John made his way towards home, assault rifle at the ready and prominently displayed. He kept to safe routes, away from the more troublesome gang strongholds. Missions to replenish their supplies were getting longer and riskier as food stores in the nearby supermarkets ran out. It would have been better if he and Ronon could have ventured out together, but that wasn't possible.
A lot of those who hadn't been taken – been harvested – hadn't stayed in the city. A lot hadn't survived. Vegas was emptied out now, and those who remained were wary and holed up in well-defended makeshift forts. Some were predatory, but if they saw you were well-armed they mostly steered clear.
He cut through several deserted backyards, both as a short-cut and to make sure he wasn't followed. Once he was through, he re-set the traps and deadfalls. They might not do a lot of harm, but they'd make a hell of a racket. Advance warning.
At the rec center's main doors he checked the chains and padlocks – still untouched – then quickly unlocked the side entrance and edged inside, stumbling a little as the heavy supplies and canned food in his backpack shifted, pulling him off-balance. He righted himself, leaning briefly against the wall to get his breath back, then began the weary trudge up to their mezzanine apartment overlooking the abandoned swimming pool.
At least they had a water supply and chlorine – the lack of water had forced many people to leave town. They'd found camping gear, stoves and boxes of gas cylinders in the Army Surplus store down the road, before it got stripped by desperate looters. There were water filters there too, so they'd filled a ton of plastic bottles from the packaging company next door with treated water for drinking. John kept the two small spa pools chlorinated for washing, but treating the main pool would have used up all their chemicals. It was pea green by now.
Ronon let John in once he'd given today's song code – his choice, so it was Don't Touch My Hat. He missed having power to run his mp3 player. Ronon, who leaned towards classic rock for his codes, held his Beretta up and peered out to double-check the landing as John slipped past. Satisfied, Ronon locked the door again and stashed the gun on top of a bookshelf.
John sighed with relief as he eased the straps of the heavy pack off and dumped it on the table, rolling his shoulders to ease the ache. He tilted his chin towards the bedroom, speaking softly. "He asleep?"
"Yeah," said Ronon, equally quiet. "Took ages. Think he's cutting a tooth. You get that gel stuff for his gums?" He came over to dig his thumbs into John's neck muscles and massage out the knots.
John grunted as Ronon's strong fingers found a tender spot above his shoulder blades, and shook his head. "Tried, but the pharmacy'd been ransacked. Not that there was much left there. We'll have to go east, next trip – that strip mall's pretty tapped out."
"We should leave." Ronon pulled John into a backwards bear hug, John's spine pressed to his chest and Ronon's arms around him. He nosed John's hair and John sighed and relaxed back.
Ronon didn't like cities. He'd grown up in the woods north of Seattle. He'd only been in Vegas for a few months, teaching survival skills at a special police training course, when it all went to shit. John had been sent to the course by the Las Vegas PD, so they'd met there and struck up a friendship. Well, mostly they'd flirted and then fucked; the friendship had come later, after two thirds of the population had been turned into glowing white light and disappeared. After the end of the world.
"He's pretty damn small, Ronon, to handle a long trip. I know it's kind of shitty here, but the rec center's a good base, and there's still places in the city with supplies. Other suburbs." They were on the north side of town. The suburbs were safer – it was less risky to check abandoned houses than get trapped in a big apartment block or a hotel with fewer exits, and there were still plenty of districts they hadn't picked over. The bigger risk was that other survivors would see them as trespassing on their turf, though, the further they ranged.
"Longer we wait, the heavier he gets, Sheppard. He's seven months now, harder to manage when we're on the road – that's gonna get worse once he can crawl."
John pulled away, scrubbing a hand through his hair as he paced. "I know, okay? Jesus, if we could just find a jeep or something. I looked again today – there's nothing like an all-terrain vehicle, just hatchbacks and fucking compacts. And their tanks are drained. All the useful ones like pick-ups or SUVs are gone."
Ronon nodded. "That shit went in the first month while we were freaking out about the kid. Plus the roads are blocked with wrecks, and there's that 747 that smashed into Route 15 when the flight crew got taken.
John wheeled around, glaring. "Okay! Christ, I know, right?" When their drivers had vanished, car after car had careered on, veering subtly off course until they spun out across the freeway, lurching off into the scrubland or smashing into median dividers and each other. The tangled wreckage blocked every major road. "I still say we could get to an airfield and find a plane."
