"All right," John whispered. "That's more like it."
The sun was setting behind the mountains, but he and Teyla had found where the ship had gone. Luckily for them, it wasn't far -- but, of course, it wouldn't be, if the Asgard were the source of the faint energy readings that the survey team had recorded. The two of them had rounded the mountain's flank, darting furtively from one patch of cover to the next, working their way carefully up the slope. The entrance to the Asgard facility would have been concealed from the air -- it was hidden under an overhanging cliff face. But they approached it from the side, and it was plainly visible from that angle: a round porthole in the side of the cliff with a door that looked like it irised open, just big enough for a ship like the one they'd seen. John didn't see any sign of overt defenses, but that didn't mean they weren't there.
John handed the binoculars to Teyla and she studied it herself for a few minutes. "I do not see any way to open the door," she said, handing them back. "It is probably like the jumpers, with something like a DHD in the ship itself."
John nodded. "But there's got to be a way."
He used the LSD to check the area, while Teyla changed and fed Torren again. They were sheltered under a scrubby patch of stunted pines. So far, they'd seen no wildlife except some birds and a few small, scampering rodents.
Torren gave a little hiccup when Teyla shifted him to her shoulder.
They were going to have to talk about this sooner or later. "Teyla --" John began.
"Must we have this conversation again?"
"Okay, so you tell me what to do," John shot back. "Babies don't exactly lend themselves to stealth missions."
"Women of my people hunt, and when necessary, we take our babies with us from the time we have recovered from childbirth. There is not always someone to watch them."
"Yeah, but do you take them along to fight Wraith?"
"As the Wraith generally bring the fight to us," Teyla said calmly, "we do not often have a choice. John, do you think I want Torren here? I know how dangerous this is. I want to do what is best for my child, as any mother does, but I do not see many good choices here."
John took a breath and let it out. "All right, how about this. I go in and scout around. You stay out here as my contact. My backup. If you lose contact with me, or if I get into trouble, you go in."
He could see by the look on her face that she didn't really like it, but she nodded.
They waited while full darkness settled on the mountainside. John didn't like waiting. Every moment chafed at him; if Ronon and Rodney were alive, there was no telling what was happening inside the mountain. But it wouldn't help his missing teammates if he lost the element of surprise by jumping into action too quickly.
John used the time to mix a little of the water from his canteen with a handful of silt from the hillside, to darken his face. He checked his gear several times and ate a powerbar. As the light faded from the sky, he kissed a sleeping Torren on top of his little head and then rose. "Wish me luck."
The Atlantis scientists had been pretty sure that the Asgard didn't use radio communication, at least not at the same frequencies as Earth's military, so John left his radio mike open as he approached the door, trying to disturb the rocks on the slope as little as possible. There was still a little light, enough that he could see once his eyes adjusted.
The cliff face and the door loomed above him. The cliff was not sheer and he managed to climb up to the door without too much difficulty. Once he got there, though, he could see no sign of anything other than the door itself, set flush into the cliff. He pulled out the LSD and tried scanning, but all he could tell was that there was nothing immediately behind the door, which he could have figured out anyway. Rodney could get this thing to stand up and do tricks, but John was stuck with the basic functions.
Damn it, Rodney, the two of you had better be all right.
"I'm here, Teyla," he said quietly into the radio. "And you were right, there's no way to open it from the outside. Any ideas?"
"I have an idea, but you are really not going to like it," Teyla said.
But John had already gotten there himself. Really, there weren't many options. "Lure them out."
"Yes," Teyla said. "And I think I am the logical one to do it."
"No," John said flatly. "No way."
"It is quite likely that they will take me to Ronon and Rodney." She didn't add If they're alive. She didn't have to.
"Or maybe they're just killing people. We're nothing but intruders. Those other Asgard didn't seem terribly concerned about Rodney and Jackson's health as soon as they weren't useful anymore."
"If they capture you --"
"Then they'll take me to Ronon and Rodney," John said. "And I'll still have you to back me up."
"Yes, I'm sure I will be very useful if I cannot get in," Teyla said tartly.
"If you didn't have the baby with you, I'd say go for it." Okay, probably a lie -- he couldn't see himself giving Teyla the okay to use herself for bait even if she didn't have the baby, but he wasn't about to tell her that. "But I'm not approving anything that puts Torren in that much danger. I'm sorry."
No answer, then a sharp rattle and clatter from the scree slope below him as Teyla slid down the slope in a shower of rocks.
"Teyla!" John hissed, furious.
"I am sorry, John, but the thing you do not understand is that Torren is Athosian, like me." He could make out her small figure in the twilight, bulky with the baby carrier, as she crouched and reached for something at her feet. "My people are fighters. We do all we can to protect the weakest among us, but even the weakest are fighters, too." She stood, and flung a rock in an overhand motion. She had a good throwing arm; it clattered off the door above John's head. "We do not have noncombatants, John. Michael took all my people, even the infants and the old." She threw another rock.
"Teyla, I'm ordering you to stand down!"
She ignored him and hurled another rock, a bigger one. "My mother took me through the gate on my first trading mission when I was four months old, even knowing that the village on the other side might have been culled, that we might be walking into a culling ourselves, or a Bola Kai ambush. That is the risk every one of my people takes every day. Nowhere is safe. We Athosians know this better than most." Flicking on her flashlight, she waved it above her head, a shaft of white light in the darkness, semaphoring against the black hills. "We do not survive by hiding. We survive by taking the risk because we know any of our people, our family, would take that risk for the rest of us. Torren is Athosian and his family is in danger. Could he make the choice, he would choose this, as I do."
"But he can't!" John snapped, and then the door began to rumble above him.
"Ronon and Rodney came for me and for Torren," Teyla said, standing her ground below the cliff. "Now it is our turn to come for them."
