Sheppard tilted his head back and enjoyed the heat of the sun on his face. It was damn hot, but he fondly recalled hazy summer days of swimming in the lake with Dave or riding horses till dark that had been just like this. Of course, listening to McKay complain about the heat every five seconds sucked the joy out if it faster than the parched air on this planet sucked the moisture out of your skin.
“Sheppard!” McKay’s strident tones were only slightly muffled by the cramped space he was working in. “I’m going to die of heat exhaustion in here!”
“We should leave him here for a week,” Ronon’s voice advised over the comm. “He’ll never whine about the hot summers on Lantea again.”
“I heard that!” McKay snapped back. “Shouldn’t you be, I don’t know, patrolling or something useful? Instead of harassing those of us who are actually working?”
“I can patrol and mock you at the same time,” Ronon replied, and Sheppard let out a quiet chuckle.
“I am sorry we cannot do anything to make you more comfortable, Magician McKay,” Deron said apologetically, for the third time. “But we are most grateful for your help.“
“And we are happy to be of assistance, Ser Deron,” Teyla replied, giving him her best trading smile.
“Except for the part where *WE* feel like *WE’RE* in an oven!” McKay complained, his voice rising up from inside the guts of the water pump he was trying to repair. “An oven in Death Valley at noon in midsummer!” Sheppard slowly leaned over the housing of the device to peer down at Rodney.
“If you don’t stop bitching about how hot it is, I’m going to shoot you,” he warned.
“If it gets any hotter, I’m going to ask you to,” McKay snapped back.
Deron looked nervously at Sheppard then hunkered down near the pump. “Is there anything I can do to help you, Magician McKay?” he asked.
There was a series of clangs followed by a thud and some colourful cursing. A moment later they heard the ominous groan of pipes strained beyond their limits. “That’s it,” McKay yelled before extricating himself from the mess and pointing at the shut off. “Crank that over, all the way! Do it now!”
“But Magician!” Deron pleaded, even as Sheppard cranked over the wheel that controlled the shut off valve. “Our crops will fail if you turn off the water! We need your help - the magic to fix this is beyond us!”
“Oh, for the last time, it’s *science* not magic!” Before McKay could launch into another tirade, Teyla interjected.
“Ser Deron, we mostly certainly will assist with fixing your irrigation system,” she said calmly, interposing her body between him and McKay and guiding him away from the grumbling scientist. “Come, let us go and advise the Viscount that the pump cannot be fixed immediately, but that we will soon return to repair it.”
As she led the sputtering man away, Sheppard wiped his hands on his pants and walked back over to McKay.
“I’m a physicist for God’s sake! ‘Interplanetary plumber’ is not in my job description,” he griped as he began to meticulously clean his tools before placing them in his pack. “This pump is too far gone to bother fixing. We need to get the engineers out here to replace it and the old piping while they’re at it.”
Sheppard folded his hands on the butt of his P90 and smirked at McKay. “What, you can’t just use your magic to fix it?”
McKay shook a finger at him. “Don’t you start,” he said with a glare, then cinched his pack closed. “I could temporarily jury rig it, but there’s really not much point. The pipes are on the verge of rupturing anyway,” he continued as he swung his pack up on his back and bucked the chest strap. “The whole set-up is worn out. Ancient machinery is amazing, but nothing lasts forever - look at all the repairs we’ve had to make to the plumbing in Atlantis since we arrived! This has got to be almost that old, and it needs to be replaced.” He looked pensive. “Deron’s right. I don’t think we should put this off, especially in this heat. They’re going to lose some of their crops even if we get the irrigation back online right away.”
Sheppard turned to gaze over at the fields in question, and even at a distance, the drooping stalks and browned patches could plainly be seen. He turned to Rodney. “You think we could get it done before morning if they brought floodlights and worked in shifts?”
McKay thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “Probably. Replacing the pump will take a few hours, and we’ve got replacement piping on Atlantis. If they could get set up in the next couple hours, they might even have time to water the fields a couple hours before sunrise. But it’s going to take us over an hour to reach the gate because someone thought a walk in blistering heat would us good-”
Sheppard made a face and tapped his earwig. “Ronon, need your help.”
“Does it involve listening to McKay complain?”
“Hey!” McKay’s head shot up, affronted. “It was even hotter in there than out here! I could have passed out from heat stroke!”
“At least it would have been quieter,” came the gruff reply.
Sheppard held up a hand and motioned at Mckay. “Rodney, enough,” he said, trying to force back a laugh. “Ronon, I need you to get a message to Atlantis, ASAP. Tell Wolsey we need…” he looked at McKay. “What do we need?” he asked.
“Tell the behemoth to come here,” he said, patting his tac vest till he found a notepad a pulled it out. “I need to write him a list.”
Once Ronon was dispatched, Sheppard and McKay headed over to the main tent. The guard nodded and ushered them in. As the stepped into the much cooler interior, McKay let out a sigh of relief.
Lobal looked up from the papers he was working on and greeted them as they entered. “Colonel Sheppard, Magician,” he said, gesturing to the seats in front of his desk. “Please, rest and I shall have refreshments brought. Neci!” he called, clapping his hands. A moment later a young man entered the tent.
“Please fetch water and food for our guests,” he said, then tossed McKay a smile. “I recall the Magician is quite fond of Feyii cakes, so please bring some of those. Also, cheese and roast broga from last evening. I find myself somewhat famished as well.”
“Right away, Viscount,” he said with a small bow, and darted off.
