Ronon Dex lifted his bleary gaze from his cup of homebrew to stare up at Col. John Sheppard. It couldn't have been an accident that his team leader chose to walk up the hall with such a heavy tread. Heavy enough it gave Ronon ample warning of his approach.
Sheppard stood in the doorway dressed in his usual black, and smiling. Ronon knew this smile. It was Sheppard's – we're all good buddies here – smile. The kind that meant Teyla had sent him. A few choice swear words he'd picked up from the Marines flitted through his mind but he didn't use any of them. He liked the Czech's swear words best, anyway. He might be glad he learned them, but right now he couldn't get his tongue to cooperate – the words felt fuzzy.
He slapped his cup down on the table with enough force to make the pale liquid slosh over the sides and pondered the merits of a good growl. It had never really worked with Sheppard, and why that should be, Ronon had never figured out. Probably had something to do with 'sticking it to the man', whatever that meant.
"Come to spoil a good drunk?" Ronon asked. A plan for deflecting Sheppard's concern began to rise from his soggy, liquor-soaked brain. A good plan. He grinned with all his teeth. Interesting – that made Sheppard lean back. Hm, he'd have to try that more often.
"Hey, no one says you don't have good reason to drink, but you're not going to like the headache tomorrow. Uh," Sheppard's gaze settled on the painting on Ronon's wall. He seemed fascinated by it. "Interesting color of gore. I don't think I've seen that shade of puce before…so, do you want to talk about it?"
"Do you want to listen?"
The look on Sheppard's face said anything but sure. Good, neither of them wanted to talk about it. What was there to say anyway? He'd been overjoyed to find out three hundred of his people had survived Sateda's destruction. They were a long way from rebuilding but that possibility existed now, when there'd been none before.
A day ago he'd found out another twenty survivors had been captured by the Wraith. He'd turned to his team for help. A tremor throbbed in his hand interrupting his thoughts, and Ronon forced it still. It was the same hand he'd used when he cut into the cocoon to reveal his friend, Argon.
Argon looked old but he wasn't dead. He was a half-eaten, a victim of the torture games the Wraith liked to play. At that moment, Ronon realized they'd walked into a trap. The Wraith had used Argon and the others as bait to draw his team close enough to capture. Sheppard, Rodney and Teyla realized it too. As one, they fell swiftly into action with barely a word exchanged between them.
Rodney began pulling wires and tools from his backpack. Sheppard passed his brick of C-4 to Rodney before turning to help Teyla cut open the cocoons. Ronon took point, ready to blast any Wraith stupid enough to stick their heads out where he could see them.
In the end, they'd had to blast their way out. Rodney shot Ronon one pitying glance just before the charges went off, but then again, he wasn't a soldier. Sheppard, and Teyla, they'd understood. They did what had to be done.
Somehow, they managed to save almost everyone. Never built to hold so many, the rescued casualties stood elbow to elbow in the back of the jumper, only the weakest of them sitting down. Of the twenty, they'd saved nineteen.
Sheppard concentrated on out-flying the darts with a skill Ronon had come to expect. And before they'd had enough time to tend to the wounded they were back on Atlantis. His team left resettling the survivors safely in Dr. Weir's hands and now there was nothing left for Ronon to do.
Ronon shook his empty bottle and sighed. Taking some quiet time to drink to the end of Argon's suffering hadn't seemed too much to ask. For seven years, no one had cared much about him or his choices. Now people did. It took some getting used to.
Sheppard was dancing now, shifting from foot to foot like a gengaw trying to decide which seed to eat first. Lucky for Sheppard, Ronon knew exactly how to end his suffering, if not his own. "We need to go back to Sateda."
John froze. "Are you certain about that?"
"Weapons cache." Ronon tapped the butt of blaster. He watched Sheppard's eyes go round with envy. "We should check it out."
"Are you saying we can find more weapons like yours?"
"We won't know for sure until we go," Ronon said, barely slurring his words. McKay was right. Sheppard's eyes really did light up when someone mentioned new weapons.
Teyla passed him a bottle of water and never said a word. She didn't have to because her eyebrow said it all, a mix of sympathy and admonition with concern mixed in. Pressing the cold bottle of water to his forehead, he closed his eyes. With luck that would be enough to discourage any questions he didn't want to answer.
"How much further?" Teyla asked.
"ETA ten minutes." Sheppard cast a sidelong glance at Ronon. "How are you doing back there, buddy?"
"Good." Ronon didn't feel inclined to elaborate.
Sheppard exchanged a knowing look with McKay. Ronon had a suspicion that both men had plenty of past experiences with morning afters. Maybe even the kind that made a man want to rip his own head off. He bit back a groan. Oh, Wraith tits, Sheppard had warned him, if a little too late to do any good.
"I did warn you."
Ronon glared. At the moment, he'd happily bite the knowing smirk off Sheppard's face.
"Oh look, we're here," Rodney piped up. "Now, if you could give us those coordinates...."
"Don't know 'em." Ronon knew a distraction when he saw one. These two were always pulling that kind of stunt. But, McKay looked suitably horrified, so he relented.
"Head two miles northeast of that large lake. If the Wraith haven't found it, there should be a weapons cache near there."
Sheppard deftly landed the jumper in a small clearing close to the lake. If Ronon's memory served, they wouldn't have far to walk.
Ronon was the first one out. Satisfied that the landscape matched his memory he nodded to the others. Rodney grabbed his laptop and Teyla packed some extra supplies. Sheppard cloaked the jumper and began walking across the field.
"Sheppard," Ronon called out. "It's to your other East."
"I know that. I was just checking the perimeter, for Wraith and stuff."
Teyla coughed delicately into her hand. "Yes, very wise. I understand 'stuff' can be quite dangerous."
"No large life sign readings. There's nothing here more threatening than a snapping turtle," Rodney announced.
"Thank you very much for that information, Rodney," Sheppard said.
"What?" Rodney looked baffled. "What did I miss?" When no one answered, he looked back down at his laptop. "Got something. Low-level energy reading, half a kilometer – that way." He pointed in a direction opposite of the one Sheppard had taken.
