Boslin and Matteus went directly to Pollus when they arrived. The others in their group stayed close to the edge of the rest of the men.
"Pollus, these people want to help us! They are trying to repair the Ancestor's machine." Matteus was angry. Even though Pollus had a weapon, the Councilor was not intimated.
"The Genii are our friends. These people are strangers." Pollus glared at Matteus and Boslin.
"Yes, they are strangers, but you have seen their weapons. Saular told us about it." Boslin spoke evenly. "They could have easily gotten to the Ring and left, but they did not want to hurt our people. Instead, they came here. They risked their lives to come here to help us."
Most of the men nodded. Abel spoke up. "Listen to them, Pollus. We saw two of their number climb to the cave. No-one has ever been able to do that before."
"Rodney may be able to repair the device." Teyla said. "It would mean your people would be safe from the Wraith again."
Pollus' closest supporters nodded. They whispered to him for several seconds. Finally, he asked. "And, what if they cannot repair it?"
"We will do what we can to help you defend yourselves against the Wraith." Ronon stood up. "This is a fight for all of us, and we will survive only if we stand together."
Boslin motioned for one of his men and looked at Pollus' men. He targeted three young men that were obviously unsure of what to do. "Benoro, Stanisla, Treven, will you go with Patric? Councilor Dinmar will be anxious to hear that our guests are unharmed and attempting to repair the machine."
The three men hesitated, glancing at each other and their leader.
"Your families are worried about you." Boslin was trying to reason with them, his attitude one of concern. He had chosen three with young wives and children. "You left them to come on this wild chase against people who would be our friends. You left them without thought for their safety. Go back to town. You are needed there."
They glanced at each other again and nodded. Without looking to Pollus, they left with Patric. They did not see the growing anger on Pollus' face.
McKay was deep in thought as he worked on the device. The top was raised and the ZPM exposed. He jumped when Sheppard bent down next to him.
"Don't sneak up on me like that!"
Sheppard tapped his radio. "Did you hear?"
"Yes, I did." McKay pointed to part of the device and handed Sheppard his flashlight.
The Colonel took the light and pointed it. "What do you think?"
McKay shrugged. "It doesn't look like the lightening or slide did any damage. The crystals appear to be intact. I need more time to go over everything."
Sheppard peered into the cavity of the machine. "Okay. If you don't need anything, I'm going to go keep in eye on things."
"Sure, I'm fine. Go." The astrophysicist didn't even look up as he waved Sheppard away.
Two hours later, the Colonel blinked sleepily in the heat. It was only mid-morning, but he was having difficulty concentrating. He shook his head in an effort to clear the buzzing of sleeplessness and fatigue. He picked up the binoculars to survey the people scattered over the rocks below.
"Rodney? How's it going?" Sheppard turned towards the interior of the cave to ask without using the radio.
"It isn't! I can't find anything wrong with it." McKay's voice had a near-frantic edge as he shouted back. "Damn it!"
Sheppard watched Pollus for a few minutes then activated his radio again. He spoke softly. "Teyla?"
"How's it going down there?"
"Pollus and a few others are restless, but I believe everything is under control." She turned away to speak to him.
"Okay, I'll be back in a minute. Let me know if anything stirs."
McKay was sitting on the ground, touching the device with a probe then tapping on his data pad. He glanced up at Sheppard. "What? I don't know what's wrong yet! And you hovering around isn't going to help it go any faster."
Sheppard blinked as his eyes adapted to the dim light. "Easy, Rodney. I just came to see if I could help…"
The astrophysicist gave him a look of impatience.
"…or, just chat." He peered into the open top of the device. "Seriously, do you need any help?"
"No." McKay paused mid-tap and looked up at the Colonel. "I can't find anything wrong with it. I've tried everything I can think of."
"Is the ZPM okay?" Sheppard cautiously flexed stiff fingers.
"Yes, as far as I can tell without taking it back to the lab." McKay exhaled noisily. He thought for a moment. "Actually, I think it has a good deal of charge left. Being off for the last couple of hundred years didn't hurt."
Sheppard walked around the machine and McKay, looking it over using his small flashlight. "Is there a reset button?"
McKay glared at him for a long moment. His expression changed suddenly and he held up a finger. He pressed two symbols on the device then hunched over the data pad again. "I have an idea. Go away now."
Sheppard nodded and quietly walked back toward the mouth of the cave.
Ronon shifted after sitting quite still for a while. He had appeared relaxed, almost unconcerned, but was closely watching several of the Falnon men. More than Pollus were not happy with the truce. Four, no five, of them were sprinkled through the entire group. During the hours of waiting, he and Teyla had identified them. It was not hard to spot the furtive glances and signals.
