TITLE: I'VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN
AUTHOR: Wraithfodder. Feedback welcome!
DATE: June 2005
RATING: T ?
STATUS: COMPLETE
WARNINGS: Violence, language, icky gross critters and some swearing.
CATEGORY: Drama, hurt/comfort (whumping), angst and humor. This is a gen (general) story.
SPOILERS: Takes place in season one after "Hot Zone" but before the end of the season.

Copyright Disclaimer: The Stargate Atlantis characters, as presented on the series, belong to MGM, Sci Fi, and other registered copyright holders. No copyright infringement is meant or intended by the writing and posting of this material. I'm just borrowing the characters and the universe for a piece of non-profit 'fan fiction' and will return in one piece (well, usually). However, all original characters and story material are copyright to author. Please do not repost this fiction, in whole or in part, anywhere, without expression written permission of the author.

SUMMARY: The team investigates an energy source on another world, but the situation goes terribly awry when Sheppard and Zelenka, the latter taking over for an injured McKay, find themselves trapped on that world, facing an enemy potentially even worse than the Wraith..

Author's Notes: This story takes place predominantly over a five day period, so I'll be loading the story in that format, and the final stage of the story takes place over a longer period. It's a long story, but it IS complete. :) Special thanks to B7kerravon for betaing assistance!


I'VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN

DAY ONE

PART 1

"I should be going!" McKay's voice filled the air with outright indignation.

"Uh huh," muttered Sheppard although not quietly enough.

"And what is that supposed to mean?" McKay's words dripped in sarcasm, just begging for a good fight.

Weir watched the two men across from her at the conference table argue for what had to be the tenth time since she'd called the mission briefing to order. Ford just patiently bided his time, sitting next to his commander, while Teyla seemed to alternate between amusement and exasperation at the escalating conflict.

"The world is a rainforest, Rodney."

"So?"

"You've got a cast on your leg."

"It's a walking cast," reminded McKay shortly. "That means I can walk on it."

"Which means you can't put a boot on it and are therefore subject to..." Sheppard waved his hand idly. "Oh, I don't know, bugs crawling into your cast, chewing into you, making themselves at home inside your ankle."

"Oh please." McKay crossed his arms defiantly against his chest and smirked. "I can put one of those bag things over the cast. Keeps out the bugs, the rain, everything."

"And when we're being pursued by some large animal intent on eating us for lunch, just how fast are you going to be able to run?" Sheppard crossed his arms in a similar manner, although he exuded a lot more confidence in his stance than McKay was presenting showing.

"Well, I, uh—"

"Rodney, you're not going," spoke up Beckett from his position next to Weir "And that's my order, as the Chief Medical Officer. For pity's sake, you're not running off to some water-logged world after I put your leg back together after you—"

"Carson," warned McKay.

"After you tripped down the stairs," finished Beckett firmly.

"They do say most accidents happen in the home," Sheppard shrugged.

"Maybe that's because some idiot left a pen on the floor," complained McKay loudly. "And may I remind you that the mission is going to the planet because of the energy reading. You're not a scientist, major."

"And I count my blessings every day." Sheppard looked insufferably pleased with that statement.

McKay turned his glare toward Weir. "Elizabeth, that energy reading could be a ZedPM!"

"Yeah, they look sorta like lava lamps," Sheppard said with a grin. "The orange ones, right?"

"Elizabeth!" repeated McKay, incensed at the major's mocking comment.

"Rodney, Dr. Beckett is right. You can't go traipsing off to another world in a cast." Weir then shot a level gaze at the air force officer sitting across from her. "And major, stop tormenting Rodney. We have to live with him while you're gone."

"Yes, ma'am," said Sheppard contritely, but it was obvious he didn't mean it.

"Fine, fine," said McKay in a huff. "So go off, have fun. You need a scientist on this mission." He settled a hostile stare directly on Sheppard, who ignored it.

"Oh, we've got one."

"Excuse me?" McKay appeared both greatly annoyed and intrigued. "Who?"

A sharp rap at the door drew everyone's attention. A figure entered the room and stopped.

"Oh, you have got to be joking!" exclaimed McKay.

"Major, did I come at the wrong time?" Dr. Zelenka pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.

PART 2

All scientists should come with labels on how to treat them, Sheppard thought dryly. First, despite the fact that scientists are the most curious of creatures, they like to stay on their home ground. They get anxious and upset if they're pulled out of the safety of their technology-laden dens and thrust into anything that has one single blade of grass or dirt.

