Title: THE TRENCH
Disclaimer: Don't own anything and not making any profit. Stargate Atlantis belongs to MGM, Gecko, the show's producers, writers, directors and actors. I own nothing except an overactive imagination.
Season: First Season – written between the Storm and the Eye (yes, in other words, these are NOT the same characters from four seasons later. Please keep that in mind)
A/N 1: I built a trench. I had to use it. Also, someone asked for a Ford fic. It’s not really a Ford fic, but he does get a nice chunk of h/c.
Description: The team explores a planet that the Atlantians have mysteriously placed in a different file of gate addresses—and you just know they must have had a very good reason for it. Oh, and there's this big trench….
CHAPTER ONE: PLANET 51
High desert canyon walls surrounded the Stargate on all sides, looming over the metal circle, dwarfing it. Dark green creepers and ivies grew up and out from the porous looking stone, dripping ugly yellow flowers and brittle looking thorns. A hazy, hot sun beat down on the upper part of the canyon, but most of the lower part, including the Stargate, huddled in shadow.
It was an odd location, as most gates they'd found in the Pegasus galaxy were in open areas, but it wasn't unknown. It prevented access by jumper—or dart, for that matter—and it meant Sheppard’s team was on foot.
McKay keyed commands into the scanner, lifting it and doing a slow circle while Sheppard, Teyla and Ford quickly skirted the edges of the canyon walls. At first glance, there was only one exit--the one carved between the rocks directly facing the gate. After a moment, McKay dropped the scanner and looked over at the Major. Sheppard shook his head. So, at second glance—there was still only one exit.
Rodney checked the scanner again, then shrugged and nodded towards the only obvious exit. With a wry look, Sheppard sighed and headed that way, signaling to Teyla and Ford to join him. He obviously trusted that McKay saw no life signs on the scanner in the immediate area, but he still had the four of them take up their usual standard positions, with Teyla taking point, then himself, McKay and finally Ford bringing up the rear.
Rodney sighed as Ford waited for him, jogging over and looking down at the scanner. Sweat was already beading on his forehead—God, he hated the desert. Quickly, he pulled out a bottle of water from the side of his pack, taking a short drink.
“Don’t waste it, Doc,” Ford said, grimacing at him. “Water here may be scarce, or, well…”
“Yes, yes,” Rodney muttered. “I know all about the dangers of dysentery and other illnesses, Lieutenant. I have been in a desert before. I won’t drink the local water.”
“Which is why you should save the water you brought,” Ford noted, affecting a know-it-all attitude that, really, didn’t suit him.
Rodney lifted his chin. “I’ll have you know that I have a very sensitive metabolic system, Lieutenant. I need to stay hydrated, more so than the normal person, or I may suffer from hypernatremia. As such, I need to drink more than—“
“Would you two shut it?” Sheppard called back from the entrance to the gap. “Potentially fatal planet ahoy. No need to let it know we’re here, ‘kay?” Their Fearless leader arched an eyebrow at McKay. Rodney resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at him in return.
“Yes, sir,” Ford answered Sheppard cheerfully.
“Yes, sir,” McKay mocked unhappily. He took another sip of his water, sneered at Ford, and tucked the bottle away. Sheppard gave him a tiny smile—the man would forever confuse Rodney with his seeming obliviousness to McKay’s intentional recalcitrance. They’d only been doing this “team” thing for a couple of months, and yet nothing Rodney said ever seemed to phase Sheppard. If anything, it made Sheppard want to spend more time with him. What the hell was up with that?
Rodney looked down again at the scanner in his hand as they emerged from out of the box canyon into a wooded area, the bulk of the trees looking a bit like Douglas firs. The reddish stone path they were following curved away off to their left.
"McKay?" Sheppard indicated the direction that path went, a silent question on the air.
"Yup." The scientist double-checked the scanner, shifting left and right, then nodded, looking up the path. "That way."
Ahead of them on the path, Teyla crouched down, her hand brushing the dusty surface. For a moment, she considered what appeared to be a boot heel mark, then stood, squinting through the trees around her.
"What?" Sheppard asked her softly when she turned around to look at them again.
"This path still sees use," she responded, answering over the radio so that she, too, could speak softly. "I do not know how long ago it was last followed, but at least once since the last rain."
"Doesn't look like it rains much here," McKay muttered, noting the cacti and other succulents on the ground, as well as dusty air. "It's very dry here. Reminds me a little of Area 51." Which, oddly, was not a bad memory. One of the few.
"So," Sheppard smiled a little, "when it rains, it pours."
Rodney nodded. "Probably."
"Hmm," the major looked around at the thickly barked trees and the Yucca like plants, "and how often did it rain in Area 51?"
"Uh…" McKay frowned, scratching his head and scrunching up his face. "From what I remember, it can go weeks."
Neither Sheppard nor Ford remarked on that, though the lieutenant did look up at the clear blue sky overhead. There were no clouds visible. He wondered how fast they would move in when they did appear.
They moved steadily up the path, each one, except McKay, never lowering their guarded scrutiny of the woods. In front, Teyla continued to scout around for more signs of passage as well as for any danger. She moved a little like a small, curious animal, moving quickly but still thoroughly checking everything that caught her eye.
McKay lifted the scanner still in his hand, keying in more commands.
"Anything new?" Sheppard asked.
"A good number of life signs. I'm seeing more with every step, but still none in the immediate area." He hit a few more buttons, changing the screen. "Also, power readings, the same ones as the MALP transmitted. Steady still—three distinct signatures—but nothing particularly special. Meaning nothing," he waved a hand, "as powerful as a ZPM, or even a naqudah generator. At best," he shrugged, "it appears to be some kind of fossil fuel energy."
"In other words," the major sighed, trying not to sound disappointed, "Still nothing to indicate why the Ancients put this gate address in a separate file."
"No," Mckay admitted unhappily, grimacing a little at the scanner. "Not yet."
They had found a file of gate addresses, about twenty or so, separated from the long list in the database on Atlantis. It wasn't clear why. Hoping it had something to do with possible sources of power, Weir had okayed the mission. This was the first address on the list. When they sent the MALP through, they hadn't been that impressed with the readings, but who knew why might still be hidden and just not powered up.
Sheppard simply nodded, turning forward to watch as Teyla slowed, as if she sensed something. Then she was moving quickly again.
"Those life signs," the major said, clearly trying to see whatever it was that the huntress saw as she stopped and stared in a particular direction, "how far away are they? And can you tell if they're people?"
"Um," McKay said, switching back to the life signs detector screen and tilting his head, "People…I think, seeing how clustered they are, though it could just as easily be pack animals of some kind, I suppose. They're not close, but there are a good number. They're just on the edge of screen…." He fiddled with the buttons a little more. "Yep. Pretty sure they're people."
Rodney peered down the path again. "Three guesses."
Sheppard nodded, eyes still watching Teyla about twenty feet ahead now.
"Teyla," he said, tapping the radio.
Teyla slowed, and, watching the woods, waited for a few moments, to allow them to close in on her. When they were within about ten feet, she started moving again.
Rodney glanced at the major, a little surprised at the level of caution he was taking. He licked his already dry lips, before sidling up next to the other man.
"I said there were no life signs nearby. Why are you still so nervous?"
Sheppard glanced back at him, then shrugged.
"Because one thing I've learned since being here, Dr. McKay, is never judge a book by its cover."
"You, for example, are, at first glance, pompous, irritating and obnoxious. However, at second glance, you're," he gave a tiny smile, "really pompous, irritating and obnoxious. Like, to an amazing degree."
Rodney just rolled his eyes at that, not rising to the bait. "Meaning?" he snapped.
"The scanner's been wrong before. And this place reminds you of Area 51—not the most comfortable of comparisons for me. Plus, the Ancients thought this planet potentially dangerous enough to put its address in its own file. Sure, it looks like we're taking a stroll through the Canyon de Chelly, but until we're back on Atlantis and in one piece, I'm going to treat it like it's Lebanon."
"Planet 51," Ford suggested over the radio from his position about ten feet behind the other two men, chuckling slightly.
"Ford?" Sheppard replied.
CHAPTER TWO: SKI RUNS IN THE DESERT
Teyla slowed as the trees started to fall away, and the world lightened considerably before her, indicating a clearing. She held up a fisted hand to stop the others.
A moment later, she indicated them forward. McKay studied his scanner a moment longer, letting Sheppard know with a shake of his head that it all still looked clear, then put it away. All three men lifted up their P90s, to cover the Athosian as Sheppard silently gave Teyla orders to move out.
Cautiously, she stepped out of the trees and into the open area. Her eyes scanned the strange landscape before her. She stood in a clear-cut swath that stretched to the horizon in both directions. It was about a hundred yards across to the tree line on the far side and was clearly not natural.
Ford, Sheppard and McKay stood just inside the tree-line, safety's off, just in case, as Teyla walked forward along the arrow straight path.
"It looks line a strip cut for power lines," Sheppard noted softly, adjusting his radio on his ear.
"Or a ski run," Ford commented casually, not blinking as he covered his teammate, "except we're not on a mountain."
"A ski run?" Teyla repeated over the radio.
"For skiing, a popular sport on our world, in colder regions," McKay put in. "When it snows, people slap smooth, waxed wooden boards to their feet, then slide down mountains."
Teyla arched an eyebrow at the strange description, "Really? For what purpose?"
"It's an effective means of travel," McKay replied, a small smile on his face. "That, and it's fun." Sheppard arched an eyebrow at the scientist's expression. Something else new he didn't know about McKay.
"Oh." Teyla didn't sound convinced. She continued on the path, until she reached a spot where two waist-high, box like pillars stood on either side of the path. She looked at them a moment, then at something a little past them. She didn't move from her position, just shy of the pillars.
"People clear wide paths between trees, just like this, to make 'runs' for people to ski down," McKay continued, peering with some curiosity at the pillars she avoided. He then glanced at Sheppard, "Oh, and to put up power lines."
"I see." Teyla tilted her head, clearly looking down at something. "And do they dig wide trenches down the middle of these ski runs?"
"No, of course not. That would defeat the purpose. They…." McKay stopped as it occurred to him what she had just said. "Oh." McKay stepped out, Sheppard and Ford flanking him. As a group, they reached Teyla's position and looked down at what she was looking at.
Almost exactly half way across the swath, a deep wide trench had been dug. The pillars sat right on the edge. It was about fifteen feet wide and at least ten feet deep. On this side, the mud wall was sheer and vertical. The opposite side was sloped. As if you could slide down one side, but couldn't then climb up this side. It stretched along the length of the swath, and was probably as long as it was.
The strangest part—it was muddy. Very muddy. There was even a tiny rivulet running down the center, trickling away softly.
Teyla knelt on one knee, but didn't get closer to the edge in case it wasn't stable, in order to study the deep trench more closely, "How is this not dry, like everything else here?"
"An irrigation trench?" Ford suggested, turning to look to the left and right. The trench, and the cleared path, continued on in both directions all the way to the horizons. "For farmers?"
"Kinda deep," Sheppard frowned, "and wide."
"I'm more interested in these," McKay said, kneeling next to one of the waist-high boxes. Both of them were rectangular in shape, with square flat tops, and made of a bluish metal. McKay touched a finger tentatively to the side, to brush away some of the red dust that had collected on the surface and revealing a grooved mark. "There's an ancient symbol on here."
That got everyone's attention, and Sheppard was soon peering over the scientist's shoulder as McKay moved to kneel next to the other box. By common consent, none of them had actually walked between the two boxes yet, though the fact that the path ran through them suggested you were supposed to, even though the path ended abruptly at the trench edge.
"What does it say?" Sheppard asked, as McKay straightened up.
The scientist smiled at him, then stepped between the two boxes before Sheppard could stop him, and rested his hand on the top of the one on the right.
Metal scraped metal, the ground shook, and, without warning, three steel-like girders burst out of the ground just below the edge of the trench. They practically exploded into the mud and earth on the other side, audibly "clicking" into place. Then a "clack-clack" like noise sounded, and more metal unfolded out of the trench's wall to rest on top of the girders, creating a walkway.
McKay smiled back at Sheppard, "It says, 'Bridge.'"