One of the men casually made his way over to another. They both turned their backs to Teyla and Ronon, but were in Pollus' line of sight.
"Sheppard?" Ronon almost whispered into his radio.
"Do you see them?"
"Rodney, I may need to fire a warning shot." He warned at McKay then spoke into his radio. "I'm coming."
"Fine, whatever." McKay's response was distracted.
Sheppard hurried back to the cave entrance. He picked up his P-90 and the binoculars, quickly taking in the now escalating situation. Pollus was not moving, but he was directing the others.
"Teyla?" Sheppard spoke quietly.
"Yes?" She responded.
"I want to break this up before it goes any further." He stuffed the binoculars in his pocket and raised his weapon.
"That might be wise." She tapped her radio then leaned towards Boslin and Matteus and whispered. "Please do not be alarmed."
The Colonel flicked the lever on the P-90 to single shot, but his hands shook as he tried to take aim. He leaned against the wall of the opening, steadying the weapon on the rock. He took several deep breaths then careful aim. A satisfying puff of stone dust kicked up three feet in front of Pollus' feet. The big man and his cohorts jumped back, trying to find the source. The crack of the shot reached their ears and they looked up. Sheppard stepped back into the full view of the people below and showed his weapon.
"Pollus! Evon! Cyrian! All of you!" Boslin's anger was barely controlled. "These people are here to help us. If you or any of your men try anything else, you will be held accountable for endangering all of our people."
"Boslin, you are not First Councilor." Pollus drew himself up to his full height, trying to intimidate the younger and smaller man. "He fired his weapon at me. That would have been murder!"
Ronon shifted slightly. "Sheppard hit exactly what he was aiming for. He only wanted to stop you from doing anything stupid."
"I will vouch that it was self-defense if he does shoot you." Matteus looked at each of Pollus' men. "I suggest you be a little more patient.
When Sheppard saw that everyone was calming down, unwilling to risk being picked off from above, he sat on the cave floor again. An hour later, he picked up the binoculars again and surveyed the people below. It seemed that the shot across Pollus' bow had the desired effect. Many of the Falnons were dozing in the hot sunshine, including most of the trouble-makers.
"It has barely been forty-eight hours." Zelenka observed.
"I know." Elizabeth nodded at the technician sitting at the DHD console. The young woman pressed the symbols and the wormhole opened. "Turn on the camera and radio."
"Yes, Ma'am." Another technician activated the MALP.
"Col. Sheppard?" Elizabeth frowned at the image being transmitted through the wormhole. The technician swiveled the camera, stopping on two middle-aged Falnon men. They cautiously approached the MALP.
"Dr. Weir?" The older man spoke.
"Yes. I am Dr. Elizabeth Weir. Who are you?"
The older man bowed from the waist, and his companion followed suit. "I am Kostan, one of the Councilors of Falnon. This is Parnium. First Councilor Dinmar asked that I come here to greet you if you should come through the Ring of the Ancestors."
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at Zelenka before she spoke. "Where are John Sheppard and the others?"
"They are safe, Dr. Weir. Please be assured of that." Kostan was a little flustered. "They are at the machine the Ancestors left to protect us, trying to repair it."
She was suspicious of his nervous demeanor. "Is something wrong, Councilor?"
Kostan hesitated then bowed again. "Some of our people have been influenced by the Genii. They threatened your people. In order to avoid confrontation and possibly hurting any Falnons, they fled into the hills and to the cave."
"What...?" Elizabeth's mind was racing. She turned to technician and whispered. "Get Maj. Lorne."
"Please, please!" Kostan wrung his hands. "We have just heard from Boslin and Matteus, who are with your friends. They are alive and well. The situation is under control. No harm will come to them."
"Who are Boslin and Matteus?" She demanded
"They are fellow Councilors. They went to help and sent word that John and the others reached the cave and were working to repair the machine." The Councilor seemed to be sure of his information. "Matteus is a friend of Pollus, and they will be able to reason with him and his men. Please be assured that we are doing everything we can to prevent…"
"Councilor Kostan." Elizabeth interrupted. "I want to send a team to help. They will be ready to come through the Gate in fifteen minutes."
Kostan glanced at Parnium. "Please, we would be happy to have their aid. The cave is about five hours trek."
Thirty minutes after coming through the Gate, Mj. Lorne fell back to a Sergeant carrying a large field radio on his back. Atlantis was to dial in every hour, on the hour for a check-in. Lorne was leading a team of eight, half of them holding Wraith stun weapons instead of P-90s. Three young Falnon men accompanied them, acting as guides.
The team was spread out but moving at a good pace. They were well past the town and in the middle of a field of half-grown grain. Lorne frowned as he adjusted the gain on the radio. Nothing was coming through. He signaled a halt to his team. They all stopped and began to scan the area around them.
