All Art By Lily
Betaed By Annie
The relentless orange sun of planet M33-Y24 seared what little was exposed of Lt. Colonel John Sheppard's skin as he and Ronon Dex followed a winding mountain path that would ultimately lead them to their teammates, Dr. Rodney McKay and Teyla Emmagan.
As he came around a bend, he could see heat waves rising off the dull outlines of fields that once contained abundant crops in the valley below, the vague patchwork pattern going on as far as the eye could see. The intense climate had almost reclaimed the land as desert, with only the outlines left as any indication the fields had ever been there.
The light color of John's desert fatigues helped to ward off the sweltering heat more than his standard uniform would have done, but it was just too damned hot to help a lot. The increasing gusts of hot wind threatened to let loose a real sand storm. John had spent enough time in Afghanistan dealing with conditions like this and it wasn't something he'd missed.
He heard a noise and saw that the identical twin brothers, Tierab and Tiebin, were back with them again. The twins were their guides for their current mission to see if McKay could get the massive irrigation system designed by the Ancients working again. When fully functional, it could provide irrigation for the entire valley, which went for a distance far beyond what the eye could see.
Both Tiebin and Tierab had long, thick, dark red hair woven into an intricate braid that trailed down their backs. They were slender, in their thirties, but with a wiry strength. They were about Ronon's height with olive-colored skin, and they had elaborate light blue tattoos on their faces.
Sheppard had known identical twins before, but the resemblances between these two were unnerving, especially since most of their movements also mirrored each other. The only physical difference between the two was their tattoos. Tiebin had a collection of native birds in flight that went across his forehead and trailed down to his jaw line while Tierab's focused on aquatic life forms. The degree of detail on both men's tattoos was stunning.
The twin's clothes were simple, cloth and leather sewn together in various hues of grays and tans, and also helped to identify the brothers. Tiebin wore mostly grays while Tierab's clothing was predominantly tans. The brothers had gladly led them up the mountainside to their present location, in hopes the waters that came from deep inside the chain of surrounding mountaintops would flow to the fields again.
The hot wind blew hard, drawing John's attention back to the weather. Memories of the waterless Atlantis world that was 48,000 years in the future arose unbidden. John frowned. He'd tried to explain to the others how it had been for him in that future time, but words didn't begin to encompass the experience.
John could sympathize with the plight of the Ionini and their failed irrigation system. Life was all about water – too much or too little meant certain death in one form or another.
Glancing down to the valley below, he could make out the miniature shapes of the few Ionini working out in the heat in the few areas where they could get enough water to sustain their crops. Too bad the water flow to the irrigation system had slowly slacked off to only a trickle of its original force. If McKay could work his magic to help restore the water flow to its full capacity, these people could really turn their lives around again.
John and Ronon had just completed a quick reconnoiter of the mountainside, venturing out in the elements for the sole purpose of gauging the intensity of the increasing windstorm and its path across the valley. There were a few entrances above John's position that edged the trail to the peak of this mountain, entrances that John guessed were different access points into the installation, which meant the facility was something beyond the simple pump station McKay was currently working on.
The wind changed direction and blasted John at full force. He squeezed his eyes shut and put a hand up in front of his face until it changed direction. Brushing the residual grains of sand from his skin and clothes, John glanced over at the twins. "Damn, this wind storm came up fast. How bad can it get?"
The brothers frowned at exactly the same moment, then both scratched the back of their necks as they thought. It was more than a little disturbing to see them mirror each other's thoughts and movements so specifically. They shrugged and Tiebin said, "It can sometimes happen like this, especially at this time of year. When it does with such speed, the storms are usually quite severe. Sometimes, they blow over in a matter of hours, other times they can last for days."
John frowned at the thought of getting stuck there for days, even though they'd carried enough rations in their packs to survive that long there if they had to. John took a deep breath. "I guess we'll just have to see how it goes. We can check it again in an hour or so and go from there."
The twins nodded. Again, the gesture was perfectly matched. The Ionini had a high percentage of twins as a rule, but this particular area had a significantly higher incidence. What was more, sixty percent of the twins born there shared a telepathic bond. He wondered how difficult it would be to share so much of one's thoughts and feelings with another person, yet still be able to retain one's own identity.
John swiped at his brow again beneath the brim of his desert hat, then glanced ahead to the terra cotta-colored entrance to the underground installation where McKay was working. The entrance seemed to blend into the endless browns and tans of the blistered land, but up close, he could make out several symbols of the Ancient language carved into the weathered stone.
Before he went inside, John took one last look at the fields in the valley below. The plateau slowly became sharp angled hillsides, reminding John of the mountainous terrain near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. There were a few dirt devils stirring the sand into a rising dervish, as if possessed by some unseen demon reaching up toward heaven.
Ronon stopped beside him and scratched at his neck.
"You think McKay can fix this thing?"
John shrugged slightly. "You know McKay. According to him, he can fix anything, but if he can get water out to the fields again, the Ionini would be very happy."
The brothers smiled and nodded. "Yes, we would be... and grateful, too."
John smiled. "Well, let's see if we can get it functional again before we start planning any celebrations."
The wind gusted again, blowing hot sand at all of them. John squinted as he wiped some sand out of one eye and said, "I think this damned windstorm has all the signs of turning into something ugly. McKay needs to hurry. Come on, let's go see how they're doing."
