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Learning The Hard Way

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Rodney stepped through the 'gate and let out the breath he'd been holding as he looked around. Until he actually stepped through the wormhole to P9X-291, he wasn't sure Carson or Elizabeth wouldn't find another excuse to force him to stay in Atlantis.

The two times he'd broken his wrist, he'd been back to his regular routine after a few days once the casts were removed. He'd expected the same once Carson took the cast off his leg. He hadn't been prepared for how hard it would be to walk after spending six weeks hopping around on crutches. Once the cast had been removed, he ached almost as much as when he'd been trapped in the rubble after the Wraith grenade exploded. His leg had refused to hold his weight, and the exercises Carson made him do were both painful and exhausting.

Since he had still been on restricted duty after the cast came off, he wasn't able to do any work around the city, leaving any repairs or checks to Zelenka and his engineers. He'd spent the time in his lab either puttering with various Ancient objects or working on his plan to combine the shield and cloaking emitters. While he'd never admit it to anyone, he'd been a little bored the last two weeks with little to really do and no one around to talk to.

Teyla had gone off on the mainland, John had spent most of their downtime training one team or another which meant he wasn't around much, either, and Rodney still wasn't sure where he stood with Dex. He hadn't realised how much he counted on things like their regular team breakfast, his twice-weekly defence lessons with Teyla, or the fact that John would drop by his lab with coffee and keep him company until it had all stopped.

He had tried to eat with Dex a few times when both John and Teyla were away, but Dex never said much and Rodney, never one for small talk at the best of times, didn't know how to keep the conversation going. When John or Teyla invited Dex to join them for a meal, Rodney had used them as a buffer, letting them take the lion's share of conversation duties while he concentrated on eating and adding just enough input to count as participating. It seemed Dex had employed the same tactic. Left to themselves, neither knew what to say to the other.

He pushed those thoughts aside as he looked around at the surrounding landscape and carefully stepped off the dais. It felt like summer on the planet, pleasantly warm, yet not too hot, a refreshing breeze keeping the heat from becoming oppressive. He heard the sound of waves crashing off to his left, a reminder they were on a bit of a clock to save what they could from the archive before it was destroyed.

The area around the 'gate was lush and green, the grass at least a meter high with small pink flowers blooming in patches. They could have flown a jumper through easily, but there wasn't much point. The forest started only a kilometer from the clearing, and from the images the MALP had sent back, there didn't appear to be anywhere near the Ancient structure where they could safely land.

Rodney pulled out the Ancient scanner and started a search for life signs. "The scanner isn't picking anything up between us and the forest," he reported a moment later. "No surprise there is abundant life in the ocean." He looked up. "The only other readings it's getting are several kilometers away in that direction." He pointed off to their right.

"Any ideas what they could be?" John asked as he scanned the area near the 'gate.

Rodney shook his head. "There are several dots clustered together. It could be people, or it could be a herd of animals." He switched the scanner to look for energy signatures and frowned. "I'm not getting any energy readings."

"Guess that means we find this archive of yours the old fashioned way," John said and stepped down from the dais. "Teyla, take point. I've got our six."

"Yes, Colonel," Teyla replied. Rodney noticed she watched the surrounding area with wary attention and kept one hand on the P-90 clipped to her vest.

"I'll carry the generator," Rodney said, and looked around for the device.

"I've got the generator, don't worry," John replied, and picked up the small blocky object next to his feet.

Rodney started to protest, but John spoke over him. "Beckett told me the same conditions he told you. No lifting or carrying anything, remember?"

Rodney glowered for a moment longer before he followed Teyla as she walked past the DHD toward the forest. The grass came up almost to her knees, and Rodney noted there wasn't the usual path leading away from the stargate. According to the reports, there were supposedly people on the planet; it seemed strange there was no evidence they used the 'gate. Every other world they'd visited since their arrival in the Pegasus galaxy had some sort of trade network. It was strange finding a population so wholly self-sufficient.

"Weird there aren't any paths," John said as they started out, echoing Rodney's thoughts.

"I do not know of anyone who has visited this world," Teyla said from in front of them. "If this planet is regularly culled, it is possible the people here stay well hidden and refuse to come near the stargate out of a sense of fear or self-preservation."

"How regularly are we talking?" Rodney asked with a wary glance back at the 'gate then up at the sky.

"There is no way to be sure," Teyla replied. "I have known planets culled every few years."

Rodney gulped. "The chances of the Wraith coming while we're here is small, right? Or maybe they've already come and gone?"

"I'm sure we'll be fine," John said, and gave Rodney a light push to get him moving.

