Characters: Weir, Sheppard, Beckett, McKay, Teyla, Ronon
Disclaimer: The characters and universe belong to others. Thanks for letting me play.
Spoilers: There is some reference to Childhood's End, but do not think there are any spoilers. I apologize if there is.
Background: I cannot imagine there would be only one of the devices in Childhood's End in Pegasus. There could be lots more out there that have failed, for whatever reason, or the power source was depleted.
I could have made this story much longer, but have a book to write. Many thanks for all of the lovely feedback for previous stories. It adds fuel to the fire. I hope you enjoy this one.
Rodney McKay was near collapse. The others could sense it all too plainly, even in the downpour that had started that morning. They were close enough to it themselves. John Sheppard's team of McKay, Teyla and Ronon had been on the run since early the previous evening. Sheppard supported the astrophysicist once they started up the mountainside ten or so hours ago, not long after the rain began. Ronon took point, and McKay's backpack. Teyla was on their six, watching for pursuers. It was close to dark, so Sheppard signaled a stop to Ronon.
McKay leaned back against the tree where the Colonel eased him down. Between painful, gasping breaths, he glanced up to see Sheppard and Ronon huddle together for a few seconds. The big man nodded and disappeared. Sheppard unclipped his backpack and set it next to McKay.
"It'll be dark soon, Rodney, and we'll have to stop. We can rest then." The Colonel spoke in an undertone in McKay's ear between deep, barely controlled breaths of his own. He could see the water streaming down his friend's face in the rapidly waning daylight and flashes of lightening. "Ronon's gone ahead to find a place for us to hold up for a while. Stay here. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Panic gripped McKay. He reached out and grabbed Sheppard's arm. "Don't…"
"Just stay put. I'm only going to make sure Teyla finds us. Don't worry, we'll be right back." Sheppard spoke quietly and squeezed McKay's shoulder. The astrophysicist just nodded an acknowledgement and let go.
The Colonel retraced their path. It was difficult to gauge how much further McKay would be able to travel, but he knew it wouldn't be far. McKay was considerably fitter than he was when they first arrived in Atlantis, but the relatively slow pace of their normal off-world missions did not build up his stamina and speed enough for this. Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon were natural athletes and trained almost daily, but even they were numbingly weary.
They had come many miles, the terrain becoming more and more difficult. Each of them had fallen more than once. Sheppard looked around. He knew it was dangerous for them to be moving in this storm, but there was no help for it. The people chasing them had at least two advantages, a familiarity of this region and sheer numbers.
He had long harbored a belief that one day they would come across someone apart from the Genii who was sufficiently angry about the early awakening of the Wraith to actually want revenge. Yesterday, they found them. It seemed the Genii were able to whip up enough rage against Sheppard and his team that some of the people of P4M-362 wanted to kill them.
They weren't surprised to see that the area near the Gate was uninhabited. The MALP showed no buildings within its range of visibility, only six massive stone pillars just beyond the span of the opening wormhole. They were broad enough and tall enough to prevent any small craft from coming through the Gate unless it came through at a crawl and immediately went vertical. Even the Jumpers would not have enough room to maneuver in the space.
It was not unusual for the villages and towns to be some distance away from the Gate. Falnon was no different. Sensors on the MALP discovered only hints that humans did live on the planet. McKay's handheld sensor confirmed signs of life coming from the direction of what they hoped would be a village.
Sheppard and his team walked cautiously through a couple of miles of light forest and pasture before they came upon a sizeable township. A small group of men met them before they reached the buildings. Sheppard stepped forward and smiled.
"Welcome to Falnon, Sir. I am Dinmar, First Councilor." One of the men came forward. He bowed his head.
"Pleased to meet you. My name is John." Sheppard bowed his head as well. He turned to introduce the others. "This is Teyla, Rodney and Ronon."
Dinmar's companions bowed as they were introduced. "This is Kostan, Matteus, Carnum and Boslin, Councilors of Falnon. We do not recognize your dress. Have any of your people ever visited our world before?"
Sheppard grinned at the formality and glanced at Teyla. She smiled warmly. "No we have not been here before. We have come to trade."
The Mayor looked at the four visitors with a sympathetic expression. "I fear we have little to offer. But, please, the sun is past high. Come and speak with us. You are welcome visitors. Please, come and talk with us."
"Thank you." Sheppard smiled as they began walking and entered the town.
The short walk through the streets drew curious stares and whispers, but nothing more. Several minutes later, they settled around a table at the town's community hall, glasses of the local beer in front of them.
"Where do you come from?" Dinmar asked. The few other people in the hall did not try to hide their curiosity.
"I am from Athos." Teyla bowed her head slightly then looked at Ronon.
