Rodney stood in the gap of the privacy screen, his arms wrapped around his middle, his mind lost in thought. The soft beeping from the monitor next to the bed, and the occasional twitch of movement told him the occupant of the bed was alive. The problem was, he wasn't sure that what was in the bed was still John Sheppard.
He shuffled through the opening, set his computer on the roll away table, and stood against the wall next to the bed.
Carson had assured the team the gene therapy was working, and Sheppard would soon be back to his usual self. Still, it had already been two days, and Rodney had yet to see any evidence John was transforming back from an alien bug to a human being. His face was still mostly blue and scaly, and while his left hand and arm were never as bad as his right, Rodney couldn't see any improvement there either. He uncurled one arm and pinched his lower lip. Of course, there was another reason he wasn't ready to accept Beckett's positive prognosis.
It had hit him while they stood outside the cave, waiting for Sheppard to return. One minute, the headache from the link was there, the next it was as if someone had stuffed his brain with cotton wool. Not only had the headache vanished, but something else, something he hadn't even realised was there like a sound only noticed once it stopped, had disappeared as well. A few seconds later, Carson's watch alarm had gone off and something that looked like Sheppard, but wasn't, ran from the cave. He hadn't needed Beckett to tell him the inhibitor had stopped working, or that Sheppard was likely gone forever.
In the rush to get John back through the 'gate, Rodney had tried to ignore the feeling of loss. In the ensuing hours of waiting to hear from Beckett as to whether or not the treatment had worked, he had deflected any time Teyla asked if he was all right.
After Carson had made his announcement that the transformation was stopped, that Sheppard would be all right, he had watched as Ronon and Teyla both relaxed. In contrast, he was jumpier than ever. The air on his skin was a constant irritation; the slightest sounds echoed in his ears. It was as if all of his senses had been turned up to eleven.
Was this how those Ancients felt when their partner died? he wondered. If so, he could understand how the constant edginess had led them to go nuts. It scared him more than a little knowing the link was so ingrained in him now.
He was still staring at Sheppard, his fingers tapping a sharp tattoo against his legs, when Sharon came through the privacy curtain a few minutes later, a tablet computer in her hand. She read the information on the monitors next to the bed, made a few notes on the computer, and glanced over at Rodney.
"He's doing better tonight," she told him with a smile. "His blood work shows the retrovirus is slowly working. He still has a fever, but that's to be expected."
Rodney clenched his hands into tight fists and hid them behind his back as he gave her an absent nod.
"I know you're worried, but he really is going to be fine," Sharon said. "Doctor Beckett thinks we'll be able to start weaning him off the sedative in another few days." She looked at the laptop computer sitting on the roll away table and added, "There's no need to stay here all night."
Rodney jutted out his chin. "Carson knows I'm here," he told her, his tone taking on a bit of his usual bluster. "Besides, no one can interrupt me in here, I can get more work done." He relaxed his arms and forced himself to sit in the chair next to the bed.
Act normal, he ordered himself. The last thing he needed was for everyone to find out what kind of a mess he was at the moment. Carson or Elizabeth would probably insist he talk to Heightmeyer, but since she didn't know anything about the link, Rodney didn't think she would be able to do much to help him.
Sharon watched as he opened the computer. "In that case, I'll be back in an hour to check on Colonel Sheppard. If you need anything, I'll be at my desk."
Rodney gave her a fleeting nod as his hands fidgeted with the computer.
"He's going to be all right, you'll see," Sharon said and left.
Once Sharon was gone, Rodney booted up the computer and pulled up the Ancient database and his current search parameters. Before the trip to M5R-294 and everything that happened with Ellia, he'd been trying to find more information on the 'gate address he'd found in Yana's cave. So far, he hadn't had much luck. Either he had copied down something wrong, not that far-fetched considering he'd been working by the dim glow of Sheppard's barrel light, or the planet simply wasn't in the database. He wasn't ready to accept that. Why bother to write down a 'gate address on a cave wall if it wasn't important, he had argued when Zelenka suggested there was nothing to find.
No, the more likely scenario was he had something wrong with one or more of the symbols. "Next time, make sure you have a video camera," he muttered to himself as he built a new search string.
An hour later, the search of the database was running, and Rodney was busy working on a report for Elizabeth when he thought he saw Sheppard's left hand twitching. As far as he knew, John hadn't moved at all since Ronon had shot him outside the cave two days before.
Was it proof Beckett's treatment really was working, or just his imagination? Rodney stared at John's arm, and a few seconds later, he saw the hand spasm again.
"Sheppard?" he whispered. He hesitated for a moment, then reached out and rested his hand on John's still-scaly arm. He was amazed when the twitching stopped, and Sheppard appeared to relax. "I don't know if you can hear me," he continued as he awkwardly patted the arm, "but Carson says you're going to be fine."
John's head moved, shifting slightly in Rodney's direction and for a moment, Rodney wondered if John really could hear him. Thinking back to the confrontation he'd had with John before they'd left to search the iratus bug cave the first time, he wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.
Rodney paused a few steps away from John's quarters when he saw the Marines stationed at the door. Carson had warned him the retrovirus was transforming John faster than he'd anticipated, and Rodney swallowed when he realised Sheppard had probably ordered the guard detail himself.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, he thought to himself as he rubbed the back of his head and eyed the two guards armed with Wraith stun rifles standing on either side of the door.
Memories of Sheppard sitting next to his infirmary bed after any number of off-world mishaps, however, stiffened his resolve. If the headache he had from the link was anything to go by, John was hurting and probably more than a little scared. He certainly would be if he were the one transforming into some sort of bug thing. John was his friend, his brother, the least he could do was try to help. He took a deep breath and crossed the hall to John's door.
"Can I help you, sir?" the sergeant blocking the door sensor asked.
"Yes," Rodney replied with a scowl. "You can step out of my way. I want to see Colonel Sheppard."
"I don't think that's a good idea, sir," the sergeant told him. "Colonel Sheppard wanted his quarters secured."
Rodney glowered at the sergeant. "Did Colonel Sheppard specifically say I wasn't allowed in his quarters?"
The sergeant glanced over at his partner and shook his head. "Umm, no, sir."
"In that case," Rodney said and tapped the door sensor, "I'll only be a few minutes."
Before the sergeant could say anything else or try to stop him, Rodney walked into Sheppard's room and let the door whisper shut behind him.
The only light in the room came from the windows near the bed, and Rodney froze when he didn't see Sheppard anywhere.
"John?" he called softly. "Are you, umm, are you here?"
Sheppard's voice floated from the dark corner of the room opposite the windows. "What do you want, McKay?"
Rodney swallowed and shuffled forward a few paces. The voice was Sheppard's and yet not. There was none of the usual natural humor in his tone now; instead, John sounded as if he was fighting to keep control.
"I, umm, I wanted to see how you were doing." He peered into the corner but couldn't see much other than a vague shape sitting on the floor. "And I, umm, I wanted to tell you Carson has an idea on how to fix this."
"So I heard," Sheppard growled.
Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. "Oh. Okay. Umm, good. So, we'll go and get what he needs, and Carson will fix you." He uncrossed his arms and took another step. "Major Lorne wants to leave in a few minutes, but I just --"
"You really suck at this, you know that?"
Rodney winced and nodded. "You did tell Teyla once I was the worst person to come to for comfort," he replied with a crooked smile, hoping John would meet him halfway.
"Guess I was right," Sheppard told him, his tone hard.
"Look, I know you're probably a bit freaked out --" he tried again.
"Great insight, there, McKay," Sheppard snapped sarcastically.
Rodney ducked his head. He's scared and lashing out, he reminded himself.
He remembered how badly he had reacted after the transformer accident and how patient John had been at the time. Time to return the favor, he told himself.
He took another step toward the dark corner and held out his hand. "I just, umm, I just wanted you to know, I, umm, want to help. You know, if you'll let --" He was cut short as the shape in the corner came off the floor and grabbed his outstretched wrist.
"You want to help?" Sheppard growled, his face inches from Rodney's.
Rodney gulped when he saw one of John's eyes had changed from its usual green to yellow.
"I think you scientists have done more than enough to 'help', don't you?"
Rodney tried not to wince as John tightened his hold on Rodney's wrist. "To be fair, that was Carson's science, not mine." Rodney meant for the comment to be funny but realised too late Sheppard was past seeing any humor in the situation.
Sheppard growled low in his throat, and for the first time, he could remember, Rodney was afraid of what John would do next. Rodney felt the bones in his wrist grind together and couldn't help the whimper that escaped a split-second before Sheppard released his hold and stepped back.
"Get out," Sheppard ordered.
Rodney held his arm against his chest. "John --"
"I said, get out!" Sheppard yelled and took a step toward him.
This wasn't going at all how he'd hoped, Rodney realised. His attempt to help had only made the situation worse. He took a few backwards steps toward the door. "Okay, okay, I'm, umm, I'm going."
"And don't come back!" Sheppard finished as Rodney reached for the door sensor. "Just stay away from me, McKay, got it?"
Rodney swallowed and nodded as he tapped the door control. He wrist throbbed as he stumbled out of Sheppard's quarters and he glanced at the Marine sergeant as he left, wondering how much the man had overheard. The sergeant returned the look but said nothing as Rodney walked down the hall toward his own quarters.
He kept his arm braced against his chest until he was in his room with the door closed and locked. Once inside, he pushed up the sleeve of his uniform jacket and stared down at his arm. His wrist was swollen, not to mention bruised, and it hurt to bend it more than a few degrees. He was tempted to go up to the infirmary but changed his mind when he realised he'd have to tell Carson what had happened.
If he could move it, it couldn't be that bad, he told himself and hissed as he bent the wrist again.
"Lorne to Doctor McKay," Rodney heard over the radio. "We're almost ready to leave, Doc. Where are you?"
Rodney tapped his earpiece and replied, "I needed to, umm, check on something," he replied. "I'll be there in a few minutes."
"Don't forget you need to be armed, Doc. With a P-90, not just your Beretta."
"P-90, right," Rodney said with a grimace and tapped off the radio.
He pulled down the jacket sleeve and made sure it covered the blossoming bruises, then left his quarters for the armoury.
After that disastrous attempt to help, Rodney had kept his distance, letting Elizabeth deal with John as much as possible.
Rodney glanced down at his arm. The swelling had gone down after a few hours, and the bruises were now a blue-ish green color. A few more days and, hopefully, no one would ever need to know what had happened.
Would Sheppard even remember any of what had happened? Rodney wondered.
He really hoped not. What happened wasn't John's fault, though he was sure Sheppard wouldn't see it that way on the off chance he did remember the incident.
He patted John's arm again, a bit pleased with himself when Sheppard settled and seemed to rest easier, and went back to his report.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Three days later, Rodney entered the infirmary, his laptop in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. He walked around the privacy curtain and found Teyla seated in the chair next to John's bed.
"Rodney," Teyla greeted and stood from the chair.
"Teyla," he replied and ignored her concerned look as he studied Sheppard lying in the bed.
No matter how much Carson told him the gene therapy was doing its job, Rodney still couldn't see much outward change. There was still a large patch of blue covering the lower half of John's face and down his neck, extending under the scrub top he wore. His right hand and arm still looked more bug than Sheppard, but Beckett seemed pleased with John's progress.
For Rodney, however, the real tell was the fact he still couldn't feel anything through the link, and with each passing day, he lost a bit more hope that he ever would.
"Doctor Beckett says John is doing much better," Teyla said and laid a gentle hand on Rodney's arm. "The fever is nearly gone, and Doctor Beckett has reduced the sedative. He believes John will wake soon."
Rodney grunted and shook off her hand as he set the computer on the bedside table. He knew she meant the touch as comfort, but her hand on his arm made his skin itch and tingle. He still hadn't told anyone about the link disappearing, and as the days passed, Rodney was finding it more and more difficult to cope. He constantly felt on edge, he didn't sleep for more than an hour or two at a time, and his temper was on an extremely short fuse, even for him. Zelenka was the only person who dared enter his lab these days, and even he kept his visits as short as possible as he reported on various projects and work schedules.
So far, no one had said anything to him about his attitude. Rodney assumed they all chalked it up to worry over Sheppard, but he wasn't sure how much longer he could hold things together. He sank into the chair next to the bed and rested his hand on Sheppard's left arm as John started to twitch.
After a moment, John settled into a deeper sleep, and Rodney caught the hint of a smile on Teyla's face.
"What?" he growled.
"Nothing," Teyla replied. She took a few steps, then turned back. "I know you are concerned, but everything will be fine. You will see."
Rodney shook his head. If only he could believe that, he thought to himself as Teyla left.
He pulled John's roll-away table over, set the coffee cup to one side, and booted up the laptop.
Carson came around the privacy screen twenty minutes later as Rodney was finishing his coffee. "Rodney," he greeted as he read the data on the monitor next to John's bed and made a few notes. "I assume Teyla told you that Colonel Sheppard should be waking up soon?"
Rodney grunted then proceeded to ignore Beckett as he tried to concentrate on the memo from Heller about some problem in the hydroponics lab.
He heard Carson sigh, then the squeak of wheels as Beckett pushed another stool into their corner and sat down across from him.
"Rodney, look at me," Carson said.
Rodney glanced up from the computer.
"Do you want to tell me what's going on with you?"
"I don't know what you mean," Rodney deflected and concentrated on the computer.
"Just let it go, please," Rodney replied with a half-hearted glare. "It's not like you can help anyways."
Carson pursed his lips and reached across the roll-away table.
Rodney tried to jerk his hand free but wasn't fast enough.
"What happened to your wrist?" Carson asked with a frown as he studied the faded bruises.
"Nothing," he mumbled and refused to meet Carson's gaze.
"I said it was nothing." Rodney looked up at him with a scowl. "Don't you have enough to worry about?" he asked with a glance at Sheppard.
"More than enough," Carson agreed, letting go of Rodney's arm. "So why don't you just tell me what the problem is." He glanced at Sheppard. "Is the link telling you there's something wrong with John?" he asked in a near whisper. "Is that it?"
At the mention of the link, Rodney pushed the table away and wrapped his arms around his middle.
Carson leant forward in his chair and tapped Rodney on the knee. "Rodney? Talk to me, lad."
"It's gone," he murmured. He gave Carson a fleeting glance, then focused on the fabric curtain behind Carson's head.
"The link," he muttered. He gave Carson another glance and didn't bother to hide his misery. "It's gone."
Carson sat back on his stool. "Why would you think that?" he asked. "I thought that Yana told you the link couldn't be broken."
"Something tells me she didn't consider a retrovirus changing Sheppard into some sort of alien bug," Rodney retorted impatiently.
Carson made a face and Rodney ducked his head. This wasn't Beckett's fault, not entirely, at least.
"Sorry," he muttered. "I didn't mean --"
Beckett waved off the apology. "When did you notice the link was gone?"
"At the cave. One minute the tingling was there, and the headache, and the next …" He glanced at Carson. "Nothing."
"You're telling me this happened almost a week ago and you're only bringing it up now?"
"I didn't think --"
"I agree," Carson interrupted with an impatient glare. "You didn't think."
Rodney noticed John had started twitching again, reached out, and rested a hand on Sheppard's arm. After a few seconds, the spasms stopped. Rodney started to pull his hand back, then changed his mind when Sheppard flinched again.
Rodney waited until John settled then gave Beckett a confused look. "Why are you mad?"
Carson took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'm not mad, not really."
"You sound mad," Rodney told him as he absently rubbed John's arm.
"Maybe a bit frustrated," Carson told him. "When things like this happen, you need to tell me."
Rodney shrugged. "Why? Somehow I don't think this," he waved his free hand near his head, "responds to Earth-based medicine."
"Maybe not, but I'm still your friend," Carson told him. "I can still try to help."
"Help how, exactly?" Rodney retorted, his tone more sullen than belligerent.
"Well, for starters, I could have told you days ago you were a daft fool," Carson replied with a smile, and nodded at the hand Rodney still had on John's arm.
Rodney looked down at his hand. "That's different," he mumbled.
"Is it?" Carson asked. "I can show you more proof if you like." He picked up the medical computer and tabbed through several screens. "Here." He handed the computer to Rodney.
Rodney studied the columns of numbers for a few seconds then looked up at Beckett. "What am I looking at?"
"A chart of Colonel Sheppard's vitals over the last few days."
Rodney glanced at the numbers again. The columns may have meant something to Carson, but to him, it was just random numbers. "I still don't --"
Carson shook his head and took back the computer. "Looking at this, I can tell you exactly when you've been here with Colonel Sheppard," he explained. He tapped the screen a few more times and turned it around so Rodney could see it. "The highlighted sections are when John's vitals, his blood pressure, heart rate, and the like, are lower. These sections also correspond to when you are here with him."
"Correlation doesn't imply causation," Rodney said with a dismissive huff.
"Maybe not," Carson told him, "but in this case, I believe it's proof the link is still there."
"You don't get it," Rodney told him. He stood from the chair and leant against the wall, his arms wrapped around his chest. "It's not just the tingling and the headache that's gone. There's just … nothing. I didn't even realise there was something else there until it wasn't."
Carson frowned and sat back on the stool. "Neither you nor Colonel Sheppard has ever mentioned that before."
"Like I said, I never noticed it before." Rodney rubbed his head. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or maybe just the circular argument, but he felt a headache building.
Carson studied him for a moment, then stood. "You're worried and anxious," he said, "all completely understandable. But I think those feelings are clouding your judgement."
Rodney looked up with a scowl. He didn't need Beckett patronising him.
Carson matched his glare with a patient smile. "Trust me. Can you do that? Things may seem a bit overwhelming right now, but I think the link is still there. It's going to take a lot more than a retrovirus to break the bond you two share. You just need to give it some more time."
Rodney shrugged and glanced at Sheppard. He wanted to believe Carson, he really did, but without something he could feel, or see, he just couldn't. He rubbed his aching head again.
Beckett picked up his computer. "I'll get you something for the headache," he said as he stepped away from the bed. "I don't want you to stay here all night, either. You need to try and get some sleep."
Rodney couldn't disagree, but he also knew it was a lost cause. He nodded and watched Carson slip back out through the opening in the privacy curtain.
"Time. Right," Rodney muttered and settled back in the chair beside the bed.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
He'd fought the Other as long as he could. Fought against the primal anger. The need. The weight of it bearing down on him until, in the end, the Other had won. He'd been overwhelmed, pushed into a tiny corner of his own mind as the Other took over completely. John Sheppard was gone, lost forever.
Or so he thought.
Just as he was ready to let go, to give up the endless battle and give the Other complete control, something changed. At first, he wasn't sure what that something was or even if the change was real.
Was it a last figment of his imagination before he blipped out of existence? he wondered even as the weight bearing down on him lessened.
It was still just as dark. He still felt trapped, unable to see, or hear, or feel anything. But the weight holding him down was … different. Lighter. As if he might be able to fight back against the Other after all.
He stretched and slowly stood as the darkness began to fade. Yes, he realised, something was different. The air felt different, it wasn't as oppressive, and he could move, he was no longer weighed down. He pushed himself out of the corner where he'd retreated and looked around.
The Other wasn't far. He could sense its presence, growling and spitting in frustration as the tide appeared to shift in his favor. It may have retreated for the moment, but he suspected it still wanted a fight. His suspicions proved correct a few moments later when, for the first time, he actually saw what was stalking him in the darkness.
The Other crouched low as it circled him, waiting for the moment it could attack. Its body was covered in blue scales, the nails of its hands were sharpened talons. There was no humanity behind its yellow eyes, only an animalistic need. It shook its head and growled again before it stalked a few paces toward him.
He set himself as the Other circled him. He wasn't going to be pushed back into the tiny corner he vowed. He braced himself when he saw the moment the Other decided to press its attack. The Other, however, was still stronger than he was. Even as he fought back, he felt himself losing ground to it.
He fell back first one step, then another, when suddenly, he felt a new presence nearby.
The Other must have sensed it, too. It paused and lifted its head as if sniffing the air, then cowered back several paces.
At the same time, he looked down and noticed he was surrounded by a soft, white glow. He looked down at his hands and flexed his fingers, amazed at this new development. He felt safe within the light, the vast power contained within its glow protecting him from the Other and the darkness it controlled. Strangely, while he felt calm, he sensed hesitation and not a little fear at the edges of the light itself.
Was the light afraid of the Other? he wondered.
It was obvious the Other feared the light, and he decided to push his advantage. He took a deep breath and, for the first time, initiated an attack of his own against the Other.
To his surprise, the Other fell back before him and the light surrounding him. The darkness vanished in the light, and the Other screamed as he closed with it. As the darkness faded, a box appeared between himself and the Other. He knew if he wanted to defeat the Other and escape the darkness, he would need to force the Other inside the box. He also knew if the Other managed to force him into the box, the battle would end and John Sheppard really would be gone forever.
Step by painful step, he herded the Other closer to the box. The Other howled as it tried to protect itself from the light and his attack. He was winning. For the first time since the battle began, he thought he had a chance to defeat the Other once and for all.
As he reached for the Other, the light surrounding him faded. It didn't disappear completely, but he felt bereft as the light dimmed. The Other growled low in its throat, and he thought he saw a feral grin on its face. He stumbled back as the Other yelled in triumph and stalked forward, bringing the darkness with it.
He did his best, he yelled and kicked and screamed, but he knew it wasn't enough. The dimmer light still protected him from the talons and the Other's sharpened teeth, but the light wasn't strong enough to prevent the Other from pushing him closer and closer to where he knew the box sat in the darkness.
He fell back a step and then another, the Other never letting up as it pressed forward. He felt himself faltering under the onslaught, and feared he would be lost when he felt a new presence; a sense of strength, loyalty, and stoic resolve, standing beside him.
Even though the light was still dim, the Other paused its attack as this new presence made itself known. The feeling was different from what he sensed from the light, but he knew it was something he could trust. He took the offered strength and used it, absorbing it and pushing harder against the cloying darkness trapping him.
The Other screamed as he fought back and he cheered as he felt the darkness shift and weaken around him from the combined power of the light, the new sense of strength, and himself. He pushed the Other back toward the box and thought he'd finally gained the advantage when the solid presence disappeared.
He howled in frustration as the Other slipped from his hold and disappeared into the darkness.
The light was still there, and he absorbed what strength he could from its stalwart presence. The Other cackled as it found a new foothold and pushed back against his weakening efforts.
He lost all track of time as the light fought the darkness as he fought the Other. While the space around him sank back into the inky blackness, the light prevented the darkness from swallowing him as well. The Other was unable to sneak up on him now. But would that be enough? he wondered. Even with the light at his side, the Other was stronger than he was.
What was he even fighting for? he asked himself as the fight continued. Maybe it would be better to let the Other win.
He stepped back from the fight, panting, and exhausted. The battle was taking its toll on him, he knew that. Even if he decided to continue the fight, he suspected the Other would win in the end.
He stood bent forward with his hands on his knees, watching as the Other circled him. It bared its teeth and spread its arms as he hesitated. There was an urgency from the light, pushing him to continue the battle, but he no longer cared.
He fell to his knees and was ready to end the fight and surrender to the darkness and the Other when a new sensation entered the fray. It took him a moment to recognise the new presence standing in front of him. This ally held an iron will and a sense of quiet determination. It would not back down to the Other, and it wouldn't let him retreat either.
The combination of the light with this new abiding sense of hope was enough to convince him to continue his battle. The Other howled in frustration as he stood and forced it back, step by step.
The Other tried to rally the darkness around them, but the light pushed it back. The Other pressed its own attack, but the hope and the determination he felt allowed him to counter and push the Other back.
This time he was winning, he could see it. The Other faltered back a step, then another, the box was so close now.
Just a little bit more, he told himself. Just a little bit more and the battle was won. He grabbed hold of the Other, pulling it closer to the box.
He had the Other over the box, ready to toss it inside when the hope dissipated around him. His own determination held fast, however, and he glanced down at the soft glow surrounding him. The light was still there, sometimes only a dim glow, other times, it shone bright enough to push the darkness back into the far corners of the space. He knew now it was possible to beat the Other. He glared over at the Other, remembering the sense of strength and the hope he'd felt more than once during the long fight.
They were still there, still willing to assist him against the Other. And the power in the light would protect him from the darkness. He could do this.
He stalked toward the Other, determined to end the fight once and for all. The Other must have sensed the change in him, and it snarled, pressing its own attack. It didn't take him long to realise they were stale-mated. His renewed sense of strength and the hope along with the light was enough to counter everything the Other could throw at him.
He was wondering how he could gain the upper hand once and for all, when the light around him flared. The Other howled in agony and let go of him as it stepped back, cowering from the light. The box was there, beside them, and with a last effort, he shoved the Other inside the box and snapped down the lid as soon as it was inside.
He sank down next to the box, uttering drained from the fight. He knew he couldn't stay wherever he was, but he had no idea how to escape. His only thought had been defeating the Other.
He felt something brush his hand, and he opened his eyes.
Hanging in front of him was a thick rope, glowing with the same light that had protected him during the battle. The rope bounced insistently off his shoulder, and he didn't think, he merely grasped the rope with both hands and let it pull him up and away from the box and the Other trapped inside.
The battle was finally over, and he had won.
John forced his eyes open and blinked several times. From the state of the ceiling and the fact the head of his bed was raised, he knew he was in the infirmary. The light, however, was dim and he couldn't see very much other than what looked like a privacy screen a foot or so away from the end of his bed.
It took him a moment to place the soft, steady beeping as the sound of a heart monitor. What surprised him was the sound of deep, regular breathing coming from his right. He turned his head and saw not only the monitoring equipment, but Rodney sprawled awkwardly in the chair next to the bed, his feet up on a stool in front of him, and one hand loosely wrapped around John's wrist.
He thought he saw a faint halo of white light surrounding Rodney and blinked several times. When he looked at McKay a second time, the halo was gone, but John couldn't shake the feeling that he really had seen something. He looked down at the hand holding his arm.
Was it more than just a fever dream? he wondered. Had he really been in a fight for his life with the Other?
He thought back to what Yana had said about how he and McKay reacted instinctively to the mental bond. Had Rodney used the link and thrown him a literal lifeline?
He was still trying to wrap his head around what may or may not have happened with the Other when he saw the edge of the curtain in front of him twitch. The lighting was such that he couldn't see much beyond a tall shape standing in front of him, but the voice was unmistakable.
"Hey, Doc," Ronon called softly, and John saw the shape turn away from him. "I think you need to come in here."
"Ronon?" Beckett replied, and a moment later, a second shape joined the first. "Is everything all right with Colonel Sheppard?"
"Sheppard seems fine," Ronon replied shortly, and John realised with the dim lighting, neither of the two men knew he was awake. "It's McKay."
"Rodney? I thought he'd left hours ago."
"Apparently not," Ronon replied.
Beckett stepped farther into the room and glanced at McKay asleep in the chair.
"I know he hasn't had much sleep these past few days …"
Days? John wondered. He'd been in the infirmary for days?
"… But we can't leave him like that." Carson reached down to remove Rodney's hand from John's arm but stopped when a crease formed across McKay's brow, and he tightened his grip around John's wrist.
"Don't think he wants to let go," John murmured.
Beckett glanced over at him and smiled. "Colonel Sheppard," he said and stood beside John's bed. "It's good to see you awake. You've had a fair few people concerned."
John glanced at Rodney asleep next to him and then at Ronon, standing at the end of his bed. Had his team been here the entire time? he wondered.
He thought back to the dream or whatever it was with the Other. If Rodney and the link had been the source of the light, it didn't take a genius to figure out Ronon must have been the sense of strength and loyalty, which meant Teyla had been the source of hope.
He hadn't been alone or abandoned, after all, he realised. His team had been there with him, fighting alongside him as best they could. He sat in stunned silence until he felt a soft tap on his arm.
"Colonel? John?" Carson said. "Are you all right?"
John looked up at him and nodded. "How," he started to ask, but his voice cracked. He coughed and tried again. "How long?" he asked hoarsely.
Ronon came around to the other side of the bed, poured a glass of water, and handed it to him.
John nodded his thanks and sipped the water as Beckett answered him.
"You've been here the better part of a week," Carson told him. "It was touch and go there for a bit, but the gene therapy has a good hold now. You should be fully back to your old self in another few days."
John glanced down at the hand holding the now empty cup and noticed for the first time the patches of blue, scaly, skin. His hand spasmed, causing him to lose his grip on the cup as memories flooded back.
Trying to force himself on Teyla.
Feeling the bones in Rodney's wrist grind together as he yelled at him to get out of his quarters.
He stared at McKay's hand still wrapped around his arm and saw the faint bruises in the shape of fingers.
"None of that," Carson admonished. "None of what happened was your fault."
"The Other," John murmured as he studied the bruises again.
"I'm sorry?" Beckett replied.
John looked up at him. "Nothing."
Carson gave him a measured look then turned to McKay. "Rodney?" he called softly and shook Rodney's shoulder. "Come on, now, you can't be comfortable like that."
Rodney muttered something unintelligible and turned his head so he faced John, but he didn't wake.
Carson shook him a bit harder and frowned when McKay still didn't wake up.
John remembered how tired he'd felt after healing the burns on Rodney's hand. If he'd been helping John fight the Other for days …
"I think he's down for the count, Doc," John said. "It was a hell of a fight."
Carson gave him a peculiar look, then sighed and stood straight. "Well, I suppose I can have one of the techs wheel in another bed," he muttered more to himself than to John or Ronon. "I'll be right back."
John stretched his free arm and looked over at Ronon. "You shot me again. Didn't you," he said.
Ronon crossed his arms over his chest and shrugged. "It was better than the alternative."
John looked down at his right hand then over at Rodney, still holding his left. "Thanks."
Ronon nodded. "You're welcome."
One of the privacy screens was moved out of the way, and Carson walked back into their corner, followed by David pushing another bed.
The tech rolled the bed next to John's and locked down the wheels.
"All right, David, if you take his head --" Beckett started to say, but Ronon interrupted.
"I've got him," Ronon told Carson and stepped in front of the chair. He bent down, wrapped one arm around Rodney's shoulders and the other under his knees and straightened, pulling Rodney up with him.
Rodney's hand flailed as he lost contact with John's arm, but Ronon kept moving and deposited him on the bed.
"All right, now, Rodney," Carson said as he pulled off McKay's boots and covered him with a light blanket.
John felt his eyelids getting heavy as he watched Beckett settle Rodney in the nearby bed.
"Go back to sleep, Colonel," Carson said softly and tapped him on the arm. "Everything is going to be fine."
John sat in the infirmary bed, staring at the bite mark on his arm where Ellia had tried to feed.
"The good news is, we can now say with some certainty that Ellia didn't drain away any of your life," he remembered Beckett telling him.
"Colonel," Carson greeted as he stopped at the end of the bed.
John dropped his arm and looked up and Beckett. "Hey, Doc."
Carson nodded at John's arm and added, "It should go away in a few weeks."
John shrugged and poked at the scaly piece of skin near his elbow. Sitting in the infirmary over the last week had given him plenty of time to think, to remember, what he had done as the retrovirus took hold. So far, neither Teyla nor Elizabeth had said anything regarding his behavior, but he still felt guilty for what he had done. What he had almost done. As for McKay, Rodney seemed to be avoiding him, not that John really blamed him.
"Might have been easier on everyone if she had just fed on me," he muttered to himself.
"You don't mean that," Carson replied.
John looked up to see the frown on Beckett's face. "No, not really," he said and rubbed the scaly patch of skin again.
Beckett studied him for a few moments. "How did things go when you talked to Kate?"
John crossed his arms over his chest. "It was fine. She thinks I'm 'adjusting well'." He mimed the quote marks. He glanced at Beckett, huffed out a breath, and added, "Not sure she's really qualified to say one way or the other. I'm pretty sure trying to help someone who nearly turned into a bug wasn't covered in her psychology classes."
"No, probably not," Carson replied with a tight smile. "How are you feeling, otherwise?"
John shrugged. "Good, I guess. I feel like me again."
Carson smiled. "Well, I'm happy to report all of your tests agree with you. I'm not finding any residual indications of the retrovirus in your system."
"So I can get out of here?" John asked with a hopeful look.
"Aye," Beckett replied. He pointed to a carryall on the table next to the bed. "Rodney dropped off some clothes for you when he was here last night."
John glanced at the bag and made a face. Other than the night he'd first woken up, he hadn't seen much of McKay over the last week. Teyla, Ronon, and Elizabeth had visited every day, bringing food or stopping by to talk. Lorne had come by with the daily reports. But McKay was conspicuously absent during the day. The only way he knew Rodney visited at all was waking up at night to the sound of soft typing.
He looked down at his hands, remembering the confrontation in his quarters. "Guess I shouldn't be surprised he won't visit when he thinks I might be awake," he muttered.
Beckett pursed his lips, hooked a nearby stool with his foot, pulled it over, and sat at the side of the bed. "It's not what you think," he explained.
John gave him a guilty look.
"I saw the bruises on his arm," Carson told him.
John closed his eyes and clenched his hands into fists. "How badly did I hurt him?"
Carson sighed. "To be honest, I don't really know," he admitted.
John looked over at Beckett with a raised eyebrow.
"I don't think it was too bad," Carson reassured him. "He never came to see me about it. I only noticed something was wrong when he visited the day before you woke up. By then the bruises were already fading."
"Damn," John whispered and rubbed a hand over his face.
"I don't think he blames you, Colonel. Just the opposite, in fact. He did his best to hide that anything happened. The only reason I saw the bruises at all was because he wasn't wearing his uniform jacket at the time." Beckett sat back on the stool. "No, I'm afraid Rodney's problem is a little more complex."
