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.
"Damn it, Rodney, I can take care of myself," John said through gritted teeth as he tried to push away McKay's hand from where he was applying pressure to John's wounds. "You just stay alert for more trouble."
According to Rodney, John hadn't been out long. That knowledge gave John little comfort. They'd been attacked – and, at the moment, their only defense was Rodney. While Rodney was a brilliant scientist who had come a long way since he'd first joined John's team, he was no Green Beret.
John stirred, trying to force his muscles to come back to life, but they seemed to be at war, because most of them refused to move at all and the others that could move wouldn't stop shaking. He was sitting on the floor beside the door, still leaning against the wall for support, rather than up on his own, mostly because the continued pressure Rodney was using made him feel like he was going to be sick.
John felt bile rising up the back of his throat and he swallowed hard to force it down. He wasn't about to throw up with Rodney in such close proximity – no, he just wasn't up to the responding hurl that would come from McKay. The mere thought made John swallow hard one more time, just to be sure.
His thoughts kept flashing to the horrific agony he'd experienced right before he passed out and he wondered what could have caused such pain. He squeezed his eyes closed as he pushed the disturbing memory away until he had time to really think about it. He shook his head and repeated, "Rodney, I said I can take care of myself."
"Oh, yeah, right, that's very obvious," Rodney muttered as he looked around. "What the hell is taking them so long?"
John's capacity for tolerating Rodney's hysterics was limited at best and he said, "They'll be here. McKay. You've screamed at them enough already. Do it anymore and Ronon will blast you with his stunner the moment he sees you. Just relax a little – this looks worse than it really is."
The muscles in Rodney's face contracted with disbelief, then practically exploded with frustration. "This just looks much worse than what it really is? What? Are you crazy? Wait, don't answer that. I already know the answer. From where I am, this looks pretty damned bad."
"I'm just stating a fact – "
"Yeah, yeah, Mr. Grin-and-Bear-It. You weren't the one who had to listen to you scream in agony. I mean, what the hell was going on?"
John frowned and shook his head without meeting McKay's gaze. "I don't know. The hole in my shoulder was nothing compared to that."
"Well, whatever it was, I thought you were dying."
John closed his eyes for a moment, then said honestly, "So did I."
John took a deep breath, opened his eyes, and started to push away Rodney's hand again, but Rodney shook his head. "Listen, Beckett has ingrained so many basic life-saving techniques into my skull because of you, it's all I can do to refrain from saying, 'What have you gone and done to yourself this time, son? You know, I'm a doctor, not a miracle worker.'"
John grunted at Rodney's pretty good attempt at a Scottish brogue, then wiped the back of his hand across his sweaty forehead. He couldn't seem to catch his breath yet, despite his best attempts to breathe normally. He looked up at Rodney and bit his lip in frustration. Rodney was focused on everything except the danger that might come through the door and attack them.
"This is ridiculous," John said as he started to get up.
Rodney's hand applying pressure to John's wounds pushed down more forcefully, keeping him in place. John sucked in a gasp of air and Rodney hissed as if the sudden movement hurt him, too. After Rodney recovered, he said, "Don't move, damn it! I've got my jacket wadded up against the wall behind you to keep pressure on the entry wound on your back, so sit still!"
John looked at McKay, his tac vest and P90 scattered across the floor and then glanced over his shoulder at Rodney's wadded jacket behind him. McKay's idea probably did help slow the blood loss from the entrance wound, but it made John sit at an odd angle, one that was almost impossible to find a comfortable position.
Rodney continued. "Look, I've only got one good hand right now, so don't make me sit on you to keep you down. And what the hell is taking them so long? I told them to be careful. They better listen, damn it. I can't be responsible for everyone – "
John cringed, looking at Rodney's hand as it was still pressed against Rodney's chest. "Geez, I'm sorry about the arm. How're you doing?"
Rodney's pained expression eased a bit and he shook his head. "Hurts like hell, but I'll survive. You, on the other hand, need to stop bleeding or else you won't survive at all."
John was about to give Rodney a quick pep talk about thinking positively when Teyla's voice came over the radio. "Rodney, we are nearly to your location. How is John doing?"
Rodney's shoulders visibly relaxed at the sound of her voice. Then he glared at John. "He's being petulant, as usual, insisting he's fine. Just get over here fast so that you can deal with him. If I hear much more of his bullshit, I may kill him myself."
John was about to come up with some snarky retort, but Teyla spoke first. "We will be there shortly."
John started to get up again and Rodney shook his head, "No, no, no, you are not getting up until you get checked out."
"Give me a break... I'm blocking the doorway," John said with irritation.
"No, you aren't. Teyla and Ronon can just step over you if they need to. You are not moving, understood?"
John leaned his head back against the wall and took in a long breath. He figured that was better than biting off McKay's head, especially when the man was only looking out for John's best interests. John sighed. He wasn't stupid, he knew his injury was serious, but it wasn't life threatening. John couldn't let down his guard until they had backup and the dangers his team might be facing made him antsy.
Rodney must have read John's thoughts because he shook his head and muttered, "Just sit tight, Superman. Remember, we've all got our weaknesses. Yours happens to be kryptonite and a proclivity for bleeding. Don't worry, I'm keeping an eye out for trouble."
John shook his head. "We've got to figure out who attacked us before they attack again."
"I said, I'm on it," Rodney said with gritted teeth.
Before he knew it, Ronon was pounding on the door and shouting, "McKay, we're here! Open up!"
"Open sesame," Rodney said sarcastically as he closed his eyes and concentrated on the door command.
John glanced up to see the door try to open, but it stopped about three-quarters of the way, due to the metal rod still sticking out of the upper section of the door. John stared at the metal rod again. Damn, that thing looked a whole lot smaller sticking out of the door than it had protruding from his shoulder.
Ronon kicked away some of the debris piled up outside the door, then stepped over the rest and turned sideways to squeeze himself through the partially open doorway. He took in the blood trailing down from John's shoulder wound before he glanced up at the bloody rod still protruding from the door.
"I guess we can't blame that on a waking dream," Ronon said grimly as he came to a stop beside them. "Looks pretty damned real to me."
Teyla arrived next with Tiebin and Tierab at her back, breathless from running. She stopped at the doorway, her eyes widening at the scene before she moved forward.
"How are you?" she asked softly, kneeling down beside John. She unclipped her P90 from her tac vest and put it on the floor.
"It's not that bad," John said with as much conviction as he could muster.
Rodney rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath. John didn't bother to listen; he'd already heard Rodney's opinion on the subject. Rodney raised his voice as he kept pressure on John's wound. "He's sweaty and can't catch his breath, not to mention the hole in his shoulder that's losing way too much blood to be good and I think he might be going into shock."
John shook his head. "No, I'm not."
He looked Teyla in the eye and said, "I'm not. It hurts but it's not life-threatening."
Teyla took his wrist in her hand, taking his pulse as she eyed him closely. After a moment, she relaxed a little and let go of his hand. She brushed her fingers across his brow and then rubbed her fingers together as if assessing John's condition from the amount of moisture her fingers detected.
"That remains to be seen," she said quietly.
Her gaze narrowed when he started to argue with her. Then she gave him that look, the one that meant she wasn't going to change her mind, no matter how much he fumed. John glanced over at Rodney and Ronon for support, but found none.
Ronon shrugged and said, "You're losing blood. Let her dress the wound, then we can leave."
"It will only take a moment, John," Teyla said firmly.
John relented finally. "Make it fast. We need to get the hell out of here."
She nodded and gently put her hands up to look at his wound once Rodney moved away. She peeled back the bandage Rodney had slapped over John's uniform shirt, hefting the weight of the soaked bandage in her hand before she set it on the ground. Then she pulled her knife from its sheath and slit the top of John's shirt over his shoulder open for better access.
She put away her knife and said, "John, I need for you to lean forward a little, so that I may view both the entry and exit sites and apply a proper field dressing."
Teyla moved closer, peering at the puncture wounds. The bloody panels of fabric slipped down John's chest and made John shiver for a moment. Ronon leaned closer to check the wound for himself while Rodney closed his eyes and turned his head away. John thought Rodney had a decidedly green cast to his complexion.
After a moment, Teyla's tension seemed to ease. Nodding at Ronon, she pulled out a fresh field dressing and wrapped it around John's shoulder. "The jagged edges of the rod have caused some tissue damage as it went through, something Dr. Beckett will no doubt have to address with surgery, but you should be fine, John, once we get you back home again."
"That's what I've been saying," John said as he nodded, putting his hand to his shoulder once Teyla had finished with the dressing. "We've got to go."
Ronon glanced out the storage room door, and said, "What attacked you?"
Rodney cradled his left hand close to his chest as he wiped the blood from his right hand onto his BDUs with disdain and answered for John. "I don't know. I never saw the damned thing."
John glanced at Ronon, ignoring Rodney's comment. "Whoever or whatever attacked us must be damned near invisible because I never got a good look at it, so watch out."
Tiebin and Tierab were at the doorway and obviously disturbed by the incident, but there was something more going on between the two brothers, John decided. Their facial expressions changed as if they were arguing, but without spoken words.
John raised his voice and asked, "What do you two know about what's happening?"
Tiebin stalled, looking again at his brother. They both wiped a hand over their faces, struggling for words before Tierab said, "The one – the thing – that attacked you... if what we suspect is true, we will need every man here to defend ourselves."
Ronon looked at John, then at Tierab and said, "Explain."
Locking his gaze on Ronon, Tierab said, "We think the Soul Drinkers may have awakened. On some level, I think we have all been feeling their presence ever since we entered this place."
"Soul Drinkers?" Rodney squawked. "Oh, that so does not sound good. What are they?"
Tiebin nodded as he rubbed the back of his neck. "We believed it was – we thought it was only legend. Honestly, we did."
Tiebin's mouth opened and closed a few times. Tierab's expressive eyes watched his brother closely as he nodded. No one said anything for a moment, giving Tiebin a chance to find his words. Finally, he said, "In the old stories, the Mordiis or Soul Drinkers as my people called them, fed on the soul of a dying man. They were said to have been the reason why the Ancestors disappeared from our world, never to return again."
"Fed on his soul? What the hell does that mean?" Rodney asked incredulously.
"It is as it sounds – they feed on the essence of a man's soul as he dies."
Rodney was still skeptical and it showed in his wide-eyed gaze. "And just how can you possibly know that?"
Memories of the intense pain John had experienced before passing out made John's breath hitch. Something might have been feeding on him, something ungodly given the level of agony he'd felt. Deep down, John felt Tiebin was right, but he didn't say anything.
Tiebin shrugged. "It is what has been said over the ages."
McKay wouldn't let up. "But – "
"McKay," John warned. "We need intel. Now is not the time for twenty questions. Let the man speak."
Rodney swallowed back his response and nodded begrudgingly, only to stop a moment later, his eyes bulging and his hand waving in the air as he asked, "Wait! Are they flying creatures with big flapping wings and terrible screeches?"
Tiebin shook his head. "No, those are the prydewings. They inhabit the caves in this region. They've probably made a nest somewhere here inside this installation. They are more bothersome than anything else, but the Soul Drinkers are another story entirely. They do not have physical form that we know of or weaknesses."
"That's great, just great! How many other ways can this mission become some hellish, ever evolving nightmare?" McKay muttered.
The muscles in Ronon's jaw twitched with frustration. He glanced out the door and he said, "Tierab and Tiebin, be ready for anything."
The two men nodded and turned to watch the outer room. John shook his head as he tried to sit up a little straighter and pointed a bloodied finger at Ronon in warning. "No, Ronon, you guys don't need to just watch for whatever attacked us. You need to keep an eye on Rodney and me. Rodney started to have a waking dream, and one of those... prydewing creatures startled him out of it. Then, I had one and Rodney was hurt because of it. Hell, he's lucky I didn't kill him."
Teyla and Ronon glanced at each other. Rodney waved his good hand in John's direction in a dismissive motion, sounding irritated that John would even consider complicity. "You can't blame yourself – "
John scowled. "The hell I can't – "
He paused, staring at Rodney's arm for a moment. He glanced at Teyla. "Wait, you need to check Rodney's arm. He might have broken something." He shook his head. "Talk about being an idiot. I know he's hurt and I don't say a word... "
Rodney murmured in a very uncharacteristic tone, "I'm okay. At least, I'm not leaking all over the place, unlike others who shall remain nameless."
John looked at Ronon. "Check him."
Ronon leaned forward, reaching for Rodney's arm without permission. He touched it in a few places very quickly. Rodney hissed and moaned loudly before the sounds died off into a whining whimper.
Ronon turned toward Teyla and John. "Yeah, his wrist is broken."
Ronon picked up a long narrow scrap of wood and broke it in half over his knee, then reached into a pocket of Rodney's tac vest and pulled out one of Rodney's bandages. Rodney sighed, but didn't move away. Instead, he muttered, "Feel free to use whatever you need... "
Ronon gave him a toothy grin and went to work. Within moments, a makeshift splint was in place. Ronon used the last portion of the gauze roll from the pressure bandage to secure the splint and create a temporary arm sling.
"Are the conduits pretty easy to travel through?" John asked, trying to focus on something other than the throbbing ache of his shoulder as Teyla sat back, seeming satisfied with her first aid efforts – at least for the moment.
Ronon rocked back on his heels and shrugged. "It's kind of tight with all the pipes and machinery, but they should take us where we want to go and that's the important thing. At least, it looked good as far as we went."
John caught a long look between Teyla and Ronon. Ronon raised his chin and said, "You know, I could get through to the jumper, high winds or not. I've been in them before. I could go back to the jumper to get help if you aren't up to the trip."
The twins shook their heads, and Tiebin answered before John could say anything. "No one is going out in that storm until it eases up. I have seen far too many deaths amongst my own people from those ignorant enough to venture out at the height of our sandstorms."
Ronon shook his head. "Okay, I'll go through the conduits then."
Both Tiebin and Tierab mirrored his movement by shaking their heads. Tiebin said, "We shouldn't split up again. We aren't alone any longer."
John straightened, his intuition picking up on something he should have realized long before now. "What is it, Tiebin? What aren't you telling us?"
"The Soul Drinkers are a formidable foe – " he began, then stopped and looked at his brother.
John frowned and pointed a bloody finger at the twins. "I think you two better brief us on what we're facing here and you better tell us everything you know."
John's hand hung in the air for a moment and he drew in a ragged breath, then asked, "Wait a minute, you said they feed on the soul of a dying man – could they attack a person to put them close to death, so they can feed on them as they die?"
Tiebin nodded. "Yes, there are stories of that very thing, and now we have proof of it happening." He pointed to John's shoulder.
Rodney looked over at him, his eyes widening as he realized the same thing that John had. "Something did happen to Sheppard, after he was stabbed – "
John nodded. "Yeah, something did happen... it could have been a feeding of some sort – all I know is I was damned glad to wake up again. I thought I was a goner."
He thought for a moment, then asked, "How do they do all of this if they have no physical form?"
Tierab answered, "It is said the Soul Drinkers can create unstoppable maelstroms, and cause hallucinations as we've seen, but... "
Ronon moved closer to Tierab, looking the man directly in the eyes. "But what?"
"That is not all they do. It is said they can induce madness."
John chewed on his lip for a moment, then said, "You mean the waking dreams?"
Tierab shook his head. "Worse. The madness can become so involved, the victim can become lost permanently in their dream, unable to react to the real world around them at all."
Rodney grunted, then muttered, "And we thought the Wraith were bad."
John sighed, then frowned in thought. "When I was caught up in that second waking dream, it took everything I had not to buy into the reality of the hallucination, even when I had Rodney right beside me telling me it was a waking dream."
Tiebin nodded. "Sound is supposed to be about the only thing that can break through the Mordiis' illusion once it begins."
Tiebin stammered for a moment, and Tierab spoke for him. "We apologize. We really didn't think it was possible – that they could actually exist. These are legends told to us as small children, as it has been done for generations. Legends."
Ronon put his hands on his hips. "Yet you brought the herbs."
A quick smile raced across Tiebin's expression. "It is a practice in our people, any time one of us comes to this area. We – my brother and I – always thought it was pure superstition, but we carry it to honor the elders among us."
Ronon digested Tiebin's answer and seemed to accept it. Next, he asked, "How many of the Soul Drinkers do you think there are?"
Tierab rubbed a hand over his mouth and Tiebin mirrored the movement. "There's no way to know. Numbers were never mentioned in the old stories."
"That's it!" Rodney said with excitement. "That's what has been bugging me ever since you started talking about these Soul Drinkers. How the hell are they still here after thousands of years of isolation? I mean, the Ancients – the Ancestors – left this place a long, long time ago."
"It is said the Soul Drinkers exist in another place, and they come and go as they wish, but they only visit the holy ground inside this mountain. They've never been seen or heard of anywhere else on our world."
Tierab nodded nervously, agreeing with his brother. "You have to understand we are only passing along the knowledge that has been given to us. We wish we had more answers for you, but this is all we know."
Rodney blinked a few times, then asked, "So, the Ancients just locked up the place and ran? Doesn't sound very Ancient-y to me."
John gave Rodney a look. Ancient-y had been John's contribution to the lingo bantered about Atlantis. In fact, Rodney had given John a very hard time about its use. Now, he said the word like it was something he'd invented.
Tierab shrugged. "Maybe they didn't have any choice."
Tierab reached beneath his cape and pulled out the gourd with the herb mixture. "Here, drink this. I have more vials. We all need to drink the nectar."
The others pulled out their canteens and soon everyone had consumed it. John wiped the back of his hand across his mouth when he was done, his nausea brought back in full force by the bitter taste of the herbs, but at least he was breathing better and he wasn't sweating as badly.
Teyla straightened from her position at John's side. "We need to make a plan and also find a more easily defended position if we are forced to stay here for any length of time."
John nodded, swallowing again, hoping the tactic would continue to keep his nausea at bay. "Let's fall back to the control room," he said as his hand dropped away. "Maybe McKay can hook up to one of their computers and find us the best possible location."
He must have sounded worse than he thought because Teyla caught his gaze and held it. "You are weak, John. Moving around will only hasten your blood loss."
"I'll manage," he said, dismissing the issue.
A chill came over him as he spied his P90 on the floor. Weapons in the hands of possibly hallucinating soldiers could be a very dangerous thing. He grabbed Teyla's arm. "I want all of you to be ready for trouble – and when I say trouble, I mean you need to watch out for it from even Rodney or myself since we've both experienced it. The way those waking dreams can descend upon you without warning – well, you guys just need to stay on your toes."