CHAPTER THREE: FIELDS OF SNARK
Sheppard walked across the bridge with Teyla, leaving Ford and McKay behind. Two identical boxes were on the other side, but they wanted to make sure they worked first. Sure enough, as soon as the two people passed through the two boxes, the bridge immediately retracted back into the gate side of the trench.
"Hunh." Sheppard looked over at McKay, and the scientist indicted the right one. With a nod, the major rested his hand on top of the box on this side and, sure enough, the bridge emerged again, the speed of the machinery impressive. "Well that seems to work," Sheppard noted curiously.
McKay grinned, and both he and Ford crossed over the bridge. And, again, as soon as they reached the far side, the bridge retracted.
"Does it work for everyone?" Sheppard asked, looking at McKay. The scientist shrugged, and so Teyla moved forward and pressed her hand to the top of the right box.
Nothing happened. When she moved away, McKay stepped up and put his hand down.
The bridge formed again.
"Interesting," he muttered. "Apparently, it requires the gene."
"Why?" Teyla asked.
"Perhaps they were protecting something in here?" McKay suggested, turning around to look at the unassuming woods on this side of the Trench.
Suddenly, the bridge that McKay had called retracted again, on its own. All four people jumped a little at the noise, and Sheppard frowned.
"It must retract if not used within a certain amount of time," McKay suggested when the major looked at him for answers, moving to study the boxes again. "Also, and though this doesn't mean much, I think if you press your hand on the box on the left, it retracts the bridge manually."
"Hm," Sheppard grunted. He turned to look again into the woods, no longer interested in the bridge now that he understood how it worked.
"So, you think that the Ancients were trying to protect something in here?" Teyla repeated. "Why not use a shield device as they did with Atlantis? Surely, a Wraith hive ship could bring darts here, and then the trench would be pointless."
"That," Ford nodded, "and what's to stop people building a bridge to put over it. Cut down a tree, put it across…." He ended with a shrug.
"I don't know," McKay replied. "But it's here for a reason."
"What's say we find out," Sheppard said. "McKay?"
The scientist nodded, and pulled out his scanner. He played with it for a few moments, then frowned.
"Uh oh," he mused. "That's not good."
"I hate when you say that," Sheppard sighed. "What's not good?"
McKay didn't answer, furiously pressing down on buttons. With a growl, he reached around and pulled the pack off his back.
"Wait," the scientist commanded rudely, dropping the pack down and kneeling next to it. Quickly, he pulled out his PDA, fiddled, and frowned. Then he pulled out another piece of Atlantian equipment, fiddled with it for a moment, then sighed, shaking his head.
"Dead. They're dead."
"No, just the more advanced equipment."
"You mean the Atlantian equipment," Sheppard clarified.
"Anything running on more than just simple batteries, so, yes, Atlantian technology. Unfortunately, I've outfitted a number of pieces of my equipment with power cells borrowed from unused Atantis apparatus, and they're all dead, along with the scanner and most of the more complicated items in here." He grimaced, frowning into the pack.
Ford hit his radio, and smiled to hear the answering chirrup. "My radio works."
"Yes," McKay looked up at him, annoyed, "Of course it does. Why wouldn't it?"
Ford blinked, "But I thought you just said—"
"Batteries, lieutenant. It runs on batteries." McKay gave an exasperated sigh, looking back down at his pack. "Am I speaking in tongues?" he muttered to himself, easily loud enough to be heard.
Ford sneered at the top of his head.
McKay grimaced, and then looked back at the boxes that worked the bridge. Leaving the pack on the path, he grabbed the scanner and walked back, reactivating the bridge almost without thought. Once on the other side, he kept his eyes on the scanner, watching it carefully as he reached the two entry pillars and walked between them. The bridge retracted.
He turned in a complete circle once on the other side, then nodded.
"There's some kind of shield here, probably runs along the length of the trench, right along this vertical edge," he called from the other side. "It's working as a dampening field."
"Like the one on M7G-677?" Ford asked.
"No, Ford, the radios work, remember?" They couldn't see it, but they knew McKay had just rolled his eyes. "The interference this field creates isn't electro magnetic. As I already said, it is more specifically designed…." McKay stared at the screen a moment longer, mentally mapped out the locations of the energy signatures in his head that were on the far side, then put it away when he reactivated the bridge. Walking quickly back across, he raised his eyebrows at the major.
"That shield also appears to do something else, but I can't tell what yet from the readings. It's not a barrier, since I just walked back and forth through it easily enough. Still, it obviously has more than one purpose."
"Like what?" Sheppard asked.
McKay stared at him a moment, then shook his head. " Again, did what I just say come out in some foreign language, Major?" His tone was that of an adult to a small child, chastising them for speaking out of turn. "If I know what it did, I would probably say, 'hey, I know what it does.' I would not, however, say, 'I can't tell what it does from these readings.'" He shook his head again, looking at Ford and Teyla, "Seriously, people, I am speaking English here, you know."
"English?" Teyla frowned, "No you're not. You're speaking Athosian."
McKay stared at her, then closed his mouth. He wasn't going to go there. Some thing are just better left unexplained. Instead, he looked back at the Major.
Sheppard's eyes were slitted in barely controlled patience. "Are you purposefully trying to be an ass today?" he asked.
"Incredibly, incredibly annoying," Ford amended quietly.
McKay just sighed and crossed his arms. "Look, all I know is, there is clearly more here than meets the eye. Plus, something fairly powerful must be generating that shield."
Sheppard arched an eyebrow, easily switching mental gears at that suddenly good thought, "Like a ZPM?"
"Maybe. Quite likely, since it seems to be of Ancient design."
Sheppard nodded, smiling now, "So we should check it out."
McKay nodded, "I'd say so."
"All right," Sheppard turned around, looking up the path. "So which way do we go?"
McKay had turned with him, looking up the path. "Well, most of the people are straight ahead, maybe two miles distant, along with one of the lesser of the three energy signatures. There is also a stronger energy signature from the right, about two miles in that direction," he pointed to the right. "And there is another, weaker one about five miles in that direction." His finger now pointed to the left.
"So what do you suggest?"
"Avoiding the people?" McKay's eyebrows were raised. "Plus, stronger energy readings to the right."
"But the people may be able to tell us something about this world, and the purpose of this bridge," Teyla noted.
Sheppard sighed, but nodded. "She's got a point McKay. If whatever is off to our right is just an electricity generating plant of some kind, then the people here might be able to point us in a better direction."
"Yeah, but," Ford grimaced, "we don't know anything about these people, sir. They might turn us around and force us home before we've had a chance to look at anything."
Sheppard turned to Ford, surprised at the cynical statement. He had obviously been spending too much time with McKay.
He considered a moment, then shrugged. "All right, we'll split up. Teyla, you and Ford head up the path and find the locals. McKay and I will—"
"Um," McKay held up a finger, "No offense, major, but can I take Teyla with me?"
That caused three very surprised faces to focus on the scientist. McKay almost looked embarrassed by their scrutiny.
"Why?" Sheppard asked, drawing the word slowly.
"Well, we're going off the path in a direction which," he squinted a little, "is not, um, all that, er, obvious, shall we say? And we'll have to come back that way. And…she'll…she's…." He swallowed, and, incredibly, it was clear he was embarrassed.
"And you think I'll get lost," Sheppard finished darkly. His brow furrowed angrily, "McKay, look, I don't know where you got this idea that I—"
"I do not mind, Major," Teyla interjected quickly, sidling up next to the scientist. "Plus, as our leader, it really should be you who greets the people of this planet. To indicate that you are showing them the proper respect."
"And," Ford moved to McKay's other side, "Dr. Weir will be expecting you to provide your own personal impression of the people here, because she trusts your instincts more than the rest of us." The lieutenant smiled boyishly, throwing as much of his natural charm into the statement as possible.
Sheppard eyed the two of them, thoughts of mutiny crossing his mind. Were they seriously agreeing with McKay? He closed his lips, pursed them, and shrugged.
"Fine. McKay, you and Teyla find that power source. Ford and I will perform the meet and greet."
"Thank you, major," McKay said, actually sounding grateful. Teyla just smiled beautifully, while Ford pretended to fumble with his radio to avoid making any further eye contact with the major.
"Stay in radio contact at all times," Sheppard commanded them, "and be careful. Without the scanner, we're more vulnerable. Stay alert."
Teyla and McKay both agreed with a nod, then Rodney pointed the direction out anew to the Athosian. She absorbed the information, took one more look around at her surroundings to get her bearings, then started to lead the way. McKay barely had time to grab up his pack, zip it closed and toss it on his back again before she was almost all the way to the trees. He jogged after her, turning only once to wave back at Ford and Sheppard.
Ford looked up at his superior officer, and smiled a little at the still peeved look on his face. To be honest, Ford did not actually agree with McKay that Sheppard had a poor sense of direction. Well, okay, the major did not have a "great" sense of direction, but he didn't get lost as easily as the scientist seemed to think. However, he and Teyla both had come to the realization that, whenever both Sheppard and McKay were off together on their own…that bad things tended to happen.
Sheppard caught the smile, arched an eyebrow, then huffed and started walking up the path. Ford grinned wider, and moved to catch up with him.
CHAPTER FOUR: WHEN IT RAINS….
Sheppard sighed, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. Damn this planet was hot. Frankly, he wouldn't mind a little rain right now. Something to cool this place down a little….
"Sir?" Ford stared up at the sky, his lips pressed tightly together. It was his first word since they'd left McKay and Teyla about twenty minutes ago.
Sheppard glanced at his lieutenant, noticed the direction of the young man's attention, and looked up.
"Wow," Sheppard noted softly, eyes watching the show. "That's…wow."
"Are they clouds, sir?"
Ordinarily, that would seem like a dumb question. Of course they were clouds.
But they weren't acting like clouds.
They were literally boiling across the sky, collecting at a pace that was unreal. He'd never seen anything like it. Moments ago, the sky had been perfectly blue. Now white and grey clouds were rapidly rolling across the firmament, swirling and collecting, with a speed that reminded the major of a fast forwarded movie reel.
They thickened and gathered, boiling over the lighter, fluffier clouds, forming solid masses of darker and darker gray.
Ford clicked his tongue, "Not to sound superstitious or anything, sir, but the word 'foreboding' comes to mind."
And then it started to rain. Lightly at first, then heavier and heavier.
"Fabulous," the major muttered, quickly turning up the collar on his jacket and zipping it all the way up to the throat. "Talk about, 'be careful what you wish for,'" he added darkly. As the first raindrops really started to pelt their shoulders, he pulled his hat out from where he'd tucked it inside his vest and pressed it onto his head. Next to him, Ford had imitated his CO's motions, except to the extent that he already had his hat on.
"I don't like this, sir," he announced then. "It doesn't seem natural."
"Grin and bear it, lieutenant. It's just water."
"Doesn't smell like just water," Ford replied smartly. His eyes were open and staring at Sheppard, the question clear. Did he smell that too?
Sheppard grimaced, sniffed, and frowned. The faint smell of sulfur.
Ford clapped at his sleeves, where the rain left marks on the cloth. It almost looked like it was going to eat through the dense fabric.
"It's acidic," he realized, glancing worriedly at his CO. "Can’t be good for us to be out in it."
"We need cover," the major agreed, looking around. He spotted some rocks off to the left, with a slight overhang. "Come on."
In moments, they were huddled under the rocks, watching as a fierce rain pelted the ground. The sulfurous smell grew stronger the heavier it got.
A crackle in their ears had Sheppard tapping his radio.
"Major," McKay's voice was sharp, "You should get under shelter. The rain is acidic."
"Yeah," he replied, "we figured that out when it started to eat our clothes. We're under some rocks."
"Yo, Doc," Ford called, leaning out to peer up at the sky, "How long will it last?"
There was a pause, then, "Are you serious? I'm supposed to know?"
Ford shrugged, though McKay obviously couldn't see him. "Yeah," he replied with complete honesty. "Don't you?"
"Good Lord, Ford! I'm not a soothsayer. Why do you people always think that—"
"Calm down, doctor," Teyla's voice interrupted. "Doctor McKay does not like the rain," she explained over the radio.