Ronon shrugged. "North Vegas airport was a bust and McCarren's got to be worse, plus Eldon said those bastards from GENII security are holed up there."
"Yeah, well, Eldon's not the most trustworthy informant. There must be a small field somewhere, maybe Indian Springs…" John frowned, feeling mulish.
"All the undamaged planes'll be long gone. We should've moved out in those first few weeks."
This again. John turned away. He hadn't been able to believe Teyla had disappeared, that she'd turned into a beam of white light and left Torren all alone. He'd seen it happen everywhere around him that first day, though: had watched, stunned, as half of Ronon's survival class disintegrated into glowing pixels and vanished. He and Ronon tried to reach the precinct on foot, making their way through chaotic streets clogged with the empty wrecks of crashed cars and dazed people looking for those they'd lost – he was right here…where did they go?…was it a bomb?...Mikey? Honey?…a little girl, this tall, in a blue dress and sneakers – like some inner circle of hell.
The ones looking for their kids were the worst, and John had suddenly stopped and gripped Ronon's arm. "Teyla," he'd said, and they'd changed tack and headed north. They got to the rec center Teyla managed, where she had her own apartment, but there was no sign of her. Just a hungry four-week-old Torren wailing in his cot, his diaper sodden. They hadn't seen Teyla since.
"I couldn't just leave her," John said, rubbing his face. "What if I was wrong and she hadn't been taken, just, I dunno, caught up in the confusion and not able to get back here for some reason? I couldn't take her baby and fuck off if there was any chance…"
"You know she's never coming back," Ronon said gruffly. His hands squeezed John's shoulders, gentling him. "It's been six months, so she's raptured or she's dead."
"I hate that fucking name for it," John growled, muscles tight again under Ronon's fingers. "You know I don't…"
Don't believe, don't think the ones who vanished were taken anywhere good, if they were still even alive. Well, obviously he didn't believe, or he'd have been taken, too. It's not like Ronon disagreed – the term was just convenient.
They'd heard it first from wild-eyed fanatics on street corners shouting religious claptrap and waving handwritten tracts. John guessed the crazies hadn't believed in anything much when it happened or they'd have been taken, too, so what they were ranting about was just PTSD or psychosis. Or maybe it was faith, now, but whoever'd taken the rest of the faithful had moved on, uncaring that some stalks of wheat still lay in the stubble. That was how John saw it – not as the act of any sort of god, but as a harvest.
The few neighbors they'd gotten to know slightly, like Eldon or Jace, said that people had figured out the same thing, all over. Anyone religious, anyone who believed, had been taken. How in hell the aliens – John reckoned it was aliens; nothing else made sense – had been able to tell who believed, no one knew. Church members who only went on Sunday to socialize had been left behind, and kids who believed in Santa had been taken. In John's old apartment block, his neighbor Mrs Singh was gone, and she was a Sikh. And the whole Abdullah family at number 14, who were Muslim, not to mention the Cheongs from the janitor's apartment. John had seen a red and gold shrine to the ancestors in their living room, when he'd dropped off some tools one day. It had nothing to do with Christian notions about the end days; didn't seem to matter what gods or spirits the vanished ones had believed in, so long as they'd believed in something.
Teyla had a quiet faith – she'd been a member of Halling's Athosian spiritualist church. Almost all Halling's church had been taken; only Sora and Ladon hadn't vanished. They'd hung around for a while, but had taken off on foot a couple of months ago to see if any of Sora's family up in Pennsylvania were still there. It was Amish country, so the chances were slim. Maybe they'd be back some day, but with the roads as dangerous as they were, John wasn't going to hold his breath.
The crappy state of society was yet another after-effect of everyone who believed vanishing in a flare of white light, all over the world. Not that they knew it had happened across the globe, or even across the USA, but John wasn't an optimist. Why would you only harvest a tiny corner of one field, if you had a whole farm?
No way to be sure, though. The power had failed, probably due to cascading blackouts in under maintained grids bereft of human fine-tuning. Probably it was pure bad luck that an outage had happened in Vegas soon after everyone had been taken, but by the time John and Ronon had made it to Teyla's, dealt with Torren and then looked for her, there was no power. As well as TV, the power failure took out the phone system and the internet – no servers or routers. And even if they could in theory power a laptop from an exercycle, neither John nor Ronon had that sort of technical know-how.
