A Little Piece Of Home
It had been nearly three weeks since the team’s run in with what Sheppard had called a ‘Mad Scientist’ and most people agreed with that title. The man had tried, actually he’d managed to erase all of the team’s memories, but on their return to Atlantis, Carson Beckett had assured them it was only temporary. He was proven right, and in spite of the teasing and jokes, everyone was back to normal and the team would soon be on another mission.
Colonel John Sheppard looked at his team seated around the conference table and settled his gaze on Teyla as he spoke. “What do you know about the Marcosians?”
“They are a secretive people, Colonel, and very little is known about them except that they are a warrior race,” Teyla explained.
“Teyla’s right,” Ronon offered and frowned. “Makes me wonder why they contacted Atlantis.”
“All they said was they had something that belongs to us and are willing to open talks in order to return it to Atlantis,” Woolsey explained.
“Did they give you any idea what it is they have?” Sheppard asked.
“No, but they did specifically ask for your team and that you come through the Stargate and not in one of our ships,” Woolsey answered.
“When is this meeting supposed to take place?” McKay asked.
“As soon as possible, but if you don’t trust these people then we can postpone it until we have more Intel,” Woolsey replied.
“I would feel better if we knew exactly what they had that is of interest to us,” Teyla added.
“We all would, but as you said they are a secretive people and will not openly discuss anything until we get there,” Sheppard told her.
“Colonel, do you think it’s worth a trip to their world?” Woolsey asked.
“We won’t know until we get there,” Sheppard answered truthfully, but there was something troubling him about this mission, something he couldn’t quite grasp.
“When do you want to leave?” Woolsey asked.
“We can be ready in an hour,” Sheppard assured him.
“All right, but if you get there and don’t like the feel of things come back.”
“We will,” Sheppard assured Woolsey before the meeting broke up. He caught up with Teyla just before she entered her quarters. “Teyla, what else can you tell me about the Marcosians?”
“There is a legend amongst my people, John,” Teyla explained and motioned for him to follow her inside. “The Marcosians are nomadic and never stay in one place very long. It is said that they move around to escape the creatures that haunt the villages.”
“What kind of creatures?” Sheppard asked.
“That I do not know, but it is said that they feed off the fear they create, but again that is part of their mystery,” Teyla told them.
“Teyla, I get the feeling you’re not all that happy with this mission.”
“I am not, John, but it is a chance to meet the Marcosians and maybe find a new ally against the Wraith.”
“Do you really think they have something that belongs to us?”
“From what little is known of their race I can not say for sure, but as you have said we are here to make friends and hopefully gain new allies,” Teyla offered.
“I remember saying something like that to Elizabeth once…seems like a lifetime ago,” Sheppard said and walked toward the door. “Be in the gateroom in half an hour.”
“I’ll be there, John.”
Sheppard made his way toward his own quarters. It wouldn’t take long to get everything he needed and he hoped the tension from this mission would ease up once they reached the planet. How many times had he made trips like this since finding out about the Stargate?
He entered his quarters and grabbed the few items he’d need. The rest of his equipment would be waiting for him in the gateroom, but he’d do a quick check to make sure he had everything. With a heavy sigh, he left his room, not all that surprised when he nearly ran into Ronon Dex.
“Sorry, Sheppard,” Dex said as he walked alongside the colonel. They remained quiet until they reached the gateroom to find Teyla, Woolsey, and Rodney already there.
“Colonel, if there’s anything out of the ordinary…”
“We’re going through a Stargate to another planet,” Sheppard said with a hint of a smile.
“Yes, well, there is that,” Woolsey agreed and watched as Sheppard led his team toward the gate. “Colonel, don’t forget to check in every four hours.”
Sheppard knew it was standard, but something told him Woolsey was as nervous about this mission as he was. There was nothing he could do though to ease the other man’s mind. With a last glance over his shoulder, Sheppard stepped through the Stargate and exited onto a new and possibly deadly planet.
John didn’t have time to react to the darkness around him as something drilled into his side and he flew backward into Ronon.
“Sheppard!” Dex shouted, but could not help his friend as something slammed into the side of his head and he dropped to the ground beside the colonel.
John held his arm against his side, blinking rapidly as lights flashed around him. He looked at his hand, now covered with his own blood, and cursed as a tall figure stood over him. The man’s breath reminded him of sour milk and made his stomach churn. “Guess you people haven’t heard about mouthwash!”
“Bring them!” the male ordered.
The voice was a rasping whisper that filtered through the pounding in John’s ears. He fought to stay conscious as his arms were stretched out to his sides and tied to a long pole. He could barely make out the unconscious Satedan as two males tied Ronon’s arms and legs to a pole and lifted him between them.
“On your feet, Colonel Sheppard!” the male ordered.
John struggled to his feet, but didn’t move fast enough for his captors as two of them grabbed the ends of the pole and pulled him up sharply. “Sonofabit-”
“Silence or I will have my men gag you!”
Sheppard knew there was nothing he could do for now, but when the time came the first thing he was going to do was slug the man and shut the annoying voice off for good. He was forced to walk behind Ronon and wondered what had happened to McKay and Teyla, but there’d been no sign that they’d come through the gate, let alone been captured. John silently prayed the two were safe and back on Atlantis, because something told him they’d need their help to escape.
“What the hell!” McKay spat and looked around.
“Where are Colonel Sheppard and Ronon?” Teyla asked worriedly. They’d stepped through just after Ronon and Sheppard, but the two men were nowhere to be seen. The planet they were on was lush with green vegetation and the air was scented with wildflowers that grew in abundance near the gate.
“How should I know…they came through just before us,” McKay snapped. “Sheppard! Ronon! If this is some kind of joke, it’s not funny!”
“I do not think Colonel Sheppard or Ronon would play a joke, Rodney. Something is wrong,” Teyla said and moved away from the gate.
“Maybe there was a mistake in dialing?” McKay said hopefully.
“No, I do not think that’s possible, but something’s out there, Rodney…dial Atlantis!” Teyla ordered and pointed her weapon toward the heavy brush directly in front of them.
“Just do it, Rodney!” Teyla snapped and fired several shots as a large creature exited the brush.
“I’m dialing!” McKay shouted, eyes wide at the sight of the creature that reminded him of a tiger and a bear at the same time.
“Rodney!” Teyla shouted as the creature lumbered toward them.
McKay began shooting as the Stargate was activated.
“Unscheduled incoming wormhole!”
“Who is it?” Woolsey asked worriedly.
“Dr. McKay’s IDC, sir,” Chet answered.
“They only just left! Open the iris!” Woolsey ordered. He looked down as the iris opened and watched as McKay and Teyla hurried through.
“Shut it down!” McKay ordered, only slightly relieved when the iris closed.
“Where are Colonel Sheppard and Ronon?” Woolsey asked upon joining them.
“We don’t know… they didn’t come through on the other side!” McKay answered.
“That’s not possible!” Woolsey said.
“Obviously it is,” McKay snapped impatiently as he shrugged off his pack and moved toward the main communication room. “We need to run a diagnostic and find out what happened.”
“What about the Marcosians?” Woolsey asked.
“There was no sign of any Marcosians,” Teyla answered.
“The only living thing we saw had saber teeth and claws!” McKay spat. “Something must have happened to divert the gate which means Sheppard and Ronon are probably with the Marcosians.”
“Chet, contact the Marcosians and find out if Colonel Sheppard and Ronon made it through!” Woolsey ordered as McKay began checking the computer. He glanced at his watch and silently waited for him to finish what he was doing.
“Sir, I have the Marcosian war minister and he says they are still waiting for us to send Colonel Sheppard’s team through,” Chet answered.
“That’s not possible,” Woolsey said and stood behind Chet. “This is Richard Woolsey…To whom am I speaking?”
“This is War Minister Dri. We are awaiting the arrival of Colonel Sheppard’s team.”
“Colonel Sheppard’s team stepped through the Stargate approximately 15 minutes ago. Are you sure they are not there?”
“I am sorry, but no one has come through,” Dri answered.
“Would you check to see if your gate has malfunctioned?”
“We are doing so now, but there does not seem to be a problem with our gate. Perhaps you misdialed.”
“No, we dialed the proper sequence,” Woolsey told him.
“We must speak with Colonel Sheppard… when do you expect him to return.”
“Look, Colonel Sheppard and Ronon Dex are missing…”
“Are there not four members of Colonel Sheppard’s team?”
“Yes, there are, but only two are missing. Teyla Emmagan and Dr. Rodney McKay are both here.”
“I have no idea where they could be, Mr. Woolsey, but I wish you luck in finding them. Is it possible to send Dr. McKay and Teyla Emmagan---“
“That is not possible until the gate has been thoroughly checked out,” Woolsey answered.
“I give you my word they will not be harmed.”
“I will not take that chance.”
“Then we have nothing more to talk about! Goodbye, Mr. Woolsey.”
“Now just a minute…”
“He’s ended the transmission, Mr. Woolsey,” Chet told him.
“Damn it!” Woolsey cursed softly. “Dr. McKay, we need to know what happened.”
“I’m working on it, but it takes time to go through all the permutations!” McKay snapped.
“Yes, well, keep at it!” Woolsey ordered. If anyone could figure out what had happened and where they should be searching for Sheppard and Dex, it was McKay.
“Tell Zelenka I need him to run a diagnostic on the gate itself!”
“Done,” Woolsey said and turned to Teyla. “I need to know everything you can tell me about the Marcosians.”
“Of course,” Teyla said and followed him to his office.
Ronon slowly peeled open one eye and then the other, slamming them shut again as a bright light shone in his eyes. He could hear voices, but they made little sense until the pounding in his skull finally stopped. He tried to move, but found it impossible with his arms tied above his head and his legs secured to a bolt in the floor.
He struggled to escape his bonds, but the more he fought the tighter they became and he finally just sagged against the chains holding him to the roof. He could hear haggard breathing on his right and turned to see who it was, not all that surprised to find John Sheppard in much the same position as he was. The difference was that blood was slowly dripping from Sheppard’s shirt onto the stone floor.