Biting his teeth on a curse, John threw himself flat as the Asgard ship passed over him, mere feet above his head. The door stayed open. Even knowing that he had to take the chance, that he couldn't afford to waste Teyla's sacrifice, he had to look over his shoulder. The ship hovered directly above Teyla, casting a pool of blue light around her. It made John think of a B-movie alien abduction. But of course, the Asgard are Roswell grays, aren't they?
Then he gritted his teeth and flung himself through the door. On the other side he found a smooth, gently sloping shaft in the rock, exactly as wide as the door.
John raced along the shaft, bending and touching it with his fingertips for better traction. It slanted up at about a fifteen-degree angle. There were no lights and he almost broke an ankle falling into what he realized after a panicked instant was some kind of maintenance cubbyhole, giving access to equipment underneath. John knelt and fumbled until he found the outlines of a trap door. He pulled it up -- don't be locked, don't be locked -- and it came easily, exposing a cramped space that was mostly, but not entirely, blocked with pipes.
John wormed down among them and shut the trap door after himself. It was pitch dark. He could barely move with the pipes pressing all around him, but he didn't dare anyway; for all he knew, there was a half-mile drop to a reactor core underneath him.
He felt vibration transmitted through the rock, but still he waited after it died away for a full five hundred count in his head. Then he pushed up the trap door and poked his head up. It was just as dark in the tunnel as in the maintenance space. John risked a quick look around with his flashlight and found that the door now blocked one end of the tunnel in the direction he'd come from. The other way, the tunnel sloped out of sight.
Hopefully by the time he found Teyla, he wouldn't still be ready to strangle her.
Their captors had not been back in awhile. Rodney leaned his head against the wall. His nerve endings still quivered from the electrical overload. It was not pain, exactly, though it had certainly hurt enough when it was happening -- more like a general sense of head-to-toe wrongness. Everything ached. He couldn't keep his hands from trembling, which scared him; it had better be a short-term effect and not some kind of permanent nerve damage from those shock things. He licked his lips, tasting the crusted blood. At least he hadn't bitten his tongue.
He'd lost consciousness eventually, after a few more applications of the shock gun. When he woke, it was to find Ronon passed out beside him. Deja vu. Ronon hadn't woken up yet, but at least he was breathing, though there was a raspy sound in it, a deep rattling in his chest, that hurt to listen to.
Rodney was pretty sure he hadn't told them anything, but things were pretty hazy towards the end.
We need a plan. The idea of just sitting here waiting for their captors to come back and interrogate them again didn't appeal. There was always the hope of John and Teyla coming to save them, but since he'd been unconscious when they were brought here, he didn't even know if they were on the same planet anymore.
Think, Rodney. What are our assets?
Unfortunately their assets consisted of two empty and four full packets of Tylenol; a field notebook with the pages clumped together; a cheap calculator that would probably never work again; some wadded Kleenex that had clumped into lumpy paper mache; a bottle of allergy medication and another of sunscreen; and a piece of string. The only marginally useful thing was his 20-function utility knife, but somehow he couldn't see attacking a battle mech with a screwdriver.
Think, McKay. Air must be getting in and out of the room somehow -- unless it wasn't, and for an instant panic clutched his throat. Calm down. Use your head. He tipped his head back, squinting up at the ceiling. Aha, air vents along the tops of the walls. Very narrow ones. Even if he could get up there, slipping a hand into those would be difficult, let alone anything bigger.
It was possible that he might be able to remove the lights on the ceiling, if he could get there, but then what? Then they'd be in the dark.
Rodney wondered what the room had been used for. Storeroom, maybe. Or maybe it was intended to be set up as a lab or whatever, and they'd lost funding. Did Asgard have research funding? Surely they must...
Without warning, Ronon went from unconscious to fully awake in an instant and started to sit bolt upright -- obviously forgetting about his ribs. He sank back with a groan.
"Uh, ribs," Rodney said.
Ronon glowered at him.
"Sorry. I guess that was kind of unnecessary. I mean, I don't know why --"
Don't know why you bring out the worst in me.
Ronon looked away and passed a hand over his side, like he was starting to rub it and then thought better of it. Rodney noticed that Ronon's fingers were quivering. He held up his own hand and found that it had mostly stabilized. At least there was that.
"Um, thanks," Rodney said.
"For, you know. Trying to stop them." He waved a hand. "For all the good it did, but it's the thought that counts, and ... thanks."
"Wasn't for you, I'd be at the bottom of the lake right now," Ronon said. "So. Thanks."
There was a very awkward silence.
"You know, I don't --" Rodney began, as Ronon said, "McKay, the thing --"
There was another little silence. Rodney cleared his throat. "Uh. Go ahead?"
Ronon stared up at the ceiling. "The thing in the jumper. What I said. It wasn't ... nice."
Rodney honestly had no idea what he was talking about for a moment. "Oh, what, that? Do you have any idea how much worse than that people have said to me? I'm petty, arrogant and bad with people. I'm well aware of that."
"... okay," Ronon said after a pause. "But it wasn't really about me. I don't really care. You know. You're you."
"Thanks? I think?"
"It's more about Jennifer."
Rodney realized two things at once. First, he had the headache to end all headaches; second, he really did not want to have this conversation right now. "Oh, great. Here it comes."
"She doesn't deserve you jerking her around," Ronon said.
... and there went his train of thought, right off a cliff. "Wait, what? How am I doing that?"
"You know she's into you, right?"
This conversation had wandered straight into the wilds of What The Hell. "Maybe, but she's with you!"
Ronon gave him a long, started look. "What made you think that?"
"After the whole trapped-on-a-Wraith ship thing and all, I thought you -- she -- the two of -- would you help me here!"
"We sorta broke up," Ronon said. "Not that we were together, really. But it's kinda over, whatever it was."
Rodney boggled. "You could have told me!"
Ronon's voice was soft and hoarse. "You could've paid attention."
"I have been! Jennifer's been even weirder around me lately than normal."
"Probably because you haven't made any moves and she doesn't know what you want," Ronon said.
"I was trying to be thoughtful!"