Falling into their usual formation, Ronon took point while the others unofficially guarded McKay. He approved. Soldiers could always be found to fight the Wraith. Men and women could be trained to be good soldiers. Scientists though, they were a different breed, one he hadn't had much experience with until he came to Atlantis. He found himself surprised at how much he'd come to respect McKay, annoyances and all. Not that he would ever be drunk enough to admit that out loud.
Ronon had finally learned to trust his teammates although it had taken time. Trust was something Kell's betrayal had destroyed the way he'd destroyed Ronon's faith in his Task Master. Gaining that back, knowing he could rely on his teammates again made Argon's loss, not less painful, but less sharp. He knew every member of his team would do for him what he'd done for Argon.
"Over here." Rodney began digging around a huge rotting log. He looked up at his teammates in frustration. "It's under here. A little help, please. Do I look like a beaver?"
Ronon pulled out his blaster and with two shots put a man-sized hole in the log.
"That works," Sheppard leaned over the hole. "Looks like stairs. Ronon, just how big is this cache?"
Teyla cocked her p-90. "Colonel, I sense Wraith approaching."
"How...?" Rodney began, just as a dart flew overhead. "Great, they pick now to sightsee. But there aren't any people here, why are they even bothering?"
"We can discuss it later." John waved his p-90 toward the entrance. "Everybody in. We'll see if we can wait them out."
"Oh, crap." Rodney looked up from his laptop. "We need to find out what's down there that's sending out an energy signature and turn it off. Because if we don't, we're going to lead the Wraith right to us."
Rodney went down into the hole first. Nobody could scramble like McKay under threat of death. Ronon wished there was a way to harness that fearlessness to use when the situation wasn't desperate. At least he'd gotten McKay to start training with him. Sadly, it hadn't done much good yet.
Ronon made sure he was the last one in. Taking careful aim, Ronon shot the trunk out of a large tree standing a few feet away. It began to topple and he ducked into the hole just before it landed with a resounding thunk and completely covered the entrance.
"Good thinking," Sheppard said. "Rodney, find that gizmo causing all the trouble and shut it down."
"I will help." Teyla began moving around the underground room, illuminated by the light of her p-90.
"Use this." Ronon opened a box and pulled out an electric torch. "There's more in there." He fit the torch into a metal sconce above his head. It slid neatly into place and Sheppard grabbed up a couple more slotting them into the wall sconces nearest Rodney and Teyla.
"Ronon?" Sheppard turned slowly on his heel, taking in the full impact of his surroundings. "This isn't a cache, this is an armory!"
"Yeah, thought you'd like it." Pride for his people swelled in his chest leaving him at a loss for words. He had no idea what showed on his face, but Sheppard nodded in approval.
A few tense minutes later Rodney yelled, "Got it!"
Whatever Rodney did killed the subsonic hum that had been annoying Ronon since they arrived here. He shook his head. Ronon had no doubt Rodney would tell them later how complex the problem was and how he was the only one who could fix it. Didn't matter. The problem was resolved and now, if they were lucky, the Wraith would leave.
Teyla walked over to the covered entrance, head tilted as if listening. "I cannot say if all the Wraith have left, but I do not sense the presence of any close by. We should be safe enough for now."
"Let's give them a little more time to clear out," John opened up a weapons locker and peered inside. Long moments passed while he seemed to be considering his options.
Ronon knew this locker and he knew it was only a matter of time before – .
John pulled out the largest weapon of the lot, a cross between a blaster and a rocket launcher. His grin was almost as big as the gun.
"Humph." Rodney looked up from his inventory to see what the fuss was about. "And I thought the Genii held the corner market on penis compensation weaponry."
"You know what they say, Rodney," Sheppard said, grinning. "Sometimes size does matter."
The quiet snort from the other side of the room came from Teyla. Ronon watched her reach into the chest of hand weapons where she pulled out a pair of wedge blades. She twirled them in her hand, measuring their heft. Her eyes sparkled with mischief.
Ronon quietly shook his head. Elizabeth had once compared his teammates to schoolchildren at recess. The words were unfamiliar but he'd understood her meaning. More than once, he wondered how they'd survived as long as they had without him.
"Double hatchets, Teyla?" Sheppard said. "Cool. You look like a regular Davy Crockett."
This was another Earth reference. There was no point in asking Sheppard or McKay about it. Ronon had learned early on that Chuck gave the best explanations. He could wait until they got back to Atlantis to ask, but whoever this Davy was, she must be a fierce and honored warrior for Sheppard to compare her to Teyla.
McKay remained unusually quiet. Ronon expected him to chime in with another strange Earth reference, or suggest they watch a movie. It put him on edge when any of his team broke their habitual patterns. He was glad when Sheppard noticed too, and asked, "What are you looking at, Rodney?"
"The weapons log."
Sheppard went immediately to Rodney's side and began trying to read over his shoulder.
"My Satedan's rusty, but I think it says very, very, big ray gun." Rodney turned to Ronon. "Care to elaborate?"
In answer, Ronon stepped up the screen and magnified the image. Blueprints of a massive blaster cannon came into view.
Sheppard whistled long and slow. "Now, that's a very big-ass ray gun, McKay."
"Oh, ha," Rodney sniped. "You are no help at all."
"It's not a big ray gun." Ronon slapped his hand down on McKay's shoulder. "It's a blast cannon. Check the specs."
"That's as big as the Hubble telescope. Is it orbital?" Sheppard asked.
"No." Ronon watched his teammates try to hide their disappointment. They weren’t very good at it, and Sheppard seemed to take it especially hard. He let out the grin he'd been holding in. "It's on Atteria, Sateda's largest moon."
"Is it in working condition?" Teyla asked.
"If it's not, McKay can fix it. Can't you, Rodney?" Sheppard said, without a doubt in his voice.
Calmer, but hungry, he headed for the mess hall. Before they could travel to the moon and check on the blast cannon, they'd had to go back, tell Dr. Weir about the weapon, and get her permission to return. There was good reason to follow the chain of command, but since everyone knew Weir would eventually say yes, it seemed like a waste of time. He tried not to let it bother him.
Once, Ronon would not have called these Earth people by Lantean name. But, that was before he'd seen what Sheppard could do – before he knew the blood of the Ancients ran in his veins. Blood power.
