All Art By Kay
Betaed By Sue
John Sheppard flew the Jumper low over the treetops as the small village of Cablaos came into view. There were several villagers already in the square and he glanced sideways at Carson Beckett. The doctor had requested he join him on a supply run so that he could check the condition of several patients who’d been suffering from the Pegasus form of the Chicken Pox. The plan was for him to drop Beckett off and make a circuit of several other mountain villages.
The villagers harvested a plant that grew wild along the north face of a vast array of mountains. The plant seemed to have many medicinal qualities that the scientists on Atlantis were excited about. His job was to trade with the villagers for as much of the plant as possible before returning for Beckett in two days’ time.
Sheppard hadn’t realized just how much he’d missed Beckett’s sense of humor during the time he was gone. Keller was a damn good doctor, but Beckett was part of the original team that came to the Pegasus Galaxy. The loss of Aiden Ford and Elizabeth Weir had affected him deeply, but he’d kept his emotions in check when others were around. John grieved in his own way, in the privacy of his quarters.
“A penny for your thoughts, Colonel.”
“That much, Carson?” Sheppard asked with a grin before landing the Jumper and shutting it down. “My thoughts aren’t worth a penny.”
“I don’t believe that, lad,” Beckett said and followed the colonel to the back of the Jumper. He smiled as the hatch opened and several villagers rushed forward.
“Welcome back, Dr. Beckett,” an elderly man said as he stepped forward.
“Thank you, Crase,” Beckett said. “You remember Colonel Sheppard?”
“Of course, we are honored by your presence,” Crase told them and bowed slightly.
“We are honored to be here,” Sheppard said and returned the gesture before picking up two boxes and stepping out of the jumper. The twin suns hung low on the horizon giving the sky a vibrant mixture of purple and orange hues that rivaled the sunsets of Earth.
“Your quarters are the same as on your last visit to Cablaos,” Crase offered.
“Thank you, Crase, how is your family?” Beckett asked as a couple of villagers took the last two boxes and strode toward the hut near the end of the narrow street.
“Miriel is doing well and is expecting my first grandchild in six months. She is hoping you will deliver the baby.”
“I would be honored…what of Byrone? Is he still courting Juwel?”
“Yes,” Crase said with a wide grin. “They are to be wed within the month.”
“That’s wonderful news,” Beckett said.
“We would be honored if you and Colonel Sheppard were in attendance, but we understand if it is not possible.”
“I’d like that, but it would depend on the timing. Right now things are quiet on Atlantis, but…”
“We understand, Dr. Beckett. It is the same amongst our people,” Crase explained. “The invitation is open to all of your people.”
“Thank you, Crase,” Beckett said once they reached his hut and he stepped inside and motioned to the villagers who carried the supplies. “Put those down in the corner.”
“Carson, is there anything else you need before I go?” Sheppard asked.
“You are not staying, Colonel Sheppard?” Crase asked.
“No, but I’ll be back in a couple of days.”
“Colonel Sheppard is going to check the villages in the mountains to the north,” Beckett explained as he began to unpack the supplies.
“The mountains are dangerous,” a young male whispered softly.
“I’ll be careful,” Sheppard assured him. “You said yourself we need more of those plants, Carson,” he added when Carson continued to look worried.
“Not if it means putting yourself in any danger,” Carson told him.
“Then I’ll make sure I don’t put myself in any,” Sheppard vowed.
“Just promise me you’ll be careful,” Carson said, reaching out to pat John’s shoulder.
“You know me, Carson…careful is my middle name!”
“Since when?” Beckett snapped, shaking his head when Sheppard simply smiled and turned away. A frown formed as the colonel disappeared through the door, but he could not quite figure out why he suddenly felt like he was losing his best friend. “Colonel… John…”
“Dr. Beckett,” a woman called as she entered the hut carrying a small child in her arms. “Tarly fell…”
“Put her on the bed,” Beckett ordered as the child’s sobs reached his ears. He lifted the cloth from the wound on the small girl’s knee and smiled at her. “This is not so bad, lass. We’ll have you fixed up in a minute and just maybe there’ll be a wee piece of candy waiting for you.”
“The red one?” Tarly asked hopefully.
“Aye, lass, I think there might be a red one for you,” Beckett said and began cleaning the wound.
John Sheppard didn’t consider himself a loner, but he did enjoy those few times when he was on his own. It gave him a chance to think about his team and the people whose lives had intersected with his. He closed the rear hatch before climbing into the pilot seat and starting the Puddle Jumper. He flew high over the village and headed toward the mountains to the north.
Teyla Emmagan had proven her worth time and again since their first meeting in the Athosian village. She’d saved his life on several occasions and had nearly died at the hands of the Wraith, Michael while protecting her son, Torren from him. Michael was dead now, killed when he tried to kidnap Torren from Atlantis. Teyla had saved John’s life by letting Michael fall to his death. This particular mission didn’t need the team and Teyla had stayed behind to spend time with Torren
Dr. Rodney McKay had come a long way since their first meeting and was no longer the pain in the ass Canadian whose ego was bigger than his country. The man was still smarter than most people, but he no longer needed to rub it in, although he still liked to over-exaggerate things and come in with a ‘by the seat of his pants’ rescue. Still, he was an integral part of Sheppard’s team and one who had finally found his place in Atlantis. McKay was working on a new project that involved training personnel for jobs other than the ones they specialized in. John had a feeling McKay would be grinding his teeth before the day ended.
Ronon Dex, a native of Sateda was the final member of his team and a man John was glad to call friend. John remembered their first meeting and knew he’d made a friend for life when he’d chosen Ronon to replace Aiden Ford. The Satedan had shown his loyalty in spite of what others thought of him. Even Elizabeth Weir had changed her opinion of the Satedan once she’d met and talked to him. Ronon not only brought a new dynamic to the team, but he also brought a weapon that many envied. John included himself in the latter and wished they could find more of them. As it was Ronon had also saved his life and vice versa. The team was a damn good one and John counted himself lucky to have them watching out for each other. Ronon had stayed behind because Woolsey had requested his assistance with training others in the Satedan’s unique fighting style. John had thought it was a good idea, and he would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall at the training sessions.
Sheppard flew the Jumper north along the shoreline, surprised to see a pod of what looked like humpback whales swimming at the edge of the breakwater. The magnificent creatures were headed in the same direction he was and he swung lower, flying just above the creatures. One of the largest of them came out of the ocean splashing water as it disappeared several feet in front of the Jumper.
John watched as the moisture sluiced off the forward windows and continued to watch the whales for nearly twenty minutes before being forced to fly inward toward his destination. There were low-lying clouds in the foothills, blotting out the horizon as lightning flashed across the sky. Thunder echoed and re-echoed through the mountains as high winds and torrential rain buffeted the Jumper, but Sheppard expertly piloted the craft through the rough conditions.