“Sheppard…Sheppard...” Ronon called the name several times, but there was no response from the other prisoner. Sheppard hung by his arms; eyes closed, and skin pasty white as though he’d been bleeding for some time. “Sheppard…”
“Easy, Sheppard, don’t try to move.”
“What the hell happened?”
“I don’t know… I remember stepping through the Stargate, but don’t remember anything after that.”
“It’s ob… obvious we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
“Sorry, fr… from an old mo… movie I saw as a k… kid,” Sheppard answered.
“You must have watched a lot of movies…”
“What’d you do for fun?”
“Learned how to dismantle a weapon and hunt a Shrelian,” Ronon answered.
“A Shrelian…kind of looks like one of them raptors from that park movie you showed me,” Ronon answered but grew quiet when someone entered their cell.
“So, you are finally awake…”
“All things considered I’d rather still be asleep,” Sheppard quipped.
“Or in Kansas,” Dex added and heard a soft chuckle from his fellow prisoner. “Who are you people?”
“We are the true Marcosian people…”
“As opposed to?” Sheppard managed weakly.
“The people that contacted you,” the man spat. “They must learn the consequences of bringing in strangers.”
“We came here be… be…”
“It does not matter why you came here, Colonel Sheppard, what matter is what your people will give up to get you back.”
“My people won’t negotiate---”
“Then you will die,” the man said and quickly stood in front of Sheppard.
“Been told that a few ti… times,” John spat.
“Not by me!” the man warned and pushed against the wound in Sheppard’s right side.
John clenched his teeth, but was unable to stop the cry that escaped his throat. He could hear Ronon cursing his tormentor, but there was nothing he could do as the man continued to press his fingers into the raw wound. He struggled for control even as his body slammed back into the rough stone wall of his cell, but nothing could save him from the fiery torment heaped on his body by the Marcosian.
“Let him go! You’re killing him!” Ronon snarled, but the man simply turned his head slightly and showed gaping holes where teeth should have been.
“He will die eventually, but not today… not until we have what we need. You and he do not belong to the same race. He has an old marker that speaks of the Ancients. Is he one of them?”
“What does it matter to you?”
“There are others who would pay handsomely for an Ancient, especially one who has the strong genes that have shown up in this one,” the man said and finally released Sheppard, showing his bloodied hand to the Satedan as he spoke. “There are stories that the new people on Atlantis have discovered a way to give others the Ancient gene, but it is also said that it is not as strong as those who come by it naturally. Is this true?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Ronon said. He could barely see Sheppard as their captor stood before him, but there was no doubt that John was bleeding badly. “Look, he needs help…”
“He is not your concern.”
“Do you really want him to die?” Dex asked.
“Eventually,” the man answered.
“Then let me help him… he’ll bleed out if you don’t let me help him! What good is a dead Ancient to you?”
“Perhaps you are right, but I must warn you that he will suffer if you try to escape.”
“Why would I want to escape such hospitality?” Dex asked sarcastically.
“Your friend bleeds a lot,” the man said.
“Happens when someone digs around your insides as if they were planting something!” Ronon snarled.
“Yes, I’m sure it does. You will take care of him.”
“Bring me what I need and release me and I will,” Ronon answered.
“Very well, but remember my warning,” the man said and left the two men alone.
“I’m here,” John managed.
“Bad enough… Bastard likes digging around,” Sheppard answered.
“Least he is going to let me take care of it,” Dex said, shaking as the pain in his head reminded him he’d also been injured.
“Yeah, just hit my head… Keller said it was the safest place,” Ronon quipped.
“Is that a joke… ’cause right now I’m not in the mood to laugh,” Sheppard told him.
“I bet,” Dex said as two men entered and quickly released him. He dropped to his knees and rubbed the circulation back into his hands as they unlocked Sheppard’s arms. He heard a sharp cry from his friend, but could do nothing until the men released Sheppard’s legs. Once that was done they left without a word, but the lights grew brighter as he stood up and moved to help the injured colonel to his feet.
“Remind me not to ignore my in… instincts anymore,” Sheppard managed as Ronon lowered him onto a small cot in the corner.
“You and me both,” Ronon said and lifted Sheppard’s shirt to reveal the savage wound in his side.
“How’s it l... look?” Sheppard asked, painfully aware of Ronon’s hands touching the wound.
“Bad enough, I need to see if it went through,” the Satedan said and pulled Sheppard onto his left side, ignoring the barely muffled cries from the injured man. “Damn!”
“Crap…guess that means I set off the metal detectors.”
“The what-never mind, tell me later,” Dex said. “I don’t have anything to take it out.”
“Leave it…Keller can handle it when we get back,” Sheppard ordered and tried to sit up.
“Be still. I need to clean this,” Dex said and turned as the door opened and two males entered. Neither one spoke as they placed a bowl of water and some medical supplies on the floor just inside the door. He stood up to retrieve them even as the Marcosians left.
“Any morphine in that thing?”
“Sorry… just water and bandages,” Ronon answered and wet a piece of cloth.
Sheppard held his breath as Ronon cleaned the blood from the wound. It amazed him that the big Satedan was remarkably gentle as he eased the cloth over the wound. John knew the bullet in his side posed a problem because it would cause an infection if left there for too long.
Ronon had seen wounds like this before, but not since he was a young man on a hunting trip with friends. They’d been using projectile weapons when Jonad had accidentally wounded their trainer. They were two days from help and the wound had festered until the adult was overcome by fever and died before reaching the city. Jonad never got over causing the older man’s death and refused to lift another weapon no matter the cause.
“Ronon, it’ll be okay,” Sheppard said softly when he saw sadness come over his friend’s face.
“Had a friend shot like this…bad…”
“What happened to him?” Sheppard asked, yet somehow he knew what the answer would be.
“He died… we didn’t get him help in time,” Ronon answered and felt John’s hand on his arm.
“I’m not him, Ronon,” Sheppard said through clenched teeth as the Satedan lifted him forward and wrapped the bandage around his waist.
“Good, got enough ghosts haunting my ass already,” Ronon said with a grin.
“We need to get w… word back to Atlantis…”
“Any idea what happened to Teyla and McKay?”
“They never came through the gate,” Sheppard said.
“Think they’re okay?”
“Hope so,” John said, swallowing convulsively in an effort to quell the mounting nausea churning through his gut. He held his arm tight against his right side and tried to stand, but Ronon stopped him.
“Stay put or you’ll start bleeding again,” he warned.
“We need to get out of here,” Sheppard told him.
“I know, but right now, you need to rest. I’ll check this place out.”
“Ronon, if you find a way… don’t wait for me… get help.”
“I’m not leaving you behind, Sheppard!”
“Ronon, we’ve had this argument before.”
“You lost then too… should be getting used to it by now,” Ronon said and moved to the door.
“Aren’t we all?” Ronon asked, turning when he heard a cry from the injured man. “Told you to stay put!”
“Yeah, well I told you to go without me!” Sheppard sputtered as Ronon latched onto his arm and steadied him.
“There’s just the one door,” Ronon said, purposefully ignoring Sheppard’s comment.
“Don’t know yet… was going to check, but some hard head decided…”
“According to Keller, you’re the one with the hard head remember?”
“Funny,” Dex said and helped Sheppard lean against the wall while he checked the door.
“Yeah,” Ronon answered. “You might as well sit down before you fall down.”
“You’re one to talk. How’s the head?”
“I left it on the floor… figured I’d pick it up later when we need someone to think of a way out…”
“You sound like McKay,” Sheppard said, relieved to have Dex to lean on as they made it the short distance across the floor. He clenched his fists as Ronon helped him sit down. “Thanks…”
“Any time,” Ronon said as the door opened and four Marcosians entered.
“You are to come with us!” the larger of the four ordered.
“Come on, Sheppard.”
“Not you… only the Ancient one,” the man said.
“I don’t think so!” Ronon spat and found himself facing down a dangerous looking gun.
“It’s okay, Ronon… he said he wouldn’t kill me.”
“Yet,” Dex finished for him, but stared at the man who’d spoken. “He’s hurt… he’ll need help!”
“Arbu, Sobon, pick him up.”
“Yes, Durelli,” Sobon said and moved toward Sheppard.
“Go to hell!” Dex said and cried out when the gun was slammed into his chest.
“Ronon! Look, just leave him alone and I’ll go with you!” Sheppard said, relieved when Durelli moved away from the Satedan.
“Bring him,” Durelli ordered as Sobon and Arbu grabbed his arms and dragged him from the room.
John could hear Ronon cursing as he tried to get to his feet, but the door was closed behind them even as Dex slammed his body against the inside of the barrier. Sheppard tried to ignore the pain in his side, and gritted his teeth with each step he took. He lost track of how many twists and turns they made before stopping in front of an ornate door that Durelli opened with a touch of his fingertips.
John looked around as he was dragged inside and spotted the Marcosian who thought his side was fertile ground for digging in. His escorts quickly shoved him onto a chair and secured his arms and legs with metal clamps before leaving him alone with the bigger man.
“Colonel Sheppard, I am Prager and since my brother invited you here I thought it only right that I meet you first. There are some things I need to know before I turn you over to the scientists,” Prager said and sat on the edge of the desk Sheppard was placed in front of.
“Got nothing to say!” Sheppard spat.
“Perhaps not yet, but what if we were to bring your friend here and make him suffer for each wrong answer you give?”
“Perhaps, but could you sit there and watch his suffering without speaking?”
“Ronon’d understand,” Sheppard repeated and noted the fury in the Marcosian’s dark eyes.
“You will tell me what I want to know!” Prager said and placed his hands on the arms of the chair so that he was face to face with Sheppard.
“Already said I got nothing to say!”
“How many Atlantians are there?”
“More than one… less than a million… give or take a few,” Sheppard said with a lopsided grin. “I never was very good at math… Sorry.”
“How many?” Prager repeated and slammed his fist into Sheppard’s right side.