"Is this thing working, Davis?" Lorne muttered to the Marine.
The Sergeant slid the radio off his back and squatted on the ground with it. "Yes, Sir. It was working when we came through the Gate. The battery is fully charged, and it was checked out a few days ago. I don't understand it, Major."
"Okay. We're only a couple of miles from the Gate. Let's see if we can raise Stackhouse." Lorne pressed the Push To Talk button on his radio. "Sgt. Stackhouse, this is Maj. Lorne."
They waited expectantly. After hearing nothing for several seconds, he tried again. "Stackhouse, this is Lorne."
When he heard nothing again, Lorne turned to his team, holding his radio. "Anyone hear that?"
The entire team indicated their radios were not working. The Major looked toward the mountains and chewed his lip. He waved one of the men over.
"Johnson, I want you and Davis to get back to the Gate and let Dr. Weir know the radios are out. Could be Col. Sheppard's team got the Ancient machine working again. Either way, tell her we're still heading for the cave. We'll get in contact as soon as possible."
"Yes, Sir." The two acknowledged the order then took off at a fast trot.
Lorne and the rest of his team headed out at a faster pace for the cave.
McKay threw his hands in the air and slowly stood up, groaning loudly.
"I don't know what's wrong. I've tried everything I can think of, but it just won't…" The astrophysicist stopped and glanced toward the mouth of the cave. "What happened out there?"
"Nothing. A couple of the locals just got a little impatient. They're fine now." Sheppard frowned at the device. "Did you try kicking it?"
Sheppard cocked his head to one side. "Just a suggestion."
McKay leaned over the machine. "There must be something else."
They stood in silence, looking at the machine. After a minute or so, the symbols around the cap glowed softly. They felt, rather than heard, an energy field emanating from it. Both men looked at each other in surprise then smiled. They heard noise coming from outside. Sheppard left McKay checking his equipment.
"Teyla, is everything okay?" He tapped his radio as he ran, but it was dead.
"Hey!" McKay shouted. "What's going on?"
"I don't know." Sheppard kept running.
"Look!" The man called Cyrian stood and pointed at the Ancient's lantern sitting on a boulder between Boslin and Matteus. It pulsated with light. The men quickly crowded around it, slapping each other on the back and talking at the same time.
"Do you see? The light of the Ancestors glows bright again." He looked directly at Pollus. "These people that you would have turned over to the Genii, or killed without provocation, have come to us and repaired the machine. We are safe again from the Wraith's flying craft and weapons."
Matteus pointed up to the cave and then at Teyla and Ronon. "Do you still wish to sell them for the pitiful offerings of the Genii?"
The men crowding close to see the lantern stepped back. None spoke for several moments. Finally, Pollus moved forward, the Genii weapon held at arms length. When he reached Boslin and Matteus, he bowed and handed the gun over.
"I only wanted to protect our people." He turned to the visitors and bowed again. "I am your servant."
"We understand." Teyla walked over and picked up the gun. She gave it back to Pollus, much to the latter's surprise. "You may need this. The Wraith can still walk through the Ring. We will teach you how to defend it."
Sheppard was relieved when he saw Ronon holster his weapon and relax. The Falnons were no longer angry and suspicious. In an instant, everyone was best of friends. He leaned back against the wall of the cave and closed his eyes. Moments later, he heard McKay approaching and opened his eyes again.
"What's going on?" McKay was munching on an energy bar. He tried to look out from several feet back of the edge.
"Looks like the truce is permanent." Sheppard raised his voice so that he could be heard below. "Everything okay down there?"
Teyla shouted. "Yes, Colonel. Can we assume the device has been repaired?"
"Yes, yes it is." McKay yelled back. He turned to Sheppard and lowered his voice. "Nothing else is working, just like M7G-677."
Sheppard smiled and raised his eyebrows. "Ready to go home?"
McKay sighed in relief until he remembered that he had to get back down the cliff and how that would have to happen. He looked at Sheppard then hung his head. With a whimper, the astrophysicist went to collect his equipment.
Sheppard glanced at his roughly bandaged hands before picking up McKay's harness and detaching the carabiners and rope. He spliced together the two large coils of rope. After making sure the pulley was still securely anchored and ready, he whistled at Teyla and Ronon. When they looked up, he indicated he wanted Ronon to come to the base of the cliff.
Minutes later, the Colonel dropped his harness attached to one end of the rope to Ronon. "I want you to belay Rodney down. I can keep an eye on things from here."
"What?" McKay walked up with his backpack. "What are you doing?"
"Ronon can see where you are, so he's going to get you down." Sheppard took the pack and handed McKay the harness.
McKay looked nervously out of the cave but did not approach the edge. "Are you sure?"