"Sateda. My people were from Sateda before it was destroyed by the Wraith." Ronon drained his beer quickly.
Sheppard swirled the liquid in his glass. "Rodney and I are from a planet called Earth. Up until a few months ago, we lived in Atlantis."
"The city of the Ancestors! Until a few months ago?" The Mayor frowned.
"The Wraith attacked the city. It was destroyed in the battle." The Colonel sipped the strong brew. "Most of us escaped to another planet. We've been living there since."
"The city of the Ancestors gone." Dinmar and the others were visibly shocked. "I cannot believe it."
"We wish it was not so." Teyla looked appropriately solemn. "It was a terrible battle and many of our people died that day."
A scraping sound made them look across the hall. Two men were heading for the door. They glanced furtively at the visitors as they walked by. Sheppard listened to them leave but didn't turn. He knew Ronon and Teyla get would size them up, which they did.
"You have our sympathies." Dinmar spoke as all of the Councilors bowed their heads in agreement.
Kostan stared at the closed door then leaned forward. He lowered his voice. "Mayor, these are the people the Genii spoke of."
"The Genii?" McKay said with some alarm. Sheppard, Ronon and Teyla traded quick glances.
Dinmar held his hands up. "They have been here, yes, but we do not trade with them."
"The Genii are not to be trusted. They think only of themselves." Matteus almost spat in anger.
"Even though a few have been swayed by them, most of our people know the Genii for what they are." Boslin shook his head in contempt.
Oh, good, good." McKay changed the subject. "Your town is some distance from the Ring."
"We do not farm near the Ring, or wander in that direction unless necessary. While we sometimes get welcome visitors, we fear the Wraith." Boslin said matter-of-factly. He was the youngest of the Councilors, but had confidence and presence. "It has been many years since the last culling, but we have heard that other worlds have been mercilessly attacked in recent months. We have some refugees here, but there is little we can do."
"Remember the Ancestors warning." Carnum leaned forward. "We were not to live or farm beyond the stream."
"Stream? What stream?" McKay blinked.
"It is dry at this time of year. The bed is about halfway to the Gate from here." Boslin answered.
Dinmar looked away for a moment. "Long ago, the Ancestors left a machine that protected our people from the Wraith. It was on a nearby mountain. And, for thousand of years, it kept the Wraith away. We were warned that the machine's protection extended only to the stream. When it stopped working, we did not break the tradition."
"How did you know?" McKay asked.
"The Ancestors left us a beacon to show the machine still protected us." The High Councilor turned and indicated a squat, octagonal lantern on a pedestal in the corner of the room. The sides were an opaque glass with patterns similar to those in the Gate Room on Atlantis. There was no visible light.
"What happened?" Teyla asked when they saw it was dark.
"The machine is in a cavern on Valdona, one of the mountains to the north. You may have noticed it. Veldona has two sheer faces, south and west." Boslin cut the air with one hand.
Ronon nodded. "Yeah. We saw it."
Boslin continued. "The cave is on the southern face. Generations ago, during a great storm, lightening struck the mountain many times. Our people heard a great rumbling sound and some saw the west side of the mountain fall away. The light went out at the same moment. The cave is still there, but we do not have the means to reach it and would not know how to repair it."
"The next time the Wraith came, the machine did not protect us. We have been at their mercy ever since." The Mayor continued. "After the last culling more than two-hundred years ago, our people constructed the pillars around the Ring in an effort to prevent them coming through in their small ships."
"We wondered about that." McKay carefully sipped from his glass. "You could move further away from the Gate, uh, Ring."
Dinmar explained. "We would like to do that very thing. This valley is the only area for many, many miles that is capable of supporting our people. However, our way is blocked. Beyond the Ring of the ancestors is a sea. No-one who has tried to cross it has ever returned. In all other directions, a vast desert lies beyond the mountains. Many have died in their attempts to find water there. We do not know if there is anywhere else on our world where we could live."
Matteus spoke. "We have also tried to find another, safer world for our people. But, the Wraith go wherever they please. There is nowhere to hide."
Teyla leaned toward Sheppard. "Maybe we can repair this machine."
"I was just thinking that." He raised an eyebrow and smiled at her then turned to the Councilors. "Can you show us where the machine is?"
"Yes, we can show you tomorrow." Matteus smiled.
Dinmar glanced at the window. "It will be dark soon. You must be our guests tonight."
"I'll go check in." Sheppard stood up. "Teyla, feel like coming for a walk?"
"I will accompany you." As she stood up, Boslin did as well. "There is still enough light to show you the cave."
Sheppard stood a few feet from the MALP, looking into the camera. "It's going to take several hours to get to the base of the cliff. I won't know until then if I can climb it."