“Do not lie to me, Colonel…”
“Not lying… just not sure how m… many there a… are,” Sheppard lied as he tried to ride out the pain.
“Do you know how to use the Ancient weapons?”
“Forks and knives are about all we have… Cut myself shaving once so the knives are really sharp,” Sheppard answered.
“You think you’re smart…”
“Rodney thinks so… at least he did when he found out I passed the MENSA test.”
“What is the correct sequence to the gate on Atlantis?”
“967-11-11,” Sheppard repeated the number for the pizza joint McKay raved about. He’d never had the pleasure, but someday McKay was going to make good on the promise of a party size pizza with pepperoni, cheese, and Canadian bacon.
“That is not correct, Colonel…”
“It’s not? Damn, how will I get home now?”
“I will send you home… at least I will send your body home, but not before I get what I want. You will contact your people and tell them to send weapons for your return…”
“I can do that. I’m sure Mr. Woolsey can part with a few dozen forks and knives… maybe even send someone along to show you the proper use of both,” Sheppard said and again saw the Marcosian’s eyes darken with anger. He tried to set his mind and body for the attack he knew was coming, but the man was faster than he’d thought possible. Several blows landed on his abdomen, while two connected with his face and darkness swam at the edge of his vision. He chuckled softly when he noted the way his attacker’s nostrils flared, but darkness won out and he descended into the waiting abyss.
Ronon paced the narrow confines of his cell, slamming his fists into the wall as he thought about John Sheppard and what their captors were doing to him. He had no way of knowing how much time passed since Sheppard had been taken away, but it was way too long as far as he was concerned.
Ronon slammed an open palm against the heavy door, cursing at the Marcosians and hoping they would open it, but so far there’d been no sign that anyone had heard. He made his way to the back of the cell and slid down the wall as pain hammered through his skull.
He closed his eyes in an effort to ease the torment, but tiny flashes of light continued to bother him and he could hear Keller berating him for not resting. He leaned his head back against the wall, listening for anything that would tell him the Marcosians were returning with Sheppard, but it wasn’t long before he drifted into the nightmares he often had about Sateda and the family he’d lost.
He wasn’t sure what woke him, but he slowly opened his eyes to the near darkness of the cell. He could make out the deeper shadows in the darkness and stopped when his eyes lit on what could only be a body just inside the door.
“Sheppard?” Ronon whispered and tried to stand, but the pain caused by the quick movement sent daggers through his head. Ignoring his own discomfort, He crawled to where his friend lay. By the time he made it across the short distance, he thought his head Would explode, but again he ignored it when Sheppard didn’t move. He reached out and gently turned the man over, cursing when he noted the bruises on his face and fresh blood on the bandage around his waist.
“I’ll kill them!”
“I’m here, Sheppard, you’re not looking too good right now,” Dex offered.
“Not feeling too good either,” Sheppard said and tried to sit up. “Bastard’s heavy handed.”
“Looks like it… you’re bleeding like a stuck Quava.”
“A what?” Sheppard asked weakly.
“A small animal I hunted as a boy…”
“Thought you only hunted big animals?”
“Well, it did have two inch fangs and talons that could gut you with one swipe.”
“Damn, Ronon, were there any friendly animals on Sateda?”
“A few, but mostly there were predators,” Dex said and eased the bandage away from the wound. “What did they want?”
“The usual… how many people are on Atlantis and how many weapons we have.”
“What did you tell them?” Ronon asked, wincing sympathetically as he looked at the wound.
“I told them there were more than one and less than a million…”
“Just a little,” Sheppard said with a grin. “Told them we’d gladly send them a few forks and knives and show them how to use them properly.”
“I bet that went over well.”
“You o… okay, Ronon?” Sheppard asked softly.
“I’m fine,” Dex said and forced a smile to his face. “We need to get out of here.”
“I’m open for ideas,” Sheppard said and let his eyes close once more as the darkness reached for him.
“Don’t you go dying on me, Sheppard.”
“I’m not planning on check… ing out just yet.”
“Good, hate having to break in a new colonel.”
“You’re all heart,” Sheppard said with a grin, but kept his eyes closed as Ronon cleaned the wound and re-bandaged it.
“Wish Beckett or Keller was here.”
“Not me… no telling what these bastards would do to them.”
“That’s not what I meant…”
“I know… nothing you can do about it so let it go and get some rest,” Sheppard ordered softly as Ronon shifted position so that he could lean on him. It wasn’t long before his head was resting on Dex’s leg and he heard the bigger man’s soft snoring. “I got your back, Ronon,” John whispered, but soon lost consciousness.
Rodney McKay had never felt as frustrated as he was right now. No matter how many sequences and permutations he keyed in, the answer remained unchanged. John Sheppard and Ronon Dex should have exited through the same gate as he and Teyla, but they hadn’t. Woolsey had sent Lorne’s team to the planet, but they’d reported back that there was no sign of the missing men. The only inhabitants they reported seeing were large creatures that the team said reminded them of dinosaurs.
“Rodney, are you sure you’re inputting the data properly?”
“I’m not some freshman, Radek, I know what I’m doing,” McKay snapped impatiently.
“I know that, Rodney, but you’ve been at this for hours and maybe you need a break…”
“Sheppard and Ronon may not have the time,” McKay said and keyed in another sequence, watching as number after number crossed the screen.
“We could be missing something important,” Zelenka observed.
“We are, but I can’t figure it out. See this series of numbers?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact I have seen them a few times. What do they mean?” Radek asked.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out. As near as I can tell they are a second set of symbols for the gate on the Marcosian home world, but not to the same gate…”
“Are you saying they have two working gates?” Zelenka asked.
“I think so, but that still doesn’t explain why Teyla and I ended up on Jurassic Park,” McKay said, shuddering at the thought of the creatures on the planet. Lorne’s description had described them as a cross between a T-rex and a Triceratops and Rodney had no wish to see if it was an apt description or not.
“Perhaps it was just a glitch in the system.”
“Maybe, but if it was, why did the Marcosians say Sheppard and Ronon hadn’t come through the gate,” McKay said and looked at the screen before rubbing at his eyes.
“What if they didn’t come through that gate? What if the second gate is operational and Colonel Sheppard and Ronon went through that one?”
“It’s possible, but it would mean these people are far more advanced than they let on.”
“Like the Genii?”
“Don’t remind me of them,” McKay said. He knew the Genii were allies now, but there were those amongst them who didn’t like the Atlantians and would act if they thought they could take the city by force. Ladon Radim had made it known to his people that he wanted to keep peace between their worlds and had stepped up to the plate when Acastus Kolya had kidnapped and imprisoned John Sheppard. The worst part was that Kolya had allowed a half starved Wraith to feed on Sheppard before they’d finally escaped.
“Rodney, if we can prove the Marcosians are involved, we might be able to force their hand,” Zelenka suggested.
“By forcing their hand we might end up getting Sheppard and Ronon killed,” McKay said and turned to find Teyla and Woolsey striding toward them.
“Did you find anything that might help?” Teyla asked.
“Nothing concrete, but we think it’s possible that there’s another gate on the Marcosian planet,” McKay said and went on to explain what he and Zelenka had discovered.
“War Minister Dri didn’t mention a second gate,” Woolsey explained.
“He could be lying or he may not know of the existence of the second gate,” McKay told him.
“How do we find out one way or the other?” Zelenka asked.
“We need to go to Marcosia and speak with War Minister Dri directly,” McKay suggested.
“That could be dangerous considering they may already be guilty of kidnapping Colonel Sheppard and Ronon,” Woolsey said.
“What choice do we have?” Teyla asked seriously.
“There’s always another choice,” Woolsey offered.
“Yes, but do we have the time to come up with them?” Zelenka asked.
“I don’t think we can take any chances. War Minister Dri may not be involved in their disappearance, but he should be able to shed some light on whoever has them if…”
“If we’re right about them being on Marcosia,” McKay said.
“Exactly, plus War Minister Dri did not think much of our policies and I doubt he would welcome us with open arms,” Woolsey explained.
“Perhaps we could take a cloaked Jumper through the stargate…”
“What if we wind up on that planet of horrors, Teyla?” McKay asked.
“We’ll be safe as long as we’re in the Jumper…”
“Not if there are flying reptiles like the ones from the Jurassic era on Earth,” McKay told her.
“Cloaking would keep them from discovering our presence,” Teyla offered.
“The only problem I can see is getting the correct dialing sequence for Marcosia if the one we have is wrong.” Zelenka said.
“We just have to find the glitch and that should give us the correct dialing sequence, but it will take time to find out where the mistake was made and how to correct it so we don’t get sent to the wrong address again,” McKay explained then frowned.
“Rodney, what is it?” Teyla asked.
“What if the second gate was activated and Teyla and I went through that one while Sheppard and Ronon went through the other one,” McKay said and turned to Teyla. “Didn’t you say the Marcosians moved around a lot?”
“Yes, they do, because of the creatures on their world,” Teyla answered and knew where McKay was going with this. “So you think we really were on Marcosia?”
“It’s a distinct possibility. It happened on Earth.”
“To Carter and O’Neill, but when the gate was activated, didn’t they get what Dr. Jackson called a busy signal?” Woolsey supplied.
“Yes, they did, at least that’s the best explanation for what happened,” McKay supplied. “We’ll need to verify a few things, but the best way to do that is with a fly by and---”
“I’ll have Major Lorne’s team ready to go as soon as we have confirmation,” Woolsey assured him. “Meanwhile I will contact War Minister Dri and insist on meeting him face to face.”
“Just be careful, he may or may not be involved, but until we know for sure it’s best to err on the side of caution,” McKay said and knew wherever Sheppard and Ronon were, they needed help or they would have found a way to contact Atlantis.
Prager knew he would get nowhere with John Sheppard or Ronon Dex. The two men were military types with special training that went far beyond anything his world provided, yet they could still be of use to him. If he could contact Atlantis and give them an ultimatum then he could get the weapons he needed to take control of the city and kill War Minister Dri. That would leave only him as the sole survivor of his line and it would be within his rights to take control of the city.