He looked down at his handgun in its holster and pulled it out to give to Teyla. Then he pulled the knife he kept on his belt and gave it to her as well. John glanced at Rodney.
"Rodney, turn over your weapons. We can't carry them as long as it's possible we might try to attack one of the others."
Rodney frowned and turned over his weapons to Tierab and Tiebin.
Ronon glanced over at him. "Do you want your tac vest?"
John looked at it and considered what would be involved in putting it on with his shoulder injury. He shook his head. "I'll pass on that."
Rodney made a noise. By the time John glanced over at him, he looked like he was sick with guilt. "Maybe – maybe if you'd been wearing that when the Soul Drinkers tried to skewer you, you wouldn't have been hurt so badly. It was my fault for losing my scanner – "
John shook his head. "Stop it, Rodney. It's not your fault. It's not anybody's fault. We just need to get going. Let's fall back to the control room."
Teyla nodded after a moment and John took that to mean she was ready to go. He started to stand, making sure he didn't move too fast. He didn't want to collapse – Teyla would never let him move again if that happened. With Ronon's help, they got him to his feet. John ignored his dizziness and licked his lips, but couldn't keep from cradling his shoulder.
Ronon slipped an arm around John's back to help support him, but he stopped when John shook his head. "I can walk," John said stubbornly.
He started forward and wavered a little. Teyla smiled, compassion and understanding glittering strong in her brown eyes, but her determination burned brighter. "Yes, I know, but you are injured. Please allow Ronon to help you."
John sighed and decided he didn't have the energy to argue. What was more, they didn't have the time to waste for such an argument. Who knew when the next waking dream would hit one of them? He nodded at Ronon. Ronon moved closer to support him. No one said a word as they slipped out of the storage room and headed for the conduits.
Teyla watched the group of prydewings sitting atop some of the equipment in a far corner of the control room with the same level of interest the prydewings were giving them as she applied pressure to both sides of John's wound. The prydewings seemed like docile creatures, their small bat-like bodies with long wings constantly aflutter.
One of them dove down, landing on the floor beside a workstation across the room, and flew back with a small rodent in its mouth. Rodney made a face as he watched them before turning back to his computer screen.
"Disgusting creatures," he muttered. "They have to be part of the reason why some of the installation's computer systems are so screwy. Probably tried to make a nest in one of the main servers or something equally vital."
"Stay on target, McKay," John said with a sigh, grimacing as Teyla shifted her position slightly. "You still think this is an ATA thing?"
They were stopped in the control room, just outside of the entrance to the conduits so that Rodney could access the installation's schematics of the conduit system in order to find the most direct route to the jumper. It also gave John a chance to rest before moving on.
Teyla didn't like the way John looked, though he obviously tried to shield most of his pain and weakness from them. They would have to take frequent breaks if John was to make it to the jumper on his own, especially since John was still bleeding more than she liked. His blood loss would eventually be an issue if they couldn't slow it down.
John continued, "Because, otherwise, everyone else would be seeing things, too, right?"
Rodney shrugged but didn't answer him. Tierab and Tiebin looked at each other and Tiebin said, "We've always been told that our connection as twins offers us some protection against the Soul Drinkers. As for the rest of you, they were said to prefer to feast on the Ancestors."
Rodney seemed to be only half-listening to the conversation from where he sat while downloading files onto his tablet computer, but he was a master at multitasking completely different elements, elegantly tying them all together at the right moment to save the day. Teyla only hoped he would succeed this time, too, for everyone's sake.
She said, "I believe I have felt the effects of the Mordiis, too, though not nearly to the extent John and Rodney have experienced. All of us are in danger until we are outside their sphere of influence. The conduits might not be the most convenient way to travel, but they will get us to the jumper via the safest route."
She paused for a moment as she finished applying a fresh dressing over John's previous one. She hoped she wouldn't have to add many more layers before they could get him to Carson, then she asked, "Or would the Mordiis simply follow us out into the conduits?"
Ronon shook his head. "Look at the walls. It was something I noticed when we first got here. It's like that in all of the rooms we've been in and I saw signs of it in the conduits, too."
Teyla frowned, then looked at the twins for confirmation, as did the rest of her team. All they got in return were a couple of vague shrugs and a dismal sigh. Tierab said, "Our legends only go so far into detail. The question of whether the Soul Drinkers inhabit the conduits or not is a mystery to us."
"Gotta love a good mystery," John muttered, placing his hand over his shoulder wound as he tested the bandage by stretching slightly.
"Not me," Rodney said emphatically as he scrolled through the data on his computer. "I like to be armed with as much information as I can possibly get my hands on. Case in point, I've even downloaded the last log entries to see if we can find out what happened in the final days before the Ancients left this place – Hello, what's this?"
He paused to read, then stiffened. Dread filled his expression as he said, "Oh, crap, it gets worse."
He stood and activated a large screen that revealed an image of several rows of stasis pods – the type they'd seen used on the Ancient space ship, the Aurora. "These are stasis pods up in the main complex. They're gone now, but they were once filled with Ancients affected by the Soul Drinkers – geez, there's got to be a better name for them than that. Every time I say that I get shivers going down my spine... "
"McKay," John said, "what did you find?"
Rodney stood a little straighter and nodded as he said, "Right, get to the point." He gestured toward Tierab and Tiebin. "Twin One and Twin Two here were right about one thing. The effects of the... "
"Mordiis," Teyla supplied the answer Rodney was looking for.
He nodded, but he moved as if he was irritated by the fact he had to remember things as trivial as names. "The effect of the Mordiis' presence on the Ancients was so significant they had to put as many of their people in stasis as they could just to keep them from going mad. There were a few of the Ionini, who of course did not have the ATA gene, working at the installation and they were barely affected. It was the Ancients who suffered the madness."
Rodney licked his lips. "It got to the point that there were only a dozen Ancients still up and around, along with the Ioninian workers. This says they finally came up with a way to keep the Morticians – or whatever you call them – from killing each other or to keep them from going stark raving mad."
"Mordiis, McKay," John said quietly. "Geez, for someone with a near-photographic memory, you'd think you could occasionally retain a name or two, at least for a few minutes."
Rodney didn't bother to shoot back an equally sarcastic remark or even look up from his computer screen. He made a face and said with a sigh, "You know how I am with names – "
Rodney stopped in mid-sentence, his attention riveted on what he was reading.
John and Ronon stared at him, waiting for him to explain further, but Rodney didn't say anything. That alarmed Teyla more than an extended rant. Rodney always talked about things in great detail, often with much more detail than necessary – especially when he was scared. The volatile emotions dancing across Rodney's face were so strong, they caused a gnawing to start deep in Teyla's stomach.
Rodney typed very quickly, then waited for a response. "Damn."
He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "The Ancients' final plan for protection from the Mordiis had something to do with a defensive program they had designed. They had some sort of automated proximity trigger that activated whenever one of their people was approached by the Mordiis, but the log entries after this point are corrupted somehow."
"Can you clean it up enough to find out what they did?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Of course I can. The real question is do you want me to waste the time to clean up the log entry now or do that after we get out of here, because frankly I'm leaning towards getting the hell out of Dodge."
John sighed. "Did the Ancients at least discover any weaknesses we didn't know about that we can use against the Mordiis?"
"Not really. The Mordiis caused madness in those with the ATA gene by affecting their brain waves with something called omega wave energy, disrupting normal brain function enough to cause hallucinations and lose contact with reality. For some reason, the Mordiis preferred to feed on an agitated soul, rather than one at peace... Must add a little spice to the meal. Anyway, the defensive program alters the brain waves in such a way that it hinders the feeding of the Mordiis on potential victims."
"But you still don't know how to activate the program?"
Rodney shook his head, then paused to rub at his temple. "Not that I can find – yet, at least."
"I thought you said it was automated. Why hasn't it activated for us?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Oh, I'm sorry, you must be mistaking me for someone who has spent more than five minutes looking through their logs!"
John's expression didn't change. "So, you're saying you don't know much about what's happening here?"
Rodney straightened his shoulders indignantly. "No, I am not saying that in the least. My point is that I need more than a couple of minutes to put together a picture of a series of events that happened over ten thousand years ago!"
John kept his expression schooled. Teyla knew when John prodded Rodney like this, it wasn't out of meanness, but a desire to motivate Rodney to do whatever it took to keep them alive. John sighed finally. "Well, let's not waste any more time on it at the moment. Pack up. We're leaving."
The group of prydewings began screeching without warning, taking to the air as they flew into an open air shaft high above the team as quickly as they could. The unexpected departure left them all a little disconcerted, even as the high-pitched screeches echoing through the ventilation shaft grew quiet.
"Stupid, smelly, germ-carrying vultures," Rodney muttered as he slowly disconnected his tablet computer from the console, but he didn't put the computer away. Instead, he seemed distracted and rubbed at his forehead as if undecided what to do next.
John's demeanor changed at the same time and he stiffened as he glanced around warily, then stood up from his chair. "We need to keep moving. This place just doesn't feel right all of a sudden. In fact, it feels very wrong. Come on, let's go," he said, his voice grim.
Teyla glanced around warily, mostly because a sense of apprehension had come upon her suddenly. Perhaps, the effects of the Mordiis weren't reserved solely for those with the ATA gene. Ronon was scowling, too, as if ready to leap into battle.
When she looked at Tierab and Tiebin, they didn't appear to be suffering any ill effects at all. They were concerned, but it was only as if they were reacting to John's comments and not to the wildly pulsating sense of danger that felt like it was closing in on Teyla.
Teyla was already preparing to leave along with the others when she looked back, and her unease grew as she noticed Rodney still hadn't moved to put away his tablet computer. Before she could say anything, Rodney gasped suddenly, but still didn't look at any of them.
Rodney seemed to be in his own world – and it was a world of terror.
Teyla caught John's attention. "John, I fear Rodney is dreaming again," she said softly.
"Ah, crap," John said as he and Ronon turned back toward Rodney. John stopped as he put a hand to his forehead and shook his head. After a moment, he said, "Yeah, that explains what I'm feeling. It's getting harder to stay focused. It must be starting again."
Tierab looked at Tiebin and they said together, "The Soul Drinkers."
John nodded. "There must be a Mordiis presence nearby. Spread out and be ready to act."
John went to Rodney's side with Ronon. Teyla moved into position ahead of them, but there was not much in reality they could do. There was no defense they could mount, nothing except to help get John and Rodney out of the installation alive and intact.
Teyla put a hand to Rodney's back and said loudly, "Rodney, it is Teyla. Can you hear me?"
When there was no response, John stepped closer to him, his voice angry and rough as he ordered, "Rodney, snap out of it!"
Rodney suddenly screamed, as in a battle cry. He whirled, sweeping up and around with his laptop. He hit Ronon hard on the side of his head, and as he came down with the tablet computer, he struck John in the shoulder. Teyla went to reach for Rodney to stop him, but then John fell to one side. She tried to keep John from hitting the floor hard, but John was moving too fast and he took her down with him.
Rodney dropped his tablet computer onto one of the consoles and ran from the room, going much faster than Teyla ever thought she'd seen him move before. Tiebin and Tierab scrambled to help them, checking to make sure they were all right. Ronon was still shaking off the blow to his head while John was on his knees, hunched over as he leaned his head against one of the computer consoles, hissing through clenched teeth as he tried to get his pain under control.
Teyla looked at him and Ronon, then at the twins and said, "Stay with them. I will go after Rodney."
She took off running, praying that she could get to Rodney before he hurt himself or he was attacked by the Mordiis.
"Oh God, oh God," Rodney repeated as he ran.
He had to get the ZPM in place and activated in order for the city's shields to protect them from the Wraith's kamikaze run of darts about to slam into Atlantis. The combined blast would no doubt obliterate the city and much beyond it.
Rodney had already battled a few Wraith while on his way there, managing to escape by the skin of his teeth. The two Marine guards he'd had with him were gone, vanished, nowhere to be seen, probably taken out by the Wraith still roaming the halls of Atlantis while he'd been fighting.
He could hear Zelenka talking with Weir and Sheppard over his radio headset. He still couldn't believe the Wraith cruisers had used their hyper-drive to escape, but they'd left several of their darts in the lurch... or so it seemed until Sheppard had realized the real danger they now faced. What the hell? Kamikaze Wraith?
God, he didn't have much time, no time at all really. His fingers tightly clutched the case containing the ZPM as his thoughts raced ahead to the installation and activation process he'd have to do with the ZPMs to power the desperately needed city shields.
"Rodney?" he heard Teyla call his name from a great distance.
"Oh thank God," he whispered breathlessly. "Teyla! I'm over here!"
He'd felt so alone. Just knowing Teyla was nearby immeasurably bolstered his resolve. He was almost to the heart of Atlantis, the place where the ZPMs that powered the entire city were housed. He didn't bother to stop and wait for Teyla. There was no time to wait. They were only seconds away from total annihilation.
"I'm going in to hook up the ZedPM!" he shouted, knowing Teyla would be right behind him.
As he entered the room, a hand grabbed his arm and swung him around against the wall. Pain shot through his wrist for some reason, then he looked up and saw the Wraith who had attacked him. The Wraith's hand was up and about to feed on him when Rodney swung the ZPM case around, miraculously knocking the Wraith to the ground.
"Rodney!" Teyla shouted as another Wraith entered the room. Teyla went to take on the Wraith drone.
"No time, no time," Rodney whispered as he threw open the metal lid and pulled out the ZPM. He was almost to the ZPM housing when he heard Zelenka say, "It's too late – "
Rodney was thrown from his feet by the explosions that followed. It felt like the entire tower above him was crashing down on him, but there was a Wraith still close enough to grab him again.
"Oh God, I've survived certain death, only to face a more grisly end," he whispered. He squeezed his eyes shut so he didn't have to watch the Wraith steal away his life force. Memories flooded his mind and body as he recalled how Todd had fed on him in their ill-fated trip aboard Todd's hive ship to retrieve a ZPM from the new queen trying to take over Todd's alliance.
Rodney expected the Wraith's hand to slam against his chest, but instead there was the loud report of automatic weapons fire – so loud in fact that he cowered down as much as he could. He heard Teyla call his name again.
When he looked to where she lay on the floor, all he could see was her unseeing gaze.
"Oh God," he murmured. "Teyla, you can't be dead – not you."
"No, Rodney! I am fine!" he heard, even as he stared at her dead body. He blinked a few times and Teyla's voice continued, "Listen, Rodney, I am not dead!"
Someone shook his arm again and Rodney squinted to look around him. When his vision cleared, he saw Teyla at his side, her face shiny with sweat. She reached up and put a hand on his chest, smiling broadly when she saw that he could see her.
"Rodney, I was very worried about you," she said breathlessly.
Rodney continued to blink, utterly confused. He had absolutely no idea where they were. Another quick glance around and he saw they were standing in a poorly lit subterranean tunnel that had huge pipes running parallel down its length – and knew they had to be in one of the Ancient installation's conduits. God, it was hot there, which was strange because he was cold, so cold he was shaking. He blinked again. What was wrong with him?
He went to clench a fist and groaned from the pain in his left wrist, but somehow the pain helped to ground him in fact. He'd been running, he realized as vague memories started to surface. They turned into vivid, terrible memories of trying to outrun the Wraith. His heart started beating like crazy again, his breath coming faster and faster from the adrenaline pumping in his system, but before he was totally lost in those remembrances, the logical part of his brain started to assert itself.
If the Wraith darts had crashed into Atlantis like he'd experienced, then he would have been killed... along with Teyla. Yet, there she was standing right in front of him, clearly alive. What the hell was going on?
Teyla touched his cheek and he noticed her hand trembled a little. "Rodney, are you all right?" she asked, moving slightly to catch his gaze.
Rodney shook his head. "What?" he asked breathlessly, only managing a single word.
"Just try to take slow deep breaths. You will be oriented again in a moment. You had a waking dream," she said, sounding pretty breathless herself.
"This doesn't make any sense," he murmured, putting a hand to his head.
As he looked around, Teyla leaned against the wall to steady herself, her left hand held in front of her at a strange angle. Rodney studied her more closely and was shocked to see a screwdriver sticking out of her left hand. She was bleeding pretty heavily and her complexion was quite pale.
"God, Teyla, what's the matter with you? Did I do that?" he asked in a hushed whisper.
Teyla shook her head. "No, Rodney, you did not. Do not worry, I will be fine. Just take a moment longer to recover."
She touched her radio headset. "John, I have Rodney and he is out of the waking dream."
Sheppard answered her right away, though his voice sounded rough. "That's good to hear. Where are you?"
Teyla frowned, looking around. "We are in one of the conduits leading up the mountainside." She paused, still trying to catch her breath. She swallowed and inhaled slowly, then spoke again. "I believe we are outside the entrance to the main installation one level above you."
John paused for a moment, and Rodney could almost see John frowning as he asked, "Teyla, are you okay? You don't sound good."
Teyla's gaze went upward as she leaned against the wall. "I will explain everything to you when I see you."
Ronon joined the conversation. "Teyla, Sheppard's right. You don't sound good."
Teyla closed her eyes for a moment and shook her head. She was about to speak when Rodney said, "She's hurt. I – I don't know how, but she's been skewered with a screwdriver in one hand and is bleeding pretty heavily."
Teyla smiled slightly and shook her head. "It is not bad."
Rodney touched her skin. She was cold and clammy, just like him, and he felt her muscles trembling. "We need to get out of this conduit and inside to where you can lie down."
He took a few steps to the door and swiped his hand across the door controls, causing it to open. Rodney paused for a moment, looking at his own hand as it still trembled from waning adrenaline. He made it into a fist and spoke again, this time with a much firmer voice. "I think you guys better come here, rather than us going to you, because frankly I'm not sure just how far either one of us can go."
"Understood. We're on our way. Teyla, how do we get to your position?"
Teyla gave them directions. Rodney put a hand to Teyla's shoulder and said, "Come on, Teyla, we need to get your hand bandaged."
He forced himself to think of Teyla and her needs – anything to keep from thinking about the horror of his waking dream. At least, he knew Teyla and Atlantis were still alive and that brought him a great deal of comfort.
They entered the main installation and the first thing Rodney noticed was a huge piece of equipment that seemed out of place in the large control room. While the rest of the machinery was sleek with bright surfaces, this monstrosity was odd angles and dark and the room was cluttered with all types of building materials.
Rodney's first thought was to go to investigate, but then Teyla swayed a little and Rodney reorganized his priorities. First, he'd make sure she made it to a place where she could rest, then he would watch over her until the others arrived. He could check out the equipment after that.
