A/N: This can be read as a standalone story, but it is a sequel to my previous story Paranoiac GQ. I hope you enjoy it, and toss me a review.
Many, many thanks to my beta Rodlox (aka Keenir, aka Babnol). He made my first beta experience very easy, and extremely helpful.
Sheppard stuck his head out of the conference room door and looked up and down the corridor. Determining the coast was clear he slipped out of the room. He had been medically cleared for duty after three long weeks of inactivity. Now, after a quick stop in his quarters, he was headed to the jumper bay and freedom. He didn't want anything or anyone to delay his departure.
He stopped and tossed back his head with a grimace. The cane he clasped in one hand slid through his fingers until he was holding the crooked head and the rubber tip was on the floor. He performed a crisp 'about face.'
"Colonel, I allowed you back on limited duty with the proviso that you used that cane. Carrying it around propped against your shoulder is nae doing your leg a bit of good." The exasperated Scot crossed his arms, waiting to hear the latest excuse for why his medical orders did not need to be followed.
Sheppard flashed a smile.
"Honestly, Doc, I really don't think I need it anymore. The leg doesn't hurt, and I'm not limping anymore. Didn't even get a twinge when I went for a run this morning."
He realized immediately that he had said too much.
"Well, it was more like a slow jog. And it was just once around the south pier."
The doctor gritted his teeth, and pointed in the opposite direction of the personal quarters.
"The infirmary. Now."
"Doc, I don't have time right now. I'm flying -"
"You're nae going anywhere, lad, until I've determined that you've nae ruined all the hard work I've put into fixing that leg." He began urging the younger man back down the hallway. "Use the damned cane."
"I'm not a child," Sheppard muttered. He made a half-hearted show of leaning on the cane every other step.
"Then you should damn well stop acting like one. You lost over three pints of blood. You were a week in the infirmary, including two days running a temperature over 102. I had to re-open the wound twice to clean out wood splinters and debride it. The stitches have barely been out a week. You might consider letting it heal completely before starting to abuse it again."
They turned into the infirmary, and the doctor waved his patient toward an exam table.
"Off with your trousers and up on the table."
Sheppard threw the hated cane onto the exam table, and leaned over to unlace his boots. A grimace crossed his face as the muscles running down the back of his thigh spasmed when stretched. He made sure his face was blank when he straightened back up. His holster and 9-mil came off next, then his pants, and he hopped up on the table clad all in black – socks, boxers and uniform shirt.
The doctor wheeled an instrument tray around to the end of the bed, and picked up the blood pressure cuff. Sheppard obediently offered his arm, but stared at the array of sharp implements in dismay.
"Uhm, Doc? What are all those needles for?"
Beckett smiled as he began squeezing the bulb to inflate the cuff. "I have nae decided yet."
Sheppard sighed and reached up to key his comm mike. "Dr. Weir?"
"Yes, John? Are you still in the City? I thought you were scheduled to fly Dr. Baxter and her group to the research site on Merar." The Atlantis expedition leader sounded surprised.
"Yes, I'm still here. Carson wanted to check my leg before I left. Would you mind contacting McKay and let the research group know I'll be a few minutes late? Ouch! Damn it, Doc."
"Carson? I thought you had already cleared Colonel Sheppard."
"Yes, Elizabeth. The colonel decided to over-exercise his leg this morning, against medical advice. I'm just checking to be sure he has nae negated all my hard work. Rollover on your belly, Colonel, I want to see the back of your leg. I should be through with him in a few minutes, Elizabeth."
"Very well. John, I'll let Rodney know you'll be along shortly. And Carson, be sure to copy me on the Colonel's status. Weir out."
"Oh, great, Doc. Now you've gotten Elizabeth mad at me. Ouch!"
"Don't be such a baby, Colonel. You can sit up now and get dressed." The doctor started making notes on his electronic notepad. He watched the other man grimace when bending and stretching the leg to pull on his trousers and fasten his boots.
"There's some minor swelling and inflammation around the entry wound on the back of your thigh. I want you to come to me immediately if you notice any more swelling or bruising, or if there is persistent pain. You can take short walks, no running; otherwise I want you off the leg as much as possible. Do I make myself clear, laddie?"
"Yeah, Doc, you do. You don't need to worry I'll over do it today. We're short of available pilots, so I'm just taking a load of scientists and equipment to Merar, and then coming straight back. So, I'm cleared to fly?"
"Aye, as long as you don't do any lifting. But I want to see you tomorrow morning, first thing." The doctor watched Sheppard disappear into the corridor, then cursed when he realized the man had left the cane behind.
Sheppard muttered to himself as he limped into the jumper bay twenty minutes later. His leg had not been bothering him too much before Beckett got hold of him, but it was definitely throbbing now. Nothing made a barely healed wound ache like an irritated doctor prodding at it. He had been afraid to ask for an aspirin, intimidated by Carson's ostentatious display of large bore needles.
He rounded the end of Jumper One and hopped up on the lowered ramp. He immediately staggered, almost falling over the equipment cases cluttering the aisle in the rear section of the jumper.
"Oh, Colonel Sheppard, let me move that for you." Dr. Helen Baxter, a woman of Amazonian proportions, picked up the large box he had just stubbed his toe on, and stacked it on top of a pile already shoulder high. She was the head of the small zoology and xenobiology team going to Merar to study the crall in their natural environment.
A breeding pair of the birds had been imported from Merar to the mainland a few months earlier. The pair had been expected to grow to the size of a large turkey. When the Atlantis expedition had been invited to inspect the birds three weeks ago they had been surprised to find the crall were now the size of ostriches, and weighed over 150 pounds each. An accident during the inspection had ended with the male of the breeding pair dead and Sheppard, McKay and an Athosian in the infirmary.
The Atlantis scientists were now trying to determine what had caused the exceptional growth, and whether or not it was safe to keep the birds.
"That's okay, Dr. Baxter." Sheppard looked at the stacks of equipment. "Do you need help getting this stuff strapped down?"
"No, no, we're almost finished back here." She shoved her glasses back up her nose and tossed her carrot-colored braid over her shoulder. "Micky and Mason are just bringing in a couple more cases and then we'll be good to go."
"All right, let me know when you're ready." Sheppard inched sideways down the aisle to the cockpit. "Morning, McKay. You ready to meet Birdzilla's hometown cousins?"
"Oh, ha-ha, how amusing. Carson brought you a present." The scientist reached down and retrieved the cane, passing it over to the colonel. "Why weren't you here to receive it yourself? I had to listen to Carson's lecture for you. As if I didn't have enough anxiety about meeting up with more of those man-eating birds. He mentioned needles several times."
Sheppard tossed the cane on the floor at his feet, then unclipped his P-90, checked that the safety was on, and stowed it there also.
"I had to go to my quarters to get my gear after Beckett finished with me. What do you mean 'man eating'? Have they developed a new habit I haven't heard about?"
"No, she hasn't actually taken a bite out of anyone yet, but I know it's just a matter of time. What else is she going to use that nasty, big, pointy beak for?" McKay watched the Colonel sit down in the pilot's chair, then almost immediately get back to his feet. "What are you doing? I know you have an indecent amount of energy, but can't you sit still for one minute?"