Prager looked at the screen before him and studied the two men closely. Ronon Dex seemed overly protective of Colonel John Sheppard and that was something he might use to his advantage when the time came. John Sheppard had the Ancient gene and would be studied by his personal scientists to see if they could figure out a way to reproduce the gene artificially. He knew they probably had some kind of tracking device on them, but his scientists assured him that they had effectively dampened the signal so that it would be unreadable to anyone searching for the two men.
“What will Atlantis part with to get you two back?” Prager whispered, yet he knew there was no way he would give up the possibility of discovering who and what Sheppard was. He touched the screen and smiled when he noticed Sheppard was moving around and on the verge of waking.
John shifted and tried to sit up, but stopped when his body shook with pain. He touched the bandage covering the right side of his abdomen, not really surprised to find it tacky with blood. He held his breath, managed to sit up, and turned to look at his fellow prisoner.
Ronon looked like hell, with a bruise visible on the left side of his face while the rest of his skin looked paler than he thought possible. He knew Ronon had been struck a couple of times and knew he’d been suffering from one hell of a headache, but right now there was nothing he could do to help. He shifted slightly, and noticed a blinking red light in one corner of the cell and knew they were being watched.
‘Probably Prager,’ he thought and tried to stand, but found he lacked the strength and agility to do so. He glanced toward Ronon and knew what he had to do, but he also understood how stubborn the Satedan could be. Ronon was their only hope of escape, but could he convince the man it was the right thing to do?
The word was so soft Sheppard thought he imagined it, but one look at Dex told him the man was awake. “You don’t even know what I was going to say,” Sheppard said and leaned heavily against his friend.
“Don’t need to… The answer is still no,” Dex told him without opening his eyes.
“Get out of here together,” Ronon told him.
“We’re being watched,” Sheppard observed and motioned toward the blinking light.
“I see that,” Dex said with a slight grin.
“Maybe we could bore him to death,” Sheppard suggested.
“Need McKay for that, he could talk him to death,” Ronon said and heard a raspy chuckle from Sheppard. “How’s the side?”
“Still there,” the Colonel answered.
“I should take a look at it.”
“It’ll keep,” Sheppard told him. “How’s the head?”
“Don’t know… hurts too much to think about,” Dex said, but continued to watch the red light Sheppard had pointed out. He felt Sheppard leaning against him and helped ease him down until Sheppard’s head rested against his leg before returning his attention to the camera and whoever was watching them.
War Minister Dri knew who was behind John Sheppard and Ronon Dex’s disappearance, but there was nothing he could do about that now. He knew his only course of action was to contact Atlantis and ask for their help.
Prager was a part of his linage and had just as much right to the leadership of the city as he did, but fate had seen him be the lucky one and placed in charge. Now Prager seemed to have found a group of followers and had interfered in his plans for John Sheppard and his team. He wanted an alliance with Atlantis, but he wanted it forged in blood as was the rite of his people because an alliance where there were hostages was one that could be upheld with an agreement signed in blood.
“War Minister, Atlantis has requested permission to send a representative to talk with you,” Brackle advised.
“What do they want?” the war minister asked of his second in command.
“They wish to speak with you about their missing people.”
“I know nothing about them.”
“Is it possible Prager intercepted the signal from Atlantis?’
“It is possible, but there is no proof that he found a second gate,” Dri told him.
been rumors amongst the troops.”
“Rumors only, Brackle. Until there is proof we must believe our Stargate is the only one available on Marcosia.”
“What should I tell the Atlantians?”
War Minister Dri thought about the possibility of securing a hostage, but he knew the Atlantians would not allow that to happen, especially if they believed he had something to do with Sheppard and Dex’s disappearance. For now he would simply open talks and allow the Atlantian representative to feel at ease.
“What should I tell them?” Brackle repeated.
“Tell them I will allow them through the Stargate, and bring them here once they come through,” Dri told him.
“Yes, War Minister.”
Dri walked to the window and stared out as the sun dipped below the horizon and knew it would not be long before darkness overtook the land. The city would shut down and be blanketed with fear until daylight. The creatures that often foraged into the city had made it necessary to stay inside after the sun disappeared for the night. His people had always moved around, but that had changed some time ago, yet he knew the stories about his world still circulated amongst the other planets in this system.
“Where are you, Prager?” he thought angrily.
“Mr. Woolsey, War Minister Dri has agreed to meet with you,” Chuck explained after knocking on Woolsey’s door.
“Very well,” Woolsey said and shut down his laptop. “Have Dr. Zelenka join me in the gateroom.”
“Yes, sir,” Chuck answered and left the room.
Richard Woolsey sighed heavily and left his office. McKay and Teyla would be joining Lorne’s team and taking a Jumper to Marcosia while Radek Zelenka accompanied him and Major Grant’s team to Marcosia to speak with War Minister Dri. If McKay was right, they should be able to access the second gate by using a series of symbols that mirrored the first set.
Woolsey made his way to the Gateroom and hoped Major Grant could handle the Marcosians. The man was rather large, built like a football player, and as tough as nails. He spotted the man speaking with several of his team and hurried toward them as McKay piloted a Puddle Jumper through the gate.
Woolsey nodded to Grant as Zelenka joined them and they were soon surrounded by the off world team. He knew they could be walking into a trap, but if Teyla was right then the Marcosians were not very advanced in weaponry. He wondered if that was the real reason for Sheppard and Dex’s disappearance. Did the War Minister honestly expect them to hand over weapons or was there another reason for his request? What was it the man had that he thought Atlantis needed? Right now the only thing he wanted was the return of Sheppard and Ronon.
“Mr. Woolsey, you and Dr. Zelenka should stay here…”
“We need to meet with War Minister Dri, Major Grant,” Woolsey told him and motioned for the other man to move out.
“Just don’t take any chances. My team knows what they’re doing so stay between us,” Donald Grant ordered as they moved toward the swirling whirlpool and stepped through.
Rodney McKay flew the cloaked Puddle Jumper while Major Lorne sat in the seat next to him. Teyla and the other members of Lorne’s team were in the back, but each person was ready for anything. McKay had watched for any signal that would tell them Dex and Sheppard were nearby, but if they were then something was interfering with their subcutaneous trackers.
“Anything, Rodney?” Teyla asked as she joined them.
“Nothing… either they’re not here or something’s interfering with the signal,” McKay answered.
“Or the Marcosians could have removed them,” Lorne offered.
“Exactly,” McKay agreed. “Keep watching for those creatures that attacked Teyla and me.”
“Are you sure this is the same place?” Lorne asked, jumping when a large birdlike creature flew across their path.
“I think that would be a yes,” McKay answered sarcastically and pointed to a clearing on their right. “Teyla and I would have been food for one of those things.”
“Thank god for cloaked Jumpers,” Lorne said.
“Any idea what direction we should check?” McKay asked.
“The Marcosian city is south, and if we’re right about there being a secondary faction then I’d say we check north and then east and west before we check in with Woolsey,” Lorne answered.
Ronon heard movement outside the door as it opened and a young woman entered carrying a tray with what he hoped was food and water. Two males stood just inside the door, both holding weapons trained on him and Sheppard.
“You must eat,” the woman said, her eyes downcast as she moved toward the door. The two guard remained where they were until she was gone, then they followed her out and locked the door behind them.
“Sheppard, food’s here.”
“Huh…what?” Sheppard muttered.
“Steak and ribs?” Sheppard asked.
“No... let’s call it mystery meat,” Dex told him as he helped the injured man sit forward.
“Think I’ll pass.”
“Wish we could, but if we’re going to get out of here we need to eat and drink,” Ronon said and handed Sheppard a bottle of what he hoped was water.
John took several sips, surprised to find the liquid had a sweet taste and was ice cold. He held the bottle against his forehead and felt it cooling him down. He shifted slightly and was quickly reminded of the bullet lodged in his side, but he managed to muffle a gasp as Ronon reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Try not to move around,” Dex warned.
“Does that mean you decided to go for help?”
“We go together,” Ronon told him and handed him a warm biscuit. “Eat.”
“Yes, Mom,” Sheppard said and bit into the biscuit, again surprised at how good it tasted. His stomach rumbled as he took another bite and he watched as Ronon chewed his biscuit with little interest. Ronon seemed fixated on the flashing red light and John knew he was thinking about how they could hide their escape if they were being watched.
“We need to get rid of that,” Ronon said softly.
“I know,” Sheppard agreed. “Maybe there’s a blind spot.”
“A blind spot… a place where the camera doesn’t reach. It always works that way in the movies,” Sheppard told him.
“So how do we find it?”
“Move around… watch the blinking light and see how far it goes,” John explained quietly and hoped whoever was watching couldn’t pick up on their conversation. He watched as Ronon stood as if stretching and began walking around their cell. The camera seemed to follow him until he reached the far corner near the main door before it panned back and stopped on Sheppard once more.
It didn’t move again until Ronon moved back into the room and slid down next to Sheppard.
“It probably works by motion sensor,” John observed and knew he needed to convince Ronon to escape without him if possible. He turned to his teammate, and sighed heavily.
“No,” Dex said.
“You don’t even know what I was going to say.”
“We leave together, Sheppard… End of story!”
“Damn it!” Sheppard cursed and knew he was getting nowhere and accepted a biscuit from Ronon. “Okay, since you won’t go without me we need a plan to get us both out.”
“Exactly,” Ronon said with a self satisfied smile.
“You said that already… So any ideas on how we get out of here?”
“No, maybe we could rush the guards… Crap, that won’t work.”
“I don’t think I’ll be rushing anything…”
“Point taken, but if you can keep them occupied, maybe I can surprise them,” Ronon explained.
“You’d have to stay out of the camera’s range,” Sheppard said.
“No problem, but you’ll need to be able to move…”
“Now, that could be a problem,” John told him seriously.
