoyed look. "Well, whether or not it’s your thing doesn’t really matter to me, Colonel, since I wasn’t actually asking you." His gaze shifted to Teyla. "So? Want to come see it?"
She blinked once, then slowly began to smile. "I’d love to," she said, her smile now bordering on dazzling.
"Then come on," Rodney said, turning around to walk out. Teyla almost ran after him, catching up to him and the door and taking the tablet when he handed it to her.
"You measure radiant energy in joules, correct?" she asked as they disappeared around the corner, her focus on the tablet. "Are these marks on the side a sort of measure of that?"
"Yes," Rodney said, his voice echoing down the corridor. "They tell you the level of radiant energy in the vicinity of the device." He snorted, "Of course, Zelenka doesn’t think it’s a battery. He thinks it’s just an Ancient Geiger counter, but, as usual, he’s wrong and thinking much too small…"
John was still standing there, listening as their voices began to fade out, then he frowned suddenly. Looking towards the door, he frowned some more.
What the hell?
"Hey!" he called suddenly, jogging out after them. "Wait!" He caught up them a couple of corridors down, two faces looking back at him, one with puzzlement, and one with a puzzled annoyance. He grinned, slowing to a stop before them. "You got a name for this device yet?" John asked.
"What?" McKay asked, puzzled annoyance turning into real annoyance.
"Just thinking," John smiled as he took the tablet from Teyla, and started walking in the direction of McKay's lab, "how about, the Soylent Green battery." He was grinning when he felt two sets of people jog to catch up to his long legged stride. "You know," he chuckled, "just in case it's people!"
McKay's pain-filled groan was so worth it.
Oh, and as promised, this whole story was first premised on this picture:
Now, that's a dedicated engineer! LOL!