Sheppard knew he should look for a place to land and ride out the storm, but there seemed to be nothing suitable on the scope. “Damn,” he thought and panned right as lightning struck a nearby tree that towered high above everything else. There were lights in the distance, but it took him a few minutes to realize he was looking at a village of some sort, one that was not mentioned on the map of the area.
Sheppard fought the controls and managed to keep the Jumper from crashing into the trees, but the downward force of the winds through the mountain pass felt like a giant’s hand pressing him down. He swung right, marginally avoiding an impact with the sheer face of a cliff before being forced to bank left as a jagged peak appeared directly in front of him. He narrowly missed crashing into it as the wind increased and the rain slanted toward him like sheets of brittle glass shattering against the Jumper.
“Oh crap,” he whispered as the craft shook beneath his touch. He struggled for control, but knew it was a lost cause as the Jumper descended toward the unknown darkness below.
Carson Beckett walked to the opening of his hut and looked out at the darkening sky that spoke of inclement weather. At the first sign of the storm, the villagers had quickly moved to ‘batten down the hatches’ and make sure everything that wasn’t nailed down was secured somewhere safe.
Crase and the other men had assured him that the storm would not last long, but Beckett wasn’t sure he believed it when lightning shot across the sky and struck a tree nearby. The tree burst into flames, but the fire was quickly doused as torrential rain fell in heavy sheets.
John Sheppard wasn’t sure what woke him, but he knew he’d much rather have remained unconscious as he became aware of pain in many parts of his body. He shifted slightly, realizing instantly that it was a mistake and gritted his teeth as he forced his eyes open. It was dark, but light filtered through from high above him and he knew he was no longer inside the Puddle Jumper.
He frowned when he realized he was lying on something soft and that voices were filtering through from somewhere on his right. Instincts born of years in the military had him on the offensive and ignoring the pain the movement awakened. He slid his legs over the edge of the cot he was lying on and sat up, but immediately slammed his eyes shut in an effort to keep the suddenly encroaching darkness at bay.
“You should not be up.”
The voice was lightly scolding with an edge of anger to it as hands pressed him back on the bed. He swallowed convulsively until the nausea stopped and then opened his eyes again. His visitor held a small lamp in his hand, revealing wrinkled features that spoke of an age far beyond anything he’d ever seen before.
“It would not be good for us if we let you die before his arrival,” the man said and covered John with a thin blanket.
“Who are you? Where am I?”
“I am called Kiosion. You are in the village of Shelona in the North Mountains,” the elderly man answered.
“Shelona? Look, I have to go—”
“You are injured and must rest,” Kiosion said and held a small bowl in front of Sheppard’s mouth. “Drink this, it will help you rest and heal.”
“I need to get back to my people—”
“You are far too weak for that. Drink.”
John frowned as the elderly man pressed the bowl against his lips and he sipped at the sweet tasting liquid. “What is it?”
“It is called Rooshi and is made from the root and bark of the Rooshi trees. Finish it,” the elderly man ordered.
Again John found he could not refuse and he swallowed the last of the drink before closing his eyes. The pain eased considerably and he sank toward sleep as snatches of conversation filtered through.
“It would not… if he is dead when the master returns…”
“He will…die…see to… making him…until the Wraith….”
“Wraith,” John whispered, but then he could no longer hear the words as the drug he’d been given took control.
Dr. Rodney McKay had reached the end of his patience as he glanced at the trio he’d been explaining the new Atlantis technology to. The newcomers were supposedly top of their class, but Rodney wondered exactly what class that was. The most promising member of the group was a young woman named Carla Morton, yet even she was having trouble making sense out of the formula he’d written on the overhead display.
“I’m sorry, Dr. McKay, but it just doesn’t make sense,” Brian Sharp said, frowning as he tried to work out the mathematical logistics of the new formula.
“What doesn’t make sense?” McKay asked impatiently.
“The formula itself. How can you be certain it won’t blow up in your face?”
“Because I’ve seen that it works!” McKay snapped, rolling his eyes as he pointed out the logistics of the equation.
“Rodney, Mr. Woolsey would like to see you,” Radek Zelenka said from the open doorway.
“Thank God,” McKay said and turned to the three ‘students’. “Keep working on it and maybe you’ll figure it out without me having to show you every single step.”
Zelenka watched the Canadian leave and couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for the man. Rodney McKay was smart, probably the smartest man he’d ever met, but he had very few people skills and was not cut out to teach newcomers the nuances of Ancient technology.
“Dr. Zelenka, do you think Dr. McKay is right in his theories?” Carla asked.
“Rodney McKay knows more about Ancient technology than anyone on Atlantis—”
“Including you?” Sharp asked.
“Including me, but if you tell him I said that I’ll deny every word. His ego is big enough without us feeding it,” Zelenka told them and motioned for them to return their attention to the formula on the overhead board.
McKay hurried toward Woolsey’s office, relieved that he didn’t have to go over the formula with the new members of his department while feeling a little sorry that he’d turned them over to the unsuspecting Zelenka. He shook the feeling off and wondered what John Sheppard and Carson Beckett were doing. It wasn’t often that he didn’t go with Sheppard, but when it happened he sorely missed the fieldwork.
McKay entered the office to find Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex already seated across from Woolsey. “Okay, what’s going on? Don’t tell me Sheppard’s in trouble already?” he asked and glanced at his watch, noting how much time had passed since Sheppard had taken Beckett to visit the village of Cablaos. “This must be some kind of record.”
“ Dr. McKay, that’s not why I called you here,” Woolsey said.
“It’s not?” McKay asked incredulously.
“I want you and Ronon to accompany Teyla on a mission,” Woolsey answered.
“What kind of mission?” McKay asked [N1] .
“Teyla’s been in contact with a tribe her people traded with and they want to open talks with us,” Woolsey explained.
“What kind of trade are we talking about?” McKay asked.
“The people of Torea are farmers and have agreed to trade fresh fruits and vegetables similar to those of your people for medical supplies,” Teyla explained.
“Teyla says they have something that closely resembles our coffee beans,” Woolsey said.
“They also have what we call Shireo. I believe you call it cocoa,” Emmagan explained.
“Cocoa? As in the chocolate drink?” McKay asked incredulously.
“I believe so,” Teyla said with a hint of a smile.
“When do we leave?” McKay asked.
“As soon as you’re ready,” Woolsey replied, watching as John Sheppard’s team readied themselves to go on a mission without their commanding officer. He knew it wasn’t the first time, but it just seemed odd to send them off without the colonel.
The storm ravaged the landscape, changing it until it would have been unrecognizable to anyone flying overhead. Large trees had been uplifted as if they were mere kindling, yet the village seemed untouched by the violence nature had wrought. The people were exiting their [N2] huts, unscathed and smiling as they realized the tempest was over and they had survived.
Carson Beckett looked around, recognized several villagers, and hurried toward Crase, who was standing a short distance away with his daughter and her husband.