He looked up at the ceiling stretching above him. He called this glass and metal architecture home now, but only a fool would forget about the blood that controlled it. He'd seen Sheppard's expression when he talked to Atlantis. It never lasted long, but the blankness in Sheppard's eyes resembled the way the Wraith looked when they communicated with their Queen. A cold chill ran down Ronon's spine. They were all very, very fortunate that Sheppard was a Lantean of honor.
"Ronon?" Teyla caught up to him and fell into step at his side. "You did not hear me approach. What thoughts have pulled you in so deep?" She inclined her head. "If you do not mind sharing."
"Argon." He shocked himself at the word. Until that moment, he'd no idea that still bothered him.
"To be tortured…the half-eaten…" she began.
"It's not that." Ronon paused. "Not entirely that."
Teyla waited patiently for him to finish. She carried calm with her like a warm blanket, as if she had all the time in the world for him to find the words he needed.
"It's Kell, too. His betrayal." Ronon floundered, at a loss for words.
"Kell betrayed Argon?" Teyla asked.
His next words curled around the pain in his heart. "He betrayed Argon, our work on the blast cannon, and our best chance to strike a blow against the Wraith."
"Argon, along with the rest of your people," she said gravely.
"Argon wasn't Satedan. He was a Traveler. Kell made a deal with the captain of his ship to transport the blast cannon to Atteria. It was my responsibility to keep Argon safe while we were on the moon. And, for a short time we shared – ." Ronon curled his hands into fists. "He was my friend."
"You are angry that we caused the explosion that took his life."
"No. I saw his hand. The Wraith cut it. Split it like a feeding hand." The memory burned but he needed to say it. "It had human teeth in it – his teeth."
Teyla drew in a sharp breath. "Come with me. Rodney has created a scale model of the blast cannon, but he needs your help." She pinned him with her gaze. "It's a second chance to do what Argon could not. Do not throw it away."
"I won't." His words might be simple but they held a world of resolve.
"I am still not sure the scale is right," Radek tapped his marker against whiteboard.
"Not sure? What do you mean, not sure? Of course the scale is correct," Rodney insisted.
"No…." Radek stood his ground. "We are guessing, trying to convert the Satedan measurements to metric. Is okay for estimate but if we are off by a fraction on the critical systems…."
"I know. Oh look, here's Ronon now." Rodney's hand flew up to point at his own temple. "It's that team bond. He knew I needed him and here he is. You wouldn't understand about that Radek, since you're not on an off-world team. It sharpens the senses. Isn't that right, Ronon? No – don't answer that. Well, come over here and tell us what you think." Rodney stood back and beamed down at the miniature blast canon in front of him.
The large model rested on top of workbench. Made of white plastic and roughly the length of a man's leg, it had red and blue lines and equations drawn all over it. Rodney stood glowing with pride at his latest accomplishment. Hell, Ronon half expected him to reach out a pet the damn thing.
McKay had Blood power too. He used it differently than Sheppard. In a way, Ronon thought he used it better. Sheppard flat out requested the city's help but McKay cajoled and bargained with Atlantis. It felt like a trade. Less efficient than Sheppard's way, but it seemed fairer somehow to ask the city for what it could give.
He shrugged. Not really his business. Ronon had thought about getting the gene therapy a few times. He might someday but not yet. He was still too angry and the temptation to use all of the city's power to destroy the Wraith was too great. He wasn’t sure he would stop, even if it destroyed Atlantis in the process.
The only person he'd confessed his anger and worry to was Carson. The doctor hadn't hesitated to share his own misgivings while confessing to his own skittishness around the Ancient devices. Carson had persisted in learning to work with the gene because it had come down to saving lives.
Ronon didn't want to save lives. He wanted every Wraith dead. He knew turning down Carson's offer for the gene therapy was the right thing to do. At least for now.
"Where's Sheppard?" Ronon asked, surprised that he wasn't here already.
"He went back to Sateda on the Daedalus He took a jumper and some marines to help empty the weapons cache," McKay said. "Um, that's all right, isn't it?"
"Yeah. It wasn't the only one. There's a lot more." Ronon watched McKay's expression turn almost wistful.
"A lot more…I don't suppose there are more blast cannons?" Rodney asked. "I just meant, well Sheppard has a birthday coming up… oh, never mind. Elizabeth probably won't let him keep a cannon of his very own, anyway."
"Rodney is already looking forward to the cake," Radek piped up.
"You're just jealous, Radek," McKay snapped. “Jealous because no one is ever going to give you a blast cannon. Now, if we could get back to more important matters – like the blueprints?"
These two would go at it like this all day if no one stepped in to stop them. Ronon found a comfortable place to stand and tried to block most of the chatter out. Out of habit, he stood between the scientists and door.
He'd done such a good job ignoring what Sheppard called geek-babble that it caught him by surprise when McKay asked him a direct question. At least it was an easy one, and Ronon thought he hid his surprise well enough. A quick side glance at Teyla's face proved that she hadn't been fooled, though.
Ronon stood a little straighter; this was Sateden history he was talking about, now. "We made a deal with the Travelers."
"By we, you mean who, exactly?" Radek asked.
"Satedan military. My unit was assigned to handle the details."
Very gently, Teyla asked, "Kell? He was involved as well?"
"Yes." Ronon's curled his hands into tight fists. "He contacted the Travelers and arranged for them to take us and our supplies to Atteria. Some of the Traveler crew stayed long enough to help set us up a base."
"The Travelers are not known to be cooperative. It could not have been easy to get them to work with you," Teyla said.
"What happened with Kell?" McKay asked. "Wasn't he the one that…" he caught the look on Teyla's face. "Maybe we should talk about that later."
"Kell..." Ronon could feel the vein throbbing in his temple and he forced his next words out. "Kell made the contacts, arranged the meetings, got us onto the Traveler ship. We… I trusted him. It was his job to report back and tell Satedan Command the cannon was ready to use. He never did."
The lab had grown so quiet Ronon could have heard an egg hatch. Slowly, the tension bled away and he relaxed his fists. "The Travelers were good people to work with. They did a good job, and in return, we agreed to kill as many Wraith as possible."
