Title: More Than Just Pretty Faces
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, 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 – pure action, some angst, h/c
Characters: Team Fic
Status/Parts: WIP/16 chapters
Spoilers: Hide & Seek and the Hive
Acknowledgement: NT. She helps me think. And she named my monster.
A/N – I'm writing a novel right now called Desert Orkids, that's I can already tell will be a long 'un. So, I wrote this "short" story to balance out my current, er, repertoire.
Description: Deadly happenings on a jungle planet leave the Team fighting for their lives with Wraith closing in on all sides...
Teyla paused, holding up her fist. On her heels, Rodney stopped, lifting his eyes from his scanner. His eyes were narrowed, obviously reading the tension in her bare shoulders as she lifted her P90. Behind them, Sheppard and Ronon paused, the former Runner already looking for targets with his weapon, the safety off.
"What is it?" McKay asked, half annoyed, half worried, sweat trickling down his face from the overheated air. He quickly adjusted the scanner to look for life signs, but it was about as helpful as scanning for life signs in a Southern California mall. They were in a tropical rainforest—the area teemed with life. "You see something?"
"Teyla?" Sheppard prompted, his eyebrows furrowed as he released the safety on his P90 as well. McKay heard, turning to look at the colonel, and his right hand moved to rest on the 9MM at his side.
Teyla shook her head, her brow furrowing, opening up all her senses, not just her eyes. It had been on her recommendation they come to this planet. She and Elizabeth had been cataloguing a list of the worlds that Teyla or her people had visited against planets in the Ancient database that might house outposts, and this one was one of the few that matched. She had promised it would be safe. She knew the people here, had traded with them often, trusted them. They would be welcomed. Initial contacts about a meeting had been warm, promising.
She had promised.
"Something," she said unhelpfully. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes.
The smell of the jungle assaulted her nostrils, sweet and cloying. Her skin prickled from the oppressive weight of humidity, sticking her hair to her head and causing sweat to trickle down her back. The sounds....
That was it. Before, she'd heard birds and animals and insects. Now it was just insects. Hundreds and hundreds of insects. They buzzed incessantly around her head, louder and louder...until she realized it wasn't insects she heard. Insects didn't talk.
Her eyes flew open and she twisted to look at the others, whites of her eyes showing.
"Wraith!" she hissed.
"What?" Rodney almost squealed, "But I thought...you said...."
"We have to move," she said urgently, shoving past him to get to the colonel. "We have to get back to the jumper."
"How many?" Sheppard demanded as she reached his position.
"Too many. I can not hear their darts, but I can sense them nearby."
He nodded—that was all he needed. "Go. Lead the way."
She nodded, moving to the far side of Ronon and heading back in the direction from which they had come, lengthening her stride to a fast walk. She didn't need to look to know that Rodney was already right behind her, the scientist's position in retreat scenarios. Plus, she could hear him fumbling to keep up while putting his scanner away.
"What a waste," the scientist was muttering, grunting as he obviously had trouble with his many pockets. "We were close, too. We're practically on top of it, right beneath our feet. I pinpointed an entrance not far from the village that—"
"Shut it, McKay," Sheppard hissed from behind Rodney.
"Can't I even—"
"Are you deliberately trying to get us killed? Stop looking back at me and watch your feet for Christ's sake!"
Teyla had heard the unmistakable sound of Rodney tripping behind her, accompanied by a strangled, "oof."
"There," Sheppard said, "see?"
"Stupid, know-it-all colonels...." Rodney grumbled under his breath. Teyla couldn't help but smile, even as she felt the buzzing growing louder.
She pushed through the palm fronds, ducked under greenery-encrusted branches, focused on keeping them moving faster. They had to get back to the jumper.
With a growing sense of dread, she realized she could feel the Wraith closing in, moving to keep up with the Atlantians, to cut them off. She quickened her pace to a jog.
Behind her, the others moved in time to keep up, trusting her judgment. Even Rodney, despite being overloaded with equipment and the cloying heat dogging them all, kept up. She knew he was probably already red faced, and she heard him panting heavily. Hell, they all were.
With a growl, she attacked the heavy leaves in her way, shoved through the low-lying branches covered in trailing moss and ivy, and cut a straight line through the dense bushes they had skirted before. They didn't have time now. Massive flowers of every imaginable color dappled the lush green and brown surroundings, and iridescent dragonflies and spiders sparkled like diamonds in the tight spaces between the vegetation. The sun lit the thickly covered rainforest floor like bolts of light from above, creating moving shadows outside the almost tangible light.
The buzzing was so loud now, she was beginning to panic. They were so close! Behind her, she heard Rodney hiss, his heavy step close.
Suddenly, a Wraith shade flew across the front of her path. She hesitated, then looked to her right.
Two Wraith crashed through the vegetation towards them, starkly white against the bright colors of their surroundings. They looked washed out—like actual wraiths of myth. Ghosts in the forest. She stopped, her P90 exploding in her arms as she fired her clip at them. The Wraith went down.
Then she pulled her aim, pointing the weapon up at the trees. Standing right with the Wraith were three of the native people of this planet—people she had known to be friends. They were almost invisible inside the forest cover because of their clothes and coloring. It was how they survived. Were they captives? Three men, traditional warrior paint on their faces, dressed for the hunt....
Her eyes widened as one of the men raised a blow-pipe to his mouth, pointing it towards her.
"Teyla!" McKay yelled, diving forward and bringing her down. Above her, she heard Ronon and Sheppard firing on the men who had been with the Wraith.
By the Ancestors, she realized, the people here were helping the Wraith! They'd been set up! She had been set up!
"You okay?" Rodney asked, pulling her up. She nodded, turning to look behind her at the tree at her back. A green-feathered dart was stuck deep into the trunk. Despite the wetness of the air, her mouth felt as dry as sandpaper.
The buzzing in her ears was deafening, and she turned wide eyes to stare up at the scientist. She barely understood as he turned her around and pushed her forward, saying something about needing to keep moving....
As if on cue, she looked to the left and saw more Wraith...and more of the natives bearing down on them. She raised her P90 to fire, almost on automatic. Rodney was firing with his pistol, and she saw both Wraith and men go down. But there were more coming...there were always more coming. She turned to look at Sheppard, to tell him, but he was focused on the area behind them.
Then the colonel turned, his face twisted in anger, his eyes looking directly at her.
And she did.
Sheppard pelted the jungle foliage around them with machine gun fire, firing at anything colorful or white that moved. At least the Wraith stuck out.
The Atlantians moved like a well oiled machine—Teyla instantly took off at his order despite her odd hesitation, blazing the trail, her fantastic sense of direction leading them the quickest way back to the jumper. Rodney ran immediately behind, staying as low as he could, two hands gripping the warm 9MM in his hand, the black pack on his back giving Sheppard the impression of a scurrying beetle. The colonel and Ronon brought up the rear, alternating positions as they took turns firing on the ambushers.
No one spoke; they didn't have the breath or the time.
Teyla flew, watching for exposed roots, jumping logs, bee-lining back towards the rickety rope bridge that had carried them to this side of the jungle. Rodney, less graceful, but fueled by adrenalin, kept up, stepping where she stepped, never letting her out of his sight.
Soon, Sheppard heard the river getting closer, roaring away. The jungle was split in half by a thin, but deep ravine formed by a white river. The Stargate, and the jumper, were on the far side. Teyla's friends—former friends, he amended, having also seen the painted human faces with the Wraith—lived on this side. Rodney had said he suspected the main entrance to the Ancient outpost to be near their village, since most villages had sprung up in such locations. All they had to do to get from one side to the other was cross a rope bridge.
Rodney had loved that. He'd wanted to fly over it, and with good reason. The rope bridge was like something out of a 1940s monster-movie set in the Congo—narrow, rickety and completely treacherous. But Teyla had insisted the people of this world would be frightened by a flying ship, even if it wasn't a dart, and, because of the dense foliage, the only other place to land other than the village had been on the far side of the bridge.
Sheppard really, really regretted the decision now. If they didn't get some distance between them and the Wraith chasing them, they'd be sitting ducks on that bridge.
He thought of suggesting they split up, but the jungle was worse than a maze. Even if he and Ronon could navigate it without Teyla, he wasn't sure what good splitting up would do. There were more than enough Wraith and men to follow both parties.
He just had to hope they got lucky.
He didn't feel that lucky today. Not since he had finally won at Solitaire this morning. Damn it, he should have known!
He saw two more Wraith go down under Ronon's fire. In the background, he heard screaming—the hurt Wraith were obviously feasting on the lives of the villagers to regain their strength. If they had thought they were safe in return for this betrayal, they didn't know the Wraith that well.
He shot to kill any man he saw—frankly, he was doing them a favor.
"The river!" Teyla shouted from up ahead, and Sheppard turned his head, seeing the world open up. Teyla was already making her way across the rope bridge, not about to slow down now. Rodney glanced back once, meeting Sheppard's eyes, clearly making sure that this was the only way, then nodded when Sheppard gestured at him to move.
Teyla was about a third of the way, then ducked as a stunner blast nearly knocked her down. Rodney fired ineffectually with his 9MM into the woods in the direction of the blast, then ducked as one nearly hit him as well. His distraction was enough, though, for Teyla to rip a grenade off her vest and lob it in the right direction. She and Rodney continued to slide across the ropes as the explosion blew out a chunk of the ravine edge.
Sheppard and Ronon continued to fire into the woods, staying on this side of the bridge until the last possible moment, to give their teammates as much cover as possible. Fact was, the jumper was only about a hundred yards down on the other side. If Rodney could reach it, power it up, he might be able to scoop him and Ronon up.
But Sheppard wasn't about to let the Wraith get close enough to feed on him and Ronon either. And they were getting close...
"Shit!" he yelled as a Wraith burst out of the woods not ten feet from their position. A red laser blast hit it square in the chest from Ronon's weapon, and it went down.
"Go!" Sheppard yelled, pulling a couple of grenades from his own vest and lobbing them into the woods in the direction of several more flashes of white. Ronon didn't need to be told twice, practically leaping onto the swaying bridge. Sheppard fired some more rounds, then stepped onto the edge of the bridge, still facing the woods. Looking over his shoulder, he saw Teyla ducking another stunner blast about halfway across, and Rodney cowering not far behind her, looking frozen with fear, even as he tried to inject a new clip into his 9MM. Shit, not now! Rodney chose some of the worst times to panic sometimes.
"Rodney!" he yelled, tapping his radio to be heard better. "You have to get to the jumper! You can come and get us if you do."
He saw the blue eyes lift up, turning to look at him. They were wide and open, fearful and honest and alive. Then Rodney was suddenly on his feet, firing directly at Sheppard.
The colonel ducked, looking back at the woods...in time to see two village hunters fall not three yards from him. He hadn't even heard them! Growling, Sheppard fired again into the woods and then turned and ran along the bridge, needing some distance. Ahead of him, he saw Teyla had twisted one foot into the ropes to keep her balance as she fired her P90 into the woods upriver from their position. Rodney was quickly sidling past her—to get to the jumper as ordered. She was covering him. Ronon was almost to them both, despite taking perfectly aimed shots at the woods as often as he could.
Then it happened.
Rodney jerked, his head going back, left hand going for the dart sticking out of the side of his neck. He didn't make a sound...just collapsed bonelessly....
And slipped silently off the bridge like a stone, falling into the white waters below.
"RODNEY!" Teyla shrieked, diving for him as he fell. But she forget her leg, and the ropes twisted, sending her onto her side hard...and backwards. She yelled in frustration, trying to get to her now trapped leg, to untangle it, but the whole bridge tipped with her, angling up almost vertical to the thirty foot drop into the white river.
"Teyla!" Sheppard shouted, tying to throw his weight against the tipping bridge, to stop it, but it was too late, and with a sickening sensation, he felt it turn over. His hands let go the P90, trying to grab at the ropes...
But he was too slow.
The last thing he heard before everything was drowned out by wind and water was the Wraith stunner that missed him as he fell.
Ronon grabbed at the ropes with his free hand, seeing Teyla feverishly fighting to release herself, and felt the bridge tip. Like Sheppard he tried to force it to stay horizontal, but it was like fighting against the swing of a hammock—once tipped, it was going to go all the way around. His feet slipped off the edge and it was only his grip on the ropes that stopped him.
Teyla screamed, as, abruptly, the ropes holding her in place loosened of their own accord, as if the tension had been released by the overturning bridge, and she fell headfirst into the waters below. Ronon tried to get to her, but couldn't. Twisting, he turned to see Sheppard, but the colonel was gone. The former Runner's eyes widened, holding on now by one hand as the bridge swayed dangerously back and forth over the ravine.
All his teammates....
Even if he got back now, he couldn't get the jumper to work, but if he got back to the Stargate....
Then he saw them.
Wraith. Six of them, standing along the shore. They watched him, swinging back and forth. Just watched. Villagers stood near them, looking angry and scared. He watched as, together, the Wraith collectively turned their heads, all looking up-river.
Ronon followed their gaze, and the sick feeling in his stomach turned cold.
The two Wraith darts angled across the jungle, turned, and aimed straight for him, following straight down the path of the ravine. The Wraith didn't have to get him off the bridge—the dart just had to get close enough to cull him.
The cold in his stomach turned to ice.
He looked down at the river below, the thick, churning water rushing swiftly by.
He tucked his gun inside his vest, then looked over at the Wraith...and smiled.
Then he let go.
Sheppard hit the water feet first, gravity driving him deep. Pain flared up both legs at the harsh impact, but it was nowhere as terrifying as the sensation of the water rushing to fill the funnel caused by his plunge. Then it was everywhere, in his ears, in his eyes, in his mouth, and he struggled to reach the surface...but he no longer knew where the surface was.
He was being twisted and bent, and his back exploded in pain as it impacted a rock, the force of the water slamming him into it like a nail hit by a sledgehammer. The air he'd sucked in as he'd fallen was forcibly expelled from his lungs, and he no longer had the luxury of just finding the surface—he had to.
Suddenly, he was up, exploding out of the waves, driven up with a whirlpool of water that sent him spinning upwards and jetting forward. It was only by luck that he missed another boulder in his path, his burning lungs drawing in needed air just as the water closed in again.
He was turned and turned and turned, any attempts to fight or swim through the current useless. Suddenly he was sucked down into a hole, and he could see sky. Water spun around him, like staring up from a bath drain, and he once more gasped for air. Then it was everywhere again, everywhere and everything.
And then it was calm.
He floated upwards, feeling himself pulled along, still too fast and too quick, the weight of his flak vest nearly pulling him under again. He scrambled to get at it when his brain made the connection that it was dangerous, but his freezing hands couldn't find the buckles fast enough. The P90 tied to it hit his hands, and he tried to knock it away, desperate only not to go down again.
But he was too slow, sucked down under the water again as he was funneled into a natural slide, bobbing up and down and up and down, his world sky and water and white.
And then he fell, screaming, over a waterfall.
Next thing he knew, he was pressed against a rock, hanging on for dear life, not wanting to let go. He wrapped both arms around it, just trying to breathe. His back was on fire, his legs felt numb, his hands were icicles and his face felt about ten sizes too big as he rubbed his cheek against the rough surface.
Right now, he loved this rock. He never, ever wanted to let it go.
And then he saw him.
Teyla was lying on her side, having just thrown up so much water, she wasn't sure she had any left in her body. Stickiness from the knock on her head told her she was bleeding, and the spots behind her eyes were getting more and more insistent. But she didn't want to sleep—she couldn't. Not now.
Her arms shook as she pushed herself up onto her knees, then flopped down again.
Damn it, Teyla Emmagen, get up!
She would not be beaten by a river! She would not!
Arms gathered themselves beneath her again, and something primal in her pushed up.
She made it to her knees, gasping and half wanting to scream. Arms shaking like trees in a hurricane, she forced her right leg to lift up, and to get her right foot firmly planted on the ground.
And she pushed with her legs.
This time, she did scream, but it was low and guttural, like a roar.
Her body, exhausted, beaten, pain-ridden, obeyed the demands of the mind and stood up.
For a moment, she just stood, forcing her stomach down as it begged her to lean over...no...to bend over...to sit down...and curl into a ball.
Personal demons wouldn't let her. This was her fault. She had brought them here. She had failed to cover Rodney. She had been the one to make the bridge tilt.
Anger, frustration and outright agony turned her around, to face the river, to find the others, her fists clenched by her sides.
All she saw was water.
Achingly slowly, she turned a beating skull to look up river, trying to gauge how far she'd come. She could not see the bridge. Then her face turned downstream, to a waterfall about twenty feet away, and beyond to calm river. Well, calmer.
Her eyes focused on one of the black rocks edging the water fall, blinking hard at it.
A hand wiped shakily across her eyes, and she took a few tentative steps closer to the water, to see better.
At first, she couldn't understand why it looked so odd. Then she did.
It was a perfect triangle poking up out of the water. With carvings on it.
She struggled forward a few more steps along the river's edge, never actually lifting her feet from the ground, leaving deep trails in the sand.
It was a carved rock, but it wasn't a triangle. The water rushed around it, giving the illusion of being a triangle, but it was just the pointed top of something long and thin that disappeared into the water. As she got closer, she could see more of the carvings...and recognized a handful of Ancient symbols. Her lips parted, drawn ever closer to the beautiful rock.
In moments, she was at the edge, looking down over the waterfall to the river below.
And her breath caught.
On a beach below, right next to the waterfall, Sheppard was giving CPR to Rodney.
Hope flared, and it gave her the energy to run into the woods, seeking a way down to their level.
"Come on, Rodney," Sheppard gasped, his lungs and back burning, his vision swimming.
"Please," the colonel begged hoarsely, feeling the water at the edges of his eyes. Whether from exertion or sorrow, he just didn't care. Christ, he was just so tired....
He coughed, his hands shaking as he pressed them down once more.
It was getting harder. His head was pounding now, nearly as fast as his heart. His ribs didn't want to expand anymore, too bruised and too worn.
"Damn it, help me out here!" he wheezed, staring at the slack features. "Please!"
He couldn't suck in enough air....
How long had it been? Did it even matter anymore?
"No," he whimpered, leaning forward over his still friend, the tears running down his face openly now. "God, no...."
Then a hand fell heavy and hard on his back, and pushed him away. He wanted to fight it, to fight them, but he couldn't.
He didn't have the strength anymore.