“Dr. Beckett, were you comfortable during the storm?” Crase asked.
“Aye, if I hadn’t opened the door I would never have known there was a storm,” Beckett observed.
“We are lucky. The Goddess Shalemei sees fit to protect us from the storms sent down from the mountains,” Crase explained.
“The storm came from the mountains?” the physician asked worriedly.
“They often do, but as I said they do not last long. Outside our village there has been much damage, but nature has a way of correcting things so new growth will appear within a few hours,” Crase told him[N3] .
“Colonel Sheppard was probably caught in the middle of it,” Beckett said, frowning.
“Would he not turn back if he knew there was bad weather ahead?” Miriel asked.
“He would if he saw it in time…if it showed up on the sensors,” Beckett told her.
“The storms come on very fast, Dr. Beckett, but if Colonel Sheppard is as good a pilot as you told us he was during your last visit he should be fine,” Crase offered.
“Aye, you’re probably right, but…is there any way to contact the villages in the mountains?” Beckett saw something he didn’t like in the other man’s eyes as he asked about the mountain villages. “What is it?”
“The mountains are dangerous because some of the villages still believe in the old ways. If Colonel Sheppard tries to find refuge in one of them he could be in danger from more than just the weather,” Crase explained.
“What kind of danger?” Beckett asked.
“It is said that they are Wraith worshippers and would contact the Wraith if there are strangers in their midst,” Miriel explained, her eyes filled with fear at the mention of the creatures that one time culled their world and could return at any time.
“Wraith worshippers,” Beckett whispered and prayed that John Sheppard did not run into them. There were stories about them that scared him almost as much as the Wraith themselves. Ronon had told them about his time as a runner and how several times during his ordeal he’d run afoul of Wraith worshippers and been turned into the Wraith who was hunting him. The big Satedan still bore the scars from the Wraith technology that had been surgically placed in his back and partially embedded in his spine.
John Sheppard opened his eyes and tried to moisten his dry lips, but his tongue seemed to have adhered to the roof of his mouth. He managed to force his heavy eyelids open and tried to sit up, but it felt like his body was weighted down. His arms and legs felt leaden and he suddenly realized the reason he couldn’t move had nothing to do with how he felt.
“What the hell?” he whispered and struggled against the heavy ropes that bound him to the small cot. He lifted his head from the pillow and blinked as a bright light suddenly shone in his eyes.
“It is useless to fight the Shagri,” the elderly man he’d seen before snarled.
“What the hell is a Shagri?” Sheppard forced out through tightly clenched teeth.
“The Shagri are the bindings made from the Rooshi tree and they are unbreakable,” Kiosion explained and checked to make sure the bindings were still in place. “You were brought here by the Gods as an offering.”
“I was brought here because of a damned storm,” Sheppard snapped.
“The Gods favor us with storms that bring sacrifices—”
“Sacrifices? Whoa, now wait a minute here. I’m no sacrifice. I just crashed!”
“Yes, you crashed in a ship of Ancient design and it is said that the Wraith will reward any village willing to cooperate—”
“The Wraith don’t reward anyone! They suck the life out of you!”
“We have worshipped the Wraith since the dawn of time and have found favor with them whenever an Ancient falls into our hands. We have contacted the Wraith and a hive ship will be here before the darkness falls tonight.”
“The Wraith will destroy your village! They’ll—”
“The Wraith have been here many times and we are under their protection. Tonight we will celebrate because as an Ancient you will please the Wraith.”
“I’m not an Ancient!”
“You arrived in an Ancient ship and survived a crash that should have killed you. How do you explain that if you’re not an Ancient?”
“Just lucky I guess,” Sheppard answered and continued to struggle against the Shagri. “Look, the Wraith will kill you—”
“No, they allow us to live as long as we worship them. They are Gods—”
“No, they’re not. They can be killed!”
“To kill them would bring down the wrath of others of their kind. We do what we have to in order to survive and the Wraith have left us alone!”
“How long do you think that will last? The Wraith will not hesitate to kill you once they have what they want!”
“They will be here shortly and you will bow down to them!”
“Not a chance!” Sheppard snapped and struggled against his bonds.
“Kiosion, the Wraith ship has arrived.”
“They are early,” Kiosion said and hurried from the cell.
“Oh, crap!” Sheppard said and tried to loosen the Shagri, but the ropes seemed to have adhered to his wrists and they tightened the more he struggled. He lifted his head when he heard the sound of voices and footsteps just outside the doorway. His breath caught in his throat as a male Wraith and two drones entered the cell and towered over him.
“Colonel Sheppard, how good to finally meet you in person,” the Wraith said, showing a mouthful of uneven teeth.
“Sorry to say the feeling’s not mutual,” Sheppard retorted as Kiosion moved to release his legs.
“You are well known amongst my kind, Colonel Sheppard, and I would enjoy feeding on you, but a man of your reputation deserves a far more fitting end—”
“Don’t do me any favors,” Sheppard snarled as his bindings were released and he sat up on the edge of the bed.
“You know I’m getting really tired of playing the game this way and would really enjoy it if you did the kneeling,” Sheppard said and stood up.
“Kneel,” the Wraith warned and ran his finger along the right side of Sheppard’s face.
“This is getting old,” Sheppard said as his legs bent and he knelt in front of the Wraith.
“You have killed many of my kind, Colonel Sheppard, and it is only fitting that you provide us with—”
“The last Wraith who tried to feed on me got a bad case of indigestion,” Sheppard said.
[N4] “Bring the human!”
John sucked in air as the Wraith released him and he fell forward heavily onto his hands. His captors grabbed him by the arms and pulled him to his feet. Sheppard could see Kiosion and several of his people standing in the shadows as he was dragged past them and he wondered if they understood what it meant to worship these creatures. Yet, he knew they would not heed his warning as he was dragged out of the cell so he kept his silence.
Teyla smiled as she stepped through the gate and inhaled the intoxicating scent of wildflowers and roasting Shiccato Roots. The Torean people had perfected a way to make the normally unpalatable Shiccato Roots a delight to eat. They were smooth textured and had a sweet taste that reminded her of the bananas brought through the Stargate from the Daedalus’ last trip to Earth.
Teyla sensed Ronon and Rodney on either side of her as she made her way toward the gentle giants who called Torea home. They were a peaceful race and measured over seven feet in height with flame red hair, and eyes that were the color of the sun. Their skin was bronze with flecks of gold at the shoulders and knees. They wore a simple garb that hung low across their upper body, flowing smoothly down below their knees.
“Teyla, are you sure they’re friendly?” McKay asked, unconsciously taking a step back and allowing Ronon to stand beside Teyla.
“Yes, Rodney, they are friendly,” Teyla assured him and smiled at the male and female Torean who stepped forward. “Greetings, Brea Shuliak.”
“Welcome, Teyla. It has been many Frions,” the [N5] male said.