Rodney turned back to glare at him and caught John giving the 'gate a furtive look as well.

It didn't take long for them to reach the beginning of the trees. Sunlight played through the leaves, and Rodney heard a near-constant rustling as the thin branches quaked in the breeze. The trees reminded him of aspen or birch, their white, paper-like bark and small rounded leaves not that different from the trees he knew on Earth.

John glanced around, then pointed off to their left where Rodney could hear the sound of water breaking against the cliff. "The building should be in that direction."

Teyla nodded and led the way into the forest at an easy pace. The trees changed as they moved deeper into the woods, the aspen or birch trees giving way to maple and oak-looking trees that towered over them.

They hiked for an hour, stopping twice to give Rodney a chance to rest his leg, before coming out into a small clearing and found what Rodney thought was an Ancient archive. The building was long and low to the ground, the rounded stone roof forming the sides of the building as well as the top. A single door was inset into the middle of the front of the building with small windows on either side of the door.

Even with the rest breaks, Rodney was silently relieved they'd finally found the building. The forest was at the top of a shallow valley, and Rodney hadn't accounted for the rising elevation or how it would affect him. His leg had started aching fifteen minutes into their journey, but he was loathe to say anything after the fuss he'd made during the briefing that he was fine. Rodney knew he wasn't fooling John, he'd seen Sheppard rub the back of his head a few times as they walked. He suspected from the curious looks Teyla gave both of them that she knew something was wrong as well.

He found a convenient rock for his backpack and rummaged through the large main pocket until he found the bottle of pain medication Carson had given him and a bottle of water. He swallowed a couple of the pills and offered the bottle to John.

"Took something the last time we stopped," he said over the sound of the waves crashing below. "Sit down and rest a minute. Teyla and I will scout around and make sure there's no one else here."

John set the portable generator next to the rock as Rodney moved his pack and sat down with a grunt. John tapped him on the shoulder then turned to Teyla. "You take the left, I'll go right."

Rodney watched as they split up and took separate sides of the clearing. He pulled a power bar out of his vest pocket and ate it while John and Teyla looked around.

"There is no one here," Teyla reported a few minutes later. "Something is strange, however."

"Yeah, I think I know what you mean," Sheppard replied. "It doesn't look like anyone ever comes here."

Teyla nodded. "Precisely. Many people consider the Ancestors as gods to be worshipped. While the village is not near this clearing, I would expect to see signs of pilgrimages or other evidence the building is visited regularly."

Rodney glanced from John to Teyla. "So, what are you saying?" He looked around the clearing.

"I think we need to be careful," John replied with another look around the clearing. "Something just doesn't feel right about this place."

Rodney started to his feet, wincing as he put too much weight on his left leg. He shook off John's hand on his arm and tried not to limp as he made his way over to the door. He tried not to think about the last time John had had a strange feeling about a planet.

"This is Ancient text," he muttered to himself. "It's not at all like the writing on that house." He rubbed his arm and shuddered despite the warmth of the day as he thought about the Eidolon.

John blew up that house, he reminded himself as he squinted at the worn writing over the door. The Eidolon is gone. He let out a breath and concentrated on the symbols over the door.

"Looks like a Quonset hut," John said as he stood next to Rodney. "If Quonset huts were made out of stone."

"What is a Quonset hut?" Teyla asked.

"Cheap military housing," John replied. "They're rounded off just like this. Saw them a lot when I was stationed in Afghanistan."

Rodney ignored the discussion as he tried to translate the faded writing. "I was right," he said a few seconds later and pointed to the symbols etched over the door. "See this symbol here, it means repository or archive. I knew it!" He stepped back with an eager look and studied the rest of the door. "Now I just have to figure out how to open the door." He ran his hands along the edge of the door, looking for the access panel.

"What about the rest?" John asked.

Rodney glanced up at the symbols as he searched for the panel. "Something about Kadmos and hidden secrets."

"Kadmos?" Teyla asked.

"I think it was someone's name," Rodney replied absently.

His fingers felt an indentation on the right side of the door. He brushed away the accumulated dirt and found what looked like the same door controls as in Atlantis, except recessed into the frame of the door.

He tapped the control panel and waited. He frowned when the panel didn't respond, and the door stayed firmly shut. He touched the control again, and when nothing happened, he pried off the cover and looked inside. The panel contained the usual three crystals, but the crystals were dark, and when he touched one, he didn't feel any vibrations indicating they had power.

"Good thing we brought the generator," he said and stepped back from the door. "There's no power to the door. Probably means there's no power to any of the other systems, either."

John hauled the generator over to the door, opened the top, plugged in two wires, and handed the leads off to Rodney.

