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Learning The Hard Way

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Rodney pored over the data from the console as he downloaded as much information as he could to the computer. He didn't know who this Kadmos person was, but his archive was a godsend as far as Rodney as concerned. Along with any weapons that would make John and the rest of the military salivate, the sheer volume of scientific research would keep Rodney and his teams busy for months.

He stood and limped over to the nearest row of shelves, wandered along, looking for any symbols he recognised on the spines of the thick tomes. He found the Ancient symbols for the stargate on one of the books, grunted as he pulled down the heavy volume, balanced the book on the edge of the shelf, and opened it to a random page. From what he could translate, it appeared to be a description of the naquadah reserves used to power the 'gate when it opened a wormhole. He ran a finger down the page, picking out a word here or there. Once again, he wished for some sort of universal translator like the ones on television that would let him instantly understand the text.

"Rodney?" Teyla said as she came up beside him. "Should you be standing? Did Doctor Beckett not say you needed to take time to rest?"

Rodney glanced at her as he closed the book. "I'm fine," he replied as he limped back to the desk, the thick book tucked in one hand.

He set the book down next to his pack. He wanted to make sure they took it back with them, maybe that linguist, Chaudhri, would have better luck translating the contents. He went back to scanning the shelves, wondering if there was a book describing how to manufacture Zed-PMs somewhere.

He was reaching for another promising text when a searing spike of pain went through his skull.

He cried out and grabbed for the edge of the shelf as he felt himself falling. He landed on his side, his left leg throbbing in time with his head as it twisted under him.

"Rodney! What happened?" Teyla asked, and Rodney felt her hand on his arm. "Did you injure your leg?"

Rodney groaned and shook his head as he tried to sit up. "Not leg," he muttered. "Head. Feels like -- " He moaned, grabbed his skull again, and curled into a ball as another smaller spike of pain hit him.

He heard Teyla hiss beside him even as she rubbed one of his arms. He opened his eyes and stared at her, hoping his question was plain in his expression.

"I think Colonel Sheppard is in trouble," she told him.

"What?" Rodney groaned, and tried to uncurl from the floor. "How can you possibly know that?" he asked as he slowly sat up.

"Your reaction matches that of John's when you are injured." She stood and helped Rodney to his feet. "We need to find him. Quickly."

Rodney nodded and followed as fast as he could as Teyla hurried back up the row of shelves.

"I got hit with a blinding headache in Elizabeth's office. Not something I could really hide from her."

Rodney knew about the low-grade headache Sheppard dealt with any time he was trapped in the infirmary. Rodney had had his share of headaches as a side effect of John's injuries as well. He'd forgotten about the spike Sheppard had told him about after the transformer blew up.

The few times John had been seriously injured, Rodney had either been dealing with his own injuries or unconscious. He'd never felt a spike before. Now he realised John hadn't been exaggerating when he said the spikes were excruciating and something he hadn't been able to hide.

He reached the end of the shelves at the same time Teyla reached the door.

"Colonel Sheppard, it is Teyla, can you hear me?" she asked over the radio as she pushed open the door, and raised her P-90 as she stepped outside. "Colonel Sheppard, please respond!" she said again and glanced back at Rodney with a shake of her head.

"Go," he told her. "I'm right behind you."

Teyla hesitated for a moment, then gave him a quick nod. Rodney saw her running toward the nearby trees.

He was almost back to the door when another spike hit him, dropping him back to the floor. He fought the black spots dancing in his vision and tried to breathe through the pain. He needed to get up, he told himself. Sheppard was in trouble and needed help.

Rodney's head pounded as he crawled to the door and used the frame to lever himself back to his feet. The spike of pain had ebbed, but the headache was still there as well as a tingling feeling at the base of his skull that didn't stop.

He staggered out the door and squinted as the sun stabbed into his skull, making his head pound even more. He rubbed his forehead and looked around. He had no idea which way Sheppard had gone to get back to the 'gate. His head shot up at the sound of gunshots off to his left, and Rodney headed in the same direction. His hand reached for the radio, but he stopped short of using it. If either John or Teyla was hiding, he didn't want to give away their position.

He forgot all about the computer still downloading information from the Ancient console, the shelves of Ancient devices and books, even his backpack, as he limped through the woods, bracing himself on various trees as he stumbled toward the sounds of the gunfight. If Teyla was right, John was in serious trouble and needed help. He felt at his hip for the Beretta as he continued through the trees as fast as his aching leg would carry him.

There was another spurt of gunfire in the distance, then silence. Rodney froze, his body tense as he waited. Had Teyla reached John in time and they were on their way back to find him? he wondered. Or had something happened, and he was the only one left to try and rescue them? He unholstered the Beretta, stood with his back against a tree, and waited.