Sheppard leaned down to rub the back of his leg and adjust the thigh straps on the holster. He tried sitting again, but ended up scooting forward so that the leg was not resting on the seat.
"Carson spent five minutes jabbing at my wound. It's sore." He flexed the leg, and adjusted the straps again. Maybe, he mused to himself, he should switch to a holster with a single thigh strap until the leg finished healing.
A man and another woman, presumably Dr.s Micky and Mason Parkinson, had arrived with more cases. The Parkinsons were brother and sister, xenobiologists who had been working at the SGC prior to transferring to Atlantis. They had been among the first batch of new scientists that arrived on the Daedalus' second trip from Earth.
The Parkinsons and Dr. Baxter were shifting the piles of cases, and using nylon webbing to secure them to the jumper's sides. Dr. Baxter, who towered over the younger scientists, was being very careful with the placement.
"I thought they had already loaded everything they needed last night," Sheppard said, gesturing to the rear.
McKay glanced back while pulling a powerbar out of his vest and ripping it open.
"They had, but when we got word you were going to be late they decided to grab some more equipment. They're going to be out at the research site for a few days, getting the experiment set up. After that they'll be taking turns staying on site to monitor and record results."
"Looks like they're planning on being there for months. Isn't that a naquadah generator's case? There's one already at the site, isn't there, keeping the shield going?"
McKay shrugged, chewing.
"Baxter requested a backup. Elizabeth approved it, but I can't see them needing it. You know, the babies out on the mainland are about the size of a Labrador Retriever now. I'm telling you we should just have a big barbeque, and chalk this up as a failed experiment."
A crooked grin tugged at Sheppard's lips. "But I'm still hoping for a buffalo wings franchise."
McKay made a moaning noise as he stuffed the last of his powerbar into his mouth.
"Mmmmm, that is one of the things I miss the most here on Atlantis. There was a Mom and Pop place down the street from my apartment. They made the best wings. They had this sweet and hot Thai chili sauce that was to die for."
"You're killing me here, McKay."
"I wonder if I could bribe someone on the Daedalus to pick me up a few dozen. They should keep in the freezer, right?"
Before Sheppard could reply Dr. Baxter and the other female scientist squeezed their way into the cockpit. The red-headed scientist fanned herself with her billed cap as she dropped into one of the free seats.
"All loaded. Time to go."
Sheppard got up to double-check the tie-downs. As he inched past the corner where the male scientist had managed to wedge himself, he could feel a glare burning into his back. He finished his inspection then turned back toward the cockpit. He flashed an apologetic smile.
"No offense meant, Doctor. It's a pilot thing, making a last check. If that load decided to shift while we were in the air, it wouldn't be pretty."
The glare wavered and the young scientist nodded. Sheppard gave a mental shrug and settled back into his seat. As soon as his back was turned there was a scuffling noise followed by a masculine exclamation of pain.
"Damn it, quit kicking me."
"I will when you stop acting like such a horse's ass."
"Now, children, do I need to separate you two? Again?" Dr. Baxter's annoyed voice cut off the hissing argument between the younger scientists. "Please forgive my colleagues, Colonel Sheppard. They're siblings, and sometimes forget they're not ten years old anymore."
"I apologize for my brother, Colonel. Mason's always hated having his work double-checked."
Sheppard flicked a quick glance at McKay, who was pretending to ignore the interchange, and smiled over his shoulder to his passengers.
"It's not a problem, Doctor. I've gotten used to scientists' eccentricities over the past year." He looked over the team of scientists again, and frowned. "Is this your first time off planet, Dr. Baxter?"
"Yes, it is. When my team originally looked at the crall, we had specimens brought to Atlantis for study and quarantine before sending them to the mainland. I'm really looking forward to observing the crall in their natural habitat."
"Where are your sidearms, Doctor? You are aware of the regulation that all personnel, military and civilian, are to be armed at all times when off world?"
"We packed what we were issued. But the Merar are a trading partner. Surely we don't need to wear them all the time?"
McKay cleared his throat and took over the safety lecture. "Unfortunately, Doctor, we have had several trading partners turn out to be not so trustworthy. Plus the Wraith are still out there. And you will be working outside of the town, so there will be wildlife and stuff. As soon as we land, I want you to unpack your sidearms and put them on."
"All right, Dr. McKay, but I really don't think they will be needed."
"Here's hoping you're right. Captain Bingham and her team will be remaining at the site with you. Just remember that you are not to leave the site without a military escort. Colonel, are we going to stay parked here all day or are we going birdwatching?"
Sheppard grinned at McKay's officiousness, powered up the jumper and opened the bay's door to the 'gate room.
"So sorry to keep you waiting, Rodney. Atlantis, this is Jumper One. We're good to go on a 'gate launch to Merar."
"Understood, Jumper One. Safe flight."
"Thank you, Atlantis. See you tonight. Jumper One out. Dial her up, McKay."
The jumper sank into the 'gate room and accelerated smoothly through the stargate.
Emerging at the other end they were greeted by a view of gently rolling hills. Sheppard turned the jumper to the northwest, and started gaining altitude to clear the first in a long range of mountains.
"This looks just like Earth." Micky murmured, sounding somewhat disappointed.
Sheppard flashed a grin over his shoulder. "Well, trees are pretty much trees everywhere, but something always comes along to prove you aren't on Earth anymore."
He gestured to the right side of the windshield. He enjoyed watching the wonder dawn on her face as the gas giant that Merar orbited came into view, the muted red- and yellow-streaked globe growing to fill a quarter of the visible horizon.
After a few miles, the mountains became higher and the trees fewer. They had been traveling for fifteen minutes and had just crossed over a small mountain lake when there was a loud BANG! and the jumper shook as though hit.
"What the hell!" McKay, who had been dozing in his seat, jerked upright.
The scanner display appeared, although it wasn't really needed. Sheppard visually tracked several fiery streaks. After a quick look at the display, he cursed and changed to the diagnostics.
"Flew into a damned meteor shower. I'm losing power in the drive pods. Can you do anything with that?"
"No, the panels I need to get at are behind the pile of cases," McKay said, watching in fascinated horror as a half dozen meteors flashed past the jumper.
"See if you can raise Bingham, give her our position."
The other three scientists were throwing non-stop questions at him and each other, the hysteria level rising steadily. Another crack echoed through the vehicle. The jumper suddenly tilted thirty degrees, then straightened out again as Sheppard wrestled with the controls. This maneuver caused the questions to turn to startled shrieks. Dr. Baxter lurched to her feet and headed toward the rear compartment.
"Quiet!" Sheppard's bellow cut through the hysterical babbling behind him. "Inertial dampeners are gone and the power is still dropping. Everyone get into the cockpit and seated, now."
"But, Colonel, there's still… "
"Now, Doctor, into the cockpit and sit. I don't have time for debate." Sheppard scanned the ground ahead. Unfortunately, they were headed down a rocky slope that continued for the next three and a half miles. Beyond that there was a brief grassy area with a lake and then more woods.
Mason stumbled into the cockpit area, pushing Dr. Baxter in front of him. After getting her seated, he squeezed himself between his sister's and McKay's seats. Micky reached down and he clasped her hand in both of his, giving it a reassuring pat.
