John peers out the front of the jumper. The planet that is their destination rests against the backdrop of space like a blue-green jewel on a bed of satin dusted by distant stars. This planet has no moons, just the convoy of the Queen's hive and support ships hanging in space above it, which are now joined by Todd's single hive. "I've got a bad feeling about this."
He can hear the amusement in Todd's voice without looking. "It could not be simpler, Sheppard," Todd drawls. "On the planet, we will meet with the Queen's delegation, you will tell them about the gene therapy, I will tell them the First supports this alliance, and they will return to the hive to present to their Queen the truth that there is more possible advantage here than just the Qureshi parasite."
"Yeah." John peers at the other hive again, surrounded by its carrier ships. "What could possibly go wrong?"
Todd's laughter echoes through the jumper. "The planet is considered a part of the Queen's territory, so no other Wraith will bother us," Todd reasons. "And the Queen has not found the planet useful for centuries, so there are no outposts stationed here."
John grimaces. He's aware that "not useful" means that there are no humans here. He sidesteps that and instead gripes, "I've heard this story before. 'There's no one in this abandoned house,' right before the killer jumps out from behind the closed door."
Todd is unimpressed. For reasons that probably seem obvious, horror movies have not played a prominent part in John's sporadic attempts at cultural sharing.
"Sheppard," Todd says soothingly, "do not worry." John can feel Todd's eyes on him, and he isn't surprised when Todd touches his face before dropping his left hand to John's shoulder. "It will be well."
John breathes in slowly and nods. "Sure," he allows. "I believe that."
There isn't time anyway, on the short trip from the hive's bay to the planet, to worry. Especially when he's spending most of his time keeping an eye out for the Queen's ships to pull some surprise and turn on Todd's hive. But it doesn't happen; the Queen keeps her ships just out of range of Todd's hive's weapons. Todd's hive looks a little lonely set opposite to the Queen's carrier group but the fact that they're outnumbered bothers John a lot more than it does Todd, who's already gone over all of this with his Second. Battle tactics isn't really in John's purview in this instance, but he supposes he's used to being in charge of everything and that control's hard to let go of.
The only other thing John can think of to distract his mind is wondering what to call this queen, in his mental compiling of reports if nowhere else. Once on this track, he spends the rest of the flight debating if he should bring it up with Todd or not. Kenny's rejection of John's naming doesn't bother him but it kind of highlights that John's highhandedness in that area isn't exactly appreciated. He does want to do this trip right and not piss off other Wraith when they might choose to join up for the gene therapy instead of trying to kill him and everyone he knows, but old habits are hard to break sometimes.
John eases the jumper down through the atmosphere with only mild trepidation.
The Queen's delegation gave them coordinates for the meet up, but John brings the cloaked jumper in a wide sweep around the area, just to see what's to be seen.
The planet is a vibrant green over most of the lower elevations at this latitude. The jumper's picking up a high oxygen content in the atmosphere, which could be related. There's no Stargate, and no other discernible civilization. They fly over a mountain range and then down over a vast spread of green tangle that looks like heavy jungle that stretches for miles, or acres, broken only by the bright blue of a large lake and the pale tan of broad beaches surrounding it. There are large amphibious creatures moving in and out of the water and burying themselves in the sand. Raising his eyes, John sees, far off in the distance, a descending spiral of what almost looks like buzzards zeroing in on dinner. He curves the jumper back around to where the jungle rises to meet mountain peaks.
The coordinates are on one of the outcroppings of higher ground that's still well below the tree line of the mountains. "I'm reading six Wraith in the Queen's party," John says as he lands the jumper. He barely notices his jaw tightening, but he does notice Todd moving uneasily beside him.
"That is more than I would have thought," Todd muses. He'd promised John that their being only two was a show of strength, but John kind of feels like six is a stronger number. He would say something but Todd sounds... distant. John looks up at him, and Todd is staring out the viewport even though there's nothing to see but jungle. John touches his arm and Todd pulls his attention back, his eyes focusing on John. "It will be well," he repeats.