"It's not workin --" Ronon started to say, and then broke off in a coughing fit. It didn't end; he started choking, his face turning red. Rodney got hold of his shoulders and lifted him up, and finally, finally he drew a gasping breath. Rodney found himself breathing again, too.
"It would be poetic justice," Rodney said after a moment, "if you choke to death insulting me. Can you seriously try not to die before I get us out of here?"
"Before you get us out of here," Ronon said in a faint rasp.
"Yes. You heard me. I'm not terribly impressed with your mobility at the moment."
"How's that escape plan coming, then?" Ronon asked as Rodney lowered him back to the floor.
"Well, if you'd stop distracting me ..."
Ronon cleared his throat. "You were gonna say something earlier."
"Oh, you would remember that." Rodney squeezed his eyes shut, shutting away the room, the bare walls, and most importantly, Ronon. "Well, it was about Jennifer, obviously. And it doesn't really apply now, because ... you do know I wouldn't have done anything if you, if she ...?"
"I know," Ronon said softly.
"The thing is, I -- she -- Jennifer is important to me, yes, and I would really like to have a, a thing with her. I think it could work. But this is more important. The team thing, I mean, that I already have. I don't want ..." Rodney swallowed convulsively. "I'm not going to screw all this up for a chance at a relationship. So I won't do it -- do Jennifer -- oh God, you know what I mean -- if you're not okay with it. Even now, really. I really -- I mean that. I need to know you'd be okay with me and Jennifer being ... a thing."
He'd read about being able to feel someone's eyes on you, but he'd never known that it was actually possible. He could feel Ronon's gaze like a physical force, even without looking at him.
"You really do mean that," Ronon said at last, and then added, "Whatever you just said."
More silence. Rodney fiddled with the zipper on his vest.
"Wait," Ronon said. "That was a question? You're actually asking for my ... blessing, or whatever?"
The door slid open.
Rodney scrambled hastily to his feet, interposing himself between the door and Ronon, for all the good that would do. But their captors didn't enter -- they just pushed someone else into the room and closed the door.
He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Teyla!"
Teyla looked a little ruffled, but unhurt. Torren was asleep on her back, drooling on her shoulder. She broke into a broad grin when she saw them. "Rodney. Ronon. It is so good to see you."
Rodney fluttered around her, not sure if it was okay to touch, until she grabbed his shoulders and pulled him into a quick little hug. "Did they -- are you -- did they do anything?" "They did not hurt me. Actually, they treated me quite well, especially after they saw Torren."
"Asgard like babies?" Rodney said dubiously. "That's ... weird."
Teyla knelt beside Ronon, uncharacteristically ponderous with the weight of Torren's carrier throwing off her balance. She squeezed Ronon's hand.
"Where's Sheppard?" Ronon asked.
"John is ... nearby." Teyla reached up to her ear. "They took my gun, but they did not take my radio. Perhaps they did not know what it was for."
"How could they not?" Rodney protested. "This has to be some kind of trap."
The tunnel emerged in a large docking bay, much bigger than necessary for the single ship that sat in a berth along one wall. John crouched in a patch of shadow and studied the area carefully with his binoculars and the LSD, but he couldn't see any signs of life. He counted seven more docking cradles like the one the ship occupied, plus a raised berth that was probably for making repairs. Grooved tracks in the floor, John guessed, were meant for some kind of conveyance system to move heavy equipment around.
This place had clearly been a bigger, more important facility at some point in the past. Right now, though, his main concern was figuring out where Teyla had been taken.
"Colonel?" Teyla's voice said in his ear.
John tried to stifle a reflexive flinch, and then an equally automatic grin. "Teyla? Are you all right?"
"I am fine, and so is Torren. We are with Rodney and Ronon."
John's breath caught in his throat. When he could speak, he said, "They're okay?"
"They will be," Teyla said.
John managed to remember he was supposed to be angry. For some reason, it was hard at the moment. "And we're going to talk about chain of command. Later."
"Of course," Teyla agreed equanimously. "In the meantime, Rodney says that you can use the life-signs detector to triangulate on the radio signal."
"Rodney seems to be forgetting that some of us don't have PhDs in engineering."
Teyla started to say something, and then in the background, John heard, "Give me that." A moment later, Rodney's voice said, "Do you have a screwdriver? Open up the back of the scanner --"
"Hello to you too, McKay." As he took out his Swiss army knife -- Don't leave home without it -- he couldn't help adding, "Nice flying."
Rodney made a choking noise. John grinned, visualizing his expression as he sputtered. "Okay, it's open. Now what?"
A few moments later, he'd made the modifications and held it up to look at the screen. "You'll only get a signal when the radio is transmitting," Rodney was saying. "Like now. It should be showing you direction and signal strength."
"Sure," John said, moving it back and forth. "In Ancient. That's useful."
Rodney snorted. "Like you don't read Ancient."
John's eyebrows went up. He had no idea anyone had noticed. "Well, the basics."
"Anyway. The angle is the important part, and that should be idiot-proof. Once you have a fix, bring up the menus from the bottom and lock it -- now it'll function sort of like a GPS and keep pointing in that direction no matter how you turn it. Working?"
John rotated it. "Working."
"Great. You can either take another reading from a different angle and triangulate, or just follow it and use the signal strength as a guide." Rodney paused and then, "Why aren't you answering?"
"Because I'm not alone, Rodney," John whispered. "Hush."
A lone Asgard in a battle suit had entered the docking bay. It crossed the floor towards the ship, and John saw it was carrying something. As it approached, he realized the object dangling loosely from one of its hands was Ronon's blaster.
Ronon's gonna want that back.
He saw no sign of anyone else. The Asgard used some sort of wrist-mounted device to open the door to the ship, and left it open as it went inside. Perfect.
"Maintain radio silence until further notice," John whispered, and then, P90 at the ready, he crossed the open floor as quickly and stealthily as possible, and followed the Asgard into the ship.