Things kind of fell apart when you lost two-thirds of your populace in a matter of seconds. Disasters mostly took fewer people, or hit a specific place and left the rest alone, but this had happened everywhere, all at once, and those who were left were often traumatized or trying to keep injured relatives or babies alive. It had all disintegrated remarkably quickly, and John wondered how much of that was the nature of the culling – the general "dregs of humanity" problem they now faced. Maybe those who remained were more self-involved and antisocial than the believers.
Not that the survivors were all low-lifes. Not at all. Ronon had been through something when he was younger that had scarred him badly – John'd heard that maybe his family had been killed, even some sort of mass murder. He didn't talk about it and John figured whatever had happened hadn't left him able to trust in any deity. He took people on their merits, though. You had to earn his trust, but once you had it, it was rock-solid.
John had few illusions about himself, but he wasn't a psychopath. Just a rebellious fuck-up who used to drink too much and lose at poker. The only thing he'd really believed in had been his ability to screw up his life and that of anyone he got close to. Teyla had changed that, and Ronon, especially since they'd been thrown together. John had never been a serious player – the really dedicated gamblers had mostly been taken. John reckoned they had to believe in something beyond themselves to keep throwing away their cash like that. The card-sharps and con artists had been left behind, of course.
There was a noise from the bedroom, and Ronon cocked an ear. "Thought it was too good to be true," he murmured, as Torren made the snuffling wail that announced he'd woken. "I'll go get him."
"Okay. I'll warm up some food, give it the old college try." They were starting to get Torren onto solids because formula was harder to locate these days, but the kid was picky. Teyla had bulk-bought and stocked her cupboards well, and one advantage of living in a rec center was loads of storage space. She'd mostly stored packets of rice cereal that they made into a gruel, but so far, Torren had screwed up his face and turned his head away. A lot more gruel had gone onto his bib than into his mouth.
John tied on his fraying barbecue apron and lit the camping stove. He boiled a pot of water, mixing the cereal in an emptied bottle that had once held mashed vegetables. Ronon came in, carrying Torren in one arm and talking to him softly. Torren had a fist in Ronon's beard – Ronon wore his dreads scraped back with a leather tie these days, to stop Torren swinging on them too much, but the beard was fair game.
"Hey, big guy," said John, grinning, and Torren held out his arms, letting go Ronon's beard. Ronon handed Torren across and took over at the stove. John settled himself at the table, bouncing the kid on his lap to make him chortle. "What've you been up to, huh?" asked John, lifting him up to sniff his diaper. It smelled clean.
"Changed it already," said Ronon. At least they had an endless supply of throw-away diapers – the factory next door had packaged them. It might not be eco-friendly, but John figured the apocalypse had done enough to reduce the human footprint on the world's ecology. No need for him and Ronon to do any more.
He wondered again how many other kids there were around, hidden away. Not many babies without parents had made it through those first terrible weeks. There'd been some civil defence gathering up of orphans in the initial days, a handful of kids and infants down at the community center with a few frazzled caregivers. He and Ronon had tried to help, but they didn't want to live there – it was too insecure, too hard to defend. A week later they'd called back around, and the place was empty. Maybe they'd moved somewhere safer – John hoped so.
Ronon brought the gruel over. "Mix in some apple juice," suggested John. Torren chattered away busily and fisted John's hair. Not much harm he could do there – it already stuck up crazily, and hey, a little product never hurt, even if it was pureed rice. He made airplane noises and after eating a mouthful himself as a role model, managed to get half a spoonful of gruel into Torren's mouth, the rest down the towel they used as a makeshift bib. Torren tasted it doubtfully, then brightened and opened his mouth for more.
"Success!" announced John, turning to grin up at Ronon and catching a soft look on his face as he looked down at both of them. John felt kind of stupid with a smear of cereal on his mouth, in an apron announcing he was the BBQ BURGERMEISTER, but his own grin turned sappy in return and he looked away, ears hot. Ronon snorted and touseled his hair, then tipped John's head back and kissed him, tongue and all, licking away the gruel.
"Mind the damn baby," spluttered John, surfacing flushed but pleased. Torren burbled away cheerfully and grabbed a fistful of Ronon's dreads. "Heh, that'll teach you to interrupt his dinner."