As soon as Mason and Dr. Baxter were seated Sheppard sent a command to close and lock the bulkhead door.
"McKay, did you get through to Bingham?"
"Briefly. I got out a 'Mayday' before I lost the contact, but I didn't get a chance to give our position. I think that next mountain is in the way."
"She knows to start the search, that's something. Okay, people, we're going to be touching down any second now. I hope to make it past this slope before losing all power. It's going to be very bumpy regardless. Brace yourselves."
Sheppard kept scanning the landscape ahead, having to make continual adjustments to keep the craft on course. Years ago he had heard the NASA shuttle described as a flying brick. When he began flying the jumper, he had made a number of powerless flights, under controlled conditions, to determine how the craft handled. He had decided that the jumper and the shuttle had a lot in common.
The power failed with a quarter mile of rock-covered slope left. The jumper immediately started dropping.
"Everyone hang on," Sheppard called out. He struggled with the controls – damned power steering without the power. He silently thanked the Ancient who had designed the drive pods to automatically retract when power was lost. He heard Dr. Baxter start humming "Amazing Grace" behind him, and had to fight off an inappropriate urge to laugh.
The jumper hit the ground only a few dozen yards short of clearing the scree. The craft gave several jarring bounces, and rolled over on its side while sliding toward the water.
Sheppard was thrown to his knees between his seat and the control console. His view of the rapidly approaching water was abruptly cut off as first McKay and then Baxter, both of them screaming, landed on top of him. His head slammed into the console, and the breath whooshed out of his lungs when a knee slammed into his diaphragm. He heard Baxter and McKay still yelling, but now it was at each other. In the background he could hear the cases in the rear compartment breaking free of their restraints, and thanked God he had closed the bulkhead door.
The nose of the jumper suddenly dropped. It came to an abrupt halt, tilted at an angle and listing to starboard. The colonel, free of the weighty scientists, was tossed onto the windshield. Micky and Mason, who had managed to cling to her seat throughout the wild ride, lost their grasp and fell on top of him, as did every other piece of loose equipment in the compartment. The last thing to land, thumping his right kneecap, was the cane.
Sheppard closed his eyes and let the world turn to black.
Captain Sarah Bingham adjusted the focus on her binoculars, watching a family of cralls slowly eating their way down a stand of berry brambles. Fat legged turkeys she thought, watching as the male stuck his head into a tangle of brambles in search of a berry and the subsequent thrashing when he tried to remove it. Apparently they were just a smart as the Earth fowl.
She and her team had been on planet for the past week, negotiating with the locals for the research site, and to have a number of cralls at various stages of development delivered to the scientific research team. They had just finished setting up the pens requested by the scientists this morning, and she had decided to take an extended lunch and explore the surrounding countryside before the expected arrival of her charges, human and crall, this afternoon.
She reached up to key her comm mike without looking away from the family picnic.
"Sir, we just got a Mayday from Jumper One."
Before he had completed his sentence, she was on her feet and headed back toward the camp. She stuffed the binoculars into the front of her vest, and cradled her P-90 to keep it from getting in the way as she ran.
"Did they give their position?"
"No, sir. Dr. McKay just managed to call the Mayday before the contact faded."
"Okay, Thomson. Keep that line open in case they manage to reestablish contact, and start scanning for the distress beacon. Call Smith and Harroldsen back to camp. Get any gear you think will be helpful for a rescue into the jumper. I'm roughly a half-mile out, should be there in three to four minutes."
"Yes, sir. We'll be ready."
She keyed off her mike while jumping over a fallen tree. A low-lying tangle of branches on the other side caused her to stumble, the curses that burst out her making her glad she had remembered to turn off the mike.
Three minutes later, she reached the camp. She didn't slow down until she was headed up the ramp into the jumper. Thomson was already in the pilot's seat, powering up the craft. Harroldsen and Smith were stowing gear in the web nets clipped to the walls of the rear compartment. She paused while unclipping her P-90, glanced over the equipment and rope they had chosen. Nodding in approval, she stepped into the cockpit and sat in the co-pilot's seat.
"Thomson, have you had any further voice contact or picked up the distress beacon?" When she received a negative reply, she ordered the jumper to take off. "First thing is to get high enough to dial the 'gate and let Atlantis know what's going on."
Thomason sent a command to close the ramp. A moment later the jumper was in the air and heading southeast.
The stargate activated and the sound of the City's klaxon filled the air. Elizabeth Weir glanced at her watch, and then her schedule. She was already rising from her desk as she'd confirmed no teams were expected back at this time. As always she had to restrain herself from running out to the control room. Sometimes being the leader and having to present a calm front was very difficult for her. She had just reached the communications board when Captain Bingham's voice came over the speakers.
"Atlantis base, this is Jumper Four.
A cold feeling began to spread in her belly. Weir touched the communications specialist's shoulder, indicating she would answer.
"This is Dr. Weir, Captain. What seems to be the problem?"
"Ma'am, approximately ten minutes ago we received a Mayday from Jumper One. They were not able to give their location before we lost contact, and we haven't picked up the jumper's distress beacon. We're going to initiate a search as soon as we sign off with you."
"Do you require assistance, Captain?"
"Not at this time, Atlantis. If the Colonel was flying straight to the site, wasn't off the flight path for any reason, it should be a fairly easy matter to spot them. We'll let you know what is needed after we find them and assess the situation."
"Understood. I'll have Major Lorne's team standing by, and let medical know to expect casualties. Atlantis out."
"Roger. Jumper Four out."
The sound of the wormhole closing seemed especially loud. Weir rubbed her hands up and down her upper arms, stared down at the stargate for a few moments. Without turning, she asked the communications specialist – Michaels, she recalled – to connect her to Major Lorne.
"Major Lorne, we've just gotten word that Sheppard's jumper has gone down on Merar. Captain Bingham is conducting a search right now. I want you to have a team standing by, ready to assist in any rescue operations."
"Yes, ma'am. Do we have any particulars yet?"
"No, nothing yet. Bingham's group lost contact with Jumper One before they could give their position. The captain will contact us when she finds them, or if she needs help with the search."
"Understood. I'll have a team ready in the jumper bay within twenty minutes. Ah, Dr. Weir, would you like me to send someone out to the mainland research site to inform Teyla and Ronon?"
Elizabeth felt embarrassed at the relief that passed through her mind, one less worry to have to deal with.
"Thank you, Major, I would appreciate it. Weir out. Michaels, would you get Dr. Beckett for me, please?"
Worried and restless, she paced along the balcony circling the 'gate room while waiting for Carson. How many times had she followed this same path waiting for word of Sheppard and his team? The other teams also had their misadventures, caused her to worry. But cocky, caring Sheppard, impatient McKay, serene Teyla and now the formidable Ronon had become special to her, to all of Atlantis. And for some unknown reason they seemed to attract more than their share of trouble.
After a five minute wait that felt like an eternity, Becket finally answered her call.
"I'm sorry I could nae talk with you earlier, Elizabeth. I've been stitching up Corporal Peter's head. What can I do for you?"
"Carson, Sheppard's jumper has gone down on Merar. Captain Bingham's team is searching for them now. I need you to have a team ready to go through the 'gate with Major Lorne's team. He's staging in the jumper bay right now."