He hadn't seen the inside of the Pegasus Asgard ships before. It reminded him a little of the Daedalus, and a little of Ancient architecture. The corridors were dull, scuffed and corroded, lit intermittently with flickering lights broken up by dead panels. John actually saw moss in a couple of corners. It was a wonder the thing flew at all.
The Asgard did not appear to notice him. John followed it down a couple of short corridors -- the ship wasn't large. It entered a room, somewhat more brightly lit than the rest of the ship, and John waited a moment before peeking around the doorway.
It was the cargo hold, much smaller than that of the Daedalus, but still fairly large -- it probably took up half of the small ship's length. The wreckage of the jumper hulked in the middle of it, surrounded by a spill of half-dried mud and weeds. John's mouth went dry, staring at the damage. He was glad that Teyla had been able to report back before he'd seen that -- he would certainly have assumed that Ronon and Rodney had been killed. Reflecting back on her comment that they would be all right, he wondered about the nature of their injuries. That might complicate a rescue.
He didn't see the Asgard until a movement caught his eye, off to the left. John hastily yanked his head back, then risked peeking out again. It had its back to him, standing at a long workbench. The bench looked completely out of place with the rest of the ship, even given the ship's state of disrepair: it was made of wooden planks mounted on what looked for all the world like sawhorses. Various items were spread out on it, mostly unfamiliar-looking bits of alien technology, but he recognized a half-dismantled stunner like the ones the Asgard on Atlantis had used, and also -- his heart quickened -- a P90 and a handgun that had almost certainly been taken from Teyla. Some of the other components could only have come from the jumper.
Okay, so the question was -- now what? He, Teyla and a squad of Marines had taken down one of these suits by emptying several full-auto clips into it. He was just one guy, with one spare clip. Right now he had the perfect opportunity to shoot it from behind, but he certainly couldn't take it down before it turned around and shot him back.
The more logical thing would be to slip out again and find his team. He was the only one free. Risking his freedom, and therefore his team's lives, certainly wasn't worth getting the blaster back.
But that damn thing meant a lot to Ronon.
Then the Asgard, to John's gratified surprise, solved his problem for him. After laying the blaster down on the workbench, it reached up and gripped its helmet. As it pulled the helmet off, John raised his P90 and steeled himself for what he was about to do. Gotcha, you little gray team-napping bastard.
But the head that emerged was not smooth and gray. Instead, it had a shock of sweat-matted dark hair laced with gray. When the figure turned its head to the side, John caught a glimpse of a hawklike profile and a scruffy beard.
What the hell?
These guys were human.
The man in the Asgard suit bent his shaggy head over the blaster. John faltered, lowering the gun. He hadn't felt especially good about sniping an alien, but it was a far cry from blowing this guy's brains all over his workbench.
For one thing, he wanted to know who these people were and how they got an Asgard ship.
John crept from cover, the P90 ready just in case. Though he moved as quietly as he knew how, something alerted the guy in the suit -- a movement, a sound. He started to turn, saying, "Wha --" And that was as far as he got; John charged forward and slammed the butt of the P90 against the man's temple. He went down, groaning. John knelt on top of him, rolled him onto his back, and fumbled with the suit until he figured out how to open the clamps so that he could strip the guy out of the armor. Underneath, he found that the "alien" was actually a pot-bellied guy in his forties, stripped down to loose underwear of coarse Pegasus cloth.
"Teyla," John said. "Or Rodney, whoever's got the radio. You there?"
"I am here, John," Teyla's voice said.
"I just found out something interesting. These guys in the suits? They're not Asgard. They're human -- at least, they look like it."
Teyla sucked in her breath. "How fascinating." In the background John could hear Rodney say plaintively, "What? What's fascinating?"
"I'll let you know more when I know more. We're about to have a little interrogation here." John signed off and then drew his Beretta. He smacked the stranger's hairy cheek with the open palm of his other hand. "Hey. Sleeping Beauty."
The guy made a garbled sound and blinked. "Uh, what? Oh ..." His eyes opened wide, and he scrabbled with outflung hands.
"Stop that." John planted a knee in his chest.
"Who are you?" the man gasped. "Where is Miri?"
Now it was John's turn to be nonplused. "Miri?"
"My wife." The man's lip curled; his face turned ugly. "If you've hurt her, I'll cut off your hands. Then your head."
"Whoa, whoa. No one is cutting off hands or heads today. Including me, I hope." John held up the 9-mil so that the guy could see it, and then shoved it under his chin. "We're just having a friendly chat. What's your name?"
"Kaz," the man mumbled sullenly.
"Okay, Kaz. How many of you are there?"
John pushed the gun into the soft tissue under Kaz's throat, making him cough. "Look, do you really want to do this the hard way?"
Kaz swallowed. "Just -- just me and Miri. Just us."
"Seriously? Just the two of you?" John gave the gun another thrust. "Where are my team?"
Kaz swallowed again. "I'll take you to them, but first I want to see Miri."
"Miri is safe, for now," John semi-lied, hoping that Miri didn't walk up behind him while he was distracted and blow his head off. He was trying to keep one eye on the doorway, but he had to keep dividing his attention to do it. "You take me to my friends, and you'll be reunited with Miri. Scout's honor."
Kaz made a low snarling sound.
"Get off me, then."
John stepped back to let him get up, then pressed the gun into Kaz's back. "Wait." He retrieved Ronon's blaster from the workbench, shoved it into the top of his vest. "Okay. Now we can go."
"Can I at least put a shirt on? I'm freezing!"
John relented enough to let him put on the boots from the Asgard suit. It was mostly practicality -- the clumsy boots would make it harder for him to away, but not slow him down as much as bare feet on the cold floor.
"So," John said as they made their way down from the ship's hatch. He glanced warily around for the elusive Miri, with suit or without, but there was no sign of her. "You were going to tell me how you guys got this ship."
"We found it," Kaz said. "It's ours."
"Interesting definition of yours. Where'd you find it?"