John dropped his hand and stared at Beckett. "Complex how? What else happened while I was …" He let the sentence taper off as he rubbed the callus on his arm.
Carson glanced around the infirmary and scooted the stool closer to the bed. "Rodney claims something changed with the link right before you returned with the eggs we needed. He's convinced himself the link is actually gone."
John sat back in the bed. "He's wrong," he whispered.
"I don't disagree," Carson replied, "I tried to convince him of that, but he won't listen to me."
John shook his head. "No, you don't understand. I know the link is still there. Rodney used it to …" John glanced at Beckett, unsure how much to say about the dream or whatever it was.
Carson gave him a shrewd look. After a brief silence, he asked, "Would this have anything to do with the Other?"
John couldn't help the nervous twitch at Beckett's mention of the Other.
"You may have mentioned something the night you woke up," Carson explained when John glanced over with a raised eyebrow.
John poked at the bite mark on his arm, debating how much to say. He still wasn't sure how much of what had happened with the Other was even real.
Carson tapped John's arm. "I've had this conversation with Rodney already. If something is going on with the pair of you or the link, you need to tell me."
John crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the far wall weighing Beckett's need to know against his own reticence to discuss personal problems. He hadn't mentioned anything about the Other to Heightmeyer, keeping their discussion solely to the effects of the transformation itself. She didn't know about the link, and John preferred to keep it that way.
Beckett however, was a different matter.
"Yana said the way we reacted to the link was instinctive," John murmured. "I think …" He glanced down at the bite mark, lost in thought.
"Who is this Other you mentioned?" Carson prompted when John stopped speaking.
John shook his head. "You know what? It doesn't matter," he said with a tight smile. "It was probably just a weird dream, right?"
Carson frowned. "Colonel." He paused. "John," he said and bent forward. "You can talk to me, you know."
John glanced at him, then focused on the wall opposite his bed. "I think McKay did something. Used the link and … saved me," he whispered.
"Saved you how?"
John ducked his head. He really did not want to talk about this.
Carson tapped John on the arm. "John? Saved you how?"
John glanced at Carson and sighed. "There was this place, a, umm, dark place," he said, and proceeded to tell Carson everything he remembered about the battle with the Other.
By the time he was finished, Beckett had sat back on his stool with a slightly stunned expression on his face.
"Welcome to my world," John said with a wry look when he caught the look on Carson's face.
Beckett crossed one arm over his chest and used his other hand to pinch his lip. "And you're certain nothing like this has ever happened before?"
John shook his head. "I don't think so."
"What about when you used the link to heal Rodney's hand?" Carson pressed.
John thought back to the cave. The warm glow he remembered seeing once McKay's hand was healed had been very similar to the energy field he remembered from the battle with the Other. Not to mention, the soft glow he thought he saw surrounding McKay when he first woke up.
It hadn't been his imagination, after all, he realised. He really had seen … something.
"Umm, maybe?" he said to Carson. "There was this sort of light surrounding McKay when I woke up." He took a deep breath. "I thought I saw something similar in the cave with Yana, but at the time I wasn't sure."
Carson nodded. "Since you told us about Yana, I've been doing some more research on the link."
"And?" John asked.
"Unfortunately, even searching for anything to do with 'The Way' Yana mentioned, I've not found very much."
"Figures," John groused. "Teyla told me Halling didn't know very much, either."
Carson pushed back the stool and stood. "From what you're telling me, though, I think you're right, there's nothing wrong with the link. Convincing Rodney, however, may be more difficult."
"I'll talk to him," John promised. He pushed the bedcovers aside and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Good luck," Carson replied with a smile. "As for you, don't push yourself too hard. You may feel fine, but your body has still been through a trauma. Don't overdo it. Assuming there aren't any setbacks, I'll clear you for full duty in a few more days."
John reached for the bag of clothes and nodded.
"Once you've changed, you're free to go," Carson said and stepped back from the bed.
"Hey, Doc," John said and waited for Beckett to turn around. "Thank you," he said with a nod.
Carson gave him a tight-lipped smile. "You're welcome. And I'm sorry --"
John held up a hand. "It wasn't your fault."
"Still, I'm sorry for what happened."
John waited until Carson left, then opened the bag. He was surprised to find a button-down shirt and a pair of khaki trousers as opposed to a uniform. So McKay knew the conditions of his release, he thought as he quickly changed and left the infirmary.
He stepped into the transporter a few moments later and hesitated. Who should he tackle first? he wondered as he studied the map. There were three people he needed to talk to, apologise to, and none of them would be easy conversations.
His hand wavered over the touch panel for a few seconds before he pushed the section of the map for the control room.
As the head of the expedition, he felt he owed Elizabeth first crack at anything she had to say to him regarding his behavior. And of the three, he thought talking to Elizabeth would be the easiest.
Part of him was grateful Elizabeth had stood by him, even when there wasn't much of him left. Another part, though, was still angry she hadn't let him go to the planet when he'd first suggested it. If she had, it was possible so much of what he'd gone through could have been avoided altogether.
He entered the control room, ignoring the glances from Chuck and the other techs seated at the consoles, and stopped outside Elizabeth's office. The window had been replaced at some point, though he spotted a few glints of glass on the floor near the corner of the office someone had missed cleaning up after he'd lost his temper. He looked down at his right hand and flexed his fingers.
The window hadn't been the only victim of his temper he thought with a grimace as his attacks on the security personnel, not to mention McKay and Elizabeth, flashed in front of his eyes. John stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets, huffed out a breath, and stared at the floor.
"Colonel?" Elizabeth said.
John looked up and found her watching him. He took a step toward the open office door and gave her a crooked smile. "If I promise not to smash any more windows, can I come in?"
"I think I'll risk it," she replied with a smile, and waved him into the office. "I should warn you, the cost of repairing the glass is coming out of your pay," she added as she closed her laptop and sat back in her chair.
John sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk. "Seems fair." He squirmed in his seat, for once unsure what to do or say next. "So," he said and stopped again.
"So," she replied.
"I saw the changes Colonel Caldwell made while I was …" He glanced down at his hands.
Elizabeth frowned. "John, I can explain," she started to say, but he waved her off.
"It's fine. You made the right call. If something had happened, if the city had been attacked, you needed someone to take charge."
"Still," Elizabeth replied, "I didn't expect Colonel Caldwell to go as far as he did."
"He had some good ideas," John told her with a crooked smile. "Things I maybe should have thought of."
Elizabeth nodded, but John could tell she was still uncomfortable with the decision giving Caldwell so much influence.
"I hope you can accept why I did what I did," she said after a moment of silence.
John shrugged "Like I said, I understand. You needed someone to take the lead on the military side."
Elizabeth clasped her hands on her desk. "Not about Caldwell," she said. "Why I didn't agree to let you go on the first mission to the cave."
Leave it to Elizabeth to get right to the heart of the problem, he thought, and rubbed the callus on his arm.
John leant forward in his chair. "It's possible I could have walked into that cave, retrieved Beckett's eggs, and ended all of this a lot sooner if you had," John replied. He tried to keep the anger out of his tone, but from Elizabeth's stiff expression, he could tell he hadn't succeeded. "Lorne lost two good men on that mission," he said softly.
"I know," she replied in kind. "But it wasn't your fault they died."
John shook his head. "They were on that mission because of me," he reminded her. "Maybe I could have prevented all of that if I had been there."
Elizabeth pursed her lips. "Or you could have made things worse." She gave the new window a pointed look. "How would you be feeling right now if you succeeded in getting the eggs, but Ronon or Teyla or Rodney had died because you lost control at the wrong moment?"
John looked down at his hands and said nothing.
"I'm sorry about what happened," Elizabeth told him. "But it was the right call."
"Maybe," John grudgingly replied. He sat back and stared at the bowl at the end of Elizabeth's desk.
"Was there something else?" Elizabeth asked a few seconds later.
John looked up and shook his head. "No, not really," he said and stood from his chair. "I just, umm, wanted to let you know Beckett has me on stand down for a few more days."
"He told me already," she replied.
John nodded and took a step toward the door. He was about to leave the office when he stopped, turned, and said, "Thank you." When Elizabeth gave him a puzzled look, he continued, "For … being there."
Elizabeth smiled. "You're welcome."
"I'll just, umm, go now," he said and jerked his head toward the control room. He gave her a last fleeting smile and left the office.
"And that was supposed to be the easy one," he muttered to himself as he made his way back to the transporter. His next conversation was going to be ten times harder.
John had wanted to talk to Teyla about his behavior during their last sparring session ever since he had woken up in the infirmary. What he had done was inexcusable. He had tried to apologise to her a few times when she visited him in the infirmary, but each time he had tried, Teyla had either changed the subject, or they were interrupted before he had a chance to say much.
He blew out a breath and glanced at his watch. At that time of day, she could usually be found in her usual workout room working on forms or practising what he privately called Athosian yoga.
"No more excuses," he told himself, and tapped the section of the map with the gym and workout areas. "Time to face the music."
He exited the transporter, skirted around the door for the gym, and turned down the thankfully deserted hallway to the workout room where Teyla held her various defence classes. A few paces away from the door, he stopped and blew out a breath.
He wouldn't blame Teyla in the least if she wanted to hit him, or worse, for what he had tried to do. He knew if he had seen anyone doing something like that to her, he wouldn't have stopped at just a punch or two. He deserved whatever she decided to do to him.
John steeled himself for an angry reaction and marched himself toward the door. He was inside the room before he realised she wasn't alone and froze in the doorway.
While he had been back on Earth after the siege, Teyla had formed a militia of sorts with any Athosians interested in helping defend the city and the mainland in case they were ever attacked again. Once they had returned, Elizabeth had agreed with the need for such a defensive force. She had arranged for regular flights to shuttle those interested in helping to defend the city back-and-forth from the mainland for training.
Teyla acknowledged him with a nod, and he watched as she finished her lesson. The two women touched foreheads, and John waited for the young woman to leave, then followed Teyla over to the bench near the windows.
"You are looking well," she said as she found a bottle of water.
John nodded. "According to all of Beckett's tests, I'm back to being me again." He picked up a set of sticks, avoiding her gaze.
Teyla took a sip of water and watched as he twirled one of the sticks in his hand.
"So, ahh, there's something I should probably apologise for," he said after a brief silence and forced himself to focus on Teyla.
Teyla rested a hand on his arm, and he tried not to flinch. "Give it no further thought," she told him.
Needless to say, that was not the reaction he was expecting. He stopped twirling the stick and studied Teyla's expression. When he saw she meant what she said, he nodded. "Good." He gave her a tiny smile. "I won't."
Teyla nodded. "It is good to have you back, John," she replied.
"I may have some other news for you as well," Teyla said.
She nodded. "Halling radioed while you were in the infirmary. After I spoke to him last month, he went back through the old texts again looking for more information on the Way."
John stopped twirling the stick in his hand. "He found something?"
Teyla nodded. "Possibly, yes. The text is old and difficult to translate, but Halling did find mention of a shared bond between two individuals walking one of the paths of The Way. That may be describing the link you and Rodney possess."
John frowned and lazily twirled the stick. He had hoped for more than vague references to something they already knew.
"It is not much, I know," Teyla started to say, but John shook his head.
"At least we now know there might be something else to find," he told her.
Teyla smiled and nodded. "Halling said he would keep working on it. Charon or one of the other elders may be able to help translate more of the text."
"I appreciate it. I'm sure McKay will as well."
Teyla turned and had taken a few steps toward the door when John said, "Speaking of McKay, I don't suppose you've seen him recently?" he asked and twirled the stick in his hand again.
Teyla turned around and shook her head. "He has spent most of the past two weeks either in his lab or the infirmary. Other than at breakfast, I usually do not see him for the rest of the day. I do not believe Ronon has seen much of him either." She crossed back over to John and added, "He has been very concerned about you. I do not believe he has been sleeping very well these last few weeks."
John thought back to the nights he had woken up to the sound of typing coming from near his bedside and had to agree.
Teyla started to say something else, then stopped and shook her head.
"What?" John asked as she hesitated.
"I am not sure," she admitted. "Rodney has not been acting like himself of late." She paused, and John wondered what the problem could be that had her so worried. "I believe it is more than mere concern for your wellbeing."
John thought back to his conversation with Beckett about the link.
Before he could say anything, Teyla glanced at him and said, "A week or so ago, I noticed Rodney was favoring his right hand and that his wrist was bruised."
John winced and closed his eyes.
"I did attempt to ask him what had happened," Teyla continued, obviously misunderstanding his reaction, "but he refused to answer. I am certain he was not injured during the missions to the cave, and I am concerned that he believes he cannot tell us what happened."
John ducked his head and set the pair of sticks back on the bench. He was surprised that even after what he had done, McKay had tried so hard to protect him from his own actions.
"I'll talk to him," he promised and followed Teyla out of the room and back to the transporter.
John walked into McKay's lab a few minutes later and frowned as he looked around. The lab was usually immaculate, everything in its proper place. Now, however, the desk was cluttered with folders and scattered bits of paper. The mystery box sat on one end of the work table, surrounded by tools and crystals. What looked like the cloaking generator from one of the jumpers sat on the floor under the table. Three different computers were lined up on one side of the table running various programs while McKay sat in his shirtsleeves opposite the machines poking at some sort of artefact.
"Radek, I thought I said --" McKay looked up with a glare and froze. "You aren't Zelenka," he said and put down the device he was working on.
John looked down at himself. "Nope."
McKay turned away and picked up a screwdriver, twisting it in his hand. "Did you want something?"
"Can't a guy just drop by to visit?" John asked with a smile.
McKay huffed out a breath. "You haven't been down here in months, Colonel. So what did you need?"
John froze. Had it really been that long? he wondered and was shocked to realise McKay was right. He hadn't been down to the lab since everything that happened on Doranda.
He hooked the spare stool with his foot, pulled it over, and sat at the end of the table. "I wanted to see how you were doing."
McKay looked up at him. "Me?" he mumbled. "I'm fine."
John leant forward on the stool. "Beckett talked to me about a few things," he said.
"Oh?" McKay replied with false innocence. He glanced at John then went back to fidgeting with the screwdriver.
John sat back on the stool. "Why didn't you go see him about your wrist?"
"You're kidding, right?" The sarcasm was evident in McKay's tone as well as in the glare he directed at John.
"No," John told him, his tone serious. "I could have --"
"Exactly," McKay interrupted. "What was I supposed to tell Carson when he asked what happened?"
"The truth?" John retorted. The memory of feeling the bones in McKay's wrist grind together flashed in his mind. He crossed his arms over his chest and studied the end of the worktable. "I could have really hurt you," he added in a near-whisper.
McKay shook his head and dropped the screwdriver on the table. "It wasn't really you, you know. I know that." He looked down at his wrist and rubbed his thumb over one of the faded bruises. "I didn't go see Carson because I didn't want him to know. I didn't want anyone to know." He looked up at John. "I was really hoping you wouldn't remember anything about it," he murmured.
John leant forward on the stool. "I am sorry."
McKay shrugged and picked up the screwdriver again. "Like I said, it wasn't really you."
John waited a moment, then said, "Carson also told me you thought the link was gone."
McKay looked up. "Carson talks too much," he deflected.
"He's worried about you."
"Worried about me?" McKay scoffed. "I'm not the one who was almost turned into a giant bug."
John grimaced and glanced down at the scaly mark on his arm.
"Sorry," McKay muttered.
John waved off the apology. Before he could say anything else, one of the computers pinged.
"Finally," McKay said. He stood and walked around John to check the machine.
"What's up?" John asked as McKay studied the screen.
McKay glanced at him, then focused on the computer. "You remember those symbols I found on that cave wall on Lurra?"
John nodded. "You thought they might be a 'gate address."
"Exactly. And it turns out I was right."
McKay gave him a distracted nod. "According to this, the address is for a planet called Rivis." He looked up at John and added, "It looks like the Ancients had some sort of research station on the planet."
"What, like that observatory we found on Kalani's planet?" John asked and stood to see the computer screen.
McKay shook his head as he read. "Bigger." He looked up, and John saw a spark of McKay's usual excitement. "It looks like they may have been studying the stargates."
"Okay," John drawled. "What were they studying about them?"
McKay ignored him and continued reading. "I don't believe it," he murmured, stepping back from the computer.
"McKay?" John asked as McKay stared at the computer.
"We need to talk to Elizabeth," McKay said. He unplugged the computer and made to brush past John.
"Hey," John said and held up a hand. "What did you find?"
McKay looked over at him, his eyes wide. "I think I found where the Ancients designed the stargates used in the Pegasus galaxy," he replied in an awed whisper.
"We need to talk to Elizabeth," John agreed and led the way out of the lab.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Elizabeth looked up from the report she was reading when Rodney stormed into her office with Sheppard in tow.
"Rodney?" she asked with a glance at John.
"We need to send a team to this planet," Rodney said, handing her a piece of paper. "Preferably, this team," he added, pointing at himself and Sheppard.
Elizabeth glanced down at the scrawled 'gate address. "Why? What's going on?"
Rodney came around the desk, pushed aside the report she'd been reading, and set the computer he carried in front of her. "That's why."
Elizabeth looked up at Rodney hovering behind her then down at the computer. She skimmed through the information on the screen. "I don't --"
"There," he told her impatiently as he scrolled through the information. He stopped at one section and pointed. "That part right there."
Elizabeth read the section and felt her stomach lurch. "You think this is where the Ancients built the stargates?"
"We know the 'gates here in Pegasus are a different design from those in the Milky Way." He nodded to the 'gate below. "More refined, less mechanical. It makes sense that the Ancients would need someplace to build and test a new design."
"I suppose," Elizabeth said. "But the Ancients left Earth and came to the Pegasus galaxy millions of years ago. Chances are, there's nothing left of that research at this point."
Rodney shook his head and pointed to another section of data. "That's the best part," he said with a grin. "According to this, the Ancients were still on Rivis almost until the end of the war when they left to return to Earth. They were still researching wormholes and the technology necessary to control them, amongst other things."
Elizabeth sat back in her chair as the implications of what Rodney was telling her sank in.
"What about the Wraith?" John asked. "If the planet was so important to the Ancients, wouldn't they have known about it and have destroyed everything during the war?"
Rodney stood up straight. "That's why we need to go there. We need to find out if anything still exists. If any of their research facilities are still standing, it could mean a wealth of information we could use."
"Use how?" Sheppard asked.
Rodney looked over at him. "Any number of ways. Just understanding how the Ancients managed to create stable wormholes at all would rewrite most of what we know about astrophysics and how the universe in general works."
Elizabeth sat forward in her chair. "I agree. We need to investigate further."
"Yes!" Rodney exclaimed. "I can be ready --"
Elizabeth held up a hand. "But we send a MALP first. Let's make sure there's still something to find before sending anyone to survey the planet."
Rodney looked like he wanted to argue, then changed his mind. "Fine," he grudgingly agreed. "I'll get the MALP ready to go." He picked up the computer and left the office.
Sheppard started to follow, but Elizabeth stopped him before he could reach the door. "Colonel," she called.
John paused and turned around.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" she asked as Sheppard came back and sat in the chair on the other side of the desk.
"If McKay is right, we need to see if there's anything still on Rivis we can use." John shrugged and added, "And like I told you before, I feel fine. I'm sure if I, or better, if you explain to Beckett why this is important, he'll clear me."
Elizabeth clasped her hands together on the desk and gave him a pointed look. "That's not what I mean. This has all the makings to be Doranda all over again."
John pushed himself out of the chair and paced a few steps toward the door and back.
"He knows he went too far on Doranda," John replied.
Elizabeth shook her head. "Do you trust him not to go too far again?"
Sheppard looked at the floor and crossed his arms over his chest. McKay had been better during off-world missions. He did what Sheppard ordered and didn't take chances. On the other hand, Elizabeth was right. This was the first planet on the same potential scale as Doranda.
John sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"That's what I thought," Elizabeth said.
The 'gate started to dial, and John glanced out the window. "It's too late now," he said and nodded toward the gateroom. Elizabeth stood and walked around her desk until she could see down into the room below. Rodney stood to one side of the active 'gate as a MALP trundled toward the shimmering event horizon.
"If there is anything left on that planet, he's going to want to see it for himself," John said as the MALP disappeared through the event horizon.
Rodney looked up at the office and waved.
"I won't let things get out-of-control again," John promised as the 'gate shut down.
"I hope not," Elizabeth whispered to herself as Sheppard left the office.
Rodney stood in the middle of his cluttered lab the next afternoon trying to find everything he needed for the mission to Rivis. He stowed the laptop computer in his pack and turned to the messy worktable. "Cables," he muttered as he searched the worktable and then the desk. "They were right here."
"Rodney?" Zelenka called from the door.
"What?" Rodney growled as he shuffled through the papers on his desk.
"I came -- What are you looking for?"
"The interface cables for the computer. I left them right here." He dropped the stack of papers in his hand and looked around the room.
Radek walked into the lab, a tablet computer in one hand, and looked around with a slightly startled expression.
"Did you need something?" Rodney asked with an impatient glance at Zelenka as he went back to the worktable.
Radek followed him across the room, shaking his head. "Doctor Corrigan wasn't sure --"
"Aha!" Rodney exclaimed and held up the elusive bundle of cables. He stuffed them in a pocket of the backpack and looked up. "Why is Corrigan sending you anything? You're an engineer, not an archaeologist."
Radek frowned. "You have not been, how shall I say, accessible much of late?"
Rodney scowled at him across the worktable. "I've had a few things on my mind the last few weeks."
Zelenka held up a hand. "Yes, yes, we know. That is why Doctor Corrigan brought his report to me. No one is blaming you for being concerned for Colonel Sheppard."
Rodney ducked his head and fiddled with one of the zippers on the backpack. He'd been worried about Sheppard, certainly, but the fact the link seemed to be gone had taken just as much of his attention.
"What did Corrigan want?" he asked.
"He wanted to update you on the latest translations from Doctor Chaudhri and his linguistics team. They have been working on the books you found in the Ancient archive several months ago."
The memory of that long, low building filled with various devices, not to mention shelves of books, flashed before his eyes. Major Lorne had reported the building a total loss, and he still felt a twinge of guilt for not saving more of it when he had the chance; angry natives trying to burn them alive notwithstanding.
"Anything of interest?" Rodney asked.
"It is slow going," Zelenka replied. "Some of the texts are very technical and difficult to translate."
Rodney nodded. "Good. Hopefully, that means there will be some useful information in them when they're done."
"True" Radek agreed. "One of the smaller books has been easier," he added as he read something on the tablet. "It looks like some sort of philosophical tract. There are several mentions of a 'way' --"
Rodney jerked his head up and stared across the table. "What did you say?"
Zelenka looked up from the tablet with a puzzled expression. "There were two small books you brought back from Mendar," he explained. "One of them appears to be about some sort of personal journey. What little the team has been able to translate so far mentions different paths and something referred to as following the way."
Rodney thought back to the team's last few minutes in the archive. He'd been clutching two books, each about half the size of a paperback novel, in his hands when Carson and Thompson appeared through the smoke. He had a vague memory of Thompson taking the books from him, but with everything that had happened since that mission, he'd completely forgotten about them.
Now at Zelenka's mention of The Way, he felt his stomach lurch.
"Show me," he ordered and held out his hand for the computer.
"Umm, okay," Radek replied, clearly confused as he handed over the computer. "I am surprised you would be so interested."
Rodney ignored him as he read through the disappointingly short report. "They didn't finish translating it?"
Zelenka shrugged. "It did not seem relevant to any current research. Per your standing orders, anything that is not directly related to our survival here is given a low priority."
Rodney forced himself to remain calm. "Tell Chaudhri to assign someone to finish the translation of that book."
"I do not understand --"
"You don't need to understand," Rodney told him with a scowl. "Just tell him to get someone working on that translation."
Radek pursed his lips. "All right," he replied and made a note on the tablet computer.
Rodney saw he was about to ask why the book was so important and changed the subject. "While I'm gone, you need to meet with the botanists. Heller keeps sending me emails about some problem with the hydroponics lab."
Radek gave him a strange look.
"What now?" Rodney demanded.
"Nothing," Zelenka replied. He glanced down at the tablet computer, and Rodney noted he was trying hard not to smile. "It is just interesting that you do not want to talk to them yourself. Doctor Brown is the botanist in charge of that project, after all."
Rodney used the excuse of shouldering the backpack to look away from Radek. His disastrous 'date' with Katie Brown was still too fresh in his memory, and over the last several months, he'd done his best to avoid any interaction with her. The few times he'd been cornered by her in the hallways since, he had mumbled some excuse and left before she had the chance to say anything.
"I don't know what you mean," Rodney muttered and concentrated on adjusting the straps for the backpack.
Zelenka gave him a knowing look, then thankfully dropped the subject.
"I should be back in a day or two," Rodney said a moment later. "Try not to destroy my city while I'm gone."
Zelenka made a face and Rodney grinned.
"Are you certain there is anything to find?" Zelenka asked as Rodney walked toward the door to the lab. "The MALP didn't show much other than the standing stones. If this base is as old as you think …" He shrugged. "There may be nothing left."
"There weren't any buildings close to the 'gate," Rodney agreed. "That's why we're taking a jumper. Hopefully, an aerial survey will turn something up the MALP missed." He paused in the doorway. "If this really is where the Ancients tested a new 'gate design when they arrived in the Pegasus galaxy, just think what I might find."
"Hmm," Zelenka muttered.
Rodney caught his eye roll and scowled. "Just find out what Heller's problem is while I'm gone, all right?"
"Yes, yes, go," Radek replied and waved a hand at the door. "I will tell Doctor Brown you said hello."
Rodney gave Zelenka one last glare, then left the lab.
He walked into the jumper bay a few minutes later, saw Sheppard through the windscreen for the jumper, and waved.
"There you are," Sheppard said as Rodney dumped his pack on one of the rear seats before taking his usual spot in the co-pilot's chair. "I thought you were the one all eager to get to this planet."
"I needed to talk to Zelenka about a few things," Rodney replied. He glanced at Sheppard's arm, the callus now concealed by the uniform jacket, and gave John a sideways look. "You're sure you're okay? I thought Beckett wasn't going to clear you for another week."
"It was another few days," Sheppard corrected as he finished the preflight checks and powered up the jumper. "Elizabeth talked to him."
Rodney studied him a moment longer as Teyla and Ronon settled in the remaining two cockpit seats. "You're sure?"
"I'm fine," Sheppard growled. "Dial the 'gate."
Rodney gave him a last skeptical look but chose not to push as he punched in the address for Rivis.
The jumper lifted off a few seconds later, and the docking system dropped them down into the gateroom.
John waved out the windscreen at Elizabeth standing on the control room balcony, and Rodney saw Weir tap her earpiece.
"Good luck," she said over the radio.
"We'll check-in in a few days and let you know what we've found," Sheppard replied.
The jumper hung in place for a moment longer, then sailed through the event horizon.
At first glance, Rodney didn't see anything remarkable about Rivis as a planet. The forest surrounding the 'gate looked like various species of evergreen, while the 'gate itself sat in a wide clearing. Unlike most planets the expedition visited, a circle of standing stones stood around the edge of the clearing, while a second, smaller circle surrounded the 'gate itself.
"Huh," Rodney said as he looked out the windscreen. "That's different."
"I've seen stones like this on a few planets," Ronon said. "Most of those planets were deserted."
"Looks like Stonehenge," Sheppard commented as he pulled back on the control sticks and the jumper gained altitude.
"Archaeologists think Stonehenge is at least five thousand years old," Rodney pondered as he studied the stones. "Maybe it's even older than we think."
Sheppard grinned. "Are you seriously suggesting the Ancients built Stonehenge?"
Rodney shrugged and pressed a series of tiles on the panel in front of him. "Why not? Do you have any idea how many people actually believe it was built by some sort of alien culture?" He glanced around at the interior of the jumper, then pointed out the windscreen at the stones. "Maybe they were right."
The HUD popped up on the windscreen in front of them, and Rodney continued, "The jumper's sensors confirm what the MALP sent back. There are no signs of any sort of population on the planet. Life signs are pretty random, no large clusters, probably just animals. There are no particulates in the air, indicating any sort of pollution." He read the last of the data and sat back with a frown. "No energy signatures, either."
"So no way to track down your Ancient research facility," Sheppard said as they circled the clearing.
"We know it was built before the Wraith were a threat," Rodney said as he looked out the windscreen.
"Wouldn't matter," Ronon said. "It would still need to be hidden somehow."
"I agree with Ronon," Teyla added. "You said the Ancestors were here nearly to the end of their war with the Wraith, correct?"
Rodney nodded as he studied the data on the HUD.
"If that is the case, the research base must have been concealed somehow to avoid detection."
"Makes sense," Sheppard agreed, "So where do you suggest we look for it?"
"Could be underground," Ronon suggested, and Rodney shuddered at the idea.
Sheppard grimaced. "If that's the case, we may never find it."
Rodney looked out the windscreen and snapped his fingers several times. "Mountains. Where are the closest mountains?" he muttered. He pressed a series of tiles on his panel and looked up at the HUD as a map of the surrounding area appeared. "There." He pointed to a rugged mountain range on the display. "Head in that direction."
"Okay. Why?" Sheppard asked as he pointed the jumper in the direction Rodney indicated.
"The cave," Teyla said, and glanced at Rodney. "You said the cave on Lurra had been made somehow. That it wasn't a natural cave."
"Exactly!" Rodney replied. "What if that cave wasn't the first thing the Ancients had used that technology for? What if they carved an entire research base out of a mountain?"
"So more caves," Ronon said.
"Probably, yes," Rodney said with a sigh.
"Great," Ronon muttered, and Rodney had to agree.
Ten minutes later, the peaks of the distant mountains came into view. A few minutes after that, they spotted something that made Rodney's jaw drop.
"What was that you were saying about caves?" Sheppard asked as he slowed the jumper and circled the valley.
"For once, I'm glad to be wrong," Rodney whispered and shook his head as he stared out the window as Sheppard flew the jumper closer.
Situated in the low saddle between two peaks, was a building carved from the side of the mountain itself. A series of tall columns stood to either side of a wide stone door. Various animals, some familiar and others Rodney hoped were only fanciful, stood between each of the columns.
"I have never seen such construction before," Teyla said, and Rodney heard the sense of awe in her voice.
"There are several places on Earth with buildings carved into the mountains," Rodney said as he stared at the turrets and false windows carved out of the rock.
"First Stonehenge, now Petra," Sheppard added as he flew lower. He peered up toward the top of the mountain and added, "There's no real line-of-sight either. The surrounding mountains protect it from view, Unless you're coming at it from just the right direction, chances are you'd never see the building from the air."
"If this was built before the Wraith were a threat, what were they hiding from?" Ronon asked.
Sheppard shrugged. "No idea. Maybe the Ancients were always the secretive type."
"If the Ancients did leave anything behind, hopefully, the fact the building is made from stone protected it," Rodney said and looked over at Sheppard. "Tell me there is somewhere to land."
Sheppard took the jumper lower, and Rodney scanned the ground. "What about there?" he asked and pointed to an open area next to the main door.
Sheppard shook his head. "Too exposed."
"Exposed to what? There's no one here except us."
"Call it a habit," Sheppard replied as the jumper circled the open space in front of the stone building. "You don't leave your getaway vehicle in plain sight."
"We have a cloak," Rodney pointed out.
John glared over at him, and Rodney shook his head. "Fine. Where do you want to land?"
Sheppard pointed out the windscreen. "That'll do," he said and landed the jumper behind a line of trees a few minutes later.
"Finally," Rodney muttered and followed Ronon toward the back of the ship as Sheppard lowered the rear hatch.
Rodney shouldered his pack, stepped off the ramp, walked a few paces away from the ship, and looked around. The trees were much the same as the evergreens near the 'gate. He heard birds chirping in the trees, and he zipped his jacket higher as a cool breeze whispered through the branches.
Dex had his particle weapon out, and he scanned the nearby trees with wary attention.
"The sensors didn't show anyone living here, remember?" Rodney reminded him as Dex wandered away from the jumper.
"No reason not to double-check," Ronon replied, and disappeared into the woods.
Something in the forest let out a high-pitched squawk a few seconds later, and Rodney turned in time to see a flock of enormous green and blue birds take flight. He watched the birds as they flew off in the direction of the stargate, then shook his head and turned his attention back to the jumper.
"Everyone remember where we parked," Sheppard said as he stepped off the ramp.
The hatch closed and Rodney watched the ship shimmer for a moment before it disappeared as Sheppard engaged the cloak.
"We clear?" Sheppard asked as Dex came back out of the trees.
"No sign anyone has been here," Ronon replied.
"Like I said before, the sensors didn't pick up any evidence of anyone living on the planet," Rodney said.
Ronon rolled his eyes and pointed to his right. "The building was back this way," he said to John.
"Take point," Sheppard ordered. "I've got our six."
Ronon nodded and led the way back through the woods.
They came back into the open space in front of the building a few minutes later, and Rodney stood in front of the building, staring at the columns towering over his head. If anything, standing on the ground only emphasised the scale of what the Ancients had built.
Thanks to the different geologic layers, the building was a rainbow of reds, yellows, and oranges, more than thirty meters high. Now that he was closer, it was easy for Rodney to see the geometric patterns, similar to those they found in Atlantis, carved into the walls as well as the massive door.
"Impressive," Ronon said as he stopped next to Rodney.
"Seriously? That's the best you can come up with?" Rodney asked.
"I don't know, McKay," Sheppard said as he walked by. "Impressive seems to cover things pretty well."