He headed for the entrance, and placed his hand on a tarnished pad beside the stone entryway. The door slid open and they went inside without another word.
John's military career had landed him in some real hellholes over the years. The tunnel and cave systems of the mountain regions of Afghanistan were a few of them. He was injured, behind enemy lines, without backup, and without transportation. It didn't get much worse than this. And it was hot, hotter than Hell could ever hope to be, even though it was after midnight. John swallowed, wishing once again he'd brought more water with him.
John wiped his forehead with the back of one hand as he peered out of the cave. He was being watched. He knew that much. He could almost feel their eyes boring into him. He needed a diversion so he could slip away, maybe double back on them and take them out.
His gaze swept around the area, but all he saw were sand dunes, rocky crags, and sparse foliage. There weren't many stars out, clouds covering most of them, along with the crescent moon.
He heard a noise behind him and spun around. Before he could react, he felt a hand slam against his chest, and then ungodly, agonizing pain erupted. As if the pain wasn't bad enough, the Wraith's groan of ecstasy as he fed on John's life energy was almost enough to stop John's blood in his veins.
Just as suddenly, the Wraith let go of him. John started to drop to his knees, then felt someone shake his arm roughly. He reacted without hesitation, moving on instinct alone. He grabbed the forearm of his opponent and flipped him onto the ground. Shoving his knee hard into the stomach of his adversary, John grabbed his sidearm and shoved its muzzle under the person's chin, preparing to fire, ready to use the whole clip if necessary to kill this Wraith.
Then he was yanked to his feet, his weapon wrenched away from his hand and his arms pinned behind his back in a heartbeat. He gasped for air, then looked around, blinking furiously when he saw Teyla on the floor beside Ronon, who was lying on his back. She had John's weapon in her hand while McKay looked on in disbelief. Tiebin and Tierab had a firm grip on his arms as they held him in place.
Ronon recovered quickly, though he kept one hand against his stomach and the other to his throat, coughing a few times as he tried to shake off the effects of the attack. After a moment, he got up with help from McKay.
"What the hell was that?" Rodney asked, letting go of Ronon – who was still bent slightly at the waist and breathing hard – as he stepped closer to John and waited for an answer.
"Damn," John whispered in horror as he realized just how close he'd come to killing Ronon.
John looked around the area wildly, trying to orient himself to his surroundings, but nothing made any sense.
"John?" Teyla asked, her voice full of concern as she placed a hand on his forearm. "You worried us when you did not respond, and then there was your unprovoked attack on Ronon. What is wrong?"
John didn't reply. He didn't try to speak, mostly because he didn't think he'd be able to form coherent sentences. After a moment, he swallowed back his confusion and stared at Ronon again. He put a hand out toward Ronon in silent apology.
Ronon straightened his shoulders, looking him in the eye, though he was still a little breathless. "It's okay, Sheppard, don't worry about it."
"I must have – I must have been dreaming or something," John whispered finally, still bewildered and aghast.
McKay wasn't quite as delicate as Teyla when he muttered, "Who the hell falls asleep when they are wide awake and standing right beside you? What are you? Part bovine?"
John had no answers for Rodney's stream of questions, but that didn't keep Rodney from prattling on, "On second thought, given the number of stunner hits you've taken to the head, narcolepsy wouldn't be unexpected, but still... "
In the absence of the sweltering heat outside the installation, cold seemed to have crept into John's bones and taken permanent residence, because he couldn't stop shuddering. "I-I don't know – I really don't know what just happened."
He looked around at the brightly lit ceiling of the pump house and blinked again. The installation, designed by the Ancients, had incorporated the natural caverns within the mountain to house the central pump house and the main installation in the upper levels.
What wasn't Ancient construction was a continuous tan-and-brown rock formation from floor to ceiling. It was veined with tiny golden quartz-like crystalline threads, causing the rock to sparkle as it reflected the light. It was magnificent, but it held little appeal for John. He was too busy trying to understand what had just happened.
He vaguely remembered coming into the installation, but there was no memory of being in the area of the main room where they now stood. The reality around him wasn't nearly as vivid as the Wraith sucking the life out of him.
John ran a hand through his hair, glancing at his teammates. He saw the entrance leading out of the installation, knowing that was where they had entered the place. He made a beeline for it, nearly sprinting his way outside. Once he was there, the oppressive heat hit him fast and hard like a sprung trap and the wind whipped sand at him as if it were an offensive weapon.
John ignored it all as he stared at the inscriptions lining the entrance, and then he turned his attention at the others who had followed him outside. "I – I remember being here. I remember looking at the carvings on this stone... " he said, speaking louder to be heard over the rising wind.
He pointed to the weather-worn entrance, which was carved from the same stone that adorned the interior. He swallowed, hearing the confusion in his voice as he pressed forward. "Ronon, you were with me."
As the others came to a stop beside him, Ronon nodded in agreement, easing John's disorientation a little, at least until he saw Tiebin and Tierab exchange a worried glance. When the twins saw John's attention was on them, they also nodded in agreement, but their faces still reflected unease.
Tiebin's expression turned into a deep frown as he pointed at the entrance's inscriptions and said, "From what we've been told, that carving is a warning not to proceed past this point. It is very old, done a long, long time ago."
McKay shook his head impatiently. "No, that's not what it says. Well, not exactly."