There was nothing over the radio, and Rodney debated once again whether or not he should try to contact Sheppard or Teyla. He settled for tapping the transmitter three times, the team's silent code to check-in.

"This is not good," he muttered to himself as he stared into the trees, hoping to see John and Teyla coming back toward him.

He waited several more minutes, and when he was neither attacked nor did he see Sheppard or Teyla reappear, he continued through the trees to the last place he'd heard the gunshots.

He reached the edge of a small clearing several minutes later and looked around in shock.

The bodies of several large men, dressed in what looked like animal hides, lay on the ground. Each body was riddled with bullet wounds. Whoever these people were, John and Teyla had put up a fight before … Before what? he wondered as he raised the Beretta and inched his way into the clearing.

Rodney felt his heart hammering as he stepped around the dead men and looked around the rest of the clearing. Broken arrows and spent brass littered the churned up ground, but there was no sign of Teyla or Sheppard.

"If they had killed all of their attackers, they would have come back for you," he told himself as he looked around. "Since they didn't come back, they must have been captured." He refused to consider the other option, that they weren't merely taken, but lying dead somewhere in the surrounding forest.

"If Sheppard were dead, you'd know it," Rodney reassured himself. He imagined the link snapping like a rubber band pulled too tight and shuddered.

He limped around the edge of the clearing and found a P-90 lying on the ground near the edge of the open space. He swallowed hard when he saw the red stain on the ground near the rifle. John's blood? he wondered. Teyla's? Or someone else's? He holstered the Beretta, bent down, carefully picked up the discarded rifle, and automatically checked to see how much ammunition was left. He searched the clearing again looking for anything else that could tell him what had happened to his missing teammates.

Should he forego trying to find Sheppard and Teyla and head back to the stargate? He had the scanner he should be able to find the 'gate quickly enough. Rodney patted the vest pocket where he usually kept the Ancient device and growled when he remembered it was still in the building, sitting on the edge of the console next to his computer where John had set it before he'd left.

Okay, he thought to himself, he didn't have the scanner, but even without it, it would probably be easier to find the stargate. Should he risk the time it would take to go back, explain to Elizabeth how he'd lost the rest of his team and then wait for her to put together a search team? He rubbed his forehead in an effort to ease the headache. If John and Teyla were in real trouble, they might not have that kind of time, he mentally argued.

He leant against the nearest tree and scrubbed a hand over his face. Trying to find Sheppard and Teyla on his own was just as risky, he knew. He had no idea how to track someone through a forest, he wasn't Special Operations trained like Sheppard nor had he spent his entire life hunting game like Teyla.

And what would he do if he did find them? He could barely walk, he told himself. He wouldn't be doing them any favors if the only thing he managed to do was get himself captured as well.

Rodney had almost convinced himself to head back for the 'gate when another thought hit him. It was entirely his fault Sheppard was missing, and possibly hurt, in the first place. If he hadn't been so focused on the treasure trove of artefacts in the room, if he'd only agreed to go back to the 'gate with John, it was possible the three of them together would have been able to fight off whatever had attacked Teyla and Sheppard and taken them who knew where. This was his mess to clean up, he realised. He could go back to Atlantis with his tail between his legs, or he could do the right thing and find his missing teammates.

"And that's lesson two, McKay," Sheppard's voice echoed in his head. "No one gets left behind. You get yourself in trouble, and we will be there to get you out."

"Well, Sheppard, it looks like you're the one in trouble this time, so I guess it's my turn again." He kept the P-90 in his right hand and scanned the ground for any other clues as to where John and Teyla might have gone. He found what he hoped was a path leading out of the clearing and started following it.

He'd limped through the woods for several minutes, following the faint traces, eating a power bar, before he realised his head hurt less and the tingling feeling at the base of his skull had gone away.

"Finally," he muttered to himself. "Maybe now I can think straight."

He'd gone several more meters along the trail before another thought struck him. Something John had told him about how he'd used the connection of the link to find Rodney and Teyla after Rasha had kidnapped them.

"You never did tell me how you found us," Rodney had said as they sat out on one of the balconies a few days after their rescue from Rasha's clutches.

John shrugged and leant back in his chair. "You and Teyla were both leaving breadcrumbs," he replied, "I just followed them."

Rodney watched the water for a moment, then shook his head. "But how did you know we were still in the ruins? I saw the reports. Ten of Rasha's men headed for the 'gate before you found us. You had no way of knowing Teyla and I weren't with them and gone for good."

John glanced over at him. "Actually, I did know you, at least, were still in the building." He pointed to his head. "The link told me. I just hoped Teyla was still there with you."

Rodney crossed his arms. "I'm not sure the Ancients meant for the link to be used as some sort of homing device."