By the time Tierab, Tiebin, and Ronon arrived with Sheppard, Sheppard was leaning heavily on Ronon and breathing hard. He was using everything he had just to keep stay on his feet. He hadn't even grumbled very much when Ronon slipped an arm around his back to help him finish the journey.
With Teyla and McKay now in sight, Ronon relaxed a little. They were alive and well, he thought, but then he corrected himself – they were alive, but with their injuries, they weren't exactly well. There was a bloody screwdriver lying beside Teyla and McKay was wrapping gauze around her hand, hampered by only having one good hand himself. Teyla helped as much as she could, but it didn't appear to be a very efficient process.
Sheppard seemed to get his second wind when he saw Teyla. He pulled away from Ronon and sat down beside her. "What happened?" he rasped.
"I happened," McKay said bitterly.
Sheppard frowned. He glanced at McKay, then Teyla before turning his attention back to McKay. His voice sounded a little stronger, even though he was still breathing hard and cradling his shoulder as he asked, "What's that mean?"
"It means I had one hell of a waking dream! I was about to be skewered by a flying screwdriver, more of that wonderful Mordiis telekinesis in action, when Teyla deflected the screwdriver with her hand."
McKay swallowed hard, guilt apparent in his every move. He glanced at Teyla. "You should have just pushed me aside. Why couldn't you have pushed me aside?"
Teyla shook her head. "There was no time."
McKay closed his eyes and shook his head.
Sheppard looked at Teyla. "What made the Mordiis stop from finishing you or Rodney off?"
Teyla shook her head. "I do not know. The winds were so high, whipping around us in the conduit, and then I was hit by the screwdriver. Fortunately, there was not a lot of material in the confined space of the conduit for the Mordiis to throw at us, but it would not release its hold on Rodney. I called Rodney's name without result – then I remembered what Tierab had said about sound breaking through the waking dreams, so I fired my weapon and Rodney responded. Perhaps the sound itself made the Mordiis lose their hold on Rodney, because everything simply died down after a moment."
"So that confirms the Mordiis can attack us in the conduits as well as inside the installation. Damn," Ronon said as he stood with his hands on his hips, frowning at Teyla. "I'd say you were pretty damned lucky that screwdriver didn't go through your heart instead of your hand."
Teyla frowned and lowered her gaze. "It would have hit Rodney's if I hadn't been there," she said quietly.
McKay flinched as if he'd been struck hard by another flying screwdriver, but Ronon knew it was only guilt fueling his reaction. Teyla must have seen McKay move, because compassion was strong in her gaze as she put her hand on McKay's arm.
"This wound will heal, Rodney. If the Mordiis had been successful, you would not be alive now and that was something I simply could not bear."
Instead of being comforted, McKay looked sick and pulled away. He handed Ronon the gauze and gestured for him to take over the bandaging, then stepped away quickly as if afraid Ronon would stop him. After he was several paces away, he froze in place before he spun around, his face twisted with emotion.
"First, Sheppard gets hurt because of me and now you, too, Teyla. I'm like the kiss of death!" He pointed at Ronon as he continued to back away from them, his flair for the dramatic shining strong. "You better watch out, Ronon, because you're undoubtedly next and you might not be as lucky as they've been."
McKay grunted as the words he'd just said sunk in and he shook his head. "Yeah, right, they've been real lucky... that's why they're both bleeding from serious wounds."
Sheppard started to stand and said, "Come on, Rodney, you know better than – "
McKay stopped him with a wave of his hand. "No! I don't – I don't want to talk about this anymore. It's pointless. I know the truth and so do you. I'm – I'm going to access one of these computers and see if I can find anything more useful while you and Teyla rest a little and try not bleed quite so much."
Tierab had McKay's backpack which now held his tablet computer, and he held it out to McKay as he passed by. McKay hesitated for a moment, then took it from Tierab and strode away.
Ronon rubbed the back of his neck in frustration. McKay was damned hard to talk to when he was worked up like this. He glanced at Sheppard. Sheppard always knew how to handle McKay, but Sheppard just shook his head. "He'll be okay in a minute. Just leave him alone and he'll come back to us when he's ready. "
Ronon finished wrapping Teyla's hand. "Thank you, Ronon," she said as she tested the bandage. She flinched at the reaction she got from flexing injured muscles, but her focus wasn't on her physical pain – she was watching McKay. "I am still worried about him," she began.
Sheppard nodded. "I know, but he'll be okay. After all, he's still McKay and Rodney is at his best when things are at their worst. Just give him some time."
Ronon glanced around them. "What is all this stuff?"
There were all kinds of tools lying about and canisters filled with something that bore the sign the Ancients used for hazardous materials. It looked like the Ancients had been in the process of building something but stopped for some reason.
John shook his head. "I don't know."
Tiebin came in from the conduit carrying a bucket of water and said, "I saw a release valve on one of the pipes in the conduit, so I thought I'd bring some water for everyone to drink and to clean up a little."
Ronon glanced at the other members of his team. All of them had blood either on their skin or on their clothes. Tiebin's idea was a good one. Sheppard gave Tiebin a nod and a tired smile of thanks, though the smile didn't quite reach his eyes. The man looked like he was running on fumes and Ronon wondered how long Sheppard would be able to keep going.
Ronon's gaze went to McKay, who was in the process of awkwardly connecting his computer to one of the free-standing computer consoles with only one good hand.
Ronon took in the scene, knowing all of his friends were hurting and that there was very little he could do to help them. Helpless wasn't something Ronon tolerated well at all.
Teyla shivered, as if her pain didn't allow her to remain still. Sheppard watched her for a moment as she seemed to fold her body around her injured hand, then said, "Maybe you should lie down."
Teyla shook her head.
"She needs to be in an infirmary," Sheppard said to Ronon, anger edging his voice.
"As do you, John," Teyla replied, raising her gaze high enough to catch Sheppard's.
Sheppard's head bounced from side to side for a moment and then he said, "I plan on being there at my earliest opportunity." He forced the anger from his face and said, "Fine, just give yourself another minute or two to regroup before we move out."
Teyla shook her head and started to stand. "I am able to – "
She stood, then gasped and put her good hand to her forehead. Sheppard and Ronon helped her to sit down again. "It was just a little dizziness," she said in a quiet voice.
Sheppard nodded. "Yeah, well, here, try to drink a little water and see if that helps. We'll get going in a couple of minutes."
Ronon glanced down at the bucket in front of him and scooped up a handful of water, taking a drink to taste it, and then he smiled. "There must be some type of natural spring coming down from inside this chain of mountains and that's what the Ancients used to irrigate the fields. It's good water. Give me your canteens and I'll fill them up for you."
After finishing with Teyla and Sheppard's canteens, Ronon walked over to McKay. The man wasn't doing well at all. He was scowling over his computer, typing one handed on the keys like they were some type of enemy that could be vanquished by rapid, forceful typing.
"McKay, give me your canteen and I'll fill it for you," he said, not allowing McKay the option of saying if he wanted water or not.
McKay sneered at the interruption, then shook his head. Ronon put his hands on his hips and waited. After a moment, McKay glared at him. "What?" he asked.
Ronon held out his hand. McKay looked like he was going to argue with him, but then he just rolled his eyes and removed his canteen, practically shoving it in Ronon's direction. "Keep in mind I did that in hopes that you'll go away and leave me alone."
Ronon stood there for a moment, hefting the empty canteen in his hand, his gaze darting again over the collection of canisters and building material surrounding them.
Finally, Ronon said, "Don't be so hard on yourself, McKay. All of this has involved stuff beyond your control."
"Easy for you to say, Goliath. You aren't responsible for injuring two of your best friends."
Ronon paused for a second. "My people have a saying: 'What is, is'. You can't change what's happened. Leave it alone and move forward."
McKay puffed out his chest indignantly and gestured with one hand. "What the hell do you think I'm doing? Just sitting here having a major pity party instead of working? I've got the damned schematics up, trying to find the best way out of here via the conduits, which I think I've just found, along with reviewing the Ancients' logs. I'm searching for any clue I can find that might help us."
Ronon smiled and slapped McKay lightly on the back. "Now, that's the McKay I know. You'll get us out of this mess."
McKay gave a harsh grunt, then turned back to his computer, but his demeanor seemed a little lighter. Ronon started to walk away when McKay hung his head and said softly, "It's a little like closing the barn door after all of the cows are gone."
Ronon stopped and turned back. "You'll get us home again and that's all that matters."
McKay didn't look up or say anything, so after a long moment, Ronon turned to walk away again. McKay's quiet voice pulled him back. "You guys haven't felt anything remotely close to what Sheppard and I have, have you?"
Ronon shrugged. "Maybe a little."
McKay glanced over at Tierab and Tiebin as they sat beside Teyla and Sheppard. "I don't think they have even felt that much. I wonder why."
Ronon took a deep breath. "Maybe it's something to do with the fact they are from this area."
McKay nodded. "Maybe. And maybe it's that telepathic link they have with each other. I mean, it's blatantly obvious after watching the way Twin One and Twin Two seem to have entire conversations without saying a word. It's kind of creepy, actually. There's a few references to telepathic twins in the data logs I've read so far. Carson would probably have a field day researching the genetics here."
Ronon nodded, not knowing what else to say. McKay was right. Tierab and Tiebin did share a type of connection that Ronon had never witnessed before. He stared at the large piece of equipment that McKay was currently using as a podium for his tablet computer while he worked on the room's main console. The thing was about twelve feet long, four feet tall, and ten feet wide. It looked like a large rectangular box with no inner workings, except for the white control panel on one end near where McKay was working.
When McKay caught him staring at it, he said, "This piece of equipment is mentioned repeatedly as being involved in the defensive measures they took, but the files are difficult to access. Personally, I think the preponderance of urine and animal droppings, probably from those prydewing creatures, on these computers must have led to some file corruption over the millennia."
As if on cue, Ronon heard some screeching echoes and looked up in time to see a pair of prydewings emerge from the ventilation duct high above them, the duct's grate long ago discarded on the floor. After a moment, a few more came out, tentatively, keeping a watchful eye on their team as they came to perch atop a tall piece of Ancient machinery.
"Damned obnoxious birds," McKay muttered.
"I think they're kind of cute," Ronon said with a grin. "Maybe you could take one home as a pet."
"Think again, big guy," McKay said firmly. Then he glanced down at his computer screen.
He pointed at it and continued, "At first glance, the device doesn't look like it can do much. Then again, with Ancient tech, I've learned to never underestimate their abilities. And I think the Ancients left in such a hurry when they finally did go, they just didn't shut everything down properly, and that's another reason why I can't access the files I'm looking for more easily."
Ronon walked over to the water bucket and dipped McKay's canteen into its clear water. As he came back to McKay, Ronon said, "There's not much that I know of that ever made the Ancients turn tail and run, except the Wraith."
"And now these hallucination-inducing monsters," Rodney said tersely.
Ronon gestured toward the stacks of supplies and equipment spread throughout the control room. "What is all this stuff for?"
McKay paused to glance around. "They were turning this place into a giant laboratory, experimenting with something called omega waves. This machinery here was to counter the omega waves in much the same way that a radio jammer works. I've got it powered up, but I still can't fully access its control panel."
"You think you can get it working? Because I'd rather keep Sheppard and Teyla off their feet than drag them through the conduits. It won't be an easy trip for them."
McKay shook his head. "I don't know. It has something to do with getting rid of the Morons – or whatever their damned name is – but I really haven't read that far yet. Give me a break. I just sat down here."
"Well, don't get too comfortable. Sheppard's gonna be ready to go in a couple of minutes."
McKay glanced at Sheppard and Teyla, then back at Ronon. "They won't make it very far very fast," he said quietly.
"Anything that gets us further away from danger works for me."
Ronon handed McKay his canteen. Tierab approached Rodney with a vial of herbs. "Here, mix this with the water and drink it."
McKay's quiet demeanor shifted in that instant and he shook his head adamantly. He seemed to channel all of his frustration at Tierab and his herbs as he shook a pointed finger at the Ioninian. "You just – just get the hell away from me with that crap! Those damned herbs were supposed to stop the waking dreams from happening, but they didn't do a blasted thing except give me a terrible case of indigestion. They just don't work!"
Tierab took a deep breath. "Perhaps it needs a second dose."
McKay sneered. "And perhaps it doesn't work at all!"
"McKay, play nice," Sheppard called from where he sat with Teyla.
Tierab folded his arms in front of him. "The Ancestors used them, according to legend, in their fight against the Soul Drinkers," he said defiantly. Then his bluster faded as he added, "But if the Ancestors could not defeat the Soul Drinkers, what can we do against them?"
"We don't have to beat them," Sheppard said, standing slowly. "We just need to get out of this place while the getting is good."
McKay straightened. "The Ancients did find something that had to do with this device – at least something that could fight them off long enough for them to evacuate. The answer is here in the database, I just know it."
"The answer may be in there, Rodney, but we don't have time for you to read it. Pack up."
McKay nodded. "You don't have to tell me twice. The sooner we get out of here, the better."
He began to disconnect his tablet computer. Sheppard turned to give Teyla a hand up, but she really didn't appear to need it. She seemed to have recovered a little over the past few minutes. If only Sheppard could recover as quickly, but he was still pale and on the shaky side, no matter how much he tried to play down his condition.
McKay grunted as he stowed away his computer. "It was such a simple mission when we first started out. We're just going to fix the irrigation system. No, don't worry about that storm brewing. We'll be out of there long before it turns bad. Well, Colonel Sheppard, that's the last time I'm letting you decide if a mission is a go or not."
"Yeah, like you have such a great sense of impending doom. Weren't you the one who nearly drowned while trying to save a cat?"
McKay gave him a withering glare. "Why do you have bring that up at a time like this? It has nothing at all to do with the conversation at hand."
"I'm just saying sometimes innocent actions can have life-threatening complications that can't be foreseen."
McKay sputtered for a moment, probably trying to come up with a sniping response, but he stopped when the prydewings startled everyone by squawking loudly and then taking wing. They flew around for a moment before turning to leave via the route they had come, into the ventilation duct, moving as fast as they possibly could.
A moment later, a sudden wind whipped around them without warning.
"Ah, crap," Sheppard whispered. Then he stiffened and looked at the others in alarm. "The hair on the back of my neck just stood up and I think – "
Just as unexpectedly, the device under McKay's backpack started issuing alarms. McKay looked at it excitedly, then frowned when he apparently saw something he didn't like in its readings.
After a moment, McKay stiffened and put out a hand, staring at a place between him and the wall, a spot well away from the others. He shouted with deep apprehension, "Stay back! All of you stay back! I must warn you I am well trained in the art of self defense and I will protect myself if need be."
Ronon was just taking a step in McKay's direction when McKay reached for his handgun, then found it gone. It didn't faze him much, because he started mumbling to whoever he saw near a distant wall. Then he began to inch himself backward, away from any perceived danger.
At the same moment, Sheppard's expression darkened as he put up his hands in a placating move and stepped forward in another direction. "Look," he said, "You wanted me here and I came. You've got me. I can take the place of the others and you can let them go."
The lights on the piece of equipment McKay had been working on began to flash – for what purpose Ronon had no idea, but he prayed it meant something was about to work in their favor. The equipment hummed with ever-increasing volume as the winds around them began blowing harder.
Ronon glanced around, remembering how the others had spoken of high winds the Mordiis used with their telekinesis to catapult things at their victims, like the metal rod that went through Sheppard's shoulder and the screwdriver through Teyla's hand.
Ronon drew in a sharp breath. The room was filled with things that could be used as projectile weapons. Damn it, they were in trouble in a big way this time. Ronon stopped short and his gaze narrowed as he looked around. Now, he was sure someone was watching them.
Teyla looked at Ronon, dread filling her expression. "They are both dreaming now," she said nervously as her gaze darted around the room.
Ronon nodded as Sheppard continued, talking to empty air, "You don't have to do this. Just step away from the others and we can leave."
Ronon's heart pounded with sudden adrenaline in a way that was very unlike him, and he turned to Teyla. "What do we do?" he asked quickly, his voice almost breaking with fear.
Teyla's facial muscles were tight with tension as she fidgeted for a moment. He could tell she was feeling the effects of the Mordiis, too. "We must protect them as best we can," she said.
"I'll go with Sheppard," Ronon said as he walked away. Teyla and Tierab followed behind him.
"Be careful," she warned. Then she swayed. Tierab turned back toward her and put a hand to her back when she came to a stop. She extended a hand in Ronon's direction and added, "Remember, John is an especially dangerous adversary when he feels he needs to be."
A heartbeat later, Sheppard shouted, "NO!"
Pain flashed across Sheppard's face, but it wasn't from physical pain. Whoever he'd been trying to save had just been killed and it was obvious it was someone Sheppard cared about. A murderous gleam came into Sheppard's eyes as he stepped forward.
"You are going to die for killing them," he said in a low, dangerous growl as he circled an invisible foe. Even injured, Sheppard looked formidable.
Ronon nodded back at her. He pointed at McKay as he closed the distance between him and Sheppard, saying, "Tiebin, help McKay."
Ronon was almost to Sheppard when one of the many canisters he'd noticed earlier was vaulted up into the air by the high winds. It missed them but collided with the rock formation above the doorway into the conduits and erupted in a huge explosion.
With the deafening explosion, Sheppard collapsed to his knees. As debris rained down all around them, Ronon shielded Sheppard with his body. Tierab bent over Teyla and Tiebin covered McKay. Luckily, most of the debris was small.
Ronon glanced at the smoke and dust stirred into the air by the explosion and shook his head. Damn, the canisters must have contained a volatile gas of some sort. The blast was quickly followed by another, only this one knocked Ronon off his feet. He landed hard, groaning loudly when his ribs collided with some of the debris on the floor. The breath was knocked out of him, and it took him a minute to shake it off.
He heard the others shouting around him. With their exit into the conduits now blocked by fallen debris, they were forced to regroup. Tiebin motioned at him, but Ronon's attention was on Sheppard. Sheppard was alone as he slowly rose up from where he'd fallen to the floor, looking very confused and seemingly oblivious to the danger around him.
Ronon couldn't leave Sheppard alone like that, so he pushed away his pain, got to his feet, and stumbled back toward Sheppard. Sheppard's confusion was growing, but at least it seemed the thunderous sound of the explosions had pulled him out of his Mordiis-induced hallucination.
Ronon hugged his injured ribs as he crouched down beside him and said breathlessly, "You and McKay had another waking dream, but you guys didn't do this."
Sheppard seemed relieved by the information as he nodded. The man looked bad. He was hunched over, his hand cradling his shoulder, and very pale. "We need to get out of here," Sheppard rasped, still sounding dazed.