Rodney paused as he stared at the carvings, putting out a finger to trace along the symbols. "It says no one should enter beyond this point without a kindred spirit, or something to that effect." He turned and looked at John. "What the hell does that mean?"
John's eyes bulged a little as he rubbed the back of his neck. "You're asking me? Wait." He put out a hand in Rodney's direction. "Could it be some residual effect from the Zoan nanites? It wasn't that long ago that I was seeing things because of those nanites. Maybe it's something related."
McKay shook his head. "Beckett and I did extensive tests to ensure the nanites had been rendered inert. No, there's something else going on here."
Tierab's voice was softer as he said, "Waking dreams can happen here, especially as we go deeper inside. At least, that is the legend. We should have told you about them before we got here, but we really thought they were part of the myths surrounding the sacred water rituals. You have to realize none of my people have been inside these entrances for thousands of years, yet the recitations of the past are part of our upbringing."
John looked back at the others, his mind racing with a multitude of questions. He straightened and sought out Tierab's dark gaze. "Waking dreams? Is that what happened to me?"
Tierab nodded, then glanced at Tiebin. Tiebin scowled as if disturbed by what Tierab was thinking. The delicate blue tattoos of flying fish across Tierab's forehead wrinkled as his gaze lingered on the inscriptions again before turning to the valley below and John wondered what was going on between the two.
After a moment, John shook his head. "A dream doesn't seem to explain what happened. Damn it, I almost killed Ronon before I was stopped. There's – there's got to be something more going on here."
Tiebin's troubled gaze turned toward John and he said, "The special ones are more susceptible to their influence, but it is said many of those who come here can be affected. That is why few ever venture close to these hallowed entrances."
Tiebin sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. Then he pulled a small hollowed gourd that held water from beneath his tan-colored cape and took a corked vial from a pocket. Tierab did exactly the same thing, his movements tracing his brother's. They mixed the powdered contents of the vial with the liquid in each of their gourds, shaking them firmly before extending them to the others.
"Here, drink this," Tiebin said firmly. "This will help to ward off the dreams."
John didn't take the gourd from him right away, not eager to consume unknown substances, especially when he already felt so disoriented. Teyla politely declined Tierab's offer, as did Ronon and McKay, and then Teyla stepped forward, filling the awkward silence with a question. "Tiebin, what did you mean by the special ones?"
Tiebin paused as he took a deep breath, pulling the gourd back closer to his side again. "I don't know. It's just part of the legend that goes with this place. The special ones can make almost anything work here. It's the only reason that explains why Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay were allowed to go into the sacred areas that my people haven't been in for hundreds of generations."
John glanced at McKay, who shrugged. Rodney leaned a little closer to him, speaking quietly. "It wouldn't be that big of a leap to guess that it might involve the ATA gene. After all, the lock didn't release until I touched it and the interior didn't light up until after you entered the installation."
John gave Rodney a cautious sideways glance. "Yeah, but you didn't have a waking dream."
McKay put a hand to his forehead. "No, I didn't, but I felt very strange, almost like I was having an out-of-body experience."
Rodney's comment about his near out-of-body experience brought all kinds of smart-ass remarks to John's lips, but he didn't say anything. After all, he was the one who had almost killed Ronon.
Tierab took a step toward John, extending the gourd one more time. "There aren't any drugs in it, if that's what you're worried about. It's just some herbs that help to give clarity when needed most."
John shook his head. "That's okay. I'll pass this time."
Ronon took a long look at John, then asked, "What was the dream about?"
"What?" John asked, frowning at Ronon's mention of the dream, reminding him of its intensity once again – not that he could put it out of his head right now.
"Your dream. What was it about? What was so bad that it had you about to kill me?"
John's thoughts flashed to the feeding again, but the words of explanation wouldn't come – it was all feelings and reactions, all so vivid, all so real, all so –
"John?" Teyla's voice echoed with concern, again at his side.
John blinked, looking at the carvings again. The memory of the dream had almost coaxed him back into that eerie dream state again, though the ever increasing sandstorm swirling around him made the real world very hard to ignore. He swallowed, then murmured, "Sorry, it was – it was – "
He cleared his throat and lied without meeting Ronon's gaze, "I can't really remember much. Most of it vanished as soon as I woke up."
Ronon eyed him closely, as if he didn't believe the lie, so John turned his gaze away from him, his heart still beating much too fast. Damn, it had seemed so real. He licked his lips and looked instead at the valley down below. Already, there were entire areas of the valley involved in the growing sandstorm that were hidden from view.
"Maybe," John started, then stopped to clear his throat. "Maybe, we should just head back to the jumper."
Tiebin shook his head. "It is too late for that. Look at the valley. Soon, it won't be visible at all. It would be suicide to go back now."
McKay stared at Tiebin for a moment, then frowned as he stared at the rising cloud of sand and dirt. He glanced over at John. "I'm not nearly done getting the irrigation system back online."
John chewed on his lip for a moment, then saw Tiebin reaching out to him again with the gourd. "It will help. My family has passed down its formula over countless generations. Our people always carry the powders whenever we travel up the mountainside out of respect for the Ancestors."
Stubbornly, John shook his head in reply. The hot wind nearly blew off his desert hat and he had to raise a hand to secure it, making him acknowledge the rising desert storm once again.