John chuckled, but when he replied, his tone was deadly serious. "If it helps me find you, I'll use whatever I have to."

Rodney stopped short and looked around. Was the pain less because John was feeling better or because he was going the wrong way?

"You're a scientist," he said out loud. "Experiment and check your results."

Rodney stuffed the empty energy bar wrapper in his pocket, turned around, and headed back the way he'd come. It wasn't until he was back in the clearing itself that he felt the tingling at the base of his skull again.

He had been going the wrong way, he realised. So which way should he try next?

The tingling was becoming more and more faint. Did that mean John was still moving away from him? he wondered. If that was the case, he needed to decide on a direction soon, or he'd lose the link altogether.

Rodney walked around the clearing, concentrating on the link and what it was telling him. The tingling seemed a bit more pronounced off to his left.

"Great. That leads back to the archive," he muttered. "I could have just stayed there and saved myself the walk." Rodney took a deep breath, tightened his hold on the P-90, and headed in the new direction, letting the strength of the weird tingling feeling guide his steps.

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

Ronon stopped in his quarters long enough to grab his leather duster, then headed down to the armoury, his ever-present shadow in tow. For a moment, he wondered if the man silently trailing after him would be coming along on the mission as well.

"Reed, make sure you grab the first aid kit," he heard Lorne say as he walked into the armoury.

A thin man with dark hair nodded, pulled a green bag with a red cross emblazoned on it across the table and stuffed it into a large backpack.

"According to Dex, these people are known to be hostile, so make sure you have extra ammunition, too."

Lorne stood at the head of a small work table surrounded by three other men. The table was piled with various items the three men were packing into backpacks or the pockets of the vest they each wore.

Lorne looked up when Ronon entered the room and glanced at the man following him. "You're dismissed, Corporal," he told the Marine.

"Yes, sir." The Corporal saluted and left.

Lorne gave Ronon a quick nod. "What else can you tell me about these hostiles?" he asked as the other three men finished packing.

"They're armed with bows and knives," Ronon replied. "They probably watch the ring from the trees."

"But they didn't find you?" one of the men around the table asked in a suspicious tone.

Ronon glared across the table. "I got clear before they arrived. They caught the Wraith almost as soon as it came through." He turned to Lorne. "If they have captives already, we might get lucky, and they won't be watching the ring."

"So there's a chance we can take them by surprise?" the dark-haired man, Reed, asked.

Ronon shrugged. "Maybe." He didn't really think so, and looking at Lorne, the Major didn't believe it either.

"All right we sweep the area near the 'gate and head for the Ancient building," Lorne said. "It's possible Colonel Sheppard and his team are still there, none the wiser to the danger. We'll inform the Colonel of the threat and get everyone back to Atlantis."

"And if they aren't at the building?" Reed asked.

"Then we'll find them," Ronon said with a growl before Lorne could speak. "I know where the village is. If they've been captured, they'll be taken there."

Lorne checked a handgun and slid it into the holster at his hip. "If they have been captured, what's our timeline?"

Ronon studied Lorne's face for a moment. "When they captured the Wraith, they killed it just after sunset."

"It was already early afternoon on the planet when they left Atlantis. We may not have much time then," Lorne said, his expression grim.

"No, probably not," Ronon agreed.

"Here," Lorne said and held out a small earpiece. Ronon recognised it as the same type of radio McKay had used in the collapsed tower. "It's already set to my team's frequency, channel four. You know how to use this?"

Ronon nodded, hooked the radio over his ear, and watched as Reed and the others loaded and checked their weapons.

Lorne must have caught his look. He waved a hand at Ronon and said, "Come with me."

Ronon followed Lorne over to a corner of the room. He saw racks of rifles like the one Sheppard had had on the planet where they met along with what Ronon assumed was other ordinance. A chest of drawers, each fronted by a spinning dial, sat against the wall under a large slab of wood hung from the wall.

"What's with the wood?" Ronon asked as Lorne spun the dial on one of the larger drawers.

Lorne glanced up at the strange decoration. "Colonel Sheppard didn't tell you?"

Ronon shook his head.

Lorne looked from Ronon to the wood. "Huh." He turned back to the drawer and spun the dial in the opposite direction. "According to Sergeant Thompson," Lorne explained as he turned the dial back in the original direction, "Doctor McKay saved the Colonel's life with that." He bobbed his chin at the wood. "I never got the whole story, something about a forest, the two of them getting separated from Teyla and Ford, and Sheppard being seriously injured after his team was ambushed. Seems a little hard to believe someone like McKay was capable of getting Sheppard back through the 'gate alone, but Thompson swears it all really happened."

"Rodney will do whatever is necessary to protect John, just as John will risk himself to defend Rodney."