Rodney took the wires, and after a careful examination of the crystals inside the mechanism, found the power crystal. He connected the leads to the crystal and stood back as John threw the switch for the generator.

The crystals inside the control panel glowed, and this time when Rodney tapped the surface, the door slid open a few centimeters before it stopped again. It wasn't much, but it was enough for John and Rodney to get their fingers wrapped around the edge, and push the doors open the rest of the way.

Teyla stood on one side of the doorway and scanned the room with the barrel light from her P-90. Rodney watched as she entered the building slowly, playing the barrel light around the room as she moved to the left of the door.

Rodney started to follow, but John blocked him with an arm before he could cross the threshold. "We don't know what's inside. Stay behind me," John ordered.

Rodney made a frustrated face but stepped aside and waited for John to lead the way inside. Teyla was several meters from the door on the left, John took the right side of the room.

Rodney played the light from his flashlight over the room as he followed John inside. He heard a soft snick as the door closed behind them, and the sound of the waves was muted. There was a little light filtering into the room from the dirt-covered windows, and Rodney also saw daylight through the cracks where the stones no longer fit tightly together in the walls and near the door.

The room itself was lined with rows of shelves holding an assortment of items from books of all sizes to various pieces of Ancient technology. Rodney's flashlight beam reflected off of a large screen against one wall with a console in front of it. A desk, cluttered with an assortment of items, sat next to the console.

Rodney stopped at the console and squirmed out of his pack as John and Teyla cleared the rest of the room. He dropped the backpack on the messy desk as he sat down on the stool in front of the screen and looked over the tiles arrayed on the console, happy when he recognised a few. The controls for the environmental systems were to his right, controls to access some sort of database were on his left.

"Did you check it for traps?" John asked from directly behind Rodney as he reached out a hand to touch the edge of the console.

Rodney tried hard not to jump and turned to Sheppard with a glare. "I thought you were checking the rest of the building."

John shrugged. "It's a Quonset hut, basically one big room, and not that big. You didn't answer me, did you check it for traps?"

"Who would booby trap an archive?" Rodney asked dismissively as he reached out to the edge of the console again.

John grabbed his hand and gave him a hard look. "Ancients keeping secrets make me nervous."

Rodney realised John was thinking of the moon and the Wraith experiments done by Crius and swallowed. John let him go, and he pulled his hand back. He examined the console and then the ceiling above him. "I think it's fine," he said and reached out to the edge of the console again.

The tiles remained stubbornly dark. Rodney grimaced as he slid off the stool and ducked under the console, waving the beam of the flashlight along the underside looking for the access panel.

"Can you bring --" He heard a thump beside him and peeked out from under the console to see the portable generator on the floor near his feet. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," John replied.

Ten minutes later, Rodney had the generator wired in and watched as the console glowed to life followed by the lights.

"Wow," Rodney muttered as the light glinted off of the Ancient devices arrayed along the shelves.

"You can say that again," John agreed, and Rodney heard the awe in his tone. "I think we hit the motherlode."

"What is all of this and why keep it on such a planet?" Teyla asked as she trailed a hand over one of the shelves holding various devices.

Rodney sat back on the stool, absently rubbing his leg as he scanned the tiles on the console. He gave a few of the tiles an experimental tap, then pulled a laptop and a set of cables out of his pack. The computer wasn't as compact as the combo-computer he'd had since soon after their arrival, but he managed to balance it awkwardly on the edge of the console. He plugged the computer into the console and paged through the information on the screen.

"According to this, Kadmos was some sort of historian," Rodney said as he read the screen. "This planet had a huge city that used to be an Ancient hub for both commerce and academia." He glanced up at John. "Then the Wraith discovered the planet. Kadmos built this," he waved a hand around the room," when the Ancients realised they couldn't save the city."

"How was it not destroyed by the Wraith when they attacked the planet?" Teyla asked.

Rodney shrugged. "Maybe it had some sort of cloak or shield protecting it. Once the power was drained, the building was visible again." He looked at the long shelves of devices. "By then though, the Ancients were long gone. Since there aren't any people living in this area now, the Wraith probably ignore it when they come through the 'gate."

"If the Wraith knew Ancients were on the planet, that could explain the regular cullings," John suggested as he leant over Rodney's shoulder and read the information on the computer screen.

"Indeed," Teyla agreed. "The Wraith would want to make sure the people here did not advance to the point where they might find and use the devices in this room."

"We're going to need a lot more people out here," Rodney said as he sat back on the stool. "This is going to take weeks to sort through. Maybe months."