"Desorbia," Kaz said reluctantly, and John remembered the place after a moment: a once-thriving but now Wraith-culled world, mostly abandoned except for squatters and smugglers who used its ruined buildings as hideouts. His team had gone there a couple of times seeking information -- the Genii had an outpost there, and several of Ronon's Satedan acquaintances frequented it.
"I'm guessing you weren't there for its scenic tropical beaches."
Kaz shot a bitter look at him over one shoulder. "Hey, we found the ship fair and square. It was out in the jungle, nobody using it. Found these suits in it too."
"I'm amazed you know how to use any of this stuff."
Kaz snorted. "What do you think we are, a couple of hicks? Miri went to school on Hoff. The Krisgow Academy." He paused for John to be suitably impressed. When John said nothing, he went on, "And I'm really handy with mechanical stuff."
"I'm sure." John surreptitiously checked the LSD. The arrow was now pointing away from their direction of travel. "You sure you're taking me to my friends?"
"Of course," Kaz said, a little too quickly.
"Uh huh." John nudged him with the gun. "I really hate being lied to. You want to find out how much I hate it?"
Kaz said nothing, but he took a branching cross-passageway, and now the arrow pointed more or less true again.
"So," John said. "You found the ship, and you found this place too? Quite a coincidence."
"It brought us here," Kaz said. "The ship, that is. It basically flies itself. When we first figured out how to start it up, it came here automatically. Later we figured out how to make it take us where we wanted to go, and we used this place for a base of operations while we --"
He broke off.
"Oh, go ahead," John said, checking the LSD again. So far, Kaz seemed to be playing him straight. "Robbed people? Something like that, I'm guessing?"
"We've only had to pull off a few jobs," Kaz said reluctantly. "With the ship, we're unstoppable. I can pay you," he added, his voice growing eager. "Let you in on some of our take, even. You guys look like you'd be pretty good in a fight. Where are you from?"
"Nice try," John said. These people, he thought, were nothing but small-time bandits who'd stumbled into advanced technology that made them nearly invincible in the generally low-tech Pegasus Galaxy. Perhaps they hadn't even been thieves when they'd found the ship; maybe they were hiding out from something or someone, and the lure of easy money had proven too much. Atlantis would seem like a world of untold riches to them -- which, of course, was exactly what they'd guessed when they'd seen the jumper.
"Did you make my ship crash?" John asked, and he could tell that the anger he felt had infused into his voice, from the way Kaz flinched.
"Not us, no, not on purpose," the bandit said hastily. "It just did that; we went out to see what had happened. There's still a lot about this place we haven't figured out."
Great. So they'd tripped some kind of security measure, and Bonnie and Clyde had swooped in to check out the pickings. Speaking of Bonnie ... he glanced nervously over his shoulder, but the corridor behind them was empty. He didn't think Kaz had been given an opportunity to signal her, but he had no idea what kind of surveillance tech they might have, or whether they had scheduled check-ins that Kaz had now missed. Based on their overall sloppiness, though, he doubted it.
He took a quick peek at the LSD. The arrow had rotated; though the corridor was straight, the arrow had rotated and was now pointing off to the side. "Do we need to have another chat about leading me into a trap versus leading me to my team? Because I don't think you'll enjoy it."
"We're almost there," Kaz said, gesturing to a turn in the corridor up ahead.
John didn't think so, especially since this was going in the wrong direction too. They'd been walking much too long, and possibly in circles. It was likely that the prisoners were being held closer to the docking bay. "I'm not in a mood --" he began, and then Kaz stepped around the corner, John close on his heels, and --
-- dropped out of sight. John wasn't expecting that, any more than he was expecting his next step to be into empty air. "Son of a --" was all he got out as he fell.
"You should call him," Rodney said for the umpteenth time.
"Rodney," Teyla sighed. She was taking advantage of the downtime to nurse Torren; he snuggled into her jacket, contented and happy. "John is quite capable of taking care of himself, and I imagine he is very busy."
"Yes, I'm sure, but now he needs to share with the class and tell us what he's learned!"
Rodney was pacing, despite a slight limp. Teyla had given the two of them what first aid she could, but she had little to work with -- nothing to bind Rodney's injured arm or Ronon's ribs, no antiseptic for the scrapes on Rodney's face, no painkillers stronger than the headache medicine in the little red-and-white packets. Ronon wouldn't let her look at his ankle, but he was clearly hovering on the edge of shock -- his skin pale, his eyes sunken and half-lidded. Though she was loathe to admit it, she did share Rodney's impatience.
The soft whisper of the door gave a split second's warning, but not enough, because the figure in the battle suit came through firing. The first shot took Ronon as he struggled to rise; he stiffened and collapsed bonelessly to the floor. The shooter swiveled to Teyla, but hesitated. The gun skipped over her and kept swinging towards Rodney, who was lunging for the battle suit's gun arm -- a brave move, but he had only fragile human flesh to pit against metal. The being in the suit backhanded him, slamming him into the wall. Rodney gave a strangled cry of pain and punched it in the shoulder -- a useless move, except ... With a whine of servos, the suit's gun arm froze, bent and half-upraised, sparks dancing around its shoulder.
Rodney gripped his utility knife in his fist, the screwdriver blade extended and buried to the handle in the suit's shoulder joint.
The battle suit's occupant made a very un-Asgardlike noise of frustration, its humanness evident even through the mechanical distortion. It walloped Rodney in the side of the head with its other hand, and then struggled to pry open the fingers of its gun hand as Rodney crumpled to the floor. The gun was pointing at the ceiling, the arm completely immobile from shoulder to fingertips.
Teyla had been taking full advantage of Rodney's distraction, shrugging as quickly as possible out of her jacket and laying it down against Ronon's limp body, in the crook between his arm and uninjured side. Ronon was breathing, she saw with weak-kneed relief, and Torren, wrapped in the jacket, did not stir.