"Good plan. I like it. Can't go wrong with killing as many Wraith as possible." Arms crossed, Sheppard leaned against the doorway. "Miss me?"
"Sheppard, you're back!" Rodney announced to the room at large." Did everything go okay?"
"Yeah." Sheppard sauntered over to join their group. "Hancock and Simpson got the new Stargate installed without a hitch. It's a good thing you sent along those extra DHD parts, Dr. Z. We won't have to rely on the Daedalus to cart us back and forth anymore."
"They finished so soon?" Rodney looked crestfallen. "Without me?"
"Next time we relocate a Stargate you can be first on the team to go," Sheppard said, before turning his attention the blast cannon. "Well, that's all wrong."
"Oh great. Radek and I have been working on this all week and you come prancing in and tell us it's wrong." Rodney folded his arms over his chest. "Pray tell, just what kind of mistake do you imagine you're seeing?"
"Well…if you do it that way…" Sheppard pointed to the model's midpoint junction. "When you try to fire this baby, it's going to backfire and put a hole in the moon." He smirked. "A big one."
Sheppard side-stepped out of the way and bumped elbows with Ronon. Teyla joined them and they all watched the show as Rodney and Radek went into a frenzy of jabbering snark and frantic hand waving, all while taking apart everything they'd just made.
"Ronon, something about this troubles me. Once the Travelers left, how did you plan on getting off the moon when the Wraith retaliated?" Teyla asked.
"We weren't going to."
"Okay, that's a bad plan and we're not following it. Sheppard, don't even think about it." Rodney slammed his marker down.
"Could you not cloak the device, like you do the jumpers, Rodney?" Teyla asked.
"Just give me a few days to come with a plan. The moon isn't going anywhere. Going off half-cocked on a suicidal mission is not something I'm okay with." Rodney snapped.
"So, Rodney and I will come up with a plan." Sheppard nodded at Rodney, speaking calmly, and Ronon knew he was trying to keep a McKay rant from erupting.
"Once Elizabeth gives us the green light, we'll all go to Atteria and find the weapon. McKay will fix anything that needs fixing, and yes, Teyla, he'll come up with a way to keep the cannon hidden, and we'll get to keep our asses out of the frying pan." Sheppard rocked up on his toes. "Then we lure the Wraith back to Sateda and blow them out of existence."
This was what his team did best, find new ways to use their strengths. Ronon tried to deflect attention from his pride showing by handing Radek a piece of paper. "Your chart of measurements."
Radek adjusted his glasses and looked solemnly at the list of Satedan measures. "Thank you. This will help."
"Don't forget that you'll need to check that the shelter we built on Atteria is still airtight." Ronon knew the scientists on Atlantis were smart, but sometimes even smart men needed reminders to keep them safe.
"We've already thought of that," Rodney said, looking pleased. "I'm borrowing one of the city's generators and using that to extend the jumper's shield. Granted, it's not a ZPM – Elizabeth won't let me take that, but the Mark I should work fine for our needs."
More talk filled the room and, with a shrug, Ronon went off in search of something to do. When they were ready for his help, his team would let him know.
Getting roped into helping the botanists wasn't exactly what he had had in mind. Target practice, working out with the marines, challenging Sheppard to an extra run, or snagging Earth chocolate from the kitchen, those were the kind of things he'd planned.
Not this. Somehow, he'd found himself in the middle teaching four of the botanists about the different kinds of native plants. He'd been here over an hour now, explaining which plants were poisonous, which were harmless, and which to use for medicine. Ronon was more relieved than he cared to admit when Sheppard came around the corner and poked his head into the greenhouse.
"Ronon, how much longer do you need?" Sheppard asked. "Elizabeth just gave us the go ahead to check out that big cannon of yours."
Parrish did his best to stifle a snicker but they all heard it. Ronon shot Sheppard his best – get me the hell out of here – look.
"Yeah, okay." Sheppard cleared his throat and took the botanists to task, as well as any taskmaster Ronon had ever seen. Sheppard had his own unique style, but it worked.
"I think the four of you can find something else to do besides harass Ronon." Sheppard stood easy and relaxed and his words were unhurried. He waited until he had every scientist's undivided attention before adding, "Unless you'd like me to have McKay find something for you to do?" Dead silence filled the room. "No? Didn't think so. Ronon, get your ass in gear and meet me in the jumper bay in fifteen."
Ronon jumped up and followed Sheppard out the door, his neck prickling with the feeling of four pairs of eyes watching his backside as he left.
"What have I told you about staying away from the scientists when they gather in groups? Never let them corner you. If you're not careful, before you realize what's happening, they'll have your shirt off claiming to conduct skin tests." With one hand clutching his belt, the tips of Sheppard's ears turned an interesting shade of pink as he muttered, "They won't stop there, either."
Tempting as it was to tease Sheppard, Ronon decided to let it go. Right now, he wanted to find out about the mission. "What's the plan?"
"We're leaving just as soon as McKay has his stuff loaded onto the jumper. We're bringing along one of the generators like he said. It should give us the boost we need to extend the shield, wrap it around the blast cannon and give Rodney a circle of safety to work in. He won't even have to suit up."
"Sounds easier than the way we had to do it." Ronon smiled. "Could still be dangerous."
"Yeah. That's why we're taking a second jumper." Sheppard slowed his pace. "Don't you need to get your gear or anything?"
Ronon patted his blaster. "I'm good."
"Okay then, I'll see if Rodney needs any help with his gear and meet you and Teyla in the jumper bay." With that, Sheppard loped off towards the lab. "Oh," he called out over his shoulder, "on your way, stop by the mess and grab us some sandwiches. We might as well make it a picnic. We won't have much to do while McKay's working."
The moon looked like he remembered: Stoney ground with jagged hills in the distance. Cold. No air for a man to breathe. The shelter the Traveler's helped build stood unchanged – a grey, squat dome that blended into the landscape. It contained the controls Argon would have used to fire the cannon remotely and Ronon wondered if they still worked.
But for now, he and Teyla had nothing to do but watch. Sheppard had landed the jumper as close to the blast cannon as he could and his attention remained divided between monitoring the shield strength and teasing McKay.
