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The Mark of a Warrior

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John Sheppard walked into the mess hall a happy man; for the first time in a long time, everything was normal, or at least as normal as things got if you lived on a floating city in another galaxy. The city was crisis-free, his teammates were all healthy, and there was the prospect they would finally get back through the 'gate soon. He looked around the busy mess hall and found his team sat in a corner of the room having breakfast together; that was back to normal as well after a few days of Rodney missing their regular team meal after the incident in the jumper a few weeks ago.

He watched as Ford sat facing away from the rest of the room telling some sort of story that involved a lot of arm waving that Rodney on his right kept ducking away from in order to not get smacked with an errant limb. Teyla smiled at the story and laughed as Ford seemingly accidentally hit the back of Rodney's head with one hand. Rodney glared at both of them and went back to eating. Sheppard knew from experience Rodney wasn't a morning person, usually because he'd been up half the night working on a project or some problem with Atlantis; it was a fact the other two might be learning soon if the look on McKay's face was anything to go by.

Sheppard grabbed a cup of coffee to go with his eggs and toast and headed over to join them before Rodney tired of Ford's morning enthusiasm and left.

"I'll keep that in mind, Lieutenant," Rodney groused at Ford over some comment just as Sheppard sat beside him. "The next time you want heat in your quarters remember me fondly." He nodded to Sheppard as he sat down, then went back to his eggs.

"Ah, come on, Doc, it was a joke," Ford said with a grin.

"So what's everyone up to today," Sheppard asked hoping to divert Rodney from a tirade.

"I plan to visit with Isla and the new baby, Major," Teyla said with a contented smile as she finished her oatmeal. "The birth is seen as a sign by my people, the first new life since we came to Atlantis."

"Now that the east platform is accessible again, there are several Marines in need of range time," Ford added. "I know a few non-Marines could use some refreshers as well," he added with a sidelong look at Rodney.

Rodney ignored him and scraped up the last of his eggs with a bit of toast. "Meetings," he said after he swallowed. "Grodin has the Ancient systems and our computers in the control room finally talking to each other reliably and he's getting all sorts of information on possible planets the Ancients visited. The science teams are tripping over themselves trying to get through the 'gate. I need to go dissuade them." He finished the last of his bacon and Sheppard could swear he thought he saw a hint of a smile.

"Do not forget about our lesson, Doctor McKay," Teyla reminded him.

Rodney shifted on his chair. "Oh no, wouldn't want to forget about my twice weekly torture session," he mumbled.

"You are much improved, Doctor, even after just a few weeks. You have good instincts for defense."

Sheppard knew Teyla was trying to be complimentary, but Rodney tensed in his chair and looked up with a scowl. "That happens when …" He stopped and instead swallowed the last of the coffee in his cup.

Nope, definitely not a morning person, Sheppard thought even as he wondered about the rest of that sentence.

Teyla frowned while Ford glanced at Sheppard.

"Sorry," Rodney muttered with a glance at Teyla. "I'll make the lesson." He stood and started to walk away.

"Hey," Sheppard said and waited for Rodney to turn around. "Everything all right?"

"Fine," he replied. "I'll see you all later." He deposited his trash and tray and left.

"I have upset him," Teyla said. "It was not my intention to do so. He has shown much improvement. I wanted him to know how much he has progressed in a short time."

"It wasn't anything you did, Teyla," Sheppard tried to reassure her. "I want to check in with Elizabeth and see where we are with the mission to P2J-496. Hopefully, Grodin and his team have some good news." He glanced toward the door Rodney had just left through. "I think we're all going a bit stir-crazy sitting here with nothing much to do."

Unfortunately for Sheppard, Weir had several meetings lined up of her own and no amount of cajoling from him was going to get her to shift things around. The earliest he could get to see her was early afternoon. So, after dealing with his own department's requests for off-world missions, he finally headed for the control room after a hurried, solitary lunch.

He entered the control room and nodded to Grodin on his way through to Elizabeth Weir's office; Peter gave him a brief smile and a thumbs up. Sheppard grinned back. He really did like the city, but he wanted to get back out there, exploring, see what the Pegasus galaxy had to offer. If General O'Neill could only see him now …

He knocked on the frame of the open door to Weir's office and stepped in as she waved to him.

"Hello, John," she greeted as she closed her computer and glanced at the file folder on her desk. "I take it you've heard about a possible mission to P2J-496."

John sat in the chair in front of her desk as smiled. "That would be why I'm here, yes."