Nothing like Teyla to state the obvious. Sheppard couldn't help but smile. Still, he knew McKay would know something. He always did.
"Okay, McKay, you may not know how long it will last, but can you tell us anything about it? I mean, since when does acid rain eat through clothes?" the major imitated his lieutenant by leaning a little ways out of their protection, to check the status of the clouds still roiling overhead. They were still moving incredibly rapidly across the sky.
"How should I know? Look, major, I'm not an ecologist any more than I'm a meteorologist!"
"So, since when has that stopped you?"
"Since I don't know the answer!"
"Yes you do. Come on, McKay. You always know—"
"Look, major, acid rain on earth is just the term given to precipitation where the pH level drops below a certain level. It's caused by, among other things, the introduction of sulfur, nitrogen oxides and ammonia into the atmosphere—by fossil fuel burning, for example. On earth, the effects are dangerous, but not obvious to the everyday observer, except over time. Trees die faster, fewer fish in the lakes and rivers, corrosion of buildings, etc., but all slowly. This, however, is different. This so-called acid rain really is acidic, to the degree of even smelling like it. The levels of sulfur in the atmosphere here are obviously much higher, and the rain more corrosive. It would explain why the landscape is made up of only the hardiest of flora. Nothing delicate could survive here long. What's causing it? I don't know. All I can say is that it's nasty and we should wait until it's done before venturing out again."
"There, see?" Sheppard smiled smugly, "That's all I wanted to hear. Now, was that so hard? Told you that you knew the answer. You always do, Answer Man."
The reply was succinct, "I hate you."
"I know." Sheppard's grin split his face. "I hate you too."
"So, Doc," Ford licked his lips, smiling over at Sheppard, "How long will it last?"
Sheppard grinned, holding up three fingers. Ford arched an eyebrow as Sheppard counted down, three…two…one….
Just as Sheppard lowered the last finger, McKay sighed heavily over the radio.
"Fine, fine. Christ. In Area 51, though I will admit to not paying that much attention to what went on outside, I can remember that rainstorms were often heavy…but quick. So…this probably won’t last long. Happy?"
Ford grinned. "Yes. Knew you couldn't resist, doc."
"Yes, well, I hate you too, lieutenant."
"Nah, no you don't. Everyone likes me. I'm a likeable guy."
Sheppard couldn't hold back the laugh, and he'd bet ten to one that, wherever he was, McKay was smiling too.
"Really?" McKay's tone was deceptively deadpan, "That's not what Carson tells me."
Sheppard's laugh grew louder as Ford blushed.
"Yes, well, extenuating circumstances," the kid muttered over the sounds of both Sheppard's and McKay's laughter over the radio.
"The rain is slowing," Teyla interrupted.
And, sure enough, it was. In moments, the rain had stopped completely. Gingerly, Sheppard and Ford stepped out from their shelter and looked up.
At the perfectly blue sky.
"This place is weird," Ford said. "I mean, that was really, really weird."
"Yes, well, it's also over." Sheppard checked to make sure everything was still where it should be, then tapped the radio. "Teyla, McKay, you all set?"
"We are already moving, major," Teyla answered. "We will get back in touch if anything else happens."
"Right, Sheppard out." The major dropped his hands from his radio and nodded to Ford. "Let's move out. Hopefully, that will be the worst thing that happens to us this day."
But, of course, it wasn't.
CHAPTER FIVE: IT POURS
The gunfire exploded in their ears the moment they came in sight of what looked like civilization. It came without warning or provocation from at least ten different guns—revolvers and semi-automatics from the sounds of it.
Thank God for bad aim and fast reflexes.
Bullets buzzing like wasps past his head, Sheppard dove to the side behind the trees, knowing that Ford would do the same, and sighted down the P90. Gritting his teeth, he fired upon the positions of people he couldn't see, aiming based on the direction of the gunshots. At least it was bullets and not wraith stunners. That at least meant humans instead of Wraith, which was something he'd been worried about since they saw that bridge.
He tried a couple of times to shout out to the faceless combatants, but it only seemed to make them madder. Plus, it gave away his position, causing him to wince as their bullets made mincemeat out of the tree he was hiding behind, bits of bark and wood flying everywhere. Ford distracted them long enough with a grenade to allow the major to get behind slightly better cover—i.e. a thicker tree—but it was no use. They were outnumbered and outgunned by people in more defensible positions.
Sheppard looked at Ford, arched an eyebrow, and caught the lieutenant's unhappy nod.
With a sigh, Sheppard yelled out that they would surrender.
It didn't help. Bullets just started hammering into his new tree.
"What the hell is wrong with these people?" he demanded angrily of the air. With a tap of the radio, he called to McKay and Teyla, letting them know they were under attack. McKay replied, saying something about knowing already, but Sheppard couldn't hear the response clearly over the transmission.
He looked over at Ford. The lieutenant caught his eye, looking nearly as confused and nervous as the major felt. Sheppard, however, didn't let any of his own emotions show as he jerked his head back the way they came.
They had to make a run for it. And if they were going to have any chance at all…they'd have to go off the path.
"I'll cover you," Sheppard gasped into the radio. "You go first, dodge left, find a good position…maybe that set of rocks over there, and then cover me. Got it?"
"Yes sir," the lieutenant replied, gearing himself up to run, literally, for his life. "Just say when."
Sheppard nodded, took a deep breath, and stood up a little higher behind his shoulder.
"When," he growled, setting a spray of bullets into the woods, at every shadow and shift of color he could see. He didn't stop until a familiar chirrup touched his ear from the radio a few seconds later.
"Yes sir. At the rocks, as ordered. Get ready to run sir."
"Excellent." He smiled grimly, "As you said, just say when."
A short pause, then, Ford's P90 was up and firing. "Go."
Sheppard didn't wait. He was up and running, booking it down the edge of the path, then winding between the trees to the left, just outside of Ford's range. He passed Ford's position, aiming for another point about the same distance farther, deeper into the woods. A larger tree, with stout branches and plenty of smaller branches to hide him better.
And so it went. They moved as well as they could, farther and farther away from the onslaught. He radioed to Teyla and McKay to meet them back at the bridge. McKay's response was garbled again, but it sounded like an affirmative. So he and Ford continued to move deeper into the woods, in what he hoped was generally a parallel direction to the path.
And it was working…until one of them got Ford.
Two grenades and two smoke bombs later, he was running after his staggering lieutenant, covering his back. He couldn't see how badly hurt the young man was, only that he was hurt. He'd only seen Ford hit out of the corner of his eye—one moment, his lieutenant had been covering him, then…a grunt, and Ford's P90 had stopped firing. Sheppard had instantly changed tactics, moving to defend his now hurt teammate. Getting as close to him as he could, Sheppard took up the role of defender, firing into the woods at anything that moved. To his right, he could see Ford on his hands and knees, shakily pushing himself up, one already red stained hand pressed to his side. Sheppard had called to him, demanded to know how badly he was hurt. Ford's response was annoyingly cryptic.
"I can keep going, sir," he replied stoically.
Sheppard grimaced at that response, but took it for what it was. He was forced to use the limited ordinance they each carried to create a large enough distraction to buy him the time to get to his lieutenant and propel him up and away from their still faceless attackers.
Now he watched as his lieutenant half ran, half stumbled ahead of him, one hand still pressed hard against his stomach. Neither of them even considered the fact that they had no idea where they were going. At this point, they were just trying to gain time and distance.
And then the sun suddenly vanished again, dropping everything into shadow, leeching the color from the landscape. Sheppard swore, looking up as the clouds roiled and condensed overhead, almost from nowhere. Damn it!
The ordinance had helped. The sounds of their attackers, whoever they were, had died down. But it was also probably because the rain had started again. The locals were not stupid enough to stay out in the corrosive downpour.
But he and Ford didn't have that luxury because, suddenly, the world opened up. The woods fell away, and Ford was staggering out into the open. The rain pelted him afresh, tiny tendrils of smoke rising up from parts of his uniform, and he yelped a little in pain as droplets hit his exposed hands and the back of his neck.
Sheppard was still a ways behind him, and thus too far away to stop him. Ford was simply no longer really aware of his surroundings. Between the wound, the disorienting weather, and the sickly smell of the sulfur, the young man was moving blind.
Sheppard shouted, trying to halt his lieutenant, but he might as well have been yelling at the wind, for all the good it did. Ford was beyond hearing.
The young man just walked straight into the open, vaguely aiming for the woods on the far side of the cleared area…and promptly fell straight into the trench.
Checking the woods one more time, then the state of the sky, the major cursed, then ran to the spot where Ford had disappeared.
Sheppard slid down the muddy embankment after his lieutenant, all his weight on his right leg, feeling his motion come to a jarring halt as he his foot slammed against the floor of the ditch below. The rain continued to pour, drowning everything, the slightly acidic quality of the drenching liquid still eating through their clothes. He was on his knees in a moment, rolling the face down Ford onto his back, using his own body to shield the younger man and checking the messy gash along the young man's stomach, just below the vest. Ford was breathing harshly, his eyes blinking up at the major leaning over him.
"Mu…Maj…." His voice shook with the pain. He'd been running with the wound for too long.
"It's nothing, kid," Sheppard said, quickly pulling out a bandage from Ford's vest. "Just a scratch." He gave a small smile, and Ford tried to smile back. Then the major was pressing the bandage against the ugly wound, and Ford hissed, arching his back a little, his eyes shutting tightly against the pain.
"I know, I know," Sheppard muttered through gritted teeth, "Hang on, lieutenant." He wrapped the bandage around the boy's waist, tied it off, then patted Ford on the shoulder as the lieutenant came back to his senses. Sitting up, the major hit his radio as he glared at the rain clouds. This rain had to stop now, damn it!
Almost as if in response, the cloud cover lightened a little. The rain started to slow—small favors. Grateful for at least that, he hit the radio again, since the first time had failed to get a answering chirrup.
"Teyla, McKay, what's your status?" he called over the comm.
"Major!" McKay practically shouted over the radio, his voice in full panic mode. Sheppard was instantly on alert again—at least the transmission was clear.
"The people on this planet aren't very friendly, Major!" McKay shouted again, and this time Sheppard was able to hear the sound of weapons fire in the background.
"Where are you? And where's—"
"Over my shoulder, Major." McKay's breathing was heavy across the comm. link—like he'd just been running. "She's alive, just…unconscious. Got hit by a…dart from a blowpipe, I think. Something that knocked her out… but she seems fine." He pulled in a deep breath to compensate for the shallow pants he'd been interrupting his speech with, "I'm almost to the…bridge….Where are…Damn it! They're right behind me! I was hoping the rain—"
And the comm link died at the same time that gun shots echoed over the link and then, a half second later, echoed in the distance. He heard both the shots of revolvers, and the answering fire from a P90. Sheppard swore, guessing the distance to be at least a mile. How did they get so far apart? He looked back at Ford, measuring the young man's level of consciousness by his half slitted eyes. Ford was barely with him.
"Can you walk?" he asked.
Ford didn't even have the strength to say no—he just shook his head a little. Sheppard grimaced, then stood up, staring unhappily up at the top of the ditch, thankful for the brim of the hat keeping the last drops of rain from his face. Though the side they'd come down was angled, the mud pretty much negated any chance of climbing back up that way if he had to carry Ford. He couldn't even see if anyone was approaching their position.
The whole situation frustrated him. He couldn't put Ford over his shoulder with a belly wound. And he was too heavy to carry in his arms for more than a few hundred yards. Damn it!
"Okay, okay, think," he looked up and down the ditch, seeing nothing but more mud and the slackening rain. How far was he from the gate?
Where was the gate?
Different question, how far was McKay from the gate?
The gunfire had stopped a minute or so ago. The last shots had been from the P90. He hoped that was a good thing. The rain had stopped as well, leaving the world eerily quiet except for the dripping streams running down the muddy walls, and the water trickling past his feet. The sun burst fully back to life overhead.
"McKay," he hit the link again, "how far are you from the gate?"
There was static for a second, then, "What?"