He had to admit the overlapping shields were a neat trick. Ronon figured it must be Lorne in the second jumper. All pilots had a tell, a way of flying that revealed who was behind the controls. Sheppard liked loops and curving arcs but Lorne favored crisp precision and angular movement. The way the second jumper had neatly banked during landing had Lorne's name written all over it.
As much as he wanted to help, right now he'd just be in the way. Didn't mean he couldn't keep a close eye on things. Ronan moved to the edge of the ramp. McKay had his laptop hooked up to the control panel, running some kind of test. Even from here, Ronon could tell he wasn't happy.
The hair rose on the back of his neck. Something was up. McKay had stopped muttering. Even his hands stilled – never a good sign. Ronon set his blaster to kill, just in case. "Sheppard, run the scans and make sure we don't have company."
Standing in the jumper the gravity felt the same as always, but the inertial dampeners didn't extend beyond the jumper's structure. He took a step off the ramp, planning to walk towards McKay. Out on the surface of the moon a man weighed a less. It felt weird, and he reminded himself to be careful.
He wasn't sure if he should call out but McKay was already on his way back. Ronon could see how carefully he placed every footfall. He didn't know if a man could bounce out of the shield's safety and he didn't want to find out. He felt Teyla's hand firmly grasping the back of his shirt. It wasn't as though he wanted to go out there so he didn’t protest when she tugged on it until he stepped back onto the ramp.
Ronon grabbed McKay by the elbow as soon as he reached the jumper, and held on until McKay adjusted to the change in gravity. Still, he didn't breathe easy until everyone was settled in and the hatch was closed. When he noticed how Teyla's shoulders relaxed at the same time, he realized she'd been just as concerned.
"You can collapse the shield and head back. There's nothing else I can do for now," McKay said. He looked tired and frustrated.
"Are you unable to fix it, Rodney?" Teyla asked. "Perhaps when we get back to Atlantis you can find a way."
"Oh, I know how to fix it. I just don't have what I need to fix it with."
"Well, tell us what it is and we'll get it," John said.
"It's not that easy. I need to replace an element we don't have. It's not like we can place an order to Sears Roebuck," McKay groused.
"Maybe not, but…." Sheppard settled back into the driver's seat, retracted the shield, and started their ascent. "We find out where it is and trade for it. What?"
"The element I need is identical to one of the components in Ronon's blaster."
"Crap. And the only place we've seen another one of those was on a Traveler ship. And since Larrin decided she didn't need to leave a way for us to contact her…." Sheppard looked at Teyla.
"Then we must trade," she inclined her head, a tiny smile on her face. "Perhaps Ronon can help since he has more knowledge of the Travelers and their trading habits."
So far, he'd seen nothing more dangerous than small field animals. The knots in his neck began to unwind and he steered part of his attention to the ongoing conversation.
"Everyone knows what we're looking for?" McKay asked.
"You have described it many times, Rodney," Teyla said calmly. "We know."
"Well, remember, it shines silvery-red under the right wavelengths so it could be in jewelry. Don't forget to check."
Sheppard’s hand came up and gently thwapped McKay on the back of the head. "They know, Rodney. You've told us a dozen times. Let it go."
The village lay concealed beneath overhanging cliffs. Their path took them through a narrow, winding trail between high, rock walls. He'd seen something like it in one of the Earth movies. In the movie, the riders rode their animals through a place almost like this, and for some reason one of the men wanted a dog's name. Ronon hadn't really cared, but it was amusing to listen to Sheppard try to explain it.
McKay's neck craned around as he tried to see everything. His eyes were as wide as a child's at Giving Day. "I can see why this is a popular trading place."
Sheppard nodded in agreement. "Be hard to tell anyone lives here from above. As long as they kept their energy signature low, they could go undetected by the Wraith for a long time."
"And this is why the Travelers came here to trade?" Teyla asked him.
"All I know is that they used to come here." Ronon shrugged. "Don't know if they still do. I haven't been here in a long time. In any case, they never stay long. Argon told me once that the cliffs bother the Travelers because they don't like the view."
Teyla frowned. "But many of them chose to stay enclosed on a spaceship their entire lives."
Sheppard stood with his hands on his hips and stared up. A rocky overhang blocked his view. "I get it. From here, they can't see the sky."
"Well, let's just hope a few of them stayed here long enough to trade," McKay said, breaking the somber mood.
The narrow tunnel of rock ended abruptly and suddenly they were facing a riot of color and activity. Music drifted through the air and carts full of wares and handmade goods lined the dusty road.
Ronon watched. Before approaching, he searched the busy throng of people for anything or anyone that looked out of place. It was second nature for him to take count of who was armed and what kind of weapons they held. Approvingly, he noticed Teyla and Sheppard doing the same. With a resigned sigh, he reached out, grabbed McKay by the collar, and pulled him back before he could stumble into a group of people.
"What! Oh, thanks." McKay pulled away and went right back to doing whatever it was he was doing to the handheld scanner. Ronon didn't think he was that oblivious, not anymore. The group he'd nearly collided with just happened to have four pretty women in it, and one of them was a blonde. He filed that away to tease McKay with later.
Rodney McKay was more cautious now than when they'd met, but he still had a lot to learn about keeping his guard up. Ronon wasn't giving up on him, though. Granted, McKay approached their training sessions with sullen resignation, but he showed up three times a week and he hadn't backed out yet. They both knew he'd never make an aggressive, physical fighter. McKay's strength came from his trust in his team, and that was something Ronon could work with.
As he walked through the market, a wave of gratitude swept through him. His team had given him something he'd thought he'd lost forever – the ability to freely walk through a throng of people without fear of bringing the Wraith down on them.
He couldn't stop the grin from spreading across his face. Ronon decided then he'd start seriously looking for a blast gun for Sheppard. He'd look now for a worthy blade for Teyla, and just maybe, next time, he'd let McKay fall into a group of pretty women.
An image of Sheppard's scowl flashed through his mind, along with stories of how he'd single-handedly killed sixty Genii. It wasn't that long ago that Carson Beckett let it slip that Sheppard had kept a rifle aimed at Ronon's head for the entire time it took Carson to remove his tracker. Hm.