John shakes his head but can't hide a grin. Yeah, this could go sideways, but really the thrill of it, the excitement and adventure, is what he's come to love about life in the Pegasus Galaxy.
They put down far enough from the coordinates that they can hide the jumper and then walk the rest of the way. John checks all his equipment methodically before they step out; he's got a single block of C4 in his vest pocket, the Ka-Bar in its sheath at the back of his vest, and the Colt at his hip. His P90 was unpopular with his allies and John has gotten out of the habit of carrying it, though there's still a few magazines in one of the supply bags in the jumper. Technically he's on a diplomatic mission but landing in the middle of a jungle makes him think that next time he's going to double check and stash a rifle in the jumper along with the extra ammo, just to have one on hand, diplomacy or not. He's got the dagger Ronon gave him tucked into his boot, but it's not really a replacement for the P90. He looks up at Todd and grins; he hadn't counted what might be the most useful of his defensive weapons, and certainly the most entertaining. John reaches for Todd and Todd leans into him, stealing a quick kiss before letting their foreheads rest together for a moment. Todd returns John's smile.
The thick vegetation of the jungle is further obscured by a heavy fog which makes it hard to see anything further away than his outstretched hand, and John's pretty sure the chill he feels run up his spine isn't from the chill of the moisture in the air. He can hear the sounds of animals and insects moving but can't see anything other than the flicker of Todd's coat vanishing into the fog mere steps ahead of him. It's not exactly what John would call an auspicious beginning.
Or maybe it is fortunate, because in the fog he and Todd manage to walk right up to the Queen's delegation without being noticed until they're practically on top of the Wraith. Maybe John's just gotten better at moving sneakily like a Wraith, but he would probably give the credit to the fog. They step out into a small clearing filled with rocks and have six surprised Wraith staring back at them.
The fog has burned off in the open air of the clearing and he can clearly see all six Wraith. The rocky clearing edges on a drop-off of some kind and on their nine o'clock the area where the jungle comes back together beyond the clearing is much lower, leaving a huge expanse of bright blue sky visible.
John turns his attention to the Wraith. Two are warriors and four are full Wraith; two of the Wraith are advancing on Todd with expressions of interest, like they've just realized they recognize him. John's eyes flicker to Todd; he appears to recognize the other Wraith as well, but not necessarily in a good way because he's tense as hell.
The Wraith who seems to be the leader of the delegation is one of the ones who recognizes Todd. He has his hair in long twisted locks and a facial marking of a single line that traces up the left side of his nose and then continues above the heavy ridge of his brow, being joined there by a pair of parallel lines, one to each side of the central line. John mentally dubs him Brad. The other Wraith who also seems to know Todd is taller than Brad, slender of frame, and has his head shaved bald paired with a beard woven into a complicated braid. John dubs him Greg. Greg also has a facial marking, one that looks like a weird parody of the top half of Todd's starburst; there are three peaks to the star above his left eye, and the line starts more to the center of the forehead so that the central peak is centered over the eye. There isn't any marking below his eye except for the tail of the single line that's kind of just to the edge of his nose and then continues up above the eye, the same as Brad has, along the inside of the line of the star though it doesn't cross the peak. It's the way the star is similar that has John realizing that all three of them- Brad, Greg, and Todd- have the same marking: the inner line of the double line that is the first peak of the star above Todd's eye, is the exact same line that Brad and Greg have. John wonders just how well Todd knows these guys; he closes his fist and touches the palm of his hand, not sure if matching tattoos could be an old army buddy kind of thing or is an ex-boyfriend kind of thing- or if those are the same thing to Wraith.
The third Wraith John dubs Paul because he has a sour look on his face like a guy John had known in basic. John's running out of time and since he's on Paul he just dubs the last Wraith Ringo. As far as he can tell, or Todd has said, the warriors have little in the way of personality, so John doesn't bother naming them. He only keeps half an eye on these four Wraith, while all of them are watching him with sharp interest. John inhales slowly and, pulling up the sleeves of his jacket, lets his right hand rest open against the top of his thigh so they can see the marking on the inside of his arm. And if Brad and Greg want to play the matching tattoos game, hey, he can play, too.