A breath he hadn't known he was holding escaped the major, relieved to know that McKay was still alive, and, hopefully, Teyla too. "How far are you from—"
"Nearly…there…." McKay was breathing heavily, obviously struggling to run and carry Teyla at the same time. "Just…nearing the bridge."
The bridge! Thank God. "Put her through the gate, tell Weir to send reinforcements, then get over here. I need you."
Static answered him, then, "What? I can't just push her—"
"Roll her, I don't care. I can't carry Ford by myself!"
"Ford? But…roll her? Damnit, damnit, damnit…." He punctuated the swears with gunfire from his P90, and Sheppard winced at the report of the locals' own inferior but still effective weapons. The shots stopped again after a few seconds.
There was a longish pause after that, and Sheppard tried not to get impatient, his eyes on the top of the ditch, praying that he and Ford had gotten lucky and lost their pursuers….Otherwise, they were really exposed down here. Damn it, if only Ford hadn't fallen….
McKay's harsh breathing finally came back over the comm. "I'm crossing the bridge. They're…right….No!" The gunfire seemed louder this time, sending spikes of fear through the major.
"McKay!" Sheppard stared down at Ford, saw the same worry mirrored in the younger man's eyes, even as the lieutenant struggled with his own injuries.
"We're okay; We're across," McKay wheezed, a second later. "I deactivated the bridge before they could follow. Heading for," he took another deep breath, "the trees now. They've…stopped firing."
"No. They missed…us both…But if they…have another way to activate the bridge…."
Sheppard grimaced, and he nodded at Ford. That meant McKay was about five minutes run to the gate, through the trees. If the ones chasing them followed McKay across the bridge somehow, then all the way to the gate, though, he'd never be able to dial it in time….
The major took a deep breath, trying to erase the image from his mind of McKay putting Teyla down, then being shot in the back as he started to dial up the DHD.
Suddenly, McKay's voice was there in his ear. "Okay. I'm…I'm at the gate now. Looks like they didn't," deep breath, "follow me across. They must not…have the means to activate it… without the gene." There was wonder and relief in his voice, and Sheppard gave his own small relived smile as McKay suddenly continued. "Did you say Ford's down? Are you all right?" As he spoke, Sheppard heard the telltale sound of the DHD being activated.
"He's got a bullet lodged in his side somewhere," Sheppard replied, turning his attention back to his present situation now, and to the wounded man with him. "He's not doing so good. I'm fine."
"Where are…hold on." The faint swoosh of the event horizon could be heard. "Atlantis! This is McKay. I'm sending my personal IDC. We've got two medical emergencies. Both Ford and Teyla are hurt. Lower the shield."
And, much more faintly, Sheppard heard the answer—it sounded like Corrigan, "McKay…this is Atlantis….The shield's down, come on through."
McKay's voice seemed unnaturally loud as he reported that he was sending Teyla through, unconscious, and that they needed reinforcements. He was amazingly concise, but, then, that wasn't really surprising. McKay could talk forever, but he also knew well the meaning of "terse" when he was seriously agitated.
When Atlantis replied again, McKay told them he was staying here and quickly warned them about the acidic rain, the bridge, the dampening field and the armed natives. Then, abruptly: "Major," McKay shouted, "where are you?"
"About a mile west of the gate, in the ditch."
"Atlantis, head west from the gate—look for a ditch."
"Not a ditch," Sheppard shouted, "the ditch."
"You mean the trench? You're in the trench? What the hell are you doing in there? And that's not a ditch, major. A ditch is shallow, while a trench—"
"McKay!" Sheppard knew that, normally, he'd have about twenty other different responses to add to that, most involving references to McKay's mother, but he was too damn tired and hadn't the time.
"Right, right, semantics. Atlantis, there's a deep, muddy trench about fifteen feet wide, ten feet deep. Sheppard is in the trench with Ford. Follow it west as soon as you get here. McKay out," and, in the background, the swoosh of the gate shutting down was audible. Then: "Major, I'm on my way."
Sheppard raised his eyebrows, trying to decide if he was surprised that McKay didn't even hesitate to choose helping them than heading through the gate to safety, decided he wasn't, and knelt next to Ford again.
And heard shouting again…but not over the comm. link. Men, yelling to each other…and searching for them. Aw crap. They were after him and Ford again now.
Praying for extra strength, he pulled out his 9mm, got his arms under Ford and cradled him as best he could, grunting with the dead weight. Damn he was heavy! Ford grunted softly, but otherwise didn't react.
Sheppard, meanwhile, prayed his back held out as he did his best to hold the gun in a firing position with Ford resting on top of his arms.
Turning, he half walked, half staggered in an easterly direction along the muddy trench, feet hitting every puddle with amazing accuracy, the smell of sulfur strong in his nostrils.
"Major," McKay's voice came over the comm. link again.
"Yeah?" This time it was Sheppard who was breathing hard.
"No idea, maybe a mile," he took a few breaths, "but I'm headed…your way."
"Gotcha," the scientist shut the link down. Even strained, tired, wet and muddy, Sheppard had to smile at that. Man really needed to learn how to talk over the radio.
Aw shit, he was too old for this. His back was on fire, his shoulders were tingling and his arms were sending serious complaints to his brain. He was pretty sure Ford was unconscious now—the weak grip Ford had on his shoulders, to help keep his balance, had slipped.
The shouts were getting louder.
Breathe, breathe, breathe….
His feet slapped down on the muddy earth. What the hell was this trench for anyhow? It was raining, but there was no stream. What had formed it? Or, more to the point, why had someone dug it?
"Major!" McKay's voice was panicked again.
"What?" Sheppard could barely say the word. Ford was pressed to hard against his rib cage.
"Get out of the trench! NOW!"
McKay punctuated the yell with gunshots. Sheppard skidded to a halt, wishing his panting wasn't so loud in his ears, as he listed to the repeated echo of a 9MM being fired somewhere in the distance barely a half second after he heard the shots over the comm. link. It gave him a bearing on distance. He also got a sense of what McKay was firing at… .
Because the shots were hitting something metal.
CHAPTER SIX: FLOOD WARNING
McKay skidded to a halt above the metal grate, staring down at it with confusion. What the hell was this? He'd been running along the gate side of the trench when he came across the large open grate, about six feet square, looking a bit like the top of a massive filter built into the side of a swimming pool, except the trench was the pool. The grate was held down by two large metal locks, both severely rusted, and the part facing into the trench looked like a metal garage door, with hinges, designed to lift up.
Shaking his head, he was about to put the question aside and continuing running…when he heard the water.
His eyes widened and he dropped to his knees above the grate, peering down inside. After a half second of staring at blackness, he cursed his stupidity and pulled up the P90, flipped on the flashlight, and lit up the metal room below.
Pipes. Four, huge, thick, massive black pipes. The water sloshing sounds were coming from inside them.
Oh my God. They looked like sewer pipes.
The scientist scouted about a little more, and found the controls. They were obviously running on autopilot. Focusing on what could only be four water gauges, he grimaced at way they were each quickly reaching the maximum.
And then the metal, hinged door facing the trench began to rise.
It was a trap—the trench was meant as a trap! And it would be flooded in minutes! They'd be drowned!
"Major!" McKay's yelled, putting the P90 down and pulling his 9MM.
"What?" Sheppard wheezed back.
McKay aimed the gun on the first lock, and began to fire. "Get out of the trench! NOW!"
It took several shots, but he soon had both locks off. "Because it's about to fill up with water! It's a trap, Major! A man-made flash flood! You won't be able to escape the water! I'm going to try to shut it down!" Throwing the locks to one side, he reached down and grabbed at the rusted metal bars of the grate.
"Get out!" He pulled, but the grate was ancient…it wouldn't lift easily, plus it was damn heavy.
"I can't! McKay! The walls are sheer and slick, you know that! I couldn't even push Ford out of here. And the natives are almost on top of me. You have to—"
"No time! Run west!"
"That's where the bad guys are!"
"Then stay put. Try to find a shelf, a ledge, something!"
"I'm still heading east towards you. Come get us! If you run, you might be fast enough to at least pull Ford out!"
McKay stared at the rising door, saw the water begin to stream out from the opening crack. In moments, it would be fully open, and then there would be no hope at all for the Major and Ford.
Think, think, think….
Block the door from rising.
The locks, rocks, anything.
Turning around, he grabbed the two massive locks, put them inside his vest, grabbed a couple of big rocks, and threw them down into the trench.
Then he got to the edge, watched as the door lifted up and the first hinged part bent and curled inwards….Eight feet above the top.
He'd need something to stand on.
Turning, he saw a large boulder about five feet away. With a prayer for extra strength and for slick dirt, along with a prayer that it wasn't embedded too deeply, he moved and got his back against the boulder…and started to push.
He heard the metallic "thunk" as another section of the door hinged and slid inwards.
"McKay! What are you doing? I've got water here, McKay! A couple inches! It's rising fast!"
The scientist didn't answer. He just pushed.
The boulder shifted…shifted…and then, suddenly moved. McKay nearly fell as it slid towards the edge about a foot. With a renewed sense of hope, he pushed and yelled as the boulder continued to slide, ignoring Sheppard's shouting for him over the radio as he worked. He pushed and shoved, swearing and arguing with the rock, getting it closer to the edge, until, suddenly…
It fell away.
He nearly fell with it. With a gasp, he fell on his side and stomach, then pulled himself over the edge of the trench to see the boulder resting on the floor of the trench below.
Unfortunately, it didn't look to stable, as several gallons of water were swirling around it, threatening to take it with them.
"No," he hissed angrily, "don't you dare!" Turning, he slid himself over the side of the trench…and dropped inside, landing ungracefully on his butt in about ten inches of water. He hissed as the acidic water stung his bare hands, and tried not to think about what it was doing to the rest of him.
The metal door slipped up another notch. The bottoms of the pipes were visible. Water streamed out from underneath the metal doors, as if from four blocked hoses. Without a word, McKay shoved at his boulder, trying to get under the streams as the spray soaked him through his uniform and burned the skin on his face, the smell of sulfur powerful here. He tried not to swallow as he breathed in the liquid, but it was impossible. Pushing the now small seeming boulder as close as he could beneath the door, he climbed on top of it, and pulled the heavy locks out from inside his vest. Blinking at the water all around him, he lifted shaking, freezing cold, wet hands up and, as the next section of door began to hinge, stuck the locks in the gap that formed.
Instantly, the metal groaned and protested, fighting the sudden obstruction.
McKay fell backwards off the unstable boulder, landing in a heap on the floor of the trench again, half submerged in water. Scrambling, he got out from under of the powerful streams and got back to his feet, spitting out more water that he'd swallowed.
The metal door was making a horrible screeching noise now as he looked back at his handiwork. It wouldn't hold long. Either the locks would break, or the mechanism would, or the water pressure would blow the door off the runners altogether. He thought about trying to use the larger rocks he had thrown down into the trench, but the idea of putting his stinging hands into the running water was too terrifying.
But, with any luck, the locks would win them enough time for the back up teams to get here.
Wiping the mud and water from his face, trying not to notice the painful stinging everywhere he touched, he turned and started running west along the trench through the slowly rising water. He glanced at the sloping side of the Trench, wondering how hard it would be to clamber back out. Hard, but not as impossible as the gate side of the Trench. With that thought in mind, he started trying to climb out, slipping and sliding on the mud, not even noticing as bits of his uniform got left behind, corroded away by the water.
He was halfway up when it occurred to him that he hadn't heard from Sheppard for a couple of minutes. Reaching up, he tapped the radio.
"Major!" He coughed a little, after he spoke, then added, "Where—?"
"McKay," Sheppard's soft voice replied. "Shut up a minute…."
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE PRISONERS
Sheppard knew he and Ford were sitting ducks. They couldn't climb out. They couldn't hide. They were just royally and completely screwed.
He found a place where the now foot deep water was a little deeper in the center than along the edge of the trench, and got a little purchase, managing to get his legs out of the water. He could feel the irritated skin on his shins beneath the trousers, and thanked the military quietly for the waterproof boots protecting his feet.