“Oh, thank God,” McKay said, then turned a scowl on Sheppard. “And don’t you say something ridiculous like how they don’t need to bother, and we have supplies because, hello! I haven’t had Feyii cakes in months.”
Sheppard held up his hands in surrender. “Far be it from me to deprive you of your cake,” he said, and Lobal laughed.
“It is our pleasure,” he said with a smile as he leaned back in his chair. His expression quickly grew pensive as he studied the two men. “Ser Deron and Ser Emmagen came by a short while ago and said the pump could not be fixed today. Is this true?”
“Yes and no,” Mckay replied.
“I don’t understand.”
The young man returned with a tray covered in plates of cakes, fruit, meat and cheese and set it on the desk, and Lobal nodded his thanks and motioned for the two men to help themselves. McKay snatched a thick slice of the berry rich cake and took a huge bite.
“Geeze, Rodney,” Sheppard said, shaking his head with amused exasperation. “Take a second to breath.”
“Shut up, I’m starving!” he mumbled around the mouthful of food, humming happily as he enjoyed the sweet-tart flavour of the Feyii berries.
“I don’t have the right tools with me to fix it, Viscount,” McKay said after he swallowed. “We have an engineering team who can do it, and they’ll be on their way soon.”
Lobal perked up with surprised interest, and Sheppard explained. “I sent Ronon back to the gate with instructions,” he said while snagging a chunk of the roasted meat from the tray. “I figure he’ll be there in another…” he glanced at his watch - “Maybe 15 to 20 minutes? Probably take the team about half an hour to get the gear together, but they can pack it in a jumper and be back here quickly,” he said with a nod. “They can get it fixed and your people can irrigate before the sun comes up in the morning.”
Lobal let out a sigh of relief. “We are so grateful for your help,” he said. “The Erus will be pleased. He is on Riva visiting with Ser Dimas at this time, but should be returning before nightfall. It will greatly enhance his negotiating position in the council to know that we will not require aid in the next season.”
“Happy to be able to help,” Sheppard replied, then took a big bite of the roast.
Lobal stepped out from behind the desk and walked over to a cabinet near the wall. He opened it, took out an ornate bottle of dark red liquid and grabbed several small, thimble like glasses.
McKay frowned when he set them down on the desk and started to pour.
“There’s not going to be any kidnapping or trials involved this time, is there?”
Sheppard poked him. “Rodney!” he snapped with a glare.
“What? It’s an honest question!” he complained, but Lobal just laughed.
“No, Magician,” he answered, handing McKay a glass. “Your people have already proved themselves honorable allies.” He picked up his own glass as Sheppard did the same. “It is simply part of our tradition to seal arrangements with allies with a toast.” He lifted his glass. “To the strengthening of our bond as allies. By the power vested in me as the Speaker for the Erus, I declare that we are in your debt.” He looked expectantly at Sheppard.
Sheppard lifted his glass, and glanced nervously at McKay. These were the things he usually left to Teyla, but she couldn’t be off soothing the local farmers and here dealing with Lobal, so he pasted on a grin and tried to project a competence he didn’t feel. “To our bond as allies,” he copied Lobal, thinking that would be a safe place to start. “We’re honored to be of service, and … uhm,” he trailed off.
“And declare that any debt will be fair and equitable,” came Teyla’s voice in his ear. Sheppard ignored McKay’s snort of amusement and dutifully repeated her words. He’d insisted she keep an open mic when on this planet for her safety, but she was the one saving his ass. Lobal smiled and then the three of them drank.
Lobal set down his glass and returned to his seat behind the desk. “Since he was not able to be here when you arrived, the Erus has empowered me to begin negotiations,” he began as he leafed through a stack of papers.. “Ah, here it is,” he said, pulling one out and setting it on the top. “Please understand that we will have to assess how much crop loss we have experienced before we can finalize this year’s trade agreement-”
Sheppard interjected, “I think we should wait to discuss this till Teyla she gets back.”
Teyla’s voice piped up in Sheppard’s ear again. “Colonel, is the Viscount attempting to begin our trade discussion without me?”
“Colonel, we are men of action,” Lobal replied with a smile. “Surely we could at least get a head start while we’re here waiting for Ser Emmagan to arrive?”
“Please remind him that as Peshmerga, your role is that of a warrior and defender and not a trader, and that I will be honored to complete the negotiations on behalf of Atlantis.”
McKay had a sudden suspicious coughing fit and Sheppard turned to him. “You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, just swallowed wrong,” Rodney waved him off, clearly struggling to keep a smirk off his face and Sheppard found himself hard pressed not to smack him.
Before he had a chance to respond to Lobal’s questions, a blast of static came across the comm, followed by Ronon’s voice.
“Sheppard, we’ve … a problem.”
Sheppard rose to his feet and tapped his earpiece. “Report.”
“Flash… no visible … smelling … getting hazy near … heavy animal movement.”
“Ronon, you’re breaking up. Say again, repeat, say again.” He looked at McKay. “Can we do anything to boost the signal?”
“He’s right on the edge of radio range,” McKay said as he fiddled with his life signs detector. “He’s about 7.5 km out - our radios are rated for about 8 km on flat terrain, and with all the hills and trees around here, this is anything but. We’re lucky we’re getting anything.”
“Fire… smell smoke… animals are … path to the gate…”
Sheppard swore under his breath. “Ronon, you smell smoke, but there are no visible flames? Please confirm?”
“Yes,” Ronon replied. “Based … wind and … the animals are … fire’s … straight for … fields.”
McKay tapped his own comm. “Ronon, how long until you reach the gate?”