There were usually some baby felines on M97-64 this time of year. McKay would probably prefer one of those, anyway.
The road had spilled out into the center of the market. At one end were the pens, animals to be traded for meat or breeding. At the other end, furthest from the smell, were carts of baked goods, fruits, and herbs. Venders selling fabrics, housewares, and the like, staked out their spot directly across from that, if they arrived early enough. If not, they had to move their carts between the animal pens and the weapons tent.
That's where Ronon headed now. This end of the market was always more…fragrant. It didn't bother him. The scent of gun oil and the smell of clean, healthy animals swirled around him. So did the smell of hardworking soldiers and farmers. They were ordinary human smells, and sweet compared to the stench of a Wraith ship.
Ronon wandered through the large tent, stopping briefly at each table. Each table had a specialty. Large guns, small guns, knives, whips, and one held an assortment of small, but deadly weapons designed for concealment. Good to know.
He turned back to the knife table. Feigning disinterest, his eyes glided over the exact item they were looking for. So, not so elusive after all. A piece as long as his palm shined up at him from the hilt of a large knife. The shiny silvery-red inlay looked exactly the way McKay had described.
He hadn't expected to find it in the weapons tent, he'd just wanted to see if there was anything interesting here for a gift. He picked up a woman's dagger and made a show of inspecting it. "Do you have any more like this? Or…" he discreetly pointed to the one he was really interested in, "like that one?"
"You have discerning taste, friend. Sadly, I don't have another like it. Pity, but you see all my pieces are one of a kind. Unique to the galaxy." The seller crooked his finger, suggesting Ronon lean closer. "A rare item of great value, as I'm sure you can see."
Ronon put his hand on the butt of his weapon.
"I'm sure we can settle on a reasonable price." The seller continued. "What exactly to you have to offer in trade?"
They were in the midst of a stand-off of glares when Teyla entered the tent.
Ronon signaled Teyla to join him. "Got something you should see."
"Ah. I see. Have you settled on a price?"
"Not yet." There was no shame in admitting that Teyla could broker a better trade, and Ronon was happy to let her do the bargaining. "Meet you outside."
Her look made it clear she was less than pleased he'd dumped this on her without warning. With an apologetic shrug, he left the tent and went to find Sheppard.
It didn't take long. They were near one of the fruit carts. Sheppard had a purple bumpfruit in his hand and he and McKay were standing off to one side, arguing.
"I don't see the problem, Rodney," Sheppard said, turning the fruit over in his hands. "You've got the mineral you wanted. Heck, we've got twice as much of it."
McKay held two bracelets in his hand and the sunshine glinted off their silver-red inlay. "It's a set for a married couple."
"Yeah and the old woman gave them to us. You should be happy."
"Because she thought we were engaged to each other!"
Ronon clapped his hand down on McKay's shoulder. "I thought you'd be used to that by now."
"Oh, god, what kind of reputation do you think we have out here?"
Sheppard didn't bother to answer McKay, but his frustrated eye roll spoke volumes.
They headed back. They had the items they'd come for, plus a small basket of bumpfruit. By the time they got to the gate, everyone's lips were stained purple and the basket was empty.
Ronon wasn't sure how long it would take McKay to ready the element from the items they'd gathered. With luck, there wouldn't be much downtime before they could get the cannon in working order and finally kill some Wraith.
"Some of their ideas…" Teyla frowned. "It may fall to us to talk sense into them."
She was right and he knew it. Sheppard and McKay had tossed ideas back and forth like a challenge, each one trying to out clever the other. In the process they'd come up with some very bad ideas. The worst one so far involved Wraith worshipers. He shook his head. That was never going to end well. "We can tie them up until they come to their senses," he offered.
"I am sure it will not come to that." She paused. "Perhaps, just in case, you should keep your weapon on stun."
"Guys," Sheppard waved Ronon and Teyla into Weir's office. "We think we've got a plan."
"My original idea, actually." McKay pointed at himself.
Sheppard cleared his throat. "We're going with our original plan but we're waiting until the Daedalus arrives. They'll be there to lend us some backup – just in case."
"The plan to plant a false beacon?" Teyla's eyebrows rose. "I thought you said it was a bad plan, John, that it entailed too much uncertainty. How will we be sure the Wraith will take notice of the beacon and investigate at a time of our choosing? "
Sheppard deflated. "So, okay, there's still some bugs to work out. Rodney, how are you coming on refining the element you need for the cannon?"
"That part's done. It's been done for days. The stickler is getting the lens configuration right. If I get it wrong we'll drain power before we can fire a shot, or worse."
"Worse?" Sheppard asked.
"We'll blow it and ourselves up, and take half of Atteria with us. It has to be exact or..." McKay's mouth dropped open mid-sentence. He snapped his fingers and pointed at Ronon. "You! You're going to help me. Come to the lab, and bring your ray gun."
McKay took off for the lab at a jog and Ronon stared at his backside for a long moment before shaking his head and following. "McKay! You'd better not be planning on taking my blaster apart!"
By the time the Daedalus showed up, everything was in place and ready to go.
"What's the firing range on this?" Caldwell asked, from the ship's bridge.
Ronon respected Caldwell, but had no interest in being under his command. He wasn't sure he could ever go back to the strict discipline that was so similar to his own military. Especially after working under Sheppard's command.
"The range and accuracy is equivalent to the Asgard pulse weapons," McKay said. "You'll appreciate this – the blast radius is half that. Less chance of anyone getting their hair singed if they're too close."
"If Rodney is right," Sheppard grinned at McKay, "and I'm sure he is, debris won't be a problem. What's left of the target area could fit in a paper bag."
"Good to know. We'll meet you at Atteria, Colonel. Caldwell out."
"Oh, not you, too! For the tenth time in as many minutes – yes! It's working perfectly. It's not my fault the Wraith don't have the brains to answer the dinner bell."
"Can you give me any guarantee the Wraith are showing up, Colonel Sheppard?" Caldwell radioed from the Daedalus. "We've been here for hours and there's nothing showing up on the long range sensors."
"Sorry. Can't do that, Colonel. Rodney's boosted the signal as far as he can. We thought they'd be here by now."