He climbed, trying to get some purchase on the muddy slope, not really wanting to climb back up on the "bad guy" side of the Trench, but not really having a choice. The other side couldn't be climbed, but this side was at least sloped. Given enough time, he would make it out. And he had to get Ford out of there. McKay would do what he could, but if they didn't get out of this damn trench, that water would kill them both, one way or another, because he wouldn't leave Ford behind.
So he focused on his feet, digging his boots into the slick mud, trying to push down and lever himself and the man in his arms up.
It was worse than sand on a beach. He wasn't getting anywhere quickly. For every few inches he gained, he'd lost an almost equal amount sliding back down again.
Damn it! Where was McKay!
"Stop right there," a voice sneered.
Okay. Sheppard let loose an annoyed breath. That wasn't McKay's voice.
He closed his eyes for a moment in exasperation, then opened them slowly. Throwing on an air of unconcern, he lifted his head and looked up at the top of the trench.
Close to twenty men stood watching him, all with those ugly Genii revolvers pointed at his head. No machine guns, but then, at this range, they really didn't need them. Their clothes were rags, stitched together patches of all different sorts of materials. The faces were mottled, open sores in places, and starkly pale. Dark shadows rimmed their eyes, and madness infected every glassy eyed stare that focused on the major and the unconscious lieutenant in his arms.
"I just want to climb out," Sheppard announced calmly. "Please."
"Too late," the man roughly in the center of the group answered. "We're going to let the Trench take you." He looked to be about forty years old, with black hair tucked up inside a Genii army cap. Incredibly pale blue eyes sparkled in the harsh sunlight, over which two massive black brows joined in a single, dark line. His large nose had a sore on the tip, and when he smiled coldly at Sheppard, it stretched, leaking a little puss. The major couldn't hide the cringe.
"What's wrong with all of you?" Sheppard asked, his voice hitching a little, shifting to put one leg up on the slope, to rest Ford more on his knee. The men watching him all looked horribly diseased. The pale eyed man's single brow lifted, as if surprised to be asked the question, then furrowed.
"This place," he replied, his voice scratchy. "What else?"
"This place?" Sheppard swallowed, "And what exactly is this place?"
The man's pale, cracked lips lifted, the cold sores around the edges of his lips making the look even more garish. The eyes were narrowed to almost slits.
"Are you making fun of us, stranger?"
"No, no," Sheppard shook his head, "I'm not. I have no idea why you would want to stay here, if it does that to you." His eyes narrowed, "Or why you would want to kill complete strangers without meeting them first."
The man's eyebrows lifted, obviously amused. He looked at the others with him, his smile growing, his pale eyes widening.
"He doesn't know why we stay here," the man said to his companions, and his voice cracked with a laugh. The others all smiled, some showing almost toothless grins with bleeding gums. Sheppard unconsciously held Ford closer, and slipped down into the mud a little more.
At the same time, he heard McKay call him over the radio, asking for his status.
"McKay," he muttered softly in reply, trying not to let them see his lips move, hoping their laughter would hide his response. "Shut up a minute."
Pale Eyes looked back at him then suddenly, all traces of humor gone. The others stopped laughing, as if a director had just yelled for them to cut. Luckily, he gave no sign that he had heard Sheppard's communication to McKay. Instead, he growled at the major.
"Then you are an idiot, stranger. Don't you know a prison when you see one?" he sneered.
Sheppard's eyes widened, "Prison?"
"We can't leave, stranger. We were put in here by the Genii, left to rot. We're stuck here, no way out."
Sheppard's brow furrowed, "But…why?"
"Because only the Genii wardens have the remotes to work the Ancestor's Bridge, stranger."
Remotes? Ah, that was an interesting bit of informative but unhelpful knowledge. Sheppard licked his lips, "Okay, say that's true. Couldn't you just make a bridge?"
That caused the men around Pale Eyes to laugh coldly again, but Pale Eyes didn't even crack a smile.
"No, stranger. The shield lining the Trench's edge on the far side prevents anyone from leaving."
The man looked at him like a science experiment, "You really don't know, do you? Did you seriously think that you could just climb out of the trench onto the other side? The shield allows nothing to pass out of it, except at the bridge. You honestly didn't know?"
In response, Sheppard twisted looking behind him at the other side of the Trench. He shifted Ford up a little higher in his arms in order to do so, but it was really a pointless effort. He couldn't see anything there at all. Oh sure, McKay had said there was a dampening field there, but a shield?
He frowned, "But, I don't see—"
A gunshot rang out, and Sheppard flinched at the same time that a flash of light spread out from the point where the bullet hit the invisible shield about three feet above the edge of the Trench. It had disintegrated the bullet on impact. His eyes really wide now, he turned back to the man who had been talking to him…saw him lower his gun and point it back at the major.
"That answer your question, stranger?"
"Well…yeah…one of them," Sheppard replied hoarsely. Oh this sucked. "But not the other."
"Why you want my friend and I dead. Why you tried to kill us before we even saw you. What if we were…are…prisoners just like you? What was that for? Do you, you," he shook his head in bewilderment, "just kill everyone new who the Genii put in here?"
"No," the man knelt down so that he could see Sheppard's face more clearly. "Just those who bring the boiling rains."
Sheppard blinked a few times at that insane sounding answer, then tilted his head. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Every so often, though not too often, when they put someone new in here, that person's presence brings what we call the boiling rains. We don't know why, and we don't really care, except that the rains make us sick." He leaned forward, unblinking pale eyes focused right on Sheppard. "In my eight years here, it has happened only three times. But we know…we know, it is because that new person has caused it. And the only way to stop it," he smiled that horrific grim smile again, "is to kill that person."
Sheppard swallowed nervously. Were they serious? No one can control the weather! "But…but, how do you know it's me causing it? Or my friend here? There were two others with us. It might have been them, don’t you think?"
Pale Eyes blinked, the smiled unwavering, "Maybe. Maybe not. Can't take that chance. The rains are too deadly."
"Clay?" one of the other men interrupted, a strange note in his voice. Pale Eyes looked away, at a man with straw-colored hair. This one had dark eyes and a ferret nose, which seemed to twitch as he spoke. He was staring at the trench nervously. "Clay…the Trench should have flushed them by now. Why hasn't the flood come? Where's the flood?"
That got Pale Eyes', a.k.a Clay's, attention, and he stood up, looking past Sheppard to the still rising, but slowly, water in the trench. The jaw gritted closed, and Clay focused back on Sheppard.
"Marrew's right. You should be drowned by now."
Sheppard could only smile weakly at that. "Well, I can't say I'm disappointed, but," he swallowed, and somehow managed a shrug, even with Ford pressed against him, "it's nothing I did."
Pale Eyes just continued to stare, then the eyes narrowed further. "You're lying."
"How could I have done anything?" Sheppard gasped. "Look at me! I'm stuck down here, with my friend in my arms…dying. What the hell could I have done?"
Clay's eyes were dark now, and growing darker. He didn't understand it. It never took more than five minutes for the traps inside the Trench to activate, to swallow up anyone who tried to climb down into it. Marrew was right. Something was wrong.
"You did something. You did something." His face flushed with anger, and he aimed the gun more squarely at Sheppard's head, "What did you do!"
"He didn't do anything!" McKay's voice rang out from somewhere behind the prisoners. "I did!"
The ten men swiveled around, to see a mud covered, ragged man pointing his P90 at their backs. His clothes were in tatters and barely recognizable, but it was definitely the same uniform as the two men inside the trench. His face was reddened and pale, and he coughed roughly as he stood there, though he didn't let it affect his position. McKay's hand were shaking around the weapon, but there was no mistaking the look in his eyes.
"Drop your weapons!" he demanded hoarsely. "Drop them, or I'll cut you all in half."
Pale Eyes smiled, and slowly began to turn. McKay sent a hail of bullets over their heads, causing them all to cower slightly. Luckily for the scientist, they weren't fast enough to see his brief astonished look as the bullets he sprayed impacted the Trench's shield, flashing brightly. When they met his gaze again, he had the P90 trained once more on their torsos.
"I said, drop your weapons! NOW!"
But these men were not about to give up so easily. Pale Eyes just continued to turn, though he did lower his gun slightly, his eyes glued to McKay's. His sickly smile was still on his face. The other men stayed in their half turned position, watching McKay and Pale Eyes, waiting to hear what their leader wanted them to do now. The scientist coughed coarsely again, but the P90 never wavered. It seemed to amuse Pale Eyes ever more.
Clay's single, massive eyebrow lifted in a full sneer, "You and what army, stranger?"
McKay blinked, looked over Clay's shoulder, then slowly began to smile.
"That one," he replied, indicating the other side of the trench with his P90.
Clay jerked his head back around, as did the others, and the smile fell from his face instantly.
Sheppard turned in the trench, and nearly sagged in relief at the sight on the other side.
Bates, Stackhouse and about fifteen more of Atlantis' best and bravest had come out of nowhere, backing up McKay's threat. They must have been moving through the woods for cover, listening to Sheppard's exchange with Clay over their radios, and thus hadn't been seen until they were practically on top of them. McKay's distraction had given them the element of surprise they needed.
"Drop 'em," Bates growled at the prisoners.
Clay obviously saw something in the sergeant's eyes that he hadn't seen in McKay's. Either that, or his survival instincts finally kicked in. The shield was one way. The Atlantian's could fire and hit the prisoners, but the prisoner's own bullets would only hit the shield. Against one man, they would fight. Against many--it was suicide not to obey, pure and simple.
As the prisoners set their weapons down and raised their hands, Bates risked a questioning look at the major. "Are you all right, sir?"
"I am," Sheppard replied, "but Ford's not."
Bates nodded. "Dunne, Greene, get in there and help the major and Ford out of there. McKay," Bates looked over the prisoners at the scientist, who was clearly looking the worse for wear, "You all right?"
"No," McKay coughed hoarsely again and walked forward, stiffly, "but I will be." He came around the side of the prisoners, and lifted the P90. "Back off. Ten feet. That way." His eyes narrowed when they didn't immediately respond, "GO!" he snapped furiously.
The prisoners flinched a little at the order, their own anger at the treatment palpable, but they did as they were told. Corporals Dunne and Greene jumped into the Trench. The tall Greene took Ford from the flagging major, while Dunne scrambled up the far slope, getting very muddy in the process. Once up on the other side, he took off the rope he'd been carrying around his shoulder and tossed it down. Sheppard caught it and secured it around Greene, beneath where he was cradling Ford. While Bates and the others kept Clay and the others in check, Dunne and McKay pulled Greene and the unconscious Ford in his arms up out of the trench while Sheppard watched. They had just gotten Ford lying on the dry ground when everything went to hell.
A sound like an explosion violently rocked the ground, sending Sheppard back into the now thigh high water in the center of the trench with a splash. Everyone, except the trained Atlantian soldiers on the far side, looked towards the east…to where McKay's preventative measures to stop the old machinery controlling the flood mechanism finally fell to pieces.
"Throw Sheppard the rope!" McKay shouted to Dunne. "Hurry!"
The young corporal moved as fast as he could, undoing the muddy wet rope from around Greene's torso. Sheppard, meanwhile, had emerged from his involuntary dunking, spluttering and shaking the stinging water from his hands and body, and was now moving to scramble up the muddy slope on his own, even knowing he couldn't possibly move fast enough on the slick surface. He could taste the horrible liquid on his lips and in his nose, and knew it wasn't a good thing that he'd just swallowed some of it.
Dunne threw him the rope, and Sheppard caught it. Quickly getting it around his waist. The prisoners watched, most with smiles on their faces. On the gate side of the trench, Stackhouse had to force himself not to pull the trigger of his P90 in order to wipe the smug looks off their faces.
The water in the Trench rose rapidly, more and more water gushing down in mini waves, looking to fill the Trench to the brim.
Sheppard continued to scramble, then slipped and fell on his front. It didn't stop his upward momentum, however, as he found himself being roughly pulled up by the combined strength of Greene, McKay and Dunne. But it did allow him to twist and look down the trench, where a tidal wave of water was now rushing straight for him.
"Heave!" McKay yelled over the din of rushing water. "We have to get him out! That water's poison!"