"I'll have equipment and an assistant in the bay within five minutes. Ahh, do we know if he had dropped off his passengers yet?"
"No, Carson, they hadn't made it to the research site. So it's Sheppard, Rodney, Helen Baxter and the Parkinson twins in the jumper."
"Okay, Elizabeth. We'll be ready. And don't worry, lass. I'm sure they'll make it through."
"Thank you, Carson."
Elizabeth returned to her pacing. She could feel the stares of the people in the control room. The usual chatter which went on constantly had stopped. She really should go into her office, or at least make more of an effort not to project her anxiety. This was definitely not Stoic Leader behavior.
She reached the end of the balcony and stared out at the silent 'gate, silently urging it to come to life. She felt movement behind her and a hand squeezed her shoulder as a warm Scottish burr broke the silence.
"I'd offer you a tranquilizer, lass, but I know you would nae touch it. So, I thought I would just wait with you."
A small smile touched Elizabeth's lips as she turned.
"Thank you, Carson. You always have a calming presence."
She noticed that he had changed to the dark grey, off-world uniform and was wearing the ubiquitous utility vest and 9-mil sidearm.
"Are you going with Major Lorne's team?"
He smiled and took her arm, steering her back toward her office.
"Aye. You know how Rodney gets if another doctor tries to treat him. I just thought I'd save everyone a little anxiety and go myself, then. Is there any tea in the pot? I could do with a cup."
Grateful for something to do besides worry and pace, Elizabeth set about making a pot of tea. She tried to extend the process, but eventually had to hand Carson a mug. She carried her own mug back to her desk, twirled the chair so that it faced the 'gate and curled up in the deep seat. Carson wrestled a chair into position and joined her in sipping tea and staring. After a few moments she looked over at the doctor.
"Thank you, Carson."
"You're very welcome, Elizabeth."
Sheppard slowly became aware of people arguing, and finally sorted out McKay and Dr. Baxter as the culprits. He couldn't understand why they had come into his quarters to hold this argument, but wished they would go away so he could go back to sleep. He had a pounding headache and his whole body felt sore. His mattress felt awfully hard, and he wondered if that was the cause of the soreness. He tried to shift to a more comfortable position, and realized that his bed was not only too hard, but it was wet as well. Irritated, he finally opened his eyes. And the sight of the jumper's walls brought memories flooding back.
He glanced carefully around the cockpit, as even moving just his eyes caused pain to flare in his head. McKay and Baxter were standing, or rather leaning, on the pilot's side of the cabin. Each had one hand pressed against the outer wall to help keep them from tipping over on the awkwardly canted floor. The forefingers of their free hands were being vigorously shaken in the face of their opponent. Except for some scrapes and incipient bruises, and a rather spectacular goose egg on McKay's forehead, they looked to have survived the crash intact.
"If you had only listened… hell, if you had only stopped to think for a moment - "
"How dare you take that tone - "
Sheppard grimaced at the strident voices, and continued to run his eyes around the dimly-lit enclosure. The jumper appeared to be tilted at approximately a forty degree angle with the nose down, and then canted to the starboard.
Seated on the console on the other side of the cockpit were Micky and Mason. They had the First Aid kit open and Mason was applying butterfly bandages to a cut just under his sister's eye. He had an ace bandage wrapped around his left hand and wrist.
"Hey." Surprised at the hoarse tones, Sheppard cleared his throat and tried again. "Mason, Micky, are you all right?" The raspy quality didn't improve and swallowing was distinctly unpleasant.
Mason looked over at him, and smiled in relief. He pulled an icepack out of the med-kit, activated it and handed it to Micky, who held it against the swelling eye.
"You're awake, Colonel. We were beginning to get worried. Except for some cuts and bruises, we seem to be doing ok. Unfortunately, I think we all used you as a cushion during the landing. How are you feeling?"
"I'm good. How long since we crashed?" He tried to check the time on his watch, but it kept fading in and out of focus, along with everything else in the jumper.
"Only about fifteen minutes. You've got a couple of black eyes that are swelling; let me get you an icepack."
"No, I'm fine for now. What are those two arguing about?" He pointed toward his feet.
"It started because Dr. Baxter got impatient and tried to open the bulkhead door."
He gestured over his shoulder. Sheppard looked up and if there had been any color in his face, it would have drained away. The bulkhead door was partially open and the gap was filled with packing cases.
"Luckily it jammed before more than a couple of cases fell through, one of which narrowly missed your head. Dr. McKay pulled the control crystals for the door so it won't move, and those two have been going at it ever since. Dr. Baxter always enjoys a good argument; you know what they say about red-heads." His grin disappeared as Micky slapped the back of his head.
"What's sexist about that? Dad has red hair, and he's the same way. Geez, Mick, you need to work on your sense of humor."
Sheppard tuned out the squabbling siblings and glanced down – over? – at McKay. He was having a difficult time focusing, and had to fight the urge to close his eyes and drift back into unconsciousness.
McKay's head was no longer tilted at the arrogant angle usually reserved for royalty toward the common people, and his arms were not being kept close to his body but were gesturing widely. Sheppard decided McKay had had enough time to work off the worst of his anxiety.
His low rasp was ignored. He drew a deep breath, ignored the pain this caused, and tried again.
His attempt at a bellow fell short of his usual effort, but still succeeded, not only in silencing the argument, but also in triggering a cough that caused a stabbing pain in his throat and made the abused muscles of his torso spasm. Groaning, he rolled onto his side in an attempt to ease the pain. Immediately pain exploded in his head and traveled down his neck and shoulders. Vertigo caused the jumper and its occupants to tilt and contort sickeningly, and suddenly he was retching.
He sensed movement around him, and then hands were there. One held his head; the other circled his waist, providing support as he heaved uncontrollably. He heard McKay talking to him, but couldn't make out the words. He kept his eyes closed, praying that the torture would end soon. With each retching spasm it felt as if broken glass was being dragged up his esophagus, and there was a coppery taste in the back of his throat.
The spasms finally ended and he slumped limply in the supporting arms. He heard McKay call Mason over, and the two of them picked him up. A moment later he felt them laying him down again.
"No, Rodney." He pushed feebly at the hand holding his shoulder down. "I need to sit up."
"Colonel, I don't know what medical voodoo school you went to, but you are in no condition to be sitting up. Now listen to Dr. Rodney and lie back like a good boy."
Sheppard opened his eyes and tried to smile reassuringly.
"McKay, I probably have a concussion, whiplash, bruises on my bruises and my throat feels like I swallowed razors. I'm not going to feel any better if I lay down. Please, just prop me up against something, roll up my jacket to help support my neck, and then explain to me why my backside is all wet."
The two men stared at one another. Finally McKay nodded in agreement.
"Fine, you can sit up, but I'm telling Carson you made me do it."
"I always knew you were a tattletale, McKay." Sheppard smiled to take the sting out of the words.
A few minutes later Sheppard leaned his head back against his rolled-up jacket and waited for the pounding to subside. When he finally opened his eyes he found McKay still crouched by his side. The other scientists were huddled together on the far side of the cabin.
"So, McKay, besides that lovely goose egg, are you okay?"