Rodney shook his head and climbed the broad steps in front of the building. He frowned when he noticed the partially open door. So much for an undisturbed site, he thought to himself as he walked up to the door. He only hoped whoever had scavenged the site before them had left something for him to find.
"Guess we aren't the first ones to find this place after all," Rodney said over his shoulder and reached out to pull the door wider.
"Wait," Sheppard hissed. He stood to one side of the door and nodded to Ronon who took the other.
"I doubt there's anyone still here," Rodney groused, but stood to one side as Sheppard pulled the heavy door wide enough for Dex to slip inside.
"Stay behind me," Sheppard said to Rodney as he followed Ronon inside.
The interior of the building was nothing like Rodney expected. For one thing, he expected it to be dark and was surprised he didn't need his flashlight. Looking up, he saw long shafts cut into the ceiling at regular intervals that acted as skylights as well as providing fresh air. The rest of the room was a large open space, and he quickly forgot he was technically inside a mountain.
Tall columns rose from the floor to the ceiling high above them, where stone buttresses held up the rest of the mountain. Colorful tiled mosaics decorated the walls. Some were of people, others were a series of interconnected circles that reminded him of the patterned mosaics he'd seen once in Morocco. The designs made him more than a bit cross-eyed as he studied them.
Rodney wandered over to the only exit from the room and peered down the hall. Sheppard stopped beside him, gave the corridor a cursory glance and turned to Ronon and Teyla standing behind them. Sheppard gave Ronon a pointed look and led the way down the hall. Rodney started to follow, but Ronon stopped him, letting Teyla go next. Rodney sighed but fell into step behind her.
The hallway was wide enough they could have walked two-abreast, and the walls were decorated with more geometric patterns.
Teyla reached out and touched one of the circular patterns as they walked. "The Ancestors were artists as well as scientists," she said as she looked around.
"It's the Golden Ratio writ large," Rodney agreed as he studied the pattern.
Teyla gave him a puzzled look.
"It's a mathematical concept," Rodney explained and pointed at the spiral pattern. "Basically, if you were to section a line into two unequal parts, the long part divided by the short part would be equal to the whole line divided just by the long part."
Sheppard shook his head and glanced back at Teyla. "It's what makes flowers and seashells or," he nodded at the tiled wall, "mosaics, nice to look at."
"Ahh. Thank you, Colonel," Teyla replied and ran her hand over the pattern again.
Rodney humphed, and John grinned.
They continued down the hall, their progress slowed by the number of doorways cut into the walls of the hallway and Sheppard insisting they check each one. Some of the rooms were empty, others were blocked by piles of stone rubble, and Rodney swallowed at the reminder he was walking through what amounted to a tunnel carved out of a mountain.
Sheppard held up a hand outside another of the openings before he ducked into the room.
"Didn't these people believe in doors?" Rodney groused to no one in particular as Sheppard disappeared into the room.
"Clear," John called a moment later and stepped back into the hall.
"Not all societies have the same concerns about privacy," Teyla suggested.
Rodney shook his head. "It would drive me nuts."
Teyla smiled and followed as Sheppard continued down the hall.
They walked into a brightly lit courtyard a few minutes later, and Rodney stared in amazement.
"Okay, maybe impressive is a good word," Rodney said as he walked around one side of the room.
The courtyard was twice as big as the atrium inside the main door, and Rodney had to remind himself where he was as he walked around the brightly lit space. Four shafts cut into each corner of the roof lit most of the room, while a fifth shaft in the middle of the ceiling highlighted a multi-tiered water fountain situated on a low plinth. Arches lined the sides of the room, each containing an alcove with a pedestal. Some of the pedestals were empty, others held statues of people or animals. Patterns of tiny blue, green, and yellow tiles covered the walls, fountain, and the floor.
"It is beautiful," Teyla said as she turned in a slow circle.
Rodney silently agreed as he wandered over to the empty fountain. A series of shallow troughs in the floor led away from the fountain and under the nearby walls. "This was more than decorative," he said as he peered into the fountain. "I think this part of a well system that supplied water to the rest of the complex."
"Makes sense," Ronon said as he walked past. "A fortress needs a secure water source."
"This isn't a fortress," Rodney told him.
Ronon gazed up at the roof, then back toward the front of the building. "Isn't it?"
"There's a door over here," Sheppard called, and Rodney saw him standing near one of the arches.
"Got another one on this side," Ronon said.
"Which way do we go?" Teyla asked.
Sheppard walked back to Rodney. "I don't suppose you found any maps of the layout while researching this place?"
Rodney shook his head. "I was expecting a regular building with something more like the labs in Atlantis. Not," he looked around, "a city built into a mountain."
Sheppard made a face and glanced from one opening to the other. "All right. I'll take Teyla and go that way." He pointed to the opening behind him. "Ronon, you and McKay go that way." He pointed to the opening in front of him. "We'll meet back here in an hour. Radio if you find something."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
John watched McKay head down the other hallway and nodded to himself when Ronon caught up with him, pulled McKay behind him, and took the lead as they left the courtyard.
"Come on," he said to Teyla and nodded at the other hallway. "Let's see what we can find."
"It is hard to believe we are inside a mountain," Teyla said as they walked.
John looked up and down the hallway. "Hopefully, McKay feels the same way."
"Perhaps if he finds the research he is looking for, it will help him to forget where he is," she suggested with a smile.
John grimaced and glanced through another opening. Unlike the rooms of the first hallway, these rooms contained tables and chairs. Stone shelves, some still filled with clay jars and bottles, lined the back walls.
"What do you think?" John asked as he stepped into another of the rooms. "Storerooms?"
Teyla nodded, walked over to a broken shelf, and bent down. "It is possible this part of the complex was used as a trade depot." She held up a broken piece of clay. "This looks like it was part of a large container and there are dried husks for some type of grain or seed on the floor." She put the potsherd down and stood. "This building was clearly a center for the Ancestor's society at one time. I believe Rodney is correct, there may be much we can learn here."
John huffed out a breath and stepped back into the hall.
His relationship with McKay had improved over the last few months. However, there was still that stab of doubt when he wondered if McKay really had changed, or if it was merely the lack of opportunity that had kept him from going off the deep end again.
"Do you trust him not to go too far again?" Elizabeth's question echoed in his mind.
The problem, he realised, was he really didn't know the answer.
He felt Teyla watching him and tried to ignore the scrutiny as he checked another room.
"Colonel?" she asked as they continued down the hall.
"Teyla?" John replied in the same tone.
"Is everything all right?"
John glanced over at her. "I told you I was fine."
"That is not what I mean."
John used the excuse of checking another room to avoid Teyla's question.
"Empty," he said and continued walking.
"You seem concerned about something," Teyla said after a brief silence.
John sighed. Clearly, Teyla wasn't going to let the matter drop. He tightened his grip on the P-90 and said, "I just don't want a repeat of Doranda."
Teyla nodded. "That is understandable. But Rodney did promise you he would not let his … enthusiasm get the better of him again."
John stopped walking and turned to face her. "I know he did. But this is going to be the first time he's really tempted since …" He let the sentence peter out.
"And you still are not certain you can trust him," Teyla finished.
John started to protest, but Teyla shook her head. "It is still quite plain, that is how you feel. I am certain Rodney knows he has yet to earn back your faith in him."
John stared at her at a loss on how to respond. He thought he'd been doing a reasonably good job of concealing his doubts over the last few months.
"Were you aware you have not used Rodney's given name at all in the months since the Arcturus weapon was destroyed?" Teyla asked.
John opened his mouth to deny what she was saying, then stopped.
"You haven't been down here in months, Colonel," he remembered McKay telling him when he'd visited the lab.
Maybe not doing such a great job after all, Sheppard, he chastised himself. He gave Teyla a sideways glance and rubbed the back of his neck.
Teyla reached out and tapped his arm. "I believe this is the chance Rodney has been hoping for," she said with a gentle smile. "The chance to re-earn your trust."
John adjusted the strap for the P-90. "Here's hoping you're right about that," he replied and started walking again.
Their hallway ended at another junction a few minutes later.
"Any preference?" John said as he looked first down one hall and then the other.
"They appear much the same," Teyla replied.
"We'll try this way," John said and led the way down the right-hand passage.
They checked a few of the rooms as they walked, but the farther they went, the more John started to believe McKay was right, no one else was in the building. They turned another corner and stopped short when the hallway ended in a rockfall.
John tried to pull one of the stones free, but it was wedged tight. "No time to try digging through this," he said and glanced at his watch. "We need to meet Ronon and McKay in twenty minutes. Let's make a quick check of the other hall and then head back to the fountain."
Teyla nodded, and they retraced their steps to the junction.
There weren't as many of the doorways along the new hallway, and while the walls were still decorated with the colored tiles, the designs were simple lines as opposed to the intricate geometric patterns they had seen in the room with the fountain.
John stepped through the doorway of one of the rooms and stopped short.
"I think we found the Ancient equivalent of the armoury," he said as Teyla followed him inside the room.
Two long tables sat at either end of the room, and a console station was built into one wall. What piqued John's interest, were the shelves against the back wall of the room. Unlike the rooms they thought were for trading goods, these shelves held a variety of devices and equipment.
"Look familiar?" John said and pointed at a row of bulbous weapons lining one of the shelves.
"That is the same weapon as the one Ronon found in the archive on Mendar."
"Yeah, that's what I thought, too," John agreed and reached for one of the weapons.
"It appears some of these weapons are missing," Teyla said and pointed to another one of the shelves.
John glanced over where Teyla stood and noticed several places where there were gaps between the weapons. "The question is, was our sticky-fingered thief here recently or did this happen years ago?"
"It is difficult to say for certain," Teyla replied as she looked around the room.
John ran a finger along the shelf, being careful not to touch any of the weapons. "It looks like close to a dozen of these guns are missing." He checked his watch and added, "There's another room across the hall. Let's check that one and see if there are more of these weapons missing, then we need to head back."
Teyla nodded and turned toward the doorway.
John tapped her arm. "Stay sharp. Just in case our weapons dealer is still here."
Teyla nodded and led the way to the next room. John pursed his lips when he found more empty spots on shelves of weapons in the next room.
"Could someone have found a way to make these weapons function without the gene?" Teyla asked.
John shook his head. "I don't think so. My guess is whoever took them either didn't know he would need the gene to make them work, or he thought he could take them apart and sell the components." He glanced at his watch. "Come on, we need to meet Ronon and McKay."
John checked the hall on reflex when they left the armoury, then led the way back through the hallways to the courtyard with the fountain. He walked in the room and frowned when he found the courtyard empty.
"Where are Rodney and Ronon?" Teyla asked as she walked around the fountain.
"Good question," John replied. "We were late getting back here. They should have been waiting for us."
"Should we --" Teyla started to say at the same time John heard the hiss-pop of some sort of weapon and felt a sharp pain in his neck.
He winced as he pulled a small triangular dart from the back of his neck, stared at it for a moment, then dropped it.
"Get down!" John ordered and pushed Teyla toward the questionable cover of the fountain as more darts sailed in their direction.
John popped his head up and counted three people hiding in the alcoves across the courtyard.
He heard Teyla's P-90 firing as she tried to defend them and forced himself to raise his own weapon and return fire even as he felt his arms and legs slowly going numb.
"Colonel Sheppard?" Teyla muttered a few seconds later. "Something is not right," she whispered, and John glanced at her long enough to see her pulling a dart from her shoulder.
Who was shooting at them? he wondered even as a second dart hit him. And where had they come from?
The shooting stopped, and John saw three indistinct shapes converging on the fountain. He tried to keep the P-90 aimed at the alcove even as he sagged against the fountain, but he lost his grip on the rifle.
As he felt the world slipping away from him, he caught a glimpse of Teyla already on the ground and a blurry face standing over him.
"Find the others," a voice ordered just before John's world faded to black.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Ronon drew his particle gun and checked the charge as Sheppard and Teyla walked toward the other hallway. Contrary to what the Atlantean machines told them, he'd felt tense ever since they had walked into the stone building. There was something wrong, something off with the place. Something other than the fact they were walking around a town built inside a mountain.
Needless to say, he didn't think they should be splitting up. He holstered the weapon, making sure his duster stayed clear of the grip in case he needed to draw quickly, and turned to McKay still standing near the fountain.
"Come on," Ronon said with a grunt and tugged McKay toward the hallway.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," McKay groused, and Ronon allowed him to pull his arm free. McKay turned and called back across the courtyard to Sheppard, "If you find any labs, don't touch anything."
Sheppard flapped a hand in their direction. "Go," he ordered. "You've got one hour."
McKay muttered something else and walked over to the hallway.
"Watch yourselves," Sheppard said to Ronon with a pointed look at McKay's back.
Ronon wasn't sure if Sheppard was concerned for their general safety or what McKay would do if he found the lab he was looking for, but he nodded at Sheppard and said, "You too."
He caught up to McKay already at the doorway for their hallway and pulled him to a stop.
"Stay behind me," he ordered and led the way down the hall.
The corridor soon twisted away from the courtyard, and it didn't take them long to find more openings cut in the walls.
Ronon held up one hand, forcing McKay to stop as they neared the first doorway.
"Stay here," he ordered in a low voice.
Ronon waited for McKay's reluctant nod, then stepped into the room, gun drawn and raised, and scanned the room for any threats.
There wasn't much in the room other than a low bed and a desk against one wall near the door. He ducked around a stone partition at the back of the room and found a tiny bathroom.
He walked back into the main room and glared at the doorway when he found McKay standing just inside the room.
"Looks like basic living quarters," McKay said as he looked around. "And we thought the rooms in Atlantis were spartan when we first arrived."
"I thought I told you to stay in the hall," Ronon growled at him as he lowered the particle gun.
"How many times do I have to tell you there's no one here but us?" McKay asked as he wandered around, skirting the desk as he studied the room.
Ronon growled low in his throat. "There's something wrong," he said, not bothering to hide his frustration.
McKay shrugged and looked around the room. "If you say so."
Ronon shook his head and walked out of the room. He heard McKay grumbling something under his breath as he brushed past him, but chose to ignore it.
The next few rooms they checked looked much the same as the first, little more than basic living quarters, but Ronon couldn't shake the feeling he was missing something obvious. He ducked into another empty room, did a quick check and walked out again.
He was a few steps away from the room when it hit him what was wrong.
"You said there were animals on this planet," Ronon said and walked back into the last room.
McKay nodded as he followed. "The sensors on the MALP and in the jumper recorded any number of life signs."
"Any near the mountains?"
McKay frowned. "Sure, I guess," he replied, and Ronon heard the edge of impatience in his tone. "So what?"
"So where are they?" Ronon asked as he knelt down near the corner of the room.
McKay looked around, bewildered. "Umm, outside?"
Ronon shook his head. "Animals always find a way indoors. Why haven't we found any nests, or caches of bones from predators?"
"I don't know," McKay retorted. "Maybe they can't get inside."
"Bigger animals, maybe," Ronon conceded. He studied the floor for several seconds then picked up several small pellets. "Doesn't explain where the smaller ones have all gone, though." He held out his hand so McKay could see the pellets.
"What is that?" McKay asked as he bent closer.
"Scat. Probably from rats," Ronon said as he poked one of the small pellets with his finger.
"And you decided to pick it up?" McKay demanded as he backed up a step. "First outside the bug cave and now here. What is with you and animal droppings?"
"It's old. Weeks old." Ronon said. He dropped the pellets and scrubbed his hands on his trousers as he stood. "There are no fresh droppings."
"I think I'm okay with the rats all being gone," McKay retorted.
"You're missing the point," Ronon told him.
McKay crossed his arms over his chest. "What's the point, then?"
Ronon looked over at him. "Where are they now?"
McKay threw up his hands. "How should I know! Why does it even matter?"
"Someone else is here, or has been here recently."
"You got that from rat droppings?" McKay said with a sniff.
Ronon glared at McKay. "Something forced the rats to leave this area. We might want to find out what."
McKay opened his mouth, then shut it again, clearly thinking about what Ronon had said. "Okay," he finally said. "You might have a point. But that doesn't change the fact we need to find that research lab."
"Let's go," Ronon ordered as he walked out of the room. "We need to head back to Sheppard."
"Wait!" McKay called. "We have," he checked his watch, "We still have twenty minutes. We need to keep going."
"Why? There's nothing here."
"Exactly," McKay replied and took a few steps down the hall. "Do you want to go back and tell Sheppard the only thing we discovered was a bunch of empty rooms and some rat droppings?"
Ronon glanced up and down the hallway. "Fine. We get to the end of this hall. Then we go back."
McKay nodded and started walking. Ronon shook his head and pulled McKay back behind him.
Unlike the corridors near the front of the building, the hallway they walked down was rather plain in comparison. The walls were still decorated with tiles, however, instead of the intricate designs, the tiles on the walls were white with a single reddish-orange stripe at chest height. They turned another corner, and the hallway ended at a wide doorway that opened onto a large, open room. Ronon stood in the opening and visually cleared the room before he stepped inside, McKay on his heels.
"Finally something interesting," McKay muttered as he slipped around Ronon and stood a few paces inside the room.
Unlike the courtyard, there were none of the colorful mosaics in the room, instead, the walls were bare stone. One side of the room was lined with racks of shelves in four long rows while a pair of consoles stood against the opposite wall. A clear enclosure, roughly the same width and length as a jumper, stood in the middle of the room.
Ronon walked over to one of the transparent walls and peered inside. The device inside wasn't much bigger than a Wraith stun rifle. It stood on a tripod, the barrel pointed at the other end of the enclosed room where a series of thick metal rings stood stacked one in front of the next. A small control panel stood next to the tripod.
McKay stopped beside Ronon and peered into the room. "That is not what I was expecting," he muttered and wandered over to a pair of consoles against the wall to their left.
"Looks like a weapon," Ronon said.
McKay shook his head as he unclipped his backpack and pulled out a laptop computer. "You and Sheppard, always seeing a new gun to play with."
"What is it then?" Ronon asked.
"It could be any number of things," McKay retorted, his tone a mix of confusion and frustration. "Though apparently nothing to do with stargate design," he muttered to himself as he studied one of the consoles.
He glanced over at Ronon a moment later and added, "The information in the database in Atlantis said this planet was where the Ancients designed the 'gates used here in the Pegasus galaxy. While clearly that," he pointed at the enclosure, "is not a 'gate, it's much more likely the Ancients were designing something else to take advantage of their knowledge of wormhole physics, and not some new-fangled weapon."
Ronon shrugged. "Still think it looks like a gun."
"Let's hope not," McKay said. "I really wanted to find some of that initial 'gate research." He pulled a cable out of his pack and ducked under the console.
"Why? The stargate works fine."
McKay sat up and glared over at Ronon. "Do you have any idea what I could do with that research?" he asked. "Maybe I can find a way to contact Earth that isn't as large of a drain on the Zed-PM. Or better yet, figure out a way for Earth to contact us and save us the three-week wait for the Daedalus every time we need supplies."
Ronon shrugged and watched as McKay pulled the laptop computer closer and sat down at the console.
"All right, let's see what you really are," McKay muttered and touched the edge of the console. Ronon saw the pleased look on his face as the tiles on the console glowed to life.
Ronon frowned and stepped closer to the console. "I thought you said there weren't any power readings?"
"I did," McKay replied, and Ronon heard the mix of surprise and relief in his tone. McKay looked up at Ronon and added, "I guess, the energy source was only powered down. It just needed someone with the gene to activate it."
Ronon watched as McKay pressed a few of the tiles on the console, then wandered over to the racks of shelves. He heard McKay muttering behind him as he started down one of the rows of shelves.
He didn't recognise any of the items on the shelves. Unlike the archive on Mendar, the objects here looked more like spare components and random pieces rather than actual devices.
"Huh. Now that's interesting," he heard McKay say from the other side of the room.
Ronon walked back out of the row and looked over at the console.
"Not that different from ring technology," McKay continued talking to himself, and Ronon watched as he typed something on the laptop keyboard. "So how did you get from that …"
Ronon tuned out the rest of McKay's muttering and walked back over to the doorway.
"We need to be heading back," he said with a glance at McKay as he neared the door. "Sheppard will be expecting us soon."
"Yes, yes, yes," McKay replied, never looking up from the computer screen. "Just give me a minute here."
Ronon shook his head, turned toward the corner with the consoles, and stopped short when he saw movement in the hallway. He drew his particle weapon and took a step toward the hall when he remembered Sheppard's silent order before they left the courtyard to keep McKay safe. He grimaced and backed toward the consoles, keeping one eye on the doorway.
McKay looked over at him and frowned. "What's --" he started to ask, but Ronon cut him off.
"Get down," Ronon ordered and pushed McKay down behind the console.
Ronon turned and glared at McKay. "Because we aren't as alone as you thought."
McKay gave him a startled look and glanced at the door. "Maybe it's just Sheppard."
"Doubt it," Ronon said and peeked around the corner of the console. "Whoever it is, there's more than one, and they are trying to be quiet."
"That can't be right," McKay insisted. "Both the MALP and the jumper's sensors reported no indications of a population living here." He pulled the scanner out of his vest pocket and poked the screen. "Oh, that's not good," he muttered.
"What?" Ronon growled. He gave McKay a quick look then focused on the door.
McKay glanced over at him and swallowed. "The scanner is picking up four life sign readings coming from the hall."
Ronon growled and checked that the particle gun was set to kill. "I can take four."
"Umm," McKay said, and Ronon heard him hiss in a breath.
"Spit it out, McKay."
"There are also eight more readings back where we were supposed to meet the others. Assuming two of those are Teyla and Sheppard --"
"There are six more hostiles in your supposedly uninhabited building," Ronon finished as he rechecked the doorway.
"Well, yes, there's that." McKay put the scanner away and drew his Beretta. "But all of those readings are together. It looks like Sheppard and Teyla might be in trouble."
Before Ronon could reply, four men stormed into the room, firing their weapons. Ronon returned fire and heard the crack from McKay's Beretta beside him.
The beam from Ronon's blaster hit one of the men. He dropped to the ground near the door while the others ran for the racks of shelves, firing back at the console as they took cover amongst the racks.
Ronon ducked down as their attackers shot back and frowned at the strange hiss-pop sound made by their weapons. It didn't sound like any weapon he was familiar with.
"What's wrong now?" McKay asked as the Beretta clicked empty. He dropped to his knees and fumbled for the other magazine in one of his vest pockets.
Ronon ignored the question as more of the strange hiss-pops came from the other side of the room.
McKay had the Beretta reloaded and leant over the console as he opened fire again.
Ronon noted most of the shots bounced harmlessly off the walls near the racks. Still, the random spray of bullets forced their attackers to stay down as Ronon moved away from the console, looking for a better angle on whoever it was shooting at them.
The Beretta stopped firing, and Ronon glanced over at McKay in time to see him pull something out of his arm and stare down at the object in his hand.
Another hiss-pop came from the racks of shelves and McKay yelped as something hit him in the neck. He gave Ronon a frightened look, then slid off the console, landing on the floor with a painful-sounding thump.
Ronon ducked back behind the console and found McKay lying on his side with his eyes closed. He started to check for a pulse and growled when he saw a small triangular dart embedded in McKay's neck. He pulled out the dart, frowned at the red welt left by the dart, and let out a breath of relief when he found the slow, steady pulse beat at McKay's throat.
Ronon made sure McKay's body was entirely shielded by the console, then took aim at the racks of shelves across the room. A flurry of darts flew in his direction in response. One of the darts bounced harmlessly off the sleeve of his leather duster, but he felt a sharp stab in his neck as another of the darts found its mark.
He grunted as he pulled out the dart then fired at the shelves again. Several objects disintegrated, and others went flying as the rack collapsed on top of one of his attackers.
He heard a pained groan come from under the pile of debris and turned to the remaining two men even as he felt another dart hit him. He stumbled as his legs went numb and he leant against the wall as he fired back at the shelves. Another rack collapsed, scattering equipment across the floor.
A third dart hit him in the thigh and Ronon slid to the floor as his legs gave out under him. Ronon tried to raise his gun and snarled when he found he couldn't move.
The two men across the room stopped firing, rose from where they'd been hiding amongst the racks, and crept across the room. Ronon watched as the men approached and concentrated on raising the particle weapon, but he could no longer feel his arms.
"Leave him alone," he growled when one of the men circled around the console and stood over McKay.
"This one's stubborn," the man standing in front of Ronon said to his partner.
"Not this one," the other replied and knelt behind the console. "He's out cold," the man reported with a sneer and stood.
Ronon scowled at the man in front of him. "You'll pay for this."
The man snorted and kicked the particle gun out of Ronon's hand.
The other man grunted, and Ronon glanced to his left in time to see the man dragging McKay out from behind the console.
The distraction was all the first man needed as a fist connected with Ronon's jaw, and he lost consciousness.
The persistent buzzing-crackle of noise was enough of an irritation to force John back to painful consciousness. He wanted to order whoever had the jackhammer to stop using it on his skull, but all that came out was a low groan. He wasn't sure what he'd been doing last night, but he really hoped he'd had a good time doing it.
He lay still for a few minutes, waiting for his head to stop pounding. When he was reasonably confident his brain wouldn't explode if he tried to move, he decided to move, only to groan again when his arms, legs, and back sent up a fresh raft of protests.
"Sheppard?" a voice said, and John felt a hand on his arm.
"Ronon?" John mumbled in reply and finally succeeded in rolling over onto his back.
John slowly cracked his eyes open and saw Ronon kneeling in front of him. "What hap'n'd?" he asked. His hand found a welt on his neck, and he frowned.
"We weren't as alone as we thought," Ronon replied.
John digested that as he stared up at the ceiling for a moment, then started to push himself upright. He groaned again and felt Ronon shift his grip as he helped John sit up.
"Give it a minute," Ronon said.
John nodded, closed his eyes, and scrubbed his hands over his face. "Teyla? McKay?" he asked.
"They're here," Ronon told him and stood. "Still out, though."
John opened his eyes, glanced around, and saw McKay lying on his back a few feet away, Teyla lay against the wall across from John. He leant his head against the wall behind him and studied the rest of the room.
The pair of sconces on the wall near the door provided a dim light, something John decided to be grateful for as his head continued to pound. From what he could see of the room, the walls and floor were stone, and there was a dark shaft cut in the ceiling above him. It took his scrambled brain several long seconds to remember where he was and why.
Ronon prowled the end of the room closer to the door. Every now and then he would glance through the doorway looking one way then the other. John watched him pace for several seconds as he tried to work out what was wrong with the picture in front of him. He forced his aching brain to focus and realised Ronon wasn't wearing his leather duster and the holster for the particle weapon wasn't strapped to his leg.
John looked down at himself and found his pack, weapons, tac-vest, and jacket were also gone. A quick glance at McKay and Teyla showed them both in their shirt sleeves and all of their gear missing as well.
No good, John thought to himself and pinched the bridge of his nose. "How long have we been here?" he asked and looked up at Ronon.
Ronon shrugged and walked back over to John's side of the room. "Hard to say. Woke up a while ago. Been trying to find a way out ever since."
John braced himself against the wall, slowly climbed to his feet, and walked over to the doorway.
"I wouldn't," Ronon warned just as John tried to step through the doorway.
"Gah!" John yelped as an electric shock ran up his hand and arm. "What the hell?" he exclaimed as he jumped back from the door.
"Some kind of energy wall," Ronon replied and walked over to John. "If you stand here," He moved John to one side of the doorway, "you can see the emitters."
John looked where Ronon pointed and saw half a dozen silver tubes mounted on a stand at various heights. The tripod itself sat against the wall a few feet away from the doorway. He moved to the other side of the doorway and found another tripod with more tubes mounted on it.
"Some sort of electric grid?" he wondered. Standing near the doorway, he could clearly hear the buzz-crackle of the energy field in front of the opening. "Get too close --"
"Get a shock," Ronon finished, and showed John a raised burn in his arm.
"How did you do that?" John asked as he examined the angry, red welt encircling Ronon's forearm.
"Wanted to know if there was a way to overload the field. Get it to shut off."
John grimaced. "And you found out the hard way the answer was 'no'."
Ronon shrugged. "At least now we know what we're dealing with."
John shook his head. "Next time, wait for the rest of us. McKay," he glanced at Rodney still unconscious on the floor, "could have told you the same thing without getting hurt."
He checked the floor near the door, then the wall across the hall, "The question is, where is the electricity coming from?"
He tried to get close enough to the opening to spot the source for the energy beams but his shoulder brushed the electric field, and he received another jolt for his trouble.
"Damn it!" he exclaimed, and flapped his numb arm trying to ease the pins and needles feeling.
His exclamations were enough to rouse Teyla, who moaned softly and shifted on the floor.
John jerked his head toward the door as he walked over to where Teyla lay against the wall.
Ronon nodded and stood close enough to the doorway to watch the hallway.
"Hey," John said softly as he knelt down beside Teyla and helped her sit up.
"Colonel Sheppard?" she muttered and rubbed her head. "What happened?"
John rubbed his neck, remembering the hiss-pop sound just before he'd been hit with a triangular dart. "We were ambushed," he replied.
He watched as Teyla ran her hand over the welt on her shoulder and grimaced.
"How are you feeling?" John asked as Teyla rolled her neck.
"Stiff and sore, but I will be fine," she replied.
John nodded, squeezed her hand, and stood. He glanced from Teyla to Ronon and asked, "Either of you have any idea who we could be dealing with?"
Teyla shook her head. "The attack is little more than a blur. I do remember more than one person was shooting at us."
John nodded. "I counted three before whatever was in those darts knocked me out."
"Four attacked us," Ronon said with a nod at McKay. "Managed to take out at least one."
"So, there's still at least six more out there," John said as he moved over to where McKay still lay on the ground, not moving. "Do we know anything else about them?"
"They were wearing uniforms," Ronon said.
John knelt down next to McKay and turned Rodney's head enough to examine the swollen mark on his neck. He checked McKay's pulse, found the slow, steady beat, and nodded to himself.
He patted McKay's arm and stood. "Meaning whoever this is, they're organised. It isn't scavengers."
"Scavengers?" Ronon asked.
"Teyla and I found what looked like an armoury," John replied. "Several guns like the ones we found in that archive on Mendar were missing."
"That's not what they used to knock us out," Ronon said.
"No," John agreed. He winced as his hand brushed the welt on his neck. "Do have to wonder why they didn't just kill us, though."
"They want something from us," Teyla said. She slowly pushed herself to her feet and walked toward the door. "The question is what."
"Whatever it is, they aren't getting it," Ronon growled and rubbed his bruised chin.
John leant against the wall next to Rodney. "Did you and McKay find anything of interest that would explain why someone would want to attack us?" he asked.
Ronon shrugged and wandered back over to John's end of the room. "We found some sort of device in a lab."
John heard a soft moan and looked down to see McKay shifting on the floor at his feet. He knelt down, rested a hand on McKay's arm, and glanced at Ronon. "Any ideas what the device was?"
"Looked like some sort of weapon."
"Not a weapon," McKay muttered. "Oh, my head," he moaned and rolled onto his side.
John squeezed McKay's arm. "Come on," he said, and pulled Rodney up so he sat against the wall. "It's not so bad if you're sitting up."
Rodney drew his legs up to his chest and rubbed his head. "Feels worse," he muttered. He leant his head against the wall and closed his eyes.
John patted his arm and stood.
"How did these men know to look for us here?" Teyla asked as she walked back to John's side.
"Could just be bad luck," Ronon offered. "You said weapons were missing."
"You believe these men are marauders here to steal whatever they can find?" Teyla asked.
Ronon shrugged. "Would make sense."
"No," John said, shaking his head, "You said they were wearing uniforms."
"Whoever they are, if they took the small weapons you found, chances are they'll want that big one in the lab," Ronon replied.
"How many times do I have to say it?" McKay asked. He rubbed his head and glared at Ronon. "It's not a weapon."
Ronon glowered down at him, and John held up a hand before Dex could say anything. "If it isn't a weapon, what is it?" he asked McKay.
Rodney squinted up at John. "Not sure," he replied. "I didn't have a chance to do much before we were interrupted. There's a series of rings, not that different from the transport systems used by the goa'uld and the Tok'ra." He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his temples. "The Ancients may have been experimenting with a new form of transporter technology."
"I thought you said they were studying the stargates," John said.
"Maybe they were," McKay replied. "Just not in the lab we found." He leant forward with his head in his hands. "What was in those darts?" he moaned.
"A rather potent sedative discovered by one of our scientists," a new voice replied.
John spun around and did a double-take when he saw three men standing just outside their prison. One of the men stood slightly in front of the others, and John assumed he was the one in charge. He was several years younger than John with dark hair and a sneer on his face. It wasn't who the man was that startled John, he was reasonably sure they'd never met before. No, it was the uniform the man wore and the familiar pistols held by the man's two guards.
"What are the Genii doing here?" John demanded, pacing away from the wall and unconsciously putting himself between the Genii soldiers and his team.
The man sniffed and looked down at his fingernails. "What we are doing here is of no concern to you, Major Sheppard."
John did his best to hide his surprise.
Their captor took a step closer to the doorway and added, "I'm disappointed you don't remember me, Major." The man glanced behind John and added, "Doctor McKay clearly does."
John turned and saw Rodney standing with his back pressed against the wall, holding his right arm tight against his chest as he stared, wide-eyed, at the Genii soldier.
What the hell? he wondered. He glanced at Teyla, then Ronon and it was clear neither of them recognised the man either.
He gave Ronon a surreptitious nod in Rodney's direction, waited until Ronon took a casual step over to McKay, then forced himself to focus on the Genii.
"It's Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard, now," John said, and moved so he blocked Rodney's view of the Genii soldier.