"I had planned to send Sergeant Markham and a botany team to the planet," she said. "It seems deserted even though the MALP couldn't tell us very much. There are no signs of energy spikes or other technology."

Sheppard frowned. "We're up in the rotation, Elizabeth," he pointed out. "No reason we can't take a simple planet survey."

She leant back in her chair playing with the stylus for her computer. "Your team is ready?"

John stared at her, slightly shocked. "Of course they're ready," he said, ready to defend his people.

Weir sighed. "I won't beat around the bush, Major. Your last mission had a few … issues."

"And we're all better," John said sarcastically, no longer relaxed. "My neck is healed, Rodney's knee is fine after our little trip to the east platform last month. What else do you want?"

"I want to know if your team is mentally ready as well as physically, Major," Weir stated bluntly.

That gave him pause for a moment. He knew Teyla and Ford were ready, both had asked him more than once in the last week when they would have a mission. As for Rodney, after their talk out on the balcony a few weeks ago, he seemed better, too. He'd just make sure they took any of the jumpers except Jumper One, just to be safe.

"We have to go sometime," Sheppard finally said. "Exploring a new world is as good a reason as any."

Elizabeth stared at him a moment longer then sighed. "All right. Peter and his team received the last of the MALP data this morning and are wrapping up their analysis now." She studied Sheppard and he stared right back. Elizabeth looked away first with a sigh. "Fine, Major. Have your team in the conference room in half an hour for briefing."

"Yes, ma'am," Sheppard said with a grin. He stood and headed for the door. He missed her worried glance at his back as he left.

"Sheppard to Ford," he said as he walked down the corridor away from the control room.

"Ford here, sir."

"We have a go, Lieutenant," he said and grinned as he heard a hissed "Yes!" over the radio. "Team meeting in thirty minutes in the conference room. I'll find Rodney, you bring Teyla."

"I think Teyla is supposed to be giving Doctor McKay his defense lesson now, sir."

"In that case, I'll find both of them, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir. See you in thirty."

Sheppard took the transporter over to the area of the control tower set up with several training and sparring rooms. He could hear Bates and a couple of Marines talking in one of the rooms, but didn't really pay attention until he heard a fourth voice in the mix, a voice that sounded angry and a little panicked. He quickened his pace wondering what Rodney was doing sparring with a group of Marines.

"Really, Sergeant, I think Teyla just forgot about my lesson," Rodney said, his tone haughty. "It's not like her to forget things, I admit, but, hey, I'll take the reprieve. I have projects I need to get back to."

"You know, Doctor McKay," Bates replied, nonchalantly. "You can't just spar with the same person all the time. You want to really learn, you have to work with different people. Sergeant Thompson here could do with a little practice, too."

Sheppard stopped just outside the room and glanced in. He didn't want to go charging to the rescue if Rodney had the situation under control.

He looked around the corner of the door and had Rodney in profile standing between the door and the far wall of the room dressed in sweatpants and a ridiculous 'I'm with Genius' t-shirt. Sheppard also noticed Rodney had his chin up as he glared at the three Marines surrounding him. None of the men in the room noticed Sheppard hovering near the door.

Sergeant Bates stood facing Rodney wearing a green t-shirt and loose fitting pants, the other two Marines were similarly dressed. One of them, Thompson, Sheppard recognised from his personnel photo, stepped forward on Bates' signal and switched places with the Sergeant. As tall as Halling and twice as wide, Thompson towered over Rodney, but he gamely stood his ground, staring up at the man with a sneer.

Rodney took a step back as the Marine closed in, keeping the same distance between them although the sneer was replaced with a touch of uncertainty, and Sheppard was about to intervene when Rodney started talking again.

"Really, Sergeant," Rodney said with a fake smile holding his hands away from his body. "This is not a good idea for you. Something happens to me and who knows what sort of problems Atlantis could have. The hot water could stop working or, even worse the sanitation system." He took another step back and one to the side and Sheppard could now see his face clearly.

Rodney talked a good game but Sheppard could see the uncertainty was morphing into fear as he realised he was trapped. His gaze darted around the room as he looked for a way around the mountain about to attack him and Sheppard stepped silently into the room. Thompson took a swing and Rodney barely ducked under it as he stumbled back another step.

The other Marine with Bates, Bowers, Sheppard thought his name was, laughed and said, "Come on, Thompson, show the genius how to really defend himself."