The other man snorted. "Baxter landed on top of me when we tipped up at the end. I probably have cracked ribs and internal injuries, thank you for asking. Then she scared ten years off of my life when she tried to open that door. She said she wanted to see if we could climb out. Idiot. You're damned lucky there wasn't enough power left to allow the bulkhead to open all the way or you'd be at the bottom of a mountain of cases. I pulled the crystals so the door won't move any further even if the power should suddenly return, which is doubtful."
Sheppard stared at the cases crammed into the opening in the doorway.
"Are you sure those boxes won't come crashing down on us? I don't want to risk anyone moving around in here if they might work themselves loose."
"No. They're wedged in pretty tight. It would take deliberate manipulation to get them free."
"Good. Now tell my why it's wet in here."
"The jumper ended up in the lake. I guess you missed it, what with everyone piling on you. The front end slid over the embankment and ended up nose down in the lake. The rear seems to be pretty firmly planted up on the embankment. Luckily it's pretty shallow right here. I guess the seal around the windshield is sprung – or maybe a meteor punched through – and water is getting in, but it shouldn't get very deep. I don't think it'll get above six to ten centimeters at the deepest. We're still getting natural light in through the section of the windshield that isn't in the water."
"Fine. Do we have any power? Communications? Did the distress beacon go off?"
McKay looked uncomfortable. His left thumb and forefinger rubbed together as the wrist twisted from side to side. Sheppard reached out and patted the other man's shoulder.
"None of this is your fault, Rodney. I'm fairly sure meteors fall under the heading of natural disaster." Even if his paranoia demon was laughing at him. "Just let me know what we have to work with here."
The scientist took a deep breath and nodded.
"There's no power, not until I can get into the rear compartment and figure out what was damaged, and maybe not even then. It depends. No power means no communications, no diagnostics. The beacon does have its own backup power source, but I have no idea if it activated, as it's in the rear."
McKay tilted his head and looked around the cockpit. "In this compartment we have five people, four of whom are relatively fit, and the clothes on their backs. We have one P-90, two 9-mils, one combat knife, and at least two Swiss Army knives that I know of. I have my electronic notepad in my backpack. Two cases with busted lab equipment. No water, unless we scoop it off of the console. I have three power bars in my vest." He picked up the colonel's vest from where he had tossed it earlier and went through the pockets quickly. "One bandana. A spare comm. Ah-ha! Two more power bars and two of chocolate. So we won't starve before Bingham rescues us. And we have a severely depleted med-kit. Oh! and one cane. Unfortunately, all of the duct tape is in the rear compartment."
Sheppard smiled at McKay, appreciating the joke, and then looked over at the three scientists who had just been expecting a routine trip to a research site today. He shook his head.
"While I'm sure we will be found and rescued, we can't wait for Bingham or anyone else to find us. We have to assume we are on our own, and get ourselves out of this mess." He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. He smiled at the worried looking trio, hoping that his injuries didn't make him look too grotesque.
"The Ancients, along with not equipping jumpers with seatbelts, did not put any kind of escape hatch in the cockpit area. So, unless you can figure out a way to pop out the windshield – and Rodney can tell you we haven't managed that when experimenting under controlled conditions and with all the ingenuity and equipment available in Atlantis – we have to get out through there." He gestured up at the bulkhead. "Does anyone have any suggestions?"
He watched the scientists as he gave the options, and was pleased that none of them balked at the idea. They were all looking up at the proposed escape path, and he could practically hear their brains working.
He leaned back, taking the strain off of the protesting neck muscles, and closed his eyes for a moment. His head was pounding non-stop now. His mouth was dry, but he didn't want to try to work up any moisture because swallowing was nearly impossible. On the plus side, his old leg wound had stopped throbbing.
The background murmur of the scientists suddenly escalated.
"No, you can't do that. We'll lose all of the equipment, or at the very least damage it. And it takes forever to get replacements from Earth." Dr. Baxter's voice was taking on a strident quality again.
Sheppard opened his eyes. Dr. Baxter and Mason were having a glaring match. McKay and Micky were both hunched over the screen of the notepad. She was shaking her head and actually had the audacity to push the man's hand off of the pad and make her own annotation. Sheppard's lips curved in a lopsided grin at the open-mouthed, astounded expression on McKay's face.
He noticed that the damaged pilot and co-pilot seats had been moved out of the way, along with the cases that had already dropped down out of the rear compartment. How long had he been out of it?
Sheppard attempted to shift his weight but stopped when a stabbing pain shot down his neck and left arm. He grimaced, took a deep breath and willed his muscles to relax.
"What have you all come up with?"
Dr. Baxter turned to him with an indignant look. "Colonel Sheppard, they are talking about basically knocking all the remaining cases through the gap in the doorway, and allowing them to crash to the floor."
"Dr. Baxter, right now all we are concerned with is getting out of the jumper, and then getting back to the stargate. Besides the crash will have already caused some damage. Considering how we're currently tilted, I doubt if more than four or five cases will have to be moved."
"But, Colonel, I really must protest. We have no idea if this action is really necessary. Can't we wait a few hours, maybe even until tomorrow, before trying something so drastic? If we do what the others are suggesting, it might put our research back for weeks, if not months."
Sheppard sighed and looked over at the others who were keeping carefully blank expressions. They were throwing the injured man to the lion. He looked back at Dr. Baxter and decided that orange hair and freckles could be very deceiving.
"Baxter, we don't know that Bingham's team heard our Mayday and is out looking for us. Atlantis isn't expecting me and McKay back for another four or five hours and it would be a couple hours – at least – after that before they decided to send a search party. By then it would be dark here, so they wouldn't really be able to start searching until tomorrow. And what if I was wrong about still being on course? Or if we don't show up on the other jumpers' scanners? Or a hundred other things."
He paused for a moment to catch his breath and fight off the tickling urge in his throat to start coughing. His voice was becoming raspier with each word, and he could barely speak above a loud whisper. He saw McKay watching him with a worried expression, and sent him a reassuring smile.
"I am responsible for your safety. Believe me when I tell you that my training and my experience has taught me that waiting idly for someone to come along and save you is not the best decision. Rodney, stop playing with Micky, and tell me what you all are thinking."
McKay was in a tug-of-war with Micky over the notepad. He finally threw up his hands and pinched his lips together in irritation.
"I was not playing with Dr. Parkinson, I was trying – "
"What? Oh… I was just… well…" He shook himself, then crossed his arms and looked toward the colonel. "We need power, both to operate the distress beacon and maybe the comm, and we need to get the rear hatch open. So obviously someone – me – needs to get up into the rear compartment. That means we have to clear those boxes out of the way. According to the Dr.s Parkinson the majority of the cases up there are capable of fitting through the existing gap. We just need to maneuver the ones already blocking the opening until they fall down, and then keep doing that until there is a clearing big enough for me to get through. And pray that the other cases don't shift in such a way that we can't move them."
Sheppard turned his head slowly to look at the bulkhead. He calculated where the cases would be falling. Most would not fall more than a foot or so, but some would undoubtedly tumble down the aisle. He looked back to McKay.
"Anyone who isn't actively working on the doorway can get up on the console to keep out the way of tumbling boxes. How is whoever is going to be dislodging cases going to brace themselves?"