Tiebin nodded, seeming to finally accept John's decision, and returned the gourd to its place on his belt. He looked once more at his brother. They both adjusted their capes before rubbing their hands over their faces. Tierab said to the others, "Come inside, the storm is worsening."
The two turned and headed back inside the Ancient installation. John took a deep breath, then gestured with one hand for the others to follow them. Teyla and McKay moved out, but Ronon waited until John looked over at him. Unspoken questions and concern lined Ronon's expression, where there should have been hurt and betrayal.
John couldn't handle the emotions still roiling inside of him, let alone address them with Ronon, so he merely nodded at Ronon and started to walk inside. There was something comforting about the way Ronon took his usual protective position at the rear of the group without a word, but John didn't let it lull him into a false sense of security. Their goodwill mission had just taken a major left turn into the bizarre.
John wrinkled his nose at the dust filtering through the air, but that wasn't nearly as bad as the stench he seemed unable to clear from his nostrils. Usually, the air filtration system of an Ancient installation kept dust and odors out of the air, but this place apparently hadn't been occupied by Ancients for a very long time.
The distant wail of the wind outside with occasional gusts that somehow made it inside the main pumping station whipped past John, as if trying to catch him off guard, and he couldn't shake the feeling they were being watched. The overall effect gave John the creeps, not that he would admit it to Rodney.
The truth was John hadn't felt quite right ever since they'd reentered the station, especially after the whole wakeful dream incident. The 'somebody's watching me' sensation kept crawling down the back of his neck. The feeling only worsened the longer they stayed.
Rodney was in the control room for the pumping station, running a diagnostic program for the irrigation system while Teyla, Ronon, Tiebin and Tierab were exploring the conduits that connected the different areas of the installation and ran all the way down to the fields below, trying to see if there was a way they could get closer to the jumper without having to trudge through the storm outside.
It was worth a shot at least. Anything was better than walking through a blasting sandstorm. Been there, done that, he thought wryly. If the route through the conduits didn't pan out, they would be stuck there overnight and John had no desire to spend one more minute in that place than he had to.
He felt edgy and he let his gaze sweep around the control room. A black rat-like creature about a foot long silently scurried across the floor to disappear into a gnawed hole in one wall. As John looked up at the wall, he saw something strange and he stepped closer to examine what appeared to be a hammer embedded in the wall. He glanced around, and saw more pieces of metal and wood embedded in all of the walls. Then he took note of the general disarray present everywhere. It was almost as if one of those whirlwinds outside had somehow entered the place and wreaked havoc.
Seemingly oblivious of what John was doing, Rodney went from one console to another and back again as he'd been doing for the last hour and a half, jabbering nonstop, mostly to himself, while he worked. Finally, he nodded as he flipped a couple of switches, and then tugged on his lower lip as he looked at the computer console for the results of his efforts.
"It's really quite amazing that this system hasn't broken down before now. I mean, the Ancients built their equipment to last, but ten thousand years is a hell of a long time to keep something like an irrigation system ticking."
Rodney punched some buttons, causing a panel to light up before he pulled on a large switch. "It may be Ancient in design, but this isn't exactly rocket science we're talking here. Simple mechanics. I mean, even Zelenka could have done this in his sleep."
Rodney sniffed the air and made a face. "But the air filtration of this place sucks. I'm going to have to check into that next."
John nodded as he walked away from the wall and back to Rodney's side. "I think whatever is causing this stench probably isn't alive anymore."
Rodney snorted in agreement, then pulled out his scanner from one pocket. He gestured with one hand. Finally, he smiled. "There, that's done."
John turned to him with raised eyebrows. "What's done?"
"The water flow problem. Now, I just need to reroute power around the damaged subsystems, but I'm not quite sure where the access point is."
John smiled and patted Rodney on the back. "Well, at least you fixed a problem that's been going on for decades in what? Four hours?"
"Three, but who's counting," Rodney said with a distracted air. Then he shrugged off the compliment. "It wasn't that much. Well, it would have been a lot for the average man – a hell of a lot, in fact, but never fear, Rodney McKay was here to save the day once again."
John nodded and waved a hurried hand toward Rodney. "Yeah, yeah, I've heard it before. It's time to see what Teyla and Ronon are up to."
Rodney nodded. He eyed his scanner again as he spoke in a preoccupied tone, "Well, I still need to reroute the power. We may have to go scouting for entry from the pump station into the main installation, which should be in a level above us. We may not have much of a choice if I'm going to get this water issue resolved as much as I hate to hang around here any longer."
"Don't get too involved," John said, glancing again to the scarred walls around them. "We might have to make a second trip back here to fix anything more complicated. And I think it would be best to send a team without the ATA gene."
Rodney logged out of the system and began to stow his gear while John spoke to Teyla over the radio. When he was done, he turned to Rodney and said, "Okay, they are on their way back. If that storm is still blasting outside when they get here, we'll have no choice but to try the conduits."
Rodney had picked up his handheld scanner again while John had been on the radio and was busy punching buttons on it. He stopped and squinted, looking further into the distant hallways of the installation.
"What is it?" John asked, stepping closer.
"What did you find on the scanner?"
"Oh, I'm picking up some pretty odd energy readings. It might be the source of the power problems I mentioned. Or it could be something else entirely."
"Something else entirely? Like what?"
Rodney glanced in John's direction, looking very irritated. "Like maybe a ZedPM."
"A ZPM here? You didn't say a word about a ZPM earlier."