This world had more than grass. It was a definite rainforest, full of tall trees whose canopies reached into the sky at least forty feet above their heads. Instead of the usual coniferous trees they'd encountered on far too many worlds, they were greeted with huge fronds with sharp serrated edges. Despite the heat, everyone had worn jackets, just to prevent any damage from the leaves. Sheppard had already managed to sustain a few scratches on his hands and wrists from those serrated leaves, despite his caution.

Zelenka had seemed both elated and mortified to go out on the mission, although Sheppard felt that part of his acceptance to take McKay's place had been due to spite. McKay had raised such a ruckus about Zelenka going, that he'd managed to insult his colleague – several times in fact. Sheppard felt that the Czech would have stepped through the gate to an ice planet just to get his dig in at McKay.

But once on the planet, Zelenka had relaxed and seemed to be enjoying himself.

Sheppard whacked at another huge green frond with the machete and it fell to his feet with easy abandon, then smacked at a tiny gnat thing buzzing around one of his scratches. "Hey, look, I don't see a no vacancy sign," he remarked happily as he stepped forward into a clearing.

Teyla, Ford and Zelenka all came up beside him and stopped. "These look like ruins," said Zelenka.

Sheppard grinned. "Well, no sign of Wraith so that' a big plus in my book." The life signs detector had been mercifully devoid of any lurking menaces. Apparently the rainforest didn't see much action in the daylight hours.

Zelenka took out a tissue from a pocket in his tactical vest and cleaned some water droplets off his glasses, then repositioned them on his face as he studied the almost bunker-like ruins nearly hidden by an abundance of vines and other thick overgrowth.

Sheppard wasn't accustomed to this kind of behavior. If McKay had been there, he'd have been either charging in or complaining about snakes or bugs the entire way. Zelenka had not complained at all, even when Sheppard had accidentally let a large frond snap back and it hit the scientist squarely in the face. The Czech had merely taken it in stride, although after that he'd increased the distance between himself and Sheppard.

He couldn't help himself, but Sheppard felt protective toward the scientist. They'd lost several scientists already, five to the damned nanovirus, and two, regrettably, due to a mixture of a bad decision and a 10,000-year-old Wraith. He'd made sure his team treated Zelenka like a precious gem, always surrounded so that if any danger presented itself, they'd be able to protect him.

Conversation had been light, not the spirited and sometimes snarky banter that always accompanied McKay. It seemed odd, and in some respect, almost like a vacation, not that Sheppard would ever say that aloud. While McKay could annoy him to the point that he wanted to throttle the man at times, he'd become a friend. Sheppard hadn't thought that possible but the two men, despite their differences, had found some kind of common bond, besides their presence on Atlantis. Both were seeking something they couldn't find on Earth. Whether they'd find that something in the Pegasus galaxy was debatable, but Sheppard was enjoying the friendship he'd established with the acerbic Canadian.

Zelenka seemed a polar opposite to McKay. Polite, actually open to another opinion. Sheppard had nearly done a double-take when Zelenka had moved in to look at the life signs detector the major held in his hands and had said 'excuse me." Oh, he'd seen Zelenka and McKay argue, sometimes quite heatedly, but perhaps the Czech was just on his best behavior, off-world, and surrounded by non-scientists who weren't competing for some prize. Or maybe just being out of range of Rodney McKay gave the man a little breathing room.

"The energy source is definitely coming from that structure." Zelenka eyed the building curiously. It was by no means primitive; it had been constructed with concrete or some other man-made (or alien made) material. It was shaped like a dome if the clinging vines covering it were any indication, with one front entrance that led into darkness.

Sheppard cast a wary glance at the building. It was obviously long abandoned, but there was always the chance that the local wildlife had taken up residence within its walls, or that there might be booby-traps secreted inside. "Dr. Zelenka, you and Teyla will stay out here while Lieutenant Ford and I give the place a look-see."

Teyla nodded, hands firmly on the P-90 in her grasp. Zelenka stood by her, waiting patiently.

What a difference, thought Sheppard. How long did it take for a broken leg to heal?

The entryway to the structure showed no danger of collapse. Whoever had constructed the building hadn't skimped on materials. The walls of the dome had to be at least several feet thick and in an odd sort of way, the whole design reminded Sheppard of a nuclear plant dome, only a miniaturized version. The life signs detector didn't show any bizarre energy readings, so he was relatively confident that when they left, they wouldn't be Day-Glo green. Moss and other assorted plant life had slowly crept into the dome over the centuries. He was positive that the dome was that old due to a design they had uncovered beneath one segment of vine. It was very similar to architectural motifs they'd seen on Atlantis.

It was ancient, and in more way than one.

"Sir, over here," called out Ford. Sheppard joined the younger man at the far wall. "Got an indentation here." Ford pointed out the large area, covered with a layer of thin vines and fuzzy moss. "Might be a door."