John looked at his watch and then out the door. "All right, if we head back now --"

"Didn't you just hear what I said? We can't go back!" Rodney exclaimed. "I need to start organising these artefacts, prioritising what devices we take back first."

"There are only three of us, Rodney," John said, and Rodney knew he was trying to hold his temper. "If you want more people out here, we have to get back to the 'gate and call Elizabeth."

"So go," Rodney retorted and turned his back on Sheppard as he typed a new query into the computer. "It shouldn't take you that long to walk back to the 'gate. I'll start the data dump while you're gone."

"I'm not leaving you here alone," John said.

"I'm not some sort of helpless child." Rodney looked up with a scowl. "I can take care of myself." He pointed to the Beretta strapped to his leg. "Besides, you saw the same MALP reports I did. The scanner says there's no one around here, and you said yourself the room was safe."

"McKay -- " John started to say, and Rodney matched him glare for glare.

"I will stay with Rodney, Colonel," Teyla offered. "We will be all right here until your return."

Rodney looked from John to Teyla. He knew if John insisted they all go back to the 'gate together, there wasn't much he could do about it.

"Fine," John said a few moments later. "You do not leave this room." John glared at Rodney. "I don't care what happens, you two stay here and watch each other's back."

"We will stay here," Teyla promised, and Rodney nodded absently as he read the data on the computer screen.

"Here," Rodney said, and held out the Ancient scanner.

John shook his head. "I'll be fine." He glanced at his watch. "I should be back in a couple of hours."

Rodney waited until John was gone, then said, "Thank you, for …" He nodded at the door where John had disappeared.

"You are welcome," Teyla replied and went back to examining the objects on the shelves. "I admit, I too am curious about the artefacts in this room," she added as she picked up one of the books. "My people's knowledge of the Ancestors is fragmentary at best."

Rodney tapped several of the tiles on the console looking for any sort of inventory or manifest of what Kadmos had stored in the room.

"Has John said anything more to you about Ronon staying in the city and joining our team?" Teyla asked after several minutes of silence.

Rodney shook his head as he read the data scrolling across the computer screen. "Last I heard, he was still thinking about whether or not he wanted to stay." Rodney looked up from the computer. "Not sure what he really needs to think about. Where else is he going to go?"

Teyla smiled as she walked over and stood at the edge of the console. "So he is no longer a stray to grudgingly accept?"

Rodney grimaced as he looked over at her. "To be fair, when I said that, I had just been cut out of a tree."

Teyla laughed. "I suppose that would color your impression of him."

Rodney sat back on the stool. "He did take over some of your defence classes while you were gone," he said thoughtfully. "I guess that's a good sign he might be staying."

"And what did you think of Ronon as a teacher?"

Rodney rubbed his aching leg, shuddered, and tapped a new query into the computer. "Do I look insane to you? I'll start training with the Marines before I give Dex a chance to kill me even in a so-called controlled setting."

"I doubt Ronon would really hurt you," she said with another smile.

"I'm not willing to take that bet," Rodney muttered under his breath as he read the new information on the computer screen.

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

Ronon sat in the corner of the mess hall near the windows, splitting his attention between the comings and goings of the people around him and watching the two moons rising outside, their soft glow reflecting off the water. The views were one reason after eight weeks he was still in Atlantis. Sheppard, Beckett, Teyla, even McKay, in his own way, was another, bigger, reason. It had been a long time since he'd felt a sense of camaraderie and friendship with anyone.

He still had a constant guard, but thanks to Sheppard suggesting he offer to teach anyone interested in Satedan combat tactics, the suspicion had been replaced with grudging respect. No one stared at him anymore as he sat eating, and several of the Marines even nodded or made some other gesture of greeting when they saw him.

He glanced up from his plate and saw Beckett enter the mess hall right on time. Ronon watched as he gathered his dinner, filled a cup and looked around the room. It didn't take him long to find Ronon sitting against the windows.

"Hello, Ronon. May I join you?" Beckett asked a few moments later.

Ronon jerked his head at the chair across from him and went back to his own meal.

They ate in silence for several minutes until Beckett said, "You seem to be settling in here fairly well." He gave Ronon a sideways look around his cup and added, "I know Colonel Sheppard is still eager to have you on his mission team. In fact, I'm a bit surprised he didn't have you tag along on this planet survey they left on today."

Ronon shrugged and picked up the hamburger on his plate. "Haven't decided if I'm staying or not," he replied as he took a bite.

Beckett gave him a knowing look. "I think you have, son. The fact you're still here tells me you want to stay in the city. The only thing you still need to decide is if you plan to accept Colonel Sheppard's offer to join him and Teyla and Rodney." He studied Ronon for a moment. "You aren't letting anyone down, or forgetting about them, by deciding to stay, you know."