“Yes, it has, Brea Shuliak. I do hope that by opening talks with you it will give us more freedom to visit your world,” Teyla said and motioned to her two companions. “I have brought new friends. This is Dr. Rodney McKay and Ronon Dex.”
“Welcome to Torea, Dr. McKay. You are also welcome, Ronon Dex,” the Torean said and offered both men his hand. “Please join us for a simple meal of Shiccato Roots and Shireo.”
“Shireo? That’s like cocoa, right?” McKay asked hopefully.
“I do not know this cocoa, McKay Dr. Rodney,” Brea Shuliak answered.
“It is…Oh, never mind. I doubt that you’d be able to understand,” McKay said as the Toreans led them away from the Stargate.
John Sheppard had been a captive of the Wraith more times than he cared to think about, but this time there was something different. Something about this Wraith sent a shiver down his spine as he was led toward a Hive Ship hovering above the mountain village. It was unusual to see such a large vessel this close to a settlement and John suddenly realized this particular Wraith had his own agenda.
“Hey, Curly, would you tell Larry and Moe I can make it on my own?” Sheppard said and pulled his arms free of the drones. He stood up and stared at the Wraith leader and wondered why he suddenly felt like someone was walking on his grave.
“You will be silent!”
“Sorry, Curly, I’ve never been one to take orders. Just ask any of my commanding officers. I tend to—”
“Silence, Colonel Sheppard! You are a defiant one, but you will learn to obey.”
“Not going to happen, Curly, so you might as well let me go now,” Sheppard said.
“We will see, Colonel Sheppard,” the Wraith told him, signaling for the two drones to escort the prisoner into the ship as he turned to the villagers. “You will be rewarded for your loyalty.”
“The Wraith will kill you!” Sheppard snapped, and then sank to his knees as something connected with his lower back.
“Silence, human!” the Wraith warned and cupped Sheppard’s chin as he forced his head up. “You will need your strength, Colonel Sheppard.”
“No problem. What’s on the menu for tonight?”
“Not you, at least not right now. These people are loyal to me and they have supplied me with a fitting meal,” the Wraith answered and released his captive.
John knew once he was inside there’d be no escape and he waited for the Wraith to turn his attention back to the villagers. The drones stood on either side of him, with the hive ship directly above them. His only chance was to turn and run toward the forest and lose the Wraith in the darkness.
“We are honored that you have come to us…”
John waited for Kiosion to speak before making his move. He shoved the drones away and raced toward the trees as a cry went up from the villagers. Sheppard knew he had the element of surprise on his side, but he also understood it wouldn’t last long. He needed to get as much distance as he could between himself and the Wraith and he knew damn well the villagers would not help him.
Sheppard glanced toward the thick copse of trees and wondered how far he was from his ship, but he knew for now it was out of reach. He dodged fire from the drones and ducked low as something flew over his head. He dove to his right, coming up on both feet as he heard the distinctive sound of a Wraith Dart.
John knew they were almost on top of him, but the sanctuary offered by the trees was so close he could smell the sickly sweet scent of the hearty wildflowers he’d seen from the air. He darted forward, seeking the cover of the trees but something wrapped around his ankles and he fell forward as a net was thrown over him. John fought to free himself, but the tiny barbs in the material cut into his skin and stung as blood seeped from the tiny wounds they left behind.
“Still the defiant one, Colonel Sheppard, but you are wasting energy you will soon need,” the Wraith commander warned as the drones pulled John to his feet and held him between them. “Bring him!”
Dr. Carson Beckett watched as the children of the village chased each other around as if they hadn’t a care in the world, even though he knew that was far from the truth. These people, like most of the people in the Pegasus Galaxy knew of the Wraith and had first hand knowledge of their cruelty. He nodded to a young couple walking past the simple hut he was staying in and hoped they were blessed with a long, happy life.
Beckett glanced at the night sky littered with millions of tiny stars surrounding the twin moons that hung low on the horizon. He sighed heavily, wondering where John Sheppard was and praying the colonel had not run into the Wraith worshippers.
“Dr. Beckett, would you like to join us for the evening meal?” Crase asked.
“Thank you, I’d like that,” Beckett said, relieved to have something to take his mind off the missing man, although the truth was Sheppard was not missing, just off on a scouting mission. The problem was the colonel had a habit of finding trouble without even looking for it and Beckett’s internal alarms were screaming at him.
“Dr. Beckett, are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Crase, I just wish Colonel Sheppard would check in,” Beckett answered.
“He is due to return soon, is he not?”
“Yes, day after tomorrow,” Carson replied. “It’s just that he seems to attract trouble and if he’s run into those Wraith worshippers…”
“It is not likely that he would go that far north, Dr. Beckett,” Crase offered reassuringly.
“He may not have had a choice if he ran into that storm we had,” Beckett said as they walked toward Crase’s home. The aroma of stew set his stomach rumbling anticipatorily as he ducked beneath the partially open door.
“Welcome, Dr. Beckett, please sit down,” Miriel told him as Crase and Byrone took their seats.
“Let me help you with that,” Beckett offered, but Miriel just smiled as she motioned for him to remain where he was. “It smells like the stew my grandmother used to make.”
“There are warm biscuits if you would like some,” Miriel told him.
“Thank you, Miriel, how are you feeling?”
“I feel wonderful,” Miriel answered and patted her slightly rounded belly contentedly. “Dionair will be back from his hunting trip tomorrow and we will celebrate with much wine and dancing.”
“Not for me, Dr. Beckett, but for my husband and father and brother,” Miriel assured him. “And for you and Colonel Sheppard if he returns in time.”
Beckett smiled at the pretty woman before allowing his thoughts to return to John Sheppard and where the Colonel was at that exact moment. A cold finger of dread ran down his spine as a vision flashed across his mind and somehow he knew Sheppard was in trouble. The problem was he had no proof until either the colonel showed up or they found his Jumper. He knew there was nothing he could do right now and smiled as his host passed a plate of sweet smelling biscuits.
Rodney frowned as he looked at the unappetizing appearance of the food placed in front of him. It looked like something his cat might have dragged in, but the aroma was enough to make his stomach rumble and his mouth water. He looked for utensils, but one look at Teyla told him there were none as she picked up her plate and used her fingers to pick up the pieces of Shiccato Root and put them in her mouth.
“This is delicious, Brea Shuliak,” Teyla offered and motioned for McKay to follow suit.
Ronon grinned around a mouthful of food. “It’s good, McKay. Just a hint of citrus—”
“Rodney, there is no citrus,” Teyla said and noted the frown on their host’s face.
“Is there a problem, Dr. McKay?” Brea Shuliak asked.
“No…No, it’s just that I have an allergy to certain foods and break out in hives. Trust me it’s not something you want to see,” McKay answered.
“Hives…like the Wraith? You are Wraith?” Brea Shuliak snapped and quickly stood, towering over his guests.
“No, we’re not Wraith!” McKay said fearfully backing away from the larger man.