Ronon studied the slab of wood as he remembered what Teyla had told him his first night in Atlantis.

Lorne finished twisting the dial, opened the drawer, and pulled out a familiar weapon and holster. "Thought you'd probably want this," Lorne said as he handed over the particle weapon.

Ronon took the weapon, strapped on the holster, and checked the weapon's charge. "Thanks," he offered, and wondered if Weir knew he was now armed with something other than a knife.

Lorne shrugged. "You're welcome," he said as he led the way back to the front of the armoury. "Grab a vest and whatever supplies you need. We head out in five."

Ronon glanced at the last vest lying on the table and pushed it aside, he was used to travelling light. He found a canteen and hooked it to a loop on his belt. He also found some basic medical supplies and stuffed them in a pocket of the duster. There was an open box of power bars on a shelf and Ronon remembered a conversation with Sheppard in the infirmary after he and McKay had been rescued from the tower.

"If Rodney doesn't eat regularly, he gets the shakes, and if he goes too long without food, he'll pass out. That's something you need to know about if you decide to stay in Atlantis and join my team."

Did Lorne know about McKay's food problem? Ronon wondered. Something told him the answer was 'no'. Over the last few weeks, he'd heard McKay defend his eating habits loudly to several people in the mess hall, all of whom responded by rolling their eyes or otherwise dismissing his claim of hypoglycaemia.

Ronon grabbed a few of the foil-wrapped bars and shoved them into another pocket of the duster, then followed the rest of Lorne's team as they walked back to the room with the Ancestor's ring.

Stargate, he reminded himself as he entered the room. Sheppard's people called it a stargate.

Weir met them as they walked in, her expression neutral as she glanced at the gun strapped to his hip and watched Lorne and his team file past her. He noticed the small device she held in her hand and remembered seeing a similar object among the items in Sheppard's gear when they'd first met.

"Give us a minute, Major?" she said to Lorne.

Lorne glanced at his watch and nodded.

Weir motioned for Ronon to follow her back into the hallway.

"Don't try to stop me," Ronon told her, not bothering to disguise the growl in his voice.

Weir studied him for a moment. "I have no intention of stopping you," she told him. "Your knowledge of the planet could prove invaluable to Major Lorne, not to mention Colonel Sheppard."

"So what do you want?"

She held out the small device in her hand. "This is a GDO. It is how we verify someone is a friend before we lower the shield protecting our stargate."

Ronon took the object, turned it over in his hand, and examined the small screen and tiny keypad on one side.

"Each GDO is keyed to a specific person." Weir paused. "Zelenka showed it to me after you'd left my office. It seems Colonel Sheppard asked Rodney to set this one up for you a few weeks ago." Her expression wasn't pleased, and Ronon suspected Sheppard hadn't received permission from Weir before he'd talked to McKay.

She pulled a slip of paper out of her pocket. "This is your IDC code."

Ronon looked at the string of numbers.

"Your code will only work with the GDO assigned to you, and only you can enter the code. You need to memorise that number before you leave with Major Lorne."

Ronon nodded and studied the paper.

"Colonel Sheppard trusts you," Weir told him after a moment. She clasped her hands in front of her. "It seems I'm going to have to trust you, too."

Ronon looked down at her. The concern for her people was evident in her expression, as was the hesitation regarding him.

"I'll find them," he promised. He handed the slip of paper back to her.

Weir studied him for a moment longer, then nodded and turned back to the room with the stargate.

"Chuck, dial the planet," Weir said as she entered the room and walked over to the stairs leading up to the control room.

"Yes, ma'am," the man in the control room replied.

Ronon put the GDO device in the same pocket with the power bars and watched the symbols on the stargate light up.

"Major Lorne, go find our people," Weir said as the wormhole formed.

"Yes, ma'am," Lorne replied, then waved to his team. "Head out. Stay alert and watch yourselves."

Ronon came through the ring behind Lorne and took cover near the control pedestal. The three other men were already off the dais, crouched low as they spread out in the clearing.

"Clear," one of the men called a few minutes later.

"Clear here, sir," another voice said.

"All clear, sir," Reed reported to Lorne.

Lorne slowly stood and looked around. "I guess it was too much to ask for there to be a road or something leading away from the 'gate."

"They went that way," Ronon said and pointed to the trail of bent grass in front of them.

Lorne looked in the direction Ronon indicated, adjusted something on the radio, and tapped his earpiece. "Colonel Sheppard, this is Lorne, come in."

Lorne glanced up at Ronon and shook his head. "Doctor McKay? Teyla? Please respond." He tapped off the radio with a frown when McKay and Teyla didn't answer either. "That can't be good," he said as he studied the trees in the near distance.

