There was pain everywhere inside his body, spreading out from his skull until even his toes and his fingertips hurt. The pain must have woken him up, because the last thing he remembered was the surface of the planet coming closer at high speed until the dark green of the thick jungle-like forest was all he could see through the windscreen of his small spaceship.
Captain Erik Drum slowly blinked his eyes open with a pained groan as he tried to recall the impact when his fighter had hit the canopies of the tall trees and the hard ground only seconds later.
The pain made it hard for him to think, but he actually welcomed it, because it told him that his spine almost certainly hadn't been damaged too severely in the crash landing. He could feel and move his legs and his arms with ease, the pain bearable as he did so, and the young captain hoped that he hadn't suffered any serious internal bleeding but only some nasty bruises. His head hurt pretty much from the crash, but he didn't feel dizzy, and his vision had cleared and was as sharp as usual after the first three or four seconds of disorientation after his unconsciousness.
Erik let out another groan when he struggled into a more upright position, fumbling for the fastener of his safety belt. “What a great start to introduce yourself to Atlantis and the Second Alliance, Erik Drum,” he muttered to himself. “There couldn't have been a better way to prove your skills to Colonel Sheppard and Colonel Mitchell than to crash one of their new precious and very expensive space fighters on an unknown planet. They will be so pleased with you, congratulating you on your wonderful performance!”
If they would ever find him, that is!
Erik had no clue where he was, and the lights on the console in front of his seat remained stubbornly dark and silent when he pressed the buttons to check over his small plane. His D-1404 was one of the five new fighters Earth had worked on for more than two years, using the technology of the Asgards, the Ancients and the Wraith to create something entirely new. The small plane was actually a hybrid of the old Earth fighters F-302 and the Wraith Darts, and it contained not only a buffer like Wraith Darts did and the beam technology of the Asgards and the Wraith in combination, but also Ancient technology which could only be operated by those pilots possessing the ATA-gene.
Lady Artemis, High Commander Todd and their allied Commanders had eventually given access to their technology after years of negotiations with the IOA and General O'Neill as the emissary of the united military command on Earth, and Commander Sinamore's consort – the ascended Ancient Atreyus – had helped them with the technology of his own people.
It was only a small part of their technology because the ascended Ancients had strict rules when it came to that, but it gave the New Lanteans a huge advantage and would allow them to protect and support their allied planets from the attacks of hostile Wraith much better in the future than they had been able to do before building these new ships. If the new fighters worked without problems, then Earth would try to create bigger scout-ships with the same technology, but all of this depended on the experiences of the handful of carefully chosen pilots with the D-1404s.
Erik was a strong natural gene-carrier of the ATA-gene, and he had been so proud when he had been chosen to join the Atlantis mission and fly one of the new and so precious spaceships – not only because of his gene as Colonel Mitchell had assured him, but also because of his skills as a pilot. The D-1404 didn't need Stargates to bridge long distances any longer like the old F-302 or the Puddle Jumpers needed them, the new Dart Fighters as Erik's direct superior Colonel Mitchell called them possessed a hyper drive and had a range of several hundred light years.
The Stardust had arrived over Atlantis a couple of weeks ago, carrying the brand-new fighters in her belly to test them in the Pegasus Galaxy, and Erik had felt as if his biggest dream had come true when he'd set foot in Atlantis for the first time in his life.
The young captain had felt overwhelmed and in awe of everything, especially the fearsome Wraith he had heard so much about. The things others had told him about these amazing beings hadn't prepared him in the slightest for the 'real' Wraith strolling through the city as though they'd always belonged there, talking and sometimes even joking with the humans they encountered as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do. Colonel Mitchell had spent several weeks on Earth choosing the new expedition members and pilots himself with greatest care, and he'd only smiled and winked at Erik when the young captain with the light-brown hair and the hazel-green eyes had asked him about their alien allies before they had left Earth to fly to Pegasus with the Stardust.
“You will get to know them soon enough, Captain Drum. Nothing I could tell you about them would do them real justice, you have to find out for yourself, I fear. There is only one thing you'll always have to think of: the Wraith belonging to our alliance will always protect you with their own life, you'll never have to fear them. But the Wraith living outside our alliance are still our lethal enemies, so you'd better stay away from them if you can!”
This was all Colonel Mitchell had said, and Erik had been confused and hesitant to come closer to any Wraith he'd encountered during his first three weeks in Atlantis. Watching the proud Commanders interacting with their human allies, especially their beloved consorts, had made him feel curious and intrigued at last, and Erik had hoped to get to know one of the greenish alien beings better in the course of the time.
This surely wouldn't happen now, not after him crashing one of the new and long-awaited Dart Fighters. Erik was certain that Colonel Sheppard would send him back to Earth again straight away if he was lucky enough that they would find him in time that was, his career ending before it had even really begun.
The young captain gave up his useless attempts to bring his small plane back to life, letting out a frustrated sound with an angry expression on his handsome features. He would have to check the hyper radio device and try to make it work again, but first of all he needed to get out of here and search for a place where he could rest in relative safety. He needed to find water and something he could eat, some berries or other plants, perhaps some animals he could hunt. Erik wasn't really fond of the idea of going hunting, but he only had limited supplies, and he wanted to save the energy bars for as long as possible.
Erik suppressed another groan when he pushed against the hatch of his Dart Fighter to force it open, glad when the metal frame obeyed him after the third attempt, giving in with a creaking noise of protest. The material the D-1404 was made of was a completely new alloy of steel, naquadah and aluminum, the hatch and the windscreen made of a special transparent glass and plastic alloy that was space-proof.