Rodney nodded. "Yeah, well, I wasn't focused on energy readings, was I? I was working on a water issue. Now that it's resolved, I can focus on the strange energy readings I'm picking up here."
John shook his head. "This was just an agricultural installation. What would they need ZPMs for?"
"I don't know. I'm not saying it is a ZedPM. I'm just saying I'm getting some strange energy readings and I'd like to check it out. Besides, it's not outside the realm of possibility for the Ancients to have left a ZedPM here. We found ZedPMs in that underwater Ancient lab back on Earth. Hell, Todd even kept a supply of them. We encounter them with amazing frequency, considering the number of missions we have go out from the city every day. Granted, most of them are depleted, but there very well could be a functioning ZedPM here."
He paused and sighed as he stared at his scanner more closely. "But the energy readings I'm getting here don't really resemble the power output signature of a ZedPM."
"Don't worry about it," John said as he rubbed his stomach. "I'm getting a little hungry. I'm surprised you haven't already called for a lunch break."
John waited for Rodney's response, but when he looked in Rodney's direction, Rodney was walking away, following the direction of his scanner. John stopped him. "Whoa, where do you think you're going?"
Rodney frowned, clearly confused that John didn't understand his motives right away, but there was also an unfocused air about him, one that made John uneasy. "I'm looking for the energy issue, of course. What's your problem?"
"You can't just go gallivanting around here, Rodney. This place – this place is just creepy." There, he'd said it aloud. Maybe, the creepiness would lose its power over him simply by his acknowledging its presence. He pressed on. "The sooner we get away from here, the better," John added with a nod.
Rodney waved his fingers in the air. "You said it yourself, Teyla and Ronon, along with Tivo – Tiebro – whatever their names are – I'll just call them Twin One and Twin Two for now, are on their way back. There's nothing else for us to do here. We've got the time, more than enough time to track down this perplexing energy issue, so just relax."
John sighed. Relaxation just didn't seem to be a viable option at the moment and he was really wishing they hadn't split up from the others. "Yeah, okay, but don't get carried away."
"As if..." Rodney muttered.
The general sense of creepiness that crawled over John began touching some primal part of his hindbrain and he stood at full attention. The feeling of being watched came back stronger than ever. He took another breath – a deep, cleansing kind of breath designed to calm and refresh – and he exhaled slowly between pursed lips, but his body still refused to lose any of its tension.
The hair on the back of John's neck stayed raised and his nerves were on edge for no visible reason. Still, he trusted his gut instinct; it had saved his life more than once. They needed to get the hell out of here.
"Okay, this place just took a big jump on my creep-o-meter," John said, his eyes sweeping around the area uneasily. Then he realized Rodney wasn't nearby.
He was mildly disturbed that he'd lost track of the scientist while he'd been deep in thought. "Come on, McKay, let's get moving," he said, speaking a little louder.
John turned in time to see Rodney disappear into a side room. McKay could move pretty damned fast, if properly motivated, but it wasn't like him to just leave without a word. John followed him and saw him disappear into a second room, and then another in the meandering agricultural installation, wondering what Rodney had found. It better be damned good, John decided as he sped up his pace.
He was almost inside the last room when there was an ear-piercing shriek. Then Rodney exclaimed, "Oh, my God!"
Rodney's voice was so shrill it made John cringe. Rodney ducked to the ground. John had raised his P90 automatically. A dark mass with great flapping wings came from one corner and swooped above Rodney, rushing headfirst toward John.
John caught a glimpse of claws and teeth amidst the wings as the creature screeched nearly as shrilly as Rodney's cry had been, but John held his fire. He instead opted to duck as Rodney had done, of course without the screaming, though he kept his weapon aimed at the creature the whole time.
The turkey-sized, bat-like beast let out a long final yelp and then disappeared down the hallway, flapping its wings as fast as it could. John turned to check on Rodney who was just getting to his feet. "You okay?"
"You mean, other than needing to change my underwear?" Rodney muttered. He shuddered. "Seriously, what was that thing?"
"Probably part of the reason why this place stinks," John replied. "And I think you scared it more than it scared you."
Looking suddenly self-conscious of his actions, Rodney straightened his uniform and mumbled, "Of course I did."
Then Rodney froze in place, his gaze darting to John. "My God, that wasn't a waking dream, was it? I mean – I mean, it couldn't be because you saw it, too, right?"
John put a hand on Rodney's shoulder and spoke in a low, calm voice, "Yeah, Rodney, I saw it, too. Don't feel too bad, though, this place is just creeping you out like it is me."
Rodney let out a long sigh of relief, and then started looking around on the floor and shelving. He knelt down as he went, apparently searching for something. He rambled in that way he could do when his mind was on other things, "It was weird. I had a real sense of deja vu before that thing squawked and came flying at me, as if I was back on Atlantis, during the Wraith siege the first year we were there, and I was taking the ZedPM back to install in the... "
He stopped and shook his head, then glanced back at John, his eyes wide with realization. "My God, it seemed so real. I was certain – well, I mean, I had the distinct impression I was back on Atlantis and... holy shit, I must have been having one of those waking dreams – "
John put up a hand, frowning, and nodded. "Okay, it's possible. You just disappeared from the control center, and went off on your own without a word. The waking dream might have just been starting for you when that creature swooped out of the corner and scared the crap out of you."