"Something happened. We aren't going to find them at the building," Ronon said as he searched the trees for movement. There was no evidence of anyone else around. No one had attacked them as they came through the ring, and he didn't have the feeling of being watched, either.

Lorne pursed his lips. "No, probably not, but we still need to check there first. Just in case." He turned to his men waiting beside him. "Coughlin, take point. Stay sharp. Hostiles might be concealed in the trees."

"Yes, sir," a man roughly the same age and height as Sheppard replied.

"Walker, you've got our six," Lorne continued.

"Yes, sir," a young man with reddish-blond hair replied, and stepped to one side so the others could pass him.

"Move out."

Reed followed Coughlin as they walked toward the trees. Ronon watched the men around him with approval as they scanned the nearby area for threats as they entered the trees.

They'd been walking for twenty minutes when Ronon held up a hand and bent down next to a burnt tree stump.

"What is it?" Lorne asked.

"They stopped here," Ronon said as he studied the ground.

Lorne looked around. "There's nothing here. Why would they stop?"


"Sorry?" Lorne asked.

Ronon stood and walked around the stump. "This is Teyla," he said and pointed to the small footprints next to the stump. He took several steps back down the trail they'd been following. "These are Sheppard's." He pointed to the larger of two sets of prints side by side. "This is McKay." He pointed to the other set.

"You can tell them apart?" Lorne asked as he studied the prints.

Ronon bent down and waited for Lorne to crouch next to him. "These prints are deeper on the right side than on the left. McKay is limping."

Lorne stood and glanced at the burnt stump. "So they took a break." He nodded. "Makes sense."

Ronon nodded. "Also means they're going to be moving slower. They may not have made it to the building at all."

Lorne pursed his lips and nodded. "Let's hope that's not the case." He bobbed his chin toward Coughlin. "Let's go. Stay alert."

They found the Ancestor's building nearly an hour later without seeing any sign of the local people or any indication Sheppard's team was waylaid en route. Unfortunately, there was also no sign Sheppard, Teyla, or McKay near the building, either.

"Perimeter check," Lorne said just loud enough to be heard over the crash of waves coming from behind the building. He motioned his men to each side of the building while he studied the access panel for the door.

"All clear, sir," Reed said as he came back around one side of the building. "The rear of the building is right on the edge of the cliff. This is the only way in or out of the structure."

Lorne nodded and triggered the door. Ronon watched as Reed and Coughlin entered the building with their weapons raised. He followed Lorne inside and looked around. The building was one large room lined with shelves stacked with different objects and books.

"Colonel Sheppard?" Lorne called as he walked between the rows of shelves. "Doctor McKay? Are you here?"

Ronon spotted the computer balanced on the edge of a console and wandered over to it.

"They were here," he said and pointed to the computer and the bulky object under the console.

"And left in a hurry," Lorne agreed, picking up the backpack lying on the desk. "I doubt McKay would leave the computer otherwise." He dropped the pack back on the desk and looked around the room again.

Ronon went back outside and studied the ground. He ignored Lorne and his men as he walked in a careful circle looking for any indication of what had happened to Sheppard and his people. The ground near the door was too disturbed to make out anything one way or another, but the tracks he could make out were all bootprints; from what he remembered of the people the last time he was here, they were bare-footed.

He was near the trees when he found a single set of prints. He bent down and studied the marks for several seconds and decided they were Sheppard's footprints heading into the trees. Looking further, he found several of Teyla's smaller prints to one side of Sheppard's.

"She was following him," he muttered to himself. "Why weren't they together?"

Ronon looked around but didn't see any indication McKay had followed the other two.

"Anything?" Lorne asked as he stopped next to Ronon.

"Sheppard went this way. Teyla followed him."

"Followed? She wasn't with him?"

Ronon shook his head. "She was moving fast, tracking him."

Lorne looked at the prints, and Ronon wondered if he had any idea what he was looking at.

"I don't see any of those lop-sided prints you said were McKay," Lorne said after a moment.

Ronon smiled slightly, pleased to know Lorne was observant.

"No," Ronon replied. "But I wouldn't think Sheppard would leave him behind."

Ronon saw Lorne start to smile before he schooled his features. "No," Lorne deadpanned, "Can't think of any reason why Sheppard would want to leave McKay here." He tapped his radio and said, "Reed, looks like Ronon found the Colonel's trail. We're heading out."

"What about Doctor McKay's computer? Should we bring his kit with us?" Reed asked.

Lorne paused, then added, "Leave it. We'll come back for it if we can."

A few seconds later, Lorne's men joined them at the edge of the trees.

"Not sure Doctor McKay is going to like that we left his computer behind," Reed said as he stopped next to Lorne.

Lorne made a face. "He'll get over it," he said shortly. "Getting out of here in one piece may be all of the win we can expect from this trip."