Ringo sees his arm first, but Greg gives him the longest check out. Knowing that Wraith are telepathic, John had expected a lot of the conversation to happen silently, so he jumps when Greg hisses loudly and says, "This one?"
Todd bares his teeth. "Sheppard," he purrs in that tone that says he's annoyed about something, "these are Wraith who were brothers of mine from long ago." He doesn't elaborate, but John thinks it's probably safe to read ex-boyfriend between the lines of brothers and that long ago probably means during the war with the Ancients.
"Great." John smiles tightly. "You wanna talk about old times? I think my team technically won that one." Maybe they'd fled the galaxy, but the Ancients had survived and he'd going to count that.
Todd laughs, and Greg joins in with a softer guffaw. "I believe we are here to discuss something else," Todd reminds him, but Brad, still silent, starts pacing around Todd until they both are circling each other with wary tension. Brad doesn't seem interested in talking.
Greg is watching both Todd and John with interest. "You are the representatives of the alliance?" He sounds eager, so John nods.
"Yeah." John raises a hand warily to his Colt as Ringo comes too close. "You wanted to talk about it?"
Brad snarls the others to silence, and Greg seems to bow to his wishes.
John does not like this. He taps his fingers against the butt of the Colt, mentally tallying his arsenal again but trying to be lowkey about it. If Brad engages with Todd that leaves five Wraith for John to take care of by himself. No pressure. Also, if they blow this meet then the hive might not be able to offer them back up against the Queen's greater ship power. Awesome. This was a solid plan. He glares at Todd for good measure.
Brad is sizing Todd up, and he has his lip curled in a way that probably means he's not going to be giving them a go-ahead on the ally-ing part of this mission. Todd's eyes suddenly narrow in a way that, if he was human, would have meant he just said something rude and was waiting to see how it hits. Brad snarls and pulls a knife as he throws himself at Todd.
Todd is grinning as he catches the attack, sidestepping the knife and grabbing the other Wraith by the wrist to grapple with him. John's not sure of everything that happens, but Brad gets his leg behind Todd's and brings them both to the ground.
John steps forward, tension rising in him, but instead of interfering he raises the Colt and points it at Paul, who is advancing on him speedily. John shoots Paul in the face; John sidesteps away from Paul and pulls his Ka-Bar in his other hand as he takes another step back. Paul goes down, for the moment, and Ringo snarls at John in turn. John checks the other Wraith, but Greg is standing back and looking up at the sky. Ringo steps back, like he's regretting his brief attempt to threaten John, when suddenly there is an unearthly screech and a flurry of wings, and Ringo vanishes under the weight of an enormous...
Well, it fell from the sky like a hawk on a mouse, and John is stumbling backwards, stepping behind the cover of the tree line and staring at it. Its wings blot out the visible sky; its skin is leathery and a grey-blue color that darkens to almost black along its spine and the bony ridges of its wings. As it turns its head, its huge, luminescent eyes scan the clearing. Its wide jaws part, and it raises Ringo, clutched in one clawed forepaw, to its fanged mouth and bites down.
"Holy shit," John mumbles. It's a dragon, a living, breathing, larger than life but really alive, dragon. It turns to look at him and he takes another step back, but he's not looking where he's going so he steps wrong and turns his ankle, falling ungraciously on his ass and dropping his knife.
The dragon screeches again, its mouth black with Wraith blood. It whirls around, and it turns out to be a good thing that John's in the trees and sitting down because the thing sweeps the entire clearing with the weighted length of its tail, taking out two of the trees in front of John, and knocking over anyone who still remained standing with the spread of its leathery wings as it turns to face the clear side of the cliff and springs off of the edge with a massive thrust from its rear legs. Its wings catch the air and pull it up into the sky. John is reminded of the spiral of "buzzards" he'd seen as they were landing, because now he's thinking they weren't that at all.
"Holy shit," John says again, louder, because it's still not enough, and he has to get back to the jumper, he has to call Rodney, Ronon, Teyla, Woolsey, hell Keller, does he know any zoologists, it's a motherfucking dragon! He doesn't even realize that he's grinning like crazy but, "I knew Pegasus had more things to show us."