The young man snorted. "Apologies, Colonel," he said, emphasising the rank and giving John a mock bow. "Since we have never been formally introduced, you may call me Calum."
"I'm still not convinced we've ever met at all," John replied.
Calum shook his head. "I would think a man of your esteemed rank would pay more attention, Colonel. Not only was I part of Commander Kolya's team when we," he glanced at Rodney, "visited Atlantis last year, but we had another encounter much more recently, you and I." Calum's face hardened. "You killed a dozen of my men on Suna a few months ago."
John thought back to the desert planet where Thompson's team had been ambushed. "You were the one who escaped," John said, and he heard a huff of disdain from Ronon. "Is there a reason the Genii are stalking my people?"
Calum barked out a laugh. "You aren't nearly so important, Colonel Sheppard."
John gave Calum a crooked smile. "Then how do you explain the fact we apparently keep running into each other."
Calum shrugged. "We have spies everywhere." He glanced up at the ceiling of the hallway. "Including on out-of-the-way planets like Lurra."
John heard Teyla hiss in a breath.
Calum turned to her and smiled. "That pub Teg runs is a trove of information. One of my men heard a young man, Mica, I believe his name is, telling his young lady about a cave he had recently explored with some offworlders. He told her all about these fascinating images found on the cave walls. According to my source, he even gave the young lady a drawing of one such image."
"What did you do to Mica?" Teyla asked, and John heard the underlying anger in her tone.
"Nothing," Calum replied with a shrug. "I doubt the Lurrans even knew my man was there for anything other than trade. Needless to say, he was curious about this cave, and after asking a few discreet questions, he found it. It took him a few days to explore the tunnels the Lurrans told him about, but he brought back several drawings of his own." Calum looked around the hallway again. "Including what looked like a dialling sequence for the ring that led us to this planet. We are merely explorers like yourselves."
Ronon snorted. "You're lying."
John saw Calum's control slip as he glared at Ronon.
"If what you say is true," Teyla intervened, "Why did you attack us? We have had a treaty with the Genii since the Wraith attacked Atlantis."
Calum took a step back from the doorway. "You may have a treaty with Cowen, but he does not speak for all of the Genii."
"So a liar and a traitor," Ronon growled.
"I am loyal to Commander Kolya, the rightful leader of the Genii," Calum told him with a scowl. He held his glare on Ronon for a moment longer, then turned to John. "One of the many things I plan to discuss with you, Colonel, is the whereabouts of my commander."
John crossed his arms over his chest. "I have no idea where Kolya is."
Calum studied him for a moment. "We'll see, Colonel. We'll see." He handed a small box-like device to one of his men. "Bring our guests something to eat," he ordered, then glanced at John. "We'll speak again soon, Colonel," he added and walked away.
John relaxed once Calum was out of sight, and turned to Rodney who stood pressed into the corner of the room, his arms around his middle, refusing to look at any of them.
"Rodney?" Teyla said with a worried glance at John. "Are you all right?"
"Hey." John walked back to the corner and leant against the wall next to McKay. "Talk to me. Who is that guy?"
Rodney gave him a sideways glance, then looked at Ronon and Teyla standing in front of them. "He was … he was with, umm, when …" He glanced down at his right arm as his voice trailed off.
John felt his expression harden as he realised what Rodney was talking about. "Did he …" John let the question hang.
McKay shook his head. "He gave him, Kolya I mean, the knife. Held me down while …" He looked down at his feet.
"He-he said he'd start c-cutting off fingers if I didn't t-tell him what he wanted to know. There was no one there to stop him. Elizabeth was gone, you were gone. It was just me and Kolya and one of his soldiers holding me down."
John wrapped an arm around Rodney's shoulders. "Hey," he said softly. "We've been over this. You didn't do anything wrong."
"Who's Kolya?" Ronon asked.
John sighed and kept his arm around McKay's shoulders as he spoke. "Kolya led a group of Genii in an attempted coup to take over Atlantis last year," he explained. He glanced over at Rodney. "Do you want to tell him the rest?"
Rodney looked at John then over at Ronon and shook his head.
"I really think you should tell him," John said. "He needs to understand what we're dealing with here."
"Fine," Rodney muttered. He focused on the wall behind Ronon's head and spoke. "He --"
John cleared his throat, and McKay glanced at him.
"Umm, Kolya" he started again, and John nodded. "He wanted to know, umm … There was a storm, really big storm, headed directly for Atlantis. I had an idea, but, umm, we had evacuated the city, just in case it didn't …" He glanced at John then over at Ronon. "Kolya figured out I was, umm, that I had stayed behind for a reason. He wanted to know …" McKay uncurled his right arm and stared at the scars on his forearm. "He wanted to know how we planned to save the city," he finished in a near-whisper.
John saw the anger brewing behind Ronon's eyes as McKay spoke and suspected Dex knew what was coming next.
Rodney looked up and must have seen Dex's reaction as well. He looked away from Ronon and tried to wiggle out of John's hold on his shoulders.
John tightened his hold and tapped Rodney's arm with his free hand. "Show him," he said with a nod at Ronon.
Rodney glanced at John, and he could see the uncertainty in McKay's eyes.
"Show him," John said again.
Rodney sighed then held his right arm out where Ronon could see it. He gave Ronon a fleeting glance and murmured, "I, umm, I told him everything."
John saw the three long, thin scars on McKay's forearm and felt his own temper rising as he remembered standing in the infirmary and seeing the damage Kolya had done.
Ronon took Rodney's wrist in a light grip and studied the scars in the dim light. After a few seconds, he looked at McKay, and John held his breath. It had taken him a long time to convince Rodney he hadn't been a coward for giving in to Kolya's torture. If Dex said the wrong thing …
"Four or five?" Ronon asked into the silence as he studied the thin marks.
Rodney gave him a startled glance. "How …" he whispered.
"Seen scars like this before," Ronon replied. "Never got a good look to be sure, though." He ran a finger over one of the slightly thicker scars, and Rodney flinched. "I'm guessing five," Ronon said with a glance at McKay's face.
"Four or five what?" John asked as a terrible suspicion grew in his mind.
"You never told him?" Ronon asked, ignoring John's question.
Rodney pulled his arm out of Ronon's grip, glanced at John, and shook his head.
"Rodney?" Teyla asked at the same time John said, "What haven't you told me?"
Rodney wrapped his arms around his chest and stared at the doorway.
"First cut was likely a scratch," Ronon said into the heavy silence. "Just enough to draw blood. Easy to miss."
Rodney tried to shake off John's arm around his shoulders, and this time John let him go. He walked over to the far side of the room, his arms wrapped tight against his chest as Ronon continued.
"The cuts get deeper after that." Ronon stared at John and jerked his head at Rodney. "It's designed to maximise pain. Not many get past four or five before they start to talk."
"Doctor McKay. How's the arm?" John remembered Kolya saying when he discovered Rodney in the underground cavern on Dagan.
John clenched his hands into fists. He should have dealt with Kolya when he had the chance, he berated himself. Five? He'd been cut five times? John looked up and saw Rodney watching him.
If he ever met the commander again, John vowed he'd make sure to rectify his mistake.
"Rodney," Teyla said as she walked over to him. "Why did you not tell us about this?"
Rodney focused on her and shrugged. "Three. Five. Did it really matter?"
"Of course it mattered," she told him and rested her hand on his arm.
"So what happened to this Kolya?" Ronon asked as Teyla led Rodney back to their corner of the room.
John studied Rodney for a moment.
McKay gave him a sheepish look and stuffed his hands in his pockets.
"Rodney convinced him the city couldn't be saved," John said to Ronon. "The Genii left the city with a few crates of supplies. I shot Kolya when he tried to drag Doctor Weir back through the 'gate with him."
Ronon grunted. "But he was still alive?"
John remembered Kolya watching as Ford lifted him out of the cavern on Dagan, and mentally kicked himself again for not shooting Kolya then. "Last we heard," he finally said.
Ronon grunted, then stalked over to the doorway and stared down the hall.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Ronon stood where he could watch the hallways, ignoring the quiet conversation between Sheppard and McKay going on behind him. He'd been curious about how McKay could have acquired the scars on his arm ever since he'd caught sight of them when they'd been trapped in the tower. Of the many scenarios he'd considered, torture had never been one of them.
"That's a story for Rodney to tell. When he's ready," Beckett had told him soon after their rescue from the tower. "If you do ask him, make sure John is with you. Otherwise, you won't get the whole truth of the matter."
Sheppard hadn't said much either when he'd asked while they were on Lurra. "You should ask him. Just be prepared for him to take your head off if you do."
Now that he knew the truth, the statements by Beckett and Sheppard made more sense.
Ronon thought back to that first meeting with McKay, cutting him out of his snare and watching him drop to the ground. At the time, all he knew was that he'd made a deal, and somehow the angry man in the red suit was connected to Sheppard. When McKay tried to go after Sheppard, Ronon had brandished his knife and smiled to himself when McKay had immediately backed off.
Didn't stop him from talking, though, Ronon thought to himself.
Now he understood McKay's reaction had more to do with bad memories than anything he imagined Ronon would do to him.
Ronon glanced at the corner where Sheppard and McKay stood and caught McKay watching him. While there had been any number of times over the last few months where he'd considered violence just to get McKay to be quiet, the idea McKay had been tortured turned his blood cold. He wasn't sure what surprised him more, the fact McKay seemed to care what he thought of his actions, or the fact he wanted to find this Kolya and show him a little knife work of his own.
Another part of him wondered why Sheppard hadn't already dealt with the problem.
He heard footsteps in the hall and saw one of the Genii soldiers walking toward them carrying a bundle in his arms. Ronon turned to Sheppard. "Someone's coming," he said.
The soldier stopped near the doorway and pulled out his sidearm. "Get away from the door," he ordered, his gun pointed at Ronon's chest.
Ronon glared at him for a moment then stepped back from the doorway.
The soldier waited until Ronon joined the others against the back wall, then holstered the gun, pulled the small remote control device out of his pocket, and pushed a button. The low crackling noise near the doorway stopped for which Ronon was thankful. The sound had been giving him a headache.
The man pocketed the device, pulled out his gun and stepped into the room. He glared at Ronon and Sheppard for a moment, then dropped the bundle in his other hand on the ground.
"Enjoy," the man sneered as he stepped back through the doorway and reengaged the energy field.
Ronon waited until the man was gone, then walked over, picked up the bundle, opened it, and made a face.
"What's the problem?" Sheppard asked as he joined Ronon.
Ronon knelt down and dumped the contents of the bundle on the ground. "The Genii are playing games," he replied as two canteens and three thick bars wrapped in brown paper landed on the floor.
Sheppard bent down, picked up one of the bars, and shook his head. "Looks that way," he agreed.
"I don't get it," McKay said as he knelt beside Sheppard and reached for one of the bars.
Sheppard took the bar from him and opened it. He kept the paper loosely around the bar as he set it on the ground, then opened the other two bars.
"It's a cheap tactic, meant to divide a force," Sheppard explained as he broke a chunk off of each of the three bars, he then passed one of the smaller bars to Ronon and another to Teyla. He handed the last bar to McKay and kept the various broken pieces for himself.
Ronon watched as McKay took his share of their meal and sniffed it.
"The idea is to see how the group reacts," Sheppard continued. "Will someone volunteer to starve, or will everyone in the group agree to a slightly smaller portion so everyone can eat." He held up one of the canteens. "Same idea with the limited water." He glanced at the doorway. "Frankly, not something I'd expect from a group as well trained as the Genii," he said and bit into one of the broken-off pieces in his hand.
"What is this?" McKay asked as he studied the thick bar.
"Basic rations," Ronon told him. "Protein, grain, vegetables, all pressed together. Makes it easier to transport and troops can eat it with one hand." He bit off a large chunk from his bar and chewed.
McKay gave the food another wary look, then nibbled one corner. He screwed up his face in distaste, but Ronon noticed he didn't stop eating.
"How do you want to play this?" Ronon asked after they'd been eating for a few minutes.
Sheppard swallowed. "Not sure. It sounds like Calum is part of a splinter group. It could be that Cowen and the Genii leadership have no idea what's going on."
"How long will Elizabeth wait before she sends someone to look for us?" McKay asked.
"We aren't due to check-in for another couple of days," Sheppard reminded him.
McKay rubbed his hands up and down his arms. "So no hope of the cavalry arriving in the nick of time."
Sheppard smiled. "No, probably not. We're likely on our own for finding a way out of here."
"Then we must find a way to escape," Teyla said as she passed one of the canteens to Ronon.
Sheppard glanced at the doorway. "That could be a problem. Ronon has already figured out there's no way to overload the energy field."
McKay looked over at Ronon. "How did you do that?"
Ronon shrugged. "Held my arm in the doorway."
"Are you insane?" McKay exclaimed. "You're lucky you didn't electrocute yourself." He stood and wandered over to the doorway.
Ronon watched as he looked up and down the hall, carefully avoiding the edge of the energy field.
"They must have some sort of generator in one of the nearby rooms," McKay said a moment later.
"So no way to shut off from in here," Sheppard said.
McKay shook his head. "Not without tools, no." He walked back to their circle and sat down.
Ronon glanced up at the dark shaft above them. "We could try to climb out," he suggested.
"Won't work," McKay told him, never looking at the narrow shaft. "It's too small. Even Teyla wouldn't fit, never mind the rest of us. Besides, we have no idea where it comes out."
"We need to get our hands on that remote Calum has," Sheppard said. He swallowed some of the water in the canteen he held and handed it to McKay.
"Any bright ideas on how?" McKay asked as he took a drink.
Sheppard shook his head.
"I can think of one," Ronon said. "We wait for one of them to come back here, and we take it from him."
"They are armed," Teyla reminded him. "It is doubtful such a plan would work."
Ronon started to protest, but Sheppard held up a hand. "Teyla's right, we need an actual plan for getting out of the building, not just this room. We don't even know where we are." He crumpled up the wrappers from the ration bars and stuffed them back in the bag. "We're not going to do anything tonight," he added with a glance up at the dark shaft. "Get some sleep. We'll figure something out in the morning. I'll take the first watch."
Ronon watched as Teyla and McKay tried to get comfortable and waited until he heard their slow regular breathing. Once he was sure they were asleep, he stood and walked over to Sheppard standing near the door.
"What do you think Calum is really up to?" he asked, keeping his voice low.
Sheppard glanced at him, then went back to watching the hallway. "I don't know," Sheppard said and turned to where McKay and Teyla slept against the back wall.
"There was something else that happened when Kolya tried to take over the city last year." Sheppard glanced at McKay. "He tried to take Rodney and Doctor Weir with him when he left. Elizabeth told me he wanted them to work for the Genii."
Ronon looked at McKay curled in a tight ball on the floor. "You think Calum might try to do the same thing?"
Sheppard shrugged. "You heard him. Kolya is his commanding officer. What do you think?"
"I think we need to make sure that can't happen."
"Agreed," Sheppard replied. "Don't mention any of this to Rodney. We need him thinking of solutions to get out of here, not worrying about what Calum might do to him."
Ronon nodded and stared down one side of the hallway. Every now and then he caught a glimpse of someone standing at the junction where their corridor met another.
"You should get some sleep," Sheppard said after a few minute's silence.
Ronon grunted but stayed where he was.
"Was there something else?" Sheppard asked.
"You said you shot this Kolya when he left Atlantis."
"Yep," Sheppard replied. "He was trying to drag Elizabeth back through the 'gate with him."
Ronon nodded. If Kolya had a hostage, it would explain why Sheppard had been unable to kill him when he had the chance. "Was that the last time you saw him?"
Sheppard studied him for a moment. "No. We ran into him again a few months later." He pursed his lips. "You want to know why I didn't kill him when I had the chance."
Ronon gave Sheppard a pointed look. "You told me once McKay was family." He waited until Sheppard nodded, then focused on the guard at the end of the hall. "Someone hurt a member of my family the way Kolya hurt McKay, I wouldn't stop hunting them until they were dead."
Sheppard ducked his head. "It's complicated."
Ronon shook his head. "Not to me, it isn't"
Sheppard smiled. "No, I suppose not." He glanced back at McKay. "If you want to know why I didn't shoot Kolya when I had the chance, it's because Rodney was with me. After everything he'd been through, I didn't think he needed to witness me killing a man in cold blood. Even if that man was Kolya."
"And now that you know what really happened?" Ronon asked.
He watched as Sheppard's expression went flat. "I won't let him off so easy the next time."
Ronon nodded. "Good," he said, and walked back over to McKay and Teyla.
He settled with his back against the wall and started making plans for what he would do if he ever crossed paths with one Commander Kolya.
Morning sunlight shone down through the shaft in the ceiling the next morning, waking Ronon from a light sleep. He did a quick survey of the room and nodded to himself when he accounted for all of his teammates. Teyla stood watch near the doorway. McKay slept curled against the back wall. Sheppard was asleep not far from McKay, but Ronon suspected he was only dozing.
Ronon stood, stretched, and walked over to Teyla.
"Good morning," Teyla said, her voice low enough not to wake the others.
Ronon grunted and glanced out at the hallway. "Any movement?"
Teyla shook her head. "No one has been near our room since I took over the watch from Rodney a few hours ago."
Ronon snorted. "Call it what it is. We're in a cell. And we need to find a way out of it." He heard movement behind him and turned to see Sheppard sitting up.
"Teyla. Ronon," he said with a nod at each of them and shook McKay's shoulder.
McKay groaned and tried to curl into a tighter ball. Sheppard shook his head, gave McKay's arm another shove, and stood. McKay opened his eyes and glared at Sheppard's back before he sat up, rubbing the shoulder he'd been lying on.
"Good morning, Colonel," Teyla replied.
"Any sign of the Genii?" Sheppard asked as he walked over to the doorway.
"Nothing yet," Ronon replied.
Sheppard nodded, and Ronon heard several vertebrae crack as he stretched.
"I suppose it's too much to hope that we'll be getting breakfast," Rodney grumbled when there was still no sign of the Genii thirty minutes later.
"Doubt it," Ronon replied from his station near the door. "Probably won't bring more food until tonight."
"Great," McKay muttered under his breath.
Ronon saw his worried glance at Sheppard.
"We'll figure something out," Sheppard told him.
"Someone's coming," Ronon reported a few minutes later. "It's Calum and a couple of his soldiers. Doesn't look like any of them are bringing food though."
"Get away from the door," one of the soldiers ordered and brandished his gun at Ronon.
Ronon stared out at the man, sizing up his chances of taking the remote from him. When the guard cocked the gun and pointed it at him, Ronon moved away from the door and stood next to Sheppard. The buzzing noise from the energy field stopped, and the three men entered the room.
"Did you sleep well?" Calum asked with an insincere smile as he walked into their cell.
"You need to let us go, Calum," Sheppard said.
Calum stepped up to Sheppard and poked him in the chest. "I don't need to do anything, Colonel Sheppard. You, however, need to figure out who's in charge here."
Ronon growled and took a step toward Calum, but Sheppard blocked him.
Calum smirked at Ronon. "Do you really think you can beat all three of us?"
Ronon rolled his shoulders. "Let's find out."
Calum studied him for a moment then shook his head. "Another time perhaps. When my men need some practice." He pointed at McKay and added, "For now, Doctor McKay is coming with us."
McKay took a step back and gave Sheppard a startled look. "Umm, why?" he asked, at the same time, Sheppard said, "Like hell he is." as he moved to stand between McKay and the Genii.
"Apparently, I wasn't clear," Calum said. "You're not the one in charge here, Colonel. I am."
He nodded to the man standing on his left, and before Ronon could react, the man punched Sheppard in the gut, dropping him to his knees.
Ronon snarled at Calum and charged at the soldier standing over Sheppard. He managed to get one hit on the soldier before Calum was in front of him, his gun raised and aimed at Ronon's head. The remaining soldier grabbed him by the arms and tried to pull Ronon back.
"Ronon, stand down," Sheppard ordered, his voice a bit breathy. He climbed back to his feet and squared off with Calum.
Ronon shook off the hold on his arms and glared at Calum.
"You aren't taking any of my people anywhere, Calum," Sheppard said, his expression hard.
Calum sighed and pointed his gun at Sheppard. "I won't hesitate to shoot you, Colonel."
"Wait!" McKay said and stood next to Sheppard. "I'll go."
"McKay," Sheppard growled. "Let me handle this."
McKay shook his head. "We don't have a lot of options here, Colonel." He turned to Calum and added, "I'll go. Just don't do anything stupid."
Calum lowered the gun and smirked. "That's the right decision, Doctor."
Sheppard grimaced. "I want your guarantee nothing is going to happen to him," he said to Calum.
"As long as he does what I want him to do, Doctor McKay will be fine."
"And what exactly is it you want me to do?" McKay asked.
Calum smiled. "You are going to go with my men back to the lab where we found you yesterday."
McKay gave Calum a puzzled look. "Why?"
"Come now, Doctor," Calum said and motioned McKay toward the door. "You're a smart man, you should know why. You are going to show my men how to make that weapon work."
McKay crossed his arms over his chest and stuck out his chin. "Not this again. I don't know how else to explain this. What is in that lab is not a weapon."
"So you say." Calum pushed him toward the door. "For some reason, however, I just don't believe you." He grabbed McKay's arm and added. "I suggest you do as I ask, Doctor. You won't like the consequences if you don't." He fingered the knife at his belt, and Ronon saw McKay blanch at the implied threat.
Calum waited a beat, then nodded. "Josip, take Doctor McKay back to the lab," he ordered the man standing on his right. "Make sure he understands what's at stake if he decides not to cooperate."
"Yes, sir," the soldier replied. He grabbed McKay by the arm and pulled him out of the room.
"He better get back here in one piece," Sheppard said once McKay was gone.
Calum nodded to the remaining soldier who pushed Sheppard toward the door. "I'd worry more about yourself, Colonel. As I said, you and I are going to have a long talk regarding the whereabouts of Commander Kolya."
The Genii soldier who pushed John out of their cell stood a few inches taller than John and was certainly more broad across the shoulders and arms. Calum followed a few steps behind, re-engaged the field across the door, and dropped the remote into his jacket pocket. He then headed down the hallway without a backward glance, and John made a careful survey of the corridor as they walked.
Their cell was along a short passage with a single Genii soldier standing guard where the corridor branched at either end. There were three other doorways on the side of the hall with their room, and two more on the opposite side. As far as he could tell, the other rooms were all uninhabited, which made him wonder where the Genii were holed up.
He didn't see any sort of surveillance equipment and nodded to himself. The electric field around the door was going to be hard enough to disable without having to worry about getting caught on camera while they did it.
His guard tried to push him down the hall behind Calum, but John dug in his heels as he studied the emitter array against one wall. He had enough time to notice the long cable pushed into the seam between the wall and the floor and followed it with his eyes as the guard grabbed his arm and pulled him down the hall.
The cable snaked into another room farther down the corridor, and John slowed as they passed the doorway. He made a quick inventory of the room and nodded to himself when he spotted all of their missing gear stacked on a table, seemingly untouched. He also saw what looked like a generator pushed against the wall just inside the doorway with the cable from the emitter plugged into one end.
Now all you have to do is figure out how to shut down the energy field, he thought to himself as he glanced at the pile of backpacks, tac-vests, and assorted weapons.
They turned down another hallway, and John realised he was in a different section of the building than the area he and Teyla had explored the previous day. Not only were the rooms all much larger, but there were none of the intricate mosaics in this section of the city. The tiles were all an off-white with a single reddish-orange stripe lining the wall at chest height.
They passed another junction and John slowed to look in both directions, hoping to see something familiar. He didn't get more than a brief glimpse down the new corridors before his guard pushed him from behind to keep him moving.
"No need for the shoving," John said with a glare at the guard.
The soldier growled low in his throat as he grabbed John's arm and kept it in a tight grip as they walked.
To John, the Genii beside him acted more like a common thug than a soldier. John suspected he was little more than a bully in a uniform and decided to test his theory as they walked. He flexed the arm the man held and shifted his weight as if he were trying to break the hold. As expected, the man tightened his grip on John's arm and pulled Sheppard toward him with a growl.
John smiled to himself. The so-called soldier had done the exact opposite of what anyone formally trained in hand-to-hand combat would do. John relaxed his arm all the while filing the information in the back of his mind. If all of Calum's men were as poorly trained as this one, their odds of escaping increased significantly.
Calum led the way through another junction, turned left down a hallway a few minutes later, and then turned left again. While Calum was never so blatant as to lead him anywhere near the room when they'd slept, it soon became apparent to John that Calum was leading them in circles, probably in a feeble attempt to confuse him. When John spotted the same blocked doorway for the third time, he shook his head at the juvenile tactics. Calum was certainly not on the same level as Kolya, no matter how much he worshipped the commander.
As Calum led them down yet another familiar hallway, John considered the games with the food, the weak attempt to hide their location, along with the fact Calum's men did not appear to be well-trained, and revised his conclusions as to how organised these Genii really were. It seemed Calum was basing most of his ability to hold his team captive on the energy field in the doorway. If McKay could somehow shut that off … He let the thought trail off.
After several more minutes of walking, Calum led them into another room, and John suspected he wasn't that far away from where they had started. The Genii with the grip on his arm, let go and stood behind and to John's left. John glanced back at the soldier, then took a few steps away from him and looked around the room.
Unlike the cell where the team had spent the night, this room had a table at one end of the room with a chair on either side of it; its surface was cluttered with papers as well as a few items John suspected were taken from various rooms in the complex. A neatly-made cot sat in the far corner. Several crates were stacked in another corner, and John wasn't sure if they held supplies Calum's men had brought with them or items the Genii had decided to loot from the building.
Calum pulled one of the chairs away from the table and set it where the light from the shaft above them hit it. He pointed to the chair and said, "Colonel."
"I'll stand, thanks," John replied, ignoring the chair.
The Genii soldier behind him started to shove him toward the chair, but John took a step to one side, grabbed the outstretched wrist, and twisted the man's arm behind his back, pushing down between his shoulder blades until the man dropped to his knees and groaned in pain.
"I thought we decided you weren't going to push me again," John hissed in the soldier's ear.
"Let him go, Colonel Sheppard," Calum ordered.
John glanced over at Calum and saw a pistol in his hand. He looked down at the man moaning at his feet and heard Calum cock the gun.
John held the joint lock on the soldier's wrist a moment longer, then let go of the trapped arm and gave the man a light push.
The man groaned as he lost his balance and landed face-first at Calum's feet.
"Get up, Nico," Calum growled as he stepped back from the man on the floor.
Nico climbed to his feet, rubbing his wrist and glowering at Sheppard. He let go of his wrist, clenched his hand into a fist, and took a step in John's direction.
John gave him a look of disdain and waited for Nico to make his move.
"Nico," Calum said. He waited for Nico to look at him and waved a hand toward the door.
John watched as Nico backed off and stood near the doorway. At the same time, Calum turned toward the table and set the gun within easy reach. Their new relative positions meant John was unable to watch both men, and he didn't relish the idea of either of them standing at his back. He took a casual step to the side, keeping both Calum and Nico in his line-of-sight and stood with his arms loose at his sides. He smiled to himself when he saw Nico surreptitiously rubbing the wrist John had trapped in the joint lock.
"I've already told you I have no idea where Kolya --" John started to say.
"Commander Kolya," Nico hissed, and took a threatening step toward John.
Calum held up his hand. "It's all right, Nico."
John glanced at the doorway and waited for Nico to step back, then faced Calum and continued, "I have no idea where Kolya is."
"So you maintain that when you left Dagan, Commander Kolya was alive?" Calum said.
John shrugged. "When we left that underground chamber, he was alive. If the Dagans had any sense, they would have done everyone a favor and left him down there."
"Hmm," Calum replied with a thin smile. "Fortunately for the Dagans, they did no such thing. However, Commander Kolya had already left the planet by the time we arrived to assist him."
"Sounds to me like your buddy Kolya doesn't want to be found." John crossed his arms over his chest. "Might be time to take the hint."
"We mean to assist the Commander in his bid to reclaim his position as the leader of the Genii," Nico growled from the door.
"Well, that would explain why you're stealing weapons from this place," John replied with a nod at the crates. "You do know those won't work, right?"
"The Genii have scientists, just like you do, Colonel. I'm sure they will figure out a solution," Calum told him with a smirk.
And that confirms that, John thought to himself and wondered what else the Genii had decided to pilfer from the various rooms.
"Besides," Calum continued with a knowing look, "are you going to stand there and tell me your team isn't here for the exact same reason? Doctor McKay and that Satedan found the weapons lab easily enough."
"That Satedan has a name," John told him, "and according to McKay, whatever that device is in the lab, it's not a weapon."
Calum smiled. "Yes. And you have no reason to lie, do you, Colonel. It's all right, you can admit you are here for the weapon. The difference is, we mean to take it with us, just as soon as Doctor McKay gets it working."
John shook his head. It was obvious he wasn't going to change Calum's mind about the purpose of whatever the device was that McKay and Ronon had found. Which was going to be a problem when Calum realised McKay had been right all along.
They needed to be long gone before that happened, John told himself.
"So you're going to use whatever weapons you can find here," John nodded at the crates in the corner, "and hold a coup for a man you can't find, is that it?" he asked.
Nico scowled at him. "Cowen wants to assassinate Commander Kolya to solidify his own position."
"Or he just wants to get rid of a traitor," John replied.
The blow came so fast, John didn't have time to duck as Calum's fist connected with his jaw. "My patience has its limits, Colonel," Calum said. "You will show some respect."
John pressed his fingers to his lip and noted the spots of blood. "Not likely," he replied, his tone hard. He wiped his fingers on his trousers and stared at Calum. "Considering what Kolya did when he was in Atlantis, I know I want to find him again. Maybe I'll do Cowen a favor and solve his problem for him."
Calum studied him for a moment then changed the subject. "For a small group of refugees, your people appear remarkably active in the galaxy, Colonel. Lurra. Drellim." Calum counted off on his fingers. He gave John a stony look and added, "Our meeting on Suna." Calum raised a finger and pointed at the ceiling. "There was even a report of one of your teams attempting to reach a trade agreement with the people on Traegon," he said with a smile. "I'm curious what the Traegons could have that you'd be willing to put up with all of the tedious effort needed to hold a conversation with them."
"We still need to eat," John replied with a casual shrug. "And we still want to do what we can to defeat the Wraith."
"Food. Of course," Calum replied with a nod. He gave John a sideways glance and added, "I wonder if Doctor McKay would tell me the same thing."
John refused to bite on Calum's veiled threat. Rodney already had a big enough target on his back as it was, no need to make it worse, he told himself.
"So Atlantis was destroyed," Calum said, as he paced between John and the table. "A pity." He turned and gave John a penetrating look.
John made sure to keep his own expression neutral as Calum studied him. "Twelve hive ships tend to have that effect," he replied.
"Hmm," Calum said, "Yes, I suppose it would."
John watched Calum for a few moments then said, "What's your endgame here, Calum? Our people will be expecting to hear from us soon. If we don't check-in, they are going to get suspicious."
Calum gave him a tight smile. "You are miles from the stargate, Colonel. Standing in a complex carved out of a mountain. I doubt anyone will ever find you here. Not even the esteemed Doctor McKay would be able to get you out of that room if I chose to leave you all there with the energy field engaged."
He walked over to John and stood only a few inches away. "Or maybe I'll simply take Doctor McKay with us as Commander Kolya intended. That would doubly ensure you cannot escape and the Genii would gain a valuable scientific asset."
John clenched his hands behind his back and met Calum's look. "That won't happen," he said, his tone hard.
Calum eyed him for a moment longer, then stepped back. "Hmm, we'll have to see about that, Colonel," he replied and motioned to Nico. "Nico, please see Colonel Sheppard back to the rest of his team," he said and handed Nico the remote control device.
Calum gave John a thin smile and continued, "I need to go check on Doctor McKay's progress in the research lab."
"Yes, sir," Nico replied. He reached for John's arm, but stepped back when Sheppard glared at him and flexed his hands.
"We'll speak again soon, Colonel," Calum said with a mock bow as John left the room with Nico a step behind him.
John's theory about Calum leading him by the nose was confirmed when it took less than half as long for Nico to deliver him back to the room where Ronon and Teyla waited.
Ronon and Teyla jumped to their feet as Nico turned off the energy field and pushed John into the room. He gave John a derisive smile as he re-engaged the energy barrier then walked away.
"Colonel," Teyla said. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, fine," John replied, probing his swollen lip with a finger. "Calum didn't think I was showing Kolya enough respect."
"Exactly." John walked over to the doorway and checked the hall in both directions making sure they were alone. He jerked his head toward the far corner of the room opposite the door and waited until Ronon and Teyla joined him. "I think I know where we are," he said. "If I'm right, we should be able to find our way out of here."
"You recognised something in the hallway?" Teyla asked.
John shook his head. "I don't think we," he pointed at Teyla and then himself, "were in this area when we did our search yesterday." He looked at Ronon. "But you and Rodney might have been."
"I do not understand," Teyla said.
"Calum was trying to be clever," John said. "It took almost thirty minutes to get from here to the room where Calum and I talked. When Nico there," he nodded at the doorway, "brought me back here, it only took ten."
"More games," Ronon said.
"That's what I think," John agreed. "If I'm right, I don't think we're far from the lab. If we can find the lab, can you get us back out of the building?"
Ronon nodded. "Shouldn't be a problem."
"Good. I found all of our gear, too, it's in a room just down the hall. Looks like the Genii just piled all of it on a table. If we're lucky, everything is still there."
"We just need to escape this room," Teyla said with a glance at the door.
