A/N: I have had a huge amount of fun writing this story. Sending John and Rodney on an epic journey and getting them into all sorts of trouble has been a very effective distraction for me through some tough times. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
Chapter 1 – Escape
"Will it work?"
No answer, other than a glance of wide, panic-filled blue eyes and a frantic scatter of fingers over control keys. The shuddering increased, the roar now deafening.
John shouted, desperate, "McKay, will it work?"
"Some of it will, yes! But, this thing's cobbled together out of, I don't know, ten different systems? It's a mess!" Rodney clung to one of the instrument panels as the tiny escape pod juddered and vibrated its way into the planet's atmosphere. "If the thermal shielding holds, if the descent angle is correct, if the parachutes deploy, a whole load of ifs!"
"Will it get us near the gate?"
"I'd be happy just to be alive after this, but, yes, it's supposed to detect the Gate and land nearby."
They were both suddenly thrown up in the air and slammed back down into their seats.
"I th-think the inertial d-dampeners might be c-compromised!" said Rodney, juddering along with the tiny ship.
They both strapped themselves into their seats, pulling the belts as tight as they'd go. Rodney tapped the screen within his reach and an outline image of the planet appeared. It showed a red dot situated in the centre of a large continent that spanned the equator. There was another continent further north, covering the pole, and extending south into what, on Earth, would be the temperate zone. There were also various islands and archipelagos scattered across the globe.
"Th-that's the Gate!" said Rodney, pointing to the dot. There was a yellow line showing the escape pod's trajectory; it seemed to be on course to land near the Stargate. John and Rodney watched their progress on the screen as the yellow line crept around the globe.
"Looking good!" said Rodney, but as soon as the words were out of his mouth a strident alarm began to blare and red lights started flashing on various panels.
"What's happening, McKay?" said John, bracing himself against the structure of the pod as the shuddering continued.
"Bad things!" said Rodney, slapping his hands over the instrument panels. "I'll try to compensate!"
John watched as the yellow line of their course slowly veered north, away from the Gate.
"We're off course!"
"I know that! I'm trying to stabilise! We're coming in too fast!"
The yellow line was heading directly for the north pole when there was a massive jerk and the shuddering reduced.
Another jerk and they were thrown forward in their seats.
"That's the second 'chute deploying," said Rodney. "There should be five." Another jerk. "The first four tear away but the last should stay attached, if we're not going too fast!"
They were flung forward in their seats once more and they looked at each other. If the next parachute tore away they'd crash-land with very little hope of survival.
The pod jerked once more, the vibration disappeared to almost nothing and to John and Rodney it felt like the little ship was stationary. There were no windows and there was no sensation of movement. On the display, the yellow line ended roughly where one would have expected to find Hudson Bay on Earth, or the far north of Scotland.
"Have we landed?" asked John, doubtfully. His voice sounded loud in the near silence.
"No, we're drifting," said Rodney. He slumped back in his seat, his eyes flicking to the map of their location. "We should land safely, but..." He shook his head and flapped a hand at the screen.
"A long way from the Gate," finished John.
"Oh, yes!" said Rodney, wearily. "And this planet isn't even the same size as Earth. It's about one and a half times as big!"
"So a really long way from the Gate," said John. He sighed. "Where does it say what our altitude is?"
"Here," Rodney pointed. "These units convert to... just under three thousand feet."
"So, a few minutes before we touch down? Do we need to release the parachute? Are we going to get dragged along?"
"I don't know!" said Rodney, exasperated. "It'd be a bit of a design flaw, wouldn't it? But who knows with this lot? It's like it's been put together by chimps!"
"Travelers, McKay," said John.
"It amounts to the same thing, as far as I'm concerned!" said Rodney bitterly.
The Travelers had stationed a spy satellite in orbit around the planet, M7G-677, having discovered that Atlantis personnel periodically visited the inhabitants. This particular group, no friends to Larrin, had decided that Atlantis Gate teams were a resource they could tap; that is, kidnap and either benefit from their expertise, or sell to the highest bidder, or both.
John and Rodney, heading for the orbital Gate having carried out some routine maintenance on the shield (in Rodney's case) and taught the kids to play football (in John's case), were confronted by an unknown ship dropping out of hyperspace. John had guessed they were Travelers when the jumper was disabled and taken aboard their ship, just as it had been when he had encountered Larrin and her crew.
The Travelers had thought they'd hit the jackpot when they realised they'd captured Colonel Sheppard; Rodney they dismissed as merely 'a scientist'. They began arguing among themselves about the best way to profit from their captives, not realising they'd made a big mistake in thinking they could keep Rodney contained within their ship of cannibalised parts.
Rodney's eyes were huge as he and John were forcibly walked through the ship and he could barely suppress a grin. As soon as the door of their cell closed behind them he turned to John.
"Well, isn't this just a delicious buffet of mismatched technology?" he said with a smirk. Then John was surprised to see him crouch down and start unlacing his boot.
"You gonna McGyver it with your bootlaces and some gum?" he asked.
"Oh, ha ha," replied Rodney. "Ronon's not the only one with concealed weapons, you know. Or in my case," he took off his boot, flipped up the insole and drew something out of the hollow heel space, "concealed tools!"
John raised his eyebrows. "You're full of surprises, McKay!"
Rodney had levered up a wall panel and had the door sliding smoothly open within about two minutes. Five minutes of careful exploration of the surrounding corridors, John watching Rodney's six, had netted him a panel behind which lurked access to the ship's central systems. With gleaming eyes, tapping fingers, a snip here and a reconnection there, Rodney worked out a way to divert the ship to the nearest planet with a Gate, give them a chance to escape, and deter pursuers. He finished and resecured the access panel, then checked his watch.
"We've got ten minutes!" he said to John.
"Get to the jumper and get off this ship!"
"Let's get going, then!" John led the way, checking carefully at each junction, moving as swiftly and stealthily as he could.
"What happens after ten minutes?" he whispered to Rodney as they went along.
"The ship drops out of hyperspace," said Rodney, "Above a planet with a Gate, hopefully!"
"Hopefully?" said John, with a frown.
"Okay, definitely," said Rodney. "Then when we're on course for the Gate, the virus I planted will ensure that the ship re-enters hyperspace and embarks on a series of random and confusing jumps, leaving us free to go home!"
"Nice work, Rodney!" said John approvingly.
At that point things had started to go wrong. Their escape was discovered and the corridors swarmed with crew intent on recapturing them. They couldn't get to the jumper and ended up cornered when the ship dropped out of hyperspace. Then John had noticed an escape pod and they had opted to scramble into it and launch rather than be recaptured.
The pod continued to descend silently, John and Rodney waiting tensely for the impact. It came with a teeth-rattling bump and then they felt themselves sliding sideways and down, grinding and jolting over a bumpy surface, the hull ringing with a series of metallic clashes as it hit unknown obstacles.
It finally slowed to a halt, the lights suddenly cut out and there was only darkness, the ticking of cooling metal and the sound of rapid breathing.