"Or a decorative archway." They'd encountered enough of those on other worlds. Maddening things. Looked like a door but just carved into the wall for no other reason than pure aethestics.

Sheppard ran his hand along the indentation, then jumped back, his P-90 raised in alarm and his senses on high alert, as the moss began to slither across the wall.

PART 3

"Will you please hold still?"

"I am," groused McKay while Beckett attempted to make the man lie still.

"If you were, I wouldn't be asking you, now would I?" Beckett said with an acid tone. "If you don't comply, I'll just get Nurse Hennings and Dr. Braeden to assist."

McKay paled slightly, then complied. Threats often did work with Rodney McKay. He made a lot of noise but for some reason, being confined in the infirmary seemed to draw some of the arrogance out of the man, especially if threatened with being held down in order to get a simple exam of a casted leg.

Beckett had to ignore the tap-tap-tap of McKay's nervous fingers. "Hmm," he murmured.

"What?" McKay sat up, staring at Beckett, then his leg.

"It's fine," announced Beckett.

"See, I told you." McKay's confidence was back tenfold. "I could have gone on that mission."

"No, you couldn't have and I would have had security lock you up if you'd tried," warned Beckett. He then added, "Rodney, green doesn't suit you."

"What?"

"It's obvious," said Beckett. "You're jealous. You think that this will be the mission where they find a ZPM and you won't be there."

"I don't have to be there if a ZedPM is discovered," McKay argued. "I don't care who brings one back as long as they do."

"So this isn't about the glory?" asked Beckett casually.

McKay looked absolutely affronted by the mere suggestion. "I thought you knew me better than that, Carson."

Beckett patted McKay on the cast, more of a reflex gesture than anything else. "Aye, I do." He locked eyes with Rodney. "Your friends are out there, without you and in fact, they've replaced you."

"I'm hardly replaceable," McKay said with a huff, although the guarded expression in his eyes said otherwise. "Zelenka is a good scientist but he has no practical field experience. He's never been--"

"We've all been, Rodney," admonished Beckett lightly. "God forbid, for better or worse, we're all here in the Pegasus galaxy, with absolutely no idea if we'll ever see Earth again. You can't be a coward and step through the gate knowing that, well, that could be it."

"I never said that," replied McKay defensively. He crossed his arms, then uncrossed them, as if uncertain what to do.

"Don't worry, they'll come back safely," assured Beckett.

"I'm not worried." McKay got off the bed, hobbling toward the door and ultimately, freedom.

"And if they didn't care so much about you, they would have dragged you along for your knowledge, cast or not," added Beckett.

He watched as McKay stopped in his tracks, his head cocked ever so slightly as he digested those words. He said nothing, then continued in his journey.

PART 4

"Like a kid in a candy store," Ford had humorously remarked, to which Sheppard had added, "Yeah, but if you break it, you buy it, so Dr. Zelenka, don't touch anything, okay?"

Zelenka had nodded vigorously, poking around the laboratory but remarkably, not touching anything in the process. He was actually doing better than Sheppard, who ignored his own warning and ran a finger over a dust-covered counter, then sneezed at the dirt he'd stirred up.

Teyla smiled as she and Ford provided the security for this mission. Ford stood just outside the main door, the same one that had miraculously opened when the major had run his hand across some hidden receptor. Virtually every iota of moss had been cleanly scraped off the metallic surface as the door had opened.

There was no doubt in anyone's mind, not even hers, that this structure had been created by the Ancestors, or the Ancients as Sheppard's people liked to call them.

Zelenka carefully brushed some dust off an instrument panel of some sort, then went into an excited stream of alien sounding words. He was from the Czech Republic, Sheppard had explained. Just one of the many countries on Earth. It had once been called Czechoslovakia but then the country split apart peacefully and new names sprung up to name the pieces.

Teyla still had a difficult time fathoming the war and violence on the major's world. While she had always known violence - via the Wraith - but the constant struggle over religion and material things, especially something called oil - 'black gold', Sheppard had said with a sour look - still astounded her.

Sheppard and Zelenka conversed, most likely a translation as the major did not speak the scientist's language and they seemed to agree upon something. Sheppard smiled freely and let Zelenka go back to his examination of the panel as he stood by.

It was a contrast to how the major and Dr. McKay interacted. Had Dr. McKay been there, Sheppard would have stood more off to the side, while McKay would have taken over, as he was the base's expert on Ancient devices. He would have not have shown the same delight as Dr. Zelenka had just exhibited but perhaps that was only because this was Zelenka's first true discovery off-world. She did not know if the enjoyment of discovery had vanished from McKay, or been deeply buried by all the horrors he had seen since traveling through the gate.