Ronon shook his head. "Can't. The way to the conduits is blocked." He pointed to the rubble where the entrance used to be.
"Outside then," Sheppard said and started to get to his knees. Ronon rose with him.
When Ronon glanced over at McKay, it seemed he had recovered, too, because he was headed toward his computer with Tiebin's arm around his back to help steady him.
"Move it," McKay told Tiebin, "We don't have all day! In fact, we might have no time left at all! I need to get back to that equipment!"
As soon as McKay and Tiebin arrived at the huge black defensive device, he started playing with the buttons on its control pad.
"Activate, damn it, you're supposed to have an automatic activation sequence!" McKay cursed at the device as he continued to press buttons.
Suddenly, more alarms began sounding, but in a more urgent way this time, obviously heralding some sort of trouble. Tiebin pulled McKay down to protect him from the objects flying in the winds whipping around them, but McKay pulled out of Tiebin's grasp.
"No, no, no, no," McKay said, completely ignoring Tiebin's concern for him as he shouted at the device. "You were designed to help! Come on, this just isn't fair at all!"
His fingers flew over the keys, but he stopped suddenly when more of the lights on the equipment began to flash ominously in rapid succession.
"What is it, McKay?" Sheppard shouted to be heard over the wind.
McKay shook his head. "I think I finally got the automation of that defensive device online, but whatever this is, it's activating everything – and I'm saying every damned thing. I don't know if that's good or not, but whatever's happening, I can't stop it!"
Ronon put up a hand against the brilliant flare of light that came from several recessed portals in the device, and then he felt himself drop to the ground as sensations slammed into his head – sensations that just weren't his. He rolled into a fetal position to protect himself from the onslaught. A frenzied rush of emotions and thoughts cascaded through his mind. Teyla. Sheppard. McKay. He felt what they felt and he knew they felt what he was going through.
He forced his eyes open and saw the others were struggling just as he was. Ronon froze when he saw another canister fly up into the air. There was a loud explosion as the canister exploded nearby. Ronon tried to crawl over to Sheppard to help him, but Sheppard was unconscious. So were the others he realized as he glanced around.
He moved to get up, but then he cried out instead. Terrible pain from other parts of his body kept him from moving – his hand, his wrist, his ribs, and his shoulder were all aflame, sending more fiery pain impulses to his brain than he could tolerate.
Damn it, someone needed to watch over the others, but all he could do was slump to the floor. His last thought before passing out was something which didn't seem to be entirely his own, but rather an assortment, all with one central theme – to protect the others – ended with him unable to protect anyone, not even himself.
Ronon groaned as he slowly came to. He'd known extreme pain before. When he'd been a runner, he'd dealt with one sort of pain or another on a fairly regular basis. It had rarely stopped him from doing what he had to do, but this was an entirely new level of intensity.
He rolled from his right side onto his back, then groaned again. Damn, but he hurt. His hand, his wrist, his shoulder, his ribs – they all throbbed with an agonizing ache.
It took a while for him to come to full awareness. He'd never felt so groggy, except for the times he'd been gassed or drugged. Something was definitely slowing down his thinking. As he became more alert, he began to realize that something very strange had happened to him.
He felt an unexpected hand on his left shoulder that he prepared to counter with a defensive action. Instead, he flinched, expecting more pain to come from the physical contact, because the hand was right over the area where his shoulder throbbed the most. When no more came, he opened his eyes and followed the hand up to see Tiebin hovering over him. The man's gray eyes were watching him with deep concern.
Tiebin had a laceration at his hairline above his right eye and blood trailed over part of his intricate tattoo artistry and ran down his throat. The twins. Tiebin. Tierab. The Ancient installation and its faulty irrigation system – those were definite memories that he could grab hold of, and there was also the heat outside. Yeah, he remembered all of that.
Ronon rubbed his fingers across his forehead. Damn, his thoughts were clicking together way too slowly. Tiebin said something to someone else, then looked back down at Ronon, patting Ronon gently as he murmured words of comfort.
Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Ronon blinked a few times and started to rise. Tiebin stiffened and held him down. Tiebin raised his voice so Ronon could hear him speaking this time. "No, not yet, Ronon. Give yourself a moment."
Ronon frowned. Something was very wrong, but his thoughts were just too muddled to figure out what it was. He looked around from his reclined position. There was a fire burning in one corner of the room, but the installation's fire suppression system was dealing with it, though the air was heavy with a screen of smoke and fine debris still floating through it. Whatever had happened around him hadn't happened very long ago.
Tiebin coughed, holding his side as he did. Ronon couldn't see any blood, but the man was obviously injured. Tiebin's voice was husky as he patted Ronon's arm again and said, "I am going to check on the others. Stay here until I get back."
Ronon tried to remember why he was on the floor. Memories of the waking dreams, the explosions, and the mental assault of brilliant lights and high-pitched whines of the defensive device blasted through his mind. He bolted upright in one motion, surprising Tiebin with his speed. Then Ronon's injuries caught up with him in the next instant from his rapid rise in position, and he had to grind his teeth together to keep from groaning aloud as he slumped against Tiebin.
"Where are the others?" Ronon rasped when he could speak again, guarding his left side as much as possible as he pulled away from Tiebin's hold. He looked around, then answered his own question.
All of his team was lying on the floor, unconscious. Tierab was leaning over Sheppard, patting Sheppard on the cheek in an attempt to rouse him. Ronon looked at Tierab more closely. Tierab appeared injured, too, but unlike Tiebin, there was actual blood staining his clothing on his side. Just whose blood it was, Ronon wasn't sure, but there was a lot of it.
Tiebin put a hand on Ronon's right shoulder in an attempt to stop him from moving further, but Ronon just sloughed off the concern and physical contact and forced himself to concentrate on standing until he was up on his feet. Tiebin tentatively rose with him, ready to catch him if Ronon collapsed. Ronon took a drunken step forward, then had to lean heavily against a nearby console for a moment until his dizziness passed. He would gather his strength, then go to the others.
Tiebin stayed right beside him. Ronon licked his lips and looked over at him as he tried to steady his breathing. "How are they?"
Tiebin's gaze went to the fallen, his expression worried and pained. He swallowed and nodded, glancing back at Ronon. "They are alive. Somehow, we all survived the explosions. It is a miracle."
Tiebin eyed him with a discerning eye. "Are you sure you're well enough to be up, Ronon?" he asked.
"Yeah," Ronon said automatically. His dizziness and nausea were actually better now, but before he moved forward, he took a moment to assess Tiebin's condition. "You okay?" he asked, glancing at Tiebin.
Tiebin nodded, though it was without enthusiasm. Ronon didn't blame him. He felt pretty damned shaky himself. Ronon began to move toward Sheppard since Sheppard was the closest. "I've got to check them for myself," he told Tiebin, still more than a little breathless.
Tierab glanced up from Sheppard as Ronon and Tiebin approached them.
Ronon knelt down beside Sheppard. From the periphery of his vision, he watched Tiebin go to Tierab's side, his expression tight with worry for as he moved awkwardly, his hand still pressed against his side.
"You must lie down," Tiebin said once he reached Tierab.
Tierab shook his head. "No, you and Ronon see to the others. I can stay with Sheppard."
Ronon shook his head. No one was going to stop him from checking on Sheppard's condition. Tierab looked at Ronon as Ronon moved forward and placed a hand on Sheppard's chest. "Sheppard is alive, Ronon. I haven't had a chance to check him for additional injuries yet, though it's obvious his shoulder is bleeding heavily again."
Ronon saw the spreading stain of crimson from Sheppard's shoulder wound. More blood trailed down from his chest to the ground and it was starting to pool there. Ronon paused to check Sheppard's breathing, then put his finger against Sheppard's wrist to feel for his pulse. Both were rapid and faint. Tiebin tore fabric from his tunic and he moved to press it hard against Sheppard's shoulder in an effort to stanch the bleeding.
As Tiebin applied the pressure to Sheppard's shoulder wound, Ronon gasped and clutched his own shoulder. For a moment, he thought he would pass out from the pain.
Sweat misted on his forehead and Ronon closed his eyes as a groan escaped his lips. The pressure on Sheppard's shoulder continued and knowing the pain Ronon felt was Sheppard's and not his own made no difference. It still hurt like hell.
Tiebin eased off the pressure a little when another groan escaped Ronon's lips. He looked up at Ronon, worried. "What is it, Ronon?"
"Nothing. Keep it up," Ronon rasped as he waved off Tiebin. "We've got to get that bleeding under control."
Ronon bit his lip when he realized Sheppard hadn't reacted at all to the burning ache in his shoulder. That wasn't good at all. Ronon pulled out a field dressing from Sheppard's tac vest and handed it to Tiebin, then glanced over at Teyla and McKay. "Keep the pressure on both sides of the wound and watch him closely," he said as he started to get up. "I'll be back after I check on – "
Without warning, Tierab moaned and slumped forward a little. Glancing at Tiebin, Ronon realized he'd heard Tiebin moan, too. Tiebin had a hand on his brother's shoulder to keep him from falling face-first onto the floor, though he didn't look much steadier himself. Ronon reached over and supported Tierab's other shoulder, grinding his teeth together from the flare of pain the movement caused.
He glanced at Tiebin. "Is he okay?" Ronon asked, knowing that the twins' telepathic bond would give Tiebin an added advantage when the other twin couldn't speak for himself.
Tiebin stared at his brother for a long moment, then shook his head.
"He is injured," Tiebin said grimly. His expression was tight with pain and he held his side for a long moment before staring at the blood on his brother's clothing. "He must lie down before he collapses completely."
Tiebin positioned himself to better help Tierab. Without looking at Ronon, he said, "Help me please."
Ronon nodded and shifted to get closer, even as Tierab shook his head, pushing aside their concerned attention, and said, "No, I will be fine – "
Ronon glanced down at Sheppard's tac vest and quickly pulled out another field dressing from one of Sheppard's vest pockets. "Use this," he said as he handed it to Tiebin. Then he put his hand on Tierab's back to help lower him to the ground.
Tierab's face was pasty white as he settled on the floor. After a moment, he tried to get up. He groaned with the pain that followed the movement, eliciting a corresponding groan in Tiebin. Ignoring his brother's protests, Tiebin raised Tierab's tunic high enough to see a ragged wound in his side. Ronon glanced up at Tiebin and wasn't surprised to see his coloring was just as bad as his brother's.
"You should lie down, too," Ronon said firmly.
Tiebin licked his lips, then shook his head. "Our bond causes us to feel whatever pain the other is feeling. I am not actually injured. I can manage."
He handed the dressing to Tierab and said, "If you can keep pressure on your own wound, I will see to Sheppard's wound."
Ronon placed a hand on Tiebin's shoulder. "Is he – are you both going to be okay for a moment while I check on my other friends?"
Tiebin nodded. "Yes, I will watch over my brother and Sheppard. Go to them, if you think you can without collapsing. I'm not sure I'll be of much help to you until I have my brother's condition under better control."
Ronon nodded and got to his feet. He was reluctant to leave Sheppard and the twins alone, but he had to attend to other pressing issues before he could settle down beside them again. He staggered forward, then hissed when he felt Tiebin press down harder on Sheppard's shoulder wound. The effect made him sway more than he wanted to acknowledge.
McKay was closer, so Ronon went to him first. He put a hand on McKay's chest after he dropped down to one knee, then to his wrist as he had done with Sheppard, and was relieved to find McKay's vital signs were strong.
Good, he thought as he got to his feet again. Hopefully, Teyla will be okay, too. Ronon almost stumbled on some of the rubble but recovered quickly. He kept a hand on his pained limb and ribs to keep them as immobile as possible while he took the few steps separating him from Teyla.
Once he got to her, he was glad to see her coming back to consciousness. Her eyes had trouble focusing on him as he settled on his knees beside her. "Hey, Teyla, how are you doing?"
She seemed to react to his presence, but her movements were stilted. With her increased awareness, she rolled to her right side and held her injured hand close to her chest. Ronon inhaled sharply, feeling the same agony she did. He surprised himself by holding his left hand open in front of him, as if it too was injured.
He gaped at it in disbelief, then glanced over at Teyla's bandaged hand. It felt as if her injury was his – damn, what the hell was going on here?
He looked down at Teyla again. He could see – no, he could feel her confusion, knowing it was because she was just as groggy as he'd been when he first awakened. Ronon lowered his uninjured, yet throbbing hand, down to his thigh and leaned a little closer to her. "Don't try to talk yet. Just hang tight."
He took her good hand with his, still reluctant to move his throbbing left hand for fear of awakening some greater discomfort. This is crazy, he told himself and he summoned all the willpower he had, forcing himself to ignore the pain that wasn't his own.
He squeezed her hand tightly, and she responded by inhaling slowly and squeezing back. She rolled onto her back again. A moment later, she let go of him and put her hand to her shoulder. Her expression was tight with pain as she opened her eyes.
Ronon bit his lip as he watched her, knowing exactly how she felt. Finally, Teyla's gaze focused on him. She put her hand on Ronon's arm and whispered, "What – "
She drew a shallow breath, tears pooling in her eyes as she battled to overcome her discomfort. Ronon wasn't doing much better. What was causing this to happen, he wondered.
Teyla opened her mouth and stammered, "I do not – I do not understand – "
"Easy," Ronon said softly, placing a hand on her right shoulder.
After a few more moments, she grew stronger and asked, "Ronon? What is happening?"
He wondered how much detail he should go into, but before he could speak, she nodded and said, "I remember the explosions, but – "
Her right hand went back to her left shoulder and down to her wrist before lingering at her hand. She brought the injured hand up to look at it before she pressed the side of it against her waist, and then she moved her right hand to her ribs. She blinked several times and finally found her voice again. "Why? Why do I – "
Ronon shook his head, then squeezed her arm. "I don't know," Ronon said honestly.
She was about to say something else to him, but then he felt her push away her pain as her eyes widened and she raised her head to look around. "Rodney and John? Where are they?" she asked in a rush.
The shift from worrying about herself to worry about the others came upon him so strongly, it made his breath hitch. No, worry seemed to be inadequate to describe what Teyla felt. It involved deep concern and close friendships, apprehension and good memories, being apart yet acting as one, and caring more about her teammates than for herself.
Ronon pushed her back down easily, mostly because she had little reserves left to fight against him, and brushed away the errant locks of her hair on her face. He gestured with his head. "They're over there, not far from us. They are alive, as are Tiebin and Tierab. Just give yourself a second before you try to get up."
He watched Teyla's expression. It told him so much without even a word from her lips. Years of being a part of their close-knit team gave Ronon lots of experience in reading Teyla's facial expressions, but at the back of his mind, he now realized he had another way of knowing – because he could almost hear her thoughts whispering inside his head.
He straightened in surprise with the realization and saw Teyla gasp at the same time. "Ronon?" she asked, putting a hand on Ronon's arm. "What is happening?"
Ronon shook his head, his mouth dropping open for a moment before he rubbed the back of his hand across it. He didn't know what to say, mostly because he had no idea himself, but something had happened to them, something extraordinary.
Teyla found her words first. "Rodney might be able to tell us when he's conscious," she said softly. Then she brought her good hand to her forehead and grimaced in pain, just as Ronon grimaced, too.
A loud, extended groan stopped all conversation and they both turned toward McKay. It appeared he was a part of what they were feeling, too.
"Oh – my – God, I am dying!" McKay exclaimed with a wheeze as his entire body seized up in pain. "Medic!" he shouted with whatever air he had left. Then he writhed on the floor and whispered, "Please, somebody help me!"
"McKay isn't going to deal with this well at all," Ronon muttered.
Teyla shook her head and sighed. "No, I do not think so."
Ronon chewed on his lower lip and exhaled slowly, making sure he didn't irritate his painful ribs. "Stay here. I'll go talk to him."
She put a hand on his arm before he got up. "Be patient with him, Ronon."
Ronon nodded. He could deal with the pain McKay was feeling, because he was dealing with it, too, along with Teyla, but what he couldn't handle was the whirlwind of drama he felt being generated from McKay. It was just not Ronon's way to feel so panicked and disconcerted. Ronon forced himself to clamp down on his emotions, using every bit of self-control he possessed to accomplish it.
McKay was curled into a fetal position when Ronon got to him.
"Oh, God, if no one is going to get me a doctor, then somebody just shoot me now and save me from any more suffering!" he whispered loudly.
Ronon knelt down and put a hand on McKay's shoulder. "Easy, McKay, easy. I'm not gonna shoot you, though the thought has crossed my mind. Trust me, stunning you would be a whole lot easier than dealing with you in the next few moments. Try to take some slow deep breaths."
McKay grunted, then spoke with an extended wheeze, "Yeah, you try doing that with the injuries I have! I'm in agony! Oh God, it feels like everything on my left side is broken. Get Jennifer! Get Carson! Get somebody here ASAP – "
Ronon squeezed McKay's right shoulder. "McKay, shut up!" he said forcefully enough to temporarily silence him.
McKay's mouth closed for a moment, but there was no masking the pain in his eyes. Ronon softened his expression. "I know, it hurts. We'll take care of that as soon as we can."
"Oh God," McKay whispered, a tear running down the side of his cheek. "I don't do pain well, Ronon. You know that."
Ronon nodded. "Yeah, I know, but we need for you to keep yourself together long enough to figure out what happened."
McKay shook his head. "You don't understand. I can't figure out a damned thing in my condition. I don't even know why I'm hurting so badly – " he said, then stopped in mid-sentence. "Wait a minute... "
He looked around frantically, Ronon following his gaze as it stopped first on the blocked entry to the conduits, next to the rubble from repeated explosions, then to the dying fire in one corner, finally to Sheppard and Teyla. Slowly, understanding started to dawn in his eyes. "The Mordiis attacked and set off the Ancients' defensive device – "
He glanced at Ronon in bewilderment and curled up tighter. "But how – why – geez, this pain is incredible... "
Ronon chewed on the inside of his cheek as he ignored the pain he felt and tried to sound compassionate, but he failed badly. He pointed at McKay's left shoulder. "McKay! Look for yourself, are you bleeding there?"
McKay's eyes swept over the area and he put a hand to his shoulder tentatively at first, then with more force. "But – " McKay whispered, his expression scrunched in confusion. "It hurts – and yet doesn't hurt. What the hell?"
Knowing McKay still wasn't up to speed, Ronon picked up McKay's left hand. McKay flinched and turned his head away from the pain he expected to have when Ronon pressed against the center of his palm. When it didn't, McKay glanced back down at his hand, then at Ronon as Ronon asked, "Do you see any blood there?"