"Yeah," John agreed with a smile. "I'm still working on that part."
"Perhaps Rodney will have some ideas on how to shut down the energy field when he returns," Teyla replied.
John glanced down at his watch. McKay had already been gone for more than an hour, and now Calum was heading for the lab to check his progress. John really hoped Rodney wouldn't do anything foolish.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
"Move," Josip ordered, and pushed Rodney out of the room and down the hall.
Rodney tried to get a look at the field emitters for the energy field around the doorway, but Josip pushed him down the hall, and he didn't get much more than a quick glimpse. He turned to glare at Josip and received another shove in the back for his trouble.
"I said, move," Josip growled.
"What's it going to take for you to listen to me?" Rodney asked as he was pushed along the hall. "I can't do what you want me to do."
Josip snorted. "You better figure out a way, if you know what's good for you."
Rodney shook his head and trudged down the hall, a few steps ahead of Josip. It didn't take them long to reach a junction of two different hallways, and Rodney stopped short when he saw the reddish-orange stripe of tiles decorating the wall down the corridor to his right.
"Was it possible?" he murmured to himself.
He turned down the right-hand passage and felt a jolt in his stomach when he realised it could be the same hallway he and Ronon had explored the previous day. Rodney smiled to himself even as Josip grabbed his arm and pulled him down a different hallway.
"Where do you think you're going?" Josip growled.
"Would you stop that," Rodney groused. "I don't need to be yanked around like a piece of luggage."
Josip responded by tightening his hold on Rodney's arm.
Rodney grimaced as he felt Josip's fingers dig into his bicep, but glanced back at the other hallway, trying to memorise where it was in relation to their room. Sheppard had said they needed a plan for getting out of the building as well as the room. If he was right, he had just found the way out of the building and back to the jumper.
A few minutes later, Josip led him into the lab and let go of his arm. "Get to work," he growled, and took up a position near the door.
Rodney glared at him for a moment before moving away from him and looking around as he tried to rub some feeling back into his arm. Components and equipment littered the floor along with the remains of the shelving units Ronon had shot while trying to defend them. Thankfully, the chamber with the device, the small control board, and the rings was still intact. The tranquilliser darts the Genii used wouldn't have done any damage to the enclosure, but Rodney suspected Ronon's blaster was a different story.
Had the chamber not been in the line of fire? he wondered. Or was the material so durable that even a blast from the particle weapon couldn't damage it?
He surveyed the rest of the room and let out a breath when he found his computer still sitting on the edge of the console where he'd left it.
Rodney glanced back at Josip standing near the doorway, seemingly ignoring him, then wandered over to the console. The computer was still plugged into the access port, and after a thorough check, Rodney decided it hadn't been damaged when he and Ronon were ambushed.
He pressed one of the tiles in the console, watched the data stream across the computer screen, and nodded. It was obvious the Genii weren't going to let them leave with any Ancient technology they might discover. At the very least, he was going to save as much research contained in the database as he could.
Rodney found a stool pushed into a corner of the room, pulled it over to the console, sat down, and pressed several tiles on the console. He checked his results against the computer and smiled to himself when he found the central database for the complex. He gave Josip a sideways glance and pushed another tile on the console. If he was lucky, the Genii soldier would be as disinterested as most of the Marines in Atlantis when it came to science and research.
"Here's hoping the new compression program works," he muttered to himself as he typed a string of commands into the computer.
After the disastrous trip to Mendar, he'd refined his compression program and upgraded the hard drives in the laptop to the best the Daedalus could bring him from Earth. Rodney checked the capacity of the drives on the computer against the master file for the database and nodded. As long as the new program did what he needed it to do, the computer should be able to hold all of the information. Assuming, of course, he had enough time to download everything.
He glanced at the door as he worked and was pleased to see Josip leaning against the edge of the doorway, seemingly ignoring everything Rodney did at the console. He double-checked everything one last time, then pressed another series of tiles to start the database download, and sat back on the stool.
Now all they had to do was get away from the Genii, and maybe this mission wouldn't be a total loss, after all, he thought to himself.
After he was sure the download was working, Rodney opened a new screen on the computer and started to look for more information on the Ancient device in the chamber. Since he had no idea what the Ancients chose to call their invention, it took several minutes of searching before he found a promising file and opened it.
"Finally," he muttered to himself as he studied the specs for the device. He paged through several screens of data and felt his heart speed up when he realised what he was reading. He glanced up at the device in the enclosure and swallowed.
The device wasn't a weapon, at least it wasn't designed to be used as a weapon. He'd assumed that just by looking at it. But it wasn't any sort of transportation device either. If he was reading the information from the console correctly, he was looking at a prototype of a device designed to create the subspace pockets required to harvest zero-point energy.
He swallowed as the ramifications of what that meant sank in. If he could get the device to work, and if it was stable, he would be one step closer to building new Zed-PMs. A step closer to unlimited power for Atlantis. There would be a way to power the Earth 'gate to allow instantaneous travel back-and-forth between the SGC and Pegasus.
His grand plans of powering not only Atlantis but every major city on Earth with zero-point modules came crashing down around his ears when he realised what he was doing. Rodney pushed back from the console and wrapped his arms around his middle.
"That's why I'm mad," John had told him. "Not because of some lost Ancient weapon, but because you were so focused on solving the puzzle, you didn't stop to think about what could happen to us."
He had worked hard since everything that had happened on Doranda to convince John he was trust-worthy, that he had learnt his lesson about letting his ego get the better of him. Even so, he knew John still didn't trust him. It had taken months for Sheppard to visit him again in his lab, and he couldn't remember the last time John had called him 'Rodney' instead of 'McKay'.
Now, thanks to Calum and the Genii, he was faced with another experimental power source and dreams of solving so many of their current problems.
This wasn't like the Arcturus Project, he tried to argue with himself.
He had a firm understanding of the theories surrounding zero-point energy. It was figuring out how the Ancients harvested the energy in the first place that had always been the mystery. He read through the basics of the device again and was reasonably sure he knew what to do to get it to work.
"Of course you said the same thing on Doranda," he muttered and glanced up at the device in the chamber.
What would Sheppard do when he found out what the device was? Rodney wondered. Would he lose the ground he'd gained back over the last few months? He glanced at Josip standing by the doorway. He told himself he could always say Calum wasn't really giving him much of a choice.
Rodney shook his head. The truth was, even without the Genii, he was fascinated by the device and the possibility of finally having a way to manufacture more Zed-PMs. If he really wanted to earn John's trust, he had to be honest about his motivations as much as his intentions, he told himself.
He rubbed the scars on his arm, lost in thought as he weighed his options. Was it a bigger risk to try and get the device to work, or to tell Calum he refused to help? he wondered.
"Hey!" Josip yelled, and Rodney realised he'd been staring into space for several minutes. "You're supposed to be working, not daydreaming."
Rodney scowled at Josip. "It's called thinking," he snapped back. "You should try it sometime."
Josip stalked over to him, and before Rodney could stand or try to defend himself, Josip punched him in the face. The blow knocked him off the stool, and Rodney knelt on the floor, rubbing his cheek.
"Now, get back to work," Josip ordered. He pulled Rodney to his feet and shoved him back onto the stool.
Rodney waited until Josip went back to slouching in the doorway, then scooted the stool closer to the console. He really didn't have much of a choice he realised as his fingers probed the spot where Josip had hit him. He'd just have to make sure he kept his curiosity, and his ego, under strict control. Hopefully, that would be enough to show Sheppard he could be trusted.
He glanced at the door and saw Josip watching him. He stared back for a moment, then focused on the console and read through the information on the device again.
He grimaced when he realised Ronon and the Genii had been at least partially correct in their assumption that the long, narrow device was a gun. From reading the schematics, it appeared the Ancients had repurposed the weapon from one of their ships for their zero-point experiments.
Instead of firing some sort of projectile, however, the Ancient scientists had modified the weapon into an emitter that created a beam of energy. That beam was then captured by the rings at the other end of the enclosure. The rings warped the energy while containing the field to just the area inside the ring's diameter, allowing the warped space to open a pocket of subspace where the zero-point energy could, in theory, be safely harvested.
And that was the catch. According to the file, the first few experiments were successful, but then the research was stopped. He skimmed to the end of the file, but there was no explanation for ending the project.
Had they found a better solution? he wondered. Or was there something about this device in particular that made it too dangerous to continue their experiments?
He crossed one arm over his chest and pinched his lip when he realised that even if he did succeed in getting the emitter to work, it still wouldn't do what Calum wanted, and there was a chance he could blow up the lab, the building, or possibly even the planet in the process. He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his forehead as he weighed his options.
Josip cleared his throat, and Rodney scowled across the room at him. Josip took a step toward the console, and Rodney dropped his hand with a sigh. He hoped he was making the right decision and that Sheppard would understand he had no choice.
If he was going to get the emitter to work, the first step was going to be getting into the glassed-in enclosure. He slid off the stool and wandered over to the chamber. A careful examination of the enclosure behind the emitter revealed a small latch. When he pulled down on it, the wall behind the device swung back.
The air inside the chamber smelt stale and musty as he stepped into the enclosure, stood next to the emitter and examined the control panel. A small screen was embedded in the center of the panel with rows of buttons and toggles above and below it. He pressed his hand to the edge of the console and frowned when nothing happened. He tried the other corner, but the console still refused to power on.
Maybe it's some sort of security measure, Rodney thought to himself as he squinted at the tiny labels for the buttons, trying to figure out the Ancient text. "Too much to ask for a nice, shiny, red button labelled 'power' apparently," he muttered to himself when he still couldn't find a way to make the console work.
He used his thumb and tried to rub away the dirt and what looked like grease from the area around the controls, and bent forward, squinting at the tiny text.
"Well?" a voice behind him asked several minutes later.
Rodney jumped, then spun around. "Do you mind," he started to say and turned to see Calum standing on the other side of the enclosure, watching him. "What do you want?" he asked.
"Temper, temper, Doctor," Calum admonished.
Rodney glared at him for the condescending comment. If Calum was going to force him to make the emitter function, the least he could do was let him get on with it and stop interrupting him while he worked.
"What I want," Calum continued after a short pause, "is that weapon operational."
Rodney shook his head and stepped out of the chamber. He was tired, not to mention hungry, and his face hurt from where Josip had hit him. What little patience he had left, evaporated in the face of Calum's arrogant demands.
He stood facing Calum with his arms crossed over his chest as he gave his temper full reign.
"One, as I've said twice already, this is not a weapon," Rodney told him, not bothering to conceal his impatience or his sarcasm. "Two, I haven't even started to figure out how to make it work, or if it even still has power. And three," he continued with an angry glare when it looked like Calum wanted to interrupt, "and three, if you want any of this to get done, I need my tools, I need to be left alone, and I need food."
Calum stepped forward. "You aren't in any position to make demands, Doctor McKay."
Rodney forced himself to meet Calum's eye and not back down. "You want me to get that to work," he pointed at the chamber, "I need food, tools, and space."
Calum studied him for a moment longer, then turned to Josip waiting at the door. "Josip, bring the Doctor his tools and one of the ration bars."
"And feed the rest of my team, too," Rodney added as Josip turned toward the doorway.
"Don't push it, Doctor," Calum growled.
Rodney scowled back, a bit surprised at his audacity. "They get fed, too, or I don't do anything."
He had no idea what he would do if Calum called his bluff, but he wasn't going to let his teammates starve if he could prevent it.
Calum studied him for a moment longer then said, "Send one of the men with food for the others."
"Yes, sir," Josip replied, and Rodney saw him click his heels and salute before he left the lab.
Rodney let out the breath he was holding and started to turn back to the device when Calum grabbed him by the arm. "You don't want to try my patience again, Doctor McKay," he snarled in a low voice. "You may not like what happens." He fingered the knife at his belt and stepped back.
Rodney went back to the console across the room and sat down while Calum stepped into the enclosure and studied the device. He gave Calum a surreptitious glance as he checked the database download, then went back to analysing the data he'd found on the emitter.
He was still reading over the detailed schematic when Josip returned, a familiar bundle in one hand, one of the paper-wrapped ration bars and a small canteen in the other. He dropped the food on the console next to Rodney, plunked the tools down on the other console, and went back to the doorway.
"Eat up, Doctor," Calum said, walking over to the console. "I expect to see you've made progress on getting the weapon to work by the time I return."
Rodney waited until Calum was gone before he tore open the ration bar and took a bite, screwing up his face in distaste as he forced himself to swallow.
How was any military force supposed to be an effective fighting machine if this was all they had to eat? he wondered.
"Must have never heard the saying an army marches on its stomach," he muttered with a glance at Josip as he sipped from the canteen. He ate a few more bites of the ration bar, then carefully wrapped up the rest, stuffed it in his trouser pocket, picked up his tools, and walked back into the chamber.
If the console wouldn't power on, maybe the emitter would, Rodney thought to himself. It would at least show Calum that he was trying to get the device to work. He pressed his hand to the side of the device and then the top, but it refused to power on as well.
"Great. Why can't it ever be simple?" Rodney grumbled under his breath.
He glared at the device for a few more seconds, then dug a screwdriver out of the bundle of tools, and looked for a way to open the housing to get at the innards of the device.
He eventually found a series of small latches, unlocked the housing, set the cover pieces aside, and studied the tightly packed components.
This was going to be more difficult than he thought, he realised as he reached for his tools.
Over the next several hours, Rodney did his best to get the device to work. One of the big problems was he had no way to run diagnostics on either the emitter or the control board since the computer was still working on the database download. He tried feeling for the vibrations in the crystals, but either the trick wouldn't work on something this old, or the more likely explanation was there was no power getting to the emitter either.
"Okay, so how did the Ancients run the power in this place," Rodney said to himself, looking around at the walls and then the floor. After a few minutes of searching, he found what seemed like an access hatch in the floor in front of the emitter and pulled it open.
"Hey!" Josip yelled. "What do you think you're doing?"
Rodney glanced over at him as he pulled a flashlight out of the bundle of tools. "Fixing the power," he explained and pointed the flashlight beam into the hole in the floor.
Josip pointed at the nearest sconce. "The power is working just fine."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, the lights work, and the consoles," he replied, not bothering to hide his irritation. "Power is not, however, getting in here. So, if you don't mind …" He left the sentence hanging and peered down into the access hatch.
"Stop!" Josip ordered as he stalked across the room, entered the enclosure, and grabbed Rodney by the arm.
"Do you want this device working or not?" Rodney demanded and tried to shake off the grip on his arm.
"How do I know you're not trying to escape?"
"Are you serious?" Rodney asked with a scowl of contempt. "It's an access hatch for the power systems, it doesn't go anywhere," he tried to explain, but Josip wasn't listening.
"Sure it is," Josip replied, pulling Rodney away from the access point. "Get up."
"You're going back to your cell."
Rodney snorted as he climbed to his feet and stuffed the flashlight in his trouser pocket. "Well, at least you admit we're prisoners."
Josip pushed him toward the door. "Get moving."
"All right, all right. We've been over this, you don't need to push," Rodney groused as he left the lab.
Josip led him back along the same hallways, and Rodney was reasonably confident he could find his way back to the lab on his own. If he could lead the team back to the lab, chances were they could find a way out of the building, as well.
They turned another corner, and Rodney caught a glimpse of Ronon standing near the doorway for their room.
"Sheppard," he heard Ronon call. At the same time, Josip jerked Rodney to a stop and pulled out a pistol.
"Get away from the door," Josip ordered, pointing the gun at Ronon.
Rodney watched as Ronon eyed him for a moment, then stepped back.
Josip let go of Rodney's arm, dug out the remote and pushed the button to turn off the energy field. He pocketed the device and shoved Rodney inside the room.
"Calum will hear of your attempted escape," Josip said with a sneer. He re-engaged the energy field and walked away.
"McKay?" John said as he came over to Rodney's side. "What was that all about?"
Rodney turned away from the doorway and shook his head.
"I pulled up a section of the floor in the lab to get to the power conduits," Rodney replied with a frustrated sigh. "Josip there got the wrong idea and thought I was trying to escape."
John nodded and took Rodney's chin in his hand, turning his head so his cheek was highlighted by the shaft of light coming down from the ceiling.
Rodney saw John's eyes harden as he examined the bruise on his face. "And that?" John asked as he let go of Rodney's chin.
Rodney shrugged. "I wasn't thinking fast enough." He glanced at John and saw the red mark along Sheppard's jaw. "What's your excuse?" he asked and pointed to his own lip.
John gave him a crooked smile but said nothing as he led him over to Teyla and Ronon.
"Rodney," Teyla said with a smile. "You are all right?"
Rodney nodded. "I'm fine." He spotted the scraps of paper on the floor. "I see you got the food."
"Yes," she replied. "That was your doing?"
Rodney shrugged. "Told Calum I wouldn't fix any of his toys if he didn't feed you guys."
"Thank you," she replied. "We saved some of the food for you," she added, and held out a wrapped square from one of the ration bars.
Rodney shook his head and showed her the piece of his own bar he'd saved.
"So, did you get the weapon to work?" Ronon asked as he took the piece of ration bar from Teyla and popped it in his mouth.
"We know," John said with an impatient wave. "Did you figure out what it does?"
Rodney stuffed the bit of ration bar back in his pocket and gave John a sideways glance. "Umm, yes," he replied, refusing to meet Sheppard's eye.
"Okay," John drawled. When Rodney didn't say anything, he added, "So what does it do?"
"You know Calum isn't giving me much choice here, right?" Rodney said, taking a few steps away from John and pacing back-and-forth. "If it had just been us I wouldn't have done anything with it. Well," he paused, "I probably would have done something with it, but I would have talked to you about it first. At the very least I would have reviewed the schematics more and probably had Zelenka run a few scenarios before we did any real work --"
"McKay," John barked, and Rodney looked over at him. "What does the device do?" he demanded.
Rodney swallowed and crossed his arms over his chest. "I think it's a, umm, power source," he replied. He hunched his shoulders and waited for Sheppard to explode.
After a few seconds, he peeked at Sheppard and saw John watching him, his expression unreadable.
"Colonel?" Teyla said, and John held up a hand.
"What sort of power source?" he asked, and Rodney noted John's stiff posture as he fixed Rodney with a hard look.
"Nothing like Doranda," Rodney said hurriedly, holding out his hands. "Nothing dangerous … well, not that dangerous, anyway."
"McKay," Sheppard drawled.
"I think the Ancients were working on different ways to create subspace pockets in order to harvest zero-point energy."
"You mean this is how they made ZPMs?" John asked, relaxing slightly.
"Yes," Rodney replied, "Possibly."
"Possibly?" Teyla asked.
Rodney nodded as his hands gestured in front of him. "Remember, we think this building is old. Really old. Like when the Ancients first came to this galaxy, ten million years ago, old."
"Okay," John said. "It's old. What's your point?"
"I think the Ancients were experimenting with a lot of different technology here. The database in Atlantis mentioned something about stargate design. Now this new or different way of creating the zero-point energy for the Zed-PMs. I found the central database and --" He stopped speaking as the energy barrier around the door was shut off.
Calum stepped into the room and stood a few paces inside the doorway with his hands behind his back. Two more Genii soldiers stood in the hallway.
"Doctor McKay, would you care to explain?" Calum asked as he stopped a few paces inside the room.
Rodney glanced at John. "Explain what exactly?"
Calum pursed his lips. "I gave you very specific instructions that I wanted that weapon operational. Instead, what I find on entering the lab is the device in several pieces and a hole in the floor. Was I not clear what would happen if you chose to defy me?"
"I'm doing what you want," Rodney retorted. "I'm trying to get the device to work. In order to do that, first I have to figure out what's wrong."
Calum shook his head. "You forget, Doctor, I am familiar with your feeble attempts to stall from our encounter in Atlantis last year." He moved his right hand out from behind his back, and Rodney gulped when he saw the gun in Calum's hand.
"Look, I'm doing what you wanted," Rodney exclaimed, his bluster giving way to panic even as John and Ronon moved to stand in front of him. "Do you have any idea how old some of the technology is in this place?"
"I don't believe you, Doctor," Calum replied. "I warned you there would be consequences if you didn't do as I asked."
Rodney threw his hands in the air. "I'm working on it!" he exclaimed.
Calum smiled. "Then I suggest you work faster," he replied and fired the pistol in his hand.
Teyla heard both Sheppard and Rodney cry out in pain as the sound of the shot echoed around the room. She looked over in time to see John, gripping his left shoulder, fall back against Rodney, sending them both to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs. For a moment she thought Rodney had been trying to catch Sheppard but realised her mistake when she noticed Rodney wasn't moving even as John rolled away from him.
"Colonel Sheppard!" she exclaimed and dropped to her knees beside John. She caught movement from the corner of her eye and heard Ronon snarl as he closed on Calum, but she ignored what he was doing for the moment as she tried to see how badly Sheppard and Rodney were injured.
John had managed to push himself more or less upright, his right hand clutching his bloody left shoulder as he moaned and curled his body forward. McKay was lying on his side behind Sheppard, with his eyes closed and Teyla wasn't sure where he was hit.
"Colonel, let me see," she said softly and tried to move Sheppard's hand.
"Son of a bitch," John groaned, still gripping his shoulder. He glanced at Rodney. "Where was he hit?" he asked Teyla.
Teyla stopped trying to check Sheppard's shoulder and turned to Rodney still on the floor. "I cannot find any sort of injury and he does not appear to be bleeding," she reported after giving Rodney a quick once over.
She turned back to Sheppard and tried to move Sheppard's hand away from his shoulder, "I do not believe the bullet hit him," she added with what she hoped was a reassuring smile.
Sheppard nodded and finally moved his hand enough for Teyla to see the damage caused by Calum's bullet.
"You'll pay for that," Ronon growled near the doorway.
Teyla looked up from her examination of Sheppard and watched as Ronon closed the remaining distance between himself and Calum.
"Perhaps now you will take me seriously," Calum said as he backed through the doorway and stood in the hall, his pistol pointed at Ronon, the remote for the energy field in his other hand.
Teyla heard the bravado in Calum's tone, but looking over at him, she could see the fear in his eyes as Ronon stalked toward him.
"I suggest you explain to Doctor McKay I want that weapon operational." Calum backed up another step and held the gun a little higher.
Teyla saw the barrel twitch a few times as Calum spoke.
"Otherwise, one of you will become my next object lesson." He pushed the button on the remote, and Ronon jerked his hands back as the energy field engaged.
Ronon yelled and slapped his hand against the wall as Calum handed the pistol to one of the two men waiting in the hallway and walked away.
"Ronon!" Teyla exclaimed as Ronon hit the wall with his fist and glared in the direction Calum had disappeared.
"What?" Ronon growled back. "I'm gonna kill him."
"That will have to wait," she told him and turned back to Sheppard who pushed himself back until he half sat, half fell against the nearest wall.
John groaned and squeezed his eyes shut as he settled against the wall.
"Right now I need your help," Teyla told Ronon.
Ronon hit the wall again, then turned and walked back across the room.
"Teyla, check on Rodney," Sheppard said, his voice tight with pain. "The shock from the link …" The sentence trailed off as John groaned again.
Teyla sat back on her heels and glanced at Rodney as the implication of what John was saying sank in. She had a flash of memory of finding Rodney on the floor in the archive on Mendar and could have kicked herself for not thinking of a pain spike sooner.
"I'll deal with this," Ronon said to Teyla. "You deal with McKay." He pulled a small knife from his boot and knelt on John's other side.
"You had that this whole time?" John asked as he eyed the knife.
"Give 'em one or two to find, they stop looking for the rest," Ronon replied.
"Rest?" John said with a quirked eyebrow and a tiny smile that morphed into a grimace when Ronon used the knife to cut off his bloody t-shirt.
Teyla left Sheppard to Ronon and turned to Rodney. "Rodney?" she said softly and touched his arm.
Rodney twitched slightly at her touch but otherwise didn't react to her. She could see his eyes were at half-mast, and he only seemed semi-conscious. She rubbed his arm gently and waited.
After a few moments, she felt him shift under her hand. "Rodney? Can you hear me?" Teyla said again.
She was pleased to see him take a deeper breath and turned his head enough allowing her to see him better.
"Sheppard?" he whispered.
Teyla glanced over at John and Ronon and saw Dex purse his lips when he moved Sheppard away from the wall and checked his back.
John groaned as he was moved, and Teyla heard an answering whimper from Rodney.
"That bad, huh?" Sheppard whispered, and squeezed his eyes shut as Ronon leant him back against the wall.
"It could be worse," Ronon replied.
"Not so sure of that from this side."
Teyla turned back to Rodney. "Colonel Sheppard was shot --"
"No kidding," Rodney replied and pushed weakly against the floor.
Teyla held her tongue as she helped Rodney sit up and lean against the wall next to John.
Sheppard glanced at him, and Rodney rubbed his head and nodded.
"The bullet is still in your shoulder," Ronon said to Sheppard as he sat back on his heels.
"You need to get it out," Rodney told him. He pulled his knees up to his chest and held his head in his hands.
Ronon shook his head. "Not a good idea."
Rodney lifted his head. "Do you have any idea what that bullet could be contaminated with?" He glanced from Ronon to Teyla. "Infection aside, this is the Genii we're talking about here." He paused and rubbed his head. "You know, the ones who didn't bother to shield any of their nuclear experiments."
"Wait," John said with a groan, "you really think their ammunition has been contaminated with radiation?"
Rodney shrugged. "Maybe? The point is, the only way to make sure you don't end up dead from some sort of cancer is to remove that bullet now."
"We have no idea how long it may take to escape the Genii, or for someone from Atlantis to find us," Teyla said to Ronon. "Maybe you should remove it now."
Ronon grimaced, but after a few moments, he reluctantly nodded. He picked up the discarded t-shirt, split the seam and then cut the material into several long strips. He folded each of the strips into a makeshift pad and set them aside.
He cleaned the knife on a bit of leftover shirt and turned back to John.
"Do you even know what you're doing?" John asked as Ronon moved closer.
Ronon nodded. "Done it before."
John made a face, and Teyla understood at least part of the reason for his continued hesitation as he glanced at Rodney.
"Enough with the stoic soldier act," Rodney ground out, rubbing his head. "Just let Ronon help."
"That's not --" John started to say, but Rodney interrupted him.
"The sooner Ronon gets that bullet out of your shoulder, the better both of us will feel."
Sheppard grimaced, but Teyla sensed his capitulation as he closed his eyes and blew out a breath.
"Ronon will be quick," Teyla said. She glanced up at Dex, and Ronon nodded.
"Don't think it's too deep," Ronon said. "I can knock you out if you want?" he added and held up a fist.
Teyla gave Ronon a startled look, uncertain if he was kidding or not.
"Just do it," John said with a pain-laced sigh. He glanced at Teyla, shifted his eyes to Rodney, and she nodded when she caught his unspoken message.
"Ready?" Ronon asked Sheppard.
Sheppard took a deep breath and nodded.
Ronon felt around the edges of the wound, then nodded to himself, and with a glance at Sheppard, set to work.
Blood flowed from the wound as Ronon carefully sliced deeper into the wound. Sheppard groaned, squeezed his eyes shut, and clenched his teeth, as Ronon made another incision.
Teyla heard Rodney moan in response. She saw him start to list as his eyes rolled back, and she gently laid him on the floor next to John.
"Almost," Ronon muttered.
Teyla looked up from Rodney and saw a small lump under John's skin as Ronon used his fingers and pushed the bullet closer to the bloody hole.
"Teyla," Ronon said a few seconds later as something dark appeared with the blood.
Teyla reached around Ronon's bloody fingers and plucked the bullet from the wound.
"Hand me some of those," Ronon said as he pressed his hands down on John's shoulder.
Teyla handed him several of the makeshift compresses and watched as he pushed down on the wound again. John was only semi-conscious, but he still groaned low in his throat as Ronon picked up the next folded square of t-shirt and pressed it against the wound. By the fourth set of squares, the bleeding appeared to be slowing, and Teyla helped Ronon tie the last of the squares in place with the bit of leftover t-shirt.
"That's not going to hold if he starts moving his arm around," Ronon said as he adjusted the bit of t-shirt.
"Here," Teyla replied, removing her belt.
She held Sheppard away from the wall as Ronon bent John's left arm so the palm of his hand rested against his chest, looped the belt over Sheppard's right shoulder and around his left arm, before tying it off. He then laid John flat on the floor.
"What about him?" Ronon said and jerked his chin toward Rodney.
"He passed out while you were removing the bullet," Teyla replied. "I think he will be better now that Colonel Sheppard is, hopefully, in less pain."
Ronon grunted but said nothing as he wiped his hands on a scrap of t-shirt, stood, and wandered back toward the doorway. "We need to get out of here," Ronon said in a low voice. "Soon."
Teyla silently agreed as she sat between John and Rodney with her back against the wall. She divided her time between watching the sunlight track across the room as the afternoon waned and watching Ronon standing guard at the doorway.
She was dozing sometime later when she heard John's low groan of pain and felt him shift against her. She opened her eyes and saw Ronon kneeling on Sheppard's other side, peeking under the bloody t-shirt material, a worried expression on his face.
"Ronon?" she asked in a low voice. "What is the matter?"
"He's still losing blood," Ronon told her.
Teyla reached forward and frowned when she noticed Sheppard's cheek was cool to the touch, and his face was pale. They didn't have anything that they could use for fresh bandaging, but John was getting worse, not better, even with the bullet removed.
Was Rodney correct? she wondered. Was the Genii ammunition contaminated and John was getting sick as a result?
"I'm not sure what else we can do …" She paused and glanced behind her. Rodney lay on his side, and Teyla could see the pain lines remained around his eyes even while he fitfully slept. "Colonel Sheppard was able to heal the burns on Rodney's hand. It is possible Rodney could do the same for John."
Ronon gave her a skeptical look as he glanced from Rodney to Sheppard.
"I know," she agreed. "But we are running out of options."
Ronon shrugged. "I'll watch the hallway."
Teyla waited until Ronon signalled they were alone, then gently shook Rodney's shoulder.
Rodney groaned and tried to roll away from her.
"Rodney," she said and waited for him to open his eyes. "We need your assistance."
"What?" he mumbled and rubbed his forehead.
"Colonel Sheppard is getting worse," Teyla explained.
Rodney pushed himself upright, and Teyla guided his efforts as he leant with his back against the wall next to her. "What?" he asked again.
Teyla sighed and glanced at the doorway.
"Still clear," Ronon told her.
"Rodney, I know you are in pain, but I need you to focus," Teyla said and waited for Rodney to drop his hands from his head and look at her. "Colonel Sheppard is getting worse, Ronon says the wound is still bleeding."
She saw him swallow and try to look around her.
"I believe you may be able to help him," she added. "Do you know how Colonel Sheppard used your mental link and healed your hand?"
"Not really, no," Rodney replied and rubbed his forehead again. "He wasn't really sure, either. Told me he thought Yana did most of the work."
Teyla pursed her lips, and Rodney crawled around her and sat on Sheppard's other side. He peeked under the blood-soaked bit of t-shirt and grimaced. "I don't …" He glanced down at the scars on the palm of his hand. "I don't know if I can," he admitted.
She leant over John and squeezed Rodney's hand. "But would you be willing to try?"
She watched as a series of emotions, from uncertainty to resignation, played across his face before he turned back to her and with a sigh, nodded.
"Good," she said with a smile. "What do you need us to do?"
"Umm, I don't, I don't know." Rodney looked over at her. "Maybe keep watch? I really don't need Calum seeing this."
Teyla nodded toward the doorway. "Ronon has already volunteered."
Rodney twisted around enough to see Ronon standing by the doorway, then turned back to Sheppard. "Umm, okay." he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and placed his hands over John's shoulder.
Teyla remembered John's description of a light surrounding their hands when he healed Rodney's burns, but after a few minutes, she saw no indication the link was doing anything. She took in Rodney's furrowed brow, tense shoulders and stiff posture, as well as the fact he seemed to be holding his breath and shook her head. She may not have a mental link with someone, but she knew enough about meditation to understand what part of the issue might be.
She leant forward and lightly brushed Rodney's arm with her fingers. "Try to relax," she whispered to him. "Let the energy flow from you and to John."
Rodney nodded minutely, and Teyla saw some of the tension drain from his shoulders, but still, nothing was happening.
"Someone's coming," Ronon hissed, and Teyla glanced up as he shifted to stand in the middle of the doorway, blocking her view of the hallway.
Rodney gasped out a breath and slumped forward with his head in his hands. "So much for that idea," he muttered.
Teyla rested a hand on his shoulder. "You tried your best," she told him.
Rodney snorted as he rubbed his temples.
"Stand back," a voice ordered, and Teyla looked over at the doorway in surprise.
A young man, much younger than any of the other Genii they had encountered, entered the room. He carried a familiar bundle in one hand as he pocketed the remote device.
"Simon?" Teyla said, squeezing Rodney's arm as she stood. She left Rodney sitting next to Sheppard and walked across the room.
"Teyla," Simon muttered, never looking her in the eye.
"I thought you were going to run your family's farm after your father died," she said as she took the bundle of food Simon held out to her. "What are you doing here?"
Simon shrugged and stepped back. "Things change," he replied. He gave her a fleeting glance before he turned back to the doorway.
"Wait," she said and reached out a hand. She heard Ronon's low growl of warning but ignored him for the moment. "Simon, please. We need your help," she said.
Simon stopped and turned around. "I can't help you, Teyla. Leftenant Calum's orders were clear."
"Colonel Sheppard is very ill. We need the medical supplies we brought with us in order to help him," Teyla said as she handed the food to Ronon.