Sheppard now had the life signs detector, which they had also discovered was excellent for determining energy of all sorts, on the counter near the panel. Sheppard was the only one on the team right now could make it work, due to his ATA gene. Teyla decided to move closer to investigate.

"Have you found a ZPM?"

Sheppard shook his head. "Don't think so, but there's an energy source here." He rapped his knuckles soundly on the wall above the panel. "It's just a matter of figuring out how to get at it."

"I do not believe C4 is the answer." Zelenka cast a nervous glance over his shoulder at Ford, who looked back at him with a "What? Who me?" expression. Ford's fondness for explosives was legendary on Atlantis.

"Don't think we'll be going that route this time, doc," Sheppard assured him. "What we need to do is figure out what all this does. Might open up the wall."

"I agree," concurred Zelenka. "I know that Rodney--"

"Uh uh," said Sheppard quickly. "McKay isn't stepping one toe on this world."

Teyla arched an eyebrow at this sudden change on Sheppard's part. She had never known him to not want McKay on a mission. The major seemed to catch her doubting expression. "If I was 100 positive there was nothing nasty here, I'll tell McKay to get in a raincoat and hike it on over here, but I can't be sure, so I'm not risking his life for some words. Besides," he added with a mock serious expression, "Beckett would kill me if I did that. I do value my hide, which I know Carson would stick full of syringes to punish me."

"I see," Teyla said with a mirthful smile.

The time passed quickly as Zelenka and Sheppard worked on the panel but to no avail. Even Sheppard's touch wasn't activating anything. After a while, Sheppard told Zelenka to pack it up. They were going back to Atlantis, where they could regroup and bring back additional equipment, and perhaps more manpower, to unravel this mystery.

The journey back to the Stargate was much less arduous than the original trek, in which they'd had to cut a swath through the dense foliage. They'd spent the bulk of that time discussing the strange energy source as well as why the Ancients would establish an outpost in such a remote spot. They came up with nothing but more questions and no answers.

It was literally seconds after they'd established contact with Atlantis that McKay's voice pierced the quiet cacophony of the forest creatures.

"Well? Find a ZedPM?"

Sheppard arched an eyebrow at the team and grinned. "Yes, and no."

"What? You found one and lost it?" said McKay acerbically.

"No on both counts," said Sheppard. "However, we did find an energy source in the abandoned Ancient outpost but it's—"

"Ancient?" blurted McKay. "Elizabeth!"

"No." Weir sounded tired. No doubt she had been correct that McKay would plague the lives of those back on Atlantis while his teammates went off-world without him, especially if it dealt with discovering technology. Teyla also knew that Weir would return that favor in kind to Major Sheppard once he returned, as he'd done nothing but contribute to the situation.

"It's buried behind a wall," Sheppard finished. "And Ford took some home movies for you."

"How thoughtful of you," said McKay acerbically

"Indeed it was," said Sheppard, ignoring the biting comeback. "We're coming home." He gestured his thumb over his back at the gate, indicating that both Ford and Teyla should proceed. "See you on the other side."

Teyla went through the vortex, but not before noticing that Dr. Zelenka had lagged behind briefly, searching his vest with both hands. As soon as she arrived back at Atlantis, she knew without a doubt that the mission debriefing would be … interesting. McKay was sitting up in the control area, staring down at her and Ford very much in the same intense manner as the predatory Giffet hawk back on Athos would perch far above in the tree branches, just biding its time until its prey came out of it lair. Seconds later, that prey would be dead, mangled in the powerful talons of the bird.

"Lieutenant, where are the major and Dr. Zelenka?" Weir stepped forward to the railing.

Teyla looked behind her at the blue vortex, then wondered what the loud burst of static was that echoed suddenly in her earpiece.


John Sheppard stopped in his tracks, his back to the gate's opening. That stance afforded him an excellent view of the small clearing that surrounded the gate and its DHD. Quite handy in case a predator or enemy decided to make an impromptu visit. He kept his finger on the P-90's trigger.

"Uh, Dr. Zelenka?" he asked.

The scientist was busy conducting a search of the myriad of pockets in his tactical vest.

"Lose something?"

Zelenka muttered something in Czech, a bad habit he had when he was preoccupied with work, but then his face brightened as his fingers apparently curled around that precious item, deep within a side pocket. "Found it," he said.

Sheppard didn't care what 'it' was. "If you lose something, we'll find it on the return trip, okay? Right now, it's back to base for a debrief and a quick shower." Sheppard scratched at an itch on the back of his neck. Maybe the shower should come first.