Again, McKay shook his head, but was still bewildered.
Ronon ground his teeth together for a moment – the patience Teyla had mentioned earlier was almost gone. For somebody who was supposed to be a genius, McKay was pretty damned slow to catch onto what was happening. Ronon sighed and rolled back to rest on his heels. "We don't have time for this, McKay. The shoulder pain is Sheppard's, the hand is Teyla's, the ribs are mine, and the wrist is yours. We need for you to ignore that pain for a moment and concentrate on why this is happening and how to fix it."
McKay's eyes went wide as saucers now as he brought his right hand back to his shoulder, wrist, hand and ribs in disbelief.
"Son of a bitch... " he said, but at least he sounded a little more in control this time.
Ronon patted him on the arm. "That's it, McKay. Get angry. We need for you to figure this out."
Ronon heard a noise beside him and turned to see Teyla kneeling down slowly beside them. She met McKay's gaze and said, "Rodney, something is very wrong for all of us to be feeling each other's pain as well as our own."
McKay nodded, slowly at first, then more adamantly as he stared at the defensive device looming nearby. "It's got to be related to that monstrosity," he said quietly before he made motions to rise.
Teyla went to help McKay up, but Ronon beat her to it by getting to his feet before she could.
"I've got him, Teyla," Ronon said as he reached down to take McKay's arm. He had to swallow hard as he waited for the dizziness that came with his sudden change in position to abate.
McKay slapped a hand over his face and whined, "Oh, for God's sake, Ronon, stop moving!"
Teyla put a hand to Ronon's leg and closed her eyes. "Slowly," she said. "If one of us gets dizzy, we will all feel it."
Ronon nodded and gently helped McKay to stand, then Teyla – all with only a few gasps and groans from the collective group. McKay put a hand on a nearby console as he battled with some residual dizziness and whined, "This really sucks."
Ronon had to nod in agreement.
With great effort, McKay swallowed back his discomfort and stared at the defensive device, then started talking. Once he did, he began to pick up speed and sounded more like himself, "No, no, this – this situation can't be the defensive measure – the damned defensive measure that was meant to save our lives!"
He shook his head as he stepped forward. "Something's gone wrong – very, very wrong. There has to be some way to reverse this – whatever it is. Think, think, think," he said, bringing his palm to his forehead. "But – but I can't," he exclaimed after a moment. He pulled his hand from his head. "I – I can't possibly think when every inch of my body – no, everyone's bodies – hurts like they do!"
McKay froze in place as apparently another thought struck him. "Wait, what if – what if I can't reverse this – Oh, God, do you, do you think this might be permanent?" He shook his head and waved his hand frantically as he paced a few steps. "No, no, I simply cannot be brilliant with all of you tromping around inside my head."
Ronon found his own breathing was coming fast, along with a crushing wave of anxiety that threatened to envelop him, and he forced his hands into fists. "McKay!"
When McKay stopped and spun around, Ronon continued to growl, "Stop freaking out!"
There was an edge to Ronon's voice that was unfamiliar, even to himself. Apparently, McKay and Teyla both heard it, because they turned to face him. Ronon made his fingers relax and spread out as he lowered them deliberately in a forced show of calm.
Teyla nodded, took McKay's hand in hers, and squeezed it. Her voice was controlled, but just barely. "Rodney, Ronon is right. You cannot let your emotions run rampant, because it will negatively affect all of us."
McKay's mouth opened and closed a few times, and his eyes widened. "But – but I'm not very good at controlling my emotions, never have been, actually. In fact, I suck at it – have most of my life. I feel what I feel and there's no – "
Teyla took another controlled breath and said, "Rodney, close your eyes and listen to my voice."
Although he was obviously little leery of her request, McKay finally did it, and she said, "Take some slow deep breaths. We will figure this out. You must remain calm if we are to get to the heart of our situation. If you need help from Ronon or myself, just ask for it. We have to work together to resolve this matter."
Her gaze went to Sheppard, who still hadn't moved a muscle. "For John's sake, we must do this quickly. Do you think you can manage it?"
McKay started to shake his head no, then opened his eyes and looked Teyla. He seemed unable to turn down her request, even though Ronon knew that was exactly what he wanted to do. "I'll – I'll try," he said finally.
She nodded and leaned forward, placing her forehead against his in the traditional Athosian way, and she flooded her mind with thoughts of peace, calm, serenity and strength. Ronon felt McKay begin to relax a little, and then he sensed Teyla going further than that. She focused on her memories from past missions when it looked like they were going to die, and how they had trusted McKay to get them through it, and how he had come through for them time and time again.
Ronon let out a long breath at the same time McKay did, in awe of the intensity of the shared experience. McKay didn't move away from Teyla, and Ronon could sense McKay's emotions were in flux. Suddenly, Ronon could see – no, feel – the tremendous burden they placed on McKay's shoulders on a regular basis without considering its impact on him. A part of McKay usually ate up that kind of challenge as a way to show the world the natural brilliance he possessed, but there was also another part of him, a darker part, something he usually kept buried deep inside that was full of terrible, gut-wrenching doubt.
McKay's worst fear was to fail his teammates – not because that would make him seem less the genius that he was, but more because he couldn't fail them when they needed him – no, depended upon him so much.
As their emotions blended into a swirl of one, Ronon saw that same burden for McKay could easily be transformed into pure inspiration, helping McKay to see an entirely different way of thinking, something far beyond what McKay would normally consider, and that the team's steadfast trust in McKay's abilities almost always bolstered his resolve. In fact, that weight was often a source of accomplishment and satisfaction for McKay and McKay rarely resented it being placed upon his shoulders when everything was said and done.
Ronon's breath hitched for a moment as he tried to process the deep emotions he felt coming from McKay and Teyla. Team was more than just a word for any of them. It meant family. It meant trust. It meant being a part of something bigger than they were alone.
When Teyla finally pulled away from McKay, Ronon saw tears rolling down her cheeks.
"That is good, Rodney," she whispered as she put a hand to his chest and smiled. "I know you can do this. Now, what can we do to help?"
McKay wiped a hand over his face, maybe wiping away a tear of his own. There was a vulnerability about McKay now that Ronon had never seen before, but there was also great determination and strength.
McKay looked around. He pointed back to the equipment he'd been working on before everything went to hell. His voice was a little rough as he said, "This all happened after that damned defensive device went off, so it has to be related."
McKay approached the device, eyeing its scorched control panel. He punched on its buttons without a response, then looked around to where a big chunk of its back side had been blown up by one of the explosions.
"Oh, crap, we are so screwed," he said in a hoarsely whispered rush.
Ronon closed his eyes and went to take a deep breath, knowing the inevitable backlash of McKay's angst that would come, only it hit him sooner than expected. Another tide of anxiety washed over Ronon's mind and body. Then McKay began sputtering some gibberish about this whole thing not being his fault and why did it always come down to what he did to save the day anyway. All the inspiration, good feelings and sharing of common experiences were gone in a flash.
He heard Teyla speaking to McKay again with the type of measured patience Ronon knew he'd never possess, trying to get McKay calmed down. Ronon rubbed his forehead as McKay babbled on about how much he was hurting.
Ronon knew McKay wasn't over-exaggerating his discomfort, because Ronon felt it, too, but he couldn't stop McKay's sentiment that flashed across his own mind – We are so screwed.
Rodney moved stiffly as he came over to where Teyla sat with John. He paused for a moment, looking longingly at a chair not too far away from them before he turned and placed the items he carried in the crook of his arm down on the floor. He started to gingerly lower himself down beside them when Teyla put out a hand to stop him.
"No, Rodney, please, sit in the chair. It is more comfortable for you. Just because I am on the floor with John does not mean you have to be, too."
Rodney licked his lips and shook his head in a dismissive fashion as he sank down to the floor. "Frankly, I've been sitting in a chair for hours now and I'm tired of it."
She couldn't help but smile when his poorly masked sentiment to remain close to his fallen teammate touched her heart. Unable to shield herself from it, Teyla had been aware of every emotion that had gone through Rodney as he had worked for the last few hours and sometimes even his thoughts. She knew he was angry and frustrated that he couldn't find a way to fix the defensive device, but how could he be expected to? The equipment had been badly damaged in the explosions.
The only thing that had given Rodney hope was some of the Ancients' logs and research data he'd uncovered. He'd read through them voraciously, though there were times when he'd been stopped short, by the disturbing information he came across, but then he pressed forward despite it.
When Rodney raised his gaze to meet hers, she gave him the best smile she could muster, knowing it wouldn't be much. He returned it with a wan smile of his own. There was just too much pain and concern amongst their group to expect more than that.
Rodney sighed and gestured toward Ronon. "Isn't there some way we can get them to stop for a few minutes? It's almost impossible for me to concentrate when my ribs are killing me from his nonstop and quite frankly futile antics."
Teyla glanced over at them and sighed in agreement. Ronon and Tiebin were attempting to clear as much rubble as they could from the collapsed doorway, in an attempt to see if there might be an opening big enough for at least one of them to squeeze through, to go to the jumper to contact Atlantis and request a rescue, but it wasn't going well.
Teyla gasped, along with Rodney, when Ronon pulled on some splintered wood and it gave far way sooner than Ronon had expected. It was all Ronon could do not to fall backwards. Tiebin grabbed his arm and helped to right him.
"Son of a bitch," Rodney exclaimed as he held a hand to his ribs and exhaled through his mouth. Teyla closed her eyes and held her breath as she, too, worked through the pain.
Ronon looked over at them as he pressed his hand against his ribs. He was slightly bent forward and trying to catch his breath when he shouted hoarsely to them, "Sorry."
"As if that makes it okay," Rodney muttered as Ronon started to go back to work.
Ronon turned back toward him and growled, "McKay, shut up!"
Rodney stiffened, no doubt preparing a withering response, when Teyla said gently, "Rodney."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Come on, Teyla, there's no way we are getting through that exit without some C4 and a crew of combat engineers."
She couldn't argue with him. "We have to examine all of our options. Besides, it gives Ronon an avenue to vent his frustration."
"I'm going to vent his frustration right out his – "
"Rodney," she said, more forcefully this time. "Close your eyes and focus on what Ronon is feeling right now and tell me what you find."
Rodney tapped his fingers on the floor for a moment. "Will this give me some great insight into the inner workings of our own personal Wookie?"
Teyla gave him a sharp look, then realized he knew what she wanted him to do, he was just avoiding it for as long as possible.
"Rodney, while this bonding process is a tremendous burden placed upon all of us, I believe it is in reality a great gift. To truly know the heart of the friend who holds your life in their hands on a regular basis is a miracle – one that should be embraced and revered."
Rodney shook his head. "I don't know about that. There's no privacy. Absolutely no privacy. I'm not an open man. People put up walls for a reason. I'd just as soon not have experienced anything from this adventure, thank you very kindly."
Teyla bent until she held his gaze. "I want to apologize for all of us for setting such high expectations for you on regular basis," she said softly.
Rodney looked deeply touched before he made a face and shook his head. "It's not that bad, not really. If I didn't have the brain I have, things might be different. You place your trust in me and I do my best to reward that trust. Before Atlantis, no one ever depended on me like that – at least, not where their lives were concerned."
He frowned and glanced her way. "You know, before Atlantis, I – I never understood what was involved in being a part of something like our team. I always stood on the periphery and watched others do what I wouldn't allow myself to do. I was too brilliant to bother with something as trivial as a team, you know, to be involved with other people's lives. It was all about me and my research. It was always about me... "
"Rodney," she began.
Rodney put up a hand and shook his head. "You don't have to say it, I know what you are about to say... literally. Your compassion for others, especially me with all the hell I've put you all through, well, it boggles my mind. You are like the Mother Teresa of Atlantis the way you care about other people. When I look at you, I realize I really know nothing about dealing with people."
He swallowed hard. "My mind contains a wealth of information – data, numbers, equations – but I know nothing about people. Not like you."
Teyla put out a hand in Rodney's direction. "You are wrong. You know more than you care to admit. You've changed, Rodney, since I first met you – for the better."
Teyla stopped and put a hand to her ribs when once again Ronon's activities encroached upon him as he moved the wrong way. When she glanced at Rodney, he was biting his lip hard to avoid groaning aloud.
She heard Ronon curse, but he didn't shout "Sorry" like he'd been doing for the past hour. Perhaps he finally realized verbal apologies weren't necessary in their current situation. Ronon paused, looking in their direction, and a sensation with much more impact passed over Teyla and Rodney through their connection.
Teyla felt Ronon's steadfast devotion to them and their well being... along with his frustration at being unable to help in any way. He meant to find a way to rescue all of them, even if he had to sacrifice his own life to do it.
Rodney grunted as he rubbed at his ribs and muttered, "If he can't shoot it, fight it or blow it up, he's lost."
"Yes, if only there was a foe for Ronon to face here, he would deal with it easier. Having this – this undefined Mordiis presence working against us with no way for Ronon to get the upper hand infuriates him to no end."
She glanced at Ronon again. He nodded at her and then went back to work. Without meaning to, Teyla opened herself to experiencing what Ronon felt so that she could send him some comforting response, but she wasn't prepared for the intensity of emotions she felt coming from him. Strength, determination, camaraderie, and commitment greeted her, along with a true sense of knowing oneself and being at peace with where he was in life. It was what made up the heart of Ronon Dex.
Teyla found herself sighing in response, soaking up the flow of emotions and letting herself linger in it for a long moment. It was almost as if it shored up some weakness in herself, and Teyla felt immeasurably strengthened by the bond they now shared.
She felt Rodney's awe-filled silence as he experienced it along with her. He fed on it like he was a starving man who had just found a feast, but everything came to an abrupt halt when Ronon's mood changed and anger flared brightly.
Ronon passed along a terse warning, Stay out of my head, Teyla. There's things there you don't ever want to see.
Teyla swallowed when she realized he was right and she backed away, sending back this thought: Do not worry, Ronon, we did not see anything. We only shared in the strength of your convictions. I am sorry. Without meaning to, we intruded too far into places we weren't invited to share. Forgive us.
She closed her eyes and pulled back, saddened by her transgression. Of course, there were things life had forced Ronon to do and see that he wouldn't want anyone to know of. The same was true for any of them. When she glanced over at Ronon, he shook his head. With that motion, he absolved her of any wrongdoing, yet she felt sorry for what had happened.
Rodney had been right earlier. People put up walls for a reason. She should have respected that sentiment more.
Rodney cleared his throat as if still dumbfounded by his connection with Teyla and Ronon and said quietly, "Conan forgave you... so don't beat yourself up over it. And maybe – maybe you were right. Maybe this isn't so bad after all. You know, what you said about it being a gift and not a curse."
Teyla didn't know how to respond to Rodney's moment of introspection. Then Ronon slipped and fell against a wall, jarring his ribs.
"Son of a bitch!" Rodney exclaimed as he held his ribs. "I'd knock him out to get him to stop, but that would be slightly sadomasochistic – considering if I cause him pain, it would only make me hurt more."
Tierab chuckled from where he lay across from John, who still hadn't awakened.
Rodney's head spun towards Tierab and he glared at him. "What's so funny about this situation, Tweedle Dee? For that matter, where is the humor in any of this?"
Tierab tempered his expression and lowered his gaze. "I am sorry, Dr. McKay. It is only because I have been where you are now for all of my life, feeling what my brother feels and with him feeling what I feel. Over time, we've been able to screen out most of it except pain and emotions. I think it must be much easier to have grown up with such sensations than it is to have them suddenly thrust upon you without your permission and in such a dire situation. It does help to screen out what you are feeling with your bond, if you keep your thoughts focused on a task – the more complicated the task, the better."
Rodney sighed and gestured with his tablet computer. "Well, this material I'm reading is very complicated, but it's not working that well as a distraction. I feel it every time Ronon moves the wrong way and I'm getting pretty damned tired of it."
Teyla noticed the light sheen of sweat on Rodney's brow and how he was guarding the left side of his body, just as she was. Ronon was hurting just as much as they were, but he'd found the fortitude to push through it. She forced her right hand away from her ribs and let out a long breath.
She let her gaze wander over to John where he lay beside her. His fingers whitened as they clenched into a fist for a moment and he moaned softly. He'd been making small movements for a while now, as if he was finally going to wake up. His brow furrowed and he grimaced in pain, holding his breath for a long moment.
Teyla found herself doing the same thing. After a moment, he let out the breath and went slack again. Teyla brushed her fingers over his brow. She knew John was slowly climbing his way out of unconsciousness – she could sense it from some place deep within, but more so when the pain of the team's injuries caused him to react.
Rodney glanced over at her. "Normally, I'd ask how's he doing, but it's rather pointless right now since I can feel exactly how he's doing, and it's not good." He looked down at John again, then back up at her. "You know, maybe that storm is easing up. I'll go outside to look – "
Teyla shook her head. "Stay where you are, Rodney. The storm will not have changed much since the last time you looked."
Rodney reacted suddenly and she felt his anger rush through her. "Do you really want to sit around here and wait until that damned storm ends, or until the Mordiis kills one or more of us? Which death is worse? I want to know because I have no freaking idea!"
Before Teyla could answer, Rodney closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Damn," he whispered. "I'm sorry. It's this blasted pain that's making me crazy. It just doesn't let up."
"I know," she said softly. "Try to remind yourself it will not last forever. We will get through this as long as we keep our heads clear."
Rodney nodded, looking slightly chagrined. "I know that, damn it. I know that. Just bear with me, Teyla. I'm doing the best I can."
Teyla nodded. "I know you are. That is all anyone can ask of another. It will be enough."
She let her hand slide down John's cheek as he grimaced again. She paused when she thought she felt him turn in toward her hand a little. She watched him for a long moment, then glanced up at Rodney. "John's bleeding had slowed some since the last time I checked his bandages and his vital signs are growing stronger. If only he would awaken."
Rodney grunted. "If you ask me, he's the lucky one. I'd rather be oblivious throughout this whole ordeal than feel what – "
He caught Teyla's expression and softened his tone. "Well, I would. I don't do pain well. Besides, you know exactly what I mean."
He stopped when he saw Ronon and Tiebin approach them, sweaty and tired. "Oh, thank God," Rodney whispered. "It's about time you came to your senses and stopped."
Teyla sensed Ronon's dark mood, but she waited until Ronon and Tiebin were seated nearby before she said, "At least you tried... "
Ronon's mood worsened and he shook his head as if he was shaking her away rather than her attempt at consolation. Rodney started to say something in her defense, but Ronon growled, "Don't. Just don't say anything. Especially you, McKay."