“Suck it up, Sheppard,” Dex said and finished the last biscuit. He studied Sheppard’s face and realized the fine sheen of sweat spoke of the fever already raging in his friend’s body.
“Trying, Ronon, but if---”
“Don’t! We’re in this together… we get out together… Deal?”
“Deal?” Dex repeated.
“Deal - as long as we can move before I pass out!” Sheppard groused.
“Do that and we’re both stuck here,” Ronon said and watched as his friend closed his eyes. He knew Sheppard was in rough shape and needed help fast, but for now they were both prisoners. They needed to escape before the bastard came back for Sheppard, because the man had already suffered enough at Prager’s hands.
Richard Woolsey and Radek Zelenka waited anxiously for War Minister Dri to make his appearance. Major Grant and his team were also present and it was clear that they were ready to handle any problems. Woolsey walked to the window overlooking the city and was reminded of the skyline of New York City. There were so many similarities that Woolsey thought it could have been designed by the same person. He wondered where Teyla had gotten the story about the Marcosians being a nomadic people, because this certainly belied that rumor.
“Mr. Woolsey, I believe War Minister Dri has arrived,” Zelenka said as the doors slid upward and a tall man dressed in red silken robes walked in.
“War Minister Dri, thank you for allowing us to visit your home,” Woolsey said.
“You are welcome, Mr. Woolsey, but I am afraid I have no news on your missing people,” the war minister told him.
“That is why we are here,” Woolsey said. He had decided not to tell the war minister that they were 99% sure there was a second gate, but that did not mean he could not suggest it and see where it took them. “Is it possible that you have a second gate here?”
“The only gate is the one in the council chambers and no one is allowed access to it without my permission,” Dri explained.
“Have you started a search for Colonel Sheppard and Ronon?” Zelenka asked.
“We saw no reason to search for them since they did not come through the gate. I am sorry.”
“War minister, I would like to request permission to search for Colonel Sheppard and Ronon Dex,” Woolsey said.
“I see no logic in searching---”
“Perhaps if it was a member of your family you would better understand how we feel,” Woolsey snapped.
“Do you really believe we have a second gate?”
“It is possible, yes, but that does not mean you know where it is located. We have seen it happen before.”
“Is there a way to detect it and find out if it is operational?” Dri asked.
“It is possible, Dr. Zelenka may be able to find it if he is allowed access to your gate,” Woolsey offered. “Will you allow him to check the readings?”
“As long as he does not interfere with the operation of our gate.”
“I assure you Dr. Zelenka has never broken anything,” Woolsey said with a grin and followed the War Minister toward their gateroom.
Rodney flew the Puddle Jumper low over a river in search of the missing men. They’d spotted several people, but it was easy to see they were locals. There’d been no sign of the missing men, but Teyla had spotted a rather large creature that looked like a cross between a T-Rex and a Triceratops. The large animal had stopped chasing whatever meal it was after and stared into the sky. Rodney had reacted instinctively and flew the cloaked Jumper higher.
“It’s strange, but I think those creatures know we’re here,” McKay said.
“It does appear that way,” Teyla said.
“Maybe they remember your scent from the last time you were here, Dr. McKay… Canadian bacon,” Lorne suggested with a hint of a smile.
“Remind me to laugh at that later, Major,” McKay said and continued to follow the river as it flowed southwest. He knew they were also checking for a gate, but so far they’d found nothing to suggest it existed. There were plenty of animals in the area, most looked like predators, and Rodney did not want to get close to any of them.
“Rodney, perhaps if you moved away from the river and followed that trail,” Teyla suggested, and pointed to a trail leading toward the mountains in the east.
“All right,” McKay agreed and turned in the direction she indicated. There were several large bird-like creatures hovering over something hidden from their view and McKay heard a loud screech as if something was in pain. He banked to the left and saw one the creatures, a young one trapped beneath a fallen tree that held it captive.
The creature’s cries were weak and they knew the waiting ‘birds’ would soon swoop down for their helpless meal.
“It seems life is the same on every planet,” Lorne said.
“What do you mean?” Teyla asked.
“Survival of the fittest, or in this case, survival of the vultures,” McKay answered and bypassed the scene as he followed the trail.
John leaned heavily against the wall as they waited for the guards to open the door. Ronon had moved to the hidden spot where the camera couldn’t reach and John knew the guards would check on him soon. They’d done this three times and each time a single guard opened the door and ordered Ronon to move back before leaving them alone.
“He’s coming,” Dex offered and held his ground to the left of the door. For some reason the guard seemed to instinctively check to the right side first and if he stayed true to form, Ronon would have his chance.
John nodded and held his breath as the door was shoved open and the point of a gun was eased inside before the guard entered. The Marcosian spotted him and turned to the right and John smiled as Ronon grabbed the weapon and struck the man in the back with his elbow.
John watched in awe as his friend quickly dispatched the guard and grabbed his weapon before hitting the light above their heads. It wouldn’t be long before more guards were dispatched to check on them, but he planned to be far away from the cell by then. Ignoring the sharp stab of pain from his side, Sheppard allowed Dex to help him stand and leaned heavily on him as they moved toward the exit.
“Which way?” Sheppard asked.
“Left,” Dex answered and steered the injured man toward the shortest corridor. He ignored the rasping wheeze that signaled Sheppard was in pain and suddenly realized the same could be said of him. Between them they barely had a leg to stand on, but they would never give in to people like Prager.
John knew he was a burden to Ronon, but the Satedan was too damn stubborn to leave him behind. He knew they had to escape before Prager sent the others after them and soon heard the sound of cursing that signaled they were already being pursued.
“Come on, Sheppard, move it!”
“No! We go together or we go back!”
“Shut up and move it!” Dex ordered and reached the end of the corridor. A musty scent permeated the area and Ronon spotted an opening on his right. It didn’t look very big, but he knew it was their only chance. He pushed Sheppard through first and finally managed to squeeze through as a shot kicked up dirt and stone chips behind him.
John concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other as Ronon helped him move away from the opening. It took him a few seconds to realize they’d stopped and he turned to see Ronon staring at something above the opening. “Ronon, what’s wrong?”
“Are you afraid of the dark?’
“Good, I’m going to seal off that opening,” Dex said and aimed the unfamiliar weapon toward the rocky outcropping directly above the opening. It took several well placed shots, but they both breathed a sigh of relief once the rocks formed a barrier and the dust began to settle.
“That bought us some time, but how do we get out of here?” John frowned when he noticed the cavern wasn’t as dark as he expected it to be and reached out to touch his fingertips to the cool stone. “Some kind of natural luminescence.”
“It glows,” Dex said.
“Hopefully it’s natural and we don’t set off the Geiger counters,” Sheppard said and looked around. There were two tunnels leading away from Prager’s cells and he looked to Ronon for a decision on what branch they would take.
“Works for me,” Sheppard answered simply and leaned on his friend as they started toward the tunnel.
Radek Zelenka examined the dialing mechanism, silently wishing Rodney McKay was there. There was no doubt the man was arrogant and that his ego was bigger than anyone Zelenka had ever met, but when it came right down to it, there wasn’t another man he’d rather have at his side.
“Did you find anything?” Woolsey asked.
“Nothing that would indicate a problem with the dialing sequence from this end, but that does not mean there isn’t anything,” Zelenka said and rattled off several sentences in his native language before realizing Woolsey was looking at him strangely. “Sorry, I forget not everyone understands when I lapse into my own language.”
“I have noticed that,” Woolsey said with a slight smile.
“I wish Rodney was here, but if you tell him I said that I will deny it!”
“Dr. McKay’s ego doesn’t need boosting,” Woolsey told him as the War Minister returned.
“Have you found anything?” Dri asked.
“There doesn’t seem to be a problem on your end, but Dr. Zelenka isn’t finished running his tests yet,” Woolsey answered.
“Is there a second gate?” the Marcosian asked.
“We believe there is, but we need to figure out whether it is operational or not,” Zelenka told him.
“Back to getting a busy signal,” Woolsey observed.
“We’re not even getting that right now,” Zelenka offered. “I wonder if the second gate has a different dialing sequence.”
“Wait a minute… What if there’s a third possibility?” Woolsey asked.
“A third Gate?” Zelenka shook his head at the thought.
“War Minister, are you sure Colonel Sheppard and Ronon Dex did not come through your gate?”
“I have not lied to you,” Dri answered coldly.
“Then Colonel Sheppard and Ronon must have gone through a third gate because Dr. McKay and Teyla certainly didn’t see them when they went through the first time,” Woolsey explained.
“The first time!” Dri spat. “I did not give permission for them to return! You will leave immediately!”
“War Minister, I apologize for not seeking permission, but it was important that we search for the missing men. If there is another gate---”
“I do not care if there is another gate! You will leave immediately!”
“War Minister, you do not want to make enemies of my people!” Woolsey warned.
“Do not threaten---”
“It was not a threat, it was a promise,” Woolsey said softly, with just a hint of anger in his voice. “My people came here at your request and two of them are missing. I refuse to leave until we find out what happened to them!”
“Then you will be placed under arrest!”
“Is that right?” Woolsey asked as Major Grant and his team moved to protect him and Zelenka. “I believe Major Grant will have something to say about that!”
“Major Grant is only one man!”
“His team is well trained and they will not hesitate to use force if need be,” Woolsey told Dri. “Now if you allow us to search for Colonel Sheppard and Ronon Dex, we will be more than willing to help you with whatever problem made you seek us out in the first place.”
“You will help me?” Dri asked hopefully.
“We will do what we can. Why don’t we let Dr. Zelenka continue his work and you explain to me what is happening on your world?”
“My world is in trouble, Mr. Woolsey, that is the reason we asked you to come here.”
“So you have nothing that belongs to us?”
“No, sadly, that was a ruse on my part and I apologize for doing that, but I am desperate for help in fighting my brother. He thinks he should be in charge of our world, but I am first born and it is my right.”
“I was told yours was a nomadic people. What changed?”