After Torren had eaten some more and dropped a fair amount on his bib, they played with him in the living room. Well, Ronon did. John may have napped a little, snoring on Ronon's shoulder, propped up against the couch with outstretched legs as Torren hammered Ronon's thigh with a plastic block. Ronon woke him when Torren crashed out about eight – earlier than usual as he hadn't slept well during the day. John looked down at the sleeping baby, lashes dark on his cheeks, and fought down a surge of panic. So goddam fragile, and the world so messed up.
He knew Ronon was right, that they couldn't stay here too much longer. His instincts were to hunker down and hide, though, to defend his family from all comers. And wasn't that a terrifying thought, for someone who'd kept everyone at arm's length since his dad had walked in on John taking it up the ass from Steve the chauffeur and had kicked him to the curb. Teflon John, king of the one-night stand. That guy was long gone – he'd let Teyla in, then Ronon, and now Torren had John and Ronon firmly wrapped around his little finger.
He used some bottled water to brush his teeth, shucked off his clothes and slid into bed beside Ronon, who pulled him in, beard tickling John's cheeks as they kissed. Ronon had a hand in John's hair, the other wrapped around John's dick, and John moaned into the kiss, sliding his hands down to cup Ronon's ass as they moved against each other.
After his long trip to get supplies John was too tired for anything fancy, so he let Ronon push him onto his front and hike his leg up, kissing John's back and stroking his ass as he slicked John up, then pushed in, hot and thick, making John curse and pant, making him spread his legs wider and push himself back onto Ronon's dick. Ronon rocked into him, slow, and then harder, deeper, shuddering and losing his rhythm as he got close. He pulled John onto his side and John reached down and fisted his own cock, catching the mess in his hand and wiping it off on a towel they kept by the bed. Laundry was a bitch these days.
They drifted off spooned together, Ronon behind him, and John was deeply asleep when Ronon jerked awake, sitting up and pressing John back into the bedclothes. "Wha?" John protested. "Lemme up!"
"Shhh. Heard a noise." Ronon was utterly still, listening, on full alert. John listened too, heart pounding. He heard a muffled crash – one of their booby-traps, tin cans clanking as they fell into a metal drum, a hell of a racket. Followed by cursing.
They pulled on clothes in the near-dark. Torren hadn't woken, and if it was just some random looter they could maybe wait it out, but no, someone was banging on the front doors, fuck it. They geared up – John with the rifle and a handgun, Ronon taking the Beretta though he preferred his knives.
They covered each other as they left the apartment, then crept down the stairs, quiet in the echoing dark as they skirted the pool room, staying well back against the walls where slanting moonlight from skylights didn't reach. The banging got louder as they reached the doors, and they could hear someone calling: "Teyla, for fuck's sake let me in! Teyla? Teyla, are you in there? Oh shit, I knew this was a bad idea – should have waited for daylight, but I'm not going to make it through a night alone. The daytime's bad enough. Teyla! Some bastard set up a bag of cans so any thugs around here know exactly where I am now. Please, Teyla, let me in! Oh shit – what's that moving over there? Damn it, Teyla!"
"He's gonna bring every fucker down on us, he keeps that racket up," growled Ronon under his breath.
"Yeah," whispered John. "He doesn't sound dangerous, and he knew Teyla…"
"Teyla!" hissed the guy outside again in a stage whisper. "Please, Teyla, let me in. Are you in there? Please, please, you have to be in there. Wake up, damn you. Teyla! We need to talk! I've got a Humvee and I want you to come with me, so–" He broke off with a muffled squawk as Ronon, who'd unlocked the side door and eeled out silently, clamped a hand across his mouth and dragged him back inside. John locked the door again and frisked the guy, who was making a fuck of a lot of noise even with Ronon's hand across his mouth. Squeaks and muffled yells and curses, and he was wriggling and flinching away from John's hands. He had a pistol in a thigh holster, and John relieved him of it.
"He said Humvee!" whispered John fiercely. "It must be in the parking lot. It'll be gone by morning."
Ronon nodded. "The wheel clamps," he said, and John nodded. Ronon had liberated a set from an auto accessories place months ago, back when they figured they'd find a vehicle sooner. The big orange clamps were stashed in the main pool area.
John pulled some plastic ties from a supply they kept by the side door and immobilized the guy's hands and feet. "Don't have a gag," John said. "He'll be loud."
Ronon shrugged. "No choice. Got to get that Hummer sorted." John nodded.