Sheppard had known the t-shirt would set off the Marines and made a note to find Rodney a plain black shirt if he was going to play with the military contingent in the future.

Rodney glared daggers at the Marine and Sheppard knew whatever plan for revenge he had in mind for Thompson had just expanded to include Bowers as well. He edged further into the room and waited to see how Rodney would handle the situation. He could tell Rodney was rapidly losing what little patience he'd had with the Marines as the frustration bled to anger.

"This is ridiculous," Rodney said. He dropped his hands and started to edge impatiently around the group. "I have better things to do with my day. Next time you need something fixed, call Kavanagh." He moved around Thompson, glaring at the Marine in front of him and noticed Sheppard for the first time. His face changed instantly from anger to surprise then back to frustration. Sheppard was sure he was about to throw in an eye roll when Bowers let out another bark of laughter.

That was apparently too much for Thompson as he took another swing at Rodney's head.

Rodney saw it barely in time and twisted away from the blow. Instead of another miss, however, the blow landed on his flank.

"Gah!" Rodney yelped and rubbed at his ribs. Sheppard saw his face change from frustration back to anger now mixed with a little pain.

Sheppard stepped forward and opened his mouth to put a stop to the 'training' but what happened next was so fast, he almost missed it.

Thompson must have thought he was cowed by the hit to his ribs and came toward Rodney with his head down and his fists clenched. As soon as the Marine crossed some invisible line, Rodney let loose with a punch of his own and caught the Marine square on the chin.

Thompson took the blow and reeled back, probably more surprised than actually injured, Sheppard thought.

Rodney stepped forward, got one foot hooked behind the Marine's leg as he staggered backward, and before anyone could register that he'd actually landed a punch on the huge Marine, Thompson was on the floor.

Sheppard was as stunned as everyone else in the room and watched as Rodney's surprise at his success quickly changed to glee that he'd floored Thompson, and then fear as the Marine came off the floor and charged. Rodney backed up as fast as he could, eyes wide but he soon ran out of room as his back hit the wall opposite the door.

"That's enough," Sheppard roared and stepped between Rodney and Thompson. He glanced at Bates and Bowers as they came to attention behind Thompson and faced the Marine still coming at him. "Stand down, Thompson," Sheppard ordered, his face hard and his body set, in case Thompson decided to actually try and go through him to get to Rodney.

Thompson stopped short of the Major, visibly got himself back under control, and stepped back, breathing hard and working his jaw back and forth. Sheppard saw a red mark on the man's face and realised Rodney must have hit him harder than he'd thought.

Sheppard heard Rodney let out a breath behind him, but didn't turn around. "Sergeant Bates, I think this little training session is over," Sheppard continued, his eyes as hard as his voice.

"Yes, sir," Bates muttered and nodded at the two other Marines as he started for the exit.

"And Sergeant?" Sheppard said and Bates stopped at the door and turned around, his body stiff. "If I ever hear of you doing something like this with members of my team again, you'll wish the only thing that happened was McKay turning off the hot water. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," Bates acknowledged and left the room, the other two Marines in tow.

Once they were gone, Sheppard heard a soft thump from behind him and turned to find Rodney sitting on the floor, his back to the wall. "You all right?" Sheppard asked as he knelt in front of him.

Rodney nodded and looked up. "My hand hurts like hell," he complained, rubbing the knuckles. "Why didn't you ever tell me how much it hurt to hit someone?"

Sheppard laughed and examined the injured hand. He could see the first two knuckles were red and maybe a bit swollen, but nothing that needed Beckett. "Haven't you ever hit anyone before?"

Rodney shook his head. "I've dealt with bullies most of my life. Usually, I'd just out talk them."

"Usually?"

He shrugged. "The rest of the time I went home from school with a black eye or something."

Sheppard stood and gave Rodney a hand to get to his feet. "Well, you did good. Teyla's lessons must be sinking in." He looked Rodney in the eye. "Which, by the way, she didn't mean anything at breakfast, you know."

Rodney ducked his head. "Yeah, I know. Just hit a little close to home."

"I figured," Sheppard said then changed the subject. "What made you decide to take on three Marines anyway?"

"Do you really think I'm that stupid?" he snapped and rubbed at his sore knuckles. "Teyla never came for our lesson," he continued conversationally. "I wondered if … anyway, I got tired of waiting for her and was leaving when Bates and the others came in. I was still trying to get out of the room when …" He waved his sore hand around the room.