Blearily, he blinked as a huge, dark figure collapsed to his knees next to him and pressed his hands to Rodney's ribs, next to his heart.
"One," the dark man growled, his voice sore, and pumped at Rodney's chest, "Two, three, four, five."
Then the dreadlocked covered head leaned over Rodney and breathed for him.
Sheppard could only wonder.
"Ronon?" he whispered, feeling like he was in a dream.
The Satedan glanced at him, blood trickling out of the man's nose, then returned to his work, pushing down on Rodney's chest hard.
"One, two, three, four, five."
Ronon paused then—to wipe an arm across his lips to get rid of the blood—before he leaned over and breathed into Rodney's lungs.
Before Ronon could breathe a second time for Rodney, the scientist choked. Relief burned through Sheppard's consciousness like a fire, and he moved closer to see. Vaguely, he tried to help, pushing weakly at the scientist's side as Ronon turned the scientist over so Rodney's lungs could expel the rest of the water. Rodney coughed harshly, water spewing from his mouth with a disgusting squishing sound, but, at that moment, it was better than music to Sheppard's ears.
Ronon leaned forward, wrapping his arms around Rodney and sitting him up, pressing the smaller man to his chest as Rodney continued to cough. It eased some as he was brought upright, and soon he was breathing loudly, but evenly. Rodney's head lolled forward, still unconscious, but...his heart was beating. That was all that mattered. Ronon rested his head against the doc's, then tilted it to look at Sheppard. He gave a small smile.
Sheppard blinked at him, then frowned.
"Teyla?" he asked, his voice barely audible.
Ronon closed his eyes in response, giving Sheppard the answer. He closed his own eyes and bowed his head.
"Here," a soft voice called, sliding down some rocks above them. "I'm here. I'm coming."
At the sound, Ronon and Sheppard looked up, turning towards the waterfall's edge, eyes wide and open.
She fell the last few feet and rolled to the ground. Then she literally crawled over to them, her own eyes brimming with tears as she smiled at them both. One hand reached out to touch Ronon's shoulder, as if to verify he was really there as well.
"Thank the Ancestors," she whispered.
And for a moment, no one moved.
Then Rodney coughed again, and Ronon looked up, blinking owlishly up at the blue sky.
"We have to get out of here. The Wraith darts may still be searching," he said, his usual slow speech even more slurred and nasal than usual. He sniffed, grimacing as that hurt what looked like a broken nose. "And he needs a doctor."
"I think we all do," Teyla said softly, nodding.
"Wait...darts?" Sheppard repeated, blinking rapidly. "Did you say...."
As if on cue, they heard the tell-tale whine, loud in their ears even over the roar of the water.
The sound galvanized them like very little else could, and getting their hands under Rodney's arms and legs, quickly dragged him off the beach and into the dense foliage, making sure it covered all of them at the same time. It wasn't hard—the vegetation was as thick as, well, a jungle. The only problem was that they didn't have the time to wipe the evidence of their presence off the wet, sandy beach—they barely had time to cover themselves as the whine became a physical presence, and the dart exploded into sight overhead.
Ronon stared up at it through the leaves—had this been a comic book story, that sort of glare should have penetrated the hull and burned up the Wraith flying it. God knows, Sheppard wished it could.
The dart almost seemed to screech to a halt when it saw the small beach, resulting in an uncomfortable, droning hover, so low and so close it seemed impossible that it couldn't see them. Collectively (and uselessly), the three conscious Atlantians held their breath, waiting as it seemed to get lower and lower to the small shore.
Sheppard, of course, knew that the shell of the dart was opaque, so whatever the dart was scanning for, it wasn't visual confirmation of their presence. They still did not know how the darts differentiated life signs—though it had to be more sensitive than the Atlantian hand held scanners, or else one would assume the darts would scoop up animals along with humans ("…and wouldn't that be a fun surprise on the hive ship," Sheppard recalled McKay quipping, "Whoops, sorry about the tiger in there, dude. But, hey, what's a little mauling between friends?"). It meant the darts were undoubtedly sensitive enough to pick them out of this foliage. Their only hope, really, was the idea that the Wraith's life sign scanners were limited in range to the width of the culling beam.
It seemed too long that the dart hovered over the small beach, swinging back and forth from one side of the river to the other. Did it really know they had been there? Could it tell?
Finally, it lifted up and moved on, flying away swiftly further down river, disappearing like a faded echo.
Three heavy exhales accompanied its passing, and Sheppard dropped his aching, still spinning head into his hands. It was wet with sweat now.
"We need to get out of here," Ronon said coarsely, breaking the silence. It was an obvious statement, but one that needed to be said. They did need to move, and soon.
"At least we are on the right side of the river," Teyla noted softly, peering up the mountain behind them—the one they had literally plunged off of. "But we have far to go to get back to the jumper."
"How far is it?" Sheppard asked, lifting his head and wiping at blurry eyes. She frowned at him, clearly not missing his deep weariness.
"I am not sure. I could not see the bridge when I was up above this waterfall, but I could make out some of the landmarks. A couple of miles, probably less. Not far."
"Not far," Ronon agreed, "But all uphill. Steeply uphill." He was looking at both Teyla and Sheppard, as if measuring their strength…and his own. "If we are to stay hidden from the Wraith and the villagers, it will be a long, slow, painful climb. And we will have to carry McKay."
The colonel frowned, looking at his unconscious friend, then at the others. Blood no longer trickled from Ronon's nose, but one eye and part of his nose and cheek were rapidly swelling shut and turning a nasty shade of purple. Plus, if his body had been battered as much as Sheppard's, it had to be hurting badly right now. Teyla had a greenish pallor to her face that suggested she had been recently sick, and probably still was. Cuts and bruises were prominent on her arms, and there were undoubtedly more hidden underneath her clothes. He hadn't seen her move too much, but her stumbling over to them on the beach had been telling.
"We need to find shelter first," he decided. "A place to rest. I don't think any of use could climb ten feet much less two miles."
Ronon shook his head, "Where? Those villagers and the Wraith will be on this side of the ravine by now, as well as the other. They'll be searching. And I doubt there is only one dart. There is no place to hide and rest, Sheppard. We have to move. Getting back to the jumper or the Stargate is our only chance."
"Teyla," the colonel looked at the Athosian, who was staring despondently towards the river, barely listening to the argument. When she looked at him, he gave her his most intense gaze, willing her to focus. "You know this planet some. Do you know of any place where we might be safe?"
She stared at him, brow furrowed, the closed her eyes, lowering her head in despair. "Until today, I would have said yes. Now…." She trailed off, shaking her head, then pressing a palm to her forehead when the movement obviously caused her pain. She sucked in a breath, "There is no place I know of that the villagers do not." Her tone was tinged with self-recrimination, but Sheppard didn't have time to break her out of that mood right now. With a sigh, he looked up the rockface next to the waterfall, and thought about the distance.
"If I go alone," he said quietly, "I might be able to get to the jumper and bring it down here."
"You can't go alone," Ronon growled. Teyla gave a nod.
"He is right, colonel. You are in no shape to evade—"
"Are any of us?" Sheppard shot back. "One of us probably has a better chance than all four, not with Rodney out cold."
They didn't answer him, and Teyla avoided even looking at him by turning her head back to the river.
"I can make it to the stargate," Ronon said suddenly. "I'll make it through, and bring back help."
Sheppard gave him the fish-eye, "Without a jumper, you're not even going to make it close to the DHD, much less the gate. There will be Wraith and villagers crawling over it by now, just waiting for you to try."
"Well, it's better than your idea!" Ronon yelled furiously, straightening abruptly up from his slump, "You can't even stand!" The jerky movement nearly sent Rodney tumbling where he had been resting against the man's broad chest, and Ronon quickly drew him back. Once they settled him again, Ronon leaned back, head down, no longer meeting Sheppard's eye, using his dreadlocks almost as a shield. His frustration washed off him in waves.
Sheppard sighed tiredly. "I know...believe me, I know. My idea is not a good one, Ronon, but right now...it's the only one," he stated firmly. "Someone needs to get the jumper and bring it down here. And, unless you or Teyla has suddenly developed the gene, I don't think either of you can go in my place. So—"
"I may have another option," Teyla said suddenly. She was still staring at the river, but her gaze was no longer unfocused. She seemed to be staring intently at something in the waterfall.
The other two men looked at her, then at the waterfall, trying to understand her attention.
"When I was up on top of the waterfall," she began, standing up shakily from her crouch, shoving a large, flat leaf off her arm, "I noticed that one of the rocks on the edge was not natural. It was shaped," she turned to look at Sheppard, "deliberately carved into a triangular shape. Looking now, I can see that there are actually two of them. The other was just more hidden by the water—and is a partially broken." She pointed to the top of the waterfall, not too far from where they were.
The falls themselves were not tall—maybe five, six feet above the level of the water. Looking at them now, Sheppard noticed that, indeed, they seemed oddly smooth. The edge was a straight line, looking almost manufactured. And Teyla was right, sticking out of the top of the falls were two nearly perfect triangles—only one partially broken.
"They were covered in the symbols of the Ancestors," she said then, looking even more intently at Sheppard now. "I think...I think they make up part of an elaborate archway."
Sheppard's eyebrows lifted, "archway?"
"As in a door?" Ronon said, still trying to see what Sheppard and Teyla saw.
"Yes." She tilted her head, turning back to the waterfall. "I think there is an entrance hidden behind the waterfall—perhaps leading into the Ancient outpost we came here to find. Did Doctor McKay not say it was beneath our feet when we were on top of the mountain? And it may explain why the river here is so calm and flat, while the rest of it rages across rocks." She indicated the river before them, "This area might have been a courtyard, or even part of a road."
Sheppard struggled to his feet now, now examining the river more closely. The calmness here was the only reason he...and probably Ronon and McKay, were able to surface and get to shore. It was shallower here and...yes, he remembered now, the ground beneath his feet when he had waded to where McKay had gotten snagged (the man's bulky packpack had saved his life, snagging him between two rocks sticking out of the water), had been level. Looking at those rocks now, including the one he himself had caught himself on (and professed his undying love for), were all evenly placed before the waterfall...and regularly shaped—almost perfect cylinders. Were they...could they really have been placed there? For decoration? But....
"Why build an entrance inside a waterfall?" Ronon asked, voicing the question Sheppard himself had been about to ask.
"Rivers move," Teyla said. "10,000 years is a long time. This river may not have been here back when this entrance was built."
"Are we sure it's an entrance?" Sheppard asked, peering into the curtain of water. He really couldn't make out anything behind it.
Teyla gave a wry look, glancing down at McKay still in Ronon's arms, as if hoping he would answer, as he usually always did. Sighing, she shook her head.
"No. It is only a guess. Perhaps...more a hope. If it is an entrance—"
"We might be able to rest inside," Sheppard nodded. "Maybe even find another way to get back to the jumper."
"Yes," she said.
"Hmm," Sheppard frowned, then looked at McKay. Kneeling down next to the scientist, he dug into the man's vest and pulled out the hand-held scanner. When he wrestled it out of the still wet pocket, he stopped for a moment to stare at his friend's features. They were still, completely still. It was unnatural. Only the man's wheezing breaths told Sheppard he was still alive.
"I already tried waking him," Ronon offered quietly, seeing Sheppard's concern. The former Runner pulled McKay a bit closer to him, adjusting him so that he would get more warmth—the scientist was shivering slightly. "Even pinched him. Nothing. He's out."
For a moment, the colonel said nothing, then his entire face hardened.
"We could use him," he said gruffly, looking down at the scanner, as if that's all he cared about.
Ronon just nodded, not the least bit fooled.
Frowning, Sheppard forced himself to stay focused and stood up again, still holding the scanner. Shaking it to get rid of some excess water droplets, he aimed it towards the waterfall and studied the blinking screen.
It was currently reading life signs. Not too helpful. Okay...he could do this. McKay had shown him how to work the scanner to do other things...like find energy signatures. He just had to remember how.
Wiping his free arm across his forehead and fighting back a short wave of dizziness, he pressed a couple of buttons on the scanner...and found himself looking at a datascreen filled with Ancient.
Maybe it was a menu?
Hitting a few more buttons, the screen changed...and showed life-signs again. Crap. Crap, crap, crap. McKay made this look easy.
"Telling you anything?" Ronon asked, honestly curious. Sheppard scowled, hitting more buttons.
"Not really. I can't seem to...ha!" He found himself looking at another screen.
There were things blipping all over it—not life signs, so...what the hell was he looking at now?
Local restaurants? Area attractions? Why did he feel like Pac Man was about to show up and eat all these stupid little dots up?
His face fell. This was useless.
"You don't know what you're doing, do you?" Ronon said, straightforward as ever.
Sheppard closed his eyes, sighed, and knelt down, putting the hand-held back into McKay's vest from where he got it.
"Right," the colonel said, glancing once more at McKay's slack features, then turned back to the river, "I guess there's no other way to find out what's there than take a look." He stood up again, rubbing a hand through his hair. At least his headache was more manageable now.
"Wait," Ronon said, standing up, bringing McKay up with him as if the man weighed no more than a rag doll. It was damned impressive. "Let me do it. That current's too strong for you."
Sheppard was about to respond smartly that he'd do his best not to get swept away, but then closed his mouth.
Besides being a joke only Rodney would get, it actually wasn't that funny...being as it was something that could very likely happen.
"It has to be me," he said finally. "After all, it probably requires that special touch..." he lifted a hand, waving fingers at them. Sighing, he looked down at his clothes, then at Rodney's pack. "See if he has something useful in there, like a rope."
Teyla was already digging into the black depths, while Sheppard considered the jungle. He saw what looked an awful lot like a Tarzan vine and, stepping past Ronon and Rodney, went over to it and tugged. Then he tugged harder.
Next thing he knew, Ronon was by his side, climbing up the vine, knife in his teeth. Sheppard could only raise his eyebrows and back up. He stopped when he hit something soft, and looked down to see that Teyla was now propping up McKay and, like him, was watching impressed as Ronon climbed the vine like a frikkin' monkey.
About fifteen feet up, Ronon stopped...and started sawing at a point below his top handed grip. He growled a little when it didn't give easily, but brute force eventually won out, and the vine snapped, pooling to the ground in a coil. Sheppard gathered it up and drew it out of the way, over to the small beach. Teyla had already moved Rodney a little, trying to get out of what was about to become a landing site.
And Ronon dropped, hitting the ground in an ungainly and painful sounding heap. Not surprisingly, he didn't make a sound when he hit, but, for a moment, he didn't move, just stayed prone on his side, getting his breath back. That simple act was enough to show in just how much he really was hurting.
No one said anything.
Still on the beach, Sheppard tied the vine as best he could around his waist, then looked up.
Ronon, sensing this, pushed himself back up to his feet and, turning, dragged himself over to where the colonel stood. He gathered up the other end of the vine, wrapped it around his hand and wrist, then nodded to the colonel. Ready.
Sheppard gave him a smile, turned, and waded into the water, trying to stay as close to the falls as possible. He staggered several times, but, amazingly, never lost his footing. It got deep quickly, from washing around his ankles to suddenly wrapping around his thighs, and then his waist....
Were there steps under here?
The water felt familiar, heavy and terrifying, all at the same time.
He was willing himself forward, hating every moment of this, shivering even though it wasn't cold.
Using the rocks downriver from his position as markers (because trying to look up at the top of the falls was impossible now, with all the water coming down), he stopped when he thought he was in the middle of Teyla's "archway."
Planting his feet as best he could on the slick (but, yes, flat) surface beneath his feet, water up to his neck, he turned to face what he hoped was an entrance. Blinking furiously, trying to see through the wash of white water, he reached a hand forward into the cascade.
It touched nothing. He wasn't close enough.
Grimacing, he closed his eyes and forced himself to actually step under the waterfall.
It was like someone was driving nails into his skin, the weight of the water on his head and shoulders was so harsh. Christ, he couldn't do this for long.
His arm was aching fiercely, but he pushed it forward again, his fingers reaching...reaching....
And then touched...metal.
He nearly opened his eyes again, especially when he felt the metal warm to the touch and slide away.
Nearly crying out with relief, he plunged the rest of the way forward, his whole body disappearing into the falls, to where the metal wall...door?...had been.
And fell through the now open doorway into a cold, musty room, water already seeping past him to fill the floor in here.
"Oh, shit," he whispered, realizing that he was going to flood this room if he kept the door open. With surprising quickness, he pushed back out of the waterfall and mentally closed the door...and slipped. The waterfall shoved him down, and he immediately went under.
Gagging, he burst to the surface, already several feet away from the base of the falls, the fast current dragging him swiftly downriver. Struggling against it, he tried to regain his footing, only to be felled once more, but this time by a sharp tug at his waist. Flopping around, he realized Ronon was pulling him back to the shore, and though he tried to help, he couldn't. All his strength seemed sapped. Suddenly, he was under again, water shoving down at him, trying to keep him down, but Ronon didn't stop his sharp, strong pulls.
In seconds, he was back on the shore, gasping, while Ronon got under his arms and pulled him closer to Teyla and Rodney.
The Athosian's eyes were wide and concerned...and wretched. That was when Sheppard realized that all she had probably seen was him nearly drown again. He opened his mouth to speak, and suddenly found himself hacking, body trying to get the water out of his lungs.
"I was wrong," she whispered, as he coughed, her arms tightening around Rodney. "I am so sorry. I had really thought—"
"No, no," he said, waving a hand at her, and then offering her the brightest smile he could. "Teyla...Teyla, you were right! It's there! I found a room! But we have to all go in together. If I open that door again, the river will flood the room inside unless I close it fast enough." He was grinning at both her and Ronon now, rather enjoying the tentative expressions of hope on both their faces.
"Really?" Teyla said finally, her eyes bright. "I was? It is actually there?"
He nodded, laughing weakly. "Congratulations, Teyla. You just had your first McKay moment! Discovered an Ancient Outpost entrance, all by yourself."
Her eyes widened at that, then, amazingly, she started to laugh. Even Ronon cracked a smile at that.
Sheppard sniffed, wiping a hand across his running nose, then raised his eyebrows. The other's mirth didn't last long, and soon they were working together to find a way to get them all into that room as quickly as possible.
It was sheer grit that got four people, one of whom was slung over the shoulder of the tallest member, into the room behind the waterfall in one fell swoop. Tied together by the vine, Sheppard literally opened the door, jumped inside, got out of the way of the others, then turned and shut the door again, all within the span of a heartbeat.