When Rodney glanced over at Teyla, he was obviously offended by Ronon's response, but she just shook her head slightly and reached out with a canteen to Ronon. "Here, Ronon, Tiebin, have a drink to cool yourself."
Ronon offered it to Tiebin, who shook his head to indicate he didn't want any, so Ronon gave an appreciative nod to Teyla and drank its contents in one long swig.
Rodney took a drink from his own canteen. "You know, I think I'm almost getting used to the nauseating taste of those damned herbs, but it remains to be seen if they actually help or not."
"They help," Tiebin said, "whether you admit it or not. The Ancestors would not have used them if they did not."
Rodney was about to comment when a groan from John stopped all conversation. All three of them cringed as the unshielded pain John felt swept over them like a tidal wave.
John's right hand flopped toward his shoulder wound, then slid down his arm and he opened his eyes to stare at his left side in confusion. His jaw twitched from the strain his discomfort was putting on his system, but he didn't say a word.
His gaze darted over the area, taking in the destruction around him before he noticed the others. "Did I miss something?" he asked softly as he shifted. Then he hissed from the movement.
"Only Armageddon," Rodney said through clenched teeth as he held his own uninjured shoulder tightly in response.
After a moment, he lowered his hand and sighed.
With closed eyes, John licked his lips as he tried to settle into a more comfortable position, but he didn't seem to find one. He slowly opened his eyes again and looked around, then frowned as he held his left hand in front of his eyes in confusion. The frown increased when he squeezed it with his other hand, then let his other hand travel upward only to pause at his wrist.
He stopped again at the shoulder wound and his confusion eased as if he understood why he had that pain. Then his hand went to his ribs.
"What the hell is going on?" he rasped after a moment.
"You don't really want to know," Rodney murmured.
Teyla looked at John, then gestured toward the defensive device. "The device worked, but a side effect is a bonding between the four of us. We all feel what the others feel and I can tell your shoulder injury is causing you a great deal of pain, so do not down play its severity."
John blinked slowly. After a long moment of internal debate, he grunted. "I guess there's no way to bullshit my way out of this," he said softly. His eyes squeezed shut as he exhaled slowly.
Teyla shook her head as she grimaced and rubbed at her shoulder. Letting out a long breath in an effort to push away the pain, she said, "No, do not try to deny it. We all feel it. I only wish there was something I could do to alleviate your discomfort."
John opened his eyes to stare at her, then at Ronon and Rodney, obviously sensing their concern. He blinked a few more times and looked uncomfortable as he stared at them, unnerved by the intensity of their emotions. His unease seemed to increase as he realized they could track his feelings just as easily as he could theirs. "This is crazy."
"Tell me about it," Rodney said with a sigh.
John obviously continued to sense their deep-seated concern for his well being. Finally, he put up a hand and said, "Easy, guys. I'm not going to die on you, okay? I'll be fine – we'll all be fine, just hang tight."
He smiled a little before his eyelids drifted closed again as he held his shoulder tightly. Teyla brushed her fingers across his sweaty temple. "The pain will not be so bad in a few minutes. Just try to screen out as much of it as you can."
"I really could use Jordanaeh and some of her miraculous healing ability right about now," he whispered as he nodded in Ronon's direction.
Ronon nodded back at him with a knowing grin. "She would be handy."
Teyla could still feel John struggling to control the pain and she closed her eyes, willing him as much peace and serenity as she could. Maybe it wasn't as miraculous as a healing power, but it did seem to help a little, because when Teyla looked at him next, the lines on his forehead weren't as deeply furrowed.
"Thanks," John said finally as he opened his eyes, apparently ready to step back into his role as team leader. "Tell me what I missed."
Ronon looked at Rodney as if he was the one chosen to explain everything. Rodney rubbed a hand over his face. "I guess now is as good a time as any to dive into what I've found. Trust me, knowledge can be a double-edged sword," he said with a sigh.
As Rodney gathered his thoughts, Teyla took another canteen from the ones she'd filled up and removed the lid, putting it up to John's lips. He smiled appreciatively when he saw what she had and drank slowly.
He closed his mouth and Teyla pulled the canteen away. Rodney began talking. "Okay, your first question is the one on everyone's lips. Why are each of us feeling what everyone else is feeling so intensely? Well, in order to answer that I have to ask another question. Why didn't Twin One and Twin Two here feel any of the effects from the Mordor – no, wait, that's Lord of the Rings. What were they called again?"
Teyla sighed. "Mordiis."
Rodney pointed at her. "Yes, yes, Mordiis. Why didn't the Wonder Twins here feel the effects of the Mordiis like the rest of us?"
Without giving anyone a chance to answer, Rodney plunged forward. "Because, they are twins, but not just that. They share an amazing telepathic link with each other, something that is so extensive in this area the Ancients had researched the trait in detail, because the identical twins born here share similar brain wave patterns. That's what saved them from feeling the same overall creepiness as the rest of us."
He looked at the others expectantly. When no one reacted, he said, "Don't you see it? The evolutionary process of natural selection on this planet, and more specifically in this area, gave them an inherent defense against the Mordiis and the omega wave energy they transmit. The Ancients just came up with a way to use that defense as a way to protect themselves against the Mordiis' influence."
"What's this omega wave energy?" Ronon asked.
Rodney nodded as he launched back into his explanation. "It's something the Ancients discovered. It's the source of the effects the Mordiis have been bombarding us with. The energy isn't natural for us, and by us, I mean it isn't natural for our dimension. It wasn't here when the Ancients built this facility, but when the Ancients went to open a new cavern to expand their growing team of scientists based here, it caused the omega wave energy to slip from the Mordiis' dimension into ours, as if the dimensional fabric was very thin over this area. The type of crystal that is present inside the rock formations in these caverns apparently can concentrate that escaping energy even more."
Teyla frowned in confusion, then saw Ronon and John were doing the same thing. John rubbed his forehead and said, "Dumb it down for us, McKay. What exactly are we talking about here?"
Rodney rolled his eyes, then took a deep breath to rein in his obvious irritation. "Hmm, maybe I do need to back up a bit and explain the basic processes involved. It's just that all of this is so new to me, I'm still trying to digest it myself. Okay, the omega wave energy the Mordiis release from their dimension affects our normal brain wave activity. It alters things to the point the victim starts hallucinating violent events. In that highly excited state, they are especially vulnerable when the Mordiis start to draw on the unique form of electrical discharges in the human brain. With a more complex and shared brainwave pattern as in our twin friends here, the Mordiis cannot feed and that's how the bonding process succeeds as a defense."
John raised his head. "They feed on the electrical discharges in the brain?" he asked. He rubbed a finger across his brow. Taking a deep breath, he said, "Maybe that explains what I felt after I was injured. I mean, it seriously felt like my brain was exploding."
A memory flash from John's intense experience in the storage room whipped through everyone's thoughts and Teyla shivered in response. She was fortunate to not have gone through the same event herself.
Rodney's lips pursed together as his expression darkened. "Yeah, it probably was now that I can feel what you'd felt. You probably just barely escaped that one. Many of the Ancients didn't, once the feedings began."
Rodney paused, and Teyla felt a quick burst of intense panic from him. She leaned forward, already suspecting the reason behind Rodney's fear. "Rodney, this process is temporary, correct?"
Rodney looked away and the knot his panic had started in Teyla's stomach twisted a little tighter. "In theory, yes. That was the way the Ancients designed it, but... "
He ran a hand through his hair and he stammered a little as he said, "The Ancients were smart enough to know they wouldn't want to go the rest of their lives bonded like this, with somebody else's emotions constantly flowing through their heads, so the process was designed to be temporary."
Rodney swallowed hard. "But when – when the device was activated and the bonding process had started for us, there was that explosion that basically fried the defensive device's circuitry."
He paused again before he looked up at her. "I think we got a much higher level of exposure to the bonding process than was ever intended to be used. Everything I've read says the bonding process is temporary, but nowhere did it mention that it would be so extensive, so pervasive for each person involved. I mean, we are all experiencing what each of us is going through at a core level. There's – there's a distinct possibility this may not be reversible."
Teyla licked her lips, trying to find something positive in the bombshell Rodney had just dropped on them. "At least we do not have to worry about the waking dreams or the Mordiis trying to feed on us any longer."
Rodney attempted to smile, but failed, so he continued with his explanation. "Right. Okay, without the bonding program, the Ancients were exposed to the full effects of the Mordiis and their omega wave energy, at least until they figured out a way to deal with the energy. Their numbers quickly declined as more and more of them went mad or died, so the surviving Ancients put their coworkers into stasis and made the bonding device part of the safety protocols to protect themselves, at least until they could escape on an emergency transport ship, knowing Atlantis had dispatched one to evacuate them."
"Why didn't they just go through the Stargate?" John asked. "Why hang around when you know you're brain food for another dimension?"
Rodney nodded. "Yes, but remember, this all happened during the Ancients' war with the Wraith. Resources were limited. It didn't help that the Wraith chose that particular time to cull this world. The DHD was damaged in the attack, so there was no going through the gate. Two previous transports had been sent to evacuate them, but they were attacked and destroyed before arriving.
"So the remaining scientists narrowed their focus into stopping the flow of omega wave energy into our dimension. This is one of the proximity alarms they used to detect the presence of omega wave energy." Rodney held up a small unimpressive gadget, then continued, "These alarms would make the activation of the device automatic, so as soon as the omega wave energy levels reached a certain level, the bonding device would activate."
When everyone stared at him again, Rodney paused and gestured with one hand. "You've got to understand. There were over two hundred Ancients here and by the time the Ancients left, there were only a dozen or so still functional. The rest were either dead or in stasis."
John chewed on his lip, then said, "So that's what they must have meant on the inscription to the entrance of the installation. All who enter must have a kindred spirit... "
Rodney nodded. "Yeah, unfortunately we didn't have an Ancient Ouija board to warn us about that in greater detail before we became trapped here in this hellhole. The general disarray of the installation was evidence of the telekinesis effect. The Mordiis must have dumped as much omega wave energy in here as they could when they couldn't find anyone else to feed on."
Teyla sensed something more dire in Rodney's thoughts and had a chance to brace herself before he gestured widely with one hand and said, "But we've got a much bigger problem at hand."
"Bigger than what we have right now?" Ronon asked incredulously.
"Oh yeah. Listen closely, the omega wave energy that is coming into our dimension is causing an imbalance of some sort. The more that comes through, the weaker the boundaries separating our dimensions become. If we don't find a way to stop the passage, we won't be worrying about this installation – hell, not even this galaxy. The problem would be on a much, much wider scale."
John sat up a little straighter. "So you're saying this rift between our dimension and theirs could grow?"
Rodney paused in thought, then nodded. "Think of it as a thinning of the barriers between the two dimensions that allows these energy beings enough leeway to leech off of us and the Ancients before us – a bleed-through of energy, if you will, and from what the Ancients were able to discern, this was the only location where such leakage was seen.
"The mineralogy and geology of the caverns inside this mountain intensifies the thinning phenomenon for some reason. There are extensive files of research done by the Ancients documenting the whole thing. The bottom line is the setup inside of these caverns is ideal for retaining and concentrating omega wave energy. Only by interfering with the transmission of that energy can this imbalance be stopped. If it isn't stopped soon, the damage to both dimensions could be beyond imagining."
John shook his head. "But why didn't the Ancients do that before they left? I mean, why did they do all that research without following through on the measures designed to stop the energy transmission before they left here?"
Rodney held up a pointed finger. "Excellent point. The Ancients actually did follow through and they left such a device here expressly for that purpose. It's sitting over there." He paused as he pointed to a dark green machine taking up the top of a nearby counter, then continued, "It was supposed to counter the omega wave energy, much like the way a jamming device can prevent radio messages from being received, neutralizing the effects of the energy and the risk to our dimension. They left it running when they evacuated."
Teyla asked, "So what went wrong?"
"I'm not sure, maybe the neutralizer didn't counter the omega waves sufficiently. I did read the Ancients were planning to come back with a larger contingent to ensure the bleed-through would be permanently disabled, but something must have happened to their transport because the communication logs show repeated attempts by Atlantis to contact the Ancients here long after their departure date. Maybe they met up with an attacking Wraith ship or something else happened in transit. The bottom line was nobody ever came back to check on things.
"The Ancients thought they had found a way to close the dimensional breach by neutralizing the effects of the omega wave energy, as I just mentioned. That device I pointed to was built expressly for that purpose, but I have to examine it more closely to see why it isn't working as they'd planned." He strummed his fingers lightly on his leg for a moment. "I turned it up a little more to protect us from the omega wave energy, but I'm a little afraid to play with it anymore until I see what untoward effects it might have on us."
Rodney scratched his eyebrow and said, "I believe the theories behind the Ancients' plans were sound. I just need to examine some specifics to get everything working in the right way."
John's gaze narrowed. "Can you do that?"
"Hello, who are you talking to? Of course, I can do that. I just have to find out what's wrong with the omega wave neutralizer to get it working properly again."
Rodney set down the proximity detector and picked up a larger device.
"What's that?" John asked as he shifted, then grimaced for a moment.
"It's the detonator for another approach the Ancients had devised to prevent the passage of omega wave energy. Using a high frequency pulse, this would shatter the crystalline component in these rock formations that helps to concentrate the omega wave energy. That would make it harder for the energy to pass into our dimension. I came across it when I found some other research material. I think the Ancients stopped working on everything else once they decided the omega wave neutralizer would be enough, especially when the transport arrived. The sad thing is it looks like there are only a few connections left to finish and it will be operational."
John reacted to Rodney's comment and frowned. "Shattering? That doesn't sound like something we want to be around for. By shattering the crystalline component in the mineral make up of the rock here won't that destroy the mountain?"
Rodney shook his head, taking on a defensive manner. "No, not exactly."
John pressed forward. "Well, what will it do, exactly? Remember we can't leave this installation until that storm outside dies down."
"Yes, I'm well aware of that fact." Rodney licked his lips, then hemmed and hawed for a moment before he said, "That frequency won't destroy the surrounding rock. It will just shatter the crystalline part of it, so at worst, there will be some settling."
John shook his head. "Settling – I still don't like that idea. I mean, look up. What if something settles above us? It could all come crashing down on us."
"We may have no other option," Rodney said with a sigh. "We've got to use every defense possible on the off chance the Mordiis do try to send more omega wave energy through. We've got the bonding process, the omega wave neutralizer and the crystal shattering frequency."
John asked, "Do you think the Mordiis are even aware of what they are doing to our dimension?"
Rodney shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe not. That doesn't really matter. What does matter is that we get that breach sealed before it becomes more prominent, which is what it looks like it's doing when I compare the data the Ancients had to what I'm seeing now."
Teyla frowned as she leaned against a counter. "Why do they continue their activity when they must sense there is no one here to feed on any longer?" Teyla asked.
"Think of them as giant anteaters, sucking up ants and other tasty grub as they disturb the rock and plant life around them. They get a taste of something good and they just keep rooting around until they find it again or give up."
Rodney almost dropped the crystal-shattering detonator when the proximity detector beside him started flashing, and a series of alarms started ringing in the large room.
"Oh, crap, the bleed-through effect is happening again," Rodney whispered.
John gestured to Ronon and Teyla. "Spread out. We don't want to find ourselves all boxed together, especially with the effects the omega wave energy can have on us."
Rodney shook his head. "No, you don't understand. You don't have to worry about that any more. With the bonding process, the Mordiis can't make us hallucinate."
An ominous wind started blowing and John got to his knees. "No, but they can still make things fly through the air. I, for one, don't want to play a human shish kabob again."
Ronon pointed around them. "There's all kinds of dangerous material that can be used against us."
"Stow away as much as you can before things really get going," John said as he nodded and everyone got to their feet.
Rodney bolted for the omega wave neutralizer and turned the dial up a little more. He chewed on his lower lip, then turned it another notch. Backing away, he shook his head and went to join the others. Injuries or not, if they didn't put away as much as they could, the odds were some or all of them wouldn't make it through this alive, so they all pitched in and put away as much loose material as possible.
"Oh my God, this is excruciating," Rodney whined in a small voice as he picked up one of the type of small canisters that exploded so violently earlier and put it inside a storage locker. The winds continued to increase and Rodney stopped, licking his lips as his gaze darted around the room. "There's way too much here for us to pick up in time. We're dead."
Ronon shook his head and muttered, "Here we go again."
Rodney's expression took on an angry cast. "Well, I'm sorry if the thought of dying is somewhat alarming to me."
Teyla was near Rodney. She paused to put a hand on his arm and said, "Rodney, try to remember that what you feel, we all feel, so you must work harder to keep your negative emotions under control."
Rodney sighed. "I know, but – but it just isn't easy being me."
"I know," Ronon said, shaking his head. He stopped and stared at Rodney. "You can do this."
Rodney looked a little alarmed when Ronon took hold Rodney's right arm, holding it loosely, but there was little wiggle room left for Rodney. Ronon closed his eyes and took a deep breath. A long moment later, Teyla began to feel a swell of courage and bravery radiating from Ronon.
The effect Ronon's actions had on Rodney was amazing. Instead of cowering in fear, Rodney was smiling when Ronon released him. "Okay, okay, we can do this! Bring it on, Mordiis scum! Prepare to be unleeched!"
He started picking up possibly dangerous objects at a much faster pace. Tiebin dropped several tools into a large drawer.
"Thanks," John said quietly as he patted Ronon on the back. "Okay, guys, the sooner we finish, the better."
Teyla looked around and smiled as she said, "We are making a lot of progress. Much more than I thought we'd be allowed time to do."
John rubbed his forehead as he paced in the direction of the blocked entrance to the conduits. "I agree, but can't you turn off that obnoxious alarm, McKay? We know the omega wave energy is here already."
Rodney nodded. He took a few steps to a console and typed in something, then flipped a switch. The alarm stopped and everyone seemed to relax a little, at least until John groaned. When Teyla looked over at him, there was a light halo effect around John's head.
"Rodney?" Teyla said as she glanced in Rodney's direction.
Rodney straightened as they watched the halo effect grow more intense, and then each of them felt John's pain. "Damn it. The Mordiis are still trying to feed on us again."
Teyla inhaled sharply, feeling helpless to assist John and unsure what they needed to do next. "But you said the bonding process prevented them from feeding on us."
She glanced at Rodney, her head pounding with John's pain. She hoped Rodney would know what to do, but his expression was taut with tension, indecision, and rampant anxiety.
Rodney shook his head and pointed at John as he looked back at Ronon and Teyla. "They aren't supposed to be able to do that. The bonding should prevent any feeding, but it's almost like the Mordiis are trying to break through the bonding itself."