Sheppard chuckled. "Well, Thompson certainly got more than he bargained for. That's one Marine that will leave you alone at least."

Rodney shook his head. "He's is not gonna like that I managed to do that, even worse that I hit him in front of other Marines." He nodded at the floor where Thompson had landed. "It will be all over the city before dinner. I'm gonna need an armed guard if I want to get any sleep."

Sheppard smiled and led the way out of the sparring room. "Come on, Rodney. I doubt that's true."

Rodney snorted. "I managed to back off a bully once when I was in school, shoved him against a wall. Do you know what happened next?"

Sheppard shook his head. "I take it he didn't leave you alone."

"Hardly," Rodney said and flexed his fingers as they walked. "He jumped me on the way home and pummeled me. I had bruises for a month."

"Thompson is a professional. He's taken worse hits in training than that," Sheppard reassured.

"From other Marines, sure. Not from one of the scientists. Face it, Sheppard, I'm a dead man." He looked up and down the corridor as if expecting an ambush.

It finally registered on Sheppard that Rodney wasn't kidding. He really did expect Thompson to be waiting to get revenge.

"Don't worry about it. He's not going to do anything to you."

Rodney huffed his disbelief as he followed Sheppard. "Where are we going?" he asked as Sheppard led them back to the transporter.

"First stop, the mess hall to get some ice for your hand," Sheppard said as they entered the transporter. "Then we have a team meeting, that's what I was coming to tell you. We have an off-world mission, P2J-496. You're gonna love it."

They entered the conference room a few minutes ahead of schedule and found Ford already waiting.

"What did you do, Doctor McKay?" Ford asked as Rodney sat next to Sheppard and balanced the small ice pack on his hand again.

"Training accident," Rodney grumbled and Sheppard grinned.

Before either of them could explain, Teyla and Elizabeth came through the door.

"Thank you, Teyla, for telling me about Isla. If you think it appropriate, I'd like to stop by and visit with Iranda and see how they are doing."

Teyla smiled and found a seat on Sheppard's other side. "Iranda would like to see you again as well, Doctor Weir. And just like any proud grandparent, she is eager to show off her new grandchild."

"I need to get the finalised report from Grodin about your mission," Elizabeth said to the room at large. "I'll be right back."

"Is that where you were?" Rodney asked once Weir was gone and leant around Sheppard to see Teyla. "You forgot about our lesson and I was nearly pounded to death by Marines as a result."

"I apologise, Doctor McKay," Teyla said and Sheppard thought she did look sorry for the missed appointment. "I did not realise my visit with Isla and her new child would take so long."

Rodney started to say something else, but Sheppard spoke first. "Ignore him, Teyla." He sat back with a grin. " You were right though, he's getting much better. Rodney just laid out one of the Marines."

"Seriously?" Ford asked, his eyes dancing. "Who was it? I can't wait to give him some serious grief for getting taken down by a scientist."

Rodney humphed as Teyla smiled genially while Ford grinned. "This is what I meant," he said to Sheppard, "Thompson is gonna kill me in my sleep," he grumbled and hid the ice pack and his hand in his lap as Elizabeth came back in the room.

"Well, then we better get you out of the city," Sheppard said with a grin of his own.

"Why do we need to get Rodney out of the city?" Elizabeth asked. "Is there something I need to know, Major?"

Sheppard shook his head. "No, ma'am. There was a slight disagreement a little while ago, but nothing you need to worry about," Sheppard said while pointedly not looking at Rodney.

Elizabeth glanced from him to Rodney and Sheppard saw the moment she decided to let the matter drop as she passed a file folder to each of them. "This is the final data from the MALP we sent to P2J-496," she explained as Sheppard opened his folder. "The area around the 'gate seems to be tropical, lots of vegetation. There are some hills and what looks to be a volcano in the distance."

Rodney looked up from the closed folder in front of him. "Volcano? You're sending us somewhere with an active volcano?" He turned to Sheppard. "I think I'll take my chances here."

"Hush," Sheppard hissed and he noticed Weir giving them another look.

"From what we can tell, the volcano is dormant, Rodney. No seismic evidence of activity and the state of the vegetation indicates there hasn't been an eruption for a very long time."

Rodney humphed and opened his folder. "Just our luck it'll wake up while we're there," he mumbled under his breath.