“We were, but the discovery of the gate made it necessary for us to build a city around it. We protect it and use it when the creatures from the northern continent travel south. They no longer come into the city and my people feel safe now,” Dri explained.
“When did you and your brother part ways?”
“Part ways?” the War Minister asked curiously.
“When did he decide he wanted to be in charge?”
“Several cycles ago when the discovery of the Stargate gave us the means to travel more freely,” Dri explained. “Prager was my right hand until he decided he no longer wanted to follow my rules. He and several others left the city and moved north where they set up a settlement in the caves and tunnel systems in the mountains.”
“Have you tried talking with him now that he has his own people?”
“I have sent several men to meet with him and offer to open talks, but they have not returned.”
“Perhaps they decided to join your brother?”
“No, they would not leave their families without someone to take care of them. Of the six men I sent, five are married and have children while the other takes care of his elderly Frione and Prione. Our people have always been committed to our family and that is why Prager’s betrayal is so hard. He has gone against everything we were taught as children and all the teachings that were passed down by our Pre-Frione and Pre-Prione.”
Woolsey figured the words Frione and Prione meant Mother and Father and quickly made the connection to the man’s ancestors. “What teachings?”
“The mountains to the north are treacherous. Many died there before Prager was able to conquer the creatures that inhabited the caves and tunnels.”
“Why not leave him to his caves and tunnels?”
“I would do that, but Prager would never agree to such a thing. He will not allow our city to grow while he stays in the mountains… We are a warrior race-”
“I understand that, but perhaps it is time to end the wars and find a peaceful solution to your problems.”
“That is not possible. You must understand that our world thrives on war. There are several classes of people and a war is fought at different levels. When one side is vanquished, the surviving members of the second force are declared the winners and an accounting of numbers will show who is the strongest.”
“Then once my people are found, we will leave you to your war-”
“You will not help us defeat Prager?”
“Not at the cost of lives,” Woolsey answered.
“Then you will leave our world now!”
“Not without my people!”
“If my brother has your people, they are already dead!”
“You don’t know Colonel Sheppard or Ronon Dex or you would know they would not be so easy to kill,” Woolsey told him and stood up to face the angry man standing before him.
“You will leave or my men will forcibly detain you in-“
“Major Grant, shoot War Minister Dri if anyone makes a move you don’t like!”
“Understood, sir.” Grant readied his weapon even as the other members of his team did the same.
“You can’t do that!”
“I can and I will,” Woolsey said as Grant and his team moved to protect him and Zelenka. “I assure you I have no intention of staying here longer than absolutely necessary. As soon as my people are found we will leave you and your brother to your war, but I hope your people are smart enough to realize they are the ones doing the fighting while you sit safely in your office and count your winnings by how many have died!”
“Mr. Woolsey, I believe the second gate can be accessed, but there is a malfunction in this dialing mechanism,” Zelenka offered.
“Can you figure out why Major Sheppard and Ronon were sent to another address and why Teyla and Dr. McKay wound up in a completely different location?”
“I can, but it will take some time. There is a second gate, but someone has reprogrammed this gate so that it can be diverted when a certain signal is sent.”
“Prager must have done something to it!” Dri said
“Perhaps your own people are not as loyal to you as you might think,” Woolsey offered.
“My people would never go against me.”
“I’m sure you thought the same thing about your brother,” Woolsey snapped. He walked away from the Marcosian and stood next to Zelenka, wishing he could help the man figure out what was happening with the gate.
Evan Lorne flew the Puddle Jumper low over the treetops until they reached the base of a mountain that extended high above the clouds. Large birdlike creatures took flight as if they sensed the craft’s presence, and Lorne managed to maneuver the Jumper out of their haphazard path.
“Rodney, is there anything showing up on the sensors?” Teyla asked from behind the two men.
“Plenty, but most of the signals are too big to be Sheppard and Ronon. I have a feeling we’ve found the creature’s feeding grounds,” McKay answered.
“Wait a minute, what’s this?” McKay interrupted.
“Find something, McKay?” Lorne enquired.
“Colonel Sheppard and Ronon?” Teyla asked hopefully.
“Hard to say. There are a lot of signals and most of them seem to be concentrated in an area just east of here,” McKay answered.
“Are you sure you’re not reading more animals?” Lorne observed.
“No, I don’t think so. These signals are definitely not animals,” McKay said and pointed to several areas that seemed to show a high concentration of inhabitants. “It looks like there’s a village or city or something inside the mountain itself.”
“Is there any way to tell if Ronon or Colonel Sheppard are amongst those people?” Teyla asked.
“No,” McKay told her. “There are too many and the readings are all the same. You would think with the ATA gene, we’d be able to differentiate between Sheppard and the others, but not even the Ancients thought that one out.”
“Maybe we could ask them if they’ve seen the colonel or Ronon,” Teyla suggested.
“Not without more Intel on who these people are,” Lorne warned.
“Just how do you expect to get Intel without talking to them?” McKay asked exasperatedly.
“We contact Atlantis and see if Mr. Woolsey found out anything from War Minister Dri,” Lorne answered.
“That will take time and something tells me that’s something Sheppard and Ronon don’t have much of,” McKay observed.
“Then the faster we check in with Atlantis the faster we get back to the search,” Lorne told them and turned the craft toward the second gate.
Ronon continued to support Sheppard as they made their way along the narrow tunnel. The air was musty and humid, making him dizzy and lightheaded as the ground became uneven and treacherous. They’d hidden in a deep recess when the distinct sound of angered voices reached their ears, but had stayed just long enough to be sure they weren’t being followed.
“What happens if it’s a dead end?” Sheppard managed between clenched teeth.
“Then we go right,” Dex answered.
“Ronon, I need to… need to stop,” Sheppard said, groaning as he was lowered to the ground. He held his arm tight against his right side and closed his eyes as nausea churned through his gut. He felt Ronon slide down beside him and turned toward him, worried about Ronon’s pale skin that was bathed in the eerie light cast by the strange luminescent walls of stone.
“You okay, Sheppard?”
“Think so… just need to catch my breath.”
“Same,” Dex told him.
“Is it still attached? Feels like I lost it back in that last tunnel,” Ronon answered.
“Pick it up later,” Sheppard offered.
“Sounds good, you read to move?”
“No, but staying here’s not an option,” Sheppard said.
“Want a hand up?”
“Might be a good idea once you’re on your feet,” Sheppard answered with a grin.
“That could be a problem,” Dex told him, but ignored the stabbing pain in his head as he tried to stand.
“Are you vertical yet?”
“Think so… which way is up?”
“Hell if I know,” Sheppard answered and soon felt a hand on his arm. He forced his eyes open and looked at Ronon with pain glazed eyes. “You could bring back help.”
“We already talked about that, Sheppard.”
“I talked - you didn’t listen.”
“Do I need to carry you?”
“Damn it, Ronon,” Sheppard cried out as the bigger man pulled him to his feet and wrapped his left arm around his shoulder.
“Quit grumbling and start moving!”
“Easier to grumble,” Sheppard groused.
“You sound like McKay,” Dex said, taking as much of Sheppard’s weight as he could while forcing one foot in front of the other.
Prager’s anger was evident as he strode along the corridor toward the end of the row of cells where prisoners were kept. The man who’d allowed Sheppard and Dex to escape had paid for that mistake with his life. Prager trained his people well and the fact that the Atlantians had escaped showed that his training was faulty. That was something he needed to rectify before others saw it as a weakness and tried to take what belonged to him.
He thought about his brother and wondered what kind of deal he’d made with the Atlantians. It really did not matter because sooner or later it would come down to a battle between him and Dri. He wanted John Sheppard back because he was Atlantian and possessed the gene of the Ancients. That made him something special and his scientists could discover the secrets of the technology hidden deep in the tunnels if given the opportunity to study him.
“Prager, they closed off the tunnel entrance!”
“Then find me another way, Sobon, or you’ll find yourself being studied in the lab!” Prager warned.
“I have men ready to blast their way through, but there is a danger of collapsing the tunnels,” Sobon offered.
“We can always dig a new tunnel, but I need John Sheppard. He is of the Ancients and my scientists need to examine him to find out how the technology hidden in the caverns works. My brother does not know how to run the city and I must find a way to take it from him before he destroys everything that is sacred to us. He had no right to bring in off-worlders, but his mistake will give me the edge I need.”
“Are you sure Sheppard is an Ancient?”
“Shrienna tested his blood several times and compared it to what we know of the Ancients and he has a strong connection with those who once inhabited our world.”
“If that’s true then people might think he is the rightful leader of our city,” Sobon suggested and found a hand tightening around his throat even as strong fingers dug into his flesh and cut off his air supply.
“Do not ever speak of that to me again, Sobon, or I will cut out your tongue and make you eat it!” Prager warned and released his grip on the other man’s throat. He heard the sound of an explosion and hurried to the end of the corridor as dust and debris began to settle, revealing a narrow opening.
“We have broken through, Prager,” Durelli explained.
“I want John Sheppard found!”
“Yes, sir,” Durelli answered and gave several commands to the men around him. There would be six teams of four going through the tunnel system, each one taking a branch and following it to the end. There was no other exit from the tunnels except the one in front of them, but something about the prisoners told him they’d find a way out or die trying.
Prager forced his body through the narrow opening and stood just inside the wide cavern. He knew these tunnels inside out and could find his way through them without the aid of the bioluminescence, but now he would use that to his advantage. Sheppard and Ronon Dex were here, probably somewhere deep in the tunnels, but he would find them and when he did, Dex would watch as the scientists experimented on his friend and then he too would die.
Rodney McKay was never a patient man and he paced in front of the Puddle Jumper as Lorne and Teyla contacted Atlantis for any new information they might have. He knew it was a waste of time, but it was SOP that they check in every four hours. He sighed exasperatedly when he heard Lorne speaking to whomever was in charge of communications on Atlantis.
“We’ll contact you again in four hours… Lorne out,” the major said and turned to find McKay watching him anxiously.
“Well, that was a complete waste of time and energy!”