The guy was loud but once they locked the side door it wasn't too bad, and they carried the wheel clamps to the road, sticking to the shadows where they could. The looming black vehicle was right there in the rec center's parking lot. John covered Ronon while he clamped the wheels, and as soon as they were sure the Hummer was secure they retreated, slipping back in through the side door to find their new friend wriggling on the dusty floor, demanding to be freed.
They hefted him to the stairs and then carried him up, still struggling and cursing hoarsely until Ronon covered his mouth again. In the apartment, John lit a couple of candles and let the guy see him, examining him in turn. A flushed furious face, dishevelled brown hair, receding a little, and two wide eyes glaring at him over Ronon's hand, which was clamped over his mouth.
"We're not going to hurt you," he said. Not that John in the light of a flickering flame was a reassuring sight these days. The guy certainly wasn't placated, and there was more muffled yammering into Ronon's hand.
"You gotta keep the noise down," warned John. "We can't let you go until you shut the fuck up. You're gonna bring unwelcome attention down on us here if you keep up with the yelling, so can it."
That seemed to penetrate, and with another grumble, the guy quieted down, frowning at John. John glanced up at Ronon and nodded, and Ronon took his hand away from the guy's face, ready to slap it back on again if he let out a yell.
"Thank you," mumbled the guy. "And ow, I think you ruined my back manhandling me up the stairs. I could have walked, if you'd only untied me," he whispered fiercely. "I do have legs!"
John made a shushing motion, glancing at the bedroom, but Torren showed no sign of waking, thank Christ. "Keep it down, I said, or Ronon'll have to shut you up again."
The guy wriggled in Ronon's grip, unbalanced with his wrists and ankles tied. "If we undo the restraints, you need to behave, okay?" John said. "No hitting us or trying to run off."
"Where's Teyla?" the guy asked, peering around the apartment.
"First things first. We got a deal?"
"Yes, yes. For the record, you're a pair of bullies," muttered the guy.
"That's us, well known bullies of the neighborhood," said John, and cut the ties with his knife. Ronon stayed close, ready to step in if the stranger was an idiot, but he just rubbed his wrists and complained under his breath.
After while he looked up again. "Where is she? Teyla?"
"Where are any of them? You tell me and we'll both know," said John, pissed at having to spell it out.
"Oh no, not Teyla as well?" The guy's eyes were wide, his mouth twisted unhappily. "But, but she was so sensible, and she'd had a baby – she told me it was a boy. She was so happy…" He trailed off. Happiness had been no protection. Probably the reverse.
"What's your name?" growled Ronon, making the guy jump. "How do you know Teyla?"
"Oh please, I've known her for ages," the guy said, glancing nervously between John and Ronon.. "She was in a greenie organization with my sister, Jeannie." He closed his eyes for a moment, distressed. Maybe his sister had been taken. "When I came to Area 51 three years ago I got in touch straight away. She taught me yoga to help my back." He stared at John challengingly. "How do you know her, anyway?"
"What's your name?" asked John. He didn't think the guy was being evasive. He was just easily distracted.
"I'm Dr Rodney McKay. I'm an astrophysicist with a second doctorate in engineering." Huh, an engineer, John thought. Maybe he could be useful, if they ever got him to shut up.
"I'm Sheppard," said John. "And the guy behind you is Ronon." There was a wail from the bedroom, and Ronon twitched, looking towards the sound. "That's Torren," said John. "Teyla's kid," he added, then looked up at Ronon. "It's okay, go see to him." Ronon gave McKay a warning stare and ducked into the bedroom. Torren's wails turned into hiccuping snuffles.
McKay had twisted and was peering at the bedroom door, through which they could hear Ronon comforting Torren. "Yes, of course, the babies wouldn't have been taken."
"Yeah," drawled John, not taking his eyes off McKay. "Guess no one's born a believer, no matter what the songs say."
McKay looked stricken. "My sister had a child, Madison, but I'm afraid…" He swallowed. "Jeannie thought children should have something to believe in. She thought it was good for their moral development or some such mumbo jumbo. Jeannie's a genius, you understand, like me, and I'd have thought she was far too intelligent to…but she was very strong-willed and if she thought it was better for Maddie that they all believed…and that fool humanities teacher she married was a vegan Buddhist, so he'd be no help at all…" He trailed off, miserably. "So I don't know," he finished, wringing his hands. "But Jeannie and I, we used to build radios when we were kids. We had our own frequency and there hasn't been anything broadcast on it, so I'm very much afraid…anything could have happened. It's a very long way, though, and I wouldn't want to make the trip without Teyla." He frowned at John. "She knows martial arts."