As Zelenka proceeded toward the gate, Sheppard kept a wary eye on the dense plant life beyond, and then took a step backwards. A flare of agony consumed his entire body as his vision exploded in a burst of brilliant red, just seconds before blackness mercifully claimed his world.

PART 5

He'd lost it. He knew it. He couldn't believe that these military tactical vests had so many pockets, and that they could be so easily filled. Zelenka patted down another, trying in vain to locate the small object. Just a few more pockets to search, as he felt Major Sheppard's gaze scrutinizing his actions.

All in all, Zelenka thought, it had been an excellent first off-world mission, with the exception of that huge leaf that had struck him in the face. He'd been very tempted to say a few choice words but then the major had looked so guilty at his mistake that Zelenka didn't have the heart to voice his complaint.

Eye drops. He'd muttered the word in his native language, earning him a puzzled look from the major, but he'd beamed happily when he found them at the bottom of one pocket. He was a few days past the eye infection he'd gotten from Simpson, who in turn had caught it from Sergeant Carstairs (although the Sergeant claimed otherwise), who presumably got it or gave it to Kavanagh, and so on and so forth. Beckett had distributed medicated drops to anyone with the slightest sign of red eyes to avoid a plague of conjunctivitis sweeping through the city. Zelenka had actually thought his red eyes had been the result of just too much time spent on the computer in a dry environment, but Beckett had read him the riot act and told him to take the eye drops for the prescribed period of time, no matter how good his eyes began to look or feel. He was done with the drops, but didn't want to risk a relapse.

If there'd been any medical reason not to go on the mission, Dr. Beckett surely would have said something. Not that anyone could get a word in edgewise, what with all of Rodney's complaining! And he was sure he'd get an earful once he returned to Atlantis. But well, too bad, he was here, and Rodney was stuck with his leg in a cast, which if he didn't watch out, would get stuck in his mouth!

Sheppard mentioned something about heading back to base, for a debriefing and a shower. He could certainly agree about the latter. His clothes were sticking to him in a most uncomfortable fashion. He wasn't sure how Rodney tolerated this less than desirable part of any mission, but apparently he did, and most likely it was due to the incredible discoveries he was able to make. It was quite thrilling to actually find the item, and not just wait until it was deposited on a desk and he was being told to 'analyze this.'

Zelenka headed back up the slight incline of stones that composed the base around the immense Stargate.

A second later, Zelenka found himself reeling from a blinding burst of red light, and his ears were assaulted by the sound of a scream and a horrendous burst of static in his earpiece. He staggered back, losing his balance on the stones and he fell over. He managed to catch himself before he could land on his back and instead ended up on his rear.

"Major Sheppard!" he called out, knocking off his glasses and rubbing the heels of his hands against his eyes, trying to rid himself of the intense colors that danced across his retinas.

Zelenka blinked, then opened his eyes fully. "Oh my god," he murmured, staring upwards. A transparent shield of shimmering red light blocked the path to the Stargate. The vortex looked lavender behind the transparent screen.

"Major?" he asked again. Voices began to assault his ears – Weir and McKay– but they vanished from his mind when he reached out to steady himself, and his hand struck the still body of Major Sheppard. He stared in horror at the crumpled form beside him. Zelenka quickly pulled Sheppard onto his back, then gasped in horror at what he had done. What if the major had a neck injury? He could have killed him! Or worse, paralyzed him for life.

The major was pale, but he was breathing.

"Atlantis!" Zelenka shouted into his radio. "We ran into a force field! The major's been hurt. We need—"

McKay's voice cut him off. "Zelenka, in English, please!"

Zelenka caught himself. He'd been so unnerved he'd reverted to his native tongue. "Atlantis," he repeated, this time a bit less panicked. "We have run into a force field of some kind. It repelled the major. He may be hurt. He is unconscious."

As he heard Weir order Dr. Beckett to the control room, and McKay rapidly shoot off question after question about the force field, he noticed Sheppard's eyes slowly opening. The voices were drawing his attention from what was most important. He quickly told them 'hold,' and removed his earpiece and stuck it in a vest pocket. They could wait.

"Major Sheppard, can you hear me?" Zelenka hovered over the man, who was staring at the sky, a dazed expression glazing his eyes.

After an extremely long minute, Sheppard dragged an arm noisily through the dense foliage he was lying on, then plastered a hand across his head. "What the hell happened?"

"A force field is what happened." Zelenka pointed toward the gate. Sheppard managed to lift up his head and stare. A deep frown creased the man's forehead before he let his head drop back to the ground.

"Teyla? Ford?" Sheppard put both hands to his temples, squeezing. "Ah, my head," he groaned miserably. "Back feels like it's been barbecued."