Well, not his current heartbeat, which felt like it would explode out of his chest, but close.
He pressed his eyes shut and rested his head against the now firmly shut metal door, breathing in relief. For the first time, he felt safe—at least for the moment. His feet splashed at the inch or so of water that had gotten inside, but at least it wasn't more.
"Um, Sheppard?" Ronon's voice behind him woke him from his reverie, and he opened his eyes. For a moment, he frowned…then turned.
He couldn't see Ronon. He couldn't see Teyla either. He couldn't see anything.
It was pitch black inside this space.
And somehow, he just knew what Ronon was going to say next.
"Sheppard," Ronon said again, indicating he was somewhere to the left. "It's dark in here."
The colonel let himself give a wry grin at that, at the same time that Teyla obviously remembered she still had her P90 tied to her vest.
A beam of light erupted from the weapon, and she swung it around to look at Ronon—Rodney still hanging loose over his shoulder—then Sheppard, then the room. By that point, Sheppard had his flashlight turned on as well and was untying the vine from his waist. Teyla untied herself one-handed with an almost distracted air, eyes and flashlight inspecting the Atlantian like decorations on the walls, but once Sheppard was free, he just looked for a place to sit down. He noted a pair of long flat benches facing each other in the middle of the room, and turned his light on Ronon.
"Put him down on there," he said tiredly, pointing the light at one of the stone benches, wanting to lie down on it himself. He heard Ronon grunt in agreement and, with Sheppard's help, got Rodney lying down on his side, slightly curled. Sheppard then pulled the emergency blanket from Rodney's vest and, shaking the silver material out, quickly draped it over him—the man was shivering even harder now. The second dousing had not done him—or any of them—any favors. Ronon knelt next to the bench, resting his hand atop Rodney's head, feeling his forehead and frowning.
"He's warm," he noted.
Sheppard had moved away to sit on the bench opposite, shivering a little himself. It was cold in here—a shock to the system after the heat of the jungle. Then it registered what Ronon had said.
"Warm?" he repeated.
"Fever. Slight, but there."
"Great," the colonel muttered, sighing a little. He swung his flashlight around a little more and took better stock of their surroundings.
It was obviously an anteroom of some kind. It was almost perfectly square and not very large—perhaps the size of a small living room. There was nothing in it but the two beautifully carved stone benches, one of which Rodney was now occupying, a few similarly adorned stone chairs, and some pretty artwork on the walls. On the opposite side of the room from the entrance, a set of six wide steps led up to another door.
Teyla seemed to notice it at the same time, and approached the steps cautiously. Sheppard sighed even more heavily, levered himself up from his chair, and moved over to join her. Moving gingerly up the steps, the two people quickly inspected the door—looking for the touchpad typically on the side—and, when they didn't find it, Sheppard just pressed a hand to the door itself.
Like the entrance, it slid open, revealing…another pitch black room.
"Can you turn the lights on?" Teyla asked, ducking her head inside and using her flashlight to inspect it. It was much larger, and it seemed to swallow the pale beams. When she spoke, her voice echoed slightly.
Sheppard closed his eyes, thinking "lights"…but nothing happened. Not exactly as responsive as Atlantis, now, was it? Of course, Rodney would know how to get them on. Hell, if he was awake, the lights would probably already be on, and the scientist would be halfway through figuring out the fastest route back to the jumper by some magical Ancient device....
For the first time, Sheppard realized just how much they took McKay for granted.
"No," he said, sighing a little, "I can't turn the lights on, at least, not by will. And they're clearly not automatic."
"Well, they might be," Teyla said, stepping further into the room, trembling a little. It was even colder in this room, and the wet hair dripping water down her back was not helping. "But there may not be any power."
Sheppard considered this, then shook his head. "But the doors opened. Something powered them...right?"
"How do the doors work in Atlantis?" Teyla said, answering his question with one of her own. "And aren't some lights on all the time, at least when there is a little power? The ones in the walls? But there are none on in here at all. This feels more like how we found Doranda."
Ooh, that brings up painful memories. Still, she had a point. Sheppard shook his head, thinking of how fast Rodney had gotten that place up and running—mere seconds under Rodney's touch and it had been humming.
"I...I'm really not the one to ask," he replied, his brow furrowing. "I don't know."
Teyla grimaced, and, as if on cue, turned to look at Rodney. Sheppard did the same.
Come on, Answer man, Sheppard thought. We need you.
Ronon had sat on a chair next to McKay's bench, slumping into it, and was now just watching Rodney breathe. At some point, he had pulled McKay's much larger flashlight out of his pack, and had it pointed at the scientist, practically right in his face. The fact that it didn't cause McKay even to stir was beyond unsettling. Ronon had also placed something soft under McKay's head to act as a pillow, and the way McKay's head was arched as a result, the colonel could easily see the deep puncture wound in the man's neck, an angry red welt in the white light.
Oh right...the dart the villager's had hit him with. Rage boiled up inside him at the memory, finally quelling some of his exhaustion.
"What the hell was in that dart, Teyla?"
She looked back at him, frowning a little, her cheeks darkening a touch.
"A drug. It is designed to incapacitate. The people here prefer their meat as fresh as possible, and so, in their hunt, only seek to bring their prey down, not kill it. That they do later. I have…," she paused, swallowing thickly before continuing, "I have hunted with them a few times when I have visited. They hunt in the morning, and usually the meat is eaten at dinner. I believe the drug is supposed to wear off within six to eight hours."
Sheppard was watching her intently, never blinking. When she finished, he nodded. "And how big are the animals they hunt here?"
She shook her head. "Large," she admitted unhappily. "Larger than Rodney."
"What do you mean," Ronon said then, swiveling his light to point at her, "it's only 'supposed' to wear off in that time. You've never seen it wear off?"
"No," she replied. "They kill the animal before it wakes up."
For a moment, neither man spoke, then Sheppard hissed a small swear.
"So we have no idea whether he will wake up...not really."
"I...I do not know. I am sorry, colonel."
"Yeah," he muttered. He leant against the doorframe and lifted his left arm, to check his watch. It had been less than an hour since Rodney was hit—it felt like years.
"Six to eight hours," Sheppard repeated, "probably longer. And we have no idea what it's doing to him. Assuming that it's the same drug that they use when hunting, of course." He stepped down off the steps and headed back to McKay. Sitting down on the edge of the bench next to the scientist's head, he rested a light hand on the man's forehead, feeling the same unnatural warmth Ronon had. The Satedan was right—McKay had a fever. His body was fighting something—but what?
"We have to get him back to Atlantis," he said finally. "Sooner, rather than later. I was hoping we could rest here for a couple of hours, but I don't think he has that time. I'm already worried about how long it took us to get him breathing again, not to mention the damage we did to his ribs, and this drug-induced sleep of his is freaking me out. He needs Beckett."
"But," Teyla glanced into the pitch dark room behind her again, "this place...."
"Isn't going anywhere," Sheppard said, looking up at her. He stood, rubbing hard at his head, willing the pain throbbing there to fade.
"I know that," Teyla said. "I meant, what if there is something here that can help us? Shouldn't we...look around a little first?"
Hand still resting on his head, he looked at her. Slowly, he shook his head. "We don't have the time."
She frowned, glancing at Rodney. Sheppard shook his head more.
"This isn't just about Rodney. In about five hours, Atlantis is going to dial here, looking for us. When we don't answer, what's going to happen?"
She grimaced, and nodded. "They will send another jumper."
"And even if it cloaks as soon as it's through the gate, it won't be fast enough to avoid detection by the Wraith. They might even be waiting for it. Which leads me to wonder...can a dart cull a jumper?"
Her eyes widened at the idea, then her jaw steeled. He nodded.
"I'm betting it can too."
Her eyes closed, and she turned her head away.
"Hey," Ronon said, calling their attention to him. He was sitting up a bit straighter, staring up at Sheppard. The colonel sighed.
"Not arguing, Sheppard," Ronon said. "Back to Atlantis as soon as possible—sounds like a great plan. My only question is—how do we do it?"
The colonel shrugged. "Same as before. I need to rest for a bit, get my head to stop spinning, then I'll climb this damn mountain and make for the jumper. You two stay here; watch over him. Don't explore—we don't know what's in this place, or what they did here. If it was a medical research facility, like McKay suggested when we first came through the gate, I don't want you two discovering how the Ancient's died of a plague. Plus, the power is off right now—the freaky doors notwithstanding—but if you do somehow turn it on, the Wraith'll probably pick it up…and come looking."
Ronon looked a little aggrieved by the McKay-like speech, but didn't reply, just slumped back into his chair. Teyla, however, took it all in stride.
"One of us should go with you," she stated, giving up her attempt to appear stalwart and sitting down heavily on the wide steps leading up to the dark, upper room. "Now that we are in here, Doctor McKay is as safe as he can be. You will need one of us to guard your back. And," she shrugged, "though I may be faster on my feet, it should probably be Ronon, considering his past…." She trailed off, looking at the former Runner.
"Avoiding Wraith hunting parties is something I'm good at," Ronon said, smiling coldly. "Lots of practice."
Sheppard frowned, and opened his mouth to argue that he'd be better on his own, when, oddly, he heard McKay's voice in his head. Oh, for Christ's sake, Sheppard, listen to the woman! For once in your life, ignore your idiot martyr complex and let Ronon help you. He's better at this than you, and you know it.
It sounded so real in his ears, Sheppard actually looked down, to make sure McKay hadn't moved.
"What?" Ronon asked, sitting up a little at Sheppard's startled expression. "Something wrong?" He looked at Rodney, "He okay?"
"Yeah, yeah," the colonel swallowed, his eyes narrowing a little. "Just…." He frowned, shaking his head, then regretting the motion as his headache reminded him it was there—nastily. Sighing, he rubbed his head and looked up at the former Runner. "Just thought I heard McKay say something there for a sec." He shrugged, "Teyla's right. I could use the help. You willing to climb this thing with me?"
Over on the steps, Teyla's eyebrows lifted. She obviously hadn't expected it to be that easy to convince the colonel. She looked at Ronon, clearly willing him to answer in the affirmative. She needn't have worried.
"I'll get you to the jumper," the former Runner promised Sheppard, his voice brimming with confidence. Sheppard gave a small smile.
"How long do you want to rest?" Teyla asked, watching the colonel. Sheppard sighed, looked at his watch, then moved to settle himself on the other bench. As he lay down, he shut the flashlight on his P90 off, darkening the room a little more.
"No more than an hour." He curled up on his side, propping his head up on his hands, eyes already closing.
"An hour," she agreed. "I will wake you then."
In return, he gave a small smile, which faded as he immediately drifted off to sleep.
Ronon thought about joining him, knowing Teyla would be more than happy to wake him as well, but she needed rest too. If she was going to stay here with Rodney, she needed to be awake, which would be hard if she had nothing to occupy her. With this in mind, he turned in his chair to tell her to get some sleep.
But she was gone.
His eyes widened, and he stood up swiftly. It showed the depth of Sheppard's exhaustion that the normally light-sleeping colonel didn't wake up at the movement.
Frowning deeply, Ronon strode over to the stairs and walked up, shining Rodney's fat flashlight into the dark room.
Teyla was standing a couple of feet inside, studying the room with her flashlight. For some obscure reason, the light wasn't penetrating the darkness—it lit about three or four feet in front of her, then the beam seemed to die, without revealing anything.
"What are you doing?" Ronon hissed, his shoulders itching at her disobedience. "Sheppard said—"
"The colonel ordered us not to explore after he left," she answered smartly. "He did not say anything about not doing so while he was still here."
"Teyla," Ronon rumbled ominously.
"There might be something here that can help us," she insisted, taking another tentative step forward into the darkness. "There has to be," she added in a soft voice.
"You're not McKay," the Satedan stated.
That brought Teyla up short, her shoulders hunching slightly. Slowly, she turned, eyeing him over her shoulder.
"I am aware of that, Ronon."
He flexed an eyebrow, "Then why go looking for trouble?"
She swallowed, and looked down at the floor. "Doctor McKay does not go looking for trouble," she said finally, her jaw muscles flexing as if tasting the words she spoke, "he simply rushes into things, and it sometimes gets him into trouble."
Ronon's other eyebrow rose to join the first, as if to say, my point.
She frowned at him, "But other times, it gets him...gets us...what we need to survive and to win the day. He does not hesitate—he jumps into things when he believes it will help us. Never a thought for himself." Her eyes fixed on his, and her chin lifted. "I find that admirable."
Ronon shrugged, "So?"
"So...he is not here right now. We are. And someone needs to at least try and see if there is something here that can help us." She pointed back at the first room, "If it were you, me, or Colonel Sheppard in that room, unconscious and maybe dying, you know he would be in here, searching desperately for something to get us home." Her hand returned to its grip on her P90, and she nodded at him. "I will not do any less that what he would do."
"But," Ronon's brow knotted, "I repeat—you're not McKay. When he starts looking for something, he has a reasonably certainty of finding it, and fast. You don't."
She stared at him, her jaw so tight it looked painful.
"Yes," she said, turning away, "but I can still try."
Purposefully ignoring him, she lifted the weapon in her arms, the beam of the flashlight still not penetrating very far, and took another cautious step forward.
Ronon sighed, lifted his own light...and moved to stand next to her.
"Well," he said, feigning a lazy drawl, "I guess I can try too."
The tiniest smile touched Teyla's lips, but she didn't look at the former Runner—she was just thankful he was there.
She took another tentative step forward, her brow furrowing. She finally realized that, despite the impression of being in a large room, her flashlight beam was being blocked by something very solid...and large.
But it wasn't a wall. It looked almost diaphanous, but it was also opaque, like trying to see through a black cloud. Frowning, she widened the beam on her flashlight, opening it to the widest aperture, but the thing just absorbed the light more.
Next to her, Ronon had stopped about a foot from the thing, his much wider beam also on its broadest scope. He was shining it upwards, tracing the black stuff up until it met the ceiling. Teyla swung her beam from one side to the other—it filled the entire room like a curtain, blocking them from whatever lay behind.
"What is it?" Ronon asked, stepping back. "And...is it moving?"
"Moving?" Teyla repeated, swinging her beam back to the portion of the blackness in front of her. At the same time, she heard a very faint sound...like the small hiss of an electrical discharge. And the wall of blackness undulated slightly, as if yawning.
Her eyes widened in sudden recognition.
"No..." she whispered, "It can't be." Then corner of her eyes caught movement. "RONON! NO!" she screamed, jumping at him as he reached forward to touch a finger to the black mass.
But she was too slow. He yelped in pain as stinging, burning pain lit his fingers on fire at the same time that she pulled him back, using her full body weight to drag him back to the door.
The energy creature came alive, rippling and billowing like a stretching animal.
Teyla looked back in horror, screaming at him to run. He didn't need to be told twice.
"Colonel!" Teyla shouted, bounding through the door after Ronon and down the steps, "There's an energy—"
The whole room shook with incredible violence, and Teyla screamed. Something just tried to blow open the outside door!
"COLONEL!" she yelled again, trying to see as she fell sharply sideways off the steps, hitting the water-covered floor. In seconds, she was on her feet again, diving for McKay. Hitting him straight on, she rolled them both off the bench and onto the floor, just as the outer door exploded inwards from the force of a Wraith dart blast, shedding light and water everywhere.
She heard Sheppard yell at her to get down, but she was already on the ground, holding McKay to her, trying to keep his head out of the water that was rapidly filling the room.
The room came alive with sound of fire, as stunner blasts flew inside, aiming to hit anything that they could. The Wraith had found them!
Then, suddenly, all the hairs on her body were standing on end, and her skin felt like it was on fire as the energy monster boiled into the room behind her. Without really thinking about it, she sucked in a breath, pressed a hand over McKay's nose and covered his mouth with hers...then shoved both herself and McKay down fully under the now almost foot deep water.
Sheppard and Ronon, with the same instinct as Teyla, were fully immersed, both staring up through the rippling water in wonder as the blue, bright lights of the Wraith stunners impacted the now fully awake energy creature. It erupted through the room over their heads, like a thundercloud churning across a clear sky, driven by hunger and the promise of food. The stunner blasts coursing across it like lightning were probably fantastic appetizers.
In seconds it was gone completely, and Sheppard burst up out of the water with a gasp, turning and staring at the outer door hanging half open, the top portion blown to bits, its melted edges brightly lit by the sunlight cutting through the waterfall beyond. Water continued to sluice through the opening, still filling the room.
Scrambling to their feet, he and Ronon slogged through the now thigh deep water to the gaping former door—they wanted to see! Wrestling the twisted metal down and away, they climbed through as soon as it was wide enough, scraping arms and legs on the sharp edges, and slipped into the deep water on the other side. The waterfall tried to push them under, but sheer stubbornness had them out from under it and several feet downriver in moments, away from its danger.
Three or four badly burnt Wraith soldiers, their bodies black and crispy, floated swiftly away from them, while several others appeared to be disappearing into the woods, running for their lives. Stunner weapons, their light completely dead, floated like driftwood along the current.
But it was nowhere near as satisfying as the sight of the energy monster wrapped around two Wraith darts in the sky overhead, sucking them dry, the two ships fighting uselessly to get away.
Nearly slipping into the river current, Sheppard felt Ronon's strong grip on the back of his shirt keeping him upright. Trusting in that, he held up a hand to see past the glare of the sun behind the energy creature, the return of the jungle heat and the electrically charged air curling his hair.
And suddenly, the first Wraith dart exploded. The Wraith must have hit the self-destruct rather than die in pain from being burned alive.
"WHOO!" Ronon yelled, shaking Sheppard in glee. It just made Sheppard lose his footing again, but Ronon soon had him hauled up again.
The energy monster was in hog heaven, as it slurped every morsel of power out of the exploded dart as it fell...
And then the second exploded.
"HA!" Sheppard yelled, unable to avoid his own joy at the sight, slapping a flat hand against the river and splashing Ronon next to him. "Take that, you bastards!" He grinned at the pieces of dart splashing into the river well downstream, one large chunk hitting one of the dead Wraith now far away from them, capsizing it. Laughing, he was too happy to notice he and Ronon had been driven several yards away from the protective waterfall themselves now, the current tripping and sliding them further and further into the open.
The energy monster swirled like a massive black cyclone in the sky, seeking its next meal. As they watched, it seemed to slow, as if sensing something, then it suddenly streaked away, headed up river, keeping well above the water.