Now unencumbered with the baby, Teyla sprang to her feet and closed the distance between herself and their attacker in a single bound. The suited figure swung around, but it was slow, weighed down with the suit. Teyla was fast. She darted behind it. How did the suit come off? There was a joint between helmet and neck -- she seized the helmet in both hands and yanked on it, while the suited figure struggled and tried to reach over its own shoulder to grab her.
The helmet came loose with a sharp mechanical pop, revealing a head of pinned-up dark hair. The person swung around to face her -- it was a woman, about Teyla's age, pretty in a hard-edged kind of way.
She started to swing a mailed fist, as she'd done to Rodney, and Teyla punched her in the face. The woman staggered and fell. Teyla punched her again, splitting her lip and knocking her onto her back. The woman thrashed feebly, still trying to rise, but dazed, uncoordinated. Teyla fought with the suit, trying to find a way to deactivate it.
"Here," Rodney said in a slurred voice. He was on hands and knees; he reached for them, but missed. Teyla pinned the woman's working arm with her whole body -- the suit was much stronger, of course, but with Teyla's full weight on it, the woman couldn't get the leverage to move it effectively. Rodney fell over, pushed himself up doggedly and reached for the suit's neck. Teyla couldn't see what he did, but the suit made a mechanical whining sound and froze.
"You can get up," Rodney mumbled, "she can't move, she's --" He coughed, broke off, coughed again and retched.
Teyla rolled off the woman, whose bloodied face was a mask of impotent fury as she fought the immobile suit. Teyla had little thought for her, though. She caught Rodney's face gently between her hands. "Rodney, let me see your eyes."
His pupils looked normal, though she could tell he was having trouble focusing on her. "Just ... let me lie down for a minute," he said, and slumped to the floor.
Teyla patted his shoulder and went to check on Ronon, who was already starting to wake up, stirring sluggishly. "Being stunned sucks," he mumbled. "Gotta remember to apologize to Sheppard."
Teyla patted him too, checked to make sure he was breathing evenly, and then picked up Torren in the jacket -- for an instant she had a startling flash of the first time she'd ever seen him, dwarfed in Rodney's jacket. Now he was so large that he was spilling out of hers. Carrying him, she approached their downed enemy with care: the woman might have found a way to get the suit working again.
"You're a mother, aren't you?" Teyla said gently.
The woman left off struggling with the suit and glared at her, sullen and tight-lipped.
"I didn't think about it in the ship; I didn't realize you were human at that time. But as soon as the two of you realized I had a baby, you treated me very kindly."
No reply. Teyla sat crosslegged between the woman and Rodney, and rested a hand on Rodney's back.
"I am Teyla. How many children do you have? This is my firstborn, my son, Torren."
After a moment the woman said, very grudgingly, "Two. Boys. Seven and four." Then she clamped her mouth shut as if she'd said too much.
"Those are good ages." Teyla smiled at her. "Are they close, or do they quarrel? My husband, Kanaan, often quarreled with his brothers."
"They're good boys," the woman said. "And you'll never find them, even if you try. You stay away from our children."
"We don't want to hurt your children," Teyla said in a soothing voice, such as she might use on a wild animal. "We only want to leave; we have no intention of hurting any of you."
"Yeah, right. I saw your accomplice holding my husband at gunpoint. That's when I came here."
Rodney managed to sit up. "You guys tortured us! What kind of --"
Teyla patted his knee. "Rodney. Please let me handle this." Returning her attention to the woman in the Asgard suit, she continued, "I think both of us want the same thing: to leave each other's company, our families unharmed. How might we arrange this so that we are both satisfied?"
John lost his grip on the 9-mil as he pitched forward. It pinwheeled out of sight below him, but he twisted his body like a cat, grabbing for something, anything. He caught hold of a thick metal edge of something, and clung to it. Below him, the Beretta clattered against metal.
Looking down between his feet, John glimpsed big metal cylinders and fat bundles of wires, some forty feet below him. The thing he'd caught hold of was a heavy metal bar protruding from the rock -- the edge, John guessed, of a metal floor or catwalk that was meant to retract, now stuck in a mostly-retracted position.
And Kaz --
John started turning, just in time to catch a boot in the side as Kaz kicked him. Knowing this was here, the bandit had dropped and caught hold of a metal ladder bolted to the rock. He'd lost one of the boots from the mech-suit, but still had the other one. It was like being hit in the side with a shovel. One of John's hands slipped free and for a moment he swung from one arm, gasping for air.
Kaz kicked at him again with his booted foot, but missed. John swung in Kaz's direction and took a calculated risk, letting go, his momentum carrying him into the bandit. Kaz shrieked and nearly fell as John managed to catch hold of a rung of the ladder. They grappled, Kaz freeing first one arm and then the other as he tried to punch John in the face.
"John?" Teyla said over the radio, and John almost lost his grip on the ladder.
In that moment of distraction, Kaz managed to get one arm around John's neck, trying to wrench his head around. The one saving grace was that he couldn't use the other hand without letting go of the ladder. John hooked an arm over a rung and brought up the P90, butt first, to hit Kaz in the jaw with it. The bandit flailed backwards and lost hold of the ladder, but not of John's neck. The suddenly added weight yanked John forward with a violent jerk -- it felt for a moment as if his arm had separated at the shoulder.
"Don't let me fall!" Kaz gasped, terrified, clutching at John.
"Well, stop hitting me, dumbass!"
John pulled him back up. As soon as Kaz got a hand on the ladder, he tried to wrench the P90 from John's vest, twisting it so that the muzzle pointed at John's face.
"Oh, for pete's sake!" John lashed out, kicking him in the knee. Kaz's grip hadn't been solid enough to withstand the shock and pain, and he fell. John, by instinct more than anything, grabbed for him, but he wasn't fast enough: Kaz plunged into the machinery below. John heard him hit something with a painful-sounding thud, and looked down to see that Kaz had slid down to rest between two of the big metal cylinders.
"Idiot," John said in disbelief, and hauled himself back up to terra firma. "Teyla?"
