Cowards in a Brave New Galaxy
Summary: After a bad reaction on an early mission, McKay questions whether he has any place in the field. (teamfic, non-slash)
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Stargate: Atlantis do not belong to me. I make no money from this story. Please don't sue.
Warnings: violent imagery
Author's Note: At the beginning of "Suspicion," Sheppard says that they've been on 9 missions, 5 of which contained Wraith encounters. This is my version of one of those missions. So for timeframe, think very early in Season 1.
The title came from a Kim Richey song, "Cowards in a Brave New World."
Chapter 1: Shock
"How did you do that?"
John Sheppard turned around, just enough to give him full benefit of his annoyed look. "Sit down, McKay."
"I am sitting." And he was, technically. He was just on the very edge of his seat, leaning over the Major's shoulder. "So how did you do that?"
Sheppard released a long sort of breath that made Rodney think he was mentally counting to ten. "I just thought it," he responded shortly.
"You didn't use the controls?"
"Well, yeah, that too. It's sort of a combination; I just do what feels natural."
Rodney scoffed, "Sure, natural to a pilot. You're going to have to explain better than that, Major, if you intend to teach those of us who aren't."
"Why would I intend that?"
McKay stared at him for a beat, then sputtered, "Because…because everyone with the gene needs to know how to fly these things! Right now you're the only one who's really any good at it. What if something were to happen to you? Where would we be then?"
Sheppard's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What's going to happen to me?"
Rodney threw up his hands. "I don't know! You'll probably tick off some farmer by looking at his daughter the wrong way and get run through with a pitchfork."
"It's more likely that the farmer will be so busy trying to decipher what you're saying, he won't even notice me. And, after a few sentences, I've no doubt that you will be the focus of the shish-ka-bobbing."
"Luckily, you've got us to protect you."
Rodney started to adopt a highly offended air, but then narrowed his eyes instead. Sheppard was trying to distract him. Well, it wouldn't work. He leaned forward once more, putting his face in the other man's personal space. "So what does this do?" He reached over the Major's shoulder to point at a lever.
His hand was promptly smacked away. "Ow!" he exclaimed indignantly. "Fine. Be that way. We'll just see what Dr. Weir has to say about it, shall we?"
"Okay. You know what? I'll teach the Marines, I'll teach the members of the science team with the gene, I'll even teach Beckett! But you don't need to worry about it, because as long as I'm conscious, you won't be touching these controls."
Rodney gave a frustrated huff and sat back in his seat, mumbling about all the ways an Air Force Major could be rendered unconscious.
"What was that McKay?"
He sneered at the back of the man's head, but crossed his arms over his chest and stewed in silence.
Ford and Teyla had remained wisely quiet throughout this exchange. He looked amused and she looked confused, but neither of them spoke up in his defense or Sheppard's. This was only their second mission as a team, and yet they had already learned it was wise not to interfere in these little pseudo-arguments he had with the Major.
This was not to say that they weren't enjoying them. To be honest, he rather enjoyed them himself. It wasn't often that he found someone willing and able to good-naturedly go toe to toe with him.
That wouldn't stop him from sulking over a loss, however.
He took comfort in the fact that this should be an easy mission. It was basically a meet and greet, a let's-make-new-friends mission, with people Teyla already knew.
The small planet was inhabited by two different people groups, both of which resided far from the gate and as far from each other as they could manage without leaving the landmass. According to Teyla, the two groups were perpetually at odds with each other. She had traded with both, but had a preference for the one near the eastern shore. Sheppard was steering the Jumper in that direction.
After only a few minutes more flying time, Teyla was directing him to land at the edge of a dense forest. As they were strapping on their gear, Rodney spoke up again. "I don't see why we have to park so far away."
"The only ones who have ever come to them in ships are the Wraith. I do not believe they would react well to ours," Teyla explained patiently.
"The Major can cloak it."
"Yes, but there are no closer clearings that are not in direct view of the village. We would have to land nearly on top of them. I believe they would notice."
"He knows that, Teyla. He's just being difficult," Sheppard threw in. "Quit pouting, McKay, and move out."
"I am not four years old. I am not pouting."
He was complaining a bit like a four-year-old, but he rather thought he was entitled. He was a physicist, for crying out loud. He wasn't cut out for long physical treks through hot, sticky forests.
And there were scientists on the Atlantis expedition who were fitter for such duty. He was actually still quite surprised that the Major had chosen him at all.
Nevertheless, here he was, resigning himself to picking his way through undergrowth.
As they moved, he was well aware that Sheppard was cutting the pace for his benefit, without so much as one snide comment about it. He supposed that should make him happy. It was certainly indicative of just how good a leader the Major was. Not that he would ever say that aloud, of course—but he could admit it to himself.
He would also never admit aloud that he might not be able to cut it in the field. But, privately, that was a concern of his. Aside from the physical aspect, there was the people aspect. He was just not a people person. As a general rule, he didn't like people. He found them annoying and tedious, and he wasn't shy about letting them know it. He knew they felt the same about him.