“... 15 minutes.”
McKay looked over at Sheppard. “If the fire’s driving animals across the path to the gate and he’s already caught in a haze of smoke, the fire can’t be more that a couple kilometers away, and even with no wind behind it, it’s going to rip through dry forest at 6 or 7 klicks.”
Sheppard did the math in his head. “He’s still at least 3 or 4 km from the gate. Dammit!” He tapped his earwig again. “Ronon, before the smoke gets too thick to breathe, soak a piece of fabric and wrap it around your face, then run like hell for the gate!”
Sheppard looked at Lobal. “Call you people together now. We’ve got an emergency.”
The first, faint traces of smoke were wafting in on the breeze as the villagers gathered in the center of town. Teyla made her way through the crowd to join McKay and Sheppard at Lobal’s side.
“The people are concerned that Dr. McKay was unable to repair the irrigation system but they are confident that we will be able to help them in time to save their crops,” she began her report.
“We’ve got bigger problems at the moment, Teyla,” he interrupted her and filled her in on the situation as Lobal climbed up on a platform in the middle of the group. Villagers began to call out questions, and he raised his hands placatingly, motioning for silence before beginning to speak.
“I have both good tidings and bad,” he began. “First, be encouraged! Magician McKay is confident that his people will be able to make repairs and fully restore our water.” The relief was evident as townspeople turned to each other with smiles and laughter, embracing each other, those closest to John and Rodney thanking them profusely. Lobal called out again.
“Yes, it is wonderful news. However, to complete the repairs, Ser Dex went to fetch supplies and helpers for the magician. On his way to the Ring of the Ancestors, he saw smoke and many signs that fire is not far behind.” A murmur rose from the crowd. “Colonel Sheppard and Magician McKay have determined that fire is headed this way.”
“What can we do to?” cried a woman with a child in her arms. “How can we prepare for fire?”
“Ser Liya, please remain calm. We will evacuate, just in case the fire reaches the village.” He said as he motioned at a few people in the crowd. “Ser Deron, Ser Jefa, Ser Dannik, please organize your groups. As we have prepared for when the Wraith come, we will act as if this is an attack. A fire is equally dangerous, and we have prepared well for danger. You all know what you must do.”
As the villagers began to fall into groups, Lobal turned back to Sheppard. “Did Ser Dex make it back to the Ring?”
“We don’t know,” he replied tensely. “He was almost out of range when he radioed and the gate is past that.”
Lobal nodded and clasped Sheppard’s arm. “He is a brave warrior and we will mourn him if he is lost to us, but until we learn otherwise, let us believe that he is safe. We will go to the caves that we’ve used to hide from the Wraith for generations. They are imbued with the magic of the Ancestors and they will protect us,” he said, motioning for them to follow him. “It is not that far.”
Ronon’s lungs were burning, but he kept running as fast as his legs could carry him. The fire was almost at the path, already encroaching on it in some spots. He kept as low as possible, but the smoke and ash burned his eyes, making it hard to see, and he stumbled to the ground.
He force himself up back up, but the spill had yanked his makeshift mask free. He got a lung full of thick, hot smoke before he could get it back in place, and fell to his knees coughing. After a few moments, he forced his rebellious lungs to calm and struggled back to his feet. He knew that the ring was just a little further.
He took a few more steps and the familiar round shape resolved itself through the smoke, but flames were already licking at the dialing device. With a curse he leapt forward and began to punch in the address for Atlantis, only to howl in pain as he found the keys to be searing hot to the touch. He quickly snatched out his knife and used it to stab out the remaining keys and moments later, the cool blue fwoosh of the ring appeared. He jabbed the correct code into the IDC and took a running leap through the gate, where moments later he collapsed, coughing on the floor in the gate room.
“Sir, it’s Specialist Dex! He just came through the gate… no, sir, he’s alone.”
“He’s in trouble! Doctor Keller, medical emergency in the gate room!”
He could hear frantic conversations around him; footsteps approached, and he felt hands on him trying to help him up, but he couldn’t catch his breath. He tried to talk, force his spasming lungs to calm long enough to get words out.
“Fire,” he managed to rasp before the coughing overtook him again. His throat felt like it was closing up. and he fell to the floor, trying to catch his breath and failing.
“Get him on the stretcher! Grab his arms - one, two, three, lift!”
Ronon felt himself being lifted and settled on one of the medical gurneys. “Fire,” he struggled to get out the words. “Bad,” was all he managed before the coughing took over, and it was all he could do to remain conscious.
Suddenly Jennifer was right there, hands on his face, his throat, speaking words he didn’t understand to the nurse beside her. She leaned in close. “Ronon, your throat is swelling shut and you’re not getting enough air,” she spoke gently but firmly, her hands settled on his forearms, loud enough to carry over his coughing. “I’m going to intubate you - try not to fight it.”
He felt her tilt his head backward and something slip past his lips but then darkness closed in and consciousness slipped away.
Sheppard’s instincts were at war as he followed Lobal’s lead. The military leader in him was demanding he go and do something - search for Ronon, fight the fire - anything but run away.
“John, you know there is nothing you can do for him,” Teyla firmly reminded him as she assisted a young mother with several small children scramble over a large log that lay across the trail. “Ronon is strong, and fast. I am sure he made it back to the ring before the flames reached it.”
Sheppard slipped his arm around the back of an elderly man who was having trouble with the same obstacle, handing him off to a villager waiting on the other side. Rationally, he understood that Ronon was either back in Atlantis or lost in the fire, and there was nothing he could do about it now. His mind fell into a recursive loop, trying to find an option when McKay grabbed his arm.