Elizabeth Weir leaned closer to the screen as she watched Sheppard moved aside to point to the mountains in the distance. Teyla and a young man were standing off to one side. She straightened again as he came back into the picture.
"John, if there was a slide on that mountain…" Elizabeth left the implication unsaid.
"It's been at least a couple of hundred years since the slide, Elizabeth. And, it was on the other face. Don't worry, I won't even try it if I don't think it's safe." He looked around at the broad stone pillars guarding the Gate. "I don't want to knock down the pillars to get a jumper in here if we don't have to. It's the only defense they have."
"Would it be easier to go down from the top?"
"Maybe, but it's about five hundred feet down from the top. It's a long way around and would take at least two days to get up there." He folded his arms over his chest and thought for a moment. "Any word from the Daedalus?"
"Col. Caldwell said earlier they wouldn't be able to leave P6S-436 for several days. The negotiations are going to take some time. It could fall through if they break away now. Then, it would take some time to get to you." She sighed. "You don't want to leave this until the Daedalus can get there, do you?"
"No." He did not elaborate, but she understood. Everyday without the machine could mean disaster for these people. Every man, woman and child would probably be taken next time. The Wraith were attacking everywhere.
"Alright, but I want to hear from you in twenty-four hours."
"I need forty-eight. It's almost dark here so we can't set out until tomorrow morning. That'll give me a day to get there and time to check it out then a day to send someone back to report."
"You should come back here for the night." She suggested.
"We've been invited to stay." He glanced over his shoulder as Teyla and Boslin approached. "They're tickled pink at the idea that we might be able to fix the machine."
"Yes, please, you must be our guests for the might." Boslin came closer. "It is the least we can do."
There was a long silence, and when she responded, Elizabeth did not sound too happy. "Okay. Forty-eight hours. You said you and Rodney needed some things."
McKay stood up when Sheppard, Teyla and Boslin came through the door. "What took you so long?"
"I was waiting for this." Sheppard took a bag from Teyla and a heavy coil of rope from Boslin, and set them on the table in front of McKay. He unclipped his own full pack from his vest and sat down. "We have two days to check it out."
"Did Radek get everything I wanted?" McKay opened the pack and started poking around inside. He pulled out another coil of rope. "What's this for?"
"It's from the search and rescue gear. Boslin pointed out the cave. It's only about two-hundred and fifty feet or so up the cliff face. I should be able to climb it in couple of hours."
"Climb it?" McKay stared at Sheppard.
"Maybe. I need to get a closer look." The Colonel nodded. "Rodney, I've done some rock climbing before."
The Councilors looked at each other hopefully. Dinmar leaned forward. "Does this mean you can repair the machine?"
Sheppard smiled. "We won't know unless we can get a look at it."
"How are you going to repair it, or even know what's wrong with it?" McKay hissed under his breath at Sheppard.
The Colonel turned his head and whispered in McKay's ear. "Rodney, we need to see if there is anything left of it first. We can work out how later."
McKay looked at the Colonel with deepening suspicion but was distracted when Dinmar smiled broadly and spoke. "We will eat. Then, you will be guests in my home tonight."
The mob was easily seen and heard as it moved up the wide street. A young man rushed up to breathlessly tell them the mob's intentions and size, more than fifty. The extent of the incitement surprised the Councilors. And, the man told them, the Genii had put a sizeable bounty on Sheppard and his team. Dinmar, Matteus and Kostan rushed to delay the mob as Boslin and Carnum hurried the team away.
The first move was to get to the Gate. As they approached, they saw it was well guarded, too well to get through without killing or maiming a lot of people. They also saw women and children in the crowd surrounding the way home. Sheppard swore under his breath as they heard a gunshot. It seemed the Genii's poisonous influence supplied more than anger and a reward. The team took the only option open to them. They ran.
The night was spent running first through fields of tall grain crops then orchards. As a gray, overcast dawn approached, they halted at the edge of a two mile-wide stretch of grassland. Sheppard silently sent Ronon northwest while he, Teyla and McKay went more easterly, in the direction of the machine. Ronon waited on the edge of the forest, just long enough to be seen. He led the mob astray for several miles before disappearing amongst the trees.
He caught up with the others just as the rain started. They had been steadily climbing since entering the forest. Dim sunlight filtering through the trees became weaker as they walked in silence. Once the rain began, even walking became difficult and dangerous for of them. They were soon slipping in the mud and decaying pine-like needles on the forest floor. That was ten hours ago.
They didn't even bother to pull the standard issue, camouflage-colored rain ponchos from their vests. The near monsoonal rain soaked them through in minutes and the lightweight material would have been shredded in the dense forest, leaving plastic breadcrumbs for those that would follow. Even Ronon's long coat had offered him little protection.