Teyla was a leader, skilled in dealing with people. Sheppard had a boyish sort of charm that seemed to endear him to just about anyone. Ford was respectful and seemed to easily get along with others. Yes, of the four of them, Rodney was definitely the most likely to get himself shish-ka-bobbed.
There was also the little matter of the gun strapped to his thigh, a constant reminder that he would almost certainly have to fire it at some point. He'd had basic training with the handgun. But, more than that, he had read SG-1's mission reports. He'd always been a bit awed at the idea that Daniel Jackson had survived even a couple of weeks.
He pondered all of this as he traipsed through the trees in Teyla's wake. The Major was up front with her, Ford bringing up the rear, with him sandwiched in the middle. He knew he should probably be more alert to his surroundings, with his mind in the moment, but he couldn't just shut off his thoughts. And this line of thinking was keeping his mouth shut, so he expected Sheppard would actually encourage it.
Daniel, he told himself as he avoided a low-hanging branch, was a people person. He liked other cultures, wanted to learn about them. He knew all sorts of languages, and O'Neill had often deferred to him in first contact situations. Heck, Daniel had even lived amongst an alien culture for a year prior to joining the team. He wanted to make friends and actually cared about these people they met.
Of course, despite all of this, Daniel also had a tendency to find trouble. How many times had the anthropologist been close to or actually dead? Rodney had stopped counting before he got halfway through the mission reports. Left for dead with an aquatic alien, addicted to the effects of an alien sarcophagus, trapped in the body of a dying old man, incurable radiation poisoning…and that was just the ones he could remember off the top of his head. The list went on and on.
By the time they stepped out of the trees to the sound of a nearby roaring ocean, he had decided it would be good to stop comparing himself to Daniel Jackson. It only made him want to go home and lock himself in a bubble.
But surely that wasn't characteristic of all the scientists on the off-world teams…right?
He shook his head slightly, abandoning that line of thought as they approached the primitive structures of a village and Teyla began calling out a cheerful greeting.
No one answered.
She seemed a bit confused. "That is odd. Usually there are some working outside, or at the very least someone watching from the entrance who responds." She moved closer and repeated the call a few times.
Still, no one returned the call or came out.
When Teyla frowned, Sheppard grew concerned. He waited through a few more moments of silence, then announced, "All right. Let's check this out. Ford, go right with Teyla, circle around the perimeter. McKay, stick with me."
Obediently, Rodney followed the Major. He realized then that there were no sounds other than the nearby ocean. No audible or visual signs of life. It was decidedly eerie.
They approached the main entry, coming upon a little stone pathway leading under an arch in the tall wall. To the left was what looked to be a little alcove before the entrance.
He was looking up at the carvings on the archway, instead of at the ground. He didn't see it. He slipped on the slick stones in front of the alcove and went down hard on one knee.
Sheppard reacted in time to grab an elbow and keep him from going all the way down on his face. Thank heaven for little favors.
Unfortunately, the awkward sort of kneeling position gave him a perfect line of vision. And after a moment, he realized what he had slipped in. What he was still on his knees in.
He shot to his feet, so fast that he slammed into Sheppard. The other man caught him, getting a strong grip to keep him on his feet. He was grateful for that, for between the slickness and the pain in his knee he probably would have fallen again.
Sheppard held that grip for a few minutes as they both stared at the bodies.
Then, "Teyla, Ford, get back over here!" was hissed into the radio.
The Major managed to hold him with one arm and bring his P-90 into a ready position with the other as he took in the situation. Teyla and Ford came hurrying towards them.
Rodney barely noticed any of this. He was completely occupied by the sight in front of him.
There were two of them, a young man and woman. A basket of vegetables was upended near her head, some kind of reddish gourds squashed beside it. It was hard to distinguish between the vegetable pulp and the blood. Copious amounts of blood, pooling beneath them, flowing in tiny rivers away from them in the cracks of the stones. Her head was bashed in. He had at least four wounds in his chest and stomach.
Her eyes were open, staring vacantly in the direction from which they'd come.
Dimly, he heard Teyla's quick intake of breath. He heard Sheppard pulling out the life signs detector, saw him shake his head. He heard Ford and Teyla readying their weapons, heard the Major instructing them to start a cautious search.
Through it all, he stood numbly, staring. It was as if there was a haze between him and the world.
"Are you all right?" came the soft question in his ear, obviously directed at him.
Rodney started, somehow having forgotten that the man was so close, despite the physical support he was still using. He gingerly, absently tested the knee, then pulled away from the Major's grasp. "It'll hold. I'm fine," he stated, choosing not to consider if Sheppard's words had held a deeper implication.
They had, if the measuring look he received was any indication. But it was fleeting, for the Major had a search to conduct. The blood was still trickling; on some level he recognized that that meant this was fairly recent.
"Stay put while we check this out," came the quiet instruction. "Do you hear me, McKay?"
He nodded, absently.