Sheppard looked up at him, frowning at the worried look on McKay’s face . “What’s wrong?”
“I think… well, I have an idea that might possibly save the town, or at least the fields,” he said. “Or it could just get us killed and not make any difference, I’m not sure. But at least… well at least, we’d be trying to do something that might help.” He huffed in annoyance. “And just so you know, I fully blame you for this cultivating this, this *need* to try to do something to make a difference instead of just running off to go hide in the safety of a cave like a normal, sane person would-”
“Bitch at me about how I’ve destroyed your self-preservation instincts while we’re moving,” he said as he gave Rodney a nudge to start him back down the trail. He turned to Teyla. “Did you catch all that?”
She nodded. “Do you require my assistance?” she asked, looking over at the villagers trudging up the winding trail. Sheppard could see the young mother Teyla had helped earlier struggling to manage with her carry sac and children.
“No,” Rodney shook his head. “Only need the two of us,” he replied.
“Stay with the villagers,” Sheppard said, “Help Lobal keep them calm,” he added. “With the Erus off planet, I think he’s a little out of his depth and could use your help - let him know we’re headed back to town, and we’re going to - “ he glanced at Rodney, who gave him a cagey look before turning back to Teyal. “Actually, just tell him we’re headed back to town. I have a feeling the details will just upset him.”
“I will do so,” she said with a nod, then placed her hands on his shoulders and briefly touched their heads together. “Be safe.”
He rested his hands on her shoulders in return. “We’ll do our best,” he replied before they broke apart and headed in opposite directions.
“So,” he asked Rodney as he fell in beside him and the two of them started back down the path. “What exactly are we doing?”
“That kind of depends,” McKay hedged, following along behind. “How much C4 do you have on you?”
“Recommendations gentlemen?” Woolsey asked.
“I think we should send at least two or three jumpers in case we have to evacuate any civilians,” Lorne advised. “And the doc tells me we can even do some waterbombing on the way, thanks to his geniuses.”
Woolsey turned his gaze to Zelenka who gave him a little shrug. “Is not that hard. Only need to adjust the shield to line the interior of the jumpers so they can carry water without destroying electronics. It means, of course, no cloak or shield till water is dumped on fire.”
Lorne picked back up from there. “SGA-1’s mission reports and survey scans from previous away missions show the area around the town is highly forested. If fire hasn’t reached them yet, with might be able to stop it before it the town is destroyed - if we get there fast enough.”
Woolsey nodded. “I concur. Dr. Zelenka, please proceed with the modifications to three of the puddle jumpers. Major, if you could assemble an appropriate team, please be ready to deploy as soon as the modifications are complete.
As the two men departed his office, Woolsey tapped his earpiece. “Dr. Keller, what is Specialist Dex’s condition?”
“He’s in critical condition but he’s stable for now. He suffered severe smoke inhalation and numerous first and second degree burns to his arms and hands. I’m keeping him intubated as pulmonary edema has already set in. He needs to be in sickbay for the next 24-48 hours to watch for possible complications.”
He let out a sigh. Though he was oft times intimidated by Ronon, he had grown to appreciate the complete lack of artifice in the other man, and was truly relieved he was ok. He was worried, however, for the other, yet unaccounted for, members of SGA-1.
“I fear it may be prudent to prepare your staff for the possibility of additional fire and smoke related injuries.”
Sheppard stopped short and turned around to face McKay full on. “Blowing up the well?” He asked, cocking an eyebrow. “Really? *That* is your grand plan?”
Rodney huffed and crossed his arms. “That’s not what I said! We’ll only be blowing up some of the pipes to flood the fireguard.” He waved his hands around as if to encompass everything around them. “It’s not like I have a lot to work with here. Ancient outposts with hackable databases or tech I can fix - that stuff is relatively easy for me. Fire? There is no hacking fire. It just burns everything! You either suffocate or you deprive it of fuel, and I don’t see any fire rangers around here. Do you have a better idea?”
“Not really.” He shrugged. “Just kinda funny is all.”
Rodney looked a little offended. “How is it funny?”
Sheppard gave him a sideways look. “You’re usually the one telling that the answer is not to blow everything up.”
Mckay opened his mouth, shook his head and closed it again before turning away in disgust.
Sheppard couldn’t help himself - despite the dire situation, he cracked up. “C’mon, admit it,” he cajoled, following along. ”It’s at least a little funny.”
“I hate you.”
As they descended, they found the smoke had grown thicker. Sheppard forged on ahead, but before long, McKay began to falter, slowing down and then coming to a complete stop to lean forward hands on front of his thighs, trying to catch his breath, When Sheppard realized McKay wasn’t right behind him anymore, he doubled back.
McKay was breathing hard. It sounded wheezy and more than a little laboured.
“You ok, Rodney?” he asked, placing a hand on McKay’s shoulder.
McKay shook his head. “I'm not kidding… when I say… I have allergies,” he gasped out between breaths. “Not usually… so bad… but the smoke…”
Sheppard shook his head. He’d forgotten. Rodney always talked about his hypoglycemia, sensitive skin and allergies, but as much as they ribbed him about being a complainer, all those things were real. He’d seen Rodney take his allergy pills before going to a planet they knew had a high pollen count, but it never occurred to him that the smoke might exacerbate his condition. John could feel his own lungs felt heavy, the smoke starting to take a toll on him, but it was clearly hitting Rodney a lot harder - and of course, the exertion was just making it that much worse.