Ronon stared out the window, finishing the burger, lost in thought as Beckett went back to his dinner. Beckett's comment had hit surprisingly close to the mark, and Ronon was surprised the doctor had read him so well. He still wasn't sure he wasn't somehow letting Melena and his friends down if he chose to stay in Atlantis and help Sheppard fight the Wraith rather then setting out on his own to exact his revenge.

He was pulled out of his ruminations ten minutes later when Beckett said, "I haven't had as many of your students in my infirmary the last few days." Beckett looked over at him with a smile. "Does that mean they are getting better?"

Ronon shrugged. "Some of them. They have the basics down. I want to start some weapons training next. Will need to talk to Sheppard about it first, I guess."

Beckett looked up as he finished his coffee. "What sort of weapons?"

"Knives."

Beckett set his coffee cup down. "You plan to use dummy knives, I hope."

Ronon glanced over at him and smiled. "Where's the fun in that."

Beckett started to sputter.

Ronon waited a beat and smiled slightly.

Beckett gave him a hard look as he got the joke and stood. "Well, I'm sorry to eat and run, but I have some research I'm working on in the medical lab that's on the delicate side."

"See you later, Doc."

Beckett hadn't been gone long when Doctor Zelenka and another scientist entered the mess hall, filled their plates, wandered over to Ronon's corner of the room.

"Has anyone heard from Doctor McKay yet?" the man asked Zelenka.

Ronon remembered seeing the man in the infirmary after the Wraith grenade had gone off in a neighboring tower. The man had been in a bed not far from Ronon's, and he remembered the man's name was Adam. Unlike the Marines, Ronon hadn't spent much time with any of the scientists other than McKay and Zelenka.

Zelenka shook his head as he and Adam sat at a nearby table. Zelenka gave Ronon a nod and a smile before he dropped a folder on the table and turned to Adam. "Colonel Sheppard's team is not scheduled to check-in until tomorrow. Hopefully, Rodney will have a better idea of what this archive contains when he calls."

"If it really is a cache of Ancient artefacts stored on the planet, it would be an amazing discovery," Adam said and started to eat. "I wonder if Doctor Weir would consider setting up a sort of research annex on the planet. It would simplify the cataloguing of any weapons and the artefacts immensely if we had long term access to the site."

Ronon heard the conversation and was reminded of how he had initially scoffed at the idea of Sheppard and his people searching the Pegasus galaxy for whatever technology the Ancestors had left behind. At the time, he couldn't see much of a point. The Ancestor's technology obviously hadn't prevented the Wraith from taking over the galaxy thousands of years ago, what made these people think those weapons would work any better now?

A few weeks after he and McKay had been rescued from the tower explosion, Sheppard had taken him on the promised tour of the planet and told him about the Wraith siege of the city.

Ronon looked out the front windscreen of the jumper as Sheppard made a slow pass over the city. It was clear to him the city had suffered significant damage during a recent attack.

"What happened? Ronon had asked as they passed over one of the long arms near the edge of the city. The pier was scarred with what looked like recent scorch marks, and several buildings needed repairs.

"Wraith," John said shortly. "We'd known they were coming for a few weeks and were able to fight off the first wave of hive ships. Unfortunately, a second wave of a dozen ships nearly destroyed the city."

Ronon stared at Sheppard. During his time in the Satedan military and seven years running, he had never heard of anyone surviving a culling from one hive ship, much less several. "How did you survive?"

Sheppard smiled. "Rodney out-bluffed them," he said cryptically, though Ronon could see the pride in Sheppard's expression.

"You don't bluff the Wraith," he replied with a scowl.

Sheppard studied Ronon for a few seconds then said, "Rodney did. He made it look like the Wraith had succeeded in blowing up the city, when in fact he and Zelenka had figured out a way to cloak it without them realising it." John looked out at the city below. "The Wraith think Atlantis, and everyone in it, was destroyed."

Ronon had spent the rest of the trip thinking about how Sheppard and his people had done something no one else had managed. They had fooled the Wraith. If they could do that, he realised, then maybe it was possible they could destroy the Wraith once and for all.

"I am not sure an outpost would be feasible," Zelenka said as Ronon gathered up his dishes and stood from his table. "The planet is inhabited, though the natives do not seem to live near the stargate."

Ronon's ears perked up at that comment. There had been rumors of a planet with a building filled with rare items just waiting for someone to come take them and make their fortune. He didn't know of anyone who had successfully brought anything back from the planet, however, and a few years later he found out why.

