I am no farmer. The Genii are right about that. I was never a farmer. Farmers lived by the river, traded water rights with the tlak-tcho, shipped their goods along the rails. I admit I trained near the river, learned how to hunt, how to track, how to fend for myself in the wilderness but I was stationed in the city. I grew up in the city.
I always dwelt in cities before the Wraith came. After that, well, I wasn't a farmer then either. The constant labor of tava bean farming is not what I had in mind for my life. Even on the run I hunted, I fed, I escaped, I never did this kind of work. My hands have never felt this sore.
The Wanderer has decided I'm his caretaker. He came through the Ring before the Genii, I know he brought them here. Radim himself came to offer me a place in the Genii army. To be fair, their army needs someone like me. They have powerful weapons but no wisdom, no stealth, no skill in their use. But ever since I was betrayed and set loose to run I have worked for myself. Even among the Lanteans I worked for myself. Sheppard envisioned himself my taskmaster and I allowed it, but I like to believe he understood me better than the story he told to his military.
I am sore and exhausted. I have been wielding a spade all day, on my hands and knees dragging weeds out from the tava fields, tying vines to stakes. This is not the work I'm used to. I run, I hunt, I fend, I hide, I stalk, and I kill. This is none of those things. This is child's work.
Teyla will understand. She knows I'm not happy here. I won't join the Genii, though. I will work for myself. The Genii will understand that or I will leave.
That's why I've decided. I'll meet with the Genii. But not here, not on New Athos. I need to be somewhere I can run.
I've been to a hundred worlds around a hundred suns, always running, always wondering if the next Ring I dial at random will end with my death. I pick one of those worlds, abandoned and empty, a barren desert, a garden of rocks. I take with me three days of food, three skins of water, and the Wanderer. I let him see the address as I dial.
If the Genii aren't there in three days I'll come back and they'll have lost their chance.
Two days later the Ring opens. I watch from underneath one of the red stone arches as a half dozen Genii come through, weapons raised in defensive positions. They don't know what to expect.
I'm not surprised. The Wanderer they sent to spy on me wouldn't talk.
Radim isn't here.
I expected Radim to come himself. Sheppard always went himself, he prided himself in his willingness to take on any risk he'd ask of his men. This does not leave me impressed with Radim's command style.
One of them must be a commander. I can't tell from the uniform, not this far away. He keeps his weapon pointed at the ground in front of him and calls out for me.
“Ronon Dex!” he calls again.
He's going to wait for an answer then. Fine. I know these rocks and their secrets. I move away from the arch into the towers and shout my answer at the stones. “State your business,” I shout. The echo is deafening to my ears and I know the Genii won't be able to pinpoint where it comes from.
The commander sends out his men in a fan pattern. Basic search pattern, he doesn't know where I am. However, I notice none of his men are assigned to my general direction. My 'vector', McKay would have called it. So he does know where I am but he wants me to think otherwise. Interesting.
“Chief Radim of the Genii sends his regards,” the commander shouts. “He hopes you've reconsidered his offer.”
“I'm listening,” I shout.
“You are a terror of great renown,” the commander shouts. “You're wrong to think your legend began with the Lanteans. You were called 'Proud Death' before the Lanteans found you.”
I know that name. A Wraith gave me that name before I escaped his capture and slew his drones. I never caught the bastard, he must have told others of me. I shouldn't be surprised that the Genii have spies among Wraith worshipers but I do allow myself to feel disgusted.
“You survived as Proud Death for seven years. Nobody else can make that claim. You can teach your skills of survival to the Genii army. You could have a squad of your choosing, men who answer only to you and to the Genii government, for missions of strategic importance in the war against the Wraith.”
“Men who answer only to me,” I shout. It's a demand to test how serious they really are. Are they willing to compromise to do what it takes?
“That can be arranged.”
“What else can the Genii offer me?” I call.
I laugh at his one word answer. “I can get vengeance on my own. I once garroted a Wraith with my hair, I can do it again.” That may be an exaggeration but I'm sure this commander's Wraith worshiper contacts embellished the story more than that. “I've run through the Ring with nothing but my knives and my pride. I've salvaged food, clothes, armor, weapons. I don't need the Genii. You need me. I ask again, what else can the Genii offer me?”
The commander whistles. It's a signal, one of his soldiers comes running back. They whisper among themselves before the soldier heads back through the Ring. I'm too far to see the symbols but I have no doubt. Back to Genia.
“We will see,” the commander says. “Until then, perhaps you might be more comfortable if you weren't perched in the pillars.”
Yes, they know exactly where I am. To quote Colonel Sheppard, 'well fuck'.
“I'm good,” I call out.
The commander calls back his soldiers, I see all of them come back. He orders them to set up...
Oh that rat bastard. They came prepared.
Someone lays out a blanket and they sit on the rock platform before the Ring. A field canteen is being poured into cups and I can smell the pollen-tea from here. Those look like biscuits.
Fine then. I get comfortable among the towers and unwrap my own rations. The bean cakes are dry and the meat is starting to turn.
I awaken in the rocks.
It's a talent of mine honed over seven years. I can sleep anywhere under any circumstances yet stay aware of my surroundings. I listen, hearing the sounds of the Ring as the wormhole closes. I look out from my perch to see the Genii are still there, plus one. I vaguely recognize him. I saw him at one of the gatherings the Genii call 'balls' and the Lanteans call 'boring'. I almost don't recognize him with pants on.
The commander points to my forest of stone towers as he speaks to the newcomer. This man nods and walks in my direction. I stay quiet, waiting, watching as the man walks up to and between the rocks. He looks all around except up.
He's right below me. I watch him, waiting to see if he notices me. I think of the ways I could kill him like this. I could jump down, I could throw a knife, I could collapse a tower, I could just drop a rock on him. He must sense my thoughts in some way because he finally looks up and screams at the sight of me.
I should be insulted that this unaware excuse of a skinny scholar is who they send to convince me. “Yeah?” I ask.
“How... how did you get up there?”
“I climbed,” I say. I demonstrate by climbing down. “So why have they sent you in after me?”
“You... they said you wanted to know what the Genii can offer,” he says. “There's food and purpose and vengeance and--”
“Spare me the basics,” I say, cutting him off. “I haven't yet been offered anything I can't get on my own.”
“There's knowledge,” he says. “We have the Red Book. How well did you know the Lanteans, I wonder? Did you really know them as well as you think? Or only as well as they wanted you to?”
I want to refuse. I should. They were my friends. But then I remember Sheppard's confused and self-righteous face as he defended his choice to ally with a Wraith. I remember the ridiculous notion that their religion doesn't match their history and their insistence that the Red Book is nothing more than a giant complex lie large enough to span the creation of a world. I remember how McKay described Earth's religions as giant complex lies large enough to span the creation of a world. Sheppard insisted they were different, McKay never did. I've been curious for a while now, ever since the Storytelling of 'The Hobbit'.
“You would share your knowledge of the Red Book?” I ask.
“Of course.” I can tell he doesn't want me for the army at all. This man wants to pick apart my time with the Lanteans, to see if there's anything else they might learn. With the Lanteans gone I might be their only hope in learning more.
“All right,” I allow. I hold out my hand. “Ronon Dex.”
“Apprentice Lander Belen.” He takes my hand.
It doesn't feel like a mistake. It feels like an opportunity.