A strong tug, and suddenly Sheppard's upper body was up over the lip of the trench, and he was pushing with his legs…just as the water hit them. He felt his entire world shift sideways, as the water tried to pull him down and along, and he yelled as he gripped the slick rope in his hands.
Then the world lurched upwards one more time…and he was free.
He lay on the edge, gasping for air, staring at the flooded trench a few feet away with disbelieving eyes, hearing nothing but the sound of the water. My God…seconds…that had taken seconds for it to fill.
The trench was completely flooded, water sweeping down it at a record breaking pace. It really was a nasty trap. By common accord, everyone backed up a little as the flood waters threatened to spill over the top edge, and Sheppard tried not to think about what might have happened had he and Ford still been in there.
Then young corporal Dunne was leaning over him, asking him questions, to which he just waved a hand. When he realized the dark haired boy was asking if he was all right, he nodded. Sitting up, the sounds of the rest of the world finally clarified in his hearing, and he looked to check on the others.
Dunne was watching him, not hiding his concern. McKay was off to one side, coughing into his hands and half bent over. Greene, a field medic, was quickly administering to Ford, assessing the lieutenant's condition and checking the bandages. Ford was frighteningly pale.
Greene looked up at Sheppard's gaze, and nodded. "We need to get him back home, sir. Now."
"Then let's get the hell out of here," he commanded, glaring up at the unreliable sky, "Before that damn rain starts again."
CHAPTER EIGHT: IT'S NEVER EASY
Getting back was surprisingly easy. Bates left Stackhouse and a few men behind to make sure Clay and his men didn't follow Sheppard, Greene, Dunne and McKay as they worked together to lift up Ford and carry him back to the bridge. Between the four men, they managed to get a good pace going. They got Ford up on Greene's back, using the rope to help keep him in place, and then Dunne stayed close behind the tall, blond field medic as he began a quick jog. McKay was still coughing, wheezing now as well, as he tried to keep up with Sheppard by his side. The major's own body was stinging from the contact with the water, and a headache had quickly formed in his head. Worse, try as he might, he could not get rid out the nasty taste in his mouth that the acidic water had left behind.
They reached the bridge, and were quickly over it. Moments later, they were at the gate and stumbling through the event horizon into the clean, sweet air of Atlantis's Gate Room.
Elizabeth skipped down the steps as Beckett's medical crew took Ford away from Greene and put him on a gurney. The Scot was yelling orders even as they moved, listening at the same time to Greene as the medic gave him a quick rundown. Weir watched as they disappeared, her eyes wide and concerned, then turned to look at Sheppard as he bent over, trying to catch his breath. A couple feet away, McKay stumbled a little into Bates and coughed violently again. The sergeant caught him with surprising gentleness, getting a hand under his arm. She heard Bates softly asking the doctor if he was okay. Taking the same cue, she leaned over to see more of Sheppard's face.
"Are you all right?" Elizabeth asked him, taking in the mud and grime and dust and trying to see any injuries.
Sheppard just shook his head no, not up to answering with words yet. Turning his head, he looked in the direction that Beckett had taken Ford. Swallowing, he straightened up a little and looked at her. McKay's coughing was getting worse in the background.
"Teyla?" he asked, frowning a little at the coarseness of his voice. His throat felt like it was on fire.
"She's okay," Elizabeth promised, straightening up with him. "Carson managed to isolate the poison, and he's flushing it from her system. He says she'll be fine. She's even woken up a couple of times—worried about the rest of you, mostly."
"Good," Sheppard nodded and bent over again. Man, he felt like hell. His skin felt like it was crawling everywhere it had come in contact with that horrible water. He tried to ignore the slight dizziness he felt, but it refused to abate, just like the pain searing his throat.
"John," Elizabeth was closer to him now, worried by his pallor. "What's wrong? What happened over there?"
"Major!" Bates cry had them both turning their heads, as McKay suddenly collapsed into a heap on the floor, his upper body barely caught by the sergeant before he cracked his skull on the hard marble surface. Bates' eyes were wide with worry as he managed to lay the scientist down onto his side, his hand on his chest, "Major, I don't know what's wrong with him, but he's shivering hard and he's barely breathing!"
Sheppard blinked, wanting to answer, but the world suddenly took a sharp tilt to the left. He landed hard on his own knees, barely aware as someone grabbed his arms to stop him from falling forward more. Still standing over him, Elizabeth's eyes had gone wide at both the major's now obvious disorientation and at the fact that Bates had shifted and started giving McKay mouth to mouth. In just that short time from the sergeant's initial yell, the scientist had stopped breathing altogether.
She hit her radio. "Carson! I need another medical team up here now!"
Sheppard groaned, leaning back against the infirmary bed, still feeling like his skin crawling even after the incredibly long shower Beckett had just subjected him too. He still felt sick as a dog—nauseas, disoriented and miserable. All he really wanted to do was pop some Tums and make it all go away. Somehow, though, he knew it wasn't that easy.
But at least he was still awake. Next to him, McKay was still unconscious, a breathing tube down his throat, while the black doctor whose name Sheppard now was pretty sure was just "doctor," gently swabbed away at the chemical burns visible on the scientist's slack arms. There were darkening blisters on McKay's face, neck and especially his hands, and dark red splotches everywhere else. Sheppard still didn't know how McKay had gotten so drenched by the acidic water…but he had a feeling it had something to do with why he and Ford weren't floating face down and drowned somewhere on M73-XTT.
They were both lying in a small side room, which Beckett had made into a clean room, because of the risk of infection to them both from their burns. Doctor no-name wore a mask, as did everyone else who came in here to check on them. Which, to be honest, hadn't been that many people.
Of course, that was probably because the people who usually visited him in the infirmary were his team…and they were all down for the count this time.
The thought made him grimace, and he looked over at McKay again, trying to ignore the worry gnawing away at his gut. At least McKay was with him. He had no idea about Teyla or Ford.
He was about to speak up and ask the doc about them when a noise to the left told him someone had just walked into the infirmary.
Beckett strolled past the end of his bed, obviously frowning behind the mask he wore at the lab results in his hands from McKay's blood work, clearly not happy with the results. He walked over to Sheppard's nameless doctor and started talking in medical speak. The major tried to follow the conversation, but was just too tired to make heads or tails of it.
Finally, when Beckett appeared to have finished his discussion of the treatment with the other doctor, Sheppard spoke up.
"Hey…Carson," he croaked, then regretted it as his throat burned. He gritted his teeth, reaching up to rub at his neck.
Beckett smiled sadly at him, then, with one more word to doctor no-name, moved over to stand next to the major.
"How are you feeling?" he asked softly.
"Awful," Sheppard replied, smiling weakly before getting serious again. "But I need to know what's happening. How's Ford? And Teyla? And what's going on with McKay?"
Beckett chuckled a little at the expected string of questions, leaning against the side of the infirmary bed and crossing his arms.
"Well, easiest part first, major. Teyla is fine. She regained consciousness not too long after she returned, but she's very weak. The dart was poisoned, as you might've guessed, but you got her back here fast enough to—"
"Actually, that was McKay. He was the one with her."
Beckett absorbed that with a shrug, "Okay. Rodney got her back here fast enough for us to treat her. I have her over in a different set of rooms, since she doesn't need to be in here with you and Rodney. She's dying to come see you, as I'm sure you're anxious to see her. As soon as I feel she's strong enough, I'll bring her over."
Sheppard nodded, happy for the information. "And Ford?"
Beckett frowned, which caused Sheppard to sit up a little, watching as the physician shook his head. "To be honest, Major, I don't know yet. He was sent straight to surgery as soon as he arrived, and I know they are doing their best for him in there. Dr. Biro has been giving me updates, and I haven't heard anything to suggest it is not going well, but I really don't know more than that he did lose a great deal of blood and is still critical. The moment I have more information, I promise to let you know."
Sheppard grimaced, but accepted the lack of an answer. He should have known really.
Beckett blew the air out of his cheeks, glanced at the scientist where doctor no-name was now hooking up some new IVs, and shook his head.
"I think both he and you will be fine. He's very lucky, Major, as are you, that your exposure to that strange chemical on M73-XTT was not longer and more severe. It did a real doozy on both of you. Acid burns on your skin and down your throats, and it messed with both your blood pressures. I was amazed to see you both standing when you came through that gate…though," he shrugged, "I suppose you didn't stay standing for long." He chuckled a little at the poor joke, then winced a little in embarrassment. "Sorry, major."
Sheppard smiled back, to show he didn't mind (the "cling-on" joke had been much worse, after all), and looked over at McKay again, "But why's he on a respirator?"
"Ah, well, unfortunately for our Rodney, he swallowed a lot more of that nasty water down than you did, and its torturing his insides as much as his out. The chemical caused burning, causing his throat to constrict. Besides sending him into paroxysms of coughing, as you saw, it eventually prevented him from breathing at all by closing his throat completely. Still, we've managed to isolate the chemical, and are treating him to get it out of his system. His burns, like yours, will also heal over time, but we're going to keep both you and he here for a little while until the risk of infection has gone down."
"Oh, aye. I was never really afraid of him dying, Major, not after we had him intubated and breathing again. I was more worried about the pain he and you would be in."
"Pain?" Sheppard gulped. He didn't feel much pain right now.
Beckett gave a small shrug, "Don't worry, son. Modern medicine can do a lot of things for pain—something which you're experiencing right now. Not to worry."
Sheppard watched him a moment longer, then sighed, leaning back and closing his eyes. Great.
He felt Beckett pat his shoulder, "You rest now, Major. As soon as I hear about the lieutenant's condition, I'll let you know."
"Thank you," Sheppard whispered softly, as he felt himself drift to sleep. "Thank you."
Beckett watched the major fall asleep, finally succumbing to the pain meds they'd been feeding him. He looked down, then over at the other doctor.
"You have what you need, son?"
"Yes," the other doctor said, adjusting another IV on McKay's other side. "We'll be fine in here." He met Carson's eyes, "Why don't you go see if you can find out more about Lieutenant Ford."
Beckett smiled behind his mask, grateful. "I will." He glanced at McKay's damaged face, then once more at Sheppard's. "When it rains, it pours," he muttered sadly as he turned to leave the small infirmary room.
When Sheppard woke again, it was to the feeling of someone holding his hand. His fingers twitched a little, and the grip tightened then loosened, and he couldn't decide if he liked it or not. Then the touch went away, and his hand felt cold.
He decided he liked it.
He must have moved his hand, because the grip returned.
Smiling a little, he blinked his eyes open, watching the white fuzziness recede and managing to tilt his head enough to see who was holding his hand.
Teyla smiled back at him. She looked a little odd. Paler than normal, her lips slightly chapped, and her hair was hidden inside a green scrub cap. A few stray, red hairs were loose, however, and, oddly, Sheppard wanted to reach out and tuck them behind her ears.
"Hi," she said softly, her smile blooming to full wattage as he smiled back.
"Hey," he croaked softly. "Carson let you out?" His voice was a scratchy mess, but Teyla didn't seem to mind. She just stood, her movements a little slow, and reached for something next to his bed. Turning his head to watch, he saw her pour water into a glass.
And through the glass, he saw Rodney. His eyes narrowed, focusing on the man on the far bed. Rodney's head was tilted away from him, but once thing Sheppard could see was that he was no longer on the ventilator. Had to be a good thing.
Teyla saw him looking, and, as she handed him the cup, she spoke again.
"Doctor Beckett has assured me he will be fine. He has woken a couple of times, though never for more than a few moments and I don't think he has really 'awakened' exactly." She shrugged, looking over at the sleeping scientist. "They have removed the apparatus that was helping him breathe, however. I understand that it means his throat is healing well, despite the damage that the water on that planet inflicted."
Sheppard nodded, drinking for a moment before noting, "Gives new meaning to the phrase, 'don't drink the water,' doesn't it." Too late it occurred to him that she wouldn't have a clue as to what he meant by that.
Indeed, Teyla paused as she sat back down, looking tired just from her effort, but not about to let that one slip by. Her eyebrows lifted in curiosity.
"That's a common phrase on your world?"
Sheppard just waved her off, "Not important." He pushed himself up a little on the bed, to relieve his sore muscles from lying in one place for too long, and then looked at her anew. This time, his eyes were perfectly clear, and the question on his face obvious. Teyla's smile fell.