"Yeah I know," said John. "She trained me and Ronon, here at the gym. She was kick-ass."
"Right, right," said McKay, nodding. He brightened. "So, you two, you're, um, trained up? You're bodyguards? Because I'm looking for personal protection, you see. I'm a scientist, so my skills lie elsewhere."
John raised his eyebrows. "You wanna give us a job? As your bodyguards?"
"Yes, yes," said McKay, nodding. "If Teyla trained you, definitely." He cocked his head. "I don't suppose you have references?"
John's eyebrows just about hit his hairline. "Not as such, no." McKay looked disappointed. "We're both cops, McKay. We trained with Teyla in our spare time." McKay looked pleased.
Ronon emerged from the bedroom, carrying a sleepy, fractious Torren. "Definitely cutting a tooth," he said to John.
"Oh," said McKay, "But you have…" He crossed to the counter where one of Teyla's pot plants sat by the window. It was an ugly, spiky cactus or succulent of some sort that John had been tempted to ditch after the third time it scratched him. He guessed it was sentiment that had made him keep the damn thing – it was Teyla's. McKay broke off the tip of a fleshy leaf, then put it down and pulled a packet from his jacket pocket. "Alcohol wipes," he explained, cleaning his hands. Ronon cocked an eyebrow. McKay squeezed some gel out of the leaf and approached Torren. "May I?" he asked, holding his finger up. "It's aloe vera; it should help soothe his gums. Jeannie used to use it on Maddie." John nodded and Ronon let McKay approach. McKay was awkward but gentle, murmuring to Torren as he wiped his finger around the kid's gums, rubbing on the gel. Torren smacked his lips thoughtfully, then subsided, big dark eyes fixed on the newcomer in fascination.
"Thanks," said John. "Guess Ronon and I aren't very up with herbs and shit like that."
"Yes, well, botany's certainly not my field, far too squishy and imprecise, but you pick things up here and there." He shifted nervously, eyes darting from John to Ronon. "Could I…do you have any drinking water?" His chin tilted defiantly. "Only I've been manhandled and mistreated and my throat's very dry."
"Sure, be the least we can do after all the manhandling and mistreating," John drawled, finding the container and pouring McKay a mug. McKay hesitated, looking up. "It's chlorinated and filtered," John reassured him. McKay nodded and drank it down thirstily.
Torren was nodding on Ronon's shoulder, so Ronon took him back to the other room and settled him in bed again. McKay watched them go, looking wistful. "He looks like Teyla," he blurted. "Is that guy she was seeing around? Kramer, or Canine, or something?"
John shook his head. "Kanaan was a church member as well." McKay nodded. John crossed to the counter and lit the stove, setting a pot to boil. "You want some tea?"
"I don't suppose you have coffee?" asked McKay hopefully.
They did, as it happened, as John had lost the coffee habit when Torren was small and sleep was at a premium, and Ronon preferred tea. "Instant, yeah," he said, and got an extra mug.
McKay helped carry the mugs over to the couch. "I would never have stooped to instant coffee before…before. But these days, I'll take whatever I can get." He inhaled the steam from his mug, then drank thirstily, closing his eyes and moaning with pleasure. Ronon reappeared in time to catch this performance, and he and John shared a smirk.
"You from Area 51?" asked Ronon after they'd sipped for a while. McKay nodded. "Drove all the way?"
"Well I certainly didn't walk – across the desert? In this heat? That would be asking for sunstroke, and dehydration, not to mention being attacked by roving marauders and coming to a sticky end. It was quite terrifying enough just driving." He took another sip, sighing.
"Where'd you get the Hummer from?" Ronon asked.
McKay waved a hand. "The base was pretty chaotic after…you know, but at least they locked it off so when, when things got…when they got messy, we at least retained control of the motor pool and the vehicle workshop."
John thought of something else. "You said you'd made a radio?"
McKay snorted. "Please, I could make a particle accelerator, given the right materials."
"So is this thing, the–" John gestured vaguely.
"The Rapture," put in Ronon, ignoring identical glares from John and McKay.
"Yeah, that," said John. "Is it everywhere? Like the whole USA? Other countries?"