Rodney nodded nervously. "Yeah, maybe. Probably. Damn, who knows what would have happened if that damned bird hadn't screeched at me?"
John met Rodney's troubled gaze for a long moment before saying, "I know. Just watch yourself."
Rodney shuddered, then looked around the storage room with a lost air. "Where the hell are we anyway?"
John's eyebrows went up. "You don't remember?"
It didn't seem possible, but McKay's eyes widened even more dramatically. "I remember walking down the corridor toward the control room for the ZedPMs and it felt like I was being followed." His gaze darted around the room. He stepped into the outer room. "I don't remember coming in here at all. Oh my God, I was having a waking dream!"
John frowned. "Sounds like it, but don't worry about it right now," he said, not wanting to alarm McKay any more than he already was. "Let's go meet up with the others."
Rodney stalled, as if unable to move forward. "I feel like my spidey sense is locked on overdrive."
"Yeah, I know. Come on, let's go," John said more forcefully.
Rodney nodded but then changed course.
"Just a second," he said hurriedly. He reentered the storage room again, searching for something at the far rear of the room.
John stepped closer to him, more than a little worried that Rodney might be caught up in another waking dream. "What are you doing now?"
"What do you think I'm doing? Communing with the mutant-sized dust bunny population in the corner here because I love them so damned much? Look, just - just leave me alone for a second," he muttered, then added without looking back at him, "I'm busy."
That sounded more like the Rodney McKay John knew so well and he relaxed a little. He even made a face at Rodney's back. After a moment, he approached Rodney, coming to a stop right behind him as he tried to see over Rodney's shoulder.
Rodney glanced back at him, then did a double-take when he saw John was so close. "What the hell are you doing?"
John didn't hesitate, responding with more than a little annoyance, as he snapped back, "Well, I could ask you the same thing. What the hell are you doing?"
Rodney turned back to resume his search, the sarcasm in his voice painting a verbal picture of the withering expression that had to be on his face as he said sharply, "Honestly, what part of leave me alone don't you understand?"
"The part that would make you stop irritating the hell out of me," John muttered. He backed away a bit, then took another deep breath. "I don't think you'll find any ZPMs over there, by the way."
Rodney sighed deeply and glanced back at John. "Okay, fine, if you really must know, when that thing shrieked and came at me, I threw my hands up to protect my head and my scanner went flying."
"Why didn't you just say that?" John asked as he switched on the light of his P90 and swung it around.
"Not all of us have nerves of steel, Kal-El."
"Yeah, right. Nerves of steel." He grunted. After the incident with Ronon, John wasn't so sure he had any nerve left at all.
They examined the floor of the storage room from one end to the other and turned up nothing. Rodney started to stretch his arm behind some of the heavy shelving.
"You think it went back there?" John asked, stepping closer.
"Yeah, it's possible. It went flying in that general direction."
"Just hurry it up," John said, looking out the storage room door. "We need to meet up with the others soon."
He heard, "Yeah, yeah," followed by some foul language that John chose to ignore. There was a certain pleasure in being able to rile Rodney so easily. John allowed himself a quick satisfied smile.
Rodney groaned, then gestured toward the corner as he backed away. "Okay, I give up. I can see it, but I can't reach it. Maybe with your long Neanderthal-like arms, you can get it."
"My long Neanderthal-like arms? Give me a break," John said as he walked over and reached back behind the shelving as Rodney had requested. Sure enough, the scanner was there. He could see it, but his fingers only grazed against its edge, not close enough to actually pick it up. He sighed and pulled his hand away.
"Apparently, I'm not Neanderthal-like enough, because I can touch it, but can't get it. Just a sec."
John handed Rodney his P90, then unzipped his tac vest and gave it to him to hold. Rodney waved his fingers as if to hurry him along, then reacted when John glared at him, shrugging slightly. "Well, you're the one who was in a hurry to leave. Don't take all day."
John decided not to speak, instead gritting his teeth together, rather than saying something that would no doubt offend McKay. He reached back behind the shelving, finally able to grab hold of the small device.
"Ah, thanks," Rodney said, at least having the good grace to sound slightly chagrined as he took the scanner from John. He handed John back his vest and weapon.
Rodney made a face as he examined the scanner. "Hmm, that's strange. The source of the energy problem wasn't coming from in here at all."
"I could have told you that, Einstein," John said as he smirked. "There's nothing in here but those mutant-sized dust bunnies you love so much. Don't worry about it. Let's just get back to the others – "
John stopped when something creaked outside the open doorway. He swung his P90 in that general direction, holding it with one hand, his vest still hanging loosely from the other, his creepy feeling back in full force.
He turned, but saw only boxes, bits of wood, and metal, along with other discarded trash in the large room outside the storage room. It was possible Rodney's winged friend was back and making the noise, but John sure couldn't see it.
John took a few steps out of the storage room and looked around again. The walls in this room had a similar appearance as the control room, with numerous small items embedded in the walls. It was disturbing to say the least. He squinted as he stared into the room and tried not to shiver.
"Rodney... " he began, turning back in Rodney's direction.
Rodney had stowed his scanner back into his backpack and said, "Okay, okay, damn it, I'm coming."
John let out a breath of relief as Rodney joined him outside the storage room. "Come on, let's go," he said softly as he turned back to make sure Rodney was following him.
As John started to step away, he caught movement from the corner of one eye and turned. His blood froze when he saw Todd surrounded by several Wraith in front of them. "Ah, crap," he whispered.