Simon took a few steps toward Sheppard, peered down at him, and shook his head. "I can't --" he started to say.
Ronon took a step toward Simon. "You better."
"Ronon," Teyla admonished and held up her hand.
Ronon scowled at her but stepped back.
"Simon, please," Teyla begged. "If we do not do something, I am afraid he will die."
Simon stepped back, shaking his head. "I'm sorry," he muttered and looked down at his boots.
"I have known you for many years, Simon, I know you are a good man," Teyla said. She stepped forward and grasped his hand. "Please."
Simon blew out a breath and hunched his shoulders. "Fine," he said. "But just you," he added with a glance at Ronon.
"Teyla," Ronon rumbled.
She held up a hand. "We will be fine," she said to Dex. "I will return shortly."
Simon waited until Ronon moved to the back wall and dropped the bundle of food in the corner. Then he triggered the energy barrier and checked the hall.
"Come on," Simon said and waved a hand at Teyla. "The guard at the end of the hall is looking the other way. We need to hurry."
Teyla nodded and followed as Simon turned right and led the way down the hallway. From the way he kept looking behind them as they walked, it was easy for her to see Simon's hesitance to help was based more on fear than belligerence. For a moment, she felt a twinge of guilt for talking him into risking Calum's temper. Then she remembered Sheppard's pale, pain-lined face, and told herself it needed to be done.
"Thank you, Simon," Teyla said as they walked.
Simon grunted. "Thank me by making sure the Leftenant doesn't find out about this."
Teyla nodded as her suspicion was confirmed and followed Simon through a doorway.
"Your belongings are in here," he said. He blew out a breath as he stood to one side of the doorway, watching the hall.
Teyla hurried over to a table pushed against the wall where their packs, vests, and weapons were piled. She sorted through the vest pockets, pulling out pressure bandages, antiseptic wipes, analgesics, and an emergency blanket. She added several water bottles she found in one of the backpacks to her pile and wrapped the supplies in Sheppard's jacket. She picked up the awkward bundle in both hands and followed as Simon led her back to the room with the others.
Simon stopped a few feet from the doorway, glanced at Ronon, and waited for him to move back before he disengaged the energy field.
Teyla turned to Simon. "Thank you," she said again and shifted the bundle in her arms so she could squeeze his hand.
Simon gave her a quick nod and re-energised the field. "Just don't let Calum know where you got that," he said and walked away.
Teyla turned away from the doorway and was pleased to see John awake and sitting up. He looked exhausted, and his eyes were slightly glassy, but he smiled when he saw her. "Hey, Teyla," he said as she sat down beside him.
"Colonel, I was able to retrieve some of our medical supplies," she told him as she unfolded the jacket.
"How did you manage that?" John asked, and flinched as Ronon untied the belt and removed the scraps of bloody t-shirt wrapped around his shoulder.
Teyla winced in sympathy when she saw the wound still slowly wept blood, and the skin around the incision was puffy. "One of the Genii soldiers is an old friend," she said.
"I don't suppose this friend could help us get out of here," John said.
Teyla shook her head. "He is too afraid of Calum."
"Who isn't," Rodney said as he crawled out of the corner where he'd been sitting rubbing his head. "Did you bring any pain meds? My head is killing me."
Ronon rolled his eyes as he dug through the supplies, found the antiseptic wipes and opened one. "Ready?" he asked Sheppard right before he started to clean the wound.
"Gah!" John exclaimed and squeezed his eyes shut. "No, I wasn't ready!" he added with a glare.
"Waiting wasn't going to make it hurt any less," Ronon replied, nonplussed by John's reaction.
Teyla found the analgesics and had the pain medication and water ready when Sheppard opened his eyes a few seconds later.
John nodded his thanks as he swallowed the pills.
Teyla heard an echoing moan from Rodney beside her as Ronon worked on cleaning the bullet wound. She popped two more of the pills out of the packaging and handed them to Rodney along with a bottle of water.
Rodney swallowed the pills with a gulp of water. "Thanks," he muttered and glanced at Sheppard.
Ronon finished cleaning the wound and opened one of the pressure bandages. "It's still bleeding," he said to Sheppard, holding up the pressure bandage.
"Still not really ready," John muttered, and groaned low in his throat when Ronon tied the bandage in place.
Once Ronon had the makeshift belt sling back in place, Teyla helped John pull the jacket on, leaving the left sleeve dangling empty as she zipped up the coat.
"Try to rest," Teyla said to Sheppard as Ronon eased him down to the floor and she spread the emergency blanket over him.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
According to his watch, it was still at least an hour or two before the sun came up on this world, but Rodney gave up on trying to sleep. He sat up, pulled his knees up to his chest, rested his arms on his knees, and his chin on his arms. His head still pounded, even with the pain medication, making any hope for real rest pointless.
He heard Teyla's soft, regular breathing coming from across the room, so he knew she was asleep. He glanced toward the doorway and found Ronon sitting against the wall near the opening. Rodney wasn't sure if Dex was awake or not. The emergency blanket crinkled as John shifted beside him, and Rodney heard Sheppard moan as he twitched in his sleep.
No wonder he couldn't sleep, Rodney said to himself as he scooted closer to John, resting a hand on Sheppard's forehead. His first clue that something was wrong was when John didn't wake up. His second was the heat he felt radiating off Sheppard.
"Not good," he muttered as he pulled the tiny flashlight from his trouser pocket and flicked it on.
"McKay," Ronon rumbled, and Rodney jumped.
"Don't do that," Rodney whispered with a glare.
Ronon ignored him and looked at John. "What's the problem?"
"That," Rodney replied. He unzipped the jacket enough to highlight the bloody pressure bandage with the flashlight. "And I think he's getting a fever." He didn't mention the fact that Sheppard didn't wake when Rodney touched him.
Ronon glanced at the bloody bandage and frowned.
"Hey!" Rodney exclaimed as Ronon took Rodney's flashlight and looked around until he found the rest of the medical supplies.
"You'll need to support him while I change the bandage," Ronon said, holding up a fresh pressure bandage.
"Umm, okay," Rodney replied.
He unzipped the jacket the rest of the way and gently pulled it off John's shoulder. He grimaced when he felt the sticky wet spot on the jacket. Rodney waited until Ronon lifted John up, then scooted behind him.
John finally woke with a groan as Ronon moved him. "Wha'?" he mumbled and tried to shift out of Rodney's tenuous hold.
"Hold still," Rodney said in a low voice. "We need to change the bandage."
John stopped moving, and Rodney kept one arm wrapped around John's chest as he nodded at Dex. He watched as Ronon untied the bloody bandage and tossed it aside, and wrapped the fresh one around John's shoulder.
John moaned again as Ronon finished tying the bandage in place, and Rodney closed his eyes when he felt an answering twinge through the link.
Carson had tried to tell him the link was still intact, but at the time, Rodney had been convinced otherwise.
That was one mystery put to rest, he thought to himself. The link was most definitely still there, and it was telling him John was getting worse.
He rubbed his head with his free hand and grimaced. Maybe if he had listened to Beckett, he would have been a bit more prepared when Calum had shot John. He'd never been that close when Sheppard was seriously hurt in the past, or if he was, he'd been injured at the same time. The pain spike this time had been so bad he had no memory of ending up on the floor.
One minute Calum had been threatening to shoot him, the next, he'd felt Teyla's hand rubbing his arm. In the hours since, his head had never stopped aching even with the dose of pain relievers Teyla had given him. If he hurt this bad, what Sheppard was feeling …
"Hang on," Rodney muttered as Ronon zipped the jacket and started pulling John away from him to lay him back down on the floor. "He's hurting and we need to do something about that fever." Rodney adjusted his hold on John and glanced around at the pile of supplies. "Try and get him to swallow some of the pain meds first."
Ronon nodded and dug through the supplies.
While Ronon looked for the pills, Rodney nudged John's uninjured shoulder. "John?" he said and tapped him again. "You with me, here?"
John shifted against him and opened his eyes.
"I think you need another dose of the ibuprofen," Rodney told him.
John nodded, and Rodney helped him to sit up. Sheppard took the pills Ronon held out to him, swallowed them with a gulp of water, and sagged back against Rodney.
Rodney took the bottle from Sheppard, set it on the floor behind him, and tamped down on the fear gnawing at his stomach. The fact John was so complacent was scaring him more than the actual bullet wound. Sheppard was not one to accept help gracefully. The fact he wasn't arguing with Rodney that he was fine, that he didn't need to be coddled, told him just as much about John's worsening condition as the tingling feeling and headache from the link.
"Lie him back on the floor," Rodney whispered to Ronon as John's breathing evened out in sleep.
He waited until John was lying on the floor beside him, and then covered him with the emergency blanket. Rodney sank back against the wall and closed his eyes, trying to will his own headache to go away.
He was more than happy to be proven wrong and that the link was still there, but he could do without the migraine, he grumbled to himself and rubbed his temples. He felt a tap on his arm and cracked open an eye.
"Here," Ronon said and held out more of the pain medication.
"Umm, thanks," Rodney said, a bit surprised. He took the pills and swallowed them with the last of the water from the bottle he'd given Sheppard.
"Is Calum right?" Ronon asked a few minutes later.
"What?" Rodney asked, startled out of the light doze he'd fallen into. "Umm, right about what?"
"That you're stalling instead of fixing that device."
Rodney scowled at the implied accusation. "You think this is my fault?" he hissed, pointing at John.
Ronon crossed his arms and stared back. "Is it?"
Rodney stared at Dex for a moment, then shook his head and looked away. He pulled his knees up to his chest and tried to hide how much Ronon's accusation stung. Did Dex really think he would deliberately do something that would get any of them hurt? Rodney wondered.
"No," Rodney finally told him. "I really don't know what's wrong with the emitter."
"So you can't make it work."
Rodney sighed and closed his eyes. "I didn't say that. I might be able to get it to work if I had a team of engineers, better tools, and more time."
Ronon grunted and walked back over to the doorway.
Rodney opened his eyes and looked at Ronon. "Why?"
"Because Calum plans to shoot one of us next," Ronon replied, pointing to himself and then Teyla, "if he doesn't see results soon."
"Great," Rodney muttered, rubbing his head. "No pressure or anything."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Light streamed down through the shaft in the ceiling the next morning, waking Ronon. He lay still listening for any potential threats. When nothing sounded out of place, he opened his eyes, sat up, and surveyed the rest of the room. Teyla sat against the wall where she could see down the hallway. McKay was asleep in the corner across from Ronon, more or less upright, one hand resting on Sheppard's arm. Sheppard was asleep as well, the emergency blanket puddled around his waist.
"Good morning," Teyla said in a low voice.
"Morning," Ronon replied as he crawled across the floor to check on Sheppard.
The pressure bandage seemed to be holding, there was less blood than when he'd changed it during the night. Sheppard wasn't sweating, but his face was still flushed, and when Ronon pressed the back of his hand to Sheppard's forehead, he thought the fever was about the same as before.
"How is he?" Teyla asked as she knelt down beside Sheppard.
"No worse than when I changed the bandage a few hours ago."
Teyla looked up at him, concern clear in her expression. "We only have one more bandage, and we are almost out of the analgesics."
"I know," Ronon replied as he pulled the blanket back up.
The quiet conversation woke McKay, who sat up straight with a groan. "Wha's goin' on?" he asked, glancing first at Ronon and then Teyla. Ronon watched as his expression shifted from confusion to concern. "John?" McKay asked, turning to Sheppard.
"Colonel Sheppard's condition has not changed," Teyla told him.
McKay frowned. "That's not good."
"No," Teyla agreed.
Ronon noted the pain lines around his eyes as McKay scrubbed a hand over his face. "He needs Beckett," he muttered looking around the room, and Ronon wondered if McKay thought the remote for the energy field would magically appear in front of him.
McKay glanced at the doorway and used the wall as a support to push himself to his feet. "Maybe I can do something to short out the energy field." He patted his pockets as he took a few steps toward the opening. "Maybe we can get out of here before anyone notices we're gone."
Ronon heard footsteps heading in their direction, and grabbed McKay's arm.
"Do you mind?" McKay growled, and tried to pull his arm free.
"Quiet," Ronon ordered. "Someone's coming." He pulled McKay behind him as he walked over to the door and peered down the hallway.
"It's not Calum," he reported, and heard McKay blow out a breath of relief.
"Is it Simon?" Teyla asked, joining Ronon near the door.
"It's not Simon, either," Ronon told her as Josip stopped in front of the doorway.
"Get back," Josip ordered as he waved his pistol at Ronon and then Teyla. Two more soldiers stood a few paces behind him.
He waited until Ronon took a few steps away from the doorway, then deactivated the energy field, entered the room, and pointed his pistol at McKay. "Let's go," he ordered. "Calum wants that weapon functioning today."
McKay shook his head. "I still don't know what's wrong with it."
Ronon clenched his hands and growled as Josip grabbed McKay by the arm. "Then you better get moving and figure it out," he retorted.
Ronon remembered Sheppard's comment that Calum might decide to kidnap McKay and leave the planet. Was that the reason for the sudden deadline? he wondered. Was Calum separating McKay from the rest of them to take McKay with him? He took a step toward McKay, but Josip pointed the pistol at him.
"Don't think I won't," Josip threatened as he pulled McKay out of the room and re-engaged the energy field.
"I'll, I'll get it to work," McKay said. He gave Sheppard a last glance, then looked over at Ronon. "Trust me."
Ronon grunted and watched as Josip shoved McKay to get him moving. He heard Sheppard groan behind him and turned in time to see Teyla helping him sit up with his back braced against the wall.
"How is he?" Ronon asked Teyla, and knelt down on Sheppard's left side.
"He hurts like hell," Sheppard growled, and groaned when he tried to shift against the wall.
Ronon ignored the tone as he unzipped the jacket and removed the bandage.
"Well?" Sheppard asked, looking down at his shoulder.
"It might be getting infected," Ronon said.
"No, kidding," Sheppard replied with a tired sigh. "My whole left side feels like it's on fire."
Ronon took the fresh bandage Teyla held out to him, and Sheppard clenched his teeth as Ronon tied it over the wound.
"Pain medication," Teyla said and held out the pills with a bottle of water. She waited until Sheppard swallowed the pills, and added, "We have food as well."
Teyla opened the bundle Simon had given them the night before. With everything else that had happened, they hadn't had the chance to eat before now. She opened one of the ration bars and handed it to Sheppard, gave a second to Ronon, and kept the third for herself.
Sheppard frowned and looked around the room. "Where's McKay?" he asked as he nibbled a corner of his bar.
"Josip was here a few minutes ago," Ronon told him. He opened his bar and took a bite. "Took him back to the lab." He glanced at Teyla and took another bite of his breakfast.
"What's the problem," Sheppard asked. "What aren't you telling me?"
Ronon pursed his lips. "Calum wants the device working today," he finally admitted. "McKay says he doesn't think he'll get it working by then." He didn't bother mentioning the threats made if McKay couldn't do what Calum wanted.
Sheppard made a face as he ate another few bites from the bar. "We need to get out of here," he said as he rewrapped the rest of the bar and set it aside with a groan. "Before Calum realises Rodney's telling him the truth."
"Working on it," Ronon told him.
"You believe Rodney?" Teyla asked. "That he really does not know how to fix the machine?"
Sheppard shifted against the wall and winced as the movement jarred his shoulder. "I never said he couldn't fix it," he replied. "But I believe him when he says he can't do it as fast as Calum wants."
"He's said that before," Ronon retorted. "When the jumper crashed on that penal island on Olesia."
"Trust me," Sheppard said and closed his eyes. "This time he's telling the truth."
"If that is the case," Teyla said a few moments later. "How do we escape? We do not have one of the remote control devices to deactivate the energy field."
"Simple," Ronon replied, "We take one."
"Such a plan may not be so straightforward," Teyla reminded him. "There is a guard at the end of the hallway, and the Genii rarely come here alone."
Ronon started to reply when he heard someone marching down the hall in their direction. He walked back to the doorway, checked the hall, and smiled. Not only was their visitor Calum, who certainly would have one of the remotes they needed, but he'd been arrogant enough to leave his guard detail behind.
"It's Calum, and he's alone," Ronon reported, and didn't bother to hide his feral grin. He glanced at Teyla. "This may be our best chance to get one of those remotes."
Teyla studied him for a moment, then nodded and turned to Sheppard dozing beside her. "Colonel Sheppard," She said and rested a hand on Sheppard's arm.
Sheppard opened his eyes. "Hmm? What?" he asked, looking around the room.
"Calum is coming," she said.
"Get me up," Sheppard said and tried to push himself off the floor. "Gah!" he exclaimed and grabbed his shoulder.
"I do not think --" she started to say, but Sheppard spoke over her.
"I have an idea," Sheppard told her, dropping his hand from his shoulder. "Get me up."
Ronon walked over and was still helping Sheppard get to his feet when the energy field around the doorway disappeared, and Calum walked into the room. Ronon turned to face the door, keeping himself between Calum and Sheppard and Teyla.
"Ronon," Sheppard murmured. "It's all right."
Ronon looked back at Sheppard, who had his good shoulder braced against the wall. Teyla stood next to him, a hand on his back.
"Really," Sheppard told him. Sheppard's gaze flicked from Calum and back to Ronon.
Ronon frowned when he caught Sheppard's meaning, but moved so he stood in front and slightly to the right of Sheppard. He flexed his hands and let his arms relax at his sides as he waited for Calum to take Sheppard's bait.
"Colonel Sheppard," Calum greeted, his tone dripping false sincerity, "You don't look well."
Ronon saw the effort Sheppard made to stand straight as he looked down at himself. "All things considered, I think I'm looking pretty good."
Calum smiled and took a few steps to Ronon's left. "I'm glad to see your sense of humor is still intact, Colonel." He studied Sheppard for a moment, and his mocking humor died.
"I see you managed to coerce one of my men into bringing you supplies," Calum said. He kicked one of the empty water bottles and pointed at the silver emergency blanket on the floor near Sheppard's feet. Calum stopped pacing and turned with a scowl. "Who was it?"
"I honestly have no idea," Sheppard replied. "I was kinda busy bleeding."
Ronon clenched his hands when he saw Sheppard sway where he stood and Teyla's surreptitious hand on his back, helping to keep him on his feet.
Calum stepped closer to Sheppard and studied him for a moment.
Sheppard met his penetrating gaze with a hard look of his own. "Sorry we can't help," he said.
Calum turned to Teyla, then Ronon. "Well?" He waited a beat and added, "Neither of you has anything to say, either?"
Teyla raised her chin and said nothing. Ronon merely glared in reply.
"Guess you're out of luck, Calum," Sheppard told him a few seconds later.
"Do you really think so, Colonel?" Calum asked, a twisted smile on his face as he unsheathed the knife at his hip.
Ronon studied the knife as Calum held it up. By his estimate, the blade was five inches long and slightly curved with serrations along the inside edge.
"This blade has already tasted Doctor McKay's blood," Calum said, admiring the knife. "Which of you shall be next?"
Ronon's eyes narrowed as Calum turned the hilt of the knife in his hand, letting the blade catch the morning light.
Calum took a step closer to Sheppard. "How about you, Colonel? Shall we see how many cuts it takes to make you answer compared to the good doctor?" He paused and gave Sheppard another mocking smile. "Though, I should give Doctor McKay some credit. He held out much longer than Commander Kolya expected."
Sheppard's hand clenched at his side, and his expression went flat.
Calum studied Sheppard, then shook his head. "I doubt in your current condition you'd make it past three. Shall we find out?"
Calum's weight shifted as he took another step toward Sheppard.
As soon as he started to move, Ronon made his move, grabbing Calum's wrist and twisting it until Calum winced and the knife dropped from his hand.
Calum tried to twist his arm out of Ronon's grip, but Ronon only tightened his hold. When Calum tried to pull back against Ronon's hold, Ronon moved with him and punched Calum in the face.
Ronon let go of Calum's wrist and stepped back as Calum dropped to his knees, cradling his forearm.
Calum took a couple of deep breaths, then came off the floor and charged Ronon.
Ronon let him come, took the punch Calum aimed at his head, then grabbed Calum's outstretched arm, twisted it behind him, and slammed Calum up against the nearest wall. Before Calum could react, Ronon spun him around and held him in place with a hand wrapped around his throat.
"I told you, you would pay for shooting Sheppard," Ronon growled as he squeezed Calum's throat.
Calum tried hitting Ronon's arm, but when that didn't break his hold, Calum gave up trying to attack and tried to pry Ronon's fingers away from his neck as Ronon tightened his grip.
"Ronon!" Teyla shouted. "We need to go."
Ronon looked over at her with a frustrated glare and saw Teyla trying to keep Sheppard upright as he sagged against the wall.
Ronon growled low in his throat but nodded. "Get the remote," he told her, and held Calum against the wall as Teyla darted forward and took the small device from Calum's jacket pocket. Once she was clear, Ronon pulled his arm back and punched Calum in the jaw.
Calum went limp as he lost consciousness, and Ronon let him drop to the floor in a heap.
"Check the hallway," Ronon said as he knelt beside Calum and pulled the sheath for the knife off of his belt.
Teyla left Sheppard leaning against the wall and moved over to the doorway.
"We are still clear," she reported as she disengaged the field and stepped into the hallway. "Calum must have sent the guard at the end of the hall away."
"What are you doing?" Sheppard asked as Ronon sheathed Calum's knife and clipped it to his own belt.
"Nothing," Ronon replied. He draped Sheppard's right arm over his shoulder, wrapped his arm around Sheppard's waist, and half-carried Sheppard out of the room.
Teyla re-engaged the energy field, trapping Calum inside. "Hopefully that will delay any counter-attack by the Genii," she said to Ronon and led the way down the hall. "Our weapons and other supplies are through here," she directed as she entered the next room.
Ronon and Sheppard followed her into the room with the table and their piled gear. He exchanged a worried look with Teyla as Sheppard sank to the floor with a groan.
"I'll go get McKay," Ronon said, sorting through the gear until he found his duster and particle blaster. He pulled on the coat, strapped the holster to his leg, and automatically checked the charge pack for the blaster.
"Hurry," Teyla took him as she put on her uniform jacket and tac-vest. "It will not take long for the Genii to realise we are gone."
Ronon nodded. "You going to be okay here?"
Teyla nodded as she checked the magazine for one of the P-90s. "We will be fine." She jerked her chin toward the door. "Go."
John heard Ronon and Teyla talking, heard them planning on how to find McKay and get back to the jumper, and frowned. He should be the one giving orders, he told himself. Shot or not, getting his team home safely was his responsibility, he was still their team leader.
Time to start acting like it, he told himself as he watched Ronon leave the room. His team was counting on him.
He pushed against the floor in an effort to stand and heard himself groan as the ache in his shoulder flared in response.
"It is all right, Colonel." Teyla bent down and rested a hand on his arm. "Ronon has gone to find Doctor McKay. Once they return, we will make our way back to the jumper and then home."
John swallowed his rising frustration that once again, his team was left to deal with a dangerous situation, and he was useless to help. He thought back to Rodney visiting him in his quarters before McKay left for the cave. He'd listened to Rodney's stumbling attempts to help, and while a part of him knew McKay had meant well, all he'd been able to focus on at the time was the fact his life was in the hands of a man he wasn't even sure he could trust.
Teyla checked the hallway, then walked over to the table against the far wall.
John tried to maneuver himself enough so he could at least keep watch, but his shoulder protested the movement, and he leant back against the wall, growling under his breath. While their current situation wasn't as dire, John still felt he was somehow letting his people down thanks to his inability to help them, much less himself. He tapped his fist against the floor and watched Teyla sort through items on the table on the other side of the room.
She had one of the packs open, and John watched as she stuffed McKay's uniform jacket and John's tac-vest into the backpack.
"We will need to go as soon as Ronon returns with Rodney," she explained when she saw him watching her. "We do not know how much time we have before the Genii are alerted to the fact we have escaped."
"Good point," he replied.
Teyla started to add his sidearm to the items in the pack, and John shook his head.
"Bring it here," he said, looking up at her.
"My gun," he clarified and held out his hand. "Bring it here."
"I do not believe that is wise, Colonel," Teyla replied.
John looked up at her with a pained glare. "We've got who knows how many Genii out there about to find out we've escaped." He stopped speaking and winced. "I'm not just going to sit here, unarmed, and wait for them to come after us."
Teyla studied him for a moment, then relented and walked over with the weapon and holster. She helped him strap on the holster, and John tried not to groan as the movement aggravated his shoulder.
"This is not necessary, Colonel," Teyla chastised as she buckled the strap around his leg. "We are here to help. There is no need to feel as though you must do everything yourself."
John ducked his head and focused on checking his weapon. When did he get so easy to read? he wondered.
"Calum is trapped in the other room?" he asked, ignoring her comment as he checked the magazine for the Beretta then holstered it.
"Yes," Teyla replied. "He was still unconscious when we left, and I re-engaged the energy field." She nodded at the table, and John saw the small remote device sitting on the surface next to the open backpack.
John nodded and tried to see out into the hallway. "How many went with McKay to the lab?"
"We are unsure," Teyla replied as she went back to the table. "Josip had two men with him when he came for Rodney. Whether they went with Josip and Rodney to the lab or if they returned to wherever the Genii are staying, we do not know."
"But you're sure Calum was alone?"
"Yes." Teyla zipped the backpack closed and set it next to the remaining tac-vest, holster, and Beretta on the table. "Unlike his previous visits, Calum did not have additional men with him."
John wondered why Calum would suddenly forgo the guard detail, but chose to accept the good luck. "That buys us a little time, at least," he said and groaned when he tried to push himself off the floor again.
"You should rest while you can, Colonel," Teyla said as she walked over and stood on the other side of the doorway. "Ronon will be back soon, and then we will be able to take you home."
John knew she was right but was loath to accept the idea he needed help. He was the older brother, the team leader, the one who had to have the answers to the question of what happens next. But lately, he seemed to be the one everyone else had to worry about. It was not a position he enjoyed. He had long ago given up the need or desire to be coddled.
He pulled up the jacket sleeve and idly rubbed the callus on his arm where Ellia had bitten him. He had been afraid certainly as the retrovirus took hold. He had felt that other him taking over, and he'd been powerless to stop it. He closed his eyes as the images of smashing the window in Elizabeth's office, throttling Weir, and nearly breaking McKay's arm rose in his memory. He hadn't felt such a loss of control since the bacteria had made them all sick a year ago.
As much as he'd been angry about everything happening to him, angry that Elizabeth refused to let him save himself until it was almost too late. And yes, for all he'd try to reassure Beckett otherwise, he'd been angry all of this was happening to him in the first place, the sheer helplessness of his situation frustrated him even more.
He'd been helpless as he watched the retrovirus change him hour by hour. He hadn't been able to prevent that other version of himself from hurting Elizabeth and McKay. Worse, he had been forced to stay behind while his team risked so much on his behalf. He had hated that feeling of vulnerability as he'd had to wait, and hope, and trust someone else would save his life most of all.
He casually flicked a pebble across the room as other memories rose to the surface. Mendar and getting shot in the leg with an arrow. The snowstorm and jumper crash on Lurra. Rodney dragging him home on a slab of bark from the Redwood Forest planet.
The fight with the Other.
Every time he'd needed them, his team had been there. No one left behind. It was his team's number one rule. He'd meant it as his promise to them that he would never abandon them. John had never stopped to realise they had made the same promise to him in return.
There was Rodney refusing to give up when he was trapped by a force field in the gauntlet even though that meant repeated electrical shocks and burns to his hands. And even more recently, McKay hiking through an alien forest alone, on a barely-healed leg, determined to find him and Teyla on Mendar.
John remembered Ronon refusing to leave them after they were cut off from the 'gate on Mendar, even though he wasn't officially a member of the team yet. Someone, probably Rodney, John thought with a tiny smile, had already informed Dex of the number one rule.
Then there was Carson hiking through a snowstorm to find them after the jumper crashed. Carson, who felt guilty for the retrovirus infecting him in the first place, doing everything he could, including walking into an iratus bug-infested cave, to get him a cure.
Teyla taking care of him even as he took care of Rodney after the transformer accident. Then using all of her off-world contacts to help him find Ford after the siege. He'd lost count of the number of times she had stood by him, offering advice and wisdom when he needed it.
His team had always had his back. And as John sat on a dirty floor, bloody and aching, he finally realised, they always would.
"Colonel?" Teyla asked as he shifted and winced. "Is everything all right?"
"Hmm, yeah," he replied with a tiny smile. "I think it really is."
She studied him for a moment, then nodded. "I hope --" she started to say, then jerked her head up at the noise coming from farther down the hallway. "That was gunfire," she said with a worried glance at John.
John heard the hollow report from the Genii pistols and then the whine from Ronon's particle gun and grimaced. He set his mouth and held out his right hand. "Help me up," he ordered.
Teyla frowned but helped John struggle to his feet. She checked the P-90 and glanced out into the hall as the shooting continued.
"Someone is coming," she reported and ducked back into the cover offered by the doorway.
John leant against the wall on the other side of the doorway and glanced over at her. "Can you tell how many?" he asked as he drew his gun.
"More than one," she replied. "And whoever it is, they are in a hurry."
John nodded. He readied his weapon and waited for Teyla's signal that the Genii were in range.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Josip's fingers dug into Rodney's bicep, making him wince as he was pulled down the hall. He considered digging in his heels and forcing Josip to let him go, but he was frankly afraid that if he stopped moving, Josip would pull his arm right out of the socket.
"I thought we went over this yesterday," Rodney complained as they walked. "I'm going to need that arm, to fix the emitter."
"Shut up," Josip replied and jerked him forward again.
Josip took the same route as the day before, and Rodney spent the time memorising the various twists and turns so he could, hopefully, lead the others back through the maze to the exit. They needed to get Sheppard back to Atlantis before the shoulder wound became infected.
Or worse, he said to himself. The idea the Genii's ammunition was contaminated wasn't completely far-fetched, he knew.
They turned another corner, and Rodney saw the doorway for the lab ahead, and he breathed a silent sigh of relief that they were almost there. He was beginning to lose feeling in his fingers from Josip's tight grip on his arm.
"Get to work," Josip ordered once they were inside the lab. "Calum wants that weapon working before the end of the day."
Rodney scowled at Josip as he rubbed his bicep and flexed his fingers. He was sure he'd find bruises later. Josip glared back and pointed at the emitter. Rodney dropped his hand from his sore arm and wandered over to the emitter with a resigned sigh.
He still had no idea what was wrong. However, he suspected the Ancients had done something, possibly by mistake, though more likely by design, to prevent the exact sort of repairs he was attempting. He swallowed as he considered what it could mean if the Ancients had disabled the emitter for a reason.
There would not be a repeat of Doranda, he promised himself. No matter how much Calum threatened him, he would not make that mistake again.
He looked up and caught sight of the computer sitting on the edge of the console. He gave Josip a wary glance as he wandered over to the corner with the main console. The download was still his main objective, Rodney told himself. He needed something he could take back to Atlantis that would make everything else at least somewhat worthwhile.
He pressed a few tiles on the console, checked the transfer progress, and let out a silent breath of relief when he found the download was nearly complete. Another thirty or forty minutes and it would hopefully be done.
Rodney sat back on the stool and studied the emitter inside the enclosure. Trying to fix the device would at least keep Josip distracted and not wondering what he was up to with the computer, he told himself as he rubbed the back of his head.
He didn't need the reminder from the link that John was getting worse and that they needed to get him back to Atlantis. He had seen the worried glances Ronon and Teyla passed back and forth earlier while checking the bullet wound. They needed to escape. Before it was too late.
He sat, trying to think around the headache and the tingling feeling at the back of his head, as he considered their options. As he stared at the emitter, a nugget of a plan formed in his head.
Both Ronon and the Genii thought the device was a weapon. Was there a way he could use that? Overload it, yet still contain the explosion somehow? The image of the Dorandan solar system blowing up rose in his memory, and he pinched the bridge of his nose as he squeezed his eyes shut.
If the enclosure had withstood the force of a blast from Ronon's particle gun, would it be enough to contain the energy of the emitter blowing up? He would need to make sure any explosion was noisy, yes, but still controllable. Turning the whole of the mountain into a pile of rubble would not do anything to help Sheppard and the team. He would also need to figure out a time delay or other method of setting off the explosion when they were ready to escape.
The idea had some merit, he decided. To Josip, it would look like he was following orders and fixing the device. The only problem would be making sure the rest of the team knew about his plan and were ready before Calum figured out the truth and shot Ronon or Teyla in retaliation.
Rodney stood and dropped his hands down to his sides as he walked back over to the emitter. He felt something in his trouser pocket, poking his leg and looked down in confusion. He stuck his hand in his pocket, pulled out the tiny flashlight and the half of the ration bar he'd saved from the day before, and smiled.
"Finally, a bit of good luck," he muttered as he unwrapped the food. He finished the bar in a few bites and set to work on the control board next to the emitter. If he planned to make the emitter explode, he needed to figure out how it normally worked first.
He spent several minutes checking various crystals, then rechecked all of the components inside the emitter, but no matter how he fiddled, the emitter still refused to power on.
So much for the distraction idea, he thought as he studied the control board again.
"The problem has to be something with the power systems," he muttered as he looked around the rest of the room. "The lights and the main console work, so power is getting to the room. It's just this chamber that's dark." He glanced around the enclosure. "Which implies there's a dedicated power source."
He sat down at the edge of the hole in the floor and heard footsteps behind him. He looked up to find Josip a few paces away, glaring back at him with a suspicious scowl on his face and his hand on his pistol. Rodney tried to ignore the obvious threat, bent over, and peered into the hole. He didn't have the right angle to really see much, and with a sigh, rolled over until he lay on his front.