Sheppard, satisfied Rodney was done, looked at the pictures in his own file. The images from the MALP made the planet look like paradise. He'd been through Hickam a few times on returns from various missions and the photos looked like the Kuli'ou'ou Forest he'd hiked through a few times, very green, overgrown, and wet. The MALP cameras showed several types of trees visible in the immediate area, some growing close to the 'gate and he realised they'd be forced to hike into the area instead of taking a jumper. He counted down in his head before Rodney started complaining.

"Oh goody," Rodney said right as Sheppard reached zero. He paged through the images of wet tropical forest, his expression getting darker by the second. "Exactly how damp is this planet?" he asked the room at large. "Do you have any idea how quickly I get sick when I'm soaking wet?"

Ford said, "It looks like an island paradise," he said to Weir then looked over at Rodney. "You've never been to Hawai'i, Doctor McKay?"

"Where did we meet, Lieutenant?" Rodney asked impatiently. "That's right, Antarctica. Before that I was in Russia for a year, and before that, the Nevada desert. While they might not sound pleasant to you at least none of those places felt the need to constantly drip on me." He flipped through more of the photos. "I hate getting wet," he groused again.

Sheppard remembered just how wet they both were after dealing with the stabilizers and admitted he really couldn't blame him for wanting to avoid another ducking. He ignored Rodney's muttering and turned to Teyla. "Does anything look familiar to you?"

Teyla looked up from the set of pictures in her file folder and shook her head. "I do not believe any of my people have ever visited this planet, Major."

"Cool!" Ford enthused, "Somewhere none of us has ever been before."

Sheppard saw Elizabeth smile at Ford's enthusiasm.

"Yes," Rodney grumbled. "Which means we have no intel whatsoever as to what to expect."

Ford stopped smiling which just made Sheppard grin and shake his head. "Okay, children …"

Sheppard flipped through the rest of the images and stopped on another one showing the green hills Weir mentioned as well as the volcano. He had to say the volcano did look rather majestic, a dark rocky mass soaring what looked like several hundred feet above the trees in the valley below.

"Grodin and the analysis team thinks this might be a good place to look for fruit or other food sources," Elizabeth said. "Several of the trees appear to be similar to ones found on Earth for example."

"I don't suppose there was anything like an energy reading on this so-called paradise," Rodney asked.

Weir shook her head. "The MALP sensors couldn't penetrate the jungle very far. We have these images, several days worth of meteorological data to know the solar cycle on P2J-496 is roughly the same as here in Atlantis," she turned to Rodney, "and yes, it appears to be a rainforest, very humid."

"I don't want to hear anyone complaining when I get sick," Rodney stated again with a glare and closed his folder.

"We'll keep that in mind," Sheppard said and looked at Elizabeth. "I take it we leave in the morning?"

Elizabeth pushed back from the table and stood. "Yes, Major. Carson is waiting for you all down in the infirmary. And Rodney," she added, and stopped at the door, "you might want to have him look at your hand."

Rodney looked up, guilt written plain on his face as the ice pack slipped off his hand and landed on the floor.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

"Rodney," Beckett greeted as he entered the infirmary. "I've been waiting for you. Everyone else was here and gone hours ago."

"I had some things to take care of," Rodney said as he sat on one of the infirmary beds. "The botany team is all in a dither about this planet we're going to. Seems they thought they'd be the ones going on this mission. I had to brief Zelemka on everything and warn him about Kavanagh's latest hobby horse. And I still haven't figured out what that box I found a couple of months ago actually does." He glanced at the scar on the back of his hand.

"Sergeant Thompson was in here earlier," Beckett said nonchalantly as he stuck a digital thermometer in Rodney's ear. "There was a sizable bruise on his jaw." Beckett removed the thermometer when it beeped and looked Rodney in the eye. "You wouldn't know anything about that, now, would you?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Rodney said as he hid his hands and tried to distract the doctor. "What's that?" he asked and pointed to a large hood looming over the infirmary bed in one corner with his chin. Several yellow, white, and blue crystals, slightly smaller than the personal shield crystal, glowed around one edge of the hood. A separate part of his brain made a note he really should figure out how to recharge that shield. He could wear it at night until Thompson had had enough time to cool off and not want to kill him.

He pulled his mind back to the present as Carson picked up his hand, shook his head, and tsked as he examined the slightly swollen knuckles. "Don't go trying to change the subject, Rodney. Did you even bother to put some ice on these knuckles?" he asked as he carefully bent each digit.

Rodney pulled his hand away. "Sheppard found some," he said quietly and looked anywhere but at Beckett.

"What were you thinking?" Beckett asked as he put away his instruments. "Don't you know the Marines are trained in all sorts of hand-to-hand combat?"