"What? What is it?" he heard Rodney ask.
Before he could answer, Todd took a step closer. "Greetings, John Sheppard."
John swallowed hard when he remembered the Wraith could also make people see things that weren't really there. Maybe the Wraith had been behind what had been going on inside the installation, instead of anything related to waking dreams. Maybe the Wraith had taken over the Ancient installation long ago and been trapped there ever since, he thought. Then he shook his head. No, that just didn't make any sense. Todd was never trapped there. He'd been too damned active in other parts of the Pegasus galaxy to be holed up in this place.
He felt Rodney grab his arm, but he shook it off. "It's okay, Rodney," he said in a low voice. "I'm handling it."
Yeah, right, he thought as he stared at Todd, knowing it wasn't Todd, despite all of his senses telling him it was. Just to be on the safe side, he made sure he was between Todd and McKay, waking dream or not.
He could hear Rodney's voice go up a notch in pitch as he said, "Talk to me, John! What – what do you see?"
John swallowed, then said, "Wraith. Todd and his posse."
Todd stepped closer to him. "You don't seem pleased to see me."
"Not exactly," John said, the words slipping out before he could stop them.
John felt Rodney tugging on his arm more urgently as he said, "Oh, God, John, shake it off. There's no one here but us."
John licked his lips and closed his eyes for a moment, trying to focus on Rodney and what he was saying, but when he opened his eyes, all he could see was Todd and the other Wraith. He could even smell them. There was something musty and acrid that he'd come to associate with the Wraith.
He forced himself to ignore it as Todd said, "It is fortunate you came along. We have been trapped in here for some time and my people were in danger of starving."
He could practically feel the hunger of Todd and his men as they stared at him and Rodney like they were a Thanksgiving Day feast, almost as if they were already feeding on him, even without touching him. Apprehension pumped through John's system and his muscles tensed, as if preparing for attack.
"John, you have to listen to me!" he heard Rodney say, but it sounded like he was much further away from him this time.
"I'm trying," he said through clenched teeth, closing his eyes, but he could still smell and hear the Wraith.
His eyes flew open when he realized that keeping his eyes closed around a group of Wraith probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. He looked straight at Todd and whispered, "They aren't really here."
Todd seemed amused by his comment, then said, "I don't feel as though I have your full attention, Sheppard. Why is that?"
Rodney's voice broke through their conversation again. "That's right, John! Whatever you're seeing isn't really there. Keep it up!"
There was a noise and he turned in the direction of Rodney's voice, but he couldn't see Rodney, lost in a sudden haze that enveloped the room. "Rodney?" he called out.
All he could think of was the memory of Todd feeding on Rodney in that whole ZPM/Queen hive ship debacle, and visions of watching Rodney age forty years in a matter of seconds twisted his gut.
When John looked back, Todd had approached and was ominously close to him. He grabbed John's arm with one hand and had his feeding hand up in the air, preparing to strike, but John was ready for him . He pivoted and flipped the tall Wraith over his shoulder.
The alarming thing was when Todd cried out, he sounded a lot like Rodney. John started to look for Rodney again, but in that split second of distraction, Todd was on him again, his hand slamming into John's chest. John struggled against the pain as he heard Rodney scream something in the background. Damn it, one of the Wraith must have grabbed Rodney and was feeding on him, too!
The need to help Rodney coupled with his own need for survival and he flung Todd away from him with a sudden burst of strength and adrenaline. He turned toward the direction he'd last seen Rodney. Even as he was moving, he brought his P90 around and released the safety, but when he glanced behind him once more, Todd and his men were gone, all gone, like the hallucination they'd been.
More than a little disoriented as he tried to separate reality from nightmare, John stopped short when he saw Rodney on the floor beside the storage room door, clutching his arm tightly to his chest. He moved closer and Rodney visibly flinched away from him.
John put up his hands up in a non-threatening manner. "Rodney, are you okay?" he asked quickly.
Rodney shook his head, his eyes tightly squeezed together as he bent over, cradling his arm as if that would make the pain stop. He spoke through gritted teeth, "Oh God, that hurts! No, there was no Wraith, only me, and you decided to throw me over your shoulder and into this doorjamb like I was some kind of crash dummy – "
Rodney stopped, then opened his eyes, shaking his head as if silently berating himself and said, "You were having another one of those damned waking dreams. I guess I should be grateful you didn't empty your P90 into me instead throwing me over your shoulder."
Rodney's words made John's mouth go dry as his gaze darted around the room, knowing what he'd just seen and felt had all been an illusion, but it hadn't seemed like that. He tried to shake it off, but there was still no mistaking the danger he felt still lurking. He was chilled to the bone again and tried to hide the shaking of his ice-cold hands as he stared intently around the room.
He let out a slow breath. "Who's there?" he called out finally.
Rodney sighed, gripping John's arm so firmly, he almost pulled John out of his crouched position. "Oh, God, here we go again. Listen, I'm just not up to another round of 'See Rodney Fly'. Please, there's no one here, except us."
John ignored Rodney as he stood. He was sure they weren't alone and he was pretty sure he wasn't having another waking dream, though a flurry of doubts fluttered in his gut with that possibility.
There was no answer from the room but Rodney's breathing became louder and faster. They had to move out before a waking dream could make him or Rodney lose it again.