"It's worldwide," said McKay, frowning severely. "But that is the most inaccurate and moronic term imaginable. You do realize this is in no way a religious phenomenon?"
"Aliens," said John. "We, ah, we figured it was aliens."
"Well, yes, yes, actually, that's correct. We have footage of their ships from orbital satellites. The few they didn't destroy, that is. We don't know who the aliens were, only that they took every person who believed in a god, gods, a higher power, whatever. That's the only legitimate connection with religion, and it most certainly was not 'the Rapture'," he made sarcastic air quotes, "in the evangelical Christian sense. The USA's been especially hard hit, whereas we think China only lost about a fifth of their population."
"Why?" asked John. "Why did they…?"
McKay shrugged. "No one knows. They sent no transmissions of any sort and their ships were radio-opaque. They were here for one day, destroyed civilization as we know it, and then vanished."
"Sheppard reckons it was a harvest," Ronon said, staring into his mug of tea. John nodded.
"Yes, or a culling," said McKay. John quirked a questioning eyebrow at him and he put the mug down and spread his hands. "Calling it a harvest suggests they wanted believers, they actively sought them. Perhaps they plan to settle another planet somewhere and seed it with ready-made worshippers? Possibly they think they're gods, or they want to be, or they feed off the energy of worship, who the hell knows?" He threw up his hands.
"Couldn't they have taken the believers somewhere good? Like the Christians think?" Ronon asked.
McKay fixed him with a hard stare. "Because these are clearly nice aliens who've shown they're compassionate by wrenching families apart and leaving infants to starve."
"Point," said Ronon.
"So how's a culling different?" asked John, frowning.
McKay looked bleak. "It's the reverse. According to that theory, they took believers not because they wanted them, but to eradicate something bad. Pest control," he said harshly. "So in that scenario these are 'benign' aliens helping us with our religious infestation problem."
"Jesus," muttered John. He felt sick.
"No one really knows," McKay said, looking tired. He rubbed his face. "Look, there's another base, very secure, over by Colorado Springs. Underground, where NORAD is. I need to get there, to find out everything I can from their data as well."
"Don't they have their own scientists?" asked John.
McKay flapped a dismissive hand. "Yes, yes, but they're not me. I told you, I'm a genius." He fixed John with a hard blue gaze. "And if we can't figure out what this was – who these aliens were and how they did it – then we can't stop it happening again, once our population's recovered."
"They took all the religious types," Ronon observed. "Why would they want to come back?"
"It's not going to eradicate religion," McKay explained. "In fact, for those who aren't familiar with Clarke's Third Law, the effect's quite the reverse." John and Ronon must have looked quizzical. "Oh for.. Arthur C. Clarke? 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.'" McKay spread his hands. "Or from the actions of a god. The 'Rapture' in itself will spawn multiple religions, you'll see. Human beings need belief."
"Great," said John heavily. "Civilization destroyed and a new bunch of religious fanatics on the rise." He thought of Torren growing up in such a world, and felt cold inside.
"All the more reason to get to Cheyenne Mountain," said McKay briskly. "As I said, it's very secure."
"Good hunting around there," said Ronon. "Could farm a bit, too, in summer. It's not all dried up and useless like out here."
"You never really took to Vegas, did you?" said John, wryly.
McKay ignored all this. "So, are you open to employment, or, I suppose, more of a collaboration, since currency no longer has any meaning. The currency of barter, shall we say."
"Employment?" asked Ronon, eyebrows high. "Doing what?"
"He wants us to be his bodyguards," John explained. "On this trip east to Colorado Springs."
"Yeah, okay," said Ronon.
John glared at him. "Ever consider asking me?"
Ronon raised a brow. "You're gonna say no? To a Humvee we can take Torren in and someone who knows the location of a safe base we can head for? Someone good with tech? An engineer?"
John glowered. "No. But it'd have been nice to be asked," he said, trying not to actually pout.
"Oh," said McKay. "You're, um…together. I hadn't realized." He looked at John and then at Ronon, tilting his head. "Wow. That's my fantasy life sorted for quite some time."
"Jesus fuck!" John blew out a breath.
"What?" protested McKay. "You're incredibly hot, both of you. It's not my fault."
John covered his face and groaned.
Ronon just laughed. "You're all right, McKay," he said.
"Well, I should think so," said McKay, with a crooked grin. "Call me Rodney."
- the end -