"Well, of course, I know that. I'm not an idiot," he retorted, his temper flaring. "He didn't exactly give me a lot of choice in the matter." Rodney hopped down from the bed and wandered over to the large hood-like thing. "Seriously, what is this?" he asked again, his voice changing from defensive to inquisitive.

Carson relented and came over to stand next to the device. "We found it in one of the labs down the hall," he explained. "From what I've been able to figure out so far, it seems to be some sort of diagnostic device."

"You've used this on people?" Rodney demanded, looking up from his examination of the device. "Does no one read the emails I send about testing Ancient devices? Specifically, not to test Ancient devices."

"Rodney, calm down," Beckett said with a frown. "I used some of the mice, all right? What it seems to do is run something akin to a full body scan." He patted the side of the machine. "If we're interpreting the data correctly, this machine would give us a remarkable tool. It could make diagnosing diseases and injuries more exact with less pain for the patient."

Rodney walked around the device and glanced at the computer hooked to the machine with several cables. "It accesses the Ancient database?" he asked as he paged through the information on the computer.

"Aye, we think so," Beckett replied. "We're still working out how to integrate our computers so we can get the most from the data the scanner gives us."

Rodney pulled a stool over from one of the desks, sat in front of the computer, and started inputting code. Twenty minutes later he looked up to find Beckett beside him, shaking his head and smiling. "What now?" he asked as he worked.

"Aren't you supposed to be getting ready for a mission?" Beckett asked.

"I have a few hours," Rodney replied and typed a few more commands into the computer.

"I thought Major Sheppard gave you a curfew on the night before a mission," Beckett said with a smile.

"What am I, six?" Rodney growled. "I've almost got this, anyway."

"Got what, exactly? What are you doing to my scanner?"

Rodney sighed and sat back. "Where's one of your mice?" he asked and looked around.

"In the medical lab," Beckett said. "Did you think I'd keep them around patients?"

"Well, go get one," Rodney ordered. "I want to make sure I have this set up right before I have to leave."

He watched Beckett head for the lab behind the infirmary. "Actually bring two, we'll want to check for differences."

"What did you do, exactly?" Beckett asked as he came back carrying a small cage with four white mice.

Rodney took one of the mice and set it on the bed under the hood. "I wrote a bridging program between the computer and the Ancient database. It will only access the Ancient medical files which should make it work faster. I also added a sort of translation program to take the data from your scanner," he waved a hand at the hood as he trapped the mouse under a clear plastic cover, "and re-interpret it as something you can read on the computer screen."

"You did all of that in the time you were sitting there? I've had one of Doctor Zelenka's engineers working on this for the last two days." Beckett looked from the computer to Rodney, a bit shell-shocked.

"Hello? Genius!" Rodney sarcastically replied. He tapped a few final keys and turned to face Carson. "Okay, turn it on." He looked over at the scanner with eager anticipation.

Beckett looked from Rodney to the mouse under the hood, then reached forward and tapped series of keys on the computer.

Rodney watched as the hood slowly moved forward and back beside the bed and checked the computer as a stream of data flowed across the screen.

"Well?" he asked impatiently once the hood stopped moving.

Beckett stepped in front of the computer, his eyes quickly moving back and forth over the screen. After a few seconds, he turned the computer to face Rodney with a wide smile on his face.

"Fantastic!" Beckett enthused as Rodney looked at a perfect image of a mouse, complete with skeletal structure and organs, rotate on the screen. He looked closer and realised he could even see the tiny heart beating.

"Hey, what's going on in here?" Sheppard asked as he strolled over to Rodney. "I've been looking everywhere for you." He glanced at the machine, the mouse still trapped under the cover, and then over Rodney's shoulder at the computer screen. "Okay, that's both neat and creepy all at the same time." He looked closer at the screen. "Is that its heart beating?" he asked and looked over at Rodney.

"Yeah, I think so," Rodney replied and reached forward to start typing again.

"Uh-uh," Sheppard said and took Rodney's arm. "You know the rules. The night before a mission, team dinner and early night." He looked over at Beckett. "He good to go, Doc? As normal as we can hope for?"

"Oh, thanks for that," Rodney groused but stood up from the computer.

Beckett smiled as he rescued the mouse from under the cover and put it back in the cage. "Yes, you're both as healthy as I can hope." He looked over at Rodney and then Sheppard. "Try to come back in the same condition, won't you?"