"Come on, Rodney, it's time to go."
Rodney stopped and looked around warily before staring up at John in between gasps of air. His eyes, now wide with pain and fear, implored John as he said, "Please tell me this isn't another dream... "
John met Rodney's gaze and shook his head. His hands tightened on his P90 as he swept the weapon around the room, but he still couldn't see anyone. "No. At least, I don't think it is. Come on," he said in a low whisper, "We've got to get out of here before it happens again."
Glancing down, he saw Rodney nod weakly. Shifting his weapon to his left hand, John put a hand under Rodney's good arm and helped him stand. They were headed toward the hallway when a sudden wind arose out of nowhere. Objects started flying through the open air, hitting them. At first, it was small stuff that just stung a little, but then it grew to include heavier objects that really hurt.
"Damn it," Rodney cried out when something hit his injured arm.
They dodged as much as they could, but it was becoming too much, so John pushed Rodney back into the storage room they'd just left and mentally ordered the door to close behind them.
"Just what – what the hell was that?" Rodney asked as the door whooshed shut, obviously spooked and in pain, because otherwise his mouth would have been running nonstop. "We can't both be having the same waking dream, damn it!"
"I don't know what's happening, but I'm getting us some backup."
John reached up to tap his radio headset when objects started to hit the door hard. John moved, putting his back against it to keep it in place. He glanced up at Rodney and said, "Call Teyla and Ronon."
Rodney nodded and put a shaky hand to his headset. He was about to speak when John gasped loudly, taking both men by surprise.
When John glanced down at the source of his pain, he saw the ragged end of a very long, narrow metal rod about a quarter of an inch thick and stained with his blood, sticking out of his left shoulder right below his collarbone, having passed through the hollow door and into his body. His thoughts flashed back to the numerous items he'd seen embedded in the walls of several rooms of the installation and he chided himself for not realizing the danger they were in earlier.
'"Ah, crap," John whispered finally.
Rodney's eyes were riveted on the rod and he blinked madly as he tried to form words. Finally, he said, "Oh God. What do I do?"
John tried to steady his breathing and drifted for a moment as he tried to think of an answer for Rodney. The pain hadn't really started yet, but John knew it would hit him any moment. His breath hitched as other objects began thumping against the door. He certainly didn't want to be stabbed again by more flying debris.
Rodney was sputtering as he reached out with his good hand and clutched John's left arm and his light-colored uniform shirt, which was already staining red with blood. John lifted his gaze from his injury back to Rodney's face.
Stuttering, Rodney said, "You have – you have to get away from that door before something else goes through it – but you're, uh, you're kind of attached to it right now. Oh my God, I think I'm going to be sick... "
John nodded. "Tell me about it," he rasped.
"What – what should I do?"
John knew what needed to be done, he just had no desire to do it.
Something loud struck the door, then shattered to pieces on the other side. As John heard it fall to the ground, he tightened his grip on Rodney's arm and pushed them both forward about a foot, screaming as he did, and he let their momentum pull him free. It wasn't much, but he was able to slide off the rod. Unfortunately, his nerve endings came alive with the movement and it was all John could do not to scream again as he dropped to his knees.
Rodney grabbed him and tried to buffer John's descent as much as he could, but he only had one good hand. John fell back against the nearby wall, grunting hard. Then he glanced up, staring at the metal rod still protruding above him from the door. He turned to meet Rodney's horrified gaze.
"John?" Rodney asked in a rush. "John, talk to me."
It wasn't so much that John was in excruciating pain, but more the shock of the injury that had settled over him like a heavy blanket. Through the haze that enveloped him, he saw Rodney tap his radio, then fumble to retrieve a field dressing from his tac vest with one hand. Rodney's voice was tight with concern as he shouted, "Teyla, Ronon, get your asses over here right now! Something's just stabbed John. Get here now, damn it!"
Blood rushed between John's fingers as he held his hand tightly over the wound and he took short shallow breaths. Shaking his head, he rasped, "Watch out, Teyla. We don't know what attacked us and it could go after you, too. Stay where you are."
Rodney's eyes bulged in disbelief as he pushed John's hand out of the way and applied pressure using the field dressing, making John's pain flare to agonizing proportions and taking the air from his lungs. "You have got to be kidding me. We need backup!"
Ronon sounded like he was running as he said firmly, "We aren't staying away."
"Damned straight," Rodney said as he adjusted his pressure.
Teyla spoke up before John could argue with them. "Yes, we are on our way. Do not worry, we will be cautious. Where are you?"
"Where are we?" Rodney repeated Teyla's question, his voice breaking, then his mouth opened and closed several times in rapid succession. "Oh, my God, I don't know where we are."
John bit his lip as the pain in his shoulder continued to worsen. "The third of three rooms... leading straight across from the main pump house control room... where you were working," John said hoarsely.
Rodney asked him another question, but John was having trouble listening to him. He groaned and put his hand to his temple. Now, something else was happening – something bad, really bad. It was far worse than the hole in John's shoulder. It felt as if his nervous system was on fire with every nerve and synaptic connection transmitting molten daggers of misery.
John was distantly aware of the fact his loud groaning was becoming an extended scream. He had no idea what was happening to him, but whatever it was, it felt like he was going to die. John could make out Rodney's face contorted with concern and fear, but he couldn't hear what Rodney was yelling at him, then everything went black.