"How is he?" he asked, looking vaguely towards the door of the room they were in.
She sighed, having been expecting that.
"Lieutenant Ford is," she paused, as if gathering her thoughts, "still alive. However, he has not regained consciousness. They monitor his condition frequently, and they have not let me into see him yet. I am very worried." She shook her head, allowing more of the reddish hair to slip free. "I do not like that it has been so long."
"How long has it been?" Sheppard asked, honestly curious.
"Nearly twenty four hours since you returned through the Stargate with him, from what I understand. Lieutenant Ford was in surgery with Dr. Biro and Dr. Weathers for nearly eight of those hours." She sighed, leaning back in the chair and no longer trying to cover up that it shook her to see the usually vibrant young man brought so low. "Doctor Beckett has assured me that he did well, and that they are strongly encouraged with the state of his recovery so far, but I still worry."
"But…Beckett thinks he will be okay?"
Teyla looked up at him, and there a momentary confusion on her face. He knew why—it was because he was smiling.
"Yes," she replied, tilting her head as she studied him, "Doctor Beckett believes he will be all right."
"Then that's all I need to know." He shifted again, resting his head back on the pillow and closing his eyes. He could sleep now.
Teyla watched the major for a long moment, thinking about his smile at the news of Beckett’s diagnosis. It had been relieved, almost happy. She had been afraid to hope, but if the major believed…then so could she.
In a moment, she realized his breathing had evened out, and she sighed. Looking down at her hands, she sought solace in the calm he seemed to have right now, knowing that all his team members were home and well. It had been terrifying for her, waking up in the infirmary for the first time, finding herself with none of her teammates, especially when her last memory had been firing back at a large number of faceless opponents. She'd been trying to protect the doctor, but she couldn't even protect herself, having looked in shock at the dart she'd pulled from her neck before the world had gone dark. Then to wake up and learn that, not only had Doctor McKay saved her life, but that he, the major, and Lieutenant Ford were all still on the planet! It had taken until now—until she had seen the major smile at her information about Ford—that she finally felt a little better.
It would be all right now, she decided. It would.
A noise from her left had her looking towards Doctor McKay. She saw him lift a bandaged finger, and his head moved slightly.
Pressing her hands to the wheels of her chair, she shifted around and rolled over to his bed. As with Major Sheppard, she reached out and took Doctor McKay's hand, though more gently. The major's hands were lightly bandaged, whereas the scientist's were more heavily wrapped. Doctor McKay also had strips of gauze on his face, down the sides and across his forehead, the thin white fabric speckled with blood. Doctor Beckett had assured her that his face, just like the major's, would heal just fine in a few weeks, but right now it looked terrible to her.
He shifted again, and she stood up, leaning against his bed. A moment's worth of standing was all she felt up to before she was shifting to sit on the edge next to him, her eyes watching as his head turned a little.
As she had told the major, Doctor McKay hadn't woken up fully yet, which was something she had been waiting for ever since Doctor Beckett cleared her to come and sit with the two men.
The fingers flexed again in his hand, and she squeezed them lightly, to let him know it was okay to wake up.
She saw his brow furrow slightly, then, slowly, the eyes fluttered open. They were bloodshot and shadowed, but, for the first time, seemed cognizant of what they were seeing. Comprehension, however, was another matter.
"Doctor," she whispered, encouraging him to tilt his head in her direction. He obliged, moving over and looking up at her with confused blue eyes. She smiled.
"You are home," she promised him, "And you are going to be fine."
He just blinked, then opened his mouth to speak, but she quickly rested her fingers on his chapped lips.
"No, do not speak. You should not do so yet. Your throat was badly damaged." She smiled again at the furrowed brow he gave her in response, but at least he did as he was told. She tilted her head, "Do you remember what happened?"
McKay stared at her a minute, then his eyes widened. His lips mouthed two words, each Teyla caught easily. "Ford?" "Sheppard?"
She nodded, "The major is to your left. He will be fine. Just sleeping. Lieutenant Ford…," She paused, then, with the same confidence she had gleaned from the major, smiled and said, "Doctor Beckett says he will also be all right. He was badly hurt, but he is still alive and will get well."
McKay watched her for a moment, then, slowly mouthed, "And you?"
She smiled more broadly, "I will be fine as well. Thanks to you. I understand the bruising on my stomach is your shoulder's doing?"
He winced a little, opening his mouth, but she raised her hand again to stop him, and shook her head.
"I was joking, Doctor." She lowered her eyes, then lifted them again, to meet his gaze squarely. "Thank you."
He gave a tiny, wry smile at that, then lifted a hand, as if to say something, and frowned to find it covered in bandages. He lifted the other then, finding them both basically immobilized by the bandages, his eyes widening in fear. As if just then realizing why he was there, he started to get agitated, opening his mouth to speak again, despite her order from earlier. She leaned over him, gripping his upper arms to stop him from flailing more with his arms, and to force him to look directly at her before he could actually emit a sound.
"Listen to me, Doctor McKay. You are fine. The water on that planet was acidic, and it burned your nose, throat, hands and face. But they will all heal. It will take some time, but you will heal. You will have your hands back."
His eyes, which had been panicked, became calmer as she spoke, until only a look of frustration remained. He mouthed, "how long?"
"For your voice? A couple of days, from what I have been told. As for your hands, you should be able to start using them again in about a week, though with restrictions."
The pained look returned to his face, and she tried to appear encouraging. "I am sure you will not even notice the time is passing." She leaned away, stifling a yawn. He continued to watch her, perhaps noticing for the first time how unwell she still looked, and the concern on his face was plain. For the first time, she realized how easy he was to read when he was tired. With another patented smile, she patted his arm.
"I am fine," she promised again "I just need some rest." He nodded slowly, then tried to smile again. She didn't say it out loud, but she couldn't help thinking he was much nicer this way.
He arched an eyebrow, and her smile suddenly grew more sheepish. He couldn't have known what she was thinking, could he? Perhaps Doctor McKay was not the only one who was easy to read when tired.
Coughing slightly, she pushed herself back off the bed and sat down in her chair. He followed her with his eyes, though they began to blink in that sort of dreamy way he had when he was tired. Nodding to him she leaned back in the chair and sighed.
"Go back to sleep," she told him. "Everything will be all right now."
And so he did.
And Teyla basked in the ringing truth of her statement as she watched both of her teammates home, safe and warm. Yes, everything would be all right now….
CHAPTER NINE: ATLANTIS FLY TRAP
McKay swallowed the coffee, ignoring the burning in his still sore throat, and knowing that if Beckett caught him he'd been in a load of trouble. Some things, though, were worth the risk.
At the sound of voices in the hall approaching the conference room, he quickly swallowed the last dregs and then put the empty metallic mug beneath his chair. When Weir, Sheppard, Teyla and the ecologist, Dr. Ian Collins, a Welshman with the driest humor McKay had ever known, walked into the room with Doctor Beckett, he pasted a broad smile on his face.
Beckett instantly stopped, stared at the toothy smile, then frowned.
"Are you deliberately trying to annoy me, Rodney?" he challenged.
"What?" McKay put on his best innocent expression, one he'd been attempting to master ever since the day he'd seen Sheppard use it successfully on Weir.
"I know coffee when I smell it, son," Beckett chastised, walking swiftly around the table to McKay's chair.
"Honestly, Carson, I don't know what you're talking about? Coffee? I'm not allowed coffee, not with my throat still healing." He smiled again, "Surely you don't think I would be so foolish as to—"
"Oh, aye, aye," Beckett cut him off, sweeping down behind McKay's chair and coming swiftly back up with the incriminating silver mug. McKay looked suitably shocked.
"How did that get there!"
"Oh for…" Beckett just rolled his eyes and walked away, moving to sit in the chair the farthest away from the still "affronted" Rodney, slamming the mug on the table in front of him and glaring at the other man over it.
Sheppard, of course, moved to sit right next to his teammate, clapping McKay on the shoulder.
"We really need to work on that look, McKay. You looked about as innocent as kid with chocolate all over his face swearing he didn't eat the last cookie."
McKay shot him a dark look, then settled back with a huff, crossing his arms. He still had gauze wrapped around both hands, but the fingers were free finally, and, after a little over a week, both he and the major were well on the way to recovery. Ford, on the other hand, was still in the infirmary, much to the bored boy's chagrin. Teyla, of course, was the picture of health already. The woman bounced back faster than was really normal—no one mentioned that it was probably related to the Wraith DNA, but it clearly did have its benefits.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, had sat down and was smiling at both McKay and Sheppard, happy to see them well and finally returning to active duty. She hadn't seen either of them much in the last few days, once she was sure they were going to be all right, due to a number of other crises that had taken her attention, but she allowed herself to focus on them now.
"How are you feeling, gentlemen?" she asked, leaning forward on the table. She already knew from Beckett, but she wanted to hear it from them. Her eyes were automatically drawn to the still raw, pink patches of healing skin on both their faces, and she had force herself to focus on their eyes.
"Peachy," Sheppard replied.
"Bored," McKay admitted, more honestly.
"That too," the major agreed.
She nodded at the answers, smiling a little. As she had expected. "Well, we should have you back to work soon, both of you. Goodness knows we need you." She leaned back from the table, "Doctor Beckett has allowed both of you to return to exploring the city tomorrow, and he thinks you might be up to going on small missions again in about a week." She nodded to the physician as he spoke, who sighed in return. Beckett had not liked the idea, but he also knew that Weir was right. Having both McKay and Sheppard down was always a bad thing—it simply slowed everything down without their leadership and intelligence to drive things. "In the meantime," Elizabeth continued, "I thought you might like to know what we've learned about Planet 51, as Lieutenant Ford tells me it's called."
"Seriously?" Sheppard looked pained at the acceptance of the name, even though he himself had been secretly calling it that, but McKay was leaning forward again.
"You were able to decipher the carvings?" he asked without pause, his own eyes lit up.
"Yes," Weir grinned, with an almost childlike excitement that matched his own. "It's really quite fascinating. We—"
"Wait," Sheppard held up a hand, "what carvings?"
"On the ruins we found," McKay replied quickly. He looked back at Weir, "What did they say?"
"What ruins?" Sheppard cut in. still looking confused.
"The ruins on the planet," McKay snapped. He looked again at Elizabeth, "So what did—"
"What ruins!" Sheppard demanded, looking at McKay, smiling at a little to see him flinch a little at the tone. Yes, Rodney had deserved that.
"The Ancient ruins at the location of the power source we were seeking, Major," Teyla supplied, to forestall any further yelling. "We found it, and tried to contact you and the lieutenant, only to find that our communications were…" she frowned, at a loss for the words, looking to Doctor McKay.
"Something was interfering with the signal," he muttered with obvious impatience, sneering at the smug major out of the corner of his eye.
Teyla quickly continued, "In the general proximity of the ruins, yes. Nevertheless, we did find the power source, and had begun to explore the Ancient ruins housing it before we were fired upon without warning. On the surface, it seemed to be essentially a water pump and filtration device, probably one of the few sources of clean water on the planet. Perhaps the only one." She looked at McKay then, to finish. He was looking more and more irritated with having to explain their discovery, picking at the gauze on his hands, but nevertheless continued on with the explanation.
"Whatever it is now," he said, "that power source's original purpose was obviously much more than just a water filter. Like the bridge, it appeared to be of Ancient construct, but, unlike the bridge, its original purpose must have been lost. The locals obviously discovered it could be used as a well and source of water, but that's all they use it for. Not surprising, really, considering the arid landscape and acidic quality of the rain, but," he shrugged, "it's obviously capable of so much more."
"Yes," Teyla nodded.
"We were able to take photos of the carvings on the walls and translate some of the text before we were attacked. All we really got was something about weather prediction." McKay looked over at Elizabeth. "I take it you were able to get more from the photos?"
"Indeed," her eyes were bright. "And, rare though this is, you were wrong, Rodney. The carvings didn't describe weather prediction, but weather control."
McKay's eyes narrowed in surprise, "What?"