"I just hope to God there's a Cruiser or a Hive up there somewhere," Sheppard said, twisting a little to watch it disappear.
"Yeah," Ronon agreed wholeheartedly, his own eyes bright.
"At the very least, it will probably find every last Wraith dart on this planet and take care of them for us. That certainly evens the odds...a lot."
"Yeah," Ronon said again, then frowned a little. "By the way...what was that thing?"
Sheppard glanced at him, then exploded in laughter. He couldn't help it. It was bearing on hysterical—he was so incredibly exhausted, exalted, hurting, and high on adrenalin, the laughter almost sounded like tears.
Ronon's frown faded, and he strengthened his grip on Sheppard's collar in concern. He then looked around, as if realizing just how exposed they were. His frown returned full force as he turned to look back at the waterfall. It was a good fifteen feet away from them, and getting farther away. Every bobbed step they took to stay standing was pushing them further downstream.
"Colonel!" Teyla's muffled voice echoed from somewhere inside still, her worried shout barely audible. "Ronon!"
At her yell, Sheppard turned, and came to the same realization as the Runner. Fear coursed through him and he twisted to face the waterfall, trying to fight the impossibly strong current and get back to her and McKay. Next to him, Ronon was doing the same, his greater height giving him some advantage, but not much.
Suddenly, Teyla emerged from the waterfall, and they could see she was holding the vine up over her head. She was nearly swallowed by the deep river because of her much shorter height, barely keeping her chin above the water. As they got closer, she threw what she could of the vine towards them, and they grabbed on.
Working together, they climbed up the vine, which Teyla had obviously secured to something inside the room, and, in moments, were climbing through the hole the Wraith dart had created, back into the now water-filled anteroom.
"Hurry!" Teyla called, arms working like a swimmer's to keep herself afloat, "The upper room! I've already moved Doctor McKay up there!"
The two men let go the vine and made their way to the steps on the other side, climbing up to the next room, where the energy monster had been. Teyla, behind them, disappeared for a moment under the water...then came back up, holding up the now untied other end of the ivy.
She must have tied it to the bench leg, Sheppard realized, smiling proudly at her. She nodded back and joined them.
As soon as they were all inside the upper room, Sheppard touched the door...and it shut.
Some water had gotten in here, but not much. He saw Ronon immediately kneel down, to check on McKay lying a few feet up from the door. Teyla must have dragged the unconscious scientist up in here as soon as she could.
"He okay?" Sheppard asked, leaning against the wall over them.
"Alive," was all Ronon said.
Sheppard blew the air out of his lips, rubbed a hand down his face...then stopped.
Hang on a minute. He could see Ronon. He could see everything.
Wonder lit his face as he realized that the lights had turned on around him. His mouth fell open in surprise.
Teyla grinned, unable to hide her relief as, like a chain reaction, the sconces on the walls burst into life one after another, revealing a long, upwards sloping, hall-like room. There were steps and ramps leading up from each level to the next, going on for an incredibly long distance. It reminded Sheppard of an extremely long corridor he had seen in the Vatican once, an optical illusion making that hall appear five times as long as it really was. Difference here was, this hall really did stretch on for what looked like almost a mile, straight uphill. It was amazing. Consoles lined and filled the walls, along with cabinets and other bits of equipment. And, with just a mental nudge, every single thing in here started humming with power.
Sheppard nearly sighed with relief. The Ancients must have turned all the lights and equipment off when they left, meaning the energy creature couldn't feed on whatever was powering this place. It must have just fed on whatever was still on, then taken a "nap" of sorts, until Teyla and Ronon reawakened it. And now, with the monster gone...the lights were able to turn on again in response to their presence...and reveal the longest hall he had ever seen.
"Wow," he whispered, impressed.
"Incredible," Teyla agreed.
"Useful," Ronon added.
Teyla and Sheppard turned to look at the former Runner, just as Ronon pulled McKay up into a sitting position, then on to his feet...and over his shoulder. With a grunt, Ronon straightened and met their surprised gazes.
"What?" he asked, frowning. He shifted McKay a little, then indicated the long room with his chin. "It goes up." He arched an eyebrow at them when they still didn't seem to get it. "McKay once said to me, most of his ideas come from starting with the obvious, something he says most people never do. Something about, not just seeing the forest for the trees, but remembering that the trees make up the forest?" He looked at them, as if hoping one of them would explain that to him, then the shoulder McKay wasn't hanging over shrugged. "The jumper is up. The gate is up. This room goes up. There will be a door at the other end, and they will come looking for us down here soon. So...we should go up."
For a moment, neither Sheppard nor Teyla moved, then, with a small smile, Sheppard started to laugh again. This time, though, it was a real laugh.
The three very weary people soon lost interest in their surroundings, climbing more and more slowly up the long hall-like room.
It had obviously been a long cave once, probably carved by the same river that was now above ground, and the Ancients had taken advantage of its cool, hidden nature by creating one long endless room. Each "level" was about ten feet long, at the end of which were several steps between two ramps lifting them to the next level. No partitions or walls separated the levels, though the edge of the floor in each level was marked by a different shade of marble.
Legs began to burn, barely lifting, scraping along the cracked, stone flooring. The air was clammy, musty, and rank with mildew. The damp atmosphere was uncomfortable in the enclosed space, like climbing up through a poorly vented greenhouse. Their drying clothes began to chafe, denying them even the kindness of comfortable outfits.
Water dripped down the walls around them—for all that it looked like an Atlantian corridor, it was still a natural formation, with natural flaws. The river still leaked into this underground chamber, and it had formed substantial cracks in the walls. Several lights were no longer working, too damaged by the saturated surface.
The monotony of the climb was broken only by the handful of muffled explosions they heard. The first had occurred not too long after they started climbing, and they'd all looked around, confused. Then they realized—the energy creature. They were hearing Wraith darts exploding. It brought the briefest of smiles to all their faces.
About a third of the way up, part of one wall had caved in. Sheppard stopped, staring at the crumbled rock and the mess it had made of the Ancient work-station it had buried. The other two stopped as well, waiting as the colonel stepped forward and toed a very familiar looking containment device. It was identical to the one that had held the energy creature on Atlantis, except it was very clearly cracked.
"Well," he said, glancing at Teyla, "there's the answer to that."
"Is it the same?" Teyla asked, tilting her head.
"Yeah. For a moment," he shrugged, "I thought that it was the same energy creature, even though that isn't really possible, seeing as we gated that one far, far away from here. But, from the looks of it, the Ancients must have captured more than one." He kicked the damaged containment device. "I guess they were studying our new friend Blobby back there at this station."
"You've come across one of those energy creatures before?" Ronon asked, his voice a nasal drawl—the stuffy air was not clearly helping the man's bashed nose. Sheppard glanced askance at him, then remembered. Of course—Ronon didn't know. Quickly, he told the story of the creature that had nearly killed them when they first arrived in Atlantis, released by Jinto, and of McKay's Hail Mary.
"McKay saved the day?" Ronon said when Sheppard finished, obviously surprised.
"It's part of the reason he's on my team," the colonel nodded. Looking down again, he indicated the device at his feet again.
"They kept the creature in a containment unit exactly like this one. The cave in here obviously broke this one open. The creature we just saw must have then eaten up all the available power in this room, whatever was left on, then decided to take a nap until someone...or someones...let it out." He glanced at them then, and his eyes darkened a trifle. There was no question who the someones were, and he wasn't happy about it.
"Well, you opened the door," Ronon shot back, not the slightest bit contrite. Teyla gave the Satedan a dark look, knowing that was really the wrong thing to say.
Sheppard's eyebrows furrowed, his eyes cold. "But I didn't go inside. And I'm pretty sure I said no exploring."
Teyla flushed, looking down. Ronon grimaced, but didn't look away from Sheppard's gaze. It was not insubordinate, exactly, just...not apologetic. Sheppard sighed heavily. Fact was, now was not the time.
"Fine. We'll discuss it later," he said finally, too tired right now.
Ronon just sniffed, and shifted McKay again, grunting in pain, his face wincing. Sheppard blinked and gave him a more pointed stare. The former Runner did look away this time.
"He's...he's getting kinda heavy," Ronon confessed, embarrassed.
"I can imagine," Sheppard replied. "Want me to take him?"
Ronon looked at the colonel, then, slowly, nodded. "I think you'd better." It was admitting defeat—a hard thing for the tall man. Sheppard did not respond to it at all, just slipped Rodney's pack off his shoulder to the ground and moved over to take Ronon's burden.
With some work, they transferred the unconscious scientist to Sheppard's shoulder, and the colonel tried not to grimace at how heavy his friend was, made worse by how whipped he was feeling right now. He wasn't strong enough to carry McKay far, but he could get him up a few more levels, until Ronon could take him, or maybe even Teyla, who could probably carry him on her back for a little bit.
Fact was, they had no choice but to carry him. If those villagers or the Wraith came looking, they would eventually get through the door at the bottom of this room, and the Atlantians would have nowhere to run to. And while they all secretly hoped the energy creature had scared the Wraith away—somehow they knew it wasn't the case. The Wraith were single-minded, and, based on what he'd seen, there were a lot of them chasing them down. They wanted the Atlantians, and they would get them, or die trying
Part of him wondered how the Wraith had found them. Again, McKay's voice in his head answered his question—oh come on, Sheppard, are you trying to be dense? It's obvious! The door, colonel, the door... Mentally, Sheppard nodded. Of course. Activating the doorway under the waterfall—the Wraith must have picked up on the power usage. They'd probably been waiting for it.
They were walking again, continuing the long trek upwards through this long, strange hall, all the while keeping an ear open for the sound of something trying to open the bottom door.
Christ, Sheppard swore, flinching whenever any loud noise intruded on their quiet, this is worse than waiting for a pot to boil.
Part of him wanted them to come already...get it over with.
As they rose, they came across more and more collapsed sections of wall, and Sheppard looked worriedly at the damaged equipment. He remembered visiting the viral lab in Atlantis that had nearly killed half their people, and some of the broken vials and tubes on the smashed work-stations looked eerily similar.
His only source of hope was that the energy monster would have squeezed all the power out of any nano-bots that might be hanging around. But who know what natural viruses and bacteria might be floating around....
As if on cue, a particularly violent shiver ran through McKay. Sheppard paused, confused and a little worried, and rested a hand on the scientist's exposed back where it hung just over his shoulder, where McKay's shirt had fallen down. He drew his hand away quickly, startled.
Damn it...he's burning up!
He had felt the heat somewhat through his flak vest, but had attributed it to his own weakness and the climbing. He touched McKay's skin again—it was very dry...and very hot. Frighteningly so.
Hell. How long had he been like this?
Ronon and Teyla had stopped as well, just waiting. Sheppard met their eyes, and, from the way both of their expressions grew suddenly concerned, he knew he'd given away his fear.
Grimacing, Sheppard just shook his head at them.
"Keep moving," he growled.
Teyla responded by nodding tightly and climbing over some fallen rocks to the next level. Ronon, though, stayed where he was, brow furrowed.
"I can take him again," he offered.
"I got him."
"You're white, Sheppard. Really white. Actually, more green than white now. Let me take him."
The colonel couldn't deny he felt light-headed, but they'd only made it about half-way now. He started to shake his head, to say he could carry him a little while longer, when Teyla called their names, sounding excited. They looked up, and she was standing over the rubble, pointing behind her, grinning like she'd found a mecca in the desert.
"A cart! I have found a cart!"
Amazing, Sheppard thought, matching her smile, how something so ordinary can suddenly be the most wonderful thing in the world.
Teyla knew her euphoria was strange, that she shouldn't be so excited to find a simple cart, but the looks of relief on the two men's faces only made her happiness grow. She gestured, and Sheppard, with Ronon offering a steadying hand on his back, climbed over the rubble from the cave in with McKay still over his shoulder.
Teyla practically bounded over to the cart, glancing only peripherally at the closed closet-like door next to it partially hidden by the fallen rocks, and rolled the cart over to them. It was not as long as a gurney, but it was wide and long enough to rest McKay on it curled on his side...which is exactly what they did.
Together, Sheppard and Ronon manhandled McKay onto the cart, and Teyla got her first truly good look at Rodney's face as she slipped her jacket under his head to act as a pillow.
The euphoria disappeared instantly.
McKay was pasty and flushed—she didn't have to touch him to know that some kind of fever raged through his body; she could feel the heat radiating from him from here. And she knew why, as well. Putting him on his side revealed the ugly neck wound—the red, puffy edges of the puncture wound were the color of vinegar now, with spidery trails of the same color creeping away from it in all directions under his skin.
The dart, whether by design or not, had become a poison, killing McKay as surely as a bullet would have. They hadn't thought to clean the wound, not that they had ever really had the time, and now it was obviously too late. The scientist was trembling, his breathing raspy and shallow. His brow was furrowed in pain, but he made no actual sound other than the wheezing. It was horrible.
"Hang on, McKay," Sheppard said softly, patting the scientist's shoulder vaguely as Ronon used some cloth strips resting on the cart to tie McKay to it. Teyla watched as the colonel seemed to look everywhere but down at his friend, as if, by not seeing it, he could deny that McKay was dying. Instead, he waited distractedly while Ronon then put McKay's pack on the base of the cart, then nodded at the Satedan when he was done.
Sheppard reached down to touch the handles. His fingers had barely touched the metal before the cart started to move forward on its own. Despite it all, Sheppard gasped, then smiled in happy surprise. With a nod, the cart stopped, obviously at his mental command.
"Whoa," he said. "Self propelled cart. Sweet." He touched it again, and, again, it leapt forward. He probably didn't even need to touch it anymore, now that he'd done it once. Controlled by some inner guidance system, the cart swung over to the side of the room and towards the ramp to the next level. It moved around any obstacles in its way—including any rubble. Sheppard had to move quickly to keep up.
Ronon gave a soft chuckle, nodding at Teyla as he set off after Sheppard, clearly thankful.
Teyla smiled back, but her momentary happiness was firmly gone now, leaving her expression hollow.
Because she knew, even if they did manage to get out of here, back to the jumper, and back to Atlantis...
McKay would be long dead before then.
The climbing was much easier and faster now, even with the occasional stop where cave-ins had blocked a ramp, forcing them to lift the cart up the stairs to the next level. The cart was steady and swift, leading them onwards and upwards, like an eager puppy. They found themselves walking even faster just to keep up with it.
They passed by a couple more carts, resting next to walls, nearly buried in rubble from cave-ins. The carts were obviously used to bring equipment and other materials from station to station in this room. Sheppard wondered if there were any on Atlantis, and, if so, where the heck were they being stored?
He grinned, imagining cart races down the halls of Atlantis. He bet McKay could make one of these things really fly. Sure, Zelenka might give him a run for his money, but, the stronger the competition, the more likely McKay would prevail. It was just the way he was—the harder you pushed him, the faster his mind worked. Yeah...when they got home, he'd corral McKay into helping him set it up. The scientist would love it.
The smile faded on John's lips, his eyes noting the curled hand of McKay that hung over the edge of the cart, the normally animated fingers deathly still except for the motion of the cart.
Gritting his teeth, he mentally shoved those sorts of thoughts out his head. He didn't have time for that now. They were going home. All of them. As long as they were still alive and moving....
His steps faltered slightly, and, before him, the cart stuttered a little, sensing his mood change.
It occurred to Sheppard that the damage to the walls caused by the river overhead had not only been getting increasingly worse...it was beginning to dominate. More caved in walls, more dripping mini-waterfalls trailing down the black stone, more tiny rivulets to skirt, more lights with no power getting to them....
The cart was being blocked by more obstacles.
His jaw set, and he looked forward, eyes narrowed in concern.
They were almost to the end. He could see an ornate doorway at the far end. But it was dark up there. Very dark.
Dark wasn't good.
"That doesn't look good," Ronon said on his left. "Why's it so dark?"
Sheppard just snorted.
About three levels from the top, the cart finally gave up the ghost, stopping defiantly when it simply couldn't go any further. It almost looked annoyed, bumping against a rock like a kid kicking at a tin can.
Ronon sighed, moving to take Rodney.
"Wait," Sheppard said, holding a hand up and mentally shutting the cart down. "Let's...let's make sure we can get out first. He's not going anywhere."
Ronon nodded, trying poorly to hide his gratitude, and followed Sheppard over the collapsed rockfall towards the doorway. Teyla kept up close behind, eyeing the walls around her for signs of something that might help should there be a problem.
It took less than a minute to reach the top level, and, by common accord, they all stopped before what was, without question, a set of transporter doors.
They looked identical to the ones on Atlantis, down to the patterned glass. The only difference being that the entrance was wider. Wide enough, Sheppard realized, to fit a couple of those carts through.
A handful of loose rocks were strewn before the double doors, but it wasn't blocked. It was just...dark.
Grimacing, he stepped forward and rested his hand against it.
The grimace grew into a frown, and he whispered a strained, "open sesame" at the shut doors.
"It's not working," Ronon informed him.
Okay, now he was getting annoying.
"I'm aware," Sheppard replied darkly.
"I get it." The colonel looked around, trying to locate the control panel. McKay said, there is always a control panel. Always.
Sticking out of the wall about a foot away was a raised, patterned metal panel. Sheppard waved a hand in front of it, then, when nothing happened, pulled out his knife and proceeded to pry the cover off. It was larger than the ones in Atlantis, but he couldn't worry about that now.
Behind him, Teyla and Ronon just watched.
Suddenly, the cover came off with a satisfying, "pop," and Sheppard smirked, placing it on the floor.
The smirk fell when he found himself staring at about ten crystals. Ten identical crystals.
Ten identical dead crystals.
"Oh crap," he whispered.
"Start with the obvious," Teyla said suddenly, repeating Ronon's quote of McKay from earlier and stepping up next to the colonel. Her eyes were faithful, staring up at him expectantly.
Blowing the air out of his cheeks, he nodded.
"Okay," he said slowly, licking his lips. "Obviously...the transporter isn't working."
"Why?" she prompted.
"Because...there's no power getting to it."
"Right," she nodded. "So, how do we get power to it?"
Sheppard stared at the crystals, then swore. "By waking up Rodney and telling him to fix it!" he snapped.
"Colonel," she said warningly, "You need to calm—"
"Teyla, I know that works on Rodney, but, right now, it's just irritating the hell out of me."