"Perhaps they were not fooled by our ruse of a new feeding ground," Teyla suggested.
"That's it then." Caldwell signaled to someone out of view. "We'll have to wait and try this another time. We've just received a message that we're needed back in the Milky Way galaxy. We can try this again when we return. Caldwell out."
"Well, that's that," McKay began closing down the remote control system as the Daedelus jumped into hyperspace.
"Hold your horses a minute," Sheppard said. "Let's give it a little longer just in case the Wraith are on the way."
"You can't be serious." McKay's eyes widened in horror, "You want us to stay and play cat and mouse with the Wraith without the Daedalus here for backup? That's a terrible idea."
McKay crumpled under Sheppard's glare. "Yes, it was my idea to begin with, and I'm admitting it's a horrible idea. Can't you just be happy with that and fly us back to Atlantis now?"
"I think we should stay," Ronon said.
"Of course you do," McKay snapped. "Your people never expected to survive beyond using the blast cannon to begin with! Which is exactly why it's a horrible idea."
Ronon loomed over him. "We need to kill the Wraith, McKay, anyway we can."
Teyla spoke up, "John, we need to discuss this. If we draw a Hive ship here and don't destroy it with the first shot, none of us may survive."
"Oh-oh. Guys, heads up."
"What do you mean, oh-oh, Sheppard?" McKay demanded.
"Something's coming." Sheppard patted the jumper console. “She's just informed me something's about to drop out of hyperspace."
A ship burst into view. "What in hell…who's flying that?" Sheppard muttered.
Data began rolling up across the viewscreen. Specifications on weaponry, energy output, and the crew manifest came up, with both the ship's and her captain's name highlighted in red.
"I'm surprised she didn't give you tonight's menu," McKay said, with more than a hint of jealousy in his voice.
"I could…," John smirked. "Aw, look. I didn't even have to ask. What the heck is afla-gell protein supplement? You know what, I don't want to know." The menu disappeared and the weapon's specs came back into view. "Much better."
"Don't," McKay said.
"Don't what, Rodney?" Sheppard teased.
"Don't start calling the Puddle jumper. baby, my girl, cupcake, or any of those other names I know you've got floating around in your head. It's a finely tuned, highly specialized piece of Ancient tech and giving it a nickname is demeaning."
"I think you're just jealous." Sheppard patted the console. "Did you hear that, Sweetheart? Rodney here thinks you're something special, too."
"Why do I even…."
Ronon let the banter wash over him, mostly ignoring it. This was something Sheppard and McKay did. He'd caught on early Sheppard used this game to keep things from getting too tense. He didn’t think it was all for McKay's sake either.
"We're being hailed," Sheppard cut off McKay, turning his full attention to the comm and the ship in front of them.
"Lantean ship, this is the captain of the Pelagia. Do you have Specialist Dex aboard your vessel?"
"Ronon? You know who this is?" Teyla asked.
"Maybe. The Pelagia is a Traveler ship. Ask again who the captain is, Sheppard."
"Oh, I think we can do better than that." With a thought, Sheppard brought up a visual of the ship's bridge. "Captain, this is Lt. Colonel John Sheppard, what's your interest in Specialist Dex?"
"Captain Rance, here. Your concern for your shipmate is commendable, Col. Sheppard, but don't worry, Dex and I are old friends. I mean no disrespect, but we have an urgent situation and I hope he's got good news for us."
Sheppard waved Ronon forward, where he exchanged places with McKay. "Find out what's going on and just how urgent is urgent."
Captain Rance looked almost exactly as Ronon remembered him. His hair might be a little grayer but his broad shoulders, compact build, and neatly trimmed beard hadn't changed much over the years. His eyes were the color of ash and full of concern.
"Rance. Ronon here. What do you want?"
"Specalist Dex, I hope like hell your presence here means you've got the blast cannon working."
Ronon shared a quick glance with his teammates. "He knows about it because he and his crew helped install it."
Sheppard gave him a nod and Ronon turned back to the viewscreen. "It's working and we can fire it remotely from here. Why? Are the Wraith coming?"
"You could say that," Rance said, with a shit-eating grin on his face. "Watch your back!"
"Oh, shit." McKay looked up from his laptop. "Something big just dropped out of hyperspace." He turned to Teyla. "Is it what I think it is?"
Before she had time to answer a Hive ship flew into view. It immediately targeted the Pelagia and began firing.
"Our shields aren't going to hold long." Rance began yelling commands over his shoulder. When he turned back to face the viewing screen he had a wry grin on his face. "Dex, since we went to all this trouble to get the Wraith to follow us here, don't you think the least you can do is blast it to pieces for us?"
"On it!" McKay yelled. "Sheppard, the angle is off, try to get the Wraith to fly closer to the moon."
Ronon itched to shoot something. He hated waiting with nothing to do but let Sheppard do the flying while McKay targeted the cannon.
"Ronon. Here." McKay surprised him by handing him the firing control. "Your people started it, I thought you'd like to finish it."
"Anytime now, big guy." Sheppard urged.
Watching the Hive ship blow apart was one of the most satisfying and beautiful things Ronon had ever seen. He didn't realize how wide he was grinning until he noticed all his teammates staring at him. "Uh, thanks."
"A job well done, Ronon." Merriment danced in Teyla's eyes. "Though the growling was somewhat disturbing."
"What she said," McKay chimed in. He held his hand out for the firing control. "I'll just put this somewhere safe for next time."
"Sheppard, is there going to be a next time?" Ronon asked.
"Give us time to recover from this one, first." Opening the comm, Sheppard asked, "Captain Rance, what's your status?"
"We took a couple of bad hits. Sublight engines are down. I wouldn't say no to some help with repairs."
"We will be glad to offer what assistance we can." Teyla shot Sheppard a look, daring him to contradict her.
"Yeah, what she said." Sheppard leaned over and whispered to Ronon, "Rance has got to be easier to deal with than Larrin, right?"
Once aboard the Pelagia, Ronon let the joy of the moment sink in. They'd thoroughly destroyed a Wraith Hive ship and they'd done it with a device designed and built by his people. His chest swelled with pride.
Seeing Rance brought back good and bad memories, but most of them were good and Ronon relaxed a little more when Rance invited them to share a meal.