It couldn't be the same planet, he told himself. There had to be dozens of worlds with old buildings made by the Ancestors.

As he passed Zelenka's table, he glanced at the pictures scattered across the surface of the table between the two scientists and froze. The images were grainy, but it was easy for him to see the open area surrounding the Ancestor's ring and the tall thin trees in the near distance.

Why would they go there? Ronon wondered even as the answer stared him in the face. McKay, he thought to himself. He must have seen the building and convinced Sheppard they needed to visit the planet.

"Even if we're only able to stay a few weeks --" Adam started to say, but Ronon interrupted.

"Sheppard went to this planet? When?" Ronon asked. He dropped his tray on a nearby table, ignoring the startled response from his ever-present watchdogs. He picked up one of the pictures and studied it further.

The building would have tempted McKay the same way it had tempted so many others. Ronon growled low in his throat. The Marines shifted slightly and fingered their weapons.

Zelenka looked up, and Ronon could see the mixture of fear and uncertainty in his expression. "Yes, they left," Zelenka looked at his watch, "roughly four hours ago."

Ronon stared at the image of the low building surrounded by trees. He could be wrong, he told himself. There were lots of planets with the same sort of trees. There was one way to know for sure.

He looked up from the picture and growled, "Was this the only building near the ring?"

Zelenka pushed up his glasses and nodded. "There appears to be a settlement of some sort some distance away from the stargate. The building is on a cliff and, yes, it is the only structure near the 'gate itself."

Ronon pressed his lips together. It wasn't conclusive, but the more he looked at the image, the more he was sure he was right. Sheppard had gone to Mendar.

"I need to talk to Doctor Weir. Now." He glared at the two guards standing behind him, tense and alert.

Zelenka stood. "I don't understand. There did not appear to be anything dangerous about the planet."

"Trust me, that planet is more dangerous than you can imagine. I need to see Weir."

Zelenka took one more look at Ronon's face, picked up the scattered pictures, and nodded. "Yes, yes, come with me."

Ronon followed as Zelenka led the way out of the mess hall and up to the control room. One of the men looked up from his console, a startled look on his face, as Ronon and Zelenka passed the control room looking serious and determined, and tapped on the open door to the glassed-in office.

"Radek?" Weir said as she looked up from her computer and glanced first at Zelenka, then Ronon and his guards. "Is something wrong."

"I believe so," Zelenka said and stepped into the office. "It is possible we made a mistake sending Colonel Sheppard's team to P9X-291. According to Ronon," Zelenka nodded to Ronon standing near the door with his arms crossed over his chest, "the planet is extremely dangerous."

Weir glanced at Ronon and motioned him into the office. "Wait outside," she added to the two Marines trailing behind him.

Ronon glanced at his guards then followed Zelenka into the office.

"Ronon, please sit down," Weir said once the office door was closed.

Ronon shook his head and stood with his hands behind his back, not quite at attention, but still a position for a soldier reporting to a superior.

Weir accepted that. "What do you know about P9X-291? Why is it so dangerous?"

Ronon studied her face for a moment, and when he saw she meant to take what he had to say seriously, he relaxed slightly and said, "It's not the planet, it's the people."

"Go on."

"They sacrifice anyone who comes through the ring of the Ancestors to their gods," Ronon told her bluntly.

Ronon heard Zelenka mutter something under his breath and glanced over to see the shocked look on his face. "Elizabeth," he whispered. "They have been there for hours."

Weir took a deep breath, and Ronon saw her hands clench together on her desk. "And you're sure this is the same planet?"

Ronon gestured to the images in Zelenka's hand, and Zelenka handed them to him. "I've been there. When I was running." He pulled one of the images of the structure out of the stack and set it on Weir's desk. "This building is at the edge of some woods. It's in a clearing overlooking an ocean not far from the ring of the Ancestors. There have been stories. People go to Mendar to scavenge whatever they could find. They're never seen or heard from again."

"And you think it's because the people on this planet kill anyone who comes through the 'gate."

Ronon scowled at the question. "I watched them do it."

Weir ducked her head. "How did you escape?" she asked a moment later.

Ronon studied her face for a moment. Was it curiosity? Suspicion? He decided she genuinely wanted to know. "The Wraith following me underestimated the people living there. I was hiding nearby and watched as they captured it, took it back to their temple near the foothills, and then killed it. I didn't wait for them to find me. I ran for the ring," he told her, his expression neutral.

Weir looked up in shock. "They captured a Wraith?"

Ronon nodded. "And killed it."

"You saw this."

Ronon crossed his arms over his chest again. "Yep."