He could hear Sheppard in his head telling him he was in the worst position possible to defend himself if Josip were to try anything, but he didn't see how he had much choice. He clicked the flashlight on, held it in his mouth, and started checking the power systems.
The fiber bundles supplying power to the rest of the room were easy to find since they glowed with a faint light. As he moved the lit cable out of the way, however, he found another bundle, concealed under the rest, that was dark.
"Yes," he muttered. "So what's the problem?"
He took the flashlight out of his mouth and flicked the light back-and-forth to various corners of the hole until he found a column of crystals, roughly fifteen centimeters high and six centimeters in diameter, behind a bundle of cable. It wasn't quite the same as the tall pillars of crystals in Atlantis that acted like power transformers for the various sections of the city, but he suspected the crystals contained within the clear tube did much the same job.
The problem was all of the crystals in the tube were dark.
He scooted forward so most of his upper body was now inside the hole and examined the tube and how it was connected to the rest of the power systems. He spent a few minutes poking and prodding until he twisted the tube to the left, then the right, and smiled as the tube popped free from its socket.
Rodney sat up and turned the tube over in his hand until he found a small button at one end. He pressed it and a section of the tube slid open, giving him access to the crystals.
"Okay, now we're getting somewhere," he muttered.
He pulled the crystals out of the tube one by one, checking each for damage before he laid it on the floor next to him. He had half a dozen crystals removed when he found one with a long crack from the edge that transected the delicate filaments contained inside. The next two crystals he pulled were equally damaged.
"So, an accident after all," he said. That boded well for his plan to use the emitter as a potential distraction. Now all he had to do was find replacements.
He turned one way then the other as he sat on the edge of the access hole and nodded when his gaze landed on the shelves behind him.
"Please tell me Ronon didn't shoot the parts I need," he muttered as he stood and walked over to the shelves.
Rodney walked up and down the rows of still-standing shelves until he found a box of crystals and carried it back to the hole. The crystals in the box were grouped together by type, and it didn't take him long to find the specific ones he needed. He selected three new crystals and slotted the replacements into the tube. He then replaced the rest of the crystals and screwed the tube back into its socket. As soon as the tube was in place, the crystals lit up, and the last bundle of fiber started to glow with a soft light.
"Yes," Rodney hissed to himself as he stood up, absently brushing dust and flecks of stone off his blue uniform shirt and trousers. "All right, let's try this again."
He examined the small control board and pressed a series of switches. For a moment, the thrill of excitement he felt in his gut overrode the headache and tingling in his head as he waited to see if the emitter worked.
At first, nothing appeared to be happening. Rodney was about to power down the board and recheck all of the systems when he saw the edges of the rings at the far end of the chamber start to glow.
"That's more like it," he said.
He walked down to the rings at the other end of the enclosure and found a small screen embedded in the wall. The data on the screen appeared to be diagnostic information for the ring system, but without his computer, he couldn't be sure. He reached out to tap one of the buttons next to the screen to see if the data changed and spun around when he heard a commotion near the door.
"Nico?" Josip asked, straightening up from his slouched position near the doorway. "What are you doing here?"
"Have you seen Calum?" Nico asked. "He's not answering the comm."
"I've been here watching this so-called scientist try to get the weapon fixed," Josip replied, hooking a thumb in Rodney's direction.
Rodney forced himself to ignore Josip's insult, and the hard looks both men gave him as he walked back to the emitter. He rechecked the board, but couldn't find any reason for the emitter to still be offline.
If the rings were working, there still must be something off with the emitter itself, he decided and pulled the access cover off the back of the emitter and peered inside.
He was poking around the wiring for the emitter a few minutes later when two more Genii joined Josip and Nico at the doorway. "We can't find him," one of the soldiers reported. "He's not in the barracks, and the team outside hasn't seen him this morning."
"What did you do?" Josip demanded.
Rodney looked up from the emitter with a scowl. His expression changed to one of fear when he saw Josip unholster his pistol and take a step toward him.
"What are you talking about?" Rodney tried to bluster even as he took a step back from the emitter.
"Calum is missing," Josip told him and took another step toward the enclosure. "So, I'm asking again, what did your people do with him?" He raised the pistol and pointed it at Rodney's chest.
Before Rodney could do much more than raise his hands, several things happened at once.
"Josip!" one of the Genii yelled, just before Rodney heard the familiar whine of a particle weapon.
Rodney looked up at the doorway in surprise as Ronon came through it firing at the Genii soldiers clustered near the opening.
Josip yelled and fired his pistol at Rodney, just as Ronon shot him.
Rodney ducked away from Josip's shot and crouched down between the control board and the emitter with his arms wrapped around his head. There were a few more shots fired and then silence.
"McKay?" Ronon growled.
Rodney patted himself down, surprised when he didn't find any holes or blood, and looked up at Ronon striding across the room. He also saw the bullet lodged in the transparent material of the enclosure wall at chest height and gulped.
"Here. I'm here," he replied, ignoring the squeak in his voice as he stood.
"Let's go," Ronon said. "We're getting out of here."
Rodney nodded. "Umm, yes. Right. Give me a second."
He turned to the control board and powered down the system. He turned and watched as the glow faded from the rings, then went back to the access hatch in the floor. He was on the floor reaching into the hole when Ronon growled from behind him.
"What are you doing? We need to move."
Rodney sat up with the tube of crystals in his hand. "I'm making sure the Genii don't do something stupid," he replied and walked over to the main console. He set the tube of crystals on the edge of the console and sat down.
"Now what?" Ronon groused. "Someone had to hear the shooting. We need to leave."
"I know, I know," Rodney replied. "Just one more minute."
He heard Ronon growl low in his throat but was relieved when Dex only walked over to the doorway and peered down the hall.
Rodney checked the computer, confirmed the download was finished, and unplugged the cables from the console. He kept the laptop and the bundled up cables in one hand, grabbed the crystal tube with the other, and met Ronon at the doorway.
"Okay, we can go," Rodney said.
"Finally," Ronon muttered, checking the hallways one last time before leading the way down one of the corridors.
"Where are the others?" Rodney asked as they hurried down the hall. "And how did you get past the energy field blocking the doorway?"
"Took the remote from Calum," Ronon replied, pushing Rodney against the wall as they came to a junction.
"Is he …"
"No," Ronon said, his tone curt. "And it's not going to take long for someone to find him and let him out, so stop talking and keep moving."
Rodney started to say something else but closed his mouth when Ronon glared at him.
Ronon peeked around the corner, then jerked his head back when several gunshots came from the hallway.
Rodney ducked and used the computer to shield his face as stone chips exploded from where the bullets impacted the wall.
"Sheppard and Teyla are down the next hall. Third door on the left," Ronon said when the shooting stopped.
"What are you going to do?" Rodney asked and cringed when a few more shots rang out.
Ronon didn't answer. Instead, he spun into the middle of the hallway and started firing. "Go!" he shouted at Rodney.
Rodney clutched the computer to his chest, crouched down, and scrambled across the opening and into the next hallway.
He turned around in time to see Ronon duck just as another bullet hit the wall behind his head. Dex dropped to one knee and fired back down the opposite hall. Rodney was trying to find some way to help when Ronon yelled at him again.
"I said go," Ronon ordered, still shooting. "Now!"
Rodney waited another beat, then scurried down the hall. He let out a breath of relief when he saw the doorway ahead of him and walked faster. He glanced back to see where Ronon was and yelped in surprise when he turned back and saw Teyla standing in the opening, a P-90 aimed at his chest.
"Don't shoot!" Rodney exclaimed.
Teyla lowered her weapon just as Ronon ran down the hallway toward them.
"Are you both all right?" Teyla asked as Ronon shoved Rodney into the room.
"We're fine," Ronon told her as he turned back to the hall. "The Genii have figured out we've escaped," he added. "I shot four of them in the lab." He nodded in Rodney's direction. "There were three more in the hallway, but they ran off."
"What happened?" Teyla asked, glancing from Ronon to Rodney.
"Some Genii soldiers came to the lab looking for Calum," Rodney told her as he stopped next to Sheppard. "They thought I should know where he'd gone for some reason. I told Josip I didn't know anything. They were about to start shooting when Ronon showed up." He remembered the bullet lodged in the wall of the enclosure and swallowed.
"You all right?" Sheppard asked.
Rodney scoffed as he took in the pain lines around John's eyes and the way he slouched against the wall. "Maybe I should be asking you that." He saw John trying to give him a hard look and added, "I'm fine."
John studied him for a moment longer, then nodded.
"Your backpack and weapon are on the table," Teyla said to Rodney.
Rodney gave Sheppard another worried look and hurried over to the table where his pack, tac-vest, and Beretta waited. He stuffed the computer, cables, and the mini crystal transformer into the backpack, no easy task with his jacket and a tac-vest in the way, zipped it closed, then pulled on his vest and clipped the pack in place.
"How many Genii soldiers are there?" he heard Teyla ask as he strapped on the holster for the Beretta.
"No way to know," Ronon replied. He walked over to the table, picked up the remaining P-90, and looped the strap over his shoulder. "There are at least ten we know about, could be more. Doesn't matter, though."
Rodney looked up in time to catch Ronon's pointed glance at Sheppard. "We're going to have to risk it," Dex added to Teyla. "Do you know the way out?"
"No," she replied. "We did not explore this section."
Ronon grimaced. "I'll take the lead then. You cover our backtrail."
Teyla nodded and stood back from the door so Ronon could move in front of her.
"What about me?" Rodney asked, holding up his Beretta.
"You help Sheppard," Ronon told him.
Rodney's worry ratcheted up another notch when John didn't argue with either Ronon taking charge or the idea that he needed help. John simply holstered his weapon, draped his free arm over Rodney's shoulders, and nodded.
"Time to go home," John muttered and waited for Ronon to take the lead.
They made steady if slow, progress back through the various hallways of the building. Rodney followed several paces behind Ronon and felt Sheppard leaning against him more and more as they walked. Ronon insisted on checking each doorway and junction before they crossed it. While the pauses gave John a few seconds to catch his breath, Rodney knew he was fading as he took more of Sheppard's weight.
Throughout the trip back through the hallways, Rodney's focus narrowed to making sure he kept Ronon's back in sight and keeping Sheppard moving. He glimpsed the tiled walls of the courtyard ahead of them ten minutes later and breathed a sigh of relief that they were almost back to the entrance.
There were still a few doorways between Rodney and Ronon when Dex signalled him to stop where he was. Ronon stood to one side of the opening for the courtyard, surveying the space before he disappeared inside.
Rodney had turned to check on John when he heard the whine from the particle weapon firing inside the courtyard followed by the strange hiss-pop of several Genii tranquiliser guns. He froze and glanced at Teyla, coming up behind him.
"Stay with Colonel Sheppard," Teyla said as she readied her P-90 and slipped around him.
Rodney nodded and eased John down to sit on the floor. Rodney stood beside him, rolling his shoulder to ease the tension from supporting John's weight and rubbing his aching head. He heard the report from the P-90 join the whine from Ronon's particle gun and a corner of his mind wondered why the Genii had switched from using pistols to the tranquilisers.
Did Calum still want something from them? Had he figured out Rodney had sabotaged the emitter and wanted the mini-transformer back?
The shooting stopped, and Rodney waited for Ronon or Teyla to signal it was safe for them to enter. Several seconds of silence passed, and he still didn't see either of his teammates.
Should he go check on Ronon and Teyla? he wondered. But that would mean leaving Sheppard alone. He glanced up and down the hall, then down at Sheppard sitting against the wall with his eyes closed.
Rodney heard another spurt of gunfire from the courtyard and then silence. He was debating asking John what he thought was happening when he heard running footsteps coming from the hallway opposite the courtyard.
John cracked an eye open and looked back down the hall. "Get me up," he ordered even as he tried to unholster his weapon.
Rodney bent down and wrapped John's good arm over his shoulder again. He had them both up, and they had taken only a few steps toward the doorway of one of the nearby rooms when three Genii soldiers rounded the corner behind them.
Rodney assumed the soldier's surprise at finding them out in the open was the only reason the Genii didn't open fire immediately. It didn't take long for them to recover, however, and Rodney heard the hiss-pop of the tranquilliser guns behind him even as he instinctively ducked.
Rodney tried to turn and fire his Beretta while still holding on to Sheppard, and was only partially successful. He felt John slipping from his grip as he returned fire on the Genii and managed to drag John into the cover offered by the doorway. He heard John groan as he slid down the wall and Rodney felt an answering throb in his head even as he crouched in the hallway and fired at the Genii attacking them.
The Genii dove into one of the other rooms lining the hall, but Rodney kept firing. When the Beretta clicked empty, he ducked back into the room, his eyes a bit wide and his heart trip-hammering in his chest as he knelt down next to John. He released the spent magazine, loaded a fresh one, and holstered the gun.
"We can't stay here," Rodney said to Sheppard as he glanced around the small room. "Even I know it would be bad to get trapped in here with the Genii out there."
John nodded, and Rodney helped him stand.
"Ronon? Teyla?" John asked as Rodney checked the hallway.
No one tried to shoot him, so Rodney decided to risk leaving the room.
"Not sure," he replied. "I haven't heard any more shooting from that direction, but I've been busy." Rodney made sure he had a good hold on Sheppard and added, "Okay, the next room is three meters that way." He pointed in the direction of the courtyard. "The best plan I've got is to use the rooms for cover and try to meet up with Teyla and Ronon in the courtyard."
Rodney felt John try to take some of his own weight as he inched out into the hallway and beelined for the next doorway. They were only halfway there when the Genii opened fire again.
Rodney crouched down, pulling Sheppard down with him. He was trying to figure out the best way to get John to the next room when he heard a growl behind them and several shots fired from the particle weapon. Rodney watched Ronon's boots stride past them as he crouched over John, trying to protect Sheppard as best he could.
A few seconds later, Rodney noticed the Genii had stopped shooting. He wasn't sure if they were dead or if they had simply scattered in the face of Ronon's counter-attack, but he wasn't going to question their motives. He looked up to see Ronon standing in the middle of the hallway, weapon still raised, staring down the hall.
Once it was clear the Genii were gone, Dex turned to Rodney.
"You hit?" he asked as he kept one eye on the hallway.
"Umm, no, no. We're umm, fine," Rodney replied and slowly stood.
Ronon gave him a quick once over, then holstered the particle gun and bent down next to John.
"Courtyard is clear," Ronon told Rodney. "Go meet Teyla. I've got Sheppard."
Rodney waited until John was more or less upright then led the way into the courtyard.
Teyla stood watch near the fountain, and Rodney noted the pockmarks in the walls where the tiles had been shot away.
"The Genii have gone," Teyla said as Rodney walked into the courtyard. "Are you and Colonel Sheppard all right?" she added. "We heard gunfire in the hallway."
Rodney nodded. "We're fine." Rodney glanced around the courtyard but didn't see any Genii lying on the ground.
"Umm, where?" He looked over at Teyla and let the question hang.
Teyla checked the hallway leading back to the entrance for the building. "The Genii never attacked in earnest," she replied. "They only used the tranquiliser guns, and once I joined Ronon, they retreated down the hallway Colonel Sheppard and I investigated the other day."
Rodney glanced down the other hallway. "Why use the tranquilisers, though?" he wondered out loud and looked back at Teyla.
"I do not know," Teyla replied. "These are not the usual tactics we have come to expect from the Genii."
"Doesn't matter," Ronon said, walking into the courtyard with John. "They've left the exit unguarded, I say we take advantage of their mistake while we can."
Teyla nodded and turned toward the hallway. "I know the way from here, I will take point," she said and headed down the hall.
Rodney followed Teyla, ignoring the intricate tile patterns on the walls even as Teyla gave each of the rooms they passed a quick glance. Several minutes later, they were back at the entrance hall, and Teyla hurried over to the door, cracked it open, and peered outside.
"I do not see anyone," she reported a few moments later and turned around. "I believe it is safe to head for the jumper."
Rodney saw her worried expression and looked behind him as Ronon came into the entrance hall with Sheppard braced against his side. In the better light, it was clear John was losing the battle against the blood loss and pain. He was barely conscious, pale, and it looked like the shoulder wound had started bleeding again.
As Rodney watched Ronon adjust his hold on Sheppard, he was struck by another thought. There was no way John would be able to pilot the jumper back to the 'gate. That left him as the only alternative.
While he had flown the shuttles a few times, it had usually been in open space, and John had been there with him, offering advice or taking over if the situation called for it. Situations like flying a jumper through a stargate and docking in the bay, Rodney thought to himself.
This time, though … This time he would have to pilot the ship alone. He'd need to thread the needle of getting the jumper back through the 'gate, and John's life depended on him not messing up. They didn't have time for the jumper to get stuck in the 'gate if he botched the approach.
He looked up and found Teyla watching him.
"Rodney?" she started to ask, but Rodney interrupted her.
"We need to go," he said. He paused only long enough to dig his remote for the jumper out of one of his vest pockets and clutched it in his hand.
Teyla gave him one last look then pushed the door open wide and stepped outside, the P-90 up and ready in case the Genii decided to attack again.
Rodney followed a few paces behind her. He stood at the top of the steps and surveyed the area between the building and the trees. He was about to step down beside Teyla when she held up a hand and crouched down.
Rodney passed the warning back to Ronon, then crouched behind one of the pillars and asked in a low hiss, "What is it?"
Teyla shook her head as she stared at the trees off to their left. "I thought I saw movement in the trees," she replied a few seconds later.
Rodney remembered one of the Genii saying something about men stationed outside the mountain and poked his head around the pillar, trying to see the treeline. Was that the reason for their easy escape? The Genii wanted to shoot them out in the open? he wondered.
He didn't see anything suspicious and glanced at Teyla. "Well?" he asked after a few seconds.
Teyla slowly stood and turned to Rodney. "There is nothing there now. It may have been nothing more than an animal startled by our appearance." She stepped away from the building, and when nothing else happened, Rodney followed her.
They were at the edge of the woods when Rodney heard the hiss-pop from at least a dozen of the tranquilliser guns off to their left.
"Run!" Teyla ordered and opened fire.
Rodney didn't need telling twice. He ran through the trees, ducking as tranquilliser darts hit the trees around him.
"You cannot escape," he heard Calum yell behind him, but Rodney didn't stop his headlong dash for where they had left the shuttle.
He ran into what he hoped was the correct clearing and pushed the button on the remote, relieved when the jumper shimmered into existence off to his right.
"Where's Ronon and Sheppard?" Rodney asked as Teyla ran into the clearing behind him.
"They are right behind me," she replied. "You must get the ship ready to take off as soon as they arrive," she added. "I will watch for any more of the Genii."
Rodney nodded and pressed the button on the remote to lower the hatch. He was at the edge of the ramp when the headache he'd been fighting since the previous night melted away. He felt his stomach lurch at the sudden feeling of déjà vu but relaxed slightly when he noticed the tingling feeling was still there. He turned in time to see Ronon stride out of the trees carrying Sheppard in his arms.
Before he could wonder why the link had cut out on him again, Rodney felt a sharp sting in his bicep, looked down, and saw a small triangular dart sticking out of his arm. He stared at the dart for a moment, stunned, as the implications of getting hit by a tranquiliser sank in.
He was the only one left who could fly the ship back through the 'gate to Atlantis. They had no idea how long it would take for the sedative to wear off, but chances were it was more time than John had left. Rodney plucked the dart out of his arm and tossed it away, but he could already feel the sedative affecting him as he stumbled up the ramp.
Ronon followed a few moments later, carrying Sheppard. Teyla was only a step or two behind them, and she slapped the control to close the hatch as the Genii came out of the trees and surrounded the ship.
"Colonel Sheppard?" Teyla asked Ronon as Rodney shuffled a few paces toward the cockpit.
"He was hit with one of those darts," Ronon replied as he laid Sheppard on the bench seat and dug out the first aid kit.
Rodney leant against the bulkhead separating the rear compartment from the cockpit, blinking slowly as he watched the activity surrounding Sheppard. He knew he should be concerned over the fact John was lying motionless on the seat and seemed to be bleeding, but everything around him seemed to be happening in slow motion.
There had been a few times over the last year or more when Carson had dosed him with morphine after one injury or another. As Rodney watched Ronon pull off the blood-stained jacket and remove the bloody bandage from Sheppard's shoulder, he had that same sluggish feeling, as if his brain had been powered down to only a quarter of its normal speed.
Rodney shook his head, trying to clear the fog, and knew he didn't have much time before he passed out. He had to get the ship in the air and back to the 'gate before that happened. Now if he could just get his legs to move …
"Rodney?" he heard someone say and turned to see Teyla standing beside him, a worried expression on her face.
"Hmm?" he answered with a vague glance over at her.
"We need to get Colonel Sheppard back to Atlantis," she told him.
"Oh, umm, right. Yes," He rubbed his arm, still staring at John lying on the bench.
Teyla glanced at his arm and frowned. "Were you hit by one of the darts as well?" she asked.
Rodney stared down at the red mark on his arm. "Umm, yeah. I think so."
Teyla took his chin in a gentle grip and forced him to look at her. "Are you going to be able to fly the jumper?" she asked.
Rodney saw the concern in her expression and for a moment couldn't understand why she was so worried. He looked over at the bench seat, saw Ronon leaning over John and swallowed.
He turned back to Teyla and nodded. "Gotta get John back to 'Lantis." He turned and shuffled into the cockpit.
He plopped down in the pilot's seat, only vaguely aware of Teyla sitting in the co-pilot seat, and spent a few precious seconds trying to remember what Sheppard had told him about preflight checks.
He was still staring at the control panel when he felt a tap on his arm.
"Rodney," Teyla said, and nodded her head toward the windscreen.
He looked up and saw the Genii setting up some sort of large weapon in the clearing in front of the jumper.
"That's not good," he muttered and pressed a few of the tiles in front of him.
The jumper powered up, then lifted off when Rodney pulled back on the control sticks in front of him. He heard Teyla hiss out a breath as the jumper hit a few trees, but he ignored her as he focused on getting the jumper back to the 'gate and not crashing the ship into the surrounding mountains.
The problem was, he didn't know where the 'gate was. "Gotta get to the 'gate," he muttered to himself. "Where's the 'gate?"
The HUD came up on the windscreen, and the horizon lurched as Rodney brought the ship around and pointed it in the direction of the 'gate on the display. He goosed the engine a bit more and hoped he could stay awake long enough to get them all back to the clearing before he passed out.
He was barely conscious when the 'gate came into view in the near distance. Once the ship was over the clearing, he pushed the control sticks forward and glanced at Teyla as she reached over and punched in the address for Atlantis on the mini-DHD. He heard her talking, but he was too busy making sure he was on the correct trajectory to pay attention to what she said.
Rodney saw something large looming up in front of him, and it took him several long seconds to realise the object he was aiming for wasn't the 'gate, but one of the standing stones surrounding the perimeter of the clearing. He jerked the controls sticks to his left, barely missing the huge rock.
His eyes drifted shut for a moment, and he felt a hard grip on his arm, shaking him. He sat up and blinked several times, trying to remember where he was and what he was doing.
Flying. That's right he was flying the jumper because Sheppard was injured, he reminded himself.
He glanced down at the control sticks and tried to remember what he needed to do next. He saw what looked like a pool of water in front of him and a still-coherent corner of his mind told him he needed to make sure the jumper dove into the pool.
The jumper sailed between two smaller stones, and he heard a low hiss from somewhere to his right, then the pool of water was right in front of him. Rodney had a confused moment of wondering why the ship no longer responded to his commands then felt hands on his shoulders and someone yelling 'Ronon' as darkness closed in around him.
Elizabeth stood at the newly repaired window of her office, looking down at the gateroom below. The Marine security detail stood at their assigned positions, relaxed but ready, while the stargate itself sat silent.
Which was the reason she was standing at the end of her desk, trying not to give in to her worry. Sheppard's team was several hours overdue checking-in. Was it because Rodney had found the Ancient base he was looking for, or something else? she wondered.
She had sat across the table from any number of dictators and probable murderers in her time. When she had accepted the role as head of the expedition, Elizabeth thought she had the nerves to deal with anything a new galaxy could throw at her. She had discovered in the last year and a half that negotiating cease-fire treaties and trade agreements on Earth did nothing to prepare her for the anxiety of sending people on missions to other planets where they may not return.
She heard footsteps on the bridge behind her and turned in time to see Major Lorne stop just outside the open office door.
"You wanted to see me, ma'am?" he asked with a tight-lipped smile.
Elizabeth waved Lorne into her office and nodded. "Colonel Sheppard's team is late checking in," she replied as she stared out the window at the stargate.
Lorne frowned as he walked into the office and stopped next to her. "How late?"
Elizabeth glanced at her watch. "Going on four hours."
"Weren't they planning to be some distance from the stargate, ma'am?" he asked, and Elizabeth heard the conciliation in his tone.
Elizabeth crossed her arms over her chest and gave Lorne a tight smile. "You think I'm worrying over nothing."
Lorne stepped back, shaking his head. "Not at all, ma'am. I'm just saying, there could be a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why they haven't checked in yet."
"Be that as it may, I'd think I'd still like to have your team go to Rivis and check, Major. Just in case there isn't as reasonable an explanation as you think."
"Yes, ma'am," Lorne replied with a nod. "I'll have my team ready to head out inside the hour."
"Thank you, Major."
Twenty minutes later, Lorne called her over the radio from the jumper bay, "We're set to go, ma'am," he said. "We should be able to lock onto Colonel Sheppard's jumper once we're through. We'll find them and pass along your reminder about proper communication procedures."
Elizabeth smiled to herself as she walked out of her office. "Understood, Major. Good luck."
She tapped off the radio and stepped up to the railing so she could watch Jumper Four as it descended from the jumper bay. The iris in the gateroom ceiling opened, and the 'gate started to dial.
"That's odd," Elizabeth heard Lorne mutter over the open channel right before the dialling sequence froze. The lit chevrons blinked out, then the symbols started lighting up again.
"We have an incoming wormhole," Chuck announced with a worried glance at Elizabeth.
"Hold where you are, Major," Elizabeth said over the radio. "We have a situation down here."
"Yes, ma'am," Lorne replied.
The iris in the ceiling closed at the same time the security detail for the gateroom formed in front of the stargate.
The wormhole formed and a few seconds later, Chuck added, "We're receiving an IDC." He looked up at Elizabeth. "It's Teyla."
"Atlantis Base, please come in," Teyla said over the radio, and Elizabeth frowned.
Where was Colonel Sheppard? she wondered even as Chuck pressed a tile on his console and nodded.
"This is Weir," Elizabeth replied. "Teyla, is everything all right?"
"Unfortunately, no," Teyla replied. "Rodney? How are you doing? The stargate is just a little bit farther," she added, and Elizabeth's worry notched up another level at the non-sequitur.
"Teyla? What's going on?" Elizabeth asked.
"We ran into a situation," Teyla replied. "Colonel Sheppard has been shot. We need a medical team waiting in the jumper bay."
"Understood," Elizabeth said and turned in time to see one of the techs already calling the infirmary. "Lower the shield," she said to Chuck. "Teyla, your team is cleared to return," she added, looking down at the 'gate.
"Rodney, stay with me. We are almost there," Elizabeth heard over the open channel.
"Teyla?" Elizabeth asked. "What's wrong with --"
"Ronon!" she heard Teyla cry moments before the jumper appeared through the 'gate.
Elizabeth caught a glimpse of Ronon and Teyla through the windscreen, but then they both disappeared from view. She didn't see Rodney or Colonel Sheppard anywhere in the cockpit. The 'gate shut down, and the jumper slowly pivoted as it rose into the bay above them.
"I'll be in the jumper bay," Elizabeth called to Chuck as she turned and ran up the stairs.
She reached the bay in time to see Jumper One rising up through the hatch from the gateroom.
Lorne and his team stood next to Jumper Four, their weapons held low but ready.
"Ma'am?" Lorne asked, walking over to Elizabeth's side.
"I'm not sure, Major," Elizabeth replied just as Carson and a medical team ran into the bay with a gurney.
"What's happened, then?" Carson asked as the jumper drifted over to its pad.
Elizabeth shook her head. "Teyla said Colonel Sheppard had been shot."
"Bloody hell," Carson muttered and turned to one of the techs behind him. "I'll need pressure bandages, and an IV ready to go as soon as the jumper settles. And call Doctor Cortes, make sure she has the OR prepped."
The tech nodded even as he pulled items out of one of the bags stacked on the gurney and tapped his radio.
"Something may be wrong with Rodney as well," Elizabeth said as Carson checked over the items the tech laid out for him, and the jumper powered down.
A few seconds later, the rear hatch opened, and Lorne's team took a step closer to the ship, weapons raised.
"Doctor Weir?" Teyla called. "We are in need of assistance."
"Stand down," Elizabeth said to Lorne even as Beckett pushed past the Marines and entered the jumper.
Elizabeth followed him but froze just inside the rear hatch when she saw Sheppard lying on one of the bench seats with a bloody pressure bandage wrapped around his shoulder.
"What happened?" Beckett asked as he knelt next to Sheppard and checked under the bandage.
"He was shot yesterday evening," Teyla reported from where she stood near the bulkhead separating the rear section from the cockpit. "Ronon was able to remove the bullet. However, we had few supplies to deal with the bleeding."
"The information we had said the planet was deserted," Elizabeth said. "Who shot him?"
"Genii," Ronon replied shortly.
"The Genii? What were the Genii doing there?" Elizabeth asked, and Carson looked over at her in surprise.
"We do not know," Teyla replied as Carson turned back to Sheppard. "There were weapons missing from an armoury. Colonel Sheppard believed they were there to steal technology."
"I see," Elizabeth said.
Another run-in with the Genii, that made twice in less than six months her teams had had violent encounters with Genii soldiers. What was Cowen up to? she wondered.
"That is why we had to remove the bullet. Rodney believed it may have been contaminated with radiation," Teyla added.
Carson grimaced as he checked Sheppard's vitals.
"Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay were also hit by tranquilliser darts on the way back to the jumper," Teyla said as Beckett finished checking Sheppard.
"Keep pressure on that and start the IV," Carson told the tech next to him. "Get him back to the infirmary and prepped for surgery, I'll be right there," Carson ordered as the med team lifted Sheppard onto the gurney. "And tell Cortes I need a second gurney brought up here."
"Yes, Doctor Beckett," the tech said as he finished tying off a fresh bandage and inserted the IV.
Elizabeth stepped back as the med team left with Sheppard.
"Where's Rodney?" Carson asked as he pulled off one set of gloves and pulled on another.
"Cockpit," Ronon told him.
Carson gave him a surprised look. "I thought you said he was hit with a tranquiliser dart?"
"He was," Teyla replied, and Elizabeth heard the mix of concern and pride in her tone.
"And you let him fly?" Beckett exclaimed as he knelt down next to Rodney who lay on the floor of the cockpit between the pilot and co-pilot chairs.
"He did not have much choice," Teyla replied. "We knew we had to get Colonel Sheppard back to Atlantis, sooner rather than later, and --"
"And Colonel Sheppard was in no condition to fly the ship himself," Carson finished for her. He shook his head as he bent over Rodney's body.
Elizabeth glanced toward the bay doors when she heard the rattle of wheels behind her announcing the arrival of a second medical team.
"Carson?" she asked and watched as Carson checked Rodney's pulse, listened to his breathing, and nodded as he sat back on his heels.
"I'll need to run some tests," Beckett replied, "but if it is some sort of sedative, I think the only thing for him is to let him sleep it off."
Carson stood and looked at Teyla. "How certain are you that this is a soporific, by the way? It could just as easily be some sort of slow-acting poison."
"We were all hit with the same darts a couple of days ago," Ronon said with a shrug. "Woke up a few hours later."
Carson frowned. "In that case, I'll want to run some tests on the pair of you as well. I want to make sure there won't be any nasty surprises."
Elizabeth saw Ronon was about to argue and watched as Teyla rested a hand on his arm. "Certainly, Doctor Beckett," she said.
Elizabeth watched as the med team entered the jumper with the gurney. "Keep me informed," she said to Carson as Rodney was placed on the stretcher and wheeled out of the ship.
"Certainly," Carson replied and hurried after the med team.
She waited until the doors for the jumper bay whispered closed, then turned to Teyla and Ronon. "Once you've been cleared, come to my office. I need to know what happened and how Colonel Sheppard was shot with a Genii weapon."
"Yes, Doctor Weir," Teyla said as they left the jumper bay.
An hour later, Elizabeth sat in her office reading a report from Zelenka on the needed repairs to the hydroponics lab when she was paged over the radio.
"Doctor Weir? This is Doctor Cortes."
Elizabeth felt a jolt in her stomach. "This is Weir," she replied even as she wondered why Serafina was calling her instead of Carson.
"Teyla asked me to call you," Doctor Cortes said. "She mentioned you were expecting to see her and Ronon for a debrief. I wanted to let you know we were keeping both of them in the infirmary for the time being."
"I thought Teyla and Ronon were fine," Elizabeth said as she sat back in her chair.
"For the most part, they are," Doctor Cortes reassured her. "However, they are both somewhat dehydrated, and there were some questions raised in their blood work. They are not in quarantine, and both of them are awake. You are welcome to come down here and speak with them if you like."
"I'll be there in a few minutes," Elizabeth said and tapped off the radio. She walked out of her office and stopped at the main control console.
"Chuck, If you need me, I'll be in the infirmary," she said.
"Yes, ma'am," Chuck replied as she walked away.