“Brea Shuliak, please forgive Rodney,” Teyla said, stepping between her friend and the Torean. “An allergy is the same as your Shrigala sickness and is brought on by eating the wrong food. Those red bumps you get are what Rodney refers to as hives.”
“Yes, let’s call them bumps from now on,” McKay said as the Torean sat down across from him.
“Eat, McKay, or we won’t get any of the Shireo and you know Sheppard loves his chocolate,” Dex offered around a mouthful of Shiccato Roots.
“I hope you know this could end very badly if there’s citrus involved,” McKay said and reluctantly took a small piece of the Shiccato Root, chewing carefully before realizing the taste reminded him of crisp vegetables done on the open BBQ and his eyes opened wide appreciatively as Brea Shuliak offered him more.
“It is good? No hives, Dr. McKay?”
“Yes, it is very good. In fact it reminds me of home and I always asked for seconds there,” McKay answered as someone pressed an odd shaped cup into his hand. He sniffed the dark liquid before sipping it with a smile as he found it did taste like chocolate with just a hint of cinnamon. “We have got to take some of this back home.”
“We will, but first we have to talk about what Brea Shuliak can expect in return,” Teyla said and smiled at the Torean.
“You are welcome to share my fire for the night,” Brea Shuliak told them once they’d finished their meal and the sky was filled with stars winking down at them from a midnight black, moonless tapestry. “Then we can talk more.”
John Sheppard paced the narrow confines of his cell, silently cursing his inability to find a way to escape the Wraith before being brought on board the Hive ship. There was nothing he could do until he escaped his cell, but that was easier said than done. He didn’t even have anyone to talk to, then again that was a blessing, because at least he didn’t have someone else’s life to worry about.
John moved to sit on the bench, disgusted at the way it felt, but again there was nothing he could do about it. Several times he thought he heard voices, but whoever they were had simply passed by his cell without a word to him. Sheppard wondered how long he’d been aboard the Hive ship, but had no way of figuring it out because they’d taken everything and left him in nothing but his pants. Even his boots and socks had been confiscated before he’d been thrown into this small box-like room.
John knew they were no longer on Crase’s world, but he had no idea where they were headed once the ship left orbit. He stood up and resumed his pacing, but stopped as he caught movement outside his cell. The Wraith commander stood watching him with such coldness that John thought his blood might freeze in his veins. There were two drones standing on either side of him, both holding weapons that Sheppard recognized.
“Bring him,” the commander ordered as an opening appeared.
John stepped through as the Wraith Commander turned and strode away from the cell. John stumbled forward as one of the drones struck him forcefully across the shoulders. He grabbed at the wall, disgusted with the feel of the living thing beneath his touch and managed to stay on his feet.
John studied the lay of the ship, hoping he’d be able to use whatever intel he came up with to aid his escape if and when the opportunity arose. He sensed the drones at his shoulders, but they stayed far enough away that he knew it would be impossible to overpower them. It surprised him when the Wraith Commander stopped and turned toward him with a look that promised nothing but pain.
“You are a warrior, Colonel Sheppard and it is only fitting that you die as a warrior…”
“If it’s all the same to you I’d rather not die at all,” Sheppard said as a section of the wall parted to reveal a single slab of Wraith technology at the center of a small room. He had no idea what the room was for, but something told him it did not bode well for him.
“Strap him down,” the Wraith Commander ordered.
John struggled against the drones, but he was dragged into the room and lifted onto the table. He was forced face down on the table and his arms were drawn above his head as tendril-like filaments wrapped around his wrists and tightened until they were in danger of cutting off his circulation. Similar strands wrapped around his ankles, knees, and thighs, pinning him in place as the Wraith Commander stepped forward.
“I have heard of your team, Colonel Sheppard. I believe Ronon Dex is a member and I am sure he has told you of his fate as a runner. His exploits are extraordinary and I am hopeful that you will prove just as resourceful.”
John could hear sounds on his right and struggled to see what was happening, biting back a cry of pain as something sharp pressed against his back. He felt something wet running down his skin and fought to control the nauseating pain that swept along his nerves. He nearly blacked out as the sharp instrument slowly cut through his flesh, but he fought to remain conscious. He twisted his head when he heard a noise on his right, eyes widening as he caught sight of the strange instrument gripped by clamps held in the Wraith Commander’s hand.
“I am sure you know what this is, but it is always a pleasure to describe it to a runner. This is a tracking device and it will attach itself to the bones of your back. It will send out a constant signal and allow any Wraith to find you. However, I will be the only one to hunt you, Colonel Sheppard, since the Queen you so mercilessly killed was part of this Hive.”
“Silence, Colonel, you must be perfectly still or you risk being useless as a runner. We have learned many things since your kind came to the Pegasus Galaxy. Unfortunately many have died in our experiments, but you…you will survive and do anything in your power to escape and defeat me,” the Wraith Commander told him.
John clenched his fingers as the commander lowered the tracking device toward his back. He felt cold dread as he heard a soft whir and then agony ripped through his flesh as the device fused with his spine. His body convulsed and bile rose in his throat as he struggled to rid his mind and body of the rippling waves of agonizing pain that rendered him weak and semi-conscious.
John barely registered another biting pain but he knew the Wraith Commander was sealing the wound with the tracking device inside him. Every breath he took told him something foreign was embedded inside him, yet there was nothing he could do to ease the tremors that wracked his body. He felt the restraints removed, but did not have the strength or ability to fight as two drones lifted him from the table and carried him through the corridors of the Hive ship. When they dumped him on the floor inside his cell he cried out and reached for the ravaged wound in his back. He crawled toward the small bed and managed to climb onto it before the darkness reached out for him and he embraced its welcoming void.
The Torean sky was awash with pastel colors that ranged from warm pink and yellows to brighter oranges, reds, and purples. Ronon had been awake for several hours, unsure why he felt as if someone was walking over his grave. He’d heard the expression on Atlantis and never really understood it, but now he was pretty sure he knew what they meant.
Ronon walked along the edge of the Torean village and inhaled the fresh scent of flowering shrubs nearby. He felt a cold shiver of dread down his spine and again felt as if someone, someone he was close to, was in trouble. He couldn’t shake the feeling as the sun peeked over the horizon and the colors in the sky faded to reveal a sapphire blue sky speckled with dusty rose-colored clouds.
“Ronon, are you all right?” Teyla asked upon finding him staring into the distance.
“I’m all right,” Ronon assured her.
“Brea Shuliak has invited us to join them for their morning meal,” Teyla said.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Since when?” Teyla asked with a hint of a smile. Ronon Dex was well known for his voracious appetite and when he wasn’t hungry it was usually a sign that something was wrong.
“Did you ever feel like you had to do something, but you didn’t know what it was?” Ronon asked softly.
“Many times,” Teyla answered honestly.
“I keep thinking we need to do something but I don’t know what it is,” Ronon told her.