Her eyebrows raised, but she said nothing more. Instead, she stepped forward so that she was practically standing in front of him, and arched an eyebrow.
He rolled his eyes.
"Okay, okay...fine," he muttered. "How do we get power to these crystals? Um...by using another power source from...somewhere. The cart maybe. And...and...hooking it up to...um...." He looked around at the dark sconces and rubble surrounding them. Oh, who was he kidding? "This is useless. I don't even know what any of these do, much less which one to attach a power cord to. Damn it, I was hoping for three crystals! Not ten! Three lit crystals, one on top of the other, just like at home!" He banged the wall above the open panel with a fist.
Sadly, even the Doctor Who failsafe didn't work—hitting the wall had done nothing except make the panel appear even more dead.
"Not to interrupt or anything," Ronon said, peering at the dark doors with an odd look, "but since when do the Ancients just rely on transporters to get around?"
Teyla glanced at Ronon, then suddenly smiled.
"Yes, of course," she said. "There are stairs all over Atlantis, even though there are also transporters. And they must have gotten down here somehow, in order to build the transporter in the first place." She immediately started searching, making her way around piles of rock to try and get to the corners and the sides, looking for another door.
Sheppard looked at Ronon, both eyebrows raised. The former Runner gave a knowing smile.
"Just starting with the really obvious," he told the colonel, shrugging a little.
Sheppard tried to glare, he really did. But, for some reason, found a smile on his lips instead. Chuckling, he turned to try and help Teyla.
Teyla stopped, staring up at the top of one of the nastier cave-ins. Her breath had caught—she could see the top of another set of doors peeking over the top of the algae-covered black boulders.
"Colonel," she said, trying to keep the despair from her voice, "I...I have located the stairs."
She was only one level down from the top, and, as Sheppard and Ronon joined her, their heads tipping back to see what she had seen, she simply turned and walked away.
"We can't move these rocks by hand," she heard Ronon say behind her.
She knew that. It was why she was headed back to McKay.
"No," the colonel responded, and Teyla could hear the sigh in his voice.
"Could we blow them up?" Ronon suggested.
"A controlled blast?" Sheppard said, obviously considering it. "Um..."
Teyla stepped onto the third level down, and walked over to the cart. McKay wasn't shivering anymore. In fact, he wasn't moving at all now, except to breathe, and that so shallowly it almost seemed like that had stopped as well. At least his brow was no longer furrowed.
She touched her fingers to his forehead lightly, tracing the soft age lines, then, making a loose fist, trailed her knuckles down the side of his face. The heat he was giving off was incredible.
Fever from the poison...or from the onset of pneumonia...damage from the CPR...possible internal damage from the river...and no way to get him home in time....
Her head bowed, her eyes closing.
They were going to lose this time.
In the background, she heard Ronon and Sheppard discussing the rocks, discussing whether they could set off a charge without bringing the whole place down.
Actually, it was mostly Sheppard who was talking, arguing with himself. Ronon had said almost nothing since the initial suggestion, but the loquacious colonel was more than making up for it in his own way. She sensed, though, that half the conversation was missing, and it made her wonder if Sheppard was hearing McKay in his head.
The thought made her smile...until something the colonel said suddenly caused him to go deathly quiet.
Her head lifted, and she looked over to see Sheppard holding his head in one hand, not moving. She mentally replayed his last words in her head...and understood why.
"It's just a matter of getting the physics of the blast right," he had said.
Her lips pressed together in a thin line, but she could say nothing to relieve his stress. Not when she was so deeply mired in it as well. As she watched, he lowered the hand and looked up at the rocks blocking their only way out. Resting his hands on his hips, he gave a heavy sigh.
"Okay," he said, "we can do this."
Next to him, Ronon just arched an eyebrow.
Teyla bit back a sigh of her own, and looked down again at McKay. She wondered what he would be doing right now, if he were awake. Complaining, obviously. She smiled, easily imaging him and Sheppard arguing about the rock fall, and what the scientist would have thought about blowing it up. The words, "death wish" and "idiotic" came to mind. She then clearly heard Sheppard's reply in her head, also easy to imagine. The colonel would just glare at McKay and say, "Fine. Then find another way."
And McKay would.
Something clicked in her mind then, and she straightened, lifting her chin.
Find another way...
She smiled suddenly, turning to face the two men above. Sheppard was pulling out the C4 from his vest, while Ronon peered closely at part of the rocks. She opened her mouth to call out.
And that's when it happened.
The Wraith blew open the bottom doorway.
The whole hall shook, bits of rock dust and other muck falling from the ceiling. Teyla threw her hands up over her head, staggering into the cart, then nearly tipping it over when the floor beneath her feet gave a particularly violent shudder and she fell over Rodney.
"LOOK OUT!" Ronon yelled behind her, grabbing at Sheppard and pulling him back, just as more of the ceiling collapsed onto the rocks blocking the stairwell exit. The two men scrambled backwards, barely avoiding being crushed. And when it was done...the stairwell doors were completely hidden.
"NO!" Sheppard yelled at the rubble, his frustration thick.
The force of the Wraith's second blast was greater this time. Confused as to why they needed a second charge, Teyla managed to get closer to the edge of the platform so she could see the bottom doorway better. The lights had gone out completely down there, sending the lower half of the hall into a strange half-light, but she could see something flickering like fire down there. Something was burning. The door must still be partially in place, but she just couldn't really see that well.
She jumped when she saw an enormous chunk of ceiling collapse down there, hiding the whole area in a thick, grey, billowing smoke. The Wraith had just brought half the cave down on top of themselves! She smiled coldly at the thought.
At least it bought them some time.
"All right," she heard the colonel snap behind her, "No choice now. Ronon, get back—"
"No, colonel, wait!" Teyla called, holding up her hands. "There is another way!"
"What?" Sheppard stared at her in clear surprise.
"A little less than half way down, where we found the cart, I saw another door. I thought it was a closet of some kind, a storage room, but this hall is too long for just two entrances. I think it is a side door of some kind—and the lights are definitely on down there. Look!" she pointed vaguely downwards to where, sure enough, the middle of the hall was still brightly lit.
Sheppard frowned, "Are you sure?"
"Means going down," Ronon said, his tone dark, obviously disagreeing. "Back-tracking."
"If it is a transporter," Teyla stated confidently, "It will not matter."
Sheppard shook his head, "Teyla..."
"If you try and blow those rocks, Colonel Sheppard, that ceiling will come down on us. The Wraith are proving that for us. Please...there is another way out. I am sure of it."
Ronon's frown was almost a scowl, and Sheppard still looked unsure. He looked past Teyla, down the long hall.
Teyla spun around, her eyes wide. That had sounded close! They were setting off charges in the hall itself now, trying to get through the cave-ins they were creating. As if to prove her right, she saw a Wraith shove through a pile of rocks, its pale skin glistening in the unearthly light down below. Her head buzzed with their presence, and she realized that they only lived for one thing now—to capture the Atlantians. Their need to find Earth must be getting desperate—the intensity of their mind-set was more terrifying than anything she had ever felt.
They had to get out of here!
Refusing to wait any longer, she grabbed McKay's cart. It sprang instantly to life, eager for guidance, surprising her. Apparently, it didn't need the gene to work it.
"Teyla!" Sheppard yelled, seeing what she was doing. But she was already moving, directing the cart to head back down. She pushed faster and faster, until the cart was moving faster than she was. With a shout, she put on a burst of energy and leapt, landing on top of the cart on her feet. She stood crouched over McKay, her feet bracing him, balanced like a surfer riding a wave, though both her hands held onto the edges of the cart instead of being raised in the air. The cart shuddered at the action, but didn't slow down—if anything, it went faster, urged on by her need to hurry.
Behind her, she heard Sheppard and Ronon pelting after her and McKay, running to keep up.
What had taken almost an hour to climb took minutes to roll down, even with the cart tilting every which way as it screamed around rubble. Wherever the ramps were blocked by stones, she just sent the cart flying over the steps, using her own weight to keep it stable when it landed, though the Ancient design was doing a damned good job of managing that on its own.
Suddenly, she was on the right level, and she jumped off...and fell hard and awkwardly on her left arm, the whole limb going numb. Next to her, the cart screeched to a halt at her mental command...and, amazingly, didn't tip over, and the cloth strips held McKay in place on top, though he slid to one side. She struggled to her feet to check to him, then gasped as pain spiked through her arm like someone had driven a lance through it.
Gasping, she held her arm tightly to her chest, pins and needles shivering up and down it, and staggered over the cart to check on McKay. Shaking her hurting arm a bit, she found it still worked—just not as well. Favoring her right arm, she dragged Rodney's heavy body away form the edge of the cart, then urged the cart to the door and set it as close as she could, untying the cloths holding him down as she did so. Then she inspected the door, holding her hurt arm against her stomach again. There was light inside, showing through the glass panels, and she smiled gratefully, thankful she had remembered that correctly.
It was still partially covered by rubble, but not too much, and, she started to attack the rocks one-handed, clearing them away.
A second later, Ronon was there, helping.
And then Sheppard, gasping for air, was there, pressing his hand to the door to open it.
"Damn it!" he yelled, slamming his hand against the unyielding metal. "What the hell?!"
Teyla was stricken, stepping backwards. She didn't understand—the door had power! Why wasn't it working? Sheppard turned to look at her, his eyes dark, and she froze...waiting for his anger.
He stared for a moment, then shook his head. "Find defensive positions," he ordered, "Now! Cover me until I get this open."
"Yes, Colonel," she said, turning and quickly finding a location behind a particularly dense section of collapsed wall. Ronon settled down next to her, his motions efficient and cool as he checked his weapon and prepared for the firefight that was coming.
Below them, ten huge Wraith soldiers and one Wraith leader, accompanied by a handful of furious looking villagers, hugged the walls, also using the collapsed portions for cover as they advanced. They'd be on them in moments.
Teyla lifted her P90 and stuck it between two rocks, to keep it steady, since she knew her left arm would not be able to grasp it tightly enough. She then crouched down behind it, making sure she could shift it enough to aim. The Wraith were still out of range, but not for much longer. They never slowed their unyielding advance, and the stunners in their arms were lifted, ready to fire as soon as they were close enough.
It was only then that she realized just how hard she was breathing. She swallowed thickly, trying to wet her incredibly dry throat, and steadied her shaking body.
And prayed she had done the right thing.
There's always a control panel. There's always a control panel. There's always a control panel. Sheppard kept up the mantra manically as he searched the wall around the door, but it wasn't helping. Frustration was quickly overcoming his attempt to keep calm. There's always...oh...Damn it! "There's no control panel, McKay! There's nothing here!"
That earned him a strange look from Ronon, but he ignored it, rubbing his clammy hands against his trousers.
Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there! His imaginary McKay snapped in his head.
"Oh, please," Sheppard growled. "Why don't you just wake up and find it yourself then!"
"Sheppard," Ronon said, his voice tight. "You need to hurry."
"I'm trying," the colonel spat back, staring at the door and throwing every mental demand for open that he could think of.
Oh, yes, because that's worked so well so far.
He was about to respond snarkily again when Teyla suddenly started firing, her P90 rattling against the rocks. A sharp whine and the sudden explosion of white light nearby had him ducking, even though the range of the stunner was way off.
Ronon was firing now too, the vermillion energy bursts from the Satedan weapon shaking the walls. More blue-white light answered the blasts, and Sheppard ducked again. His fingers itched to grab his P90 and join them, and he took a step towards Teyla. Somehow, she heard over the rattle of weapon's fire and looked back at him, shaking her head.
"Colonel, no!" Teyla stressed, turning her head back to the firefight, "You have to get the door—"
He glared at her, "I said I'm trying!" He saw her flinch, and grimaced. Shit, what a mess! "But there's not control panel! I can't even—"
"There's always a control panel," Ronon repeated sharply, deliberately, not even looking at Sheppard as he fired and took down a Wraith that broke cover. "You just have to find it."
"Well, I can't, clever Doctor Dex! Because there isn't one!" Sheppard spat, waving a hand at the door. "If there were, it'd be here, chest height," he pointed at a section of blank wall, "but as we can plainly see, there is nothing HERE!" And he slapped a hand against that section of wall.
Which promptly opened up to reveal three lit crystals set in a very familiar pattern.
For a moment, he just stared. Then he grinned.
Quickly, he pulled the middle crystal, put the top one down, then bridged the two with the crystal he'd pulled. And exactly as he'd hoped, the door opened...to reveal what looked a hell of a lot like a normal sized transporter.
"YES!" he yelled, quickly putting the crystals back and reaching for McKay. "Ronon! Teyla! Get in here!" Hands under McKay's arms, he dragged the man off the cart and inside the transporter, then pulled a grenade from his chest. As Teyla jumped in, still firing at the Wraith now storming towards them, and then Ronon, Sheppard pulled the pin and lobbed the grenade, then watched the doors slide shut. Turning, he looked for the panel to open to allow him to choose a destination, but nothing did. Instead, the transporter door just reopened behind him.
Aw crap. He spun around, lifting his P90 up, and three sets of weapons pointed out the door, expecting either Wraith, or an explosion...
...And found a small, completely white room.
Somewhere far away, shaking the floors and walls of the transporter, a muffled explosion signaled the grenade going off.
Sheppard collapsed against the side of the transporter door in relief.
Teyla took a tentative step out, holding her P90 one-handed as she looked around the white room. Ronon reached down and took McKay, lifting him up until he was almost upright, then wrapping his arms gently around the man's chest and pulling him out of the transporter. Sheppard followed last, still trying to come to terms with yet another skin of their teeth escape.
The room was identical to the little anteroom under the waterfall. The same two benches and handful of chairs, same restful looking artwork...except that, this time, everything was in shades of white...and, of course, the lights were on. You could actually see the room this time. He wondered vaguely if the other room was similarly colored with the lights on. Probably not. If it had been painted white, most of it had probably faded under the omnipresent wet of the waterfall.
Ronon settled McKay on one of the benches, then knelt next to him, peering at the scientist intently, lips twisting into an unhappy grimace.
Sheppard glanced behind him as the transporter door slid quietly shut...and then went completely dark. Yup. One way trip. He noted another door along the same wall, and walked over to it. Resting a hand against it, the door slid open to reveal a dark stairwell, leading down into blackness. Yup, again. Backing away, he let the stairway door shut as he turned to look at Teyla.
The Athosian was walking to the other side of the room, towards another door. It looked like a normal door, leading to the outside, though there were no glass panels to tell them what was out there.
"What is this place?" Ronon asked, apparently giving up his study of McKay and settling on the bench opposite.
Sheppard just shrugged and moved over to sit next to him, slumping in the seat.
"I can not get this door to open," Teyla said where she stood in front of the other door, her voice a soft sigh. Uncharacteristically, she leaned against the wall next to the door, her shoulders sagging despondently. "Colonel, I think you—"
She stopped, her head lifting to look around the room as it suddenly filled with a soft hum. The lights in the walls brightened, until they were all squinting a little against the glare.
"Oh, great," Sheppard muttered, "Now what?" He looked up, as if he could see through the white painted ceiling, and opened his arms beseechingly, "Can't we get a break here?!"
Even as he spoke, the humming grew louder, and the lights brightened, their intensity growing painful.
"Oh, damn it...Cover your eyes!" Sheppard ordered tiredly, getting to his feet and covering his eyes with his hands. "Teyla, get away from that door." He turned in her direction, intending to make his way over there, "I'll try to—"
Whatever else he was going to say was suddenly swallowed as the lights flickered, then flared so brightly, he could see it even through the fingers covering his closed eyes. He froze, feeling his entire body tingling, like pins and needles. Christ, what the hell was this? It felt like the after effects of a stunner blast!
And just as suddenly...it died.
Shaking like a leaf, he gingerly lowered his hands and opened his eyes. Spots covered his vision, then faded, allowing him to see that nothing had changed in the room. Ronon was still sitting on his bench, hands over his own eyes still. Looking over, he saw the Teyla had let her P90 hang loose and had thrown her good arm across her face. She was still leaning against the wall next to the door, breathing hard.
"You...you guys okay?" he asked, swallowing a little against a dry throat. Slowly, the other two uncovered their eyes and, with poorly hidden fear, blinked up at him. Teyla's brow furrowed, and she looked down as she pondered the question.
"I..." She paused, then looked up at Sheppard with genuine surprise. "Actually...I feel...I feel better. Calmer." She took in a deep breath, frowned, and looked down at her left arm. From the way she held it, it was obviously still hurting. Ronon, meanwhile, sniffed, then breathed deeply.
"I can breathe better," he said, arching an eyebrow. "I was having trouble before." A hand reached up and touched the still purple bruise covering part of his face, and he winced. So, not completely better then.
Sheppard nodded, thinking that the mania he'd been experiencing, which he guessed was similar to what Teyla had been feeling and which had been directly feeding the imaginary McKay in his head, had faded. He felt...clearer.
Then Teyla jumped as the door next to her slid open, revealing a long cave, at the far end of which they could see sun and jungle.
"What the...?" Sheppard stepped forward, looking out. The humid heat filtered into the cool atmosphere of the room.
"What just happened?" Ronon asked, looking up at the colonel. Sheppard looked down at him, and opened his mouth to say he didn't know...
...When McKay groaned.
Instantly, three people were next to the scientist. Ronon was kneeling again, studying McKay's face, and Sheppard and Teyla stood over the bench.
"Colonel, his neck," Teyla said, pointing to the puncture wound. It was still there, but the signs of infection were gone, as if they had never been there. Now it was just damaged skin.
Sheppard blinked at it, then, slowly smiled. A second later, he was grinning, his eyes bright. He whooped and knelt down next to Ronon, who moved to get out of the way, and rested a hand on McKay's forehead.
Cool and sweat covered.
He laughed, looking up at a confused looking Ronon and Teyla.
"I get it. It's a decontamination room!"
"a what room?" Ronon asked, frowning.
"A decontamination room," Sheppard repeated. "That's why the transporter sends you here instead of anywhere else. The one under the waterfall, by that bottom door, must be one too, but had no power. Maybe the entity was interfering with it, or the river—I don't know. But it makes sense! If the Ancients were using that place as a facility for biological and medical testing, they would want to make sure they didn't take anything potentially dangerous with them when they left to head back to Atlantis." He grinned, returning his attention to the scientist, "And so we've just all been scrubbed clean of any foreign matter...including whatever was poisoning Rodney." He rubbed his thumb affectionately across the man's forehead, then lifted his hand to rest on Rodney's shoulder.