John groaned again and Teyla started to move toward John, praying to the Ancestors for guidance, not sure what to do, but knowing that something had to be done or John would die.
John dropped to his knees as Teyla rushed forward. Rodney stopped her by grabbing her arm as she went by him. "No, Teyla, you can't. You might be caught in the same way. We need to keep our distance, if possible."
Teyla's voice cracked as she said, "We cannot just stand by either!"
Ronon nodded. "No, we can't."
Rodney felt a wave of concern sweep over him from Teyla and Ronon and knew before Ronon even started moving what he was going to do. He put out a hand in Ronon's direction anyway and said, "Wait, Ronon!"
He dropped his hand when he saw there was no point in trying to stop Ronon. He didn't need any psychic link to know Ronon would do anything for Sheppard. Ronon was ignoring everything Rodney had just said to go to John's side, no matter the risk to himself.
A moment after Ronon arrived beside John, he groaned and the halo effect grew to encompass him, too. Ronon pushed through the pain, put his hands under John's arms and began dragging him toward Rodney and Teyla.
"No," Rodney whispered as he shook his head. "Do it and we'll all be doomed. Just stay there, I'll think of something."
Ronon must have felt Rodney's sincerity because he stopped, trusting Rodney to follow through on his promise. Then he groaned again. He dropped down to his knees just as Rodney had predicted.
Rodney pounded a clenched fist against his thigh and turned in Teyla's direction. "Damn it, why couldn't Ronon follow a simple direction?" Rodney muttered angrily.
He paced for a moment, not bothering to look at Teyla, knowing she would sense his overflowing worry for Ronon long before she felt his anger.
Rodney picked up the proximity alarm from the floor and held it out in front of him as he slowly moved his arm back and forth and walked in a cautious circle around his two teammates, keeping a safe distance away.
"Oh, God," Rodney whispered as he saw how extensive the area with the omega wave energy was now encompassing.
Rodney put a hand to his forehead. His head had started pounding the moment Sheppard had been attacked and the effect was doubled when Ronon fell prey to the same dilemma. The throbbing wasn't letting up. In fact, it was getting worse the longer John and Ronon struggled to escape.
Rodney tried very hard not to extrapolate what might happen to the rest of them if Ronon or Sheppard died while they were bonded together like they were, because frankly that would send him into a major panic attack and they just didn't have time for that right now.
Teyla's gaze went from John and Ronon to Rodney and grew more demanding. "Rodney, we have to do something!"
Rodney nodded and opened his mouth as his mind ran several possible scenarios, but nothing useful came to him. "Wait a minute," he exclaimed and started snapping his fingers.
He looked around and found the omega wave neutralizer right where he'd left it. He ran to it as fast as he could with Teyla at his heels. "What is it, Rodney?" she asked breathlessly.
"If I can amplify the output of the neutralizer a little more, I might be able to disrupt the effects of the omega wave energy on John and Ronon."
He licked his lips and put his fingers on the neutralizer's dial, slowly turning up the amplification. He couldn't shake the feeling there might be some danger in what he was doing. After all, the Ancients hadn't used it at full power for a reason and Rodney prayed that reason wouldn't wind up killing them.
Rodney glanced over at John and Ronon, but they were still ensnared in the grip of the Mordiis' effects.
"Damn it," Rodney whispered as he turned the dial another notch, then waited to see what effect the change had on Ronon and John.
He was chewing on his lower lip mercilessly when he felt Teyla's hand on his shoulder. "Take a deep breath, Rodney, and just do what you need to do."
Rodney stared at her for a moment and shook his head. "You don't understand, this might cause us to jump from the frying pan right into the fire."
When Teyla's expression crinkled in confusion, he shook his head more adamantly. "I meant that this might just make things worse. Look, never mind about that. I'll handle this. Go get the crystal shattering detonator for me – and hurry."
He watched the others as the seconds ticked by with agonizing slowness. This should be working, he told himself, it really should work.
Closing his eyes, he turned the dial another click, then heard Teyla beside him again. When he glanced over at her, her gaze was on John and Ronon. There was no change, not even a hint that change was even possible.
Rodney looked at the dial. There were only a couple of rotations left before the dial would hit its maximum setting. Shaking his head, Rodney moved his hand away and pointed at the dial. "Keep turning, but slowly, one click at a time. And watch them as you do. I'd rather not hit the maximum setting if I can avoid it."
He took the detonator that Teyla had set on the console and began to work on the remaining connections that needed to be completed. Teyla swayed and Rodney reached out toward her, almost dropping the detonator in the process. Damn her dizziness anyway.
"I am fine," she said breathlessly. "But I have reached the maximum setting."
Rodney realized precious minutes had passed and he still wasn't done with the detonator yet. Rodney felt a rippling through his connections with the others. When he looked up, he saw Teyla felt the same thing. They both cringed and turned toward John and Ronon, just as John collapsed.
Teyla swayed widely this time and held onto the console as it was the only thing keeping her on her feet. Rodney blinked, trying to maintain his own equilibrium, but he wasn't doing a very good job of it. He could sense Teyla was also ebbing closer to unconsciousness, but for the moment, she was still on her feet. Tiebin wrapped an arm around her, then put out a hand to steady Rodney when he wavered.
"Come on, can't we get one damned break?" Rodney asked aloud as he tried to shake off his dizziness.
Now, with Sheppard unconscious, the winds started again.
"Great, that's just great," Rodney muttered as he worked faster and raised his voice. "Well, I'm not going to let you win, you damn Mordiis! I refuse to let you drink from our souls, that's for damned sure!"
Rodney had just finished the last connection when he had to grab the console in front of him or he'd nose dive face-first into the floor. He didn't even bother to look in Ronon's direction. He knew what was going to happen and he braced himself as best he could.
"Tiebin," he blindly called out.
A moment later, Ronon dropped to the floor, too, and a heartbeat later, so did Teyla. Luckily, Tiebin was there to lower Teyla to the ground. It was all Rodney could do to take in big gulps of air and stay conscious. He turned to Tiebin who had returned to his side when done with Teyla. He felt his equilibrium take a dangerous shift toward the ground and his fingers fumbled until they found Tiebin's hand.
"Take this," Rodney whispered. When Tiebin complied, he rasped, "Lift the lever, then press the button hidden underneath it." It was all he could manage before he started falling, too.
Tierab was kneeling at Teyla's side and helped to buffer Rodney's fall, but the motion cost him dearly, because Rodney slid down on top of him. Tierab grabbed his side and groaned loudly as he pushed his way out from under Rodney.
Tiebin groaned and his coloring paled as he struggled to recover. He dropped to his knees but stayed upright.
"Tiebin," Rodney said as he tried to raise his head. "Do it."
His brother's pain caused a tear to run down Tiebin's cheek, but he nodded and did as Rodney had ordered. There was a deep rumbling in the mountain the moment Tiebin pressed the button and Rodney could hear a constant stream of pops and crackles as the crystals were shattered.
Oh, God, Rodney worried as he glanced upward, maybe Sheppard was right. What if the ceiling collapses on top of us?
In the midst of everything else, the power went out. Emergency lighting came on a moment later, but the rumbling continued. He heard Tiebin collapse beside him. Despite everything in him screaming to stay awake, Rodney closed his eyes and waited for the end to come.
Rodney stirred, then cringed and rode out the wave of pain enveloping him. He shook it off as best he could and raised his head. He sighed with relief when he saw the others on the floor around him, but he didn't have the strength to check on them. Deep down, he could sense they were all still alive, so he didn't push himself any harder.
He lowered his head, then sighed dismally. And we're still bonded.
He lay there for another minute, trying to push away the pain he felt from the others, so he could gather his resources to get up. "Damn," he cursed, unable to get comfortable.
He was just starting to sit up when he saw Tiebin rise to his feet. Tiebin looked very relieved as he helped Rodney sit up. "I thought I was the only one awake. How are you doing?" Tiebin asked as he looked Rodney over.
"I hurt like hell," Rodney responded. He pushed himself to get to his feet with Tiebin's help and glanced in Tiebin's direction. "How are you doing?"
Tiebin winced a little as he put a hand to his side. "I still feel the pain of my brother's injury, but it doesn't seem as strong as it was, so that must mean that Tierab is doing better."
He paused, looking at Rodney, apprehension and relief blending together in his expression. "I was sure we were all dead."
Rodney nodded. "So was I."
Tiebin knelt down and felt Teyla's pulse. He looked up and smiled. "Her pulse is strong and her breathing is steady. I believe she is merely unconscious."
Rodney nodded in agreement as Tiebin went to Sheppard and Ronon, performing the same tests on each of them. Rodney didn't bother to follow Tiebin around. He knew his teammates were okay, though having it confirmed did make him breathe a little easier.
Rodney went back to the omega wave neutralizer. "At least, this survived intact," he said to himself as he looked at it closer. "And what do you know, it's still working."
He typed some information into the computer console beside the neutralizer and smiled when he got a favorable response. Tiebin had followed him and asked, "What is it?"
Rodney pointed to the screen. "This says that using a higher setting on the omega wave neutralizer isn't very harmful to us. The Ancients just thought they had an adequate setting, so they didn't move it any higher."
Rodney walked back to the areas where he'd seen such high levels of omega wave energy and stared for a moment before he bent to pick up his proximity alarm. Holding his broken wrist close to his chest, because the thing ached like crazy, Rodney continued.
Tiebin looked a little alarmed as Rodney started to walk towards Ronon and John. "Are you sure it's safe to go back over there?"
Rodney nodded as he started walking in that direction. "If we still have omega wave energy in the area after we've exhausted all of our fixes, then we are in deeper shit than I even want to consider."
Rodney smiled broadly after he covered the entire area and didn't get a single beep from the alarm. Things were looking up. "Thank God," he said finally with a sigh.
He examined the extensive slurry of small debris and tiny bits of crystals spread across the floor and equipment, but when he glanced up at the rock formations above them, they were basically intact. Tiebin gestured toward the exit leading outside. "I think I will check on the storm," he said as he turned to go.
"Hold up," Rodney said as he sped up to join Tiebin. "I want to see it, too."
Rodney sighed with relief when they went outside and he saw the storm was passing. It was still very windy out there, but not deadly. By some miracle, they had survived long enough to send for help.
As they reentered the installation, Rodney sensed Ronon was awake and cursed as he felt Ronon was about to get up. Rodney leaned against a wall for a moment as he waited for Ronon's pain and dizziness to pass, then walked to a point where Ronon could see him. He gestured toward the door with his thumb. "The weather outside is improving."
Ronon nodded at him. "Good, let me get something to drink and I'll head out."
"Oh, right. Go directly from unconsciousness to walking through a sandstorm. Yes, that makes perfect sense to me – not! Just relax and give yourself a chance to recover."
Ronon shook his head. "Sheppard and the rest of you need medical attention. I can go to the jumper and get help."
When Rodney realized Ronon wasn't about to be dissuaded, he waved his hand and said, "No, listen, there's another reason why you need to wait."
Ronon paused, staring hard at Rodney. "What's that?"
Rodney swallowed hard. "If we leave the confines of the cavern without knowing more about the process, we might never be able to reverse the bonding. We have to stay here until I figure out a way to fix it."
Teyla sat up slowly, awakened by their conversation right beside her.
"Hey, Teyla," Ronon said as he squatted down beside her. "Good to see you up."
Rodney was still alarmed and he wanted the others to understand why. "Ronon, I know this bonding is driving you as crazy as it is me. We have to figure out all the dynamics involved before anyone leaves this installation."
Ronon paused as he considered Rodney's logic and impassioned plea, and Rodney could feel a stirring of apprehension. He thought Ronon might actually agree with him until Teyla dashed Rodney's hopes by shaking her head.
"Ronon was right when he said we need medical attention, Rodney, especially John. He will need surgery for his shoulder. We have no choice."
Rodney put a hand to his forehead as he blinked, trying to come up with a response that would satisfy her concerns. "No, no, no, we can have Carson bring everything he needs here to treat us. I mean, good God, they did brain surgery on me with a power tool in some godforsaken cave. Carson surely can do a little shoulder surgery here if he needs to. You see, if we leave – if we leave now, we may doom ourselves to stay like this forever."
Teyla just looked at him for a long moment, but Rodney couldn't get past her resolve. "He needs surgery, Rodney, in a proper medical facility."
Rodney opened his mouth and started to gesture with one hand. He lost his urge to debate when he glanced down at John, who was still unconscious and finally nodded. He looked at Ronon. "Have them bring food. Lots of it. I'm starving."
Ronon shook his head with a hint of a smile on his lips. "Yeah, I know, McKay. You're hungry enough for all of us."
As Ronon grabbed a canteen, Rodney stepped closer. "Well, I have a higher metabolism is all. You're hungry, too. I can tell, you know."
Tiebin approached Ronon, then bent to pick up another one of the canteens. "I will go with you. I know a shortcut."
Ronon nodded and they turned to go out the door. Rodney straightened and put out a hand in Ronon's direction. "For God's sake, Ronon, take it easy! I don't need another painful condition to deal with, thank you very kindly!"
Ronon grunted and nodded. Teyla called out, "Be careful."
Ronon winked at her and then they were gone, out the door and into the storm.
Teyla struggled a little as she got to her feet, and Rodney bent down to help her up. "While Sheppard's out, you might think about catching a few winks yourself," he said once she was upright.
She shook her head slightly. "I know, but I want to be close in case he needs anything when he does awaken."
Rodney felt the depth of her commitment to her teammates, and it made his breath catch a little. It was something Rodney knew was always there, something inside of each one of them, something rarely spoken of, but always present. Feeling it shine so strongly in her spirit caused Rodney to blink away a sudden swell of moisture in his eyes.
Rodney knew he needed to get busy before he started blubbering like an old fool. He got Teyla a canteen of water, then gestured toward the computer console he'd been at. "I'm going to see if I can find any more information on the bonding process. Maybe there's something I missed the first time through that tells how to reverse it."
Teyla nodded at him with a knowing smile. There was no escaping any embarrassing emotions with this damned bonding process. Her voice was soft as she said, "That would be welcomed."
Rodney helped her make her way over to where John was lying on the floor, then again as she sat down beside him. Rodney could tell she was exhausted and her hand throbbed with sharp daggers of pain every time she moved it. He wished there was something more he could do for her, but all he could do was commiserate.
Once she was settled, he sat back down at the console and got to work without another word. He had to find a way out of this mess. Hopefully, it was a quick fix.
Teyla felt Ronon's presence long before she saw the door to the installation open. She knew Rodney did, too, because he stood from his seat at the computer and ambled toward the entrance, muttering, "It's about damn time. A person could starve to death waiting for Ronon to bring food."
But there was a lighter bounce to Rodney's step as he reached the open doorway. The wind outside blew in, but it was much tamer this time, and was nothing compared to the whirlwinds the Mordiis had thrown at them.
Rodney nodded at Carson as he came through the door with his hands full of equipment. Carson's gaze darted around the disheveled control room before it came to rest on Teyla and John.
"Rodney," Carson said amiably, "I'll see to you in a minute."
Rodney nodded with a hurrying motion. "Certainly, Carson, but I have something to take care of first."
"Yes, I know. Don't worry. There were meatloaf sandwiches in the mess hall today and Ronon brought you two of them. He spoils you, you know."
"Yeah, right, you're a funny guy, Carson. Very funny. Imagine, Ronon spoiling me. Like that's ever gonna happen."
Rodney waved him on with his fluttering fingers and looked out the door. Ronon appeared next, and he slapped a lunch bag against Rodney's chest as Tiebin slipped past them, moving to check on his brother. "And I don't think you have to worry about dying of starvation, McKay. Not with all the extra blubber you pack."
Rodney sneered back at him, then glanced at Carson. "Please notice the derisive comments and obvious lack of spoilage to support my supposition."
Then Rodney opened the bag and inhaled the mouth-watering aromas inside. He licked his lips in anticipation and stepped out of the way of Lorne and Zelenka, who had come in behind Ronon.
Rodney pumped his hand in the air and said, "Yes! Carson wasn't yanking my chain! These meatloaf sandwiches are to die for."
Zelenka gave Rodney a strange look and said, "Only you could rave about mess hall food like it's nirvana from heaven, especially after surviving an ordeal like you have."
He sighed, meeting Rodney's gaze with a more serious expression. "I hear you have had quite a time of it."
"You haven't heard the half of it. We could have died five different ways from Sunday, but we made it through. And wait until you see what's in this database. It's going to set the dimensional physics people on their asses. Go on ahead and make yourself at home while I eat."
Radek nodded and started to walk away when Rodney turned to him and added, "But don't touch anything until I get there."
Radek rolled his eyes and kept on walking. Rodney was already munching on his sandwich by the time Ronon, Carson, and Lorne approached Teyla and John.
"How's he doing, love?" Carson asked her as he knelt beside her and opened his medical kit. He pulled out his stethoscope and looked into her eyes closely, then put a hand to her wrist, checking her pulse. He patted her on the leg when he was done and said, "I heard about your hand injury. Sounds horrific. I'll check out it as soon as I'm done assessing the colonel."
Carson turned to his medical team as they arrived. They set down their equipment and were ready to get to work. "Start an IV for Teyla, Jimmy," Carson said to the corpsman beside him, "Lactated ringers and get a complete set of vital signs, then see about starting a line for the colonel."
Jimmy nodded and went to work as Carson directed his attention to John.
"We are all lucky to be alive," Teyla said a fragile smile. "John has been weakened by our ordeal, especially with his significant blood loss, but I believe he is merely sleeping at the moment and should rouse easily."
"Consider him roused," John said, opening his eyes.
With his wakeful state, Teyla felt John's pain move from simmering to overboiling. She frowned and wondered how John could tolerate such discomfort without letting it show in his expression, and she wondered how often she'd misread his actual condition in past times.
John gave Carson a slight smile and said, "Carson, it's good to see you."
Carson smiled at him as he put his stethoscope around his neck. "And you, too, Colonel. So, what have you done to yourself this time? Remember, I'm just a medical doctor, not a bloody magician," he said softly as he opened John's shirt.
John grunted and looked up at Rodney. "McKay said you'd say that," John said hoarsely. "Not verbatim, but close."
"It's the brainwashing he does on a regular basis, Colonel," Rodney said, looking at Carson. "You always miss the indoctrinations, because you are usually the one with the injuries."
"Enough of that for now," Carson said as he took John's blood pressure. "Well, you've certainly done it this time, but it's probably nothing that can't be fixed up with a little surgery."
John grunted again. "Teyla said you'd say that, too."