Erik climbed outside gritting his teeth, carefully examining and stretching his limbs as he checked himself for possible serious damage. When he didn't find any, he straightened his shoulders and looked around. His fighter had left a large swath of broken trees and bushes behind, and the young captain felt a cold shiver running down on his spine when he realized how lucky he had actually been. His plane didn't even look as badly damaged as he had feared that it might be, perhaps it could be repaired – if Atlantis found him and brought both of them back to the city that is.
“Okay Erik. You're in trouble, but not as much as you thought you were. You need to find a good place to shelter where you can stay during the nights, and after some hours of rest and hopefully having found some food and fresh water, you'll come back here and see to repairing the hyper radio device,” the handsome young captain said to himself, rummaging around in the fighter for the medical bag and the bag with the supplies. He knew that the bag also contained a scanner to check whether or not the berries and plants he hoped to find were edible, and there was also a compass and a small GPS device he needed to orientate himself. Both items were working when he tried them, and Erik let out a sound of relief and fixed the coordinates of his landing site to be able to find his way back to his plane later again.
He wasn't happy that he had to leave his fighter, but Erik was experienced enough to know that it was too risky to stay here. He didn't know this planet, and hostile species like the Genii that had refused to accept Ladon Radim as their president or the Wraith not belonging to the Second Alliance would come here first to search for possible survivors. He needed a place where he would be safe from animal predators as much as from other intelligent beings who weren't on friendly terms with Atlantis, and he needed to find a creek or other water source because his water supplies wouldn't last for more than perhaps two or three days. When he had found everything in his bags that he had been searching for, he closed the hatch of his Dart Fighter, trying the remote control that would make it invisible for others. Erik hadn't really thought that it would still work, but much to his surprise and joy it did work, and the young captain watched his precious plane disappear behind a wall of flickering air.
He turned around when his small spaceship had become invisible, musing for a few seconds about which direction to take. Finally, he looked at his compass and drew in a deep breath, starting off towards the line of green mountains he could see shimmering in the distance through the swath of destruction his plane had left. It melted with the azure-blue sky on the horizon, and Erik guessed that they were about ten or fifteen miles away. It was hard to tell, but he was young and military, and the sun was still high in the sky, so he should reach the mountains before nightfall.
Erik ignored the pain every step made shoot through his bruised body and started to walk.
The squealing noise of the small ship going down with far too much speed was audible even miles away. The tall creature paused what it was doing, raising its head to stare at the deep blue sky with glittering yellow-golden eyes.
The air was formed into a long white stripe where the black dot raced through the atmosphere, sinking deeper and deeper until it disappeared between the trees of the thick forests near the mountains where the creature had found a temporary home.
The yellow-golden eyes narrowed as they tried to follow the black spot, but the canopies of the trees were too thick. The mouth of the creature bared to a hiss of annoyance, clawed fingers clenching around a large knife as their owner suppressed the urge to reach out for the unknown pilot with its mind.
Whoever the pilot of the small spaceship was - if they survived the crash relatively unharmed - then they would find their way here sooner rather than later anyway, for this place had the only source of fresh water within a radius of at least thirty miles.
It was only a matter of time, and all the creature had to do was wait for its prey to come here.
Erik had been faster than he had actually anticipated, reaching the base of the mountains when the sun was still hovering over the horizon. He was totally exhausted and thirsty, and only the distant sound of what must be a waterfall had kept him walking. His compass and his GPS device told him where he had to go, but he had to search his way through the trees and the bushes and would have to climb the last two miles, hoping to find some kind of plateau with a cave or something similar where he would be safe enough from attacks of the predators that surely lived in these jungle-like forests.
Erik was glad that at least the temperature was bearable, he was sweating because of his pain and the long march through the wilderness, but it wasn't as hot and humid as he remembered it from his first off-world mission when he had visited a planet that consisted more or less of nothing but humid and hot jungles and even hotter deserts.
The air was fresh and not too thick or thin, and the radiation was low according to what he could read on his scanner, so he could live here for a while if necessary, hoping that Atlantis would send out a search party for an unimportant and greenish young captain who had damaged one of their planes on its maiden flight.
Erik walked along the mountain for a while, finally turning round a large rock to find the best place where he could start his climbing, coming to an abrupt halt when his eyes fell upon the wake of devastation in front of him. Something had cut the trees and the bushes with violent force when it had gone down just like Erik's fighter had done it a couple of hours ago, forming a large clearing in the middle of the forest.
That said something was still lying at the end of the long gash in the trees like a huge whale or fish that had stranded on the cost, and Erik didn't have any trouble recognizing what it was because he had seen these planes on pictures and on the piers of Atlantis often enough to feel an icy-cold shiver wrecking him at the sight.
The 'stranded fish' in front of him was a Dart – a real Wraith Dart – and the young captain with the hazel-green eyes was damn sure that it wasn't one of those Darts belonging to the Second Alliance because none of them had been missing when he had left the City of the Ancients early in the morning. Colonel Sheppard would have delayed Erik's flight with one of their new spaceships if there had been an incident with one of their allied Wraith, he was sure of that.
This Dart must have crashed a few days or weeks before his own landing judging by its state and the damage it had caused. The marks it had left on the grass-covered ground and on the trunks and branches of the trees were still rather fresh, and the Dart wasn't overgrown with vegetation, the dark organic surface still shimmering and unscathed by the sun, wind and rain, so it couldn't have been lying here for very long.
Erik swallowed, his hand clenching around the knife he'd used to cut the twigs in his way during his long march as he now scanned the landscape with narrowed eyes, his heart hammering hard and fast in his chest with a sudden bout of mortal fear.
There was an unknown and most-likely hostile Wraith hidden somewhere on this planet, and they were almost certainly already waiting for him to run into them so they could feed on him.