“Do you have anything to make it better?” he asked. “I don’t imagine this is something your Epi-pen would fix.”
Rodney shook his head, breathing a little less laboured but still not great. “No, but I have… an inhaler,” he said, gesturing to his pack.
Sheppard nodded and moved around to help him slip his pack off then rooted through it to find Rodney’s med kit, He popped it open, fished out the inhaler and handed it to Rodney who took it gratefully. McKay took a hit, held it for a few seconds then let it out and did it again. The second time he exhaled, he broke out into a coughing fit that had him doubling over again, coughing so hard, Sheppard was concerned he was going to throw up. Finally after a few worrying minutes, he caught his breath again, and seemed to be breathing easier.
“That was unpleasant,” Rodney rasped out, wiping his mouth the back of his hand, then looked critically at his pack. “Grab the C4 from my pack and yours, and leave both our packs here,” he said, waving a hand and Sheppard when he started to argue. “It doesn’t matter if you still feel ok, the extra 50 lbs of your field pack makes your lungs work harder, and you don’t want to breath any more of this smoke than you have to.”
Sheppard nodded, and grabbed the C4 from both their packs and shoved it into unused pockets of his tac vest. He grabbed his spare t-shirt and ripped it in half.
“What did you do that for?” McKay asked, giving him a funny look.
He poured water from his canteen over the pieces, completely soaking them before handing one to Rodney. “Told Ronon to do this,” he said with chagrin. “We should have done it before we headed back,” he continued as he tied the damp cloth over his face and nose. “It’s not an N95 respirator, but it’ll filter out some of the particulate.”
Rodney tied the cloth over his face as well, then shoved his medkit in his tac vest and nodded at Sheppard that he was good to go.
A few minutes later, they reached the edge of the town. The smoke was thicker here and it was getting harder to see clearly. The glow of the approaching fire was visible in the distance.
McKay pointed to indicate the footpath the ran along the edge of the town, past the well and out to the fields. “We should start with this,” he said, voice muffled by cloth over his face. “Once the fire gets here, it’s going to tear right across all that dry grass between the forest and the town and jump this path. The whole town is wooden shacks and tents, and it’s going to go up like a tinderbox. We need to dig two trenches, at least a couple of meters on either side of it, from the big tool shed behind the waterpump all the way down to the fields.”
“There’s no way,” Sheppard replied, shaking his head. “That’s got to be at least 200 meters, times two - we’d be lucky to get 20 meters before the fire gets here.” He cocked his head. “We don’t have nearly enough C4 to blast that much trench.”
McKay shook his head. “We don’t need to blast all of it,” he explained. “ Just the parts there,” he pointed at some hilly areas, “there and there. If we can even things out, gravity will do the rest. C’mon,” he motioned, and the two of them started up the path. “Last time we were here, I found some tools in the shed that could only be operated by ATA carriers,” he continued as they approached the first rise. “There’s something in there that looks sort of like a roto-tiller, but I think I can modify it to dig a trench straight down 6 or 8 inches instead of just tilling the ground.”
Sheppard nodded approvingly. “Then we blow the pipes and the trenches flood, creating a fire break.”
“And if we can get it even enough, the water should flow down the trenches all the way to the fields and flood them - hopefully before the fire gets here.”
Sheppard stopped and swung his pack off his shoulder. “I’ll get started on these charges - you go get the roto-tiller.” He grabbed McKay’s arm as he went to pull away. “Rodney. This smoke is getting thick really fast - don’t wander off the path, you might not find it again.”
McKay, rolled his eyes. “I’m the only one on this team with a healthy sense of self preservation,” he commented as he pulled out his canteen and poured a little more water on his makeshift face mask. “If anyone has to be reminded not to take foolish chances, Colonel, that would be you,” he said as he walked away.
Sheppard watched him for a moment before turning back to the task at hand. Rodney certainly could, and often did make himself scarce at the first sign of danger, and generally John greatly approved of that. As far as he was concerned, civilian scientist should be at the back of the fray during interactions with the enemy or dangerous situations in general. However, at times like these, when it would have been easier and safer to go up and hide in the caves with the villagers, it was McKay who came up with the crazy and potentially life threatening to save the town and the crops. Talk as he might about his sense of self preservation, he was a lot braver than most really gave him credit for.
He pulled out his trenching tool and quickly dug a series of small holes parallel to the path as Rodney had indicated. He pulled out a block of C4 and placed a small amount of the explosive in each, then ran a cord connecting all of them before moving to the other side of the path and repeating the process.
He shoved the unused pieces back in his vest and made his way to the next hilly area to repeat the process. Though the ground was dry and packed, it seemed to give way fairly easily, but it wasn’t long before he was having trouble breathing, gasping as if he’d just run a marathon. He started to cough and realized that the cloth tied over his face was virtually dry. He took it off and soaked it down before retying it. It might not make much of a difference but every little bit made a difference. He tapped his earwig as he set back to work.
“McKay, check in.”
He dropped in some more C4, and started on another hole, then frowned. “McKay!”
There was no immediate response, and Sheppard stopped moving. “McKay, so help me god, if I have to come after you-”
The comm suddenly came alive with the sounds of coughing, and Sheppard was both relieved and concerned at the same time because Rodney did not sound good at all.
“Rodney!” he stood up, struggling between knowing he needed to finish the job at hand and the desire to go to his friend’s aid. “You okay?”