"Yes, sir," Reed agreed. "I'm just not sure Doctor McKay will see it that way."

Ronon took point as they walked back through the trees. Sheppard was easy to track since he had made no effort to conceal his path, it was obvious he'd had no idea of the potential danger on the planet. Teyla was taking more care to not muddle Sheppard's trail, but he found a print of hers every now and then.

"Looks like Sheppard was heading for the ri -- stargate," Ronon corrected himself.

Lorne nodded. "Probably wanted to check in with Doctor Weir."

Several minutes later, Ronon led them into a small clearing. His eyes hardened, and he felt his muscles tense when he saw the bodies. "We're too late," he growled, and paced around the clearing, checking the bodies.

"Yeah," Lorne agreed with a frown as he pulled an arrow out of the ground. "Walker, Coughlin, perimeter check. Let's make sure everyone really is gone."

Ronon glanced over as the two men started a careful search of the nearby trees then went back to his own examination of the clearing. He knelt down and studied a spot near the center of the clearing. He found a few of the prints he'd marked out as Sheppard's. He also found several small brass tubes lying on the ground near the prints. He picked them up and bounced them in his hand.

"Bullet casings," Lorne said from behind him.

Ronon grunted and passed the bits of metal to Lorne.

Ronon did his best to read what the ground was telling him. There were close to a dozen different sets of prints in addition to Sheppard's, most of them bare-footed. He found a dark spot on the ground and pressed his fingers into the damp soil.

"What is it?" Lorne asked.

Ronon held up his hand so Lorne could see his fingers. "Blood." He looked at the ground again and found several more brass cylinders. "My guess, Sheppard was ambushed here."

"And he's injured," Lorne finished with a grimace. "What about Teyla?"

"Hard to say. The ground is too churned to really tell much." Ronon stood and looked around the clearing.

"Major Lorne!" Reed said from the trees off to their right. "I've got brass over here, sir. And a P-90."

Reed came back into the clearing carrying a P-90. "It was just lying on the ground, sir," Reed said as he stopped in front of Lorne.

Lorne held out his hand, and Reed handed over the weapon. Lorne glanced up at Ronon and said, "Colonel Sheppard told me during the search for Lieutenant Ford that Doctor McKay normally only carries a Beretta. If the Colonel was ambushed here," he nodded at the bloody spot on the ground, "this has to be Teyla's weapon."

"We know she was following Sheppard," Ronon replied and headed for the trees where Reed had found the rifle. "She must have seen the ambush and tried to stop it."

Lorne looked around. "Any sign of Teyla?" he asked Reed as he checked the P-90.

Reed shook his head.

"They must have taken her, too," Ronon said and searched the ground where Reed had found the weapon. "See?" He pointed to the small booted prints mixed in with several bare-footed ones. "She was captured." He prowled around the clearing then stopped not far from where Sheppard had entered. "They left in this direction. Teyla was able to walk." Ronon pointed out the small boot prints.

"I don't see any of the prints you said belonged to Colonel Sheppard," Lorne said as he studied the ground.

Ronon stood, his expression hard. "Someone was carrying him." He showed Lorne the set of bare footprints, deeper on one side.

Lorne studied the path for a few moments.

"They're heading back to the Ancient building," Lorne said.

"No, the building is closer to the cliffs. These prints head toward those hills." He pointed to a series of low hills in the near distance. "The village is in a valley in the same direction."

"The Colonel and Teyla are together," Lorne said as he stood in the center of the clearing. Ronon could see he was putting the pieces together. "So where the hell did McKay go? And where is the Colonel's weapon? Not sure I like the idea of these natives having access to a fully automatic rifle."

Ronon scouted the edge of the trees. "He was here," he said, "He wasn't following Sheppard's trail." Ronon followed McKay's prints back into the clearing. "McKay's prints overlap the bare-footed prints. Looks like he got here after the others were gone."

"I'll bet he hid in the woods," Walker hissed in a whisper to Coughlin. "Didn't want to risk getting hurt."

Ronon glared at the Corporal, and Walker took a hurried step back.

"What?" Walker exclaimed. "We're all thinking the same thing."

Ronon turned his back on Walker and scouted the perimeter of the clearing.

"McKay have any skills tracking?" Ronon asked a few minutes later as he knelt down near a game trail.

He heard a snort behind him and turned to see Lorne glaring a Walker before he turned to Ronon and shook his head. "Based on what I saw when we were looking for Lieutenant Ford, I doubt Doctor McKay has the first clue how to survive in the woods or track someone."

Ronon couldn't really disagree, but the tracks were telling him something else. "McKay headed off in this direction, but came back." He pointed out the set of prints leading back into the clearing to Lorne. "He knew enough to realise he was on a game trail and came back here."