"McKay," he called, shaking the shoulder a little. "McKay, wake up!"
The scientist groaned again, and the eyes moved behind the lids.
"Come on, Rodney," the colonel urged, a little desperately. Part of him was not quite willing to believe until McKay actually talked to him. "Open your eyes. Come on." Above him, Ronon and Teyla stood very still, almost holding their breaths.
The eyelids fluttered, and the brow furrowed deeply into a frown.
"That's it," Sheppard said, grinning again. "You can do it."
"Do..." McKay said softly, his voice as weak as a kitten's, "Do what?"
And the eyelids finally opened, lifting up partway. Clear, intense blue eyes focused on Sheppard from behind the long eyelashes, and the furrowed brow radiated confusion.
Sheppard gasped a laugh, and he clapped McKay hard on the shoulder. The scientist's eyes closed immediately, and a painful moan escaped his lips. The heretofore limp arms moved, shakily moving to protect his chest.
"Ow," he whimpered.
"Yeah," Sheppard laughed, "Ow."
That caused the blue eyes to open again, and this time, there was no mistaking the familiar irritated look on McKay's face. Sheppard's joy just shifted up another notch.
"I'm...in pain...and...you're happy?" McKay croaked, completely incredulous.
"Hell yeah!" Sheppard grinned, standing up again. He looked at Ronon and Teyla, seeing similar expressions of joy on their faces.
"Lovely," McKay muttered, closing his eyes again. "See...if I...care...next time...you're hurt...."
"Can you move, Doctor?" Teyla asked then, moving around so that McKay could see her face without shifting too much.
"...kidding?" came the mumbled reply.
"No," Sheppard said, his tone turning back to serious. "She's not. We're in danger here, McKay. Can you move?"
The eyes opened again, blinking blearily. He appeared to be thinking about it, then, slowly, the arms unwrapped and the legs uncurled stiffly. Ronon was suddenly there, helping as McKay struggled upright on the bench, putting his feet to the ground...then leaned forward suddenly, hissing harshly in pain. This time, Sheppard wasn't happy. He crouched down next to him again, to see Rodney's face better, his expression worried.
"Feels like...ribs are broken....And my head...can't really feel my legs much either, numb...I just...feel weird...."
"Yeah," Sheppard grimaced. "I don't think your ribs are broken though. Least I hope not. Look, can you stand?"
McKay gritted his teeth, eyes fixed on the ground before him, and, with Ronon's help, pushed off the bench...and immediately fell forward into the Satedan's arms, crumpling with a cry of pain.
They quickly had him sitting down again, McKay leaning forward once more, gasping for breath, one arm across his ribs and the other holding onto his lower right leg, down near the ankle. Ronon quickly had his knife out, slitting the trouser fabric down and revealing the swollen limb. McKay hissed, staring at the purple bruise that covered most of the shin and calf, wiping a shaky hand across his face to get rid of the tears that had formed. Ronon ran a hand down the shin lightly, ignoring the sharp hiss McKay gave at one particular spot, and shook his head, looking up at Sheppard's dark expression.
Sheppard just closed his eyes, then shrugged.
"All right." He looked at Ronon, "think you can carry him a little further?"
"Carry me?" Rodney said sharply, looking up. And, for the first time, he looked around, "Wait...where are we? What...what happened?"
"Don't worry about it," Sheppard told him, patting him on the head. Surprisingly, and proving just how much he hurt, McKay didn't argue, just lowered his head again and closed his eyes.
"Okay," he said weakly.
Sheppard grimaced a little at the uncharacteristic meekness, then turned to look at Teyla.
"Can you run with that arm?"
She gave a single, confident nod, "Yes. It will not slow me down."
Sheppard nodded back, then looked again to Ronon. "I have a feeling we're near the village. I'm guessing this was the entrance McKay was looking for when we first got here. Let's get him outside and somewhere hidden, just in case the Wraith, the villagers...or Blobby...sense that something just happened here. Then I want you to stay with him while Teyla and I go for the jumper."
Ronon nodded, and reached for McKay, who had been following the conversation with a bewildered expression. The scientist flinched a little, backing away, but at Ronon's hard stare acquiesced and let himself be maneuvered, lifted and then carried over the former Runner's shoulder. He made a pathetic "ouch" sound when Ronon shifted him a little, and muttered something about not being "a damned sack of potatoes." The Satedan grunted, smirked a little at Sheppard, but nodded to show he was ready.
The colonel smiled a little back, then looked to Teyla. She stood by the door, holding her P90 again in one hand. At his arched eyebrow, she lifted the other to hold it as well, to show that it wasn't a problem.
"Ready?" he asked her. At her determined nod, he grinned, feeling truly lucky for the first time that day. "Then let's go."
Rodney watched as Ronon finished talking quietly to Sheppard and Teyla before the two took off into the brush, frowning a little at the stiff way they were all moving. All three looked like they had been through hell and back, and, for the life of him, he had no idea why. Thing was, he wasn't even sure where they were at the moment. He vaguely recalled something about visiting some sort of jungle planet, and logic told him this was it, but, at the moment, he didn't even remember stepping through the stargate to get here.
Or flying through the stargate...Sheppard had said something about a jumper?
He looked around at the location in which they had chosen to hide—a tiny, claustrophobic space where a thick, healthy tree had grown straight and tall despite being encased by three massive boulders. It was right next to a flat, open bit of farmland (one of the nearby village's tilled fields, probably), easily large enough for a jumper to land. He wondered how far the jumper was. For that matter, how far was the Stargate? Hell, was the Stargate even on this planet?
God this sucked! How could he not know? He gritted his teeth, frustrated beyond belief. And in pain. Damn it, everything hurt....
And what was with their laughter about that? Normally he and Sheppard were on the same wavelength, but he felt like he was missing the beginning to a bad joke here....
He took in a shallow breath, feeling the tightness in his ribs, and glanced at the radio that Sheppard had pushed into his hands. It was sort of slimy. What did they do, dump it in goo? Speaking of which, what had happened to his earpiece...? His fingers drifted up to his ear, and brushed his neck, and then started to shake when he felt the sensitive edges of a wound. Ow! What the hell? Oh God...what the hell had happened to him?
His whole body shook then—he hated being in this sort of discombobulated state! Tiredness pulled at him, and he closed his eyes, wishing he was home and Beckett was fussing over him in the cool, dry infirmary....
Noise nearby had him opening his eyes again, finding Ronon leaning over him, all dreadlocks, steel jaw and one hell of a purple shiner. McKay shifted backwards unconsciously, to get away, his natural skittishness reacting to the close proximity, even though he knew full well there was nothing to fear from the former Runner. It was just...he was so big sometimes.
"We should set that," Ronon said, crouching down next to McKay on the ground, obviously sensing the nervousness he was causing. The scientist was sitting pressed against the thick tree trunk, body language fully on edge. The space they were in was more than large enough for two people to hunker down and wait...
But it felt very small to McKay right now.
"I...," he said, blinking a little, "What?"
"Your leg. It's a clean break. I can put it back in place pretty easily. Done it for myself lots of times."
McKay continued to stare at him without comprehension, "What?"
Ronon frowned a little, and reached a hand forward. McKay flinched again. That caused the frown on Ronon's face to grow annoyed.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he growled.
McKay swallowed, then gave a weak, knowing smile. "Yes, you are. If you reset it, it'll hurt."
"It'll make you feel better when it's done. And it needs to be done."
McKay gave a half-smile, snorting a little. And when Ronon reached once more for his leg, he slid back again.
"McKay," Ronon snarled, his eyes unblinking, "Stop that."
The scientist's eyebrows rose, feigning innocence. "Stop what?"
"Do you trust me?" the Satedan asked, the anger leaving his voice. It was a plain-spoken, simple question...with huge implications.
McKay stared at him, meeting those eyes. A moment later, his shoulders relaxed, his heart-rate slowed, and his brow furrowed. Finally, his body recognized what the mind was telling it, what the mind knew instinctively.
And, brow still furrowed, he found himself simply nodding.
This time, when Ronon reached for his leg, he didn't move.
Teyla ran, her natural sense of direction combined with her knowledge of this area leading them unerringly back to the jumper. Sheppard had been right—the cave was near the base of a small mountain that loomed directly over the village. They were barely half a mile from the village outskirts—she could even smell a little of the cooking that was going on. A glance at the sky showed it was nearing noon here.
That was a little shocking—they'd only been on this planet a little over four hours. It had seemed so much longer. Her watch had told her the time, but until she saw the sun again, it had not really registered.
Leaving Ronon and Rodney behind, Teyla had pulled on her memories of hunting around this area to avoid the main trails, while also aiming them in the closest thing to a straight line...back towards the rope bridge.
Her heart had beat faster at that thought, of crossing it again, but they had no choice. She assumed the villagers or the Wraith had righted it—at least, she hoped so. The villagers, at least, needed it. It was the only way across the ravine.
At the same time, she kept all her senses open for the Wraith. She couldn't feel any nearby, but she wasn't going to rely on that alone. Plus, if the villagers were still around....
Sheppard was a steadying force behind her, matching her footfall for footfall. He followed without question, letting her lead as he too scanned the forest around them for danger.
That sort of unquestioning faith was fortifying after everything that had happened. Her steps grew more confident, faster. She suddenly realized that Sheppard did this for all of them, and she wondered if he was conscious of it.
His faith in Teyla to lead, to not get lost and to be a steadying force when danger threatened, meant she did. His faith in Ronon to stay with them, to back them up and win the fight, meant he did. And his faith in Rodney to always see them through, to find that last minute solution and save their lives, meant he did.
It's why Sheppard was so damned good at being their leader. It also helped that he had all those qualities himself to a degree. Well...except that he did have a propensity to get lost.
She smiled a little at that, and the lift to her spirits propelled her to even greater speeds.
Suddenly, something out of the corner of her eye had her stopping abruptly. Sheppard staggered to a stop behind her, not questioning as she jumped off the goat-track they followed to check on something.
The P90 in her arms shifted higher up on her chest, and she grimaced down at the three bodies lying slumped on the ground before her. Villagers, all dried up to husks, their lives sucked from them by the Wraith. She recognized the outfit of one of them—it was a hunter she knew, and had liked. She had thought him a good man.
"Lie with the snake," Sheppard stated quietly by her side, "you get bit."
She glanced at him, then nodded once in agreement. Turning, she returned to the track and started running again. Her own steadying force ran close behind her.
The bridge was, indeed, upright again. It swayed very slightly in the soft breeze, looking every bit as perilous and exposed as ever. However, it was not the thing occupying their attention as they crouched behind some brush on the edge of the ravine.
Sheppard breathed heavily, staring up at the sky on the opposite side.
Blobby was three times the size he had been when they saw him suck the power from those two Wraith darts down at the bottom of the mountain. The black mass swirled and swayed and shifted with the wind, almost mimicking the swaying of the bridge, and a soft sizzling sound sparked the heated air around them.
And there was no question over what he was hovering.
The energy creature was flying directly over where they had left the jumper.
"Well," Sheppard said, blowing the air out of his cheeks slowly, "that's a problem."
"Do you think it knows the jumper is there?"
"Oh, yeah," Sheppard nodded, "I'd say that was a good bet."
Teyla frowned, "But...do you think it has—"
"Sucked all the power from it? No idea. It only seems to feed on power sources that are actually on and we left nothing on except...."
"The cloak," Teyla finished.
Sheppard grimaced, then nodded.
"If it has fed on the power that provides the cloak for the jumper, is that all the power the jumper has?" Teyla asked.
Sheppard pursed his lips, looked down, "I don't...." Suddenly, he looked up and arched an eyebrow at her.
"Oh. Wait. He's awake now, right?" He tapped the radio on his vest, "McKay."
Heavy static answered him, then, faintly, "Ronon here."
"Ronon, get me McKay."
"What? Again? Why?"
"I set his leg. He passed out."
"Oh...great. Wonderful. Wake him up."
There was a pause in response to that, then, "I'd rather not. Is it important?"
A hand clapped instantly to his forehead, and the colonel groaned in exasperation. Man, he missed having a marine on his team! Dragging the hand down his face, he released a heavy sigh and looked up again at the energy creature.
Blobby was still swimming along the air currents, looking to be enjoying himself. Or herself. Did it have a gender?
"Yeah, it's important," he answered finally. "But," he frowned, "It can wait a little bit. We'll contact you again in about fifteen minutes. Be ready to wake him then."
Teyla eyed him, eyebrow arching curiously. "It can wait?"
"Let's see if the jumper's there and cloaked still. If not...well, then we'll talk to Rodney. If the cloak is still in place, then...well...then we fly it out of there."
Teyla frowned. "But the creature—"
"One step at a time," Sheppard replied. He blew the air out his cheeks and looked at the bridge. "First, let's just get across that, then we'll worry about the jumper."
Teyla nodded, and, taking in a fortifying breath, started to move through the brush to get closer to the bridge. When they were as close as they could get without leaving the shelter of the jungle, she stopped.
Her feet suddenly became frozen to the ground. Her brow furrowed, and she found herself awash with hesitation, remembering how this whole mess had started. All the self-doubting emotions she'd felt earlier came back in a flood, and her breath caught, making the swaying bridge loom impossibly large and impassable in her sight.
A hand touched her shoulder lightly, the rough fingertips just touching her skin.
Teyla turned to look at Sheppard, not hiding the anguish on her face. He drew his hand back, his expression firm.
"It wasn't your fault," he said softly.
He had obviously seen her hesitation...and guessed the reason. When he saw her gaze grow skeptical, he smiled sweetly at her. It was his, "I meant it" smile. She frowned, and looked away, back to the terrible bridge.
"You are kind, Colonel, but you are wrong," she replied, the words spilling out before she could stop them. "It was my fault. I tipped the bridge. And I was the reason we had to cross it in the first place. I told you the villagers were trustworthy, and they were not. And the reason we are even on this planet is because—"
"There was an Ancient outpost here," Sheppard interrupted, a hint of anger in his tone. "Don't go taking on all of Atlantis's decisions and making them your own, Teyla. We would have checked it out, regardless of whether you knew the natives or not. It was a bonus that you knew them, not a deciding factor."
Teyla frowned, "Yes, but—"
"But what? All of a sudden you can predict the future? You can see into the hearts of men and know all their secrets? Christ, Teyla, you can't protect us against every eventuality. As much as I wish you had a magic crystal ball that could determine whether we'd be safe or not, you're not a witch or a seer. You're just human, like the rest of us." He gave a small smile, "Okay, maybe you're a little better than human with that Wraithdar of yours, but you're still, ultimately, human."
Her eyes softened a little, and she looked down.
"One of these days, Teyla," he noted quietly, "we're going to lose someone. Whether it's Rodney, me, Ronon...or you....I don't want it to happen, but you know as well as me that our luck can't hold out forever. And when it happens, we'll need the strength to keep moving on. This day has tested the limits of our ability to do that. And you passed the test. We all did."
She looked up again, her brow furrowed.
Sheppard suddenly smiled, "Of course, Rodney wasn't awake for most of it...."
The smile came unbidden to her own lips, and she chuckled a little as she looked again to the rope bridge.
"So...we just keep moving," she said.
She nodded, then looked back at him. With the briefest of smiles, she was on her feet and headed for the bridge, no more hesitation in her step.
Sheppard paced Teyla easily, following her as she crossed the bridge with surprising ease for someone who, a moment ago, had looked terrified at the thought. Now she attacked the obstacle with her usual grace, moving swiftly and keenly to the other side.
He wasn't quite so graceful, trying not to jump at every flash of white color in the underbrush and tip the bridge again.
But nothing attacked them.
It was horribly easy. They were on the other side and crashing through the jungle in mere minutes. Sheppard wasn't sure whether to be thankful, or even more worried. After the day they'd had, it seemed too simple. In other words, he was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Blobby had, obviously, taken care of every Wraith dart in the area. If there were any Wraith left on the ground, they were on foot and, he guessed, probably watching the Stargate. Or...where they had left the jumper. If the Wraith had guessed where it was. Maybe they wouldn't put Blobby's presence and it together...maybe....
He really, really hoped, though, that the Wraith were all gone. The only thing that suggested to him that they may not be was the fact that Blobby was still here. If the Wraith had arrived by the Stargate, the creature would likely have followed them back through the Stargate when they left, or fed on the Stargate's power...but Blobby would have been a lot larger if it had fed on the Stargate's power. So, that suggested the Stargate had not been used.
Of course, if the Wraith arrived by ship—whether by Hive or Cruiser, then perhaps they were gone, flown back to the ship or ships that had brought them here in the first place, and somehow avoiding Blobby on the way. But then, why hadn't Blobby, who was obviously not organic, gone to feed on the smorgasbord that a Hive or Cruiser represented up in the space around the planet?
Unless...maybe Blobby couldn't sense that sort of power across such a distance? If its ability to find a power source was similar to a dog's sense of smell for food, then perhaps it had a limited range?
He mulled that over as they approached the area where they had left the jumper, slowing as Teyla slowed. It'd be really helpful to ask McKay these questions....
Teyla came to a stop near the edge of the clearing, and they both studied the seemingly empty space with obvious relief. The cloak was still working. The whole area was in deep shadow, Blobby's form blocking the sunlight as effectively as any natural cloud formation, but there was still enough light to see the faint indentation in the grass where the hatch of the jumper was pressing it down.
"It has not sucked the power from the jumper," Teyla whispered gratefully, looking up at the overhanging black mass. It completely filled all of the visible sky here.
"Yeah," Sheppard said, frowning a little. "But then, why is Blobby hovering over it?"
"Perhaps," Teyla arched an eyebrow, "it can sense it, but not find it? Whatever the cloak does that prevents the Wraith sensors from finding it, also prevents the creature from finding it?"
Sheppard just shrugged, and looked around the field. "Do you sense any Wraith nearby?"
Teyla closed her eyes a moment, then shook her head. "No. Just...very faintly. Far from here. In fact..." She opened them again, and looked around. "I am not sure there are any Wraith left on the planet at all." She glanced at Sheppard, "But that doesn't mean there aren't any villagers watching this clearing, if they have guessed that we landed here and have hidden our ship."