Weir stared at him a moment longer, then tapped her earpiece. "Weir to Major Lorne."

She paused for a moment then said, "Major, we have a situation. Your mission to P2R-483 is off. Come to my office."

She tapped off her radio and looked up at Ronon. "Major Lorne will be here in a few minutes. I need you to tell him everything you remember about the people on that planet."

Two minutes later, Lorne knocked on the door, and Weir waved him inside.

"You said something about a situation, ma'am?" Lorne said as he stood in front of her desk.

Weir nodded. "According to Ronon, Colonel Sheppard and his team may have run into trouble on P9X-291."

"Mendar," Ronon said from where he stood against the wall.

"Mendar," Weir corrected. "It seems the local population may be hostile toward any visitors who come through the stargate."

"Hostile in what way, ma'am?" Lorne asked with a quick glance at Ronon.

"Ronon?"

Ronon looked from Weir to Lorne. "That settlement you saw from your machine is a decoy. The actual village is hidden in a valley in the forest near some foothills. The people on Mendar capture anyone they can who comes through the ring. Prisoners are taken back to the village, and after some sort of ceremony …" He looked out the window at the Ancestor's ring below. "They take their prisoners to the top of a stone structure, tie them to an altar, cut the heart out, and burn it."

He heard the sharp intake of breath from Zelenka standing beside him and saw Weir and Lorne pale as what he told them sank in.

"I guess we know where the Aztecs got the idea," he heard Lorne mutter at the same time and wondered what an Aztec was.

Weir ducked her head for a moment then looked up. Ronon was relieved to see the determined expression on her face. It meant he wouldn't have to go to the planet alone. "I'm sending your team to bring them back, Major."

"Yes, ma'am," Lorne replied his own expression hard.

Ronon stepped toward the desk. He wasn't going to be left behind; he owed Sheppard too much to not volunteer to find him. This would even the balance slightly.

"I'm going with them," Ronon said, his blunt statement brooked no argument.

"I don't think --" Weir started to say.

"You need me," Ronon pointed out. "I've been there before."

Weir studied his face, and Ronon glared back.

"You've been to this planet?" Lorne asked into the silence. "And made it back through the 'gate?"

Ronon nodded, never taking his eyes off Weir.

"His knowledge of the planet could be invaluable, ma'am," Lorne said. "We could use his help."

Weir looked from Ronon to Lorne. After a moment, she sighed. "Fine. Go."

Lorne turned toward the door and jerked his head for Ronon to follow.

"Bring them back, Major," Weir said.

"I intend to, ma'am," Lorne replied and left the office.

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

John took a deep breath as he headed back through the woods to the 'gate. There was no real rush, technically Elizabeth wasn't expecting them to check-in for another six hours, and it wasn't every day he could take the time to just enjoy one of the planets they visited. He savored the rare chance to enjoy the pleasant weather and soak up a bit of nature as he listened to the birds chirping in the trees and the insects buzzing around him.

Ever since he was a boy, he'd loved the outdoors, camping, surfing, anything to be outside. Maybe he should talk to Elizabeth about some downtime for the three of them. Maybe head to the mainland, camp on the beach. They just had to stay as far away as possible from any Ancient totem poles, he thought with a wry smile.

Sheppard watched the dappled sunlight on the forest floor and smiled to himself. If they really were going to have a team camping trip, he'd ask Dex to come along. If he wanted Ronon to join the team, he needed to give Dex a reason to say yes. Show him that he was already part of the team and that they wanted him to stay.

Sheppard knew McKay would argue against the idea. John could admit their previous attempts at a team getaway had ended badly with a cave-in and the gauntlet from hell. On the other hand, they'd spent most of the last eight weeks going their separate ways, it was time for a little team bonding. Now that Rodney was reasonably mobile, it was as good a time as any for the three of them to spend some time together, away from Atlantis and the day-to-day problems. They needed some time to regroup.

He took another deep breath and relaxed slightly as he walked. Contrary to what he'd said to Rodney in the archive, he didn't think the planet or the building posed that much of a risk. If he had, he never would have left Rodney and Teyla alone without backup.

If anything, the discussion with McKay hammered home the fact he really needed to get Ronon on board with joining the team. It hadn't been a priority while Rodney had been laid up, but now that they were back in the field, John knew they couldn't continue as a three-man team long-term.

If Dex had been with them, it wouldn't have been an issue to leave Rodney at the building. Teyla could have come back with him to the 'gate while Ronon stayed with McKay. As it was, if anyone had to be alone, even on an apparently deserted planet, John preferred it was him.