Carson shook his head without looking up at them. "What? The lot of you have been putting words into my mouth, eh?"
He chuckled and nodded, then said, "Do me a favor, and be quiet for a moment, son, while I check your heart rate and respiration. Then you can tell me all about your adventures."
Ronon squatted down beside Teyla and handed her a bag. "Brought you something to eat and drink, too."
"Thank you," she said softly, but she didn't open the bag right away.
He paused for a moment, then frowned at her. "Oh, yeah, you aren't very hungry right now, are you?"
He looked at her closely, then over at Rodney as he stood behind them, puzzled. Rodney had just taken a big bite of his sandwich when Ronon let out a long breath, then glanced up at him and said, "You know, I can't read Teyla as well as I did when I left."
There was a certain element of sadness or disappointment in his expression as he looked back at Teyla, which surprised her, but she understood why. The dilemma of curse versus gift was waging a war inside Ronon's heart, too.
McKay's eyes widened as he tried to talk around the food in his mouth, but failed. He set down the sandwich in his hand and gulped his drink. When he could speak again, he said, "Oh, thank God, maybe that means this nightmare is finally drawing to a close."
Rodney closed his eyes and concentrated on John as he took a deep breath.
John chuckled after a moment, despite his pain and weakness. Teyla echoed his laughter with soft chuckles of her own. John said, "No, Rodney, you can't play my new DS game, no matter how much you beg."
Rodney opened his eyes and frowned. "It still feels the same to me with Sheppard and Teyla." Rodney paused as he stared at Ronon. "But you... "
Rodney closed his eyes again and focused on Ronon. "Yeah, it's you, Ronon, because I can't read you as well as I did before you left."
Teyla nodded when she attempted the same thing. "Ronon's connection is much attenuated."
Rodney shook his head. "Yeah, yeah, it makes sense. He's been the only one to leave us. Maybe it's a matter of proximity."
"Or time," Carson said as he finished his check of John's vital signs.
Teyla had watched John closely during his interactions with Carson and she was almost fooled by his easygoing ways. That was until she looked into his eyes. There, in the way the skin around his eyes crinkled, she could see the telltale signs of his pain. Yes, he kept his shoulder carefully cradled and hissed every once in a while when he moved the wrong way, but the way John could shield such discomfort from others made her wonder again how much she'd routinely missed with John's easygoing ways.
John caught her watching him and winked at her. "It's not that bad," he said. Then Carson began to pull away his field dressing and there was no masking the misery he felt at that.
Teyla bit her lip as she tried to avoid groaning aloud, then heard Rodney swear under his breath. "Use a little compassion, Carson. You're practically killing him with what you're doing!"
Carson looked up in surprise. "All of you felt that? When I took off the bandage, you felt it?"
All four of them nodded and Teyla noticed John, Rodney, and Ronon were looking a bit more frayed. She wondered how she looked in their eyes. There was no arguing the fact they all needed to be off their feet and in the infirmary.
"Very interesting," Carson said, "I'd like to explore more of that concept with you all later, but right now, this needs to be done, Rodney, one way or another. Best to get it out of the way early on."
He paused as he looked down at John. "But perhaps Rodney is correct. A little morphine would go a long way about now."
"By the way, Carson," Rodney said. "John's started to shiver and feel hot at the same time. He might be developing a fever. Better cover him up. Lying on that cold floor can't help anything."
"Aye," Carson said as he nodded. "He already has a slight fever. We'll be moving him soon enough. First, let's make him a little more comfortable."
John shook his head. "You do know John is listening here, right? I'm fine, Carson, go ahead and do what you need to do."
Carson chuckled as he held up a vial and syringe, measuring out the medication, then bent to inject. "What I need for you to do is not squirm too much while I examine the wound, so this will help all of us," he said with a wink. "Besides, it will also make the trip back to Atlantis a little easier to bear."
He administered the medication, then looked up at Lorne. "You have the litters ready to transport them back to the jumper?" he asked as he bent to peer at John's wound more closely.
Lorne nodded. "Yes, sir, whenever you're ready."
It was only a matter of seconds when Teyla's vision blurred a little, and then she sighed with relief that her pain – no, their pain – was easing. A few feet away, she heard Rodney sigh more heavily, no doubt feeling the same relief she felt coming from John.
Carson glanced in Rodney's direction just in time to see Ronon catch Rodney as he collapsed. Teyla felt pretty woozy herself. Once Lorne's people took Rodney from Ronon's arms, Ronon sat down heavily into a chair.
Ronon grunted. "That must have been a whopping dose you gave Sheppard, Doc, because I can barely see straight."
Carson looked confused for a moment, and then his eyes lit up in surprise. "All four of you felt the effects of that injection?"
Teyla nodded as she settled back against the wall behind her and yawned.
"That's bloody amazing!" Carson chuckled. "Well, I could save all kinds of time and expense if I could get this type of response on a regular basis."
Ronon put a hand to his head and said, "Funny" in a way that sounded like Ronon thought it was anything but.
Teyla heard noises coming from up above them, then saw two prydewings emerge from the ventilation shaft, looking down on them with curiosity and caution.
"They always knew when the Mordiis appeared," Teyla said, watching them.
Ronon nodded. "They don't seem too scared right now, so that's a good sign that the omega wave energy problem is officially fixed."
"Okay, Teyla, it is time for us to get moving," Carson said as he knelt beside her.
She glanced over at John and he was already being carried out of the installation. She wondered how they'd moved so quickly to prepare John for the trip. Carson smiled when he saw her confusion. "You were dozing a bit, love, and missed out on part of the action. Come along, you will be carried out, too, and don't argue with me on this point."
Teyla just nodded in agreement. Lorne and Carson helped move her to a litter.
Radek walked over to them. "There is some amazing technology here... or at least there was. The device that caused the bonding process is completely fried. There won't be anything useful to get from it, but the omega wave research and neutralizer will keep our scientists intrigued for some time to come."
Radek looked down at Teyla. "I hope you are not too uncomfortable," he said as he squatted down to be eye level with her. He smirked as he watched some soldiers carry Rodney out of the installation. "But after spending hours sharing Rodney's emotions, I imagine you'll be needing a very long vacation away from him." Radek winked at her.
Teyla noticed Lorne grinning in silent agreement with Radek, then Lorne said, "I can only imagine. No, wait, I don't want to fill my head with such traumatic experiences."
Ronon grunted aloud as he walked over to them. "You'd think that... " Ronon said as he came to a stop beside Radek and Lorne. His expression became indiscernible as he met their gaze. "But you'd be wrong."
Radek swallowed hard, apparently afraid of saying something that would upset Ronon. He nodded meekly and said, "I was only joking."
Ronon slapped him on the back and smirked. "So was I."
Both Radek and Lorne looked relieved as Ronon sighed, then said, "Being with McKay was hard, but he's the only man who could of gotten us out of this alive. He's worth putting up with."
Radek smiled knowingly. "Yes, he is, unfortunately," he said, mischief returning to his expression.
Teyla smiled. "It was an ordeal for all of us, probably worse for Rodney, because our presence made it more difficult for him to think clearly, and we dearly needed his clarity to survive."
Carson nodded in agreement. "Sorry, everyone, but we need to postpone this discussion until we get them back to Atlantis. Then I will be all ears to hear about what happened."
Radek smiled and said, "Well, I better get back to work, too. I'm sure Rodney will want a full report about our findings when he awakens. I will see you all back at Atlantis."
"Come along, people," Carson said, urging them along. "Next stop, my infirmary."
Teyla watched Radek and the others turn back to work, then stared at the rock ceiling above their heads. It really was a miracle they were still alive. Then they were out in the wind, but even that was welcomed, because it brought her closer to home and Torren and Kanaan, and her team safe and well taken care of.
She sighed with weariness and when her eyelids started drifting closed, she didn't fight to keep them open.
The first thing John was aware of was the lack of pain.
It's about damned time, he thought with relief. The pain had been so intense for so long, he was almost giddy from the lack of it. He swallowed and shifted. His shoulder wound awoke, reminding him his injury was still there, but it wasn't throbbing as much as it had been before.
He exhaled through his pursed lips, riding out the discomfort he'd caused with his movement. Guess I spoke a little too soon.
He recognized the smell of antiseptic and bandages and grunted. He was in the infirmary. Maybe he'd been almost giddy from Carson's judicious use of the good drugs. That could usually knock pain on its butt. He squirmed as he waited for those very same good drugs to make his shoulder pain ease, but the damned thing refused to yield. He put a hand to his shoulder.
"Easy, Colonel," he heard Carson say as he put a hand on his arm. "I'm not about to have you undo all of my hard work."
John frowned and forced his eyelids open. Carson's face loomed in his field of vision and he started to say something, but all that came out was an extended croak.
Carson shook his head. "Here, try some of these ice chips. Your throat is still irritated from surgery."
John's eyebrows went up as he tried to recall what surgery Carson was talking about.
He accepted the ice chips gratefully and sucked on them for a moment as he remembered Carson saying his shoulder injury would require surgery. He raised his head and opened his mouth for more ice chips, but instead he hissed with discomfort from the movement.
"Oh, will you look at the time," Carson said, admonishing himself. "I apologize, Colonel! It's way past time for your pain medication. I'll be just a moment."
John watched him leave and his eyelids started to droop closed. He remembered the pain he'd felt from the others and let his good hand start at his ribs, then his wrist and hand. The other sources of pain were gone. He was glad about that, but he felt a little lonesome at the same time.
He heard whispering nearby. He fought his eyelids for control and almost lost the battle until he heard McKay call out his name. "Sheppard?"
John opened his eyes to find Teyla, Ronon, and Rodney congregated around his bed. When had they arrived? With a grin, he realized his loneliness had just vanished. "Hi, guys," he croaked with a slight wave of his fingers.
"Yes, he is finally awake. It's about damned time," Rodney said as he looked at Teyla and Ronon. When they didn't respond in kind, he added, "Well, it is. Granted an infection and surgery might be a valid excuse for most people, but then I'm not most people. So, Colonel, what do you have to say for yourself?"
John started to shrug but stopped himself in time. That would have been an incredibly stupid thing to do, especially since his shoulder was already throbbing. Teyla stepped forward and gave him a spoonful of ice chips, for which he was very grateful.
Trying to sound as much like Rodney as he could, John rasped, "I'm sorry, you must be mistaking me for someone who has been awake for more than five minutes. Give me a break."
Ronon bopped Rodney on the back of the head and said, "Behave yourself."
"What? I didn't say anything John hasn't heard from me before."
John was about to respond with some snarky comment when he moved the wrong way and hissed with discomfort. "Are you all right, John?" Teyla asked, moving closer.
"Where is Carson?" Rodney asked with exasperation as he looked around. "The man is never around when you really need him."
John shook his head. "He went to get me something for the pain. Don't worry. He'll be back in a minute."
Ronon frowned. "Are you sure you're up to a visit? We can leave if you – "
John moved the hand that had been cradling his shoulder and put it out toward the others. "No," he said a little too emphatically. "I don't want you to leave right now. It's good to see you again."
Teyla patted his arm. "As it is good to see you, too. We have been here several times while you were recovering – "
Rodney waved a hand in the air. "Yes, yes, about that. I want to lodge a complaint. It seems you've been diverting all of our medical personnel away from their more pressing patients... like me."
He held up his wrist to show John his cast, then continued talking. "Ronon, Teyla, Zelenka, Carson, and Woolsey have all signed it, along with other adoring fans. I think there might be a little spot in the back end that isn't written on yet – very magnanimous for me to offer you a space, considering it took them forever to get around to doing my cast, though, mostly because of you – no matter that I was suffering a great deal.
"Everyone was more concerned in dealing with yours and Teyla's surgeries. Then there was Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee that also needed attention. I repeat, this infirmary really needs to reorganize their priorities."
"McKay... " Ronon warned.
Rodney stopped. "What? I was just bringing him up to speed. He's been out of it and needs to know – "
"Stop talking," Ronon growled.
John glanced over at Teyla, who had an amused expression on her face. She was wearing an arm sling and her hand was heavily bandaged, but she seemed to be dealing with her pain well enough.
John's memories flashed back to their time in the Ancient installation and how Teyla's delicate features had been pale and taut with pain then. Now, she was smiling and joking with the rest of her team. It was a very good thing to see.
"You didn't mind my talking when I was saving your life," Rodney mumbled rather defensively.
Ronon grinned, his feigned bad disposition gone in an instant, and he smiled. "I told you that you'd get us out and you did. Just stop talking so much. It gets annoying after a while."
Rodney coughed and said, "Yeah, as if tall, dark, and intimidating can't get on a person's nerves, too."
John frowned in confusion. It took him another moment to realize he had no sense of what was going on for the others emotionally or about what pain they were feeling. He reached out with one hand and glanced up at McKay. He had to be pretty out of it not to have seen it earlier that their bonded connection was gone. "You were able to reverse the bonding process?"
Rodney frowned and appeared irked by John's question. He shook his head. "No, not exactly."
He glanced at the others, then back at John. "After extensive searches in the Ancient database, I found nothing to indicate the proper course of action, but then we discovered there really wasn't anything that needed to be done. The bonding just faded away after a day or so."
John sighed in relief, but then his eyes widened. "A day or so? How long have I been in here?"
Carson walked back into the room. "Over forty-eight hours. I was beginning to worry about you when you woke up on your own. Sorry to take so long. We had a minor emergency with Chuck. Some mishap with his computer. He came in with fairly nasty blisters on his fingers. Jennifer's seeing to him now."
He motioned toward Ronon and Rodney for them to move aside. "Excuse me just a moment so I can get to the colonel's IV port and give him this analgesic."
Ronon and Rodney stepped aside to give Carson passage. When he was done, Carson disposed of the syringe, then turned back to the others. "I have been reading your mission report, Rodney, and I have to say I find the whole subject of the Soul Drinkers quite fascinating."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yeah, sure, it's easy to be fascinated when you aren't scared to death about when the next waking dream is going to strike. Just be glad you didn't experience it firsthand. Trust me, rummaging around inside Ronon's head is enough to send a sane man running for the hills."
Teyla shrugged. "I do not know about that, Rodney. In retrospect, I found the Soul Drinkers were really soul feeders, because of the many insights I gained while being bonded with all of you."
Rodney grunted. "Yeah, right, Soul Feeders. Teyla, only you could take something as nightmarish as the Mordiis and turn it into a positive experience."
John smirked. "You could take a lesson from her," he said playfully.
"Think about it, Rodney. Something must have remained in each of us, some part of the bonding process. We have kept a steady vigil at John's bedside until his fever went down, even sleeping here as we took turns sitting up with John. We have shared every meal. We have rarely been apart since returning to Atlantis."
Teyla straightened and let her gaze drift across to include all of them. "I believe it must be some aftereffect of the bonding process. One would think after sharing so much time with another person's thoughts and emotions, they would want nothing to do with one another for a long while afterward, but as you know, we rarely follow the norm."
"Whatever," Rodney said with a shrug. He made a face. Then something shifted and he looked at Carson with a questioning expression. "I've been meaning to ask you. What did you find in your analysis of the powders the Ionini carry around with them? Any hint that they actually did help or not?"
Carson shrugged. "I haven't really had a chance to do much of an analysis what with everything that has been going on, but my initial tests do show the powders contained elements that might have the capacity to offset the type of electrical changes the Mordiis cause in a person's brain, especially as the Mordiis fed. Plus, I found a couple of references in the Ancients' database you downloaded that supports that theory."
"Son of a bitch," Rodney said, "I thought it was just some Ionini mumbo jumbo."
John yawned and felt the pain medication begin to take effect. He knew he wouldn't be awake for long. His thoughts wandered for a moment as he listened to Carson and Rodney bicker with an occasional comment tossed in by Ronon.
"Seriously, Carson, this abuse is from a man who, according to you, likes to spoil me. Man, did you ever get it wrong!"
"All I said was that .... "
Shaking his head, John asked Teyla, who was still at his side, "What happened with Tiebin and Tierab?"
Teyla smiled. "Carson treated Tierab's wound and discharged him yesterday. They are both doing well and their community is in the midst of a great celebration. Rodney has their irrigation system back to its full operating capacity."
Rodney stopped arguing when he heard Teyla's comment. He puffed out his chest and chuffed. "Full operating capacity? Hell, no, I improved on the original design and got them even better coverage for their crops."
Ronon said, "They've promised to give us a portion of their crops every harvest."
"That's nice," John said with a yawn. "That's real nice. Glad to hear it."
Ronon added, "They want to have some sort of thank you presentation for our team when you're up and around again."
Rodney grunted. "I almost forgot that I had fixed the damned thing in the midst of everything else that was going on."
John smiled and said, "See, McKay, that's what happens when you keep things in their proper perspective and think positively."
Rodney gave John a murderous glare. "After spending a day feeling what I feel on a regular basis, you can actually say that with a straight face?"
John grunted, then nodded. "You've got a good point, but I really think it's something you could pull off more frequently if you practiced."
Rodney turned to Carson. "Run him under the scanner again. I think there's something seriously wrong with his head."
"Nothing a little R&R won't cure," Carson said with a smile. "Now, the lot of you leave and let the colonel here get some decent rest."
Rodney made a face. "You know, you really have a ego complex when it comes to your territory, don't you? Issuing orders like you were a general directing his troops. It's all very irritating," Rodney said with a wave of his hand.
"Remember to be nice, Rodney, or else I'll make you wear that cast longer than you need to," Carson said sweetly as he passed by him.
Rodney's expression was classic as he said, "Oh, that's low, even for you!"
Rodney protested, but soon Carson had whooshed them out of the room. Carson came back and patted him on the forearm. "Okay, just close your eyes and go back to sleep. That's the best thing for you right now."
John nodded, his eyelids already half closed. "Thanks, Carson," he said with another yawn.
Carson walked out of the room and it suddenly felt a little lonely in there all alone like he was. John closed his eyes and tried to reach out with his senses to see if he could pick up anything from the others, but he couldn't, not even on a gut level, and his sense of loneliness grew.
John remembered how helpless he had felt battling against the waking dreams the Mordiis' influence had induced and how it could have caused madness, or worse, death. They'd been pretty lucky, all things considered. He tried to reach out to them one last time, just to be sure, but somewhere in the midst of trying, he realized it was pointless. The bonding was truly gone.
A small part of him missed the special awareness he had of his teammates – but then again they all knew each other so well by now, they didn't really need any psychic connection to know what the others were thinking.
So, he lay there with his quiet, peaceful, and solitary thoughts. Soon his weariness and the drugs won out and he fell back asleep.