McKay grimaced unhappily and pointed to the passenger seat normally positioned behind the pilot's seat.
"Whoever is currently working on shifting the cases is going to have to wedge themselves in between the chair and the wall. They'll need to be careful not to leave any bits sticking out where a falling case can crash into it. We're probably going to have to take turns working on this. I don't know how long it will take, and I can't guarantee the boxes up there won't shift in such a way that we can't move them."
"Is that chair secure enough to do this?"
"Mason and I have hung from it. It seems secure enough."
Sheppard looked down at his clenched hands, fighting a feeling of frustration. He wasn't wild about this plan, although he recognized that it was the only one possible. And he didn't like that he was unable to contribute to this effort. He sighed and looked up at the group of scientists.
"Who's going to take the first turn at the door?"
Mason raised his hand. "I get first crack at it."
"Okay, Mason. Everyone else get up on the console. I think I'll be out of the way where I am now." He noticed McKay shaking his head. "What is it, McKay?"
"If we're wrong about that chair holding, it and whoever is currently poking at cases will land right on top of you. I think we need to move you up on the console, too."
Sheppard grimaced, not looking forward to moving again. "All right, give me a hand up."
Two nausea inducing minutes later, Sheppard was propped in a corner on top of the console, with Micky and Dr. Baxter crouched beside him. They watched as Mason accepted a leg up from McKay, then squirmed into a cramped kneeling position between the chair and the bulkhead wall. McKay handed up the cane and stepped back into a corner.
Mason leaned out toward the aisle, trying to keep as much of his shoulders against the chair back as possible. He pressed the rubber tip of the cane against a corner of the first case, grasped the cane around the middle and the crook, and pushed up as hard as his awkward position allowed. The case moved minutely. Resetting the cane, he pushed again.
Ten minutes later, after near-constant maneuvering and the verbal encouragement of the other occupants, the case finally dropped to the floor. It slid down the incline until it came up against the console. The gap was immediately filled.
McKay sighed. "Well, that's one down."
Bingham rubbed her tired eyes and stared at the topical display. "Okay, Thomson, mark that section off and let's move on to the next. Are there any energy readings?"
"No, sir. No energy readings. I tried scanning for specific metals, but you know how mineral-rich these mountains are. Even with the narrowed lifesigns scan parameters, we're getting several dozen hits in the next grid." Thomson was beginning to sound frustrated.
"I understand how you're feeling, but we have to maintain focus. We've covered a third of the distance from the 'gate to the site in the last hour and a half. We should be able to cover the entire distance before sundown." She stood and stretched, then gestured for Smith to take her seat.
"Smith you take over scanning my sections." She waved Harroldsen over. "You watch Smith's quadrant, and I'll take yours.
She patted Thomson on the shoulder. "Sorry, but you're stuck in that chair."
"That's okay, sir. I like flying. I just wish it wasn't for a search and rescue."
"Don't worry, Sergeant. We'll find -"
"Sir! We've got something."
Corporal Harroldsen's excited exclamation jerked her attention from the view out of the upper left section of the windshield to the scenery on the right. Following the line indicated by his pointing finger, she saw a crease of torn-up grasses which ended at a small lake. And at the end of the swatch of scarred ground was Jumper One.
Sheppard watched as another case fell through the opening, immediately followed by another.
"Two for one!" Micky let out a whoop and waved the cane. "I win!"
"Good one, Sis."
"Yes, yes. Congratulations." McKay had unclipped the flashlight from the P-90, and was shining it up into the rear compartment. "Looks as if there is some working space up there now. Parkinson, give me a leg up here. No, not you, your brother."
Sheppard watched as McKay squirmed his way through the opening. Micky climbed down from her cramped perch and sat next to the Colonel, cheerfully ignoring the puddle of water she was seated in. She was certainly taking the crash in stride, Sheppard thought. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Dr. Baxter who had grimaced and muttered under her breath as each case hit the floor.
As McKay's foot disappeared into the rear compartment Sheppard worried about the scientist, who was not the most coordinated person, being up there with all of those precariously balanced cases. He opened his mouth to remind McKay to go slowly, but was frustrated when a nearly non-existent whisper was the best he could do.
He reached over slowly and tugged on Micky's sleeve, gesturing for her to lean down.
"Tell McKay, be careful."
She patted his hand, then turned to yell up into the rear compartment. "Dr. McKay!"
There was a scuffling sound from the rear compartment. "Ow! What?"
"Colonel Sheppard said to be careful."
"Tell him thanks for the reminder," McKay replied sarcastically.
Sheppard grinned, and gestured to Micky again. There was time to push a couple of Rodney's buttons.
"Open ramp first. Mason help unload."
Micky caught on quickly and returned his smile.
"He also said that you should first try to get the ramp open, so Mason can come up and help you unload the back. He said… "
"You can tell the colonel … "
Sheppard was distracted from the scientist's indignant reply when the comm he had forgotten he was wearing suddenly burst into staticky life.
"Jumper One, this is Jumper Four. Please respond."
Forgetting his lack of voice, he reached up with his left hand to key his mike. Stabbing pain shot down his neck to his fingertips. Hissing in pain and self-annoyance, he let the hand drop limply to his side. He reached around with his right hand, fingers shaking, tugged the earpiece off and slapped at Micky's sleeve. When she turned toward him, grinning, he thrust the comm set into her hand. She stared at it, not immediately comprehending what he wanted. He made a frustrated sound, and gestured toward his ear.
"Bingham." His raspy whisper galvanized her. She fumbled the earpiece into place and keyed the mike.
"Captain Bingham, this is Micky Parkinson." Her voice almost squeaked in her excitement.
Sheppard gave her a thumbs up and looked around for his vest and McKay's notepad. Spotting them next to Baxter, he tried to get her attention, finally resorting to tossing a handful of water at her. When she glared at him, he pointed at the items and held out a hand, mouthed "please." She handed over the requested items, then returned to her sullen examination of the damaged cases.
He dug his spare comm out of his vest and fumbled it into place.
"Hey, I think I hear a jumper outside." McKay's excited exclamation echoed out of the rear compartment.
Sheppard waved to get Mason's attention. He propped the notepad on his bent knees, jotted a quick message and showed it the young scientist.
'Help McKay. Keep him calm.'
Mason nodded and went to climb up into the rear compartment. Sheppard was listening to Micky describe the condition of the various occupants. He cleared the notepad and wrote: 'Tell her I have another comm. You'll relay messages.'
"Captain Bingham, Colonel Sheppard has a comm also. He's asked that I relay messages to you."
"Understood. Sir, we're unloading equipment right now. When we're finished, Thomson is going to contact Atlantis and have the medical team come through. Is there something we can be doing on this side to help get the ramp open?"
Sheppard gestured toward the bulkhead.
Micky nodded and stood up. "Captain, I'm going to ask Dr. McKay what he needs. If you'll wait a moment?"
"Understood. Standing by."
The bulkhead opening was partially blocked again from McKay and Mason shifting cases. Micky called up through the remaining gap.
There was a thud, followed by a yelp of pain. Micky winced, looked over at Sheppard and mouthed "Mason."
"What now? We're a little busy up here trying to get us out of here, you know." McKay was definitely impatient with the interruption.