Sheppard turned and, holding the life signs detector before him atop his P-90, moved off with Ford and Teyla, leaving Rodney alone with the bodies. It only took a few seconds before he was edging away from the gore and around the wall, where he could watch the three of them move through the courtyard.
Once there, he almost wished he had stayed where he was.
Two bodies were nothing compared to this. The courtyard was littered with corpses. Everywhere he looked…
Apparently none of them were still breathing, for the Major passed them all by. Rodney tried to keep his eyes on his teammates and off the crimson-stained ground. He watched as the three of them took to a stealthy search. He almost had an urge to laugh. It wasn't as if they hadn't already announced their presence to any murderers who might be hanging about.
He was strangely unconcerned about that possibility. He couldn't seem to get his mind past the bodies. His eyes kept stubbornly straying back to them. So many bodies…everywhere. Perhaps murderer was the wrong word. This was a massacre; a mass execution.
Except that 'execution' connoted an organized, quick, clean strike. There was nothing clean or simple about this. No broken necks or single holes in the head. They all lay in pools of their own blood, leached from wicked-looking wounds.
No, the best word here was definitely 'massacre.'
He limped slowly towards the middle of the settlement, still in a sort of daze. Some scientific, logical branch of his mind found the raised slab in the center interesting; possibly important.
Sheppard glanced back, saw him moving, and tightened his jaw. He didn't comment, however, as he had already cleared that immediate area. He went back to the search with a warning glance. Rodney took that as an okay.
He thought it odd that no bodies were particularly close to the pedestal. In fact, the majority seemed to have been moving away from it. It looked rather like an altar, but if it were a religious thing, wouldn't people have run to it when facing their imminent demise?
He drew closer, hitched his leg up the couple of stairs, and peered.
He was later certain that he had stopped breathing for a full minute at that point.
It was an altar, all right. It held a little girl, no older than five. She had blond, wispy curls. Her eyes were closed. She looked angelic, as if she were merely sleeping.
It was a beautiful illusion, marred by the gaping wound in her chest. He doubted there was a drop of blood left in her. It was all pooled beneath her and running in slow rivulets off the pedestal.
Her arms were above her head, thin wrists together, as if she'd been held down. He didn't need a cultural lesson to know that she'd been some sort of sacrifice. A live, human sacrifice.
He swallowed hard and shut his eyes. It didn't work; he could still see it in his mind. He gagged on his next breath and forced himself to turn around.
But everywhere he looked, there were bodies.
His team members had apparently concluded they were alone. Dimly he heard Teyla talking about a path to the gardens and down to the beach, and Sheppard saying that they should probably check it out.
They were gathered only a few yards away, but it seemed like much farther.
He heard Ford question, "You think it was Wraith?"
Teyla responded, "The Wraith would not do this. They take what they need to feed or preserve victims for later. They do not simply kill."
An incredulous 'Simply?' was the one coherent thought Rodney latched onto. He felt lightheaded and nauseous. He wasn't sure whether to run for the bushes or sit down right there before he fell down.
As long as he was in sight of that little girl…he could hear the slight pinging sound of blood drops hitting stone…
He decided on the bushes.
Behind him he heard Sheppard's concerned, "McKay?" but he was a bit too occupied to answer.
He made it to some low shrubbery at the side of one of the buildings. There he fell hard to his hands and knees. The pain that shot up his right leg as a result only fueled the retching. He gripped handfuls of grass to ground himself as he brought up everything he had eaten that morning.
After a few long minutes of this, he calmed enough to become aware of a quiet presence kneeling beside him.
"Easy, Doc," Ford said softly as he realized he'd been noticed.
Terrific. Sheppard had sent him a babysitter.
Then the Lieutenant was shifting the pack from Rodney's back as he explained quietly that the Major and Teyla had gone on to search the path. He pulled out Rodney's canteen for him. McKay thought he should protest, insist that he was fine and tell Ford to go back and help Sheppard. But he felt the young man take hold of his arm in support, and he really didn't want Ford to go.
He accepted the canteen, rinsed his mouth out, and tried to calm his breathing. After a moment, he started talking to fill the silence. "I don't know what…I mean, I've never seen…who or what would do something like that? Do we really even want to know? It's not as if we can help them now."
He noticed when Ford abruptly turned his attention back towards the courtyard, but he didn't think much of it. He kept talking. "I mean, I specialize in technology, and wormhole physics, and not primitive people who go around getting themselves gutted…"
He was babbling a bit hysterically, and on some level he recognized that. But he didn't, or couldn't, stop.
Then the fingers around his arm tightened painfully. "Shh!" Ford hissed urgently.
Rodney shut up, a sense of dread washing through him.
For now he could hear what had Ford up in arms. He thought for a few endless moments that whoever had massacred those people had come back for more. His breath came in shallow spurts as he craned his head, following the Lieutenant's line of vision.
What he caught sight of stole his breath entirely.
No, no, no, he couldn't deal with this right now.
Ford breathed the word, barely a whisper. "Wraith."
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