Sheppard grimaced—he had forgotten about them. He wasn't going to ask Teyla if she thought the villagers would still be looking for them. The Wraith were currently probably only stopped from culling this planet by the presence of Blobby, and the possible promise of the villagers still capturing the Atlantians for them. Still, she had just told him something he'd been wondering about.
"So, there are Wraith ships in space?"
She looked at him, frowning. The she closed her eyes and settled her breathing.
The silence that wrapped around her then was strange, bringing the other sounds of the jungle into almost stark relief. Nervous birds chattered, critters slid through the undergrowth, and animals padded the ground all around them. And, above it all, the soft hiss of Blobby, charged and hungry, floating just over the tops of the trees like a heavy morning fog.
Finally, she opened her eyes and looked at him.
"There are three Wraith cruisers in the atmosphere," she said with total certainty. He nodded.
"And on the planet?"
She grimaced, then shook her head. "I can not be certain. I do not think there are any still on the surface, but..." She shrugged, obviously recalling the way Bob floated around Atlantis under her nose for almost two weeks. Even after she learned how to contact the Wraith as a collective, she had not known for certain he was here until she had "heard" him contact the Wraith on the ships in her mind.
"Okay," Sheppard said, looking back at the clearing, "for now, let's assume we've got Wraith and villagers watching this clearing."
"I will go first," Teyla said, looking up at Sheppard. "If anyone is watching, they will try to stop me. If there are not...."
"Wait," Sheppard reached into his vest and pulled out his scanner. Holding it up, he studied the life signs registering on it for a moment, before making a decision. He nodded to her.
"As Rodney said earlier, there are too many life signs on this thing. I can't tell whether there are bad guys around or not. All I can say is that there are at least five life signs on this registering as strongly as we are. The could be animals..."
"Or humans and Wraith," she finished. He nodded. She grimaced, "We could go seek them out first."
"If it's an animal, I don't want to go looking for trouble. And if it's a human, there may be more outside the scanner's range, watching their backs." He looked up, peering intently at the area where he knew the jumper to be. "What it comes down to..."
"Is that, whoever they are, we need to draw them out," she finished.
"Then we do this the old-fashioned way," she quipped, using a phrase she'd heard Sheppard use often when Rodney couldn't get them out of trouble with something Ancient.
He smiled at her, "Yeah. Looks like."
She nodded, then turned and readied herself for the maneuver.
"I've got your back," he said, watching her.
"I know," she replied, stepping out of the underbrush and into the clearing.
For a moment, Teyla remained crouched in the shadows at the edge of the clearing, watching the surroundings like a wary animal watching for predators. When nothing immediately jumped out at her, she moved forward a little, staying low to the ground, then stopped again. Her senses were on full alert, everything attuned to possible attack. She continued this slow, steady movement, staying in a fighter's crouch the whole time, until she was about half-way across.
She heard it before anything, and she immediately rolled, trusting completely in her sense of hearing. A second, and she was up and firing, paying no attention to the two blow-gun darts that had sunk into the ground where she had been a moment earlier.
She heard the cries of pain, but didn't wait to test that she had won. Instead, she was running for the invisible jumper, diving into it as soon as she could.
She rolled into the bench, then pressed herself against the side of the familiar interior, staring out into the clearing. Her eyes searched the trees, wanting to see her attackers. They had obviously known the jumper was here, but weren't sure where, so had waited for she and her team to make their move on it. Of course, now that she had shown them where it was....
Her eyes caught sight of three men shifting inside the trees. They were staying within the cover that the jungle afforded, but were moving to get a better position on what they now knew was the door of the jumper. She sighed a little, knowing what was about to happen.
Three solid pops echoed from a 9MM.
Teyla grimaced, and listened as nothing else moved for a while.
Then Sheppard appeared from out of the woods, keeping low as he aimed for the jumper, his life signs detector in his hands.
Nothing attacked him.
In moments, he was inside and hitting the switch to close the door. He nodded at her as he sidled past, aiming to get to the front.
"Nice job," he said. She smiled.
He grunted dismissively, then sat down on the pilot's chair. He looked at the controls before him, but didn't immediately power them up, as he would normally. Instead, he hit his radio.
The static was much thicker this time, and there was a high pitched whine in the background. Sheppard winced, but tried again.
"Ronon? Ronon, can you hear me? This is Sheppard. I need to talk to McKay."
The static almost seemed to mock him. Teyla had settled into the co-pilot's seat, watching him.
They came to the realization at the same time, and looked up out of the window at Blobby.
"Shit," Sheppard muttered.
"It is interfering with the signal," Teyla said.
"Yeah. Shoulda thought of that."
"So we can not talk to Doctor McKay."
She sucked in a deep breath, then let it out. Her eyes trailed the controls, trying to think as the doctor would have done, to think of a way out of this.
But Sheppard was quicker.
"Okay," he said, staring at the still dark controls. "Let's assume Blobby's a dog."
Teyla skipped a beat, then blinked at Sheppard. "What?"
"A dog. Pretend it's a dog."
"A dog..." She blinked some more, shaking her head a little.
He glanced at her, "You remember those pets that the prime minister had on Maneria?"
She frowned slightly, "Yes...I know what a dog is. I just—"
"Good. Now, let's say Blobby's like a dog. It senses power the same way dogs smell food. Right now, with the cloak on, Blobby can sense that there is food in the area, but it can't figure out where. It's sniffing around, but without success. The cloak is deflecting whatever...," he rolled a hand around, searching for the right words, "...helps it sense power nearby, just as it deflects light and other ship's sensors."
Teyla was just watching, her eyebrows raised. "All right," she said, accepting the theory.
"Okay," he nodded, licking his lips. "Now, say we power this jumper up, what might happen?"
"Well," Teyla looked down at the jumper's controls, "if the smell is increased in potency, it becomes easier for the...dog...to locate. So...we might become more visible to the energy creature, despite the cloak."
Sheppard nodded, "Yeah. That's what I'm thinking too."
She frowned, "But then, if we can not power up the jumper, how—"
"I'm getting there," the Colonel unconsciously mimicked, pursing his lips. "Now, what happens if something that smells even better is powered up?"
She looked at him, then, slowly, her eyes widened. "You mean the Stargate?"
He nodded. "I think we're close enough. We should only do it for a second. The last time we powered the gate, the creature interfered with out ability to shut it down. Right now, we just need to distract it long enough to fly out of here and get McKay and Ronon."
Teyla was still frowning, but even more deeply now. "But, then what happens after you have shut the gate down? Surely the creature will—"
"Ah," Sheppard held up a finger, "I have an idea about that too."
Teyla stared at him, at the smile on his face, and settled back in the chair, her expression unmistakably concerned. She looked out the window of the jumper to the shadowed world outside, and swallowed thickly.
"Maybe we should try Doctor McKay again," she said weakly.
"Teyla," Sheppard said firmly, turning her head towards him again. He was watching her intently. "Dial the gate. I'm thinking, the same wasteland where we sent Blobby's brother."
Teyla sighed heavily, and reached over to dial the DHD.
They felt the change in atmosphere the moment Teyla hit the central button on the DHD, the entire jumper feeling suddenly electrified as Blobby came to life overhead, the creature clearly "smelling" the wormhole engage. Sheppard called up the HUD the moment the sun hit the jumper's window, to follow the path of the energy creature as it shot away from them towards the cornucopia that was the Stargate.
With a speed even Sheppard didn't know the jumper had in it, the small ship was in the air and streaking in the opposite direction across the ravine, aiming for Ronon and McKay's position.
"The creature is nearly to the Stargate," Teyla stated, watching the HUD screen intently.
"Shut it down," the colonel ordered grimly, praying that he had gained them enough time. Teyla hit the central button again on the DHD, and saw the Stargate symbol blink off the screen.
Blobby immediately reversed direction on the HUD, a fuzzy pink haze on the transparent screen...and aimed straight for them.
"Damn it," Sheppard swore. Quickly, he hit his radio. "Ronon!" he called. "Ronon, do you read?"
"Get McKay up and over your shoulder. We're coming in fast. You need to get in here the moment we're down, clear?"
Sheppard angled towards the clearing, pinpointing the spot closest to the where they had left the two men.
"Here's goes nothing," he whispered, decloaking the ship as he swung the ship around to land.
Rodney woke abruptly at the sensation at being wrenched harshly to his feet, then tipped once more over Ronon's shoulder. He didn't even have the breath to complain, the air whooshing out of his lungs with the painful stab of the Satedan's bony shoulder into his stomach as he was lifted.
The world swam around him for a second, disorientation so striking, it sent stabs of pain through his head.
And then the world went black again.
Ronon watched as the jumper swung around then landed hard a mere ten feet from where he stood, McKay over one shoulder and McKay's heavy pack over his arm. The combined weight would have toppled a smaller man, but the Satedan thought of nothing but getting into the jumper as quickly as he could.
The back hatch opened and he jogged inside, nodding to Teyla as she immediately shut the hatch behind him. Dropping McKay's pack on the floor, he staggered a bit as Sheppard lifted them back up again into the air, then moved to settle Rodney on a bench.
"Put him on the floor!" Sheppard called, not turning around, "We're in for a bumpy ride!"
Ronon glanced at him, then to his right as Teyla pulled down a blanket from the supplies. She put it on the floor of the jumper, and Ronon pulled McKay off it and settled him against the back hatch.
The scientist was out cold again, which the Satedan didn't like, but, at the moment, didn't have time to worry about. Lying him down carefully, he trusted the inertial dampeners to keep McKay in place, nodded at Teyla, then strode up to look out the front of the ship to stand by his normal chair.
A moment later, Teyla sidled past, nodding at him as she aimed for the co-pilot's seat. Ronon glanced back at McKay, to see she had placed another blanket over him and a pillow under his head. It was the best they could do for him right now.
Still on his feet, Ronon held onto the back of his chair, frowning as he tried to make sense of the HUD screen in front of Sheppard. All sorts of images were blinking across it, too fast for him to comprehend...but he did get one thing.
"That pink haze on the screen," he said, looking at Sheppard, "is that the energy creature?"
"Yup," the colonel replied, his hands pressed forward on the controls, obviously urging the jumper to its fastest speed.
"But," Ronon frowned, "you're flying towards it."
"Isn't that sort of...stupid?"
"Obviously," Sheppard said, smirking a little, "yes. It is."
"But you're still doing it."
Sheppard's smirk grew.
"I sure am."
And Ronon knew, this was not a McKay idea. This one was pure Sheppard.
Sheppard lost all sense of self, completely immersing himself in the speed and agility of the jumper at his control. It flew at a velocity he wasn't even sure it was capable of, streaking across the sky so fast, it would have appeared like a shooting star to the people on the ground...if it wasn't cloaked.
But Blobby wasn't fooled. The energy creature flew straight and true, directly for the invisible jumper racing towards it.
Sheppard's eyes narrowed, watching the black mass yawning up before him, like a mouth opening to take a bite....
And pulled back hard on the jumper's controls.
Even with the dampeners, Teyla and Ronon rocked back with the force of the maneuver, the Satedan staggering back a little and catching himself on the side of the bulkhead doors. He glanced at McKay, who had shifted a bit, but not much, and returned his attention to the front.
Sheppard had turned the ship so that it was now nearly vertical to the ground below, pointing the jumper straight towards the stars.
"Colonel..." Teyla said weakly, holding on to the panel in front of her, even though she didn't really need to.
"Hang on," he answered, feeling the jumper shudder at the rough exit through the planet's atmosphere. One eye he kept on the HUD, the screen flickering a little as the jumper fought to stay steady, watching the pink haze at it stayed ridiculously close to the jumper's rear.
And it was gaining.
He gritted his teeth, biting back a swear as the jumper exploded out of the flaming atmosphere and into the dead quiet of space. The ship's shuddering stopped immediately, and it adjusted to the vacuum of space as easily as a knife cutting through butter.
Sheppard righted the tiny ship, and pressed forward hard on the controls, every part of him screaming at the machinery to find even more speed.
The creature was practically on top of them. He could feel it like a drag on the jumper, trying to draw it backwards.
The little ship started to shake. Shit...he was cutting this close....
"Sheppard," Ronon said nervously, eyes staring at the tendrils of pink reaching for the jumper on the HUD. He glanced out of the window, and saw what looked like fingers of black starting to block out the stars around them.
"I know!" Sheppard snapped back, leaning forward on the seat, pushing harder, trying to draw every little bit of power of the jumper's power cells. His whole body felt like it was thrumming with energy now.
And then he saw them.
His lips parted into an incredibly evil grin.
Ronon snorted a laugh, and even Teyla's lips creased into a smile.
He aimed straight for the central point between the three Wraith cruisers hovering over the planet, flying straight through the gap in the middle, not even slowing down to see if they reacted to the sudden appearance of the energy creature. The invisible little jumper spun like a top as he avoided the much larger ships, threading the needle perfectly.
As soon as he was on the other side, he twisted the controls down and around, performing a sharp spiral that turned the jumper around almost 180 degrees while also sending them down and away from the Cruisers—and aimed the ship back down into the atmosphere of the planet.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the black mass engulf the first Hive Cruiser, while the other two tried to back away. Tendrils of energy shot out, latching on to them as surely as a frog's tongue catches a fly. The engine pods on all three ships turned impossibly bright, fighting to stay alive, to get away, and weapons fire erupted, firing into the nothingness.
Then the first Cruiser, the one that had been almost entirely engulfed, exploded.
Ronon let out a wild cheer, while Teyla leaned back in her chair, looking exhausted and exalted at the same time.
Sheppard focused as the jumper shuddered upon hitting the atmosphere, recognizing that the angle was too sharp, and he slowed the ship down a little.
Meanwhile, Teyla and Ronon continued to raptly watch the HUD, as the pink haze surrounded the two remaining flashing red dots on the screen...and extinguished them both one after the other. In the now blue sky overhead, two fantastically bright flashes of light evidenced the two explosions for them.
Sheppard finally slowed down as they reached a normal flying level, and breathed out heavily. Turning his head, he glanced at Teyla, then Ronon, then beyond to where he could see Rodney lying peacefully on the floor in the back, covered partially by a blanket that Teyla must have thrown over him. When his gaze returned to the smiling faces of his two other teammates, he just nodded.
"Okay then...Let's go home."
Teyla nodded, and reached over to dial the Stargate. With a little extra force than was necessary, she hit the central button and turned to see the actual Stargate in the distance. The wormhole exploded to life with its usual whoosh.
"Sheppard!" Ronon said urgently, looking up at the sky through the window.
The colonel's eyes lifted from where he'd be watching the tiny stargate in the distance engage.
Black filled the sky above them, boiling out of nothingness, like a fungal infection bubbling across the icy firmament. And it was aiming straight for the same thing as them—the Stargate. Bolts of electrical energy screamed across its inky black surface, wreaking havoc with the planet's atmosphere.
"IDC!" Sheppard yelled. Teyla was way ahead of him, tapping her radio.
"Atlantis!" she called, not hiding her desperation.
"Teyla? You're early," the soft voice of the Canadian tech answered back cheerfully, "What's up?"
"We're coming through fast! Lower the shield, and be ready to disengage the gate the second we're through. Don't even raise the shield, just shut the gate down!"
"Teyla? This is Weir. What's going on?"
"Elizabeth," Sheppard called through gritted teeth, "do exactly what Teyla just said. Don’t hesitate. And tell Beckett we need a medical team in the bay, now!"
"Okay," Elizabeth replied firmly, getting it. "We'll be ready."
"But," the Canadian tech interrupted, "I'm not sure we just can immediately disengage—"
"I said," Elizabeth stressed again, "we'll be ready." And in the background, they heard a swear and orders being called out by the tech.
"Then we're coming home," Sheppard replied, focused on the blue shimmering light before him. "NOW."
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: HOME
Elizabeth charged up the stairs to the bay, taking them two at a time. She needed an explanation for the strange orders Teyla and Sheppard had given her, not to mention the way their jumper had practically exploded out of the wormhole before the automated system took over, stopping it dead in the Gateroom. She almost heard imaginary tires screeching to a halt, and half expected to see skid marks on the marble floor. It had taken a couple of techs with fast hands to make sure the wormhole disengaged immediately behind them, and she knew there had been some damage to the Gate's systems as a result. Still, she had heard the tension and fear in SGA-1's voices…and particularly noted Rodney's lack of input on the same…and had not hesitated to make the order.
Sheppard had sounded incredibly tired when he'd thanked Elizabeth after they were through, waving weakly from the jumper window and telling her he'd see her upstairs.
The jumper was down and open when she reached the bay, and Beckett was wheeling an unconscious Rodney away on a stretcher, calling out orders to his people. He nodded at Elizabeth as they barreled past her at the entranceway, telling her nothing except that it was serious...and that he was on it. Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon were being helped down the plank by other members of Carson's med team--all three members of SGA-1 were moving stiffly and tiredly.
As she watched, wheelchairs were wheeled over, and all three sank into them without protest, even Ronon.
Wow, she thought, that's a first. She approached Ronon first, as he was the closest, and winced at the horrific bruise covering a large part of his face. She opened her mouth, but he forestalled her with a raised hand.
"I'm fine. Ask Sheppard."
And with that curt statement, he was rolled away. Elizabeth nodded. Nice to know some things never changed.
She walked a little further, and nodded to the med tech holding onto the handles of Sheppard's chair. He let go, and she sidled in, taking control. The colonel's head was leaning forward, resting heavily on one hand, eyes closed.
"Colonel," she greeted softly, pushing him off and heading him towards the infirmary.
He flinched slightly, startled by her voice, and sat up a bit straighter.
"Care to enlighten me as to what happened?"
"It was an ambush," he replied tiredly. "Wraith."
She hissed, pushing a little harder to catch up to Teyla, who was ahead of them, being wheeled along by one of the nurses.
"Is that all?"
"No. Ran into another one of those energy creatures."
Elizabeth's eyebrow lifted, "Really? There's more than one?"
"Yeah. Wasn't a good morning, Elizabeth."
"No. What happened to all of you?"
"Too much." He rested his head back on his hand and closed his eyes again.
She nodded, not speaking again when she noticed his breath evening out into a faint doze, and pushed him the rest of the way to the infirmary in silence.
"They're all going to be fine," Beckett told Elizabeth, looking behind him at his four slumbering patients. He'd purposefully arranged them with Rodney in the middle, knowing that, as he was the worst off and likely to be the last to wake, the other three would want to all be within visual range of him, to make sure he was okay.