"Captain Bingham wants to know if there is anything they can do outside to help you?"
Sheppard could picture McKay's impatient eye roll. "No, there is nothing they can … wait, wait. Hold on a second." The scientist stopped speaking and the ensuing quiet was broken by the sound of more cases being shifted. They heard Mason speaking but couldn't make out the words.
"Okay, we've uncovered the manual ramp release. I've just thought that we might want to do something to make sure the jumper doesn't shift suddenly when we open it. The weight distribution is going to change drastically. Ask Bingham if there is anything she can do about that. Also, we'll need to do something about bracing the ramp open. I was going to use some cases, but she might have something better."
Sheppard tapped on the notepad to get Micky's attention. He held it up as she turned. She scanned it quickly and nodded.
"We're still here, Dr. Parkinson. Colonel, Thomson is taking off now. Hopefully we'll have the medical team here within half an hour."
"Hey! I hear the jumper leaving," McKay yelled from above.
"The pilot is going to contact Atlantis, Doctor, to get more help. The others are still here. Captain, Dr. McKay is concerned about the jumper shifting when the ramp is opened. He'd like you to see if you can brace it somehow. The Colonel suggests rope and tent posts or wooden stakes, attached to the drive pods. He says with the jumper tilted at this angle you should be able to work a line around the outer edges; difficult, but do-able he says. Oh, and Dr. McKay says he is going to want some help keeping the ramp open. If you have enough rope, that would do the job."
"We brought plenty of rope, Jumper One. Also, there're some downed trees and plenty of rocks we can wedge under the bottom. Give us ten minutes and we'll have you securely tied down. And we'll be ready to throw a loop around the ramp when Dr. McKay gets it open."
"Thank you, Captain. I'll let the doctor know."
"Roger. We'll let you know as soon as we're set up out here."
Micky boosted herself onto the edge of the console and swung her feet. She looked over at Sheppard and smiled.
"Whoosh. Been quite a day so far. This sort of thing happen to you a lot?"
He smiled back and wrote on the notepad: 'Your mike is still on. And yes, some days it feels like it.'
She clapped a hand to her ear. "When I was approached about coming to Atlantis, and told about the Wraith, I wasn't sure if I would be able to handle this kind of stress. As a xenobiologist, I really haven't had much chance to test my courage."
'You and your brother did well today. You kept your head, kept thinking. That is half the fight.'
"Thanks. I was wondering – "
"I told you we should wait." Dr. Baxter, who had been sitting on the floor inspecting the damaged contents of one of the cases, spoke up. "If we had just waited a couple more hours, we wouldn't have lost all of this equipment."
Micky tensed and opened her mouth to snap back. Sheppard waved a hand to stop her, then scribbled a hasty note: 'Don't bother her. She's coping.'
She hesitated, then nodded and relaxed.
"Sorry. I'm starting to feel sort of anxious."
'It's normal. The end of the adrenaline rush.' Sheppard closed his eyes and let his aching head rest back against his rolled-up jacket. He could handle an adrenaline rush right now to help subdue the pain in his head, neck and shoulders. It was hard to stay focused.
"Colonel Sheppard," Micky's soft voice penetrated the fog in his head. "Sir, you really shouldn't sleep with your head injury. If you don't want to talk, I understand, but you need to stay awake."
Sheppard tried to open his eyes, to reassure her he was okay, but found it was too much effort. He drifted, aware of voices, the sound of feet walking on the outer hull, a sudden lurch, and Dr. Baxter shrieking again. None of it induced him to open his eyes. It wasn't until he felt hands touching him, moving him, that he decided to rejoin the world.
He blinked his eyes open, and found himself staring up at Carson Beckett's nostrils. Another blink, Beckett was gone and he had a view of the top of the jumper. He tried to look around to see where the doctor had gone, but found he couldn't move his head. He tried to reach up to see what was holding him, and discovered that his arms were also restrained. He could feel a needle pinching the back of his left hand.
"So you're with us again, then, Colonel." Carson moved back into view and smiled reassuringly at his patient. "Don't try to talk. First, I've got you in a neck brace and strapped to a backboard, that's why you can nae move. Second, I know you want to know about the others. Rodney, Dr. Baxter and the Parkinson's are all being looked after. Some bruises, cuts, a sprain, and I think Rodney broke a toe when a case dropped on his foot. Ah! Here comes your transportation. You just relax and enjoy the ride," and stepped aside for two burly marines.
They lifted the rescue stretcher he was in, while Carson tucked an IV bag by his shoulder. He closed his eyes to try and minimize the vertigo and nausea as the stretcher constantly tilted and changed positions. He concentrated on the voices of the men as the stretcher was passed from one set of hands to another, bumping through the bulkhead opening, tilting downward as it moved into the sunlight, then up as they moved into a second jumper.
He opened his eyes again as the stretcher was placed on the floor of the jumper, and was surprised to see Ronon looming over him.
"Saving you again," the former Runner said laconically, and moved away.
Sheppard opened his mouth to retort, then hissed in annoyance as only a croak emerged.
"Just ignore him, Colonel." Teyla leaned over him, her usual serene smile widening wickedly. "He has been very bad-tempered since the crall bit him this morning."
He smiled, appreciating the picture that flashed through his mind. She patted his shoulder and disappeared from his line of sight. Carson replaced her, and the blood pressure cuff wrapped around his upper arm started to inflate.
He let himself drift again, listening to McKay moaning over the injured toe, the pilot – was that Lorne? – speaking with Atlantis control. When he finally felt the familiar rushing disorientation of the wormhole he closed his eyes and let go of consciousness.
Sheppard awoke in the infirmary, lying flat, except for slightly-raised knees. There was no mistaking the familiar ceiling. He was fairly certain that ugly tile ceilings were a constant in all infirmaries throughout at least two galaxies.
The collar was still around his neck, but he could move his arms, a fact which he discovered when he felt around for the call button.
"Carson! He's awake finally. It's about time." He heard a chair scraping across the floor and then McKay was leaning over his bed. "You know, with that hair, and those black eyes, you look kind of like a raccoon."
"Thanks, Rodney. How are you doing?" Sheppard was pleased that his voice, while still hoarse, was stronger than it had been.
"Look at what that blasted woman did to me!" McKay snorted. "She dropped one of her precious equipment cases on my foot."
Using the bed for balance he swung his right foot up and dropped it on Sheppard's pillow, narrowly missing the Colonel's head. Wincing in sympathetic pain, Sheppard admired the heavily bandaged foot.
"Those were her security blankets, McKay. Try to have a little sympathy. Not everyone is equipped to be an intergalactic explorer, like you."
"Yes, well… Anyway, Carson has her sedated. He's going to sic Heightmeyer on her when she wakes up."
"Rodney, you daft bugger, get your foot out of the Colonel's face. Have you never heard of germs?" Carson bustled up and urged McKay away from the bed. He picked up the ubiquitous blood pressure cuff, and started wrapping it around Sheppard's arm. "How are you feeling, then, Colonel?"
"Aye, that's what you always say. And you're usually lying. Any dizziness, nausea, blurred vision? On a scale of one to ten, how's the pain?"