“Keep your shirt on!” came the crabby response followed by another coughing fit. Finally, it settled and McKay spoke again. “Turns out that… taking a… brisk walk… in smoke is… not a good idea,” he managed to wheeze out. “I’m at the shed,” he continued. “The tiller machine… it’s here, I can… modify it, just need… a minute.”
“Ok,” Sheppard responded, dropping back down to plant the last few charges before switching to the other side of the path. “I’ve got one more hill to rig up, then I’ll head over to the well. You get that trench dug and blow the pipes once the water has somewhere to go.”
A loud, buzzing sound started up, all the stranger because he was hearing it over the comm and in the distance at the same time.
“Wow, this thing... can really go,” McKay said in his ear, and despite the dire situation, Sheppard found himself grinning.
“More power! Ooo! Ooo! Ooo!” he said. McKay chuckled over the noise, but a second later, it turned into a cough and all his amusement vanished. “I’m almost done here, buddy, I’ll be up there in a minute,” he as he finished connecting the charges and ran to the last hilly spot.
He listened to the sound of the machine getting closer as he dug more holes and methodically placed the charges. “So, how fast do you think it’s moving?” he asked with a glance up toward the ominous red glow. It was hard to know for sure how fast the fire was really moving, but he was guessing it would be on them within an hour if not sooner.
“It’s chewing up over a meter every minute,” McKay replied. “I’m already past the well-”
Sheppard cringed as he heard McKay break into another fit of coughing, and this time the sound of the tiller stopped as the coughing went on and on.
“Rodney?” he called again as he connected the final group of charges with the det cord. “Rodney, c’mon. Answer me,” he cajoled when the coughing finally stopped. He got no reply except for wheezing.
He shoved the det cord and remaining C4 in his pockets and headed up the path toward McKay. “Hold on, buddy, I’m coming.”
He found Rodney clinging to the tilling machine, trying to guide it in a straight line while he was gasping for breath. He grabbed the other man by the shoulder and forced him to sit down.
“No time,” McKay wheezed as he struggled to get up, but Sheppard firmly pushed him back to the ground.
“Look, you can barely stand,” he argued as he pulled out the remote for the charges he’d set. “Head down,” he advised Rodney, then leaned in over him as he triggered the blast. There was a muffled *whump*, and a few seconds later, dirt rained down on them. Sheppard looked over his shoulder to see newly created flat spots along the path, then turned his attention back to Mckay.
“The smoke is getting to you, so this is what we’re going to do,” he said as he pulled the remaining C4 and det cord out of his vest. “You are going to go set the charges to blow the pipes, and then you are going to crank that water on full. Once you’re clear, I’ll blow them and water will come splashing down our brand new trenches.”
McKay nodded. “And hopefully the overflow between will make it impossible for the fire to hop over the path and destroy the town, and the fields will be wet enough from the runoff that they, don’t catch fire. It would be bad if they lost the town, but if the fields go up…”
Sheppard looked down the path to the expanse of wilting berry bushes. They could always rebuild their town, but if their crops burned too, they’d have nothing to trade with and many of the villagers might starve. He handed McKay the explosives and headed over to the tiller.
Lorne walked into the hangar, hand poised over his ear. “I think the Doc almost has all the kinks worked out, Mr.Woolsey,” he said, looking across the bay where the scientists were talking in rapid-pace tech-talk as Zelenka checked readings on his tablet while Miko put the jumper through the paces. He tapped his earwig to disconnect and walked over to the group of Marines waiting for him.
“Staff Sergeant Morris,” he greeted the other man, returning the crisp salute with a slight less stiff one of his own,
“Major,” Sgt. Morris replied. “As per your instructions, my squad rounded up anything and everything we figured would be of use in the situation,” he said, indicating the neatly stacked pile of gear.
“Surprised you didn’t snag one of the naquadah generators while you were at it, just in case,” Lorne said, shaking his head in amazement. Sgt. Morris responded completely deadpan.
“We tried, sir, but the geeks raised holy hell. I’ve been Lantea-side long enough to know that you don’t piss off the geeks if you know what’s good for you.”
Lorne chuckled. “Wise choice, Sergeant,” he said with chuckle. He turned to Zelenka. “Doc, tell me you have good news.”
Zelenka turned to him, his expression pinched. “When I have good news I will tell you,” he snapped before turning back to Miko. “Run it at 60% this time,” he said, cutting her off when a stream Japanese poured out of her mouth, “We do not have the time to make it perfect, Miko! It has to work now, and at 60%, it will. Please do it now.”
Zelenka studied his tablet as Miko made the requested adjustment and a moment later he smiled. He turned back to Lorne. “Major, I have good news for you,” he said, gesturing at the puddle jumpers. “Three of the jumpers have been reprogrammed with forcefields deploying inside the rear cabin. But you may only fill the jumpers up to 9000 liters.”
Lorne frowned. “ I thought you said they had a 16,000 liter capacity,” he said. “That’s only just over half of what we expected.”
Zelenka nodded. “And if we had more time, I would be able to give you shields that were modulated to handle that,” he said with a sigh. “I am not satisfied that the field will remain stable at a high capacity without further testing and that takes time that we do not have. So, you will go now, and take less water with you, but you will go. Otherwise, it may be too late.“
Lorne nodded and turned back to the Marines. “You heard the man,” he said. “Sgt, have load your gear in jumper three - the force field will keep it in place when we dive for water.”
As the Marines packed things onto the shuttle, Lorne turned to the pilots. “Stackhouse, Ferguson, pay attention to your readings,” he cautioned. “Once you hit 9000 liters, don’t just push it to 10,000 to be a hero - doc says it might not be safe, then we don’t do it. I don’t want to lose a pilot and jumper because someone decided to be a hot shot. Clear?”