A flock of birds took flight not far away from him. John froze, the P-90 up and ready, and waited several moments.

Even if there weren't people around, there were still animals, he reminded himself as he took a wary look around. He waited several more seconds, and when nothing else happened, John relaxed his aim and continued his trek back to the 'gate.

He couldn't really blame Rodney for wanting to stay and play with the Ancient toys. Along with any new discoveries to be made, he'd seen McKay surreptitiously rubbing his calf, and the itch at the back of his head told John the leg had to be aching.

He was in a small clearing not more than a mile from the archive when he noticed something was off. It was too quiet, no insects buzzed, the birds in the trees were silent. It even seemed as if the waves had stopped crashing against the cliff. John stopped and slowly turned in place, regretting the Ancient scanner he'd left with McKay. He thought he saw something moving in the woods to his right and took a step toward the trees behind him looking for cover.

So much for the idea that the planet was deserted, he thought as he saw another shadowy shape in front of him. He inched toward the cover of the nearest trees, his head in constant motion as he looked for more movement. Still, better him than Rodney or Teyla, he told himself.

He saw a blur of movement in front of him just as something stabbed him in the back of the leg, upsetting his balance. He awkwardly twisted back around, fired off several rounds from the P-90, and glanced down to see an arrow sticking out of his left leg just above his knee.

There was more movement in the trees, and he fired several more shots as more arrows flew in his direction. One bounced off the tac-vest, but another caught him between his right shoulder and chest where the strap for the vest left a gap. His arm spasmed in pain, and he dropped the P-90. The arrow wasn't embedded very deep, and he pulled it out with a groan, dropped it on the ground and looked around for the fallen weapon.

More arrows flew out from his unseen attackers in the trees. John tried to run, but his leg buckled under him and he dropped to one knee.

He stopped moving, and the arrows stopped as quickly as they started. John slowly stood and tried to take a step. Another arrow shot out of the surrounding forest, thudding into the ground at his feet. He stopped again and slowly raised his hands. For a moment, nothing happened.

John turned in a circle, watching as much of the forest as he could. He saw twenty men, with short dark hair, and dressed in hides, all of them taller than he was, come out of the woods and surround him. Each man carried a bow raised toward him with an arrow nocked and ready. They closed around him in a circle, leaving no gaps he could run through even if his leg didn't have an arrow sticking out of it.

"Look, if you wanted us to leave, all you had to do was say so," he said and looked from one man to the next trying to figure out who was in charge.

The blow came so fast, John never saw it. The punch dropped him painfully to his knees, and the arrow dug further into the back of his leg. John spat blood from his split lip and looked up with a glare.

"La ofero ne parolos," the large man standing in front of him growled.

Ofero? That sounds an awful lot like 'offering', John thought as he knelt on the ground. What the hell was going on here? he asked himself and looked around the circle of men surrounding him.

The large man glared at him a moment longer, then spoke to his men. Even though John couldn't understand a word he said, the words were clearly orders as the men fanned out and searched the clearing.

The men returned several minutes later, shaking their heads.

"Kie estas la aliaj?" the man demanded with a glare at John.

John tried to make his expression as innocent as possible. "I'd love to help, but I have no idea what you're saying. I don't suppose you speak English?"

The man curled his lip and back-handed John across the face again.

As John wiped the blood off his face, he saw movement in the trees and a flash of red hair. At the same time, several of the men turned in the same direction.

John wasn't sure what was happening or how they had angered the locals, and he certainly planned to have words with Teyla later about following him after she'd promised to stay with McKay, but all of that could wait for the moment. They needed to deal with the armed and clearly dangerous men first, he wasn't going to let any of his people get captured if he could help it.

Three of the men started toward the trees and John lunged at them, ignoring the tearing feeling in his leg as the arrow shifted when he moved.

He managed to bring two of the men down and heard the rapid fire of a P-90. Several of the other men fell to the ground, moaning as the bullets found their mark.

Another man ripped the arrow out of John's leg, dropping Sheppard back to the ground, and tried to stab him with it. John cried out as the arrow came out of his leg and barely stopped the bloody arrow aimed at his chest in time. He tried to stand, but his leg refused to hold his weight, and he ducked another blow from his attacker as more shots from the P-90 peppered the men surrounding him.

Even as a few more of the men went down, John knew they weren't going to win. There were too many, and he couldn't stop the men closing in on Teyla's position.

He managed to get the arrow away from the man on top of him, pushed the man off, rolled over, and yelled, "Teyla! Run!" just as he felt a hard blow to the back of his head.

As the world dimmed around him, he heard more gunshots, then silence as his world faded to black.