“Does it have something to do with the Toreans?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Ronon said and tried to figure out why his instincts were suddenly in high gear. “Something’s wrong, Teyla.”
“Do you want to contact Atlantis?”
“No, it wouldn’t do any good right now,” Ronon assured her as they made their way toward Brea Shuliak’s home.
Once inside they sat on the small cushions that surrounded a low stone-topped table. The smell of sweet breads and fresh fruit made Ronon’s stomach rumble and he reluctantly admitted that he was hungry after all.
“This is wonderful, Brea Shuliak,” McKay said.
“Thank you, Dr. McKay ,” the Torean said and bowed to the Atlantian. “Teyla, do you think your people would be willing to trade?”
“I believe that is why we came, Brea Shuliak,” the Athosian said. “We are always looking for friends to trade with.”
“We have more than enough to trade with friends, and we are hopeful that you will share some of your wealth with us…”
“Our wealth?” McKay said suspiciously. “Teyla, I thought we were here to barter for wares?”
“Rodney, let me handle this,” Teyla ordered softly and returned her attention to the Torean leader. “I believe we have much to offer each other.”
“We are in need of such things as clothing and medical supplies,” Brea Shuliak told her.
“We can supply you with both of those in exchange for a share of your crop,” Teyla told him.
“Very well. As I said we have an abundance of fresh fruits, grains, and Shireo—”
“Then it’s a done deal,” McKay said, smiling at the thought of bringing home the Pegasus version of hot chocolate. “I wonder if they have anything like marshmallows.”
“What are marshmallows?” Brea Shuliak asked.
“They’re a white fluffy thing you add to hot chocolate or you take chocolate and marshmallows and put them between two graham crackers and make s’mores,” McKay said as he bit into a sweet fruit that tasted like a ripe mango.
“I believe we would like to try these s’mores,” Brea Shuliak told him.
“Perhaps we can bring the things we need to make them on our next trip,” Teyla said, watching as Ronon remained silent during the exchange. There was something troubling the Satedan, but she had no way of figuring out what it was. She saw McKay frown as he looked in Dex’s direction and knew he was seeing the tension in the set of the man’s shoulders. The Torean people began talking amongst themselves and Teyla listened with only a slight interest.
Carson Beckett was worried as he watched the sky for any sign of Sheppard’s Puddle Jumper. The day had dawned with bright skies, but had quickly changed when clouds moved in and rain pelted down on the village. Crase and his people were inside, but he stood beneath a canopy of low-lying trees in hopes of catching sight of the craft.
“Dr. Beckett, why don’t you come inside?” Miriel suggested.
“I’ll be right in, lass,” Beckett told her, searching the sky again before reluctantly following the woman inside. He’d treated the injured and sick, and was ready to travel back to Atlantis as soon as Sheppard returned. The problem was Sheppard had been silent during his trek to the mountain villages and that did not set well with Beckett.
“Dr. Beckett, would you like a cup of Geraacho?” Miriel asked.
Beckett nodded his head and accepted the cup of strong liquid that had a hint of lemon flavor. He’d acquired a taste for the mixture and wondered what his mother would think of it. She loved lemon drinks, whether hot or cold and this could be drunk either way. He reached for a piece of bread without even realizing he’d done so and dipped it into the crushed fruit served in a small silver bowl.
“Maybe Colonel Sheppard lost track of time,” Crase offered.
“No, I don’t think so,” Beckett told him. “Sheppard is one of the most reliable people on Atlantis. He should have been back early this morning.”
“Perhaps we could search—” Miriel began.
“It is impossible to search the mountains on foot, Miriel,” Crase told her.
“If he doesn’t return soon I’ll have to contact Atlantis and have them send a team to help look for him,” Beckett said, eating the food placed before him without really tasting it.
John moaned and rolled onto his back, crying out as pain twisted through his body. He reached for the source of the agonizing white fire, and his fingers brushed across the ravaged flesh as memory returned. He forced his eyes open, blinking rapidly in an effort to bring everything into focus.
Sheppard knew he was alone as he stared up at the destroyed buildings and knew instinctively where he was. The Wraith, his own personal demon, had a sick sense of humor. There was no doubt he’d been thrown onto the Satedan home world and he struggled to sit up as the sun burned down from high overhead.
John shifted and brought his legs up under him, forcing his body to ignore the pain caused by even the slightest movement. He looked down at his hands and noted they were shaking as he leaned heavily on his knees before straightening his body out.
“Crap,” he spat as nausea churned through his gut. He released the thick stream of bile and wiped at his mouth as his body trembled in spite of the warmth provided by the hot sun. He called on his military training and ignored the fire raging through tattered nerves as he searched the area for anything he could use as a weapon.
John knew what the Wraith expected of him and wished there was some way out of this, but right now he was alone on a deserted world with a Wraith tracking device fused to his spine. He knew Beckett and Keller could remove it, but first he had to find a way to get to them without putting anyone else in danger.
Sheppard thought about Ronon Dex and the lonely life he’d led once the Wraith had made him a runner. The Satedan had found out that people didn’t really give a damn if you had not chosen to be a runner; they simply damned you because otherwise the Wraith would cull their world. He remembered Ronon telling him of several villages he’d visited during his first few months as a runner. How the people had tried to help him, but had wound up victims of the vile creatures who hunted him.
Sheppard remembered his first meeting with Ronon Dex and smiled in spite of the pain searing his back. The Satedan had shown so much courage and strength and had fought to survive when others would have quit. He moved toward one of the buildings, but stopped when something caught his eye.
He moved across to the dust covered table outside what looked like a pub and reached for the Wraith communication device. He listened as static finally ceased and a familiar voice reached his ears.
“Colonel Sheppard, you will find many materials to devise weapons. Weapons you may use to protect yourself or kill yourself before I feed on you…”
“Go to hell!”
“I must warn you that I will destroy anyone who tries to help you.”
“Big surprise there,” Sheppard said and moved toward the open door as he listened to the hated voice.
“You have six hours to devise your weapons before I come after you.”
“Nice. You have such a hard task ahead of you. I mean tracking someone with Wraith technology is just so damn hard and so sporting,” Sheppard spat and turned the device off. He wished Rodney was with him as he looked at the communication device, wondering how the scientist would turn this into something he could use to contact Atlantis.
John entered the first building and tried to remember everything Ronon had told him about Sateda. After the last battle there’d been many weapons left in areas that only the military knew about. Ronon had told him where to find them and he’d planned on coming back here to help Dex retrieve whatever he wanted.
The building was eerily silent and everything was covered in dust and debris. John slowly made his way along the outer wall, carefully avoiding anything that looked dangerously close to collapse. He walked through a narrow opening that might have been a door at one time, but was now just a jagged entrance in an area that looked like it had been devastated by an explosion.