“Rodney, Major Lorne is simply following Colonel Sheppard’s orders,” Teyla observed.
“Right now Sheppard’s life depends on how fast we find him and Ronon! Checking in with no new information is wasting time!” McKay groused.
“Dr. McKay, Colonel Sheppard’s orders are there for a reason. What if something happened and Atlantis wasn’t expecting us to check in? How long would they wait before sending out a team to search for us?” Lorne asked. He understood exactly how McKay felt, but he was military and also understood the need to follow procedure.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never disobeyed an order? I thought that was a prerequisite for duty in the Antarctic,” McKay snapped.
“Rodney, you need to calm down,” Teyla warned and stood in front of the angry man.
“I am calm… God help you if you ever see me angry!”
“I believe I have seen you angry, Rodney, and it did not help then and is not helping now. Mr. Woolsey sent word that Dr. Zelenka believes there is a malfunction in War Minister Dri’s gate that sent us to one location while Colonel Sheppard and Ronon were sent elsewhere,” Teyla explained.
“Does Radek know what caused the malfunction?” McKay asked as his anger deflated.
“He is not sure, but he believes it was tampered with. He is working to find out where Colonel Sheppard and Ronon were sent,” Teyla assured him.
“I can guarantee they are somewhere in that system of tunnels and caves beneath the mountain,” McKay offered.
“You’re probably right, Dr. McKay, so why don’t we head back there and see if we can pick up their signals,” Lorne suggested. He led them back to the Jumper and took the pilot seat again as the rear hatch closed. It wasn’t long before they were airborne again and headed back to the search area.
Ronon touched his fingers against his forehead and frowned as he rubbed his eyes. He forced them open and looked around, wondering why everything looked like it glowed. He felt something warm beside him and turned his head, wincing at the pain the movement caused.
“Sheppard,” Ronon said, wondering why his voice sounded like he’d been chewing on crushed glass.
“Ronon, where are we? Are you glowing?”
Sheppard’s voice sounded worse than his own and Ronon realized they both must have passed out at some point in time. His thoughts were jumbled, but he knew someone was chasing them and that Sheppard was hurt. He shifted until he could see the other man’s face more clearly and hoped Sheppard’s pallor was a result of the glowing walls and not something more deadly.
“Ronon, are you with me?”
“Think so, we need to move before Prager finds us,” Dex said.
“Help me up,” Sheppard ordered. He knew there’d be no point in repeating his earlier order because Ronon was just stubborn enough to throw him over his shoulder and carry him.
“Need to check your side,” Ronon said.
“It’ll keep… Prager won’t,” Sheppard warned.
“You’re bleeding again,” Dex observed.
“Crap,” Sheppard spat and allowed Ronon to check his wound.
“You need Keller!” Ronon said and swayed dangerously.
“I’m not the only one,” Sheppard said and placed his hand on Dex’s arm. “It’ll keep for now, Ronon.”
“Keller’s going to-“
“Kill us,” Sheppard chuckled, but it changed to a strangled cry as Dex pulled him to his feet.
“I can carry you.”
“I don’t think so… Which way?”
“Left?” Dex asked with a grin.
“It hasn’t steered us wrong so far,” Sheppard said and the injured duo moved along the path that had a decidedly upward slant to it.
War Minister Dri could feel Woolsey watching him, but he remained standing at the window overlooking his city. He knew he’d lost face with those who’d been present and seen how the off worlders had taken control and made him back down. Sooner or later word of his weakness would get back to Prager, and when that happened his brother would make his move. Somehow he had to regain control and get Woolsey to help him defeat Prager.
The idea of a second gate made sense and if he could gain control of it, he would have more power than he’d ever thought possible. He would control not only the people of this city, but those who live near the second gate. He turned away from the window and found Woolsey’s attention completely fixed on Zelenka as if they’d discovered something while he’d been busy thinking of a plan of action.
“Mr. Woolsey, did you find the second gate?”
“I’m not sure, but Dr. Zelenka is checking the settings to see if we can find its location,” Woolsey answered, keeping his explanation as vague as possible. Zelenka had found where the gate was, but they did not want to give Dri the information until they were sure he would not do anything to interfere with the search for the missing men.
“I must insist that you leave now,” Dri ordered.
“We will leave as soon as we find Colonel Sheppard and Ronon,” Woolsey countered.
“I do not believe you will find them anymore than you’ll find a second gate,” the War Minister told him and watched Woolsey’s eyebrows rise in disbelief. “You are no longer welcome here and I have more important things to do than watch over Dr. Zelenka.”
“Then go about your business!”
“This is my business! The gate belongs to my people and this is your last chance to use it and return to your world!”
“If we leave here now…”
“Mr. Woolsey, I believe we have everything we need,” Zelenka said. He held his laptop in his arms and nodded toward the dialing mechanism.
“Did you find the second gate?” Dri asked.
“No, I don’t think there is a second gate,” Zelenka lied as one of Grant’s men dialed the sequence for Atlantis. He met Woolsey’s eyes and hoped the other man would not question him further.
“I told you there was no other gate, now leave my world unless you are willing to help me defeat my brother. He is cruel and will kill many in order to get what he wants.”
“It sounds like you were both made from the same cloth,” Woolsey said as the gate activated and the swirling wormhole connected with Atlantis. “Major Grant, we are leaving.”
Grant and his men aimed their weapons at Dri and his guards and backed slowly toward the Gate. Once Woolsey and Zelenka were through, they followed and Dri was left staring at the silent circle of symbols.
“What do you want us to do?” the head guardsman asked.
“Gather my advisors and tell them to meet me in the war room. It is time to take my brother down and perhaps we will find a way to make the Atlantians sorry they refused to help us,” Dri ordered and returned to the window. Now that Woolsey and his team had returned to their world, he knew they would not come to his aid. It was up to him to take Prager down and show his people that he was the stronger brother and deserved their undying loyalty.
Richard Woolsey watched as Radek Zelenka worked with several others to download the information he’d brought with him from the Marcosian world. The Czech had muttered something in his own language before making his way toward the lab where he generally worked with Rodney McKay and had quickly initiated a search in order to correlate the information he had with anything in the Atlantis database.
There was a second gate they knew that for certain now because Major Lorne had checked in so it wasn’t just some kind of malfunction. The problem was there had to be a malfunction somewhere because Ronon and Sheppard were still missing. Zelenka had several people working with him and Woolsey knew he would just be in the way if he stood looking over the man’s shoulders.
With a heavy sigh he turned away from the team of scientists and headed for the control room to take care of anything that might have come up while he’d been on Marcosia. He made it to his office and was not surprised to find several items that needed his attention.
He leaned back in his chair and thought about how much his life had changed since accepting the position offered to him by the IOA. How many times had he been forced to make decisions that could have cost the life of one or more of this expedition? How many letters had he been forced to write informing family members of a ‘training accident’ that had taken the life of their loved ones?
He thought about the people he’d met since coming to Atlantis and how many of those could now be considered allies while others like War Minister Dri were definitely hostiles who coveted war and measured their victory by how many lives they’d taken.
He looked out over the control room and suddenly realized that these people, virtual strangers when he’d first arrived, were now his extended family. A family formed because of distance, but shaped because of the need to be a part of their world. Even Teyla and Ronon and so many others had proven themselves worthy of his respect.
A soft knock brought him out of his reverie and he looked up to see one of the communications experts standing in the open doorway. “Yes, Chet.”
“We just received word from Major Lorne.”
“Did they find Sheppard and Ronon?”
“Not yet, but they have discovered a settlement of some sort in the mountains to the north of the city. They’re searching for Colonel Sheppard and Ronon, but so far they can’t differentiate their signals from those of the Marcosians. Dr. McKay says there are several larger signals that indicate the Marcosians aren’t the only ones in the area,” Chet explained.
“When is their next scheduled check in?”
“Two hours and forty-eight minutes,” Chet answered.
“Very well. Keep me informed of any new developments,” Woolsey told him.
“Yes, sir,” Chet said and hurried away.
Woolsey leaned back in his chair and wished there was something he could do, but for now he had to sit back and wait for word from Zelenka or McKay. Either way it was shaping up to be a long wait.
Teyla knew what she was about to suggest would not go over very well, but so far an aerial search had turned up nothing that could give them Sheppard or Ronon’s location. The cloaked Jumper was undetectable, but it could only go so far, leaving them to guess as to what lay beneath the ground. There was a system of tunnels and caverns leading deep into the mountains and only a few were uninhabited.
“This is getting us nowhere!” McKay snapped impatiently. “We need to get inside there and search for Sheppard and Ronon!”
“What good would that do, Dr. McKay?” Lorne asked.
“We’d be able to search the caverns-”
“Yes, but how long do you think it would take the Marcosians to discover our presence?” Lorne asked.
“We can use the life signs detectors and stay away from them,” McKay answered. “At least we’d be doing something more than just flying around in circles.”
“Major, I believe Rodney is right,” Teyla offered. “We are wasting time out here…time the colonel and Ronon don’t have.”
“Maybe we got this all wrong and Colonel Sheppard and Ronon are enjoying the Marcosian hospitality,” Lorne added.
“I can’t believe you said that,” McKay griped. “Even Sheppard would have found some way to contact us if he was not a prisoner!”
“Look, McKay, going in there without backup is a rookie mistake,” Lorne spat.
“No, it’s not!” McKay snapped. “If we go in there with back up then the Marcosians will easily detect us, but if we… meaning the three of us go in there we just might find Sheppard and Ronon and escape before the Marcosians realize we’re here.”
“Rodney has a point, Major,” Teyla said. “Sometimes less is more… I believe I have heard Colonel Sheppard say that on several occasions.”
“We should get clearance from Atlantis,” Lorne suggested.
“Again that’ll take time,” McKay said and snapped his fingers. “You could drop Teyla and me off and go back to the gate-”
“That’s not going to happen,” Lorne vowed.
“Then we have to go together…now!” McKay said.