"Not dizzy or nauseous right now. Vision is a little blurry. I can tell the pain is out there, but it's floating off in the distance. I'd say it's a two, right now. Whatever you have me on, doc, is working really well. My mouth is pretty dry."
"Rodney, make yourself useful and get the Colonel some ice chips. No, it will nae hurt your foot to walk across the infirmary. Use the blasted cane, it's what I gave it to you for."
Carson waited until McKay had clomped off. "So, Colonel, here's the list of your injuries. Something – or someone – hit you in the face, right across the bridge of your nose. It's amazing it's nae broken. There's some swelling and bruising, and your vision will probably be blurry for a few days, but there should nae be permanent damage. You have a mid-range concussion and whiplash; get used to wearing that collar for at least the next month. I had better nae catch you without it. And you will attend all of the physiotherapy sessions that I schedule for you, or you will nae be released from this infirmary or allowed back on duty. Do I make myself clear?"
He paused to glare down at his patient. Sheppard whispered, "Yes.", intending – this time, at this moment – to follow doctor's instructions. Carson stared a moment longer, cursing his inability to look truly intimidating.
"Right, then, where were we? Ah, yes, your larynx is bruised. That's causing the hoarseness and the pain when you try swallowing. There's nae much to do except use it as little as possible and let it heal. This means you do nae talk unless necessary. I'll make sure you have a notepad. Your torso is severely bruised, front and back, but there are nae broken bones. You do have some minor internal bleeding which we are keeping an eye on, but I expect it to take care of itself." He glanced down at the electronic notepad on the instrument table to make sure he had remembered everything. "I am happy to say that you do nae appear to have reinjured your leg. Do you have any questions?"
"The others?" Sheppard asked, gesturing vaguely around the infirmary.
"Well, Rodney has shown you his worst boo-boo, he's very proud of it. Mason has a sprained wrist. Micky has the cut on her face, and another one on her knee from when she fell getting out of the crashed jumper. Ten stitches on the knee, six on the face and we're waiting until the swelling goes down to decide if it needs plastic surgery. Other than that, those three just have an assortment of bumps and bruises, and they've been released from the infirmary."
"What about Dr. Baxter? She looked pretty rough the last time I saw her."
"Don't talk too much," Beckett automatically reminded him, looking down while trying to decide how much to tell Sheppard. "I've got her sedated. It'll be up to Kate how her care is handled once she wakes up."
"She's gone whacky." McKay limped up to the bed, a cup filled with ice chips clutched in one hand.
"Rodney!" Elizabeth Weir had entered the room just as McKay made his pronouncement, and her shocked exclamation echoed.
He handed the cup to Sheppard, then stood looking down, leaning on the cane and rubbing his left thumb and forefinger together. "I'm just saying she's not acting like herself. She's usually very, uh, feisty. But even when we were arguing after the jumper crashed, all she was worried about were the damned cases." He paused, thinking, then shrugged. "Whacky."
"I'd appreciate it if you would find a better way to describe her actions, Rodney. A man with all your degrees should be able to come up with a more appropriate term." Weir's tone was icy; the glance she shot at the scientist was disapproving.
McKay shrugged and limped closer to help Sheppard who was having problems getting an ice chip into his mouth. He plopped a spoonful into the Colonel's mouth, widened his eyes and mouthed "whacky."
Sheppard sucked on ice and tried to look stern at the same time. "Hey, Elizabeth."
"Hey, yourself, John. How are you feeling?" She stood next to McKay so that she would be in Sheppard's line of sight.
"I'm good. Good drugs."
"That's good, I'm glad you're comfortable." Weir's smile gradually became strained as she cast about for something to say to an invalid. "Oh! You've made Lt. Cadman a very happy woman. There was almost $300 in the latest Guess the Next Infirmary Guest pool."
Sheppard frowned. "Damn. I had twenty on Ronon."
"I had five on Teyla," McKay announced. He drew back defensively as three pairs of eyes stared at him. "What? She's due."
Sheppard mouth curved into a smile. "Chivalry's dead."
Beckett chuckled. He started to leave to check on his other patients, but suddenly stopped. "Rodney, what time was the crash?"
"The time? We went through the gate at about 1300, crashed about twenty minutes later. Why?"
"Ronon was bitten by Birdzilla at 1245. You may have won the pool after all, Colonel." He patted Sheppard on the shoulder. "I'm going to check on my other patients. The call button is pinned to your pillow. You're due for another shot in two hours, but let me know if you get uncomfortable before then."
He tucked his stethoscope into a pocket, and left.
McKay shook his head. "Cadman will kill him."
Weir nodded in agreement. "She had plans for that money." She looked down at Sheppard. "I guess I'll go let Radek know he shouldn't pay out. I'll come by and check on you in the morning, John."
"Don't," Sheppard croaked. Weir stared at him in confusion. He smiled, and waved in the direction in which Carson had disappeared. "Save Carson."
"But what if someone else bet on Ronon?" she asked.
Sheppard shook his head. "No one bets on Ronon in the Infirmary Guest pools except me. Don't tell Zelenka."
"Okay, if you're sure. See you in the morning."
She turned to leave and almost knocked over Helen Baxter. The red-headed scientist, clad only in a hospital gown, had walked up quietly while the three had been talking. She looked confused.
"Dr. Weir? What am I doing in the infirmary? I was supposed to leave for Merar this afternoon."
"Oh, Dr. Baxter, you're awake." Weir got the woman turned and moving back toward the other side of the infirmary. McKay made a strangled noise and slapped a hand over his eyes. Weir glared back over her shoulder at him. "There was an accident with the jumper, and you were injured. Let's get you back in bed, and I'll fetch Dr. Beckett for you."
The two women disappeared into the next room. McKay, his eyes still covered, turned back to Sheppard.
"You are so lucky," he said, with a shudder, and removed his hand.
"What?" His mouth still dry, Sheppard looked around for the cup of ice. McKay picked it up from the side table and fed him a spoonful.
"Baxter mooned me. She has a tattoo."
Sheppard inhaled a sliver of ice chip, and then turned red as he fought not to start coughing. After a few moments he managed to croak, "Poor man."
McKay nodded. "I'll probably go blind. Can I get you anything before I turn in?"
"Sure, Carson left one for you somewhere… Ah, here it is." He bent over and retrieved it from the bottom shelf of the side table.
"Sorry, Carson already threatened me with bodily harm if I let you sit up." McKay limped over to the next bed, pulled it as close to Sheppard's as he could, propped the cane against the wall and lay down. He raised the head of the bed so that the colonel would be able to see him without too much difficulty.
Sheppard tried propping the electronic notepad against his knees, but couldn't see the screen. Next he struggled to hold the notepad up in the air with one hand while writing with the other. After a couple of minutes he made a frustrated noise and dropped the tablet onto the bed at his side. He stared up at the ceiling. The floating, disconnected feeling had gone. He wasn't at an uncomfortable level yet, but he did not think he would be able to sleep. He couldn't write the memo concerning new regulations on loading, or over-loading, the jumpers, and what emergency supplies were to be kept in the cockpit. There was only one option. He looked over at the other bed where McKay lay with his eyes drooping closed.
McKay sat up as if he were on springs. "What! What do you need?"
Sheppard smiled and asked, "Where did Birdzilla bite Ronon?"