Sheppard glanced around and spotted the small indentation in the wall Ronon had told him about. He knew what was hidden behind it and prayed he remembered the code properly. He knew the series of numbers and symbols, but wasn’t sure he remembered the correct order. He closed his eyes and thought about his conversation with Ronon then finally touched the indentation and waited for it to open up.
He stared at the keypad that was set deep into the wall and slowly touched a succession of numbers. He listened for any sign of trouble, but there was no sound as he tapped at the keys. He finished the sequence and stood back, eyes opening wide in surprise as he heard several warning sounds.
“Sonofabitch!” Sheppard spat and jumped through the narrow opening as the distinct sound of an explosion reached him. His body was propelled across the room and he landed hard against the wall before sliding to the floor. He blinked several times until his vision finally cleared.
“Way to go, John! Blowing yourself up is a great way of escaping that damn Wraith!” He slowly made his way to his feet and looked around. The smell of an unknown explosive reached his nostrils and his face screwed up in distaste before he retraced his steps and entered the room once more.
There didn’t seem to be much damage, most of it confined to the area around the keypad. John moved forward sweeping his hand in front of his face in order to clear the smoky haze that seemed to linger around him. The opening was large enough for him to fit through and he was surprised at what he found in the storage area. There were several unfamiliar weapons, but there was also a gun, a monster like the one Ronon used and he lifted it, smiling at the way it felt in his hands.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” he whispered and searched for something he could add supplies to.
John cried out as he felt something move beneath his skin and dropped to his knees as nauseating fire burned through his nerves. He doubled over, writhing on the dirt covered floor as he tried to reach for the source of the pain. Darkness seemed to be reaching for him, but he fought it back in an effort to stay conscious. The Wraith had given him a time limit, and Sheppard knew they’d be after him the minute his six hours were up. Hell, he wasn’t even sure he had six hours because he had no idea how long he’d been unconscious.
John’s breathing grew ragged and sweat beaded on his forehead as he struggled with this new agony. He briefly wondered if Ronon had suffered this kind of pain and vowed to talk to him about his experiences when he got back to Atlantis…if he got back to Atlantis. He had no idea how long the pain went on as his body arched in agony, but the pain finally ebbed and he lay still for several minutes fighting to breathe past the nausea left in the pain’s wake.
Carson Beckett knew something was definitely wrong as the sky darkened with the advent of night and there was still no sign of John Sheppard. The Colonel would have found some way to send him a message if it was simply a delay, but he would never stay away this long without sending word.
“Dr. Beckett, I am sorry Colonel Sheppard has not returned. Is there anything I can do to help you?”
“You did everything you could, Crase.”
“Will you be contacting your people?”
“Yes, I need to send a message home and let them know we need help searching the villages to the north,” Beckett explained and knew the man would allow him to use the device they’d been given to contact Atlantis.
“We will do anything to help, Dr. Beckett,” Crase assured him.
“Mr. Woolsey, Dr. Beckett is waiting to speak to you,” the communications officer of the day explained as Richard Woolsey hurried toward him.
“Dr. Beckett, is everything all right?” Woolsey asked and knew it was a stupid question since Beckett and not Sheppard was the person contacting him.
“Colonel Sheppard has not returned from his trip to the north villages.”
“When was he supposed to return?” Woolsey enquired.
“Yesterday, but a major storm swept through the area and Crase says there are villages in the mountains that are filled with Wraith worshippers…”
“And if Colonel Sheppard went down in the storm he could have been caught by them,” Woolsey observed.
“Aye, and if that’s happened then there’s no way of tellin’ where the lad is.”
“Well, let’s not go jumping the gun yet, Dr. Beckett, it could be he had problems with his Puddle Jumper…”
“He would have contacted me if that was the case.”
“I’ll have Major Lorne’s team—”
“Unscheduled gate activation! Dr. McKay’s IDC.”
“Open the gate,” Woolsey ordered and returned his attention to Carson Beckett as McKay, Ronon, and Teyla returned from their off world mission. “Dr. Beckett, rest assured help will be on the way within the hour. In the meantime find out what you can from Crase about the villages and whether they have the technology to contact a Wraith hive ship.”
“Crase assures me they do, Mr Woolsey, and his people have already sent out search parties, but there’s not much they can do on foot.”
“Understood, Dr. Beckett, I’ll get back to you as soon as everything is set in motion at our end,” Woolsey said and moved to meet the returning team. “Welcome home.”
“Thank you, Mr. Woolsey, it is good to be home,” Teyla told him.
“How did things go with the Toreans?” Woolsey asked.
“We have a trade agreement,” McKay told him excitedly. “And they promised an unlimited supply of Shireo.”
“Yes, they did, and thanks to Rodney they are also interested in s’mores,” Teyla explained with a smile.
“Have you heard from Sheppard?” Ronon asked out of the blue.
“Actually…no,” Woolsey said as they reached his office. “I just spoke with Dr. Beckett and it seems Colonel Sheppard is overdue—”
“When do we leave?” Dex asked softly.
“Hold on a minute. I was going to send Major Lorne’s team—”
“I’m going,” Ronon said.
“Mr. Woolsey, perhaps it would be best if you allowed us to—”
“Let me finish,” Woolsey said lifting his hands in an effort to keep control of the meeting. He knew as soon as Sheppard’s team returned they would insist on being involved in the search and he understood their concern for the missing man. “You have just returned from an off world—”
“It was a simple mission and we had plenty of time to rest. We’re ready to leave,” McKay interrupted, obviously concerned for his missing friend.
“How long before you’re ready to leave?” Woolsey asked.
“I’m ready now,” Ronon answered.
“Yes, I’m sure you are, but you need to make sure the Puddle Jumper is fully stocked with supplies. Take an hour to get everything you need and I want hourly updates on your progress once you start the search,” Woolsey ordered and watched as Sheppard’s team moved to carry out his orders.
John knew he could not stay where he was no matter how bad the pain got. He called on his military training and prayed it would be enough, but each time he tried to stand, the Wraith device in his back sent shockwaves of pain through him. He lost track of time as he struggled to get to his feet, but he finally managed to stand upright, or as upright as any man who’d had his back carved up by an alien creature was capable of doing.
John looked around him and gritted his teeth as he reached for the collection of weapons and supplies he’d managed to find and knew he had to get moving. He had no way of knowing when the Wraith would start hunting him, but he needed to be ready and that meant finding a place to defend until he found a way off the planet.
Sheppard made his way along the deserted streets, not worried about keeping out of sight because the tracking device would let the Wraith know where he was. It made for a short game of cat and mouse, but John understood that game and had played it many times in his life. At some point the mouse became the cat as the hunter became the hunted.
Ronon was living proof of that, and he couldn’t help but smile at the thought of the big Satedan. How many times had Ronon proved his mettle by putting himself in the line of fire to save their lives? It never occurred to John that he’d done the same selfless act on many occasions.