"What happened to them?" Elizabeth asked, repeating the question she'd asked Sheppard nearly half a day earlier. The colonel, and all of them, had fallen asleep almost immediately upon landing in Beckett's care, and, so far, hadn't woken up yet.
"Well," Beckett looked down at the charts in his hand, "their blood work is fascinating, I can tell you that. They all four of them had trace amounts of different viruses and bacteria and other substances in their blood that they didn't have before, things that, had they been at higher levels, could have done some serious damage, if not killed them. For one, there was evidence of something poisonous in Rodney's bloodstream, which his body is finishing breaking down now, but in a normal situation, would have been deadly. And I found faint amounts of hallucinogenic substances in the other's blood. Then there's the bacteria and viral infections they apparently fought off..." He shook his head, not hiding his amazement.
Elizabeth's eyebrows were raised high. "But…they were barely gone five hours."
"I know," Beckett glanced at her, eyebrows lifted way up. "But none of it was there this morning, when I cleared them to leave. Still, like I said," he shrugged again, "It's all just trace amounts. I wouldn't even have seen it except that the Ancient diagnostic equipment is highly sensitive to these things. And, by tomorrow, their own immune systems will have taken care of whatever is left."
Elizabeth blew the air out of her cheeks, then nodded. "Well, what else?"
"Broken bones, bruises, contusions, some nasty strains that will stay with them for a while. Honestly, it was amazing any of them were still moving. Rodney also showed signs of trauma from CPR and evidence of a near drowning." He shook his head. "It's truly shocking more damage wasn't done. He's lucky. They all are."
Elizabeth nodded, then walked over to assess their condition herself. Her flagship team look pale and bruised, but also peaceful. Smiling softly, she sighed and turned away, noting the dimming of the lights around her evidencing that night was upon them. As she passed Carson, she gripped his arm warmly in thanks, then left.
She knew he would call her tomorrow when they were awake.
McKay woke slowly, languidly, emerging from a deep pool of sleep like a cat stretching out of a nap. He felt oddly good…
Which meant he had to be on drugs.
Listening to his surroundings, he heard the soft beeping of the monitors, the quiet conversation of two people off to one side whispering in order not to be heard, and the occasional shift of someone under over-starched sheets.
Then the smell of antiseptic hit his nose.
Oh yeah…he was home. And in the infirmary.
Slowly, he opened his eyes, tipping his head slightly to peer out at the room. His sticky eyelids fought the movement, but his stubbornness won out, despite the bone-weariness beginning to register across his frame. Around him, everything was dark, lit only by a handful of lamps.
Shifting his head, he looked over at the neighboring bed, and saw Sheppard's head poking up out from under the sheets. The colonel was sleeping on his side, the white infirmary sheet covering him almost completely, but the shock of thick, brown hair peeking out over the top was both unmistakable and inimitable. He smiled, then turned his head, looking towards the bed on the other side of him.
Teyla was lying on her back, her hair spread over the pillow, her face turned away from his. She looked comfortable…except for the cast on her left arm. The sight caused him to frown a little, trying to recall how that had happened.
It annoyed him when nothing came to mind.
Still frowning, he pushed up a little on one arm, wincing a little at the strange pressure he felt in his chest and the stiffness of his neck, and looked across the room to the opposite side. The massive, dreadlocked lump snoring away on the infirmary bed directly across from him answered his final question.
They'd all gotten home.
He settled back on the infirmary bed, closing his eyes and smiling softly. He gave into the weariness then, and felt himself drifting back once more into the gentle arms of sleep.
As he fell, a sudden, final worrying thought touched him.
Hang on…why were they all in the infirmary again?
When he awoke a second time, it was to laughter.
He snarled, blue eyes opening to glare blearily at the source of the laughter, which, as the pupils focused and cleared, turned out to be Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon, all three still wearing white scrubs and sitting next to his bed. The lights were on full again. Sheppard was sitting, legs dangling and swaying back and forth, on the bed next to McKay's, while Teyla and Ronon were both sitting on chairs they had pulled up. Teyla had her left arm in a cast, while Ronon sported a bandage over one eye, making him look a little piratical. Sheppard said something else to them then, the gist of which McKay wasn't quick enough to catch, and all three erupted in laughter a second time.
It was like nails on a chalkboard! Couldn't they see he was trying to sleep here?
"Hey," he mumbled out, both eyes open now and squinting angrily at Sheppard opposite. "Stop having fun. Trying to sleep here."
Sheppard heard the mumbled, but, frankly, unintelligible words, and turned to look at him; his annoyingly perky smile, if possible, grew even wider.
"There you are! About time you woke up. You are awake this time, right?" he asked cheerfully, sliding off his bed and limping stiffly over to McKay's in order to better examine the scientist curled up on his side. When the blue eyes narrowed in annoyance, Sheppard grinned and bumped the edge of the bed with his hip. "Beckett said he thought you were just being lazy. It has been almost two days, you know."
McKay sneered in return, not really listening, and shifted in order to turn over and put his back to them, but Sheppard decided right them to hit the button on the bed to lift the head up more. McKay slid down on the slippery sheets as it rose, emitting a pitiful, "Gah!" as he did so. His ribs hurt spectacularly as they caught, and he hissed, pressing a hand to them.
"Whoops," the colonel said, letting go the button when the bed was pretty much all the way up, "sorry 'bout that." There was no apology in the tone, however. And the smile was way too smirky.
McKay glared full on, eyes wide open and awake now, panting a little as he resettled himself.
"You're a jerk, Sheppard," he said once he was somewhat comfortable again.
"I know," came the happy reply, eyebrow arch in obnoxious mode. "Aren't I just?"
"How are you feeling, Rodney?" Teyla asked, standing up so that she could move and sit on the edge of his bed. McKay frowned a little at her presumption, then moved over to make room for her to sit cross-legged, sighing in resignation. As he did so, he remembered his feelings from the night before (or was it the night before that?), and found himself frowning now for a different reason.
"Stupid," he answered finally.
"Stupid?" Teyla repeated, looking surprised.
"Now that's a new one," Sheppard said, his expression matching Teyla's. "Why?"
McKay settled back, looking up at the ceiling, then over again at the three people watching him. They all looked very curious, honestly wanting to know what he meant. For some reason, that made him smile a little self-consciously.
"Well," he said, lifting his hand to brush at the bandage he could feel on his neck, "to be honest, it's because I…I can't remember…how we got here." He looked at them speculatively. "I feel like I should know, but…" he shrugged, wincing a little at the pull on his ribs.
"Oh," Sheppard said, nodding. He left the side of McKay's bed and returned to his own, hopping up onto it, then hissing a little in pain and reaching around to press a hand to his back.
"Still hurting?" Ronon asked.
"Yeah. Gonna feel that strain for a while," the colonel replied.
"Yeah," the former Runner nodded, stretching a little and looking like he was working out a massive knot in his neck. "Me too."
Rodney frowned, staring at both of them, his expression demanding explanation. Teyla smiled pityingly, and, leaning forward, patted his hand.
"Rodney," she said, "what is the last thing you remember?"
"Um," McKay frowned, looking down. Then he snorted, "Actually, the last thing I remember is Ronon setting my leg," he noted the cast he wore, shifting the limb a little, "but I don't know why my leg had to be set. Or where we were when he set it, other than it was hot and, well...hot. I…" his frown deepened, "I think I recall a meeting about going to M1J-162?"
She nodded, "M1J-162, yes, that's correct. We met and--"
"Then we went," Ronon supplied, cutting her short. Teyla gave him a glance, but didn't seem bothered by it.
"Yes, we went," she agreed calmly. "It was a jungle planet. We flew in by jumper, then set out to find the native people."
"Weren't they friends of yours?" Rodney interrupted, eyebrows lifting in curiosity.
Teyla pursed her lips, and something dark crossed her eyes. After a moment, she nodded. "They were. They are not now."
"They sold us out to the Wraith," Ronon stated unreservedly. "Probably thinking that the Wraith would leave 'em alone otherwise. Fools."
Rodney's eyebrows rose, and he looked back at Teyla. Her eyes were downcast, staring at the bed covers. He hated that look on her; it always made him unhappy. Like seeing a cowed panther—it was unnatural. He gave her a sympathetic look—well, as sympathetic a look as he could.
"Galaxy's getting uglier," he offered, clearing his throat a little. "People do what they have to, to survive. Some people make the wrong deals." He lifted his hand, and this time, patted hers, the motion a bit stilted. This really wasn't his thing. "I'm sorry about your friends, Teyla."
That startled her, and she looked up, blinking at him. He frowned, not quite understanding why she would be startled. What? He could be sympathetic, couldn't he? He wasn't that much of an ass. No one deserved a Wraith culling, no matter who they were. He frowned, annoyed at her reaction. Suddenly, Teyla's eyes softened, and she smiled.
"You're a good man, Rodney," she said, grabbing his hand and squeezing it. "Thank you for reminding me of that."
He snorted, bristling a little and pulling his hand away, "For reminding you that I'm a good man? Well, thanks a lot. I can be—"
"No, no," she interrupted, her voice even softer, grabbing his hand again, "for reminding me to have compassion, and for seeing the world differently than we do. Thank you."
Still confused, he looked over to Sheppard and Ronon, but neither one had any expression. Their faces were completely blank.
"What?" he asked. "Am I missing something?"
"The Wraith attacked us on the planet," Sheppard said, "and the villagers helped them. As we were crossing a rope bridge across a ravine to get back to the jumper, a villager got you in the neck with a blow-gun dart. You fell off the bridge, into the river." There was no smile on his face, and his eyes were very dark and cold. "You nearly died, Rodney. And the villagers were the ones who would have killed you."
McKay stared at him, blinking slowly, absorbing this. He'd nearly died? He glanced at Teyla and Ronon, and saw similarly grim expressions on their faces. Damn…it must have been bad. Teyla's grip on his hand tightened a little.
He turned back to Sheppard, and lifted his eyebrows. "But…," he offered slowly, "obviously…I didn't."
"No," Sheppard agreed coldly, "you didn't. But compassion is not something I'm willing to offer those people right now."
Ronon grunted in apparent agreement, and stretched his neck again. Rodney just grimaced.
"Oh," he said, not sure how else to reply to that. "Okay." He licked his lips, looked up at Teyla, then down at the bed covers. After a moment, he frowned again.
"So, okay...I apparently fell into a river…." He said, brow furrowed. He looked up again, "Um, how did you get me out?"
"Actually," a wry smile lifted at Sheppard's lips, chasing away some of the darkness there, "We didn't. We all sort of...accidentally fell in after you. We just got really lucky and the river spat us out a little further down."
"Um," Ronon raised a hand, "You fell accidentally. I let go."
Sheppard gave him a look, then shrugged. "Whatever."
McKay raised his eyebrows, "Okay. So…then what?"
"Well," Sheppard shifted back to get comfortable, "Then, after we, out of the goodness of our hearts, gave you CPR and saved your life, Teyla found the hidden back entrance to the Ancient Outpost…."
"What?" McKay perked up immediately, "How?"
"How do you think?" Sheppard replied quickly, smirking. "The same way you would, of course." The darkness was completely gone, replaced by amusement at Rodney's total mystification at that answer. "Now, don’t interrupt. Anyway, we got inside, found another energy creature…."
"What? Another one? How did—"
"...Which I nicknamed Blobby. The Ancients were studying it in the outpost there. Oh, it was a medical and biological research facility, by the way. Anyway, Teyla and Ronon managed to wake Blobby up with a well thought out finger poke…." Over in his chair, Ronon lifted a bandaged finger, and smiled. Meanwhile, Sheppard continued. "And we sent Blobby after the Wraith who were trying to blow open the door to the outpost…."
McKay's jaw was just dropped now, listening to all this with wide open eyes.
"Blobby destroyed a mess of darts, then disappeared. Meantime, we shut the door to the outpost again and powered up the facility…."
"You powered it up?" McKay blinked, "On your own? Without me?" Amazement, and a hint of jealousy, tinged his tone.
"Well, you were there," Sheppard replied dismissively, "just over Ronon's shoulder most of the time, unconscious. Like a lump. You need to lose some weight, by the way. Strained Ronon's muscles something fierce, according to Beckett. Seriously, you're lucky we were kind enough to lug you around. I tried to convince them to leave you in the river, but Teyla and Ronon were adamant you might still be of some use. Anyway…"
McKay emitted a tiny whimper, which Sheppard gleefully ignored, pretending to be oblivious.
"So, then we climbed up through the facility to get to the far entrance. Unfortunately, it was blocked by cave-ins, so Teyla cleverly found us another way out, and I configured the crystals on the door to get the transporter working…."
"You configured…?" McKay glanced at Teyla and Ronon for confirmation, and they nodded back.
"And we found ourselves in a working decontamination room, which we powered up and it leeched the poison from your system…."
"Poison?" McKay squeaked. "Decontamination?"
"And then Teyla and I went to get the jumper, which, by the way, Blobby was hovering over."
"Oh God," McKay breathed, completely flabbergasted now, "what did you—"
"Well, we reasoned it couldn't find the jumper with the cloak on unless it was fully powered up, so, to distract it, we dialed the Stargate…."
"You reasoned…Wait, the Stargate? Are you insane? But—"
"Which we shut off as soon as Blobby went for it. Meanwhile, I took jumper flying to new heights and speeds, expertly scooping you and Ronon up, then cleverly leading Blobby straight up into the atmosphere to where three, count them, three," Sheppard held up three fingers for McKay to see, "Wraith cruisers were in orbit around the planet. Blobby ate them up, like a starving dog scarfing down a steak dinner, and then we came home. Smooth as silk, the whole operation."
Finished, Sheppard simply grinned smugly, his eyes sparkling.
McKay was, for the first time in a very long time, completely speechless.
Finally, after some nervous swallowing, the scientist gave a half-hearted smile. "Huh," he said, "Well…sounds like you, uh, managed, um, pretty well….without me."
"Yeah, well," Sheppard flexed an eyebrow, "We're more than just pretty faces, you know, McKay."
McKay offered a crooked smile in return, "So you are."
"Although Colonel Sheppard," Teyla noted quietly, "is being a little less than honest, Rodney."
"Aw, Teyla...don't," Sheppard whined, though he was still smiling. "You'll ruin the moment! I've been dying for a moment like this!"
She gave him a look, then turned back to McKay. "The thing is, Rodney, we could not have done it without you."
He frowned, confused by that. "Huh? But I thought you said I was unconscious?"
"You were. But you were still there." She smiled warmly.
"Yes," McKay stated slowly, not understanding her meaning, "I know that. I was there, but I was unconscious." She rolled her eyes slightly, then sat back. He frowned at her, "What? How could I have helped if I was unconscious?"
"She means," Ronon said, leaning forward on his chair, "that a lot of what we did to escape, we learned from you."
McKay's eyebrows rose way up, absorbing that for a moment. Then he smiled lightly. "Really?"
Ronon shrugged, "Yeah."
McKay grinned suddenly, proud. "Well, that's something. Always knew I'd be a good influence on people. I'd have made a great teacher...if I didn't hate teaching so much. And students. I don't like students. Or other teachers. Or, really...the whole academic community. Still, clearly," he grinned at them again, "I'm a good teacher."
"Sure," Sheppard nodded, "Soon we'll be able to go on missions without you along at all."
That froze McKay's smile on his face until, abruptly, it disappeared. Eyes wide, he blinked ferociously. "What? Wait…you're kidding, right? I mean…." He looked around at their amused expressions, and the realization that they were teasing him hit. He scowled. "Oh, ha ha. Pull one over on the suffering, barely cognizant scientist. Oh yes, very kind. You really had me going there." He shook his head, "For a moment, I really thought everything Sheppard described actually happened."
"Oh," Teyla said, shaking her head a little, "No. It did happen, Rodney. He told the truth. But…" she tilted her head this way and that, "he left out the parts where he nearly drowned trying to get into the entrance I found because we couldn't use your hand-held scanner to scan to see if something was there, or our inability to power anything up before discovering the energy creature was there, which might have given us more warning of its presence, or our inability to shield what we were doing from the Wraith, or how we could not operate the doors at the top of the facility, or—"
"What's she trying to say is," Sheppard interrupted, pulling their attention back, "is…you might've come in handy...some...not much...but maybe."
McKay stared at him a moment, then smiled, all smug. "So…you do need me."
"Yeah," Sheppard conceded, somewhat unhappily, "I guess we do."
McKay's smile became a full grin.
"Ugh," Sheppard said, looking at Teyla in exasperation, "See? That's what I was trying to avoid! But no, you had to go and make him feel better…"
Teyla gave him a tsk-tsk look, "He is hurt, Colonel."
"But I had him in the palm of my hand!" he replied desperately. "We could have lorded this over him for weeks!"
"It would've been nice," Ronon noted.
"Oh, please," McKay said, "You wouldn't have been able to keep it up. For one thing," he pointed at Ronon's hand, "I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have actually touched the energy creature."
"Blobby," Sheppard reminded.
"Blobby," McKay agreed.
"Sheppard's the only one calling it that," Ronon noted for McKay's benefit. The scientist shrugged.
"Yeah, not surprised."
"I did come up with the dog analogy, though," Sheppard said, pointing a finger. "That was all me."
"That was very clever," Teyla admitted.
"Dog analogy?" McKay said.
Sheppard quickly outlined the analogy and how he used it to lead Blobby to the Wraith Cruisers, and McKay arched an eyebrow.
"Huh," he said, when the colonel was done.
Sheppard's eyebrows lifted. "Huh? What does that mean?"
"Nothing, nothing," McKay waved a hand. "Don't worry about it."
"No, really, what?"
"Just...it's not quite right."
The colonel growled, "What? Which part?"
"Blobby's range is not affected by things like atmosphere. It's attracted to the closest power source it can sense, that's powerful enough to draw its attention. Had you just powered down the jumper completely, it would have lost interest in you, sought another source, sensed the Wraith Cruisers orbiting the planet, and gone after the Cruisers on its own. Once it was feeding on them, you could have picked me and Ronon up pretty easily, using the HUD to keep an eye on the creature, and we could have just gone home then."
Sheppard stared at him. It was not a nice stare.
"Oh," McKay said, blinking rapidly under the force of it, "But...your idea was good too. Much more exciting. Real edge of your seat stuff." He smiled weakly.
The colonel's eyes narrowed.
"Next time, I'm leaving you in the river."
Hope you liked it!