"The lieutenant and Teyla made it back to Atlantis," said Zelenka, feeling just a tiny bit better that Sheppard was capable of movement and coherent speech. "I do not know why it sprung up when it did." Sheppard grimaced as he slowly moved his legs. "Perhaps you should not move. You may have broken something when you were flung back."

"No, uh, nothing broken," Sheppard said, rolling over to his side with an audible groan. "Now I know why my mother said never to stick my tongue in the light socket."

Zelenka drew back his head in confusion. "You did that?"

"No, but she told me not to." Sheppard sat up, hissing painfully as he rubbed at his sore back. "I was just a little kid, Zelenka, and uh, no, I didn't do that." Sheppard frowned for a moment. "Nah, couldn't have. Would have electrocuted myself."

"I see."

"Can you get rid of that thing?" Sheppard made an attempt to stand, but the pained look on his face made him quickly reconsider that action. Instead, he tapped at his earpiece. "Atlantis? … Atlantis?"

"Your radio may have been damaged in the … contact," explained Zelenka. He pulled his earpiece out of his vest. Even Sheppard could hear the voices frantically trying to re-establish contact.

"Weir's gonna be pissed at you for doing that," he said with a weak smile.

"I was a bit pre-occupied," admitted Zelenka, putting back on his glasses.

Sheppard seemed to realize precisely what that meant. "Thanks."

"Are you all right?" Zelenka noticed that Sheppard looked paler than a moment before.

"Maybe not so…" Sheppard said too quietly.

"I think you should lie down." Zelenka didn't wait for the major to answer and instead helped ease him back down to the ground. The pallor didn't get any worse, and the lines of pain on his face eased just a fraction.

Zelenka repositioned the earpiece. "—lenka, what the hell is going on!" insisted Rodney. "Something's happened to them. We have to send somebody back through."

"Please stop shouting," Zelenka insisted brusquely.

"Zelenka, what is—" McKay's voice was cut off as Weir took over. "Dr. Zelenka, what is going on? You said something about a force field? Is Major Sheppard all right?"

"He is doing better," said Zelenka, and he felt he said that with all honesty. "I believe he was just badly stunned by the effects of the field, which he unfortunately walked into."

Zelenka continued to detail the events of the past few minutes, knowing that his voice was being broadcast throughout the entire control area. He still felt shaky at having his entire world turned upside down, and with the major lying nearby, looking and sounding terrible. He steadied himself by handling the situation just as he would any dangerous scientific experiment: maintaining a rational outlook, staying calm, and above all, not panicking. He came closer to achieving that last emotional state when Sheppard, against Zelenka's advice, crawled over to the DHD, which was a few feet away, and rested his shoulder against its pedestal. The effort cost the man dearly as he was sweating quite a bit by the time he stopped moving.

Beckett took over the radio from McKay. Grilling Zelenka about Sheppard's condition, until the major motioned for Zelenka to just hand over the earpiece so the scientist could stop being a go-between. "How do I know?" Sheppard said to a question. "Pulse is fine. It's there. Head hurts. Feel like I got singed all over but Zelenka said that's from the field's charge." Sheppard just shut his eyes. Zelenka imagined that he was listening to Beckett. "Yeah, yeah, no problem. Just put McKay back on so he and Zelenka can fix the damn gate." He yanked off the earpiece, then tossed it back to Zelenka, who caught it.

"In a moment, Rodney," said Zelenka quietly. He tapped the earpiece, putting it on hold, then he knelt down next to Sheppard. The man looked miserable. "Major, are you all right?"

Sheppard cracked open his eyes and glanced over, the pain etching fine lines around the corners of his eyes. "I'll be fine." He shifted position, but at least he remained upright. "Wraith have done a lot worse."

Zelenka just frowned in concern, but then decided, perhaps that was true. The major had been pretty battered after that disastrous trip out to the Lagrange array. If he could withstand being thrown about by a Wraith, then he should be able to handle a force field. He hoped.

Sheppard eased out a sore muscle in his shoulder. "Between you and Rodney, we'll be home in no time flat."

PART 6

Elizabeth sat at the control console, looking down over the reddish glaze that covered much of the gateroom's floor. It seemed to match the mood of some of the people whom she had the misfortune to have to monitor. Over the past hour, McKay had been instructing Zelenka on how to fix the DHD to remove the bizarre force field. The patience of some people involved was wearing thinner than her uncle's bald spot.

"Come on, Zelenka. There's got to be something in the DHD that's erecting that force field," sniped McKay.

"Oh, please, then come through the gate and point it out to me!" shot back Zelenka's angry voice.