John glanced at the sky as he moved and wondered how many hours of daylight remained as he ignored the feeling of ants crawling around in his back. The bitter, acidic taste of bile burned his throat and he wished he had something to wash his mouth out with, but the Wraith had left him nothing but their little gift now making a home against his spine. The alien device shifted and he screamed before dropping to his knees in the dirt.
Sweat beaded on his forehead, dripping from his hair and trailed a path down his dust covered face. He cursed and screamed before finally managing to regain some control and making it to his feet again. He lifted the small pack and began running in an effort to escape the city and the Wraith who would soon be there.
He forced his mind to think of anything but the pain twisting like a double edged blade through his back and finally reached the end of the street. He ran on, silently thinking that ‘runner’ was the perfect name for people like him because that was about all they could do to escape their enemy.
John remembered Ronon had been hiding in a cave when they’d first met and he tried to remember whether Ronon had told him the cave had a dampening effect on the device’s signal. It didn’t really matter right now because there didn’t seem to be anything remotely resembling a cave in the area. A stargate? No, if he remembered correctly the Wraith commander had destroyed the Satedan Stargate in an effort to keep Ronon tied to the planet.
“You’re so screwed, John,” he whispered and realized he was talking to himself again. He stopped and leaned heavily on his knees as the hot sun beat down from high overhead and wiped the sweat from his forehead before continuing away from the city.
The Wraith Commander watched as the drones readied themselves to begin the hunt for Colonel John Sheppard. It would be so easy to capture and feed on the human, but he wanted to make the man suffer. He wanted Sheppard to know what it was like to be hunted down like the animal he was.
The drones knew what was expected of them and there was no question that they would do exactly as ordered, but he also understood that humans could be highly unpredictable. That didn’t bother him because it simply made this more interesting and exciting and that rarely happened anymore.
The Wraith Commander reached for his weapon of choice and smiled at the feel of the item in his hand. The gun fired projectiles instead of electrical impulses and would cause damage without killing Sheppard unless he misjudged where he placed the shot. This was his first hunt in a long time, and one he was really looking forward to because Colonel John Sheppard had a reputation that surpassed any other enemy he’d ever had the misfortune to meet.
“It is time,” the Wraith Commander said and led the way to the dart.
Carson Beckett was barely able to contain himself as the Puddle Jumper landed in nearly the exact spot John Sheppard’s had a few days ago. He wasn’t surprised when Ronon, Teyla, and McKay stepped out and hurried toward him.
“Has there been any word, Carson?” Teyla asked worriedly.
“Not since I last spoke with Mr. Woolsey,” Beckett answered and hurried toward the hut he’d been using. They entered to find Crase and several others going over the simple maps they’d made of the mountains to the north.
“We have nearly finished the maps, Dr. Beckett.”
“Thank you, Crase. I’d like you to meet some friends of mine. Dr. Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagan, and Ronon Dex,” Beckett said. “This is Crase and his son Byrone and daughter Miriel.”
“Welcome to Cablaos. I wish it was under better circumstances,” Crase said as the newcomers joined them around the small table.
“Thank you, Crase, I have heard many good things about your people,” Teyla said and smiled at their host.
“Have you been able to narrow the search parameters down?” McKay asked.
“Colonel Sheppard said he was going to fly north along the shore and then turn inland at the base of the mountains,” Beckett explained. “The storm hit late in the evening and if Colonel Sheppard was caught in the open he could have gone down anywhere from the foothills to the upper mountains.”
“Sheppard would have made sure the Jumper was sending out a signal if he went down,” Ronon said.
“Not if it came upon him before he had a chance to react,” Beckett offered.
“Sheppard’s reflexes are fast. He’d have sent the signal if he could,” Dex told them.
“I take it you didn’t pick up any signal?” Beckett asked.
“Not a thing,” McKay answered and studied the map. “How far away are these mountain villages Sheppard was supposed to visit?”
“By foot it would take many long weeks, but in the ship you have it should only take a few of your hours,” Crase explained and pointed to several dots on the map. “These are the villages Colonel Sheppard would have checked on if not for the storm. There are at least two that are filled with Wraith worshippers and if he crashed anywhere near them he could have been discovered and turned over to the Wraith.”
“We need to get moving,” Ronon said.
“We’re not even sure where we should be searching yet, Ronon,” McKay said impatiently.
“We start at the first village and work our way into the mountains,” Dex said.
“Ronon, are you all right?” Teyla asked.
“I’m fine,” the Satedan vowed, but there was obvious tension in every muscle of his body. “I don’t like wasting time—”
“Oh, give me a break, Ronon, this is not wasting time!” McKay snapped. “Look, the more information we have the better we’ll be able to search for Sheppard. There’s a lot of ground to cover.”
“Easy, Rodney,” Beckett said as he watched the two men. He knew they were worried, they all were, but Rodney and Ronon were like mixing oil and water, they just didn’t blend well. That showed just what kind of man John Sheppard was because he’d made up his team using strangers and melded them into the best in the Pegasus Galaxy…Maybe even the best in any galaxy.
“Look, Ronon, I know you’re worried. We all are, but we need to do this right so we don’t make the mistake of going over ground we already covered,” McKay said, hoping the Satedan would listen to reason,
“Sheppard’s in trouble,” Dex said simply.
“How do you know that? How can you know that?” McKay snapped.
“I don’t know how. Just do,” Ronon answered.
“Then help us come up with a real plan not some Neanderthal—”
“Rodney, stop!” Beckett warned.
“I’m leaving. Who’s coming with me?” Dex asked.
“Oh, just like that…Tell me, Ronon, how do you plan on getting there?” McKay snapped.
“Dr. Beckett can fly the Jumper,” Ronon said.
“You two squabbling like wee children is not getting us anywhere!” Beckett spat. “Ronon, we’ll leave shortly, but not until we have a good idea of where to start searching. Crase, how many villages are there?”
“At least four as you fly along the base of the mountains, but there are two more in the thickest part of the forest and they are the Wraith worshippers. As I said before they are dangerous and if they found Colonel Sheppard then it is already too late…”
“It’s never too late,” Dex told him.
“I wish that was true.”
“You don’t know John Sheppard. He’ll fight.”
“Then they’ll kill him,” Crase said sadly.
“I don’t think so. There are worse things the Wraith can do to him,” Ronon offered and walked away without a backward glance.
“Worse than killing?” Crase asked and looked at Teyla as she answered.
“The Wraith could feed—”
“That is how they kill,” Crase said.
“Yes, but there are other things they do. Ronon was a runner,” Beckett explained.
“I have heard of Runners, but have never met one,” Crase told them.
“That’s because they usually end up captured by the Wraith. There’s a tracking device placed in a Runner’s back and that’s how they find them,” Beckett explained. “Ronon was smart and found ways to escape them.”
“Do you believe Colonel Sheppard can escape the Wraith if he is a Runner?” Crase asked.
“I know he can,” Teyla answered for them all as they returned their attention to figuring out where to start the search for their missing team leader.
To Act 2