"I am glad to hear your voice, John. Is everything all right?"
"It is now." John peered over the edge. In the dim light, it was hard to tell if Kaz was breathing or not, but he certainly wasn't moving. "How are you guys doing?"
"We have made a new friend," Teyla said.
John heard Rodney say in the background, "Oh, is that what we're calling it now?"
"Tell me about this new friend of yours," John said.
"Her name is Miri. She and her husband are partners in a smuggling operation, using this place as a base."
"Guy named Kaz? Kind of surly?"
"That is probably her husband, yes."
"Uh ..." John peeked over the edge again. "I think I just killed him."
Teyla's sigh was very loud -- it was her I am trying to negotiate with these people, but you are not making it easy for me sound.
"He was trying to kill me at the time," John tried.
"Is there any chance," Teyla said, speaking with care, "that you might be mistaken?"
Now it was John's turn to sigh. "I'll go check."
He swung back onto the ladder and climbed down. The rungs were spaced a little too close together for human comfort; his back and shoulders were cramping by the time he made it to the bottom, where a narrow catwalk ran along the wall just above the metal cylinders.
The surface of the nearest cylinder was finely machined and slightly oily. John tried to plant a foot on it, only to have it nearly go out from under him. He had to sit down and then slide down between them, one foot on either side of the crevice, trying very hard not to think about what might happen if whatever-this-was switched on while he was down here.
Kaz was crumpled like a rag doll, but when John leaned over and checked his pulse, it was fast and strong. One of his arms was clearly broken, and blood covered the side of his head.
"For the record," John said to him, as he slung Kaz over his shoulder, "you're turning out to be even more of a pain in my ass than I thought you were going to be."
He looked around for his 9-mil, but couldn't see it anywhere; it must have skittered into the dark recesses of the machinery. Great. Another form to fill out.
By mutual arrangement over the radio, they met back at the ship. Ronon kept insisting that he could walk, but the first time he tried to take a step, all the blood drained out of his face and he nearly fell over. Rodney had enough trouble just walking straight after being clouted in the head. Teyla suggested that they re-enable the suit so that Miri could help Ronon.
"That's a terrible idea," Rodney said.
Teyla frowned at him and pried Miri's gun from the suit's frozen fingers. "You will leave the helmet off," she told Miri. "This gun stuns, correct? I am an excellent shot and will not hesitate to shoot you in the head."
"Very trusting," Miri said sarcastically.
"Considering the torture," Rodney snapped, "not to mention my head injury, you're lucky that we're willing to deal with you at all."
But at Teyla's urging, he fixed whatever he'd done to the suit's controls. He did leave the right arm immobile, insisting that it was too broken to fix -- Teyla eyed him suspiciously, but she couldn't prove he was lying. Besides, it was a good point; Miri would be easier to manage with only one working arm.
The other arm was more than strong enough to support Ronon's weight, anyway.
Miri directed them to the docking bay. By the time they got there, John had laid out Kaz on the floor by the ship's ramp. Miri sucked in her breath when she saw him.
"Don't worry," John said, seeing her face. "He's -- well, not okay exactly, but he came around a little bit ago, yelled at me, and then passed out again. Gonna need to see a doctor, though." He looked past Miri, at Rodney and Ronon, and Teyla saw relief flood his face, followed by concern as he took in their battered condition. "You okay? Did these guys do anything to you?"
"What, you mean besides the torture and beating?" Rodney said, touching the side of his head, where his short hair was matted with half-dried blood.
John's expression, already wary, went dark. Teyla stepped in hastily. "We do not need to lay recriminations on either side. All we want to do is leave."
"Actually, I don't think that's all we want." John turned to address Miri. "You could just let us go. Our people will be back to pick us up in the morning. But we've got hurt people, and so do you. We'd be willing to lend medical assistance to you, if you use your ship to take us up to the spacegate."
"Our ship won't fit through the gate," Miri said.
"Ours will. We just need to be able to contact our people."
"If we help you," Miri said, "we expect to be paid."
"Oh, for crying out loud!" Rodney said, and Ronon, apparently agreeing with him, made a growling noise low in his throat.
"The way I see it," John said, "you guys kidnapped us. You hurt my people. We're willing to let bygones be bygones, in the sense that we're not planning on coming back with heavy artillery to wipe you all out --"
Teyla saw Miri's face pale; apparently she hadn't thought of that.
"-- or turning you in to the authorities, even though you probably deserve it. But you're not the wronged parties here. We are. And right now, we've hold most of the cards, too. We could deal with you like you've dealt with us: lock you up and steal your ship. Instead, all we want is a little cooperation, and then you'll never see us again."
Eventually Miri agreed to cooperate when Rodney pointed out that he could probably figure out how to get the ship running, and John would fly it. "So I guess you guys are expendable, hmm?" This earned another weary glance from Teyla, but it worked. And they said he couldn't do diplomacy.
Miri, stripped of her Asgard armor, flew the ship, with John guarding her. Kaz was awake but groggy; they'd locked him in one of the other rooms on the ship. Both bandits had refused all offers of medical aid or painkillers. It was obvious that they suspected a double-cross. Rodney didn't blame them. Every time he moved, the dizziness and sharp pain in his skull made him wonder if cooperating with these guys was a good idea at all.
They stopped by the campsite, en route to the Stargate, to pick up the remainder of their gear. Miri hovered the ship just above the shore; Teyla put Torren into Ronon's arms and then she and Rodney went down to pack up. Rodney wasn't sure how much help he was, with only one functional arm and dubious equilibrium, but the night air helped with his headache, and Teyla seemed to appreciate the company.
"Some vacation," he muttered, helping her drag the cooler to the ship.
"It is still better than the time we went to the beach on Thalania," Teyla said.
"That was the one where Sheppard stepped on the jellyfish thing and went into anaphylaxis, wasn't it? Yeah, that sucked. Though I think the time when we camped on that floodplain on M29-Y8T was worse when it came to sheer terror of life and limb."