“Sir!” the responded in unison.
“Right then,” he said with a nod. “Let’s do this.”
The three jumpers gracefully ascended up the ceiling exit of the jumper bay and swooped down toward the ocean. Lorne tapped his comm. “Atlantis, commencing water scoop now,” he said as he opened the jumper’s rear doors and let the back end sink below the survey.
“Everything looks good from here, Major,” Zelenka reported. “Are you experiencing any issues?”
He watched the display, and when he hit the 9000 liter mark, he shut the rear doors. As he pulled up, he feel something was off, like the balance wasn’t quite right. “She’s fighting a little,” he reported. “I don’t think she likes the extra weight. Even with the inertial dampeners, it’s sloshing around a bit.”
“The dampening effect may be slightly compromised in the rear compartment due to the extra power draw of the internal shield,” Radek explained. “It will not affect you in the forward cabin. Also, Major, the Jumper is a machine, and not capable of liking or disliking anything.”
Lorne snorted. “Spoken like someone who isn’t a pilot,” he replied, smiling. “Stackhouse, Ferguson, you good?”
“Alright, let’s go pull SGA-1 out of the fire - literally this time,” he said as he guided them back into the bay. “Flight, this is Puddle Jumper Three, and we are go for Launch.”
“This is flight. Roger that, Puddle Jumper Three. You are clear for launch. Bring ‘em home.”
“I plan to, Flight. The paperwork for misplaced commanding officers is a bitch.”
Sheppard shut down the tiller for a moment, and stretched. His shoulders were aching from both exertion and the constant vibration of the tiller. It moved at a hell of a clip for him - a lot faster than McKay had managed - and he’d already made it down to the field and was about 50 meters back coming the other way. Unfortunately, it was kind of like using a jackhammer, and wow, he was going to be hurting tomorrow - assuming they got through this. He nipped the dour thought in the bud and rolled his shoulders a couple times to try and loosen them up a bit.
“Sheppard, I’ve got the charges set,” Rodney said, sounding frustrated. “But I can’t get… the shut-off to budge.”
“Crap,” Sheppard muttered, gazing over at the approaching fire. It was looming much closer, no longer merely a red glow, but full flames that he could see through the forest. He wasn’t done the other trench, but they had to get the water going.
“I’ll be right there buddy,” he replied, then left the tiller there and made a dash for the pump house. About halfway there, the burn in his lungs forced him to slow, and he was overtaken by a coughing fit, the smoke swirling around him making it difficult to breath.
“Sheppard!” Rodney called out, concern evident in his tone. “Don’t make me come after you. Seriously, if I try to come and haul your sorry butt over here, we’ll both just end up collapsing and passing out from smoke inhalation and then get burned to death, and that is *not* the way that a brilliant scientist is supposed to go out, do you hear me? John!”
Sheppard slowly managed to calm his breathing, coughed a few more times, then struggled back to his feet and continued more slowly toward the pump station. When he finally got, Rodney grabbed him by the shoulders. “Are you ok?” he demanded, peering into his face. Sheppard shrugged him off.
“C’mon, let’s get this thing cranked over,” he said as he grasped the wheel and pulled. Nothing happened.
“What, you think I didn’t already try?” McKay protested.
Sheppard scowled. “I just turned this thing off a few hours ago,” he complained. “It worked fine then.”
“Well, it’s not now,” McKay replied.
“Ok, let’s try this,” Sheppard directed, motioning for Rodney to grasp one side and pull down while he reached over him to pull up on the other. “Together, on three. One, two-”
“Three!” Rodney declared, and the two of them heaved. For a long few seconds, nothing happened, and just when Sheppard was about to call quits, they felt it give an inch or two.
“Alright, once more!” he said, “Now!”
Once again, they pulled with all their strength. This time, the wheel began to spin, and they heard the pipes rattle as water began to flow. Sheppard grabbed Rodney and pulled him away. “We’ve got to get clear,” he said as they headed down the path. “When we blow those pipes, we might have chunks of metal raining down on us, and that’ll do a lot more damage than some dirt.”
“I think that… might be the least… of our problems,” McKay managed as they ran. Sheppard glanced over at the forest and felt his heart sink. The flames were visible through the nearest trees, now no more than 50 meters away at best. There was no time to finish the second trench. He pushed Rodney to the ground and draped his body over him, then triggered the detonation.
It was a lot louder this time, the explosion to muffled by dirt. The screech of metal pipes shearing and was followed by sound of water rushing out at high velocity, gushing over the dry ground.
He rolled off McKay and got to his feet, then looked down the path. The water was already more than halfway to the field. Unfortunately, only one of the trenches was finished, and Sheppard wasn’t sure it was going to be able to stop the oncoming blaze. He reached out and offered Rodney a hand up.
“Buddy, we gotta get moving,” he urged as McKay clambered to his feet. The two of them stumbled back through the town, intent on getting to the other side and up to the caves before flames overtook them. They had made it as far as the town square when Sheppard spared a moment to look back. The fire had reached the trench and spread along it, right down to the fields, but it looked like it was actually tapering down to a smoulder, which meant that enough water had flooded the field to make it too wet to burn. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the town. The flames had jumped the break and a building on the outer edge of the town had caught fire. McKay followed his gaze.
“That is bad,” McKay said, and Sheppard nodded. He was just about to prod Rodney to run for all they were worth when his comm crackled, and then a most welcome voice spoke in his ear.