"Maybe he just got lost," Reed offered with a shrug.

Ronon ignored him as he crossed the clearing and checked the trail left by the natives when they left with Sheppard and Teyla. He found McKay's prints a few feet away, heading back into the trees, going in the same direction as the hills and the native village. The odd thing was McKay wasn't following the trail or even walking to one side of it.

Ronon turned to Lorne. "He went in the same direction the natives took Sheppard and Teyla."

Lorne pursed his lips. "Was he following them or was he captured, too?"

Ronon studied the ground again. "He's going in the same direction, and he was alone when he left here."

"Meaning?" Lorne asked.

"Rodney will do whatever is necessary to protect John …"

Ronon stood and started back into the trees following McKay's trail. "My guess? He's following them. Probably has some plan to rescue them by himself."

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

John felt himself slowly rocking and spent several minutes enjoying the sensation of swinging back and forth. He had a flash of memory of the huge swing on his grandmother's front porch and felt himself smile slightly. He had loved lying on that swing with his eyes closed as the wind pushed him to and fro. It had almost felt like flying.

He shifted his body, and the swing rocked a bit wildly in response.

"John?" a voice said from far away, and he felt something brush against his arm.

He ignored the voice and tried to find a more comfortable position on the swing. The rocking motion changed again as he moved, and instead of feeling like he was flying, he felt a wave of nausea as his head pounded in response to the movement. There was a stabbing pain in his right shoulder and a second throbbing ache in his left leg just above the knee, telling him moving was not a good idea.

"Colonel?" the voice said again. "Are you awake?"

"Mumph," he replied, and decided this was definitely not his grandmother's porch swing.

"John? Can you hear me?" the voice asked him, and he felt the light touch against his arm again.

He stopped moving and waited for his various aches to fade. As he lay still, he heard a strange chanting noise coming from below him. Why below? he wondered.

It took another few seconds for his confused mind to realise the voice that had been speaking to him belonged to Teyla.

"T'la? he asked as he pried his eyes open. "Wha hap'n'd?"

He looked around and found he was lying on his back, his head resting in Teyla's lap. It took a little longer for him to realise they were in a sort of domed, wooden cage. Not that different from the kind of birdcage a neighbor had kept parakeets in when he was a child, John thought, and tried to focus on what Teyla was saying.

"You were ambushed by members of the local population in the forest near the Ancestor's building. I tried to intervene, but their numbers were too great."

Memories flashed in John's head of arrows coming out of the forest and hearing the distinct crack from a P-90 firing nearby. He groaned as he slowly sat up and leant with his back braced against the wooden bars next to Teyla.

John looked down when the chanting below them changed from slow keening to a faster tempo and realised they were suspended from a thick branch more than twenty feet in the air. Three large men were stationed near their tree watching the villagers and occasionally looking up at them. A wide stone pedestal with several steps cut into the base sat not far from the trunk of the tree.

Teyla looked down at the milling villagers with a frown. "We were both captured. The men from the clearing took all of our weapons. Luckily, they did not see the point of taking our tactical vests. Once they left us alone in our prison," she waved at the bars of the cage, "I was able to deal with your injuries."

John caught a flash of white from the corner of his eye and found a pressure bandage wrapped around his right shoulder. When he glanced down at his leg, he saw another bandage, spotted with blood, wrapped around his leg, just above his knee.

That explained two of the aches, he thought to himself.

He felt the back of his head and found a lump under his hair. And that explains the headache, he thought grimly. And the nausea, he realised as his stomach rolled in time with the rocking of the cage.

"How long was I out?" he asked as his fingers explored the lump.

"I would estimate close to an hour. You opened your eyes a few times during the journey here, but you were never awake for very long."

John grunted. "How bad?" he asked, reaching for the bandage wrapped around his leg.

"Your shoulder wound is not serious," Teyla told him as she gently moved his hand away from the pressure bandage. "I am concerned about your leg, however. Whatever caused the injury --"

"Arrow," John said. He remembered how one of his attackers had pulled the arrow out of his leg and tried to stab him with it.

"The arrow went through your leg. You have also lost a great deal of blood," Teyla told him as he leant back against the bars and closed his eyes. "You need to rest."

He opened his eyes and looked over at Teyla as her comment about trying to stop the attack sank in. He saw a bruise on her cheek and clean bandages wrapped around her upper arm and her right hand. "How badly were you hurt?"

"My injuries are not severe." She smiled slightly. "I do not believe these men expected a woman to put up much of a fight."

John couldn't help his answering smile. "Not a mistake they will be making again any time soon, I'm sure."

"For some of them, the error in judgement proved fatal," she agreed.

John merely nodded as he looked out at the buildings below them.