Something moves near him, and John's attention is brought back to the immediate present as he raises his gun. He scans the clearing and doesn't see Todd. He inhales slowly; he can't worry about that now. He searches for the other Wraith, to try to number his remaining opponents. He's spotted Paul pushing himself to his feet when a large hand grabs John by the wrist, forcing him to drop the Colt he's holding. John snarls as he tries to pull away, but one of the warriors lifts him up until all he can do is swing from its meaty grip and hope it hasn't seen Star Wars. But it's holding John with its left hand, and it raises its right hand and John knows there's no need for ripping limb from limb. He braces himself to wait for it to begin the strike, then he can reach for Ronon's knife at his ankle and stab it in the hand.
"Hold," a voice says, and Greg walks up. He looks shook by the dragon, but he levels a piercing look at the warrior. "We must keep this one alive. He will lead us to the transport vessel he used to arrive here." He reaches out and grabs ahold of John's vest and pulls him over and, importantly to John, out of the grip of the warrior.
Paul walks over with a wet growl, blood still pouring out of the bullet holes in his jaw. He shoots John a dark look. John fakes a stumble as Greg pulls him out toward the clearing, not as fake as he'd like since his ankle is sore from how he fell on it, and manages to grab the Ka-Bar from where he'd dropped it earlier and tuck it into his sleeve.
The other warrior appears, and Greg tells the three other remaining Wraith, "Find the Commander." As they fan out to do so, he turns his fierce eyes on John. "You will be kept safe," Greg says, and John kind of wants to snort his disbelief of that statement, but he's a little worried about Todd, because he and Brad are both gone. Did the dragon somehow take them as well as Ringo? John's really trying not to focus on the worst-case scenario, but then one of the warriors walks up holding a torn piece of leather that looks like Todd's coat and John kind of loses it a little.
"What happened?" he demands, pulling at Greg's hand still tangled in his vest.
Greg takes the torn coat from the warrior. "They have fallen, off the cliff face." He walks over, dragging John with him and they both peer over the edge. The cliff falls sharply and is thick with brush that obscures any possible view.
"Todd!" John yells. He fights against Greg's hold, but Greg's not letting go anytime soon.
There's a rustle from a particularly thick patch of brush, and John feels his heart jump in his throat, but come immediately crashing back down when he catches sight of Brad's long locks.
Brad pulls himself up the short way to the clearing. He snarls at John and stalks toward him with intent, right hand raised, but Greg intervenes. He doesn't speak this time, but afterward he does turn to John. "Where is the vessel you came here in?"
John isn't really listening, and Greg shakes him and asks again, "You came here in a Lantean vessel, yes? Which direction?"
John glares at him. "Where is Todd?"
Brad snarls at him, but Greg answers, "They fell separately, and your companion continued to fall down the cliff when the Commander's fall was halted."
John nods. He licks his lips. He's not sure what he's planning to do next- he's not sure he's thought enough to plan anything- but there's another screech, and another of the dragon creatures falls from the sky. This one is a brilliant emerald green, and it lands on one of the warriors, taking the masked Wraith in its massive jaws.
John uses the distraction to bring up his Ka-Bar and slice it across the tendons in Greg's wrist. He pulls free from the suddenly lax grip, turns his back on them, Wraith and dragon all, and is several steps away before he even hears Greg's snarl of pain. John runs across the clearing and into the jungle.
His ankle isn't that bad because it's holding his weight, which is good. The Wraith are distracted enough by the dragon that he has a decent head start, but John needs a place to regroup. He's got the block of C4 in one of his vest pockets but other than that he's down to the knives, and he'd prefer to find a way to take out his pursuers one at a time so they can't overwhelm him.
Or maybe if he finds a good place to lay low, the dragons will take care of the job for him.
He startles up a group of some kind of lizards that flee before him, scattering back under cover so quickly all he can tell is that he's pretty sure he caught sight of six limbs.
John stops and leans against a tree. He takes a deep breath and turns to check for pursuit... and he falls backward through the rock beside the tree, into some sort of underground structure.