Teyla nodded and hefted the cooler into the ship's cargo hold with apparent ease. Rodney wondered if she actually needed him at all. "I also was not fond of the world on which the outlaw gang robbed us."
"Which ones? Were those the outlaws on the rhino-horse-things, or the ones with the weird Mad Max motorbikes?"
"I was in fact thinking of the ones riding the rikaeli, but I had forgotten about the other incident, to be honest."
"Do all our vacations end in disaster?" Rodney asked plaintively.
Teyla didn't answer, which he figured was probably answer enough.
The Asgard ship didn't have a DHD, but the jumper's was still intact. Rodney set to work cobbling together a power hookup from the ship so that they could dial the gate.
"Now here's a question for you," John said. He was leaning against the side of the jumper, watching Rodney work, while Teyla took a turn guarding Miri. "I don't want to let them have the jumper, even in this condition. They don't need to know any more about our capabilities than they already do. How do we keep it from them? It's deadweight; we can't move it, and if we jettison it, they'll just come back and pick it up later."
Rodney snorted. "Easy. Dial the gate, point the ship at the gate and open the doors. The decompression will suck the jumper out, momentum carries it into the gate, problem solved."
"And then we'd have a derelict jumper in the middle of the gateroom."
"I didn't say the plan was entirely without flaws." Rodney rubbed his aching temple and thought about it. "Okay, we'll send it to some other planet, come back and get it later."
John thought, turning the plan over in his head. "That'd work, I guess."
"And modest, too," John said.
Rodney laughed. It hurt his head. "Do you really think it's a good idea to just let them go?"
"Oh, probably not," John said. "But I don't feel like any more death and mayhem today, do you? If they really do have kids stashed somewhere in that facility, it's not fair to kill their parents. If they become a problem for us later, we'll deal with it then."
Rodney thought about arguing, then decided he was just too damn tired. "It's your call, I guess."
John took off his radio and laid it next to Rodney's knee. "Here, genius; call up to the control room when the DHD's working, and we'll phone home, ET. I'd better go make sure that Miri and Teyla are getting along."
"Teyla can take care of herself," Rodney said absently, and then looked up as John started to speak. "Ah, and now you're going to say 'But it's not Teyla I'm worried about.' See, even with a head injury I can anticipate your jokes. Which means you've become predicable."
"I'd say it means we've been spending way too much time together," John said, and wandered off.
Rodney went back to trying to twist together little fiddly wires, which was annoying enough even when he didn't have a blinding headache and one mostly-nonfunctional arm. And then he realized, once he got the wires in place, that the crimping tool he needed was all the way on the far side of the jumper. "You couldn't stick around for five more minutes?" he snapped at the ceiling, as if John could hear him.
Something tapped his shoulder. Rodney jumped and almost banged his sore head on the console. That wouldn't have felt good. "Warn a guy next time, Shep -- oh, it's you." Ronon was holding onto the side of the jumper with one hand and holding the tool out to him.
Rodney pressed the wires into place with his thumb long enough to get a hand on the crimper, and then pressed them permanently into their new position. It wouldn't hold forever, but ought to do for no longer than they'd need it. "Push one of the buttons on the DHD."
"I don't know! Pick one."
There was a small click, not the usual powering-up sound of a working DHD. Still, Rodney asked hopefully, "Did it light up?"
"Not even a little bit?" Great. There must be a loose connection somewhere in the console. Not surprising after the beating it had taken, but still. Groaning, Rodney pried open another panel one-handed.
"I would say I'm surprised that you can still move around that quietly with only one leg, but not so much, really." He glanced up at Ronon. It looked like someone, probably Teyla, had finally gotten him to take his boot off and let her wrap his ankle. Rodney was glad he'd missed that. "Should you be walking on it?"
Ronon shrugged. "I've had worse." He still looked pale and shaky, though, and he coughed as if to punctuate the fact that he really should not be out of bed.
"We've all had worse by this point, but that doesn't make it fun." Rodney ran his fingers over the crystals inside the console. Several of them were damaged, but none in the main power array ... wait, there was a promising suspect.
"Rodney," Ronon said.
"Busy!" Rodney said. He popped out the crystal and then the thought occurred to him, belatedly, that, oh right, they'd been interrupted in the middle of the conversation o' doom in the cell. Great. "Uh, go ahead, I guess."
"The answer. To your question? Answer's yes."
Rodney frowned, seeking backwards. "Yes, you do mind?"
Ronon cuffed him gently in the arm.
"Ow! I'm injured, you know."
"Not in that arm."
"And also doing delicate precision work here." But he found that he didn't really mind. In fact, the tight ball at the pit of his stomach had loosened somewhat. Rodney raised his eyes to meet Ronon's, not quite sure what he expected to see there.
Ronon looked exhausted, his face tight with pain, but he was smiling, just a little bit. Rodney felt the knot in his stomach unwind a little more.
"You're really okay with it. With me and Jennifer."
"McKay ..." Ronon's eyes skittered away, and he stared across the cargo hold. "I'd be lying if I said there wasn't still a little part of me -- look, it's going to take awhile to get over her. But it is over. She let me know what she wants. And if it's gotta be someone else, someone who isn't me, I'd much rather see her with someone who's ..."
"A genius?" Rodney said.
"I was going to say, not a total loser."
"Oh, gee, thanks."
"Besides ... that gate tech, Amelia -- she's pretty hot."
Rodney snorted and picked an undamaged crystal out of another array. Even his throbbing head didn't hurt that much anymore. "Sure, if you like the buff, can-totally-kick-your-ass type. Which, uh, you probably do, come to think of it." He snapped the crystal into place. "Okay, try the buttons again."
This time, there was the familiar sound of a DHD locking a symbol. "Yes!" Rodney said, and grinned up at Ronon. "You ready to get out of here?"
"And how," Ronon said. But he was still smiling.
Rodney smiled back at him, and tapped his radio. "Hey, ET? It's time to phone home."