"He's not cut out for field work," McKay muttered aside to Weir.

"I heard that," came Zelenka's irate response.

"Will you two stop arguing?" interjected Sheppard. "Geez, I'm the one who ran into an electrified brick wall."

"How are you feeling, major?" asked Beckett.

The sound of a heavy sigh shot over the radio. "The same as when you asked five minutes ago, and an hour ago, Carson. I'm fine."

"Well, I'd like to be the judge of that," replied Beckett.

"Believe me, there's nothing I'd like better than to get poked and prodded on Atlantis than to sit here on soggy, er, plants," confessed Sheppard.

"I've got witnesses to those words, son," Beckett grinned.

"Yeah, and I'm sure you're recording this for posterity, too," replied Sheppard.

McKay focused on the schematics on the computer screen in front of him. "Now just cross the wire – B11 – to the white crystal," he continued sharply.

Weir listened to the back and forth banter between the two scientists. They often argued, quite vociferously, but there was a bit more tension now, even then when the two hurricanes had been bearing down in the city in a potential cataclysm they'd never before witnessed. "Rodney," she said lightly, but warningly, under her breath. He shot a scowl her way, but relented. He drew a deep breath. "And that should do it," he added, in a more agreeable tone.

"About time," Sheppard's thankful voice rang out.

"I agree," said Weir.

"Crossing… now," said Zelenka.

"Yes!" shouted Sheppard gleefully. "That damn shield's gone."

"Ha!" McKay grinned victoriously at Weir in that 'I-told-you-so' expression to which she was much accustomed. She smiled back happily and nodded.

"We'll be waiting for you, major, Dr. Zelenka," she said.

"Coming through in a sec," came Sheppard's voice. "Can't wait to—"

A clamorous burst of static charged over the radio. Elizabeth tore the earpiece from her head as she listened to the sound rapidly dissipate. She shot a shocked look at McKay. "Major? Dr. Zelenka?" she called back. From the corner of her eye, she saw horrifying comprehension dawn on McKay's suddenly pale face. He was about to speak when she motioned him to be quiet. There was nothing they could do on their end but wait. "Major?" she tried again.

A voice pierced the silence. It was strong, but with an undeniable undercurrent of fear. "The field erected again," said Zelenka darkly. "The major was thrown back. He is unconscious, but he is alive."

Weir exchanged a worried glance with Beckett. Both knew that receiving that kind of jolt twice, and in such close succession, could not be good for Sheppard.

"It should have worked." McKay sounded lost as he sat down and stared at the schematics that had failed him.

Weir didn't know what to say, that's because McKay usually did come up with the eleventh hour fixes that had saved all their collective backsides time and again. She offered a small and encouraging smile, but also knew the internal guilt was going to chew on him now until the two men walked back through that gate.

A minute later, a rumbling noise came over the radio, accompanied by voices they couldn't make out. "No, I don't think," came Zelenka's stern voice, followed more static. Then dead silence.

"Major?" Both Weir's and McKay's concerned voices collided.

"Gimme that," sounded an irate voice in the distance. Weir relaxed her grip on the console. Sheppard was awake. "Dammit, McKay, when I get back to Atlantis, I'm gonna break your other leg."

"What?" squeaked McKay in horror.

"Major," said Weir in a sotto warning.

"Ow, shit," moaned Sheppard, and then Zelenka's voice cut in. "You must understand, the major is a bit … upset. The force field appears to leave a residual effect of … pain."

"No, I'll break his fingers," continued Sheppard in a harsh tone. "Cross the B11 wire, my—"

"AND," said Zelenka rather loudly, drowning out the rest of Sheppard's threat. "It is getting dark."

"You're proposing to stay there the night?" said Weir.

"No," said Sheppard sarcastically, his voice a bit stronger. "I'll just wait till I get back on my feet and ram my head into the force field again. I'm sure it'll crack eventually."

McKay looked mortified at the insane suggestion, but Weir just knew that Sheppard had assessed what little options he had and hated all of them. And she also knew it had been a stupid thing to say on her part.

"I think we should try again," said Zelenka.

"WHAT?" everybody's voice chorused together.

"Not from our end, major." Zelenka sounded a little worried. Weir could only imagine the angry look the major had to be directing at the smaller Czech scientist. "We should see if this force field is only trapping us here. I am not suggesting that you send anyone through. No, of course not, but a MALP to establish communications would be good."

"We'll hole up back at the lab," added Sheppard. "Gee, it'll be just like a Motel 6."

"I would suggest sending something through that is of no value, first, to determine the viability of the experiment," suggested Zelenka.

"Crap, I don't want Kavanagh stuck here with us," groused Sheppard.