"How did you happen to run into a Hive ship?" Sheppard asked. "For that matter, how exactly did you get them to follow you here?"
Rance signaled for their meals and a round of drinks and then waited until they'd all been served before answering. "We, and I mean everyone in the Traveler fleet, keep close tabs on any ships in our vicinity, especially Wraith. So, when we heard the signal and noticed the Hive ship not following up on it, I got curious. As soon as we realized the signal originated from Atteria I knew someone had finally gotten off their asses and brought the blast cannon online." He looked straight at Ronon. "It's about time."
"And they followed you here because...?" Sheppard asked.
"We fired a shot at it." Rance grinned. "Several actually. Pissed them off when their darts couldn't catch us." He affectionately patted the tabletop. "The Pelagia's is the fastest damn ship in the fleet. The Wraith would love to get their hands on her and see what makes her tick."
"Speaking of engines…." McKay took one look at the green-hued protein supplement and abruptly stood up. Flustered, he cleared his throat and nervously waved his hands in the air. "I'm sure the meal is delicious but right now I'd like a look at your sublight engines." He sounded almost apologetic when he added, "You did ask us to look at them, and it's not like I can fix them from here."
With a dry smile, Rance directed one of the crew to escort McKay to the engine room. Sheppard abruptly got up, wordlessly nodded a quick apology, and followed.
Teyla smoothly filled the space with more appropriate apologies, something she and Ronon had both become practiced at. "I am certain Col. Sheppard would choose to stay and enjoy this meal with us under different circumstances. However, we've learned that it's best one of us always stays with Dr. McKay when we are off-world."
She smiled at Rance, as if all were right with the world. "Today is Ronon's turn to accompany Dr. McKay, but Col Sheppard has stepped into his place so the two of you might have more time to visit."
Ronon did his bit by flashing a quick smile. "Yeah, that." Hell, some of it was even true. They did keep close tabs on McKay, although there was less taking turns and more Sheppard taking it on himself to be the one to stick close to him.
The first kidnapping attempt made him realize Sheppard wasn't just joking around. By the third attempt, he wondered why McKay hadn't been pulled from the team for his own safety. But then, they’d run into something like this where stuff needed to be fixed and McKay was the only one that knew how to do it.
Teyla lifted a forkful of something grey and lumpy. She watched it jiggle on her fork for a moment before taking a cautionary bite. Her face froze. She politely swallowed, and Ronon couldn't begin to read her expression. She set her fork down carefully. "Captain Rance, perhaps you would be interested in trading for something called MRE's?"
Ronon was amused to see how quickly Rance jumped on the offer. Not that he could blame him. Before long, Rance and Teyla were hacking their way through the terms of a trade agreement. He had no idea what she'd be trading for, but she was good at this and he had no doubt she'd get them something they could use.
She was good at fighting, too. She'd certainly caught him by surprise the first time she landed his ass on the floor. Trust hadn't come easy for Ronon. If it had, he might have embarrassed himself by inviting her into his bed in those early days. Knowing her as he did now, he realized how much of a mistake that would've been.
Before he joined Sheppard's team, between the shock of Sateda's destruction and adjusting to a life without running, he still mourned Melina. Teyla deserved someone that could give their whole heart, and as for himself – he didn't want anyone's pity. Just the idea of Teyla's bedding him out of pity made the back of his neck prickle in discomfort.
He shook it off. That had nothing to do with his relationship with his team now. Teyla, Sheppard, and McKay, they'd become family to him.
Ronon was about to suggest they offer to throw in some of the purple bumpfruit when McKay and Sheppard walked in. Teyla spared them a nod and quickly wrapped up her agreement with Rance. He still didn't know exactly what she'd traded for, but he knew it wasn't for Traveler food.
"I'm done," McKay wiped his greasy hands on a rag and then tried to hand it off to Sheppard, who wasn't falling for it.
Sheppard shoved his hands in his pockets. "You still have a few repairs to make, Captain Rance, but nothing your crew can't handle."
With a huff, McKay finally gave up and shoved the dirty rag into his own pocket. "Oh, I increased the efficiency of your sublight engines by twenty percent." He completely missed Sheppard's glare. "And with that, I think we're ready to go. Sheppard?"
"Yep, if you guys are done here?" Sheppard's eyebrow suggested they'd better get done, and get a move on.
Ronon couldn’t blame him. He knew what Sheppard was thinking. With the improvement to his engines, McKay had just given Rance, and every other Traveler here, a good reason to keep him on board ship – whether he was willing to stay or not. "Ready."
"As am I," Teyla stood. "Captain Rance, we will contact you once I've spoken to Dr. Weir about these provisions." Answering Sheppard's questioning look, she added, "Captain Rance has agreed to supply us with the mineral we need to keep the blast cannon functioning in exchange for six cases of MRE's."
"Maybe we could get a couple of extra ray guns thrown in?" Sheppard asked, hopefully.
"Maybe next time." Teyla gently herded her team out the door and back to the jumper. Ronon took their six. He mostly trusted Rance, but that didn't mean he trusted everyone else on the ship.
Rance hailed them again before they moved out of range and Sheppard brought his image up on the screen. "Specialist Dex, you and your team did well out there."
Ronon nodded. "Thanks to you. You brought the Hive ship right to us." Ronon pointedly ignored Sheppard's whispered crazy bastard comment.
"No thanks necessary. My crew and I heard what you did for Argon. What you all did. He was a good man, a respected member of my crew, and he served the Pelagia's well. It burned all of us that there was nothing we could do when he was taken by the Wraith. But you gave him peace, Dex, and for that I’m grateful. I'm proud to say every member of my crew wanted to be here to see his work finished."
Throat thick with emotion, Ronon nodded.
"As for the Hive ship, frankly I've been waiting for the Satedans to remember this place and act on it. It's about time." Rance lifted his chin and snapped off a salute. "Specialist Dex, thank you."
Rance engaged the Pelagia's engines and they were gone before Ronon could say a word. He hoped his team wouldn't make things awkward, insisting on talking about it, and they didn't. Not a one of them mentioned the salute, not even McKay, but their smiles warmed him all the way back to Atlantis.