“Colonel Sheppard! Do you copy?”
“Copy, Major,” Sheppard replied. “Good of you to join the party.”
“Ronon gave us an invitation we just couldn’t turn down, sir,” Lorne said and Sheppard let out a sigh of relief at knowing that Ronon had made it back alive.
“Any chance you can land in the town square and give us a lift before things down here get too hot to handle?”
“Yes, sir, I just need to drop my payload - I’m currently carrying a jumper full of water.”
“Deploy at the leading edge of the flame front, over the burning buildings in town,” Sheppard said.
“And preferably before we’re fully engulfed in flame!” McKay added.
Seconds later, they heard the telltale whine of a rapidly approaching puddle jumper just before the shape became clear through the smoke. “Dropping payload!”
The air was filled with the noise of falling water and the hiss doused flames. Sheppard and McKay were hit with a hot, wet blast of air as huge clouds of steam billowed out from the drop site.
“Augh!” McKay squawked. “I’m being boiled!”
“Be glad you weren’t roasted,” Sheppard said with a shoulder bump.
Lorne spoke up again. “Colonel, I’ve got two more jumpers with a water payload, a team of Marine engineers here to build whatever firebreaks might be needed. Mr. Woolsey has given permission for us to evac the locals to the Beta Site and offer medical assistance if needed. What are your orders?”
“Soak the perimeter of the town,” he said immediately. “And try to avoid the trench if you can - the salt water will be carried down to the fields and could kill off the crops we’ve worked so hard to save.”
“Aye, sir, deploying on flames inside the town.”
Sheppard tapped his earwig. “Teyla, you copy?”
“Yes, Colonel, I have been listening.”
“Did everyone make it to the caves ok?”
“There are a few villagers who have sustained injuries such as sprains or minor cuts during the journey to this place, but nothing life threatening,” she said. ”They would benefit from some first aid, but it can wait.”
He nodded. “Please inform Lobal that flames have reached the town but we’re getting it under control. They just need to stay put another few hours and we’ll give the all clear when it’s safe to return.”
“I will let him know,” she acknowledged.
He turned back to Rodney, who was leaning forward, hands on his thighs, still wheezing. “Lorne, we need to get McKay back to Atlantis ASAP,” he said, critically studying the other man’s appearance, “I’m pretty sure he’s going to need medical attention for smoke inhalation.”
A puddle jumper gently settled on a ground a few meters away from them. He gave the strap on McKay’s tac vest a tug to pull him toward it just as the rear hatch opened and a group of marines exited. One of them made a beeline straight for McKay.
“Doctor, please come sit down,” he said as he took McKay’s arm, guiding him to one of the benches in the rear of the puddle jumper.
“You too,” McKay replied, forcing himself to sit up straight and shake a finger at Sheppard. “I heard… how you were coughing, and you... were breathing just as much smoke as I was.”
The corpsman glanced back at Sheppard. “Sir? Please come sit down,” he respectfully ordered.
“I’m fine,” he protested, but Mckay snapped his fingers and pointed at the bench beside him. Sheppard settled in with a sigh.
Lorne joined them at the back of the jumper.
“Is Ronon ok?” Sheppard asked as the corpsman set McKay up with oxygen and took his vitals.
Lorne nodded. “He had some bad burns and breathed in a lot of smoke, but Keller said he’s stable and should be ok,” he said.
“How bad is the fire?”
Lorne shook his head. “The forest is engulfed all the way from the gate,” he said, looking up pensively. “If anyone steps through in the next couple hours, they’re as good as dead.”
“Send a jumper to Riva to warn the Erus,” he said. “He’s on a trade visit to see Dimas, and he’s due back anytime.”
Lorned tapped his earwig. “Stackhouse, you’re on envoy duty.”
“And tell him to come back with more water,” Sheppard interjected. Lorne nodded and walked back to the front of the jumper, as the corpsman turned to the Colonel.
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to stop talking now,” he said, handing Sheppard a canister of oxygen with a mask on it. “Please hold this over your mouth and breathe deeply.”
Sheppard opened his mouth to protest, but he caught the glare Mckay was giving him from over his own oxygen mask, and he gave in.
Staff Sgt. Morris stuck his head around the corner of the door and caught his attention. “I see what you did with the firebreak, sir,” he said speaking to both Sheppard and McKay. "Damn fine piece of work to come up with on the fly with nothing but a trencher, a roto-tiller and some C4,” he said with an approving nod. “We’ll get this fixed right up.”
“And the pipes,” rasped McKay, pulling off his mask for just a moment. “Irrigation’s busted,” he managed before the corpsman gently pushed the mask back in place.
“Keep that on sir,” he ordered as Morris nodded.
“We’ve got this one, Doc, don’t you worry,” the marine assured him. He gave Sheppard a brief salute and disappeared.
Lorne came back. “Stackhouse is on his way to Riva, and Ferguson has already headed back to Atlantis to pick up more water,” he reported. “I’m dropping you two off in medical and then I’ll return with more water as well. Once we get the area between the town and gate under control, we’ll let the Erus know it’s safe to return and offer the villagers any assistance they require.”
Sheppard relaxed back against the wall and let the weariness overtake him. He nodded his assent and Lorne headed back to the cockpit. He rolled his head to catch McKay’s eye, only to find Rodney was already looking at him. He felt Rodney’s fingers brush against his on the seat between them, and he slid his hand over to grasp Rodney’s tightly. Just another Thursday in the Pegasus galaxy.