"Major," Weir hissed in warning.

"Did I say that out loud?" muttered Sheppard too innocently. "Must be brain damage from being fried too many times."

"Of course." Weir arched an eyebrow at the Stargate. There was no love lost between Sheppard and the arrogant scientist. Sheppard had somewhat understood Kavanagh's line of thought for his scientific reasoning during the entire 38-minute-Wraith-bug-stuck-in-the-Stargate incident, but he'd been much less than understanding when Elizabeth had accidentally let slip that Kavanagh had been ticked off – and had wasted precious minutes – with being more concerned about how his people viewed him than with saving lives. Sheppard never made mention of it again, at Elizabeth's promise, but every once in a while she'd see him cast a rather odd glance at the tall scientist. Maybe he was deciding if he was going to take the complaining scientist off on a mission and abandon him on a planet.

Once Sheppard was able to get to his feet, they shut the gate down and reopened it from Atlantis' side. Sheppard had griped about Atlantis dumping its garbage on other worlds when someone had simply tossed through a crumpled piece of paper, which unfortunately, didn't reach far enough to hit where the force field's radius had shimmered.

A PowerBar was the next item, sailing high up in the air. Sheppard caught it expertly. He ripped it opened, giving half to Zelenka while he devoured the rest. So they at least knew the force field only prevented outgoing traffic, but there no way they'd risk stranding anyone else.

Sheppard ran off a list of items for Atlantis to send through – mostly survival supplies such as sleeping bags, food, etc. – as he was sure they were going to be there at least a day, if not more. As the sun set further and further into the distance, the forest was coming alive with the sounds of many unfamiliar and noisy creatures. Sheppard had no plans for either him or Zelenka to be caught by something large and hungry.

Weir opted to have the mini-MALP sent through. Rodney still ground his teeth at that term, assigned by Sheppard rather sarcastically during the device's unveiling on one mission. It was a simple, small, bare-bones version of the MALP, with audio and video capabilities. Not incredibly weatherproof, which is why they sent it through with a ziplock baggie. It would still function, but could short out from the excessive humidity.

That tiny MALP would enable them to send back signals from the Ancient compound they'd found, and not risk the precious few real MALPs that remained. Atlantis would re-establish contact first thing in the morning. The sign-off was tense. Weir knew that they could do nothing more, that Zelenka would be safe with Sheppard standing at guard, but Rodney was visibly worried for both his friends, and no doubt feeling guilty that if hadn't broken his leg, it would be him on that planet with Sheppard, and he'd have that problem fixed in no time flat.


"Get some sleep, Dr. Zelenka."

"No, no, I should study the schematics," he insisted. "I have them along with me on the laptop."

"And the laptop is going to be there in the morning when we've got actual light to work by at the gate," said Sheppard. Did all scientists insist on bringing laptops to alien worlds, even if they couldn't plug them in? Maybe they were the scientist version of a security blanket. "Besides, I still have a slight headache from that invisible fence somebody put up, so I don't think I'll get much sleep anyway."

"Are you all right?" Zelenka looked concerned, and Sheppard thought, a bit afraid. First time out on a mission he gets stuck on a planet with no way to get home, and his protector was a bit wobbly on his feet from nearly getting electrocuted.

"I'll make sure that if I pass out, I'll do it within earshot," grinned Sheppard.

Zelenka's eyes widened dramatically, to the point that Sheppard thought they might dwarf the man's glasses.

"I'm not going to pass out," Sheppard quickly reassured the man. He had to remind himself that Zelenka didn't quite have McKay's sardonic sense of humor. Weir might get ticked off if he brought Zelenka back as a total basketcase.

Zelenka just nodded and unfurled his sleeping bag. They seemed unnecessary in the oppressive heat and dampness, yet sleeping on the hard floor or any other surface wasn't very desirable. As Zelenka settled in on the soft mattress, Sheppard grabbed a spot on the floor near the door, the Life Signs Detector in hand. He turned off the small lantern they'd had shipped through, letting the detector provide the illumination. He looked at the dim moonlight streaming in through the thick glass-blocked windows on the ceiling above. At any other time, he might have called it mood lighting, as the blue tones softened the harshness of the old facility. Sheppard was sure the forest was alive with all sorts of wildlife, but all he was concerned with were the big ones, with teeth, that were looking for a nice midnight snack. He'd secured the door, but one could never be too careful.

Sheppard relaxed against the hard wall, scratching idly at an itch on his arm.


And that's it for the first day of Sheppard and Zelenka's not-so-excellent adventure. If you think they've got problems, you're right! To Klenotka - thanks for the tip. Got that glaring error fixed!