"And it's even more complicated than that." She smiled, "That planet was intended as a trap," she looked at the major this time, "for the Wraith."
Sheppard was instantly awake, "You're kidding."
"No. The dampening field and the moat are tied together. From what we’ve gathered both from the carvings and what we've now been able to decipher in the database here—once we knew what we were looking for—the Ancients used to lure Wraith to that planet, and trap them there. They could not escape through the field and, as you noted, you need the gene or, obviously, a remote of some kind, to access the bridge, the only exit point."
"Why?" Teyla asked, her face showing her dislike for the idea. "To kill them?"
"No, to learn about them," Weir replied. "The Ancients were fighting a losing battle, and needed more information about the Wraith in order to fight them more effectively."
"Test subjects?" Sheppard said softly, finding the planet name Ford had used even more ironically apt now. "Like lab rats?"
Elizabeth nodded, "Incredible, I know. But understandable, considering how desperate they must have been getting. It appears we are not the only ones who have been pushed to extreme measures." She left the pregnant statement hanging out there, but her meaning was clear. Judge not.
Teyla was looking down at the table, finding yet something else new about the Ancients she found disturbing. She tried to put it down to the fact that they had been at war, but it still bothered her. She looked up, to see Doctor McKay and Doctor Beckett also didn't look too comfortable with the knowledge. Major Sheppard had that mask of his on, the military façade behind which he often hid. She looked back at Weir as Rodney asked another question.
"So what did they learn?" he asked softly. "And what does it have to do with the weather?"
"I'll let Dr. Collins answer that one," she replied, looking across at the blond Welshman. "As this is more his area than mine."
"Apparently, something the Ancients learned early on is that the Wraith have an aversion to salt water. Building on that, they learned as part of their testing on Planet 51 that the Wraith can not stand acid rain. The lower the pH level, the more dangerous it is to them. To test their theories, they created a machine that allowed them to mentally control the weather within the small area inside the Trench. They could call up rainstorms at will." He gave a humorless smile, "And presumably anyone with the gene could do the same."
"So, perhaps the story those prisoners told you was not as far fetched as it seemed," Weir added, looking at the major with raised eyebrows. He nodded back at her.
"I was hot," Sheppard admitted softly, thinking about the first time it rained. He looked up at Weir with wide eyes, "I wanted it to rain."
"I did it too," McKay said, looking at Sheppard. "The second time, after Teyla had been hurt. I begged for a distraction to get them off our tail, even if it was the rain." He shrugged, "It worked for a little while."
"Wow," Sheppard leaned back in his chair, "That's…cool."
"Unfortunately," Collins added, "even controlling weather on a scale that small did terrible harm to the planet. It was described as a green planet when the Ancients first began their testing, but, as you saw, much of it is probably now desert and subject to extreme weather shifts, something the two of you undoubtedly did not help with."
"Sure, sure, but at least now the carvings make sense!" McKay suddenly enthused, clearly not having listened to a word the Welshman had just said, as he smiled excitedly at Elizabeth. "I thought that was what they said, but just assumed I was reading it backwards. A weather device…good lord! The power that must be supplying something like that! We have to go back to—"
"No," Elizabeth stated firmly, her palms down on the table. "Rodney, we can't."
"That device, as you pointed out earlier, is also the those people's main source of water, Rodney."
"How do you know?" he demanded fiercely. She just looked at him.
Okay, to be honest, it was rather unlikely that there was more than one on that planet. He sighed, then grimaced.
"They did almost kill us all, you know," he stated softly, trying a different tactic.
"Just because they are prisoners, Rodney," Elizabeth replied, just as softly, "and because they were frightened enough of you to try and kill you—"
"Frightened? Didn't seem that frightened to me," he groused.
"She's right, McKay," Sheppard groaned. "Hate to say it, but they were acting defensively."
McKay just looked at him, then sighed, crossing his arms and settling back. "Well, this sucks."
Weir sighed, "Yes, I know. Perhaps, however, we might someday—after things have calmed down a little—be able to send a team back to that planet to get a better look. Someone who won't get hot," she said, smiling a little at John, "and accidentally alert the prisoners there to our presence. And maybe they can find a way to maintain the field and the water device with a generator and bring back the ZPM...assuming that it is a ZPM powering it."
"It has to be," McKay noted peevishly. "To be able to control the weather like that? It has to be."
"Okay then. Then, when some time has passed—"
"Still sucks," McKay said again.
"Rodney," Elizabeth was staring at him, her eyes soft, which caused some of McKay's frown to fade, "I nearly lost all of you. And I won't send you or anyone into a now obviously dangerous situation, where the locals clearly have their hackles raised, and where the Genii themselves might show up at any time, until I am more confident that the mission can be successful. Do you understand?"
McKay stared at her, then lowered his eyes, a wry grimace on his face.
"Come on, McKay," Sheppard encouraged, nudging McKay, "you just found out you made it rain. That's got to make you feel better."
McKay's lips pursed, then, slowly, a tiny smile crept onto the scientist's face.
Elizabeth just smiled at them both patiently, then looked to Sheppard.
"In the meantime, you two still need rest. Can I count on you to get some?"
The major just smiled. Rodney didn't even look up, still not quite down sulking.
"Wonderful," Elizabeth deadpanned, "Thought as much. Just try not to kill yourselves, okay?" She stood up, "Dismissed."
CHAPTER TEN: JUST SINGING IN THE RAIN…
McKay continued to sulk, trailing Sheppard back in the direction of the infirmary. By unspoken agreement they had both decided to go visit Ford before heading off…Rodney to his lab, and Sheppard to work out. Resting really wasn't in either man's nature. That was resting to them.
"Doctor McKay," chirped the radio in McKay's ear. Sheppard saw him hesitate and slowed, as McKay hit his radio.
"There's…ah…there is a situation in your lab. Could you come here please?"
McKay frowned, looking at the major, "Of course. I'll be right there."
"Oh," Zelenka continued, sounding a little strange, even over the radio, "There is no emergency, so it is not necessary to rush. Just, at your own pace, yes?"
"Um, sure, be there soon," McKay looked a little bewildered by that, but shrugged, turning the radio off. He looked at the major, "Sorry, major, will you tell Ford I'll be along in a minute to see—"
"Major Sheppard," this time, it was the major's radio. He held up a finger to McKay, hitting his radio.
"Sir," Bates' voice was terribly formal, "I regret that it appears some of the Athosian children managed to get into your quarters sir. They appear to have made quite a mess."
Sheppard winced, horrible thoughts such as red crayon on Johnny Cash running through his head. "Damn. Okay, I'll be right there, sergeant."
"Yes sir. Bates out."
Sheppard sighed, nodding at Rodney's questioning look, "Well…looks like we'll both be late. I'll see you there in half an hour or so, yeah?"
Rodney nodded, already turning around, "See you there."
When Rodney reached the lab, it was empty of people, which surprised him. Frowning, he walked in a quick circle around the consoles, but there wasn't even a hint of a person around. Not even a mug of coffee or a half-eaten sandwich….
Which, of course, made him instantly suspicious. There was always a half-eaten sandwich.
His eyes narrowed, and the back of his neck itched. Of course, it literally did itch, the healing skin hidden beneath a layer of gauze driving him nuts, but that wasn't what was really causing his figurative neck to itch.
He stalked out of the lab, then turned and walked to his room a few feet away.
Sure enough, there was a green military rain hat tacked to the door. Dread filled him.
the entrance panel and looked inside.
And found himself face to face with umbrellas.
Lots and lots of umbrellas.
"What in the name of…." Jaw wide open, he wandered inside and turned in a slow circle.
Where they had come from, he had no idea, but they were everywhere. There were at least twelve large ones, plus a collection of what looked like cocktail umbrellas scattered all over his desk (these look handmade), and at least one decorative Chinese parasol hanging from the spear head of the Great Axe. They hung from light fixtures, rested on the floor fully opened, and stood propped up in the corners. Red ones, blue ones, polka dot ones, striped ones—many with company names emblazoned on them, like "Genzyme," "Integra," and "Stratagene."
Practically geek calling cards.
Best of all, somehow, some twisted mind had managed to pipe in Gene Kelly crooning "Singing in the Rain" over the intercom. It was apparently on a continuous loop.
That was just CRUEL.
"RADEK!" he screamed, regretting it as his still weak voice squeaked. "ZELENKA! Where are you! Simpson! Corrigan! You think this is funny! You are so dead, you hear me! This means war!"
He reached up to tap his radio, to yell at them over the airwaves, but was interrupted before he could.
"McKay." Sheppard didn't sound amused. Rodney immediately tapped a response.
"Gene Kelly?" It was practically growled.
"Ohhh, they're so going to pay," McKay replied with total understanding.
"My room is covered in raingear! I can't even see the floor through all this military green! Someone even covered Johnny in a poncho—which is sacrilege, let me tell you. I've got rain hats hanging from the ceiling, for Christ's sake!"
"I got lucky with umbrellas, myself," McKay replied wryly, picking up a bright purple umbrella with "Boehringer Mannheim" emblazoned on it. "I didn't even think to bring one with me, but, obviously, for some obscure reason, some of the microbiologists brought theirs."
"And how the hell are they piping "Singing in the Rain," over the intercom?" Sheppard demanded. "What kind of sick twisted mind thinks of this sort of thing?"
McKay smiled a little at the mental jinx. "Radek Zelanka," he replied, "And his merry band of reprobates."
"And Bates? BATES!" Sheppard sounded completely mystified. "Of all people! Stackhouse, okay, maybe, but Bates?" McKay could almost hear Sheppard shaking his head, "Unbelievable."
"We'll get them back," McKay promised him. "They haven't heard the end of this."
"Major? Doctor McKay?" Teyla sounded rather odd over the radio, "Are you there?"
"What is it Teyla?" Sheppard asked in response.
"I am confused by something."
"Oh?" McKay crossed his arms.
"Doctor Weir told me that I should get some rest in my quarters, and sent me back here but…" she paused, "There are… there are rain ponchos everywhere, and a bright orange umbrella on my bed with the name "Corning" on it. Who is Corning? And why is his umbrella in my quarters? I just...I do not understand…."
Sheppard couldn't help it. He really didn't want to, but he started to laugh. They even got Teyla?
"This I have to see," the major said over the radio, and McKay could hear the sound of him exiting his room to run over to Teyla's nearby. A moment later, his laughter got louder.
"It is not that amusing, major," Teyla admonished over the radio.
McKay's mouth quirked into an involuntary smile at that. Sheppard was right, getting Teyla was impressive. And awfully brave. It also meant Elizabeth was involved, because she was the only one with the guts to do it. And if she was in on it then….
"Perhaps…we should check the infirmary," McKay suggested quietly, clearing his throat at the idea of their currently most vulnerable member. "I have a feeling…."
"Oh, poor Ford!" Sheppard said suddenly. "Trapped in a bed with Gene Kelly! We have to hurry!"
"Who is Gene Kelly?" Teyla asked, still completely confused. "And why is someone singing about singing and dancing in the rain in my room? It is a pleasant enough song at first, but…It's…uh…oh, why will it not stop!?" Then a second later, "Major! Wait for me! I'm coming with you!"
"You have to admit," McKay said, walking now towards the infirmary, where Ford was undoubtedly surrounded by the happy strains of "Singing in the Rain" on all sides, "They're pretty clever."
"Clever? Oh, they haven't seen clever yet," Sheppard replied. "Where are you?"
"Almost there," McKay said, catching site of the infirmary doors up ahead. He could already see that they were open, and the crooning vocals of Gene Kelly interspersed with the weak pitiful cries of a thoroughly unhappy Ford floated into the hallway.
"Behind you," Sheppard called. McKay looked up as Sheppard came around a corner to his left, Teyla on his heels. The three of them formed a solid line as they stalked to the infirmary, walking unconsciously in time. Sheppard smiled as he too discerned the showtune, and it wasn't a nice smile.
"You're right, McKay, they will pay. Oh yes, they will all pay...."
A/N -- Personally, I love that movie, but could you imagine that one song on a continuous loop? The "doot da doot doot, da da, doot da doot doot," over and over again? LOL!
Hope you enjoyed it!