"Doctor Weir," Sharon Peterson greeted when Elizabeth arrived in the infirmary a few minutes later.
"Sharon," Elizabeth replied with a nod. "I understand there is a concern regarding Colonel Sheppard's team?"
Sharon led the way over to her desk. "Nothing too serious," she replied as she offered Elizabeth the chair at the end of the desk. "Doctor Cortes wants to make sure their blood work clears before releasing them."
"Doctor Cortes? Where is Doctor Beckett?"
Sharon nodded at the door in the corner that led to the operating theater. "He's still dealing with Colonel Sheppard, ma'am."
"I see," Elizabeth replied, not bothering to hide her concern.
Sharon smiled as she sat down behind her desk. "It shouldn't be much longer."
Elizabeth nodded. "What about Doctor McKay?"
"He is still unconscious. Doctor Cortes ordered several blood tests to determine the type of sedative that was used. The lab techs are still running their analysis."
Elizabeth clasped her hands in her lap as she digested Sharon's news. "I understand Teyla and Ronon are awake?" she asked after a brief silence.
"Yes, ma'am," Sharon replied and stood. "All three of them are right this way."
Sharon led the way to a far corner of the room where four beds were grouped together. Teyla and Ronon sat on a pair of beds on one side, still wearing the clothes they'd had on when they returned. Rodney, now in a clean set of scrubs, lay in the bed across from them along with another empty bed.
"Doctor Weir," Teyla greeted with a tired smile as Elizabeth stopped at the end of her bed.
"If you need anything, I'll be at my desk," Sharon said and left.
"Teyla," Elizabeth greeted. "Ronon. How are you feeling?"
"We are both well," Teyla replied. "Doctor Cortes is merely being cautious."
Elizabeth nodded and glanced at Rodney asleep in the bed across from Teyla. The head of his bed was slightly raised, and an IV ran into his left hand. Elizabeth walked over to the side of his bed, noted the nasal cannula, the wires leading to the monitor next to the bed, and frowned when she saw the bruise on his face.
"Doctor Cortes said we were all dehydrated," Teyla told her, holding up her own arm with an IV attached.
"How did he get the bruise on his face?" Elizabeth asked.
"One of Calum's men struck him," Teyla replied, her tone hard.
"Was this the same man who shot Colonel Sheppard?" Elizabeth asked, and tried to keep the anger out of her tone.
"No," Teyla said and glanced toward the door in the corner that led to the surgery. "Calum himself shot the Colonel."
Elizabeth pursed her lips and turned to Teyla and Ronon. "I think you need to tell me exactly what's been happening the last few days."
Elizabeth listened as Teyla, with some help from Ronon, explained about finding the building carved from the side of a mountain, the Genii, and the weapon that Rodney insisted was really an Ancient energy source.
Ronon was still telling her how they managed to escape when the door from the surgery opened, and Beckett walked across the room, followed by a gurney bearing Colonel Sheppard.
"Carson?" Elizabeth asked as Sheppard was transferred to the bed next to Rodney and attached to a set of monitors.
Carson rubbed his forehead. "He should be fine. The bullet missed his clavicle and the major arteries." He glanced over at Ronon. "The additional damage caused by removing the bullet was minimal. Infection is the biggest concern now. He'll need some physical therapy once the incision has healed, but all in all, he was rather lucky."
Elizabeth gave him a tight smile as she took in the IV bag and the sling supporting Sheppard's left arm. A second bag running a line for a blood transfusion ran into John's right arm.
Carson studied the monitor next to Sheppard's bed, glanced at the monitor next to Rodney's bed, and nodded to himself. "I'll be right back," he said with a tired smile. "I want to see if the lab has any of the blood work back on Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon."
He disappeared into the medical lab behind them, and Elizabeth walked over to John's bed. "What are you up to?" she murmured to herself as she tweaked the blanket covering Sheppard. "Why do this?"
"Doctor Weir?" Teyla asked.
Elizabeth turned to Teyla and gave her a tight smile. "The Genii," she explained. "This attack makes no more sense than the one on Sergeant Thompson's team a few months ago."
"I agree," Teyla replied. "These actions do not match the tactics we have seen in the past by the Genii."
"Whatever they're doing, they got what they wanted," Ronon said as he carefully crossed his arms over his chest.
"What makes you think that?" Elizabeth asked.
"They let us go," Ronon told her.
"They let you go?" she parroted. "From what you described of your escape, it doesn't sound like they let you do much of anything."
"Ronon may be correct," Teyla countered, her expression thoughtful. "It would explain why the Genii only used the tranquilliser darts once they found us in the courtyard."
"Also why they didn't have the hallway leading to the exit guarded, and why they didn't really come after us once we were outside. They could have stopped us. They didn't," Ronon added.
"But they hit both Rodney and Colonel Sheppard with the darts," Elizabeth pointed out. "If they wanted you to escape, why sedate the two people capable of flying the jumper?"
"The Genii may be unaware of the significance of the Ancestor's gene," Teyla hypothesised. "Or it is possible actually hitting Rodney and Colonel Sheppard with one of the darts was a mistake."
"Why the subterfuge, at all?" Elizabeth asked more to herself than to Teyla or Ronon. "And why take all of you captive in the first place? Demanding Rodney fix some sort of Ancient device seems like a flimsy excuse."
Elizabeth was still considering motives for the Genii when Beckett came out of the med lab carrying a tablet computer.
"Doctor Beckett?" Teyla asked.
Carson smiled as he set the computer on the bedside table. "Looking at your test results, you and Ronon should be fine." He glanced at the nearly empty saline bag hanging next to her bed. "And I think this has done its job as well," he added as he removed the IV from Teyla's arm and covered the puncture with a bandage.
"You know what was in the darts?" Elizabeth asked as Carson turned to Ronon and removed his IV as well.
"From what we can tell so far, it looks to be a combination of several natural plant derivatives," Carson replied. He glanced from Teyla to Ronon. "You say you were dosed with this sedative more than a day ago?"
"That is correct," Teyla said. "I believe we were all injected by multiple darts as well."
"Don't know how long we were out," Ronon added. "Sheppard was the first one to wake up after me. McKay took almost another hour after that to come around."
Carson nodded. "Based on the residual amounts in your blood work, and how much of the sedative is still in Rodney's system, I'd say he will be unconscious for another hour or two. Colonel Sheppard won't be awake for a while, either." He dropped the hand holding the tablet down to his side. "Plenty of time for the pair of you to get cleaned up, find something to eat, and get some rest."
Teyla nodded and moved around her bed. "We will return this evening. Hopefully, by then Rodney and Colonel Sheppard will be awake."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
"Doctor Beckett," a female voice said, a note of concern in her tone.
"Sharon?" a male voice replied. "Something wrong?"
John twitched as the conversation invaded his sleep.
"Doctor McKay's latest numbers," Sharon replied.
John cracked an eye open and was surprised to see the textured ceiling of Atlantis instead of the rough stone walls of the room they'd been held in for the last two days.
When did they get back? he wondered. How did they get back?
The last thing he remembered, he and Rodney were trapped in one of the small rooms with several Genii soldiers closing in on them.
He heard a sigh and turned his head enough to see Beckett standing beside the next bed. "I was hoping he would be awake by now," Carson said. "We'll give him another hour. If he isn't conscious by then, we'll need to set up a glucose drip."
"Yes, Doctor Beckett," Sharon replied and walked away from the bed.
John watched Carson start to leave as well, and shifted in his bed. The movement jarred his left arm, and a dull throb warned him moving was a bad idea. "Carson?" he called with a low groan.
"Colonel?" Carson replied and stepped over to his bed. "Good to see you awake," he added with a smile. "How do you feel?"
John glanced down at his arm with a frown. "Arm aches," he muttered.
"I'm sure it does," Carson said with a smile. "From what I've heard, you've had a busy couple of days."
"I'll get you something for the pain," Carson added and walked away.
Once Beckett moved out of the way, John frowned when he saw who was in the next bed. Rodney looked to be asleep, and John didn't see anything wrong other than a bruise on his face. He didn't feel anything through the link, either.
"What the hell?" he muttered. He pushed himself more upright and tried to ignore the flare of pain from his arm.
Carson came back a few minutes later, handed John a paper cup with a couple of pills inside and then a glass of water.
"What happened?" John asked with a nod at Rodney's bed once he'd swallowed the pills.
"He was injected with a rather potent sedative," Carson told him as he took back the glass.
John tried to ignore the dull ache as he shifted his arm in the sling. "Ronon? Teyla?"
"Both fine," Carson assured him. "Rodney will be all right, as well. He just needs to sleep off the sedative."
"Better excuse than an imaginary splinter, I guess," John said with a crooked smile and a glance at the other bed.
Carson looked over at Rodney. "He was more than a little worried about you," he said to John. "And to be fair, there really was a splinter."
John stared up at him with an indignant frown. "You would never let me get away with such a weak excuse to sneak in here."
Carson crossed his arms over his chest. "Yes, well, at the time I wasn't sure what we were dealing with" he replied. "I wanted Rodney where I could keep an eye on him if that bite on your arm turned out to be serious." He gave John a measured look. "All things considered, that concern wasn't misplaced."
John looked down at the callus on his right arm. "No, maybe not." He leant back in the bed and closed his eyes.
"Get some rest, Colonel," Carson said and walked away. "You both will be fine."
The next time John woke up, he saw Teyla sitting in the chair beside his bed, and McKay's bed was empty.
"Good morning, Colonel," Teyla said with a smile.
John started to sit up and froze as what Teyla said sank in. "Morning?" he asked and nodded his thanks as she helped him shift in the bed.
"Yes," she replied. "Actually, it is almost midday."
John glanced at the empty bed, but before he could ask where Rodney was Teyla spoke.
"Doctor Beckett released him a few hours ago," she told him. "The sedative will linger for another day or so, but as long as Rodney does not push himself too hard, there is no reason to be concerned." She took a step away from the bed. "I will let Doctor Beckett know you are awake."
Teyla left, and John took stock of himself. There was a line for the IV taped to his hand and his shoulder still ached, but the pain was manageable, and his left side no longer felt like it was on fire. He glanced down at the sling and tried to move his arm.
"Don't even think about it, Colonel," Beckett said as he walked over and stood at John's side. "The sling stays where it is. I won't have you ruining my careful stitching."
John gave him an innocent look, but Carson merely shook his head. "You and I both know I can put you in a sling you can't get out of on your own. I'm sure Rodney would appreciate the chance to turn the tables on you."
"Okay, okay," John capitulated, holding up his free hand. "You win."
"That's better," Carson said as he looked at the monitor next to the bed. "As for the rest, the blood transfusion did its job, and the fever is almost gone." He gave John a pointed look. "If you follow orders, I'll release you tomorrow."
"In that case, I'll see about having Sharon find you something to eat." Carson turned to Teyla and added. "Don't be tiring him out. He still needs to rest."
"I understand," Teyla said with a nod.
Thirty minutes later, John finished eating and sat back in the bed. "How did we get back here?" he asked. "I don't remember being in any condition to fly."
Teyla moved the roll-away table out of the way and sat in the chair next to the bed. "You were not," she said. "In addition to your injury, you had been hit with one of the Genii darts during our escape. Ronon had to carry you. By the time we reached the jumper, you were unconscious."
John glanced down at his hand curled in his lap. Even though he had accepted that his team would help when he needed them to, he still didn't like the idea Ronon had been forced to carry him.
He fiddled with the edge of the blanket for a moment, then looked up. "Hang on, if I was out and Rodney had been hit by one of those darts, too …"
"Luckily, Rodney was only hit with one of the darts this time," Teyla told him."He was able to remain conscious long enough to pilot the jumper back to the stargate."
John sat back in the bed, a stunned expression on his face. He swallowed and looked over at Teyla. "How …"
"We hit a few trees," Teyla admitted with a smile, "and there were a few other close calls, but you should be proud of him, John. If he had not been able to fly the jumper, we might not have returned in time." She nodded at his shoulder.
John rubbed his aching arm, lost in thought. He remembered the guilty expression on Rodney's face when he'd told John what he thought the Ancient device was, as well as McKay insisting he was only working on the device because of Calum's threats.
"Do you trust him not to go too far again?" Elizabeth had asked him before the mission to Rivis.
"I am certain Rodney knows he has yet to earn back your faith in him," Teyla had told him as they explored the building.
John rubbed the back of his neck. He had forgiven Rodney for everything that had happened on Doranda while they were still on Earth for the enquiry. Maybe it was finally time for him to move past his anger and hurt and forget as well.
Teyla squeezed his fingers. "I will leave you to rest," she said softly.
He was dozing a few hours later when he heard something heavy clunk on the bedside table, and he opened his eyes.
"Sheppard," Ronon said as he sat in the chair next to the bed.
"Ronon," John replied. He glanced at the table and saw the knife Ronon had taken from Calum. He looked at Ronon with an eyebrow raised. "What's up?"
"Was talking to Teyla about that." He jerked his chin at the knife. "She thought I should come talk to you before I went through with it."
John shifted in the bed. "Went through with what?"
"Giving McKay the knife."
John gave him a surprised look. "Why would you want to do that?" he asked, in as neutral of a tone as possible.
It must not have worked as Ronon stood from the chair and walked to the end of the bed. "Teyla said you would think it was a bad idea."
"I haven't said anything yet." John reached out and picked up the knife. He was reasonably sure the last thing Rodney wanted was the knife used to torture him. Still, he was curious why Ronon had even considered the idea.
He glanced up at Ronon. "Why do you think it's a good idea?" he asked.
Ronon crossed his arms over his chest. "Power."
John dropped the knife in his lap. "Okay, you're going to have to explain that one."
Ronon walked over and picked up the knife. "Give him the knife, you give him back what he lost when Kolya tortured him with it."
John could understand where Ronon was going with his idea, but he wasn't sure Rodney would see it the same way. What surprised him was Dex coming forward with the idea in the first place.
"If you find this Kolya again, do you plan to let him get away a third time?" Ronon asked after a few moments of silence.
John thought back to that room and the anger he'd felt when he'd learnt the truth about what Kolya had done during the storm.
"No," John replied, his tone hard. "Not now that I know everything that happened."
Ronon nodded at the knife. "Same thing."
John stared up at Ronon as what he was saying sank in. John had been there through the sleepless nights and the nightmares when Rodney did sleep after they'd forced Kolya to leave the city. He had helped with the physical therapy once the cuts to his arm had healed, and he had listened on the rare occasions Rodney had wanted to talk.
Ronon hadn't even been in the city when Kolya tried to take Atlantis.
"Why?" John asked. "Why is this so important to you?"
Ronon glared at John as he tucked the knife in his belt. "Just is."
In his own mind, John had already decided what he would do when he found Kolya again, and how he would justify those actions to Elizabeth. Looking at Ronon, he realised he wouldn't be facing Kolya alone, and the Genii commander wouldn't escape the next time they met.
He glanced at the knife again and nodded. "Let me talk to him first, and we can work out a time when the team is together, and you can give it to him. Just don't take it wrong if he refuses to accept it."
"Fine," Ronon said. He adjusted the knife and left the infirmary.
John sat on the edge of the bed the next morning as Carson probed the edges of the incision in his shoulder.
"This is starting to heal nicely," Carson said as he taped down a clean bandage. "How are you feeling?"
"Better," John said with a nod. "Pain is less at least."
"Good. You need to keep that arm in the sling for at least another week. I'll give you some pain medication to take with you as well as antibiotics," Carson told him. He nodded to the clothes waiting on the chair next to the bed. "Once you're dressed, you can go."
It took longer than expected, and Carson had to help with the sling, but once he was dressed in khakis and a button-down shirt, John left the infirmary, tugging at the strap for the sling as he headed for the nearest transporter. He needed to give Elizabeth his report on the mission to Rivis. He also wanted to find Rodney and talk to him about a few things, not the least of which was to give him a bit of warning about Ronon's plan with the knife.
He debated with himself for a few moments, then decided Elizabeth needed his official report sooner rather than later and tapped the section of the map with the control room. He nodded to Chuck at the control console and walked across the bridge to Elizbeth's office.
"John," Elizabeth greeted him with a smile when John tapped on her door. She waved him into the office and added, "How are you feeling?"
"Getting shot is never fun," he replied as he sat in the chair in front of Elizabeth's desk and adjusted the sling. "But I'll live."
Elizabeth pursed her lips as she closed her computer. "I've already talked to Teyla and Ronon about what happened." She shook her head. "I still don't understand what the Genii hoped to accomplish with any of this."
John shrugged, then winced when the movement set off the ache in his shoulder. "From what I saw, I doubt Cowen knows what Calum is up to," he replied. "Calum was only interested in two things. Finding out what we knew of Kolya's whereabouts, and forcing Rodney to fix that device he and Ronon found."
"Calum wants to find Commander Kolya?" Elizabeth asked. "Teyla didn't mention anything about that in her report. Ronon didn't say anything about it, either."
"They didn't know much about it," John replied as he rubbed his jaw. "Calum and I had a … private conversation."
John shifted in the chair as his shoulder twinged. "I get the feeling the Genii might be in for a regime change soon. And if Calum is any indication, I don't think they believe in a peaceful change in leadership."
Elizabeth gave him a startled look. "You think Calum is planning a coup?"
John nodded. "Or he's setting things in motion so Kolya can take over. Take your pick."
Elizabeth pursed her lips. "Perhaps we should send a message to Cowen, warning him. We do have a truce of sorts with him."
John grunted. He didn't have any particular feeling of camaraderie where Cowen or the Genii were concerned.
"How do we explain how we found out about it?" he asked and tried to keep his tone as neutral as possible. "You're the one always saying how we need to keep a low profile."
Elizabeth studied him for a moment, and John was reminded she had been a diplomat before joining the expedition. Not only had she seen her share of petty dictators, but he was fairly sure he wasn't fooling her for a moment.
"You may be right," she said, and John thought he saw a glimmer of agreement with his feelings in her expression.
After a moment of silence, she sat back in her chair. "Since the Genii appear to be setting up some kind of base on Rivis, I won't be authorising any return trips any time soon. We don't need more of our people captured or worse." She nodded at the sling.
"Have you told Rodney that?" John asked.
Elizabeth smiled. "I thought I'd leave that honor to you."
"Gee, thanks," John said with a sarcastic smile as he stood and left the office.
He glanced at his watch and decided the best place to start looking for Rodney was in his lab. Neither Teyla nor Beckett had mentioned any issues where Rodney was concerned, but John had been a bit surprised he hadn't visited while John was in the infirmary.
Was he caught up in some project, or was he brooding about the Ancient power source? John wondered as he exited the transporter and rounded the corner to the hallway with the lab.
He let out a silent breath when he saw the door to the lab was open. At least Rodney wasn't hiding or trying to avoid him, John thought to himself.
He started to tap on the door and froze when he saw the state of the room.
"You've been busy," John said as he walked into the lab and looked around.
The desk had been organised with all of the scattered papers now in folders and the folders neatly organised in the dividers along the back of the desk. The various Ancient devices that had been cluttering the work table were back on the shelves, the cloaking generator sat on another shelf, and Rodney sat at the table, his laptop open in front of him as he read something on the screen.
Rodney looked over at him and then glanced around the rest of the room. "Did you come all the way down here to see if I'd cleaned my room?"
John grinned as he hooked the spare stool with his foot and sat down across the table from Rodney. "I just came down here to see how you were doing?"
Rodney frowned. "Haven't we had this conversation before? I'm fine." He nodded at John's shoulder. "I wasn't the one who was shot."
John leant back on the stool and tried to adjust the sling as McKay went back to studying whatever was on the computer screen.
Rodney could deflect all he wanted, but John remembered what had happened after he'd been shot. He could only imagine the sort of pain spike that would have left Rodney on the ground, only semi-conscious.
"Maybe if we'd finished that conversation we'd started about the link you would have known everything was fine," John said with a pointed glance at Rodney. "Before I was shot."
Rodney shrugged. "Carson had already shown me his so-called evidence. I didn't believe him."
John shook his head. "I'm not talking about that," he said and paused, unsure how much he should say about the battle with the Other.
He still wasn't sure how much he really believed about what happened during his dream or vision or whatever it was. Rodney was far more analytical. Would he listen or merely scoff at the idea?
"Okay," Rodney replied and stared over the top of the computer at him. "What are you talking about?"
John tugged on the strap for the sling and took a deep breath. "Before I woke up in the infirmary." John stopped when he saw Rodney flinch. "Before I woke up in the infirmary, I was in this other … place."
"Pretty sure we took you from the cave directly to the infirmary," Rodney told him with a frown. "Carson was telling us we were too late --"
John glared over at him, and Rodney stopped talking.
John waited a beat then continued, "In this dream or whatever, there was this thing, this other version of me. Bug me." John picked at the edge of the table. "I knew I had to beat it if I wanted to escape the dark place," he muttered. He glanced up at Rodney, surprised to see he was actually listening.
John sat back on the stool and focused on his lap. "It was a long fight," he admitted, "and I was about to give up and let it win when this white light appeared." He looked up and met Rodney's eye. "I think that light was you … and the link."
Rodney crossed his arms over his chest as he hissed in a breath.
John gave him a steady look. "There were some other things, too, but without that light," he paused, "I don't know if I would have been able to beat that … other me."
Rodney sat hunched on his stool, and John saw he wasn't ready to believe anything John said about the dark place or the Other. Rodney pulled one arm free from his protective huddle and rubbed his forehead.
"I … that's …" He looked over at John. "You know that sounds completely crazy, don't you?"
John frowned, stood from his stool, and took a few steps away from the table. He should have just kept his damned mouth shut, he chastised himself.
"Of course," Rodney drawled a few moments later, and John turned to face him. "You could say the same thing about someone using magic energy to heal someone's hand."
Rodney held up his hand, and John saw the fading scars on his palm. Rodney turned his hand over and rubbed one of the scars. "I did try, you know," he said and glanced up at John, "to fix your shoulder. I tried, but …"
John shook his head. "I get the feeling that's still something way beyond either of us," he said. "Like I told you before, I'm pretty sure it was Yana who did most of that."
He took a step closer to Rodney. "Speaking of Yana, did you forget already that she told us there was only one way for the link to be broken?"
"Yes, well, I thought ..." Rodney wrapped his arms back around his middle. "What came out of that cave ... wasn't you." He gave John a sideways glance. "And before Ronon shot you, there was nothing from the link. No headache. No tingling. Just nothing."
He shook his head and swallowed. "Once we had you back here." Rodney reached for the computer. "Thinking back, I get it. Carson had you pretty sedated."
John rested a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "And you might not have been thinking too clearly?"
Rodney shrugged. "After everything Yana had told us, I seriously thought I was going to go nuts." He looked over at John. "Just don't ever do something like that again."
"I'll do my best," John replied. He sat back down on his stool and grimaced as his shoulder throbbed. He saw Rodney wince and John pursed his lips.
"You doing all right?" John asked, his tone serious. "I know what it's like, you know."
"I'm fine," Rodney replied with a fleeting smile. "Just don't stop taking the pain meds I know Carson gave you." He glanced at his desk, then back at John.
"What?" John asked.
"I might have found something." Rodney shifted on the stool. "Technically, the linguistics team found something, but since I'm the one who saved the book on Mendar, I guess you could say --"
John raised his hand and waited for Rodney to stop talking. "What did you find?"
"Oh, umm, Zelenka brought me a report right before we left for Rivis." He gave John another wary look. "One of those books we brought back from Mendar, could be a journal of some kind."
"Okay," John drawled.
"The linguistics team hasn't finished it, well, actually they really haven't even started it …"
John gave him an exasperated look.
Rodney took a deep breath and said, "The section Radek showed me mentioned following different paths … along The Way."
John swallowed. "Did it say anything specific?"
Rodney shook his head. "Chaudhri's team is still working on it."
John nodded. "Any idea how long it will take them to translate all of it?"
"No way to know for sure," Rodney replied. "I'll, umm, I'll keep you in the loop though. Just in case they actually have something."
John shifted on the stool and tugged at the strap for the sling. On top of everything else, he was going to have a stiff neck before he managed to get rid of the blasted thing.
"Not so fun now, is it?" Rodney said with a crooked smile as John pulled the strap away from his neck. "How many times has Carson threatened you with the tied down version?"
John let go of the strap. "Just once, so far." He watched as Rodney tried to hide his grin as he typed something on the keyboard. "Is that the data dump from Rivis?"
Rodney nodded as he checked something on the computer.
"Finding anything interesting?"
"Hard to say," Rodney replied. "I'm still decompressing the files." He looked up from the computer. "I did find one thing. It's interesting, but I'm not really sure what we can do with the information."
Rodney nodded. "You know the stargate system in the Milky Way is thought to be millions of years old, right? Maybe tens of millions."
"No, I didn't know that," John replied. "I came into all of this kinda late, remember?"
Rodney waved off the comment. "The important thing to know is the stargate network here in the Pegasus is much more recent, relatively speaking than the Milky Way network."
"Okay. So what you're telling me is the Milky Way 'gates are the analog version, and Pegasus is digital."
"Sure, fine, whatever works for you," Rodney replied with an exasperated sigh.
John smiled when he heard the edge of impatience in Rodney's tone. He suddenly realised he had missed this. Just sitting, talking, yanking Rodney's chain a little.
Rodney looked over the computer at him, and John saw the moment he caught on to what John was doing. "Carson follows through on that threat to stuff you in that other sling, you can find someone else to help you get out of it every night."
John gave him a cheeky grin in reply.
Rodney held his mock glare for a moment longer, then smiled and continued, "Part of the reason we went to Rivis was to find any research on how the Ancients built the 'gate system here."
"Are you telling me you found something about how the Pegasus 'gates were designed?" Teasing aside, John could see the value in such information.
"No, not yet anyway," Rodney replied and turned the laptop around so John could see the screen. "But according to this, there's another network out there," he flapped a hand over his head, "somewhere. Something even older than the Milky Way 'gates."
"How much older?" John asked, studying the screen.
"Let's put it this way, in your analogy, this older network would be akin to a 19th-century phonograph player."
John looked up at him in surprise. "Is there any information on where this other 'gate system could be?"
Rodney shook his head and turned the computer back around. "Like I said, I'm still decompressing the files. But there's a lot of other useful information in here, too. The science teams will be going through this for months."
"Good thing you got what you did," John replied. "I just left Elizabeth's office, it doesn't sound like we will be making any return trips, so make the most of what you managed to find."
Rodney made a face. "No real surprise, I guess. I know I'd rather not have another encounter with Calum." He glanced at John's sling, then went back to the computer.
"About that," John said and waited for Rodney to look at him. "Teyla told me what you did. How you managed to fly the jumper back to the 'gate even after getting hit with one of the tranq darts."
Rodney shrugged and looked away.
"Hey," John said and tapped Rodney's arm. "You did good. I guess this means you're about ready to fly solo," he added, but his smile faltered when instead of acting pleased, Rodney's reaction was to pull away from him.
"I am certain Rodney knows he has yet to earn back your faith in him." Teyla's words echoed in his mind.
"What you did, not just flying the jumper back here, but dealing with Calum and …" John took a deep breath. "And taking care of me. I just … I just want to say, thank you. And I'm proud of you, buddy."
Rodney studied him for a moment, and he must have found what he was looking for as he gave John a quiet smile. "Umm, thanks."
"You're welcome," John replied and glanced at his watch "You know what I could go for?"
"Lunch?" Rodney asked.
"Sure, why not," John replied and stood from his stool.
They walked out of the lab, and John casually draped his free arm over Rodney's shoulders. "So there's probably something I should warn you about," he said as they stopped in front of the transporter.
"Oh?" Rodney asked.
"Yeah," John replied. "Ronon brought something back from Rivis …" He started to explain as the doors to the transporter closed.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
There was a tap on the office door, and Cowen looked up from the report he was reading.
"Leftenant Calum," Cowen greeted, his tone cool as Calum entered the office.
"Commander Cowen, sir," Calum replied and stood to attention in front of Cowen's desk.
Cowen set down the report and leant back in his chair. He had suspected before giving Calum the Rivis mission that he was not the man for the job. Reading the casualty list, he realised he should have gone with his gut feeling. Seven men dead, another six still in the infirmary recovering, and for what?
He let Calum stand and stew in front of his desk for a few more moments, then said, "Tell me, Leftenant, do you know what you did wrong during your last operation?"
Calum glanced at him with a puzzled expression before his eyes went back to the wall behind Cowen's head. "I don't understand, sir. We brought back solid intel on Sheppard and his people."
Cowen stared at him, letting Calum hang himself.
Calum swallowed and said, "We were able to confirm the Satedan is still working with Sheppard. And it appears he has joined the other Lanteans and is now a member of Sheppard's team."
Cowen rubbed his chin. "And you think that was worth the lives of seven of your men?"
"Umm, no, sir," Calum replied, and Cowen saw the line of sweat beading across Calum's brow.
"Were you able to learn anything about our secondary objective, at least?"
Calum pursed his lips and shook his head. "Colonel Sheppard --"
"Oh, he's a colonel now," Cowen muttered. "Well, well, well."
"Umm, yes, sir," Calum said. "Colonel Sheppard claims to have no knowledge of Commander Kolya's current whereabouts."
Cowen squinted up at Calum. "And you believe he was telling you the truth?"
Calum jerked his head in a nod. "Yes, sir."
"I see." Cowen pursed his lips. He had hoped to use the Lanteans to remove a persistent thorn in his side, but if Sheppard didn't know where Kolya was either … Cowen shook his head. "Were you able to accomplish your primary objective?"
Calum glanced at him and nodded. "Yes, sir. I can now confirm Doctor McKay possesses the ability to use the Ancestor's technology."
Cowen nodded. One more name to add to his list, he thought to himself as he tapped a finger on the edge of the desk.
"And how were you able to discover this?" he asked Calum.
"They had one of their ships, sir." A sneer crossed Calum's face. "And Sheppard was in no condition to fly it when we let them escape."
Cowen gave Calum a sharp look. "And just why was the good colonel unable to fly the ship?"
The line of sweat had made it to the edge of Calum's forehead, and Cowen watched as it slowly trickled down the side of his face. "Because I had shot him. Sir."
Cowen sat in stunned silence for a moment. Of all the stupid ideas Calum had had over the last few months …
"You shot Sheppard?"
Calum glanced down at him. "Yes, sir. I thought it was necessary at the time."
Cowen shook his head. "You're an imbecile."
"Sir?" Calum asked. "Sheppard and his people killed my entire squad on Suna. My men deserved vengeance."
"If you had followed orders on Suna your men wouldn't have needed avenging," Cowen told him and let his displeasure show in his expression. "You were supposed to observe only, Leftenant. You were the one who decided to fire on the Lanteans, prompting Sheppard to retaliate in the first place."
Calum scowled, and for a moment Cowen wondered if he would throw discipline to the four winds and try to justify his actions.
"And what will the Genii do if the Lanteans decide to seek a little vengeance of their own, Leftenant? You do realise the only thing you've managed to accomplish by shooting Sheppard is put the Lateans on alert to try to find out what we are trying to accomplish."
Calum focused on the wall and said nothing as the dribble of sweat reached his chin.
Cowen shook his head. Calum was quickly becoming more of a liability than he was worth. Perhaps it was time to find some sort of high risk mission for Calum to die on, preferably one where the 'Lanteans would find the body.
"Get out, Leftenant." Cowen waved a hand toward the door. "You're dismissed."
"Sir," Calum replied. He clicked his heels, saluted, and left the office.
Cowen waited until he no longer heard footsteps in the hallway, then stood and closed the door to his office. Unbeknownst to him, by mentioning Sheppard's team had escaped in the ship, jumpers they called them, he reminded himself, Calum had confirmed something Cowen had suspected for quite some time. It was why he had ordered the surveillance of the Lantean refugees in the first place.
"So, Doctor Weir, you're more clever than I thought," Cowen said to himself as he turned back to his desk. "How long did you think you could keep the continued existence of Atlantis a secret from the Genii?"
His initial plan had been a simple one, he would take the people Weir needed most, the ones who could operate whatever technology they had stolen from the Ancestors, and hold them hostage for whatever weapons the Lanteans still possessed. Now that he knew Atlantis was still intact, Cowen smiled to himself. Why take a few rifles when he could have so much more?
Ladon Radim had been working on a way for the Genii to use the Ancestors technology for months. If he could perfect his formula, there was no reason to stop at mere conventional weapons, Cowen realised. With jumpers and any other technology Weir was hoarding in Atlantis, the Genii would be a force to be reckoned with in the Pegasus galaxy.
Cowen walked over to the tall filing cabinet in the corner of his office and opened a drawer. He leafed through several folders until he found the two folders he wanted and carried them back to his desk.
He sat and opened the thicker of the two folders which contained surveillance photos of Lantean personnel the Genii had gathered over the last several months. He rifled through the stack of images, pulled out the picture of Doctor McKay, and studied it for a moment.
"And you, Doctor McKay, you are just full of surprises," Cowen muttered as he stared at the image.
He opened the other, thinner, folder that also contained pictures of various members of Weir's group as well as a list of names. Cowen picked up the list and a pen. Thompson, Daley, Masters, Garcia, Torrell, and several other names were scratched out. Others such as Sheppard's name were circled. Cowen circled McKay's name on the list and glanced at the images of Major, now Colonel, Sheppard as well as a few other Lantean soldiers that he now knew possessed the ability to use the Ancestor's technology. He smiled and added McKay's image to the file.
He had enough information now. He knew precisely who Weir would pay the most to have safely returned to her not-so-lost city.
He had warned Sheppard not to make an enemy of the Genii, now Sheppard would find out why he should have taken Cowen's advice.