“You’re not giving the orders here, Doctor,” the major snapped.
“Stop!” Teyla ordered. “This is not helping. We need to decide on the best course of action and work together or we’re of no use to Colonel Sheppard and Ronon.”
Rodney McKay took a deep breath and knew Teyla was right. He apologized to Lorne, but he knew he was right about changing the search pattern for Sheppard and Dex.
“Let’s say we do it your way… what do we do if we’re wrong?” Lorne asked.
“We go back to searching from the air,” McKay answered.
“We’ll need to check in with Atlantis in less than two hours,” Lorne said.
“We can cover a lot of ground in two hours,” Teyla replied.
“All right, but whether we find them or not, we keep our scheduled check in with Atlantis,” Lorne vowed and aimed the Puddle Jumper toward a clearing devoid of any signs of human or animal life.
John Sheppard silently cursed the stubborn man he leaned on because every move he made sent daggers through his side. Several times he’d slid to the floor and felt the darkness reaching out to claim him only to feel Ronon’s strong arms pulling him upright again.
The fact that Ronon was hurt made it hard to keep moving, but every time he tried to call a halt to it, the bigger man reminded him that they were not splitting up. It didn’t seem to matter that John had used up the last of his strength hours ago, because Ronon wasn’t taking no for an answer.
Sheppard concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, his feet making shuffling sounds as they stayed in contact with the uneven ground. He’d lost count of how many times they’d turned left and hoped they would not end up back where they started. The walls still glowed, but it seemed the color was decidedly crimson as if the walls were streamed in veins of blood.
John stumbled and would have fallen, but for the strong arms supporting him. He heard Ronon’s breathing as if from a distance, but there seemed to be a new sound that intruded on their solitude.
“Something wrong, Sheppard?”
“Not sure, do you hear that?”
“All I hear are bells,” Dex answered tiredly.
“We need to find a place to hide,” Sheppard warned and looked around frantically.
“No thanks… already got as much as I can handle,” Sheppard said with a slight smile.
“There’s an opening up ahead… could be a place to hide out,” Ronon told him.
“Don’t know… hard to tell. Come on, Sheppard… one foot in front of the other-”
“And soon we’ll be walking cross the floor-”
“Sorry… some song I heard. Just trying to think on something else.”
“I think McKay would say not to give up your day job,” Dex quipped.
“Very funny… God,” Sheppard gasped and fought to stay conscious as the sound of raised voices reached their ears.
“Come on, Sheppard, keep moving!”
“Easy for you to say,” Sheppard said, but did as Ronon ordered. He found it hard to concentrate, but he knew they would both die if he gave up. Taking shallow breaths, he allowed Ronon to half drag him through a narrow opening before finally giving in to the darkness swirling around him.
Ronon grunted as Sheppard suddenly became a dead weight leaning against him. He managed to stay on his feet and dragged the unconscious man inside until his back came up against a stone wall. He hoped whoever was following them didn’t realize this place was here, and slid down beside his friend. Ronon closed his eyes and wished whoever was hitting his head with a hammer would leave him the hell alone.
Ronon felt Sheppard shudder beside him and reached out to settle the colonel against him. It wasn’t long before he too lost the ability to stay awake and darkness claimed a second victim.
Prager knew John Sheppard could mean the difference between victory and defeat, and that if Dri truly understood what the man represented, he would have been searching for him a lot harder. The stories about the Atlantians were widespread, yet most of the people did not believe they were true.
Prager wasn’t like most people of his world and had always gone after what he wanted. He’d known he was destined for greatness, had known it from the first day when his brother had been declared ruler of Marcosia, because Dri was weak. The sooner he defeated his brother, the sooner he could make Marcosia the world it was meant to be. Once that happened he could take what he wanted from other worlds, especially once he had John Sheppard under his control.
“Prager, we believe the Atlantians are headed toward the storage chamber,” Sobon explained when he noticed the tunnel they’d been following.
“Good, it will be easy to capture them once they enter the chamber,” Prager told him.
“Do you want them stopped?”
“Yes, but do not kill them. The Atlantian has much to teach us.”
“Are you sure he will be able to make the technology work?”
“If my scientists were telling the truth then he has the ancient gene the technology requires.”
“What if he refuses to make it work?”
“That’s why I want the other one alive as well,” Prager said and began moving along the tunnel when he heard movement ahead. “If John Sheppard refuses to help then his friend will suffer.”
Sobon knew exactly what the man meant and felt a little sorry for the Atlantian and his friend, but that was something he would never admit to. To do so would mean he’d made an enemy of this man and that was the same as signing his own death warrant. He’d grown up with Prager and Dri and had often wondered why Dri had been given the leadership when it was obvious Prager was smarter and stronger than his brother.
Rodney McKay knew he’d changed since his days before Atlantis and vowed never to return to his old ways, but there were times when his ego seemed too big even for himself. John Sheppard had been a big part of what made him change, and for that he was grateful and he had coveted the man’s friendship. He needed the colonel to remind him that false bravado did not always mean hiding behind others.
“There seems to be an opening ahead.”
Teyla’s voice cut through his reverie and he hurried to join her and Lorne at a narrow opening in the cliff face. It didn’t seem big enough for any of them to fit through, not even Teyla, but at least it was something. “We can’t get through that!”
“We don’t know until we try, Rodney,” Teyla said and removed her pack. She pressed through the narrow opening and was glad she’d thought to remove the flashlight first. She turned it on, the bright beam illuminating the interior of the cave and ducked as several dozen bats flew over her head.
“Teyla, are you okay?” Lorne asked.
“I am fine, Major,” Teyla replied and panned the light around the area.
“What do you see?” McKay asked.
“It is a cave, but there are a couple of tunnels leading deeper into the mountains. Can you fit through?”
“I’m trying,” McKay snapped and nearly fell as he finally slipped through the opening. “Damn it! Next time we find a bigger opening.”
“Quit griping, McKay, you’re the one who suggested searching for the Colonel and Ronon. Let’s get moving,” Lorne said once he joined them.
“That’s easy for you to say, Major, you’re not the one who suffers from claustrophobia. I really do hate these places and never wanted to be a spelunker.”
“A what?” Teyla asked.
“A spelunker is someone who explores caves,” Lorne answered.
“Exactly and I’m not one of them,” McKay told her.
“Rodney, if it bothers you so much, why did you suggest it?” Teyla asked.
“I thought that was obvious,” McKay said and saw the frown on her face. “Sheppard would do the same for me.”
“Yes, he would and so would I,” Teyla vowed.
“Thank you, Teyla,” McKay said.
“There are two tunnels here… Any idea which one we should take?” Lorne asked.
“The biggest one,” McKay answered seriously, shuddering at the thought of squeezing through more narrow openings and getting stuck somewhere deep in the mountain, never to see the light of day again. A small smile formed at the thought that he had indeed changed because at some point in time he’d grown a backbone and turned away from the egotistical scientist he’d once been. ‘If my colleagues could see me now,’ he thought as he followed Lorne into the tunnel on the left.
McKay thought about Brendan Gaul and remembered his words before he died. Gaul had told him he’d changed, but at the time Rodney hadn’t believed him. Now those words finally made sense and he lifted his head as he ignored the chill he felt at making his way deeper into the tunnels. Sheppard’s and Ronon’s lives depended on all of them doing what needed to be done and he was not going to let them down.
Ronon moved slightly and knew they were no longer alone as movement sounded just outside the area they’d found refuge in. He felt Sheppard move, and prayed the man would not make a sound that could betray them. He knew it had to be Prager’s people, but so far they hadn’t discovered this small recess in the cave walls.
“Quiet, Sheppard,” Dex ordered softly and felt the other man shift slightly.
“Where are we?”
“In a cave… Prager’s out there.”
“Damn,” Sheppard managed and grew quiet when he heard voices nearby. The pain in his side was a reminder of how much danger they were in and he knew if Prager or his people caught them, they’d be in deep trouble. Hell, they already were, but at least they were alive and that gave them a chance.
Ronon had no idea how long they remained quiet, but he could hear Sheppard’s harsh breathing and wondered how it went unheard by those who came so close to their hideaway. He knew they couldn’t stay here forever, but he wasn’t sure he could move, let alone Sheppard. His head was ready to explode and his chest felt tight, reminding him of the blow he’d received from one of Prager’s guards.
“We need to find a way out.” Sheppard’s voice was weak, yet there was a strength hidden within the words.
“Think you can move?”
“No, but I’ll move anyway,” Sheppard managed with a slight chuckle that quickly changed to a grimace as pain lanced through his side. He climbed unsteadily to his feet and felt Ronon do the same until they stood side by side in the darkness.
“Hold on, let me check the tunnel,” Ronon ordered.
“Be careful,” Sheppard told him and leaned back against the cold stone wall. He closed his eyes and rode out the nauseating agony in his side, but gasped when a hand touched on his shoulder.
“Good, you ready for this?”
“Not by a long shot,” Dex answered and eased out of their hiding place. He waited until Sheppard joined him and steered him toward the left corridor. They stumbled along, finding ways to lean on each other without giving in to their bodies’ need for rest. John was shocked that he’d been able to stay on his feet as long as he had, but sooner or later he knew he would run out of luck.
“Are we done yet?”
“Don’t think so,” Dex told him.
“Then why’d we stop?”
“Didn’t know we had,” Ronon said and suddenly realized he was no longer on his feet. “Damn.”
“My sentiments exactly,” Sheppard said and did his best to help the other man up. “We’re not going to get very far at this rate… I’d carry you, but-”
“Don’t make an offer you can’t keep, Sheppard,” Ronon sniped and grew quiet when he heard a sound nearby. “Someone’s coming.”
Sheppard knew he was right, but there didn’t seem to be anywhere to hide this time. They were out in the open and Prager’s men were closing in on them. John knew he could not fight, but he’d be damned if he was going down without one. He could see Ronon’s shadowy shape and knew the Satedan felt exactly as he did. If they were going to die, they’d damn well die on their feet.