The tree they were in stood at the edge of a village square, several low, squat buildings that were presumably houses lined the square. Their tree stood at one end of the square while what could only be described as a truncated pyramid stood at the other end of the village, opposite the tree, backed by a series of low hills.

Unlike the Egyptian pyramids, this one was short, not much taller than the tree their cage was suspended from, and it looked as if the top had been sheared off. A ramp led up to the flat top, and John saw something that looked suspiciously like a stone altar.

John sat up with a start, and a groan as what he was seeing sank in. An altar. The man had said something about an offering ...

"We need to find a way out of here," John said as he looked for a way out of the cage. "Before it's too late."

"I do not understand."

John rubbed his forehead and looked down on the people chanting in the square as more villagers entered carrying armfuls of wood. He glanced down at the men standing below them. Were they there to stop anyone from escaping or to guard them against overzealous worshipers? he wondered.

John glanced at Teyla and saw she was watching him. "Back in that clearing, I tried to talk to the men who'd captured me," John said as he pulled on one of the bars of the cage. "But it was no use, they couldn't understand me."

Teyla pursed her lips. "That is strange. While some of my people still know a few words of the old language, the common tongue is spoken throughout the galaxy. I have never encountered a people who could not understand it."

"Considering the fact we're currently sitting in a cage, I get the feeling they aren't the most sociable of people." He glanced over at her and continued, "I don't suppose your people have ever heard of the Aztecs?"

Teyla frowned and shook her head. "The name is not familiar to me."

John stared at the pyramid again as long ago college history classes came back to him. "Not really a surprise. The Aztecs were a group of people that lived on Earth hundreds of years ago."

"I am not following. What does a long-ago culture on your planet have to do with our current situation?"

John rubbed absently at the ache in his leg. "Even though we couldn't understand each other, one of those men said something that sounded a lot like 'offering'. He was looking at me when he said it too."

"Offering?" Teyla asked and looked down at the people milling below them. "You don't think …" She looked over at John, and he saw the moment realisation dawned in her eyes.

"That's exactly what I think," John replied, his expression grim. "No reason to learn the language if all you plan to do is sacrifice your neighbors. I guess now we know why there aren't any paths leading away from the stargate and it has nothing to do with the Wraith culling this planet."

Teyla nodded. "People know not to come to this world." She watched the villagers for a moment. "Could this … offering explain why the information found in the database was so fragmented?"

John shrugged then winced. "I doubt it. Who knows why someone in Atlantis would want to keep this place a secret. Maybe McKay is right, and they didn't want the information falling into the hands of the Wraith."

John stared at the squat pyramid. "I get the feeling the Ancients were long gone when the current residents came here. Remember, Rodney said the planet was some sort of Ancient cultural center before the Wraith levelled everything."

At the mention of Rodney's name, John suddenly realised someone was missing from their hanging prison. He glanced around looking for another cage hanging nearby, and when he didn't find one, he turned to Teyla, fearing the worst. "Teyla? Where's McKay?"

Teyla hesitated for a moment, and John felt his heart skip a beat.

"Teyla?" He drew out her name.

Teyla glanced over at him. "Something happened after you left us in the Ancestor's building," she said with a glance at the pressure bandage wrapped around his leg.

John understood immediately what she wasn't telling him. "Damn," he muttered and scrubbed a hand over his face. He knew from experience how much a spike could hurt. "How bad?"

Teyla rested a hand on his arm. "He had two of what you described to us as pain spikes that I am aware of while we were still inside the building. We knew from Rodney's reaction you needed assistance, and I ran ahead so I could find you quickly. I thought he planned to follow me."

"But he wasn't with you when you found the clearing?"

Teyla shook her head. "I was already in the forest following the sound of gunfire when I realised he was not behind me. I assumed Rodney had been slowed due to his injured leg. I intended to help you, and then we would return for him once you were safe."

John closed his eyes and leant his head against the bars. One more reason they needed Dex officially on the team, he thought to himself.

"I guess the good news is, they didn't capture him, too. Hopefully, he made it back to the 'gate and sent word to Elizabeth."

They sat in silence for several minutes. John felt himself drifting and forced himself to open his eyes. He had to stay awake. They needed a plan, some way to escape before the villagers went through with their planned sacrifice.

He wasn't sure how much time they had, but he had to assume they didn't have very long. More and more people had gathered in the center of the village, chanting and swaying back and forth as the large pile of wood was set alight.

The wood was dry and well seasoned, and it didn't take long for the bonfire to catch hold and grow. John felt the heat from their cage at the edge of the village as the chanting changed, and the villagers began to dance around the fire.

"We're running out of options," John said, his tone serious as he glanced up at the sky. The sun would set in another hour, and he suspected when it did, their time would be up.