Sheppard helped McKay into the harness and clipped the rope back onto it. "My hands are pretty cut up, Rodney. Besides, Ronon's a lot stronger than I am. You'll be perfectly safe. Tell him I'll send your pack down next."
He looked out to check if Ronon was in position. He was surprised to see Pollus hand Matteus the gun, join Ronon and pick up the rope. "Ready?"
Ronon nodded at Pollus and yelled back. "Yes."
As soon as McKay was over the side, Sheppard picked up his P-90 and the binoculars again. He sat on the edge of the cave mouth. The atmosphere below was markedly lighter now. Almost everyone there was watching McKay's decent with interest. Only Teyla and Boslin were turned the other way, looking for any signs of mischief. Sheppard chuckled to himself when he heard McKay complaining about the occasional brush against the cliff.
A short time later, the carabiners clinked together as they bounced into Sheppard's view. He got up, clipped on McKay's pack and tugged the rope. The rope hissed through the pulley as the pack disappeared. The carabiners quickly reappeared. As he put on his harness, a whistle made Sheppard peer down.
"You need help?" Ronon and Pollus were standing back from the cliff, looking up.
"No, I'm good. Go help Teyla keep an eye on our friends."
"Are you sure?" McKay came into view, looking up. He turned to Ronon and said something. They both looked up. "I can help Teyla."
"Okay. You've convinced me." Sheppard clipped the carabiners onto the harness and tugged the rope. The slack was taken up so he turned and stepped over the edge. He was grateful that the trip down was fast and smooth. When he got to the bottom, a handful of the Falnon men were standing nearby. They were smiling broadly.
Once on the ground, Sheppard stepped out of the harness and handed it to Ronon. He spoke quietly. "Pull the rope down for me. I don't want to leave a means for anyone to get up there."
Sheppard's team and the Falnons broke out of the forest nearly three hours after leaving the cliff. He called a halt when they spotted Lorne's group across a wide field. Everyone sat in the shade of the trees. They were fatigued and happy to rest. The town was still twelve miles away.
"Major?" Sheppard smiled wearily at Lorne as he approached.
"Good to see you, Sir." Lorne looked suspiciously at the Falnon men. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah. It is now. What are you doing here?" Sheppard asked.
"Got anything to eat? And, some water?" McKay interrupted.
Lorne suppressed a grin and fished an energy bar from a vest pocket. He handed it and his canteen to the astrophysicist who eagerly ripped open the bar and began to eat. The Major then turned to his men. Most of them came forward with MREs, more energy bars and canteens.
Sheppard walked a little way form the others with Lorne as he opened an MRE. "I take it Dr. Weir sent you."
"Yes, Sir. She dialed in at exactly forty-eight hours."
Sheppard looked at his watch then squinted up at the sun with a frown. It was only late-afternoon. "My watch stopped when the machine came online. Has it been forty-eight hours? The days must be longer here."
"Yes, Sir. Anyway, some guy named Kostan told us what happened." The Major glanced back at the men sitting under the trees. "Once we got away from the Gate, we couldn't use radios. I assumed that means Dr. McKay fixed the machine, so I sent Johnson and Davis back to the Gate to report in."
"Wait a minute." The Colonel walked back to where McKay was sitting, with Lorne following. "Major, how long ago did you come through the Gate?"
Lorne shrugged. "My watch has stopped, too. It's been a couple of hours. Why?"
McKay looked up from his MRE with interest. "What are you getting at?"
"Could the reset button have been when the…" Sheppard started.
McKay suddenly tried to stand up. "Ow! The reset button. Yes. The machine may have needed the energy pulse from the Gate to restart."
"It's quite a distance, Sir." Lorne looked from McKay to Sheppard.
"Just a thought." Sheppard paused for a moment then turned back to the others and raised his voice. "Okay, kids. Time to go."
Elizabeth walked into the infirmary. She was a little surprised to see Col. Sheppard was the only patient. He was now dressed in track pants and a t-shirt, and was a good deal cleaner than when he had come through the Gate. He was sitting on the edge of a bed, forearms resting on a wheeled table, hands out with palms up. She walked around the bed and saw his head was bowed down a little. He seemed to be dozing.
Dr. Beckett looked up and smiled at her. He was gently cleaning the Colonel's hands, carefully cutting away some loose skin of the broken blisters. The raw wounds made Elizabeth wince. She saw the rough bandages on them earlier, but Sheppard had just shrugged off her concern.
"Hey!" Sheppard's head snapped up. He frowned at Beckett. "Are you almost finished?"
"Well, I did offer to numb them up for you." Beckett continued his ministrations. He swabbed on a clear ointment and began to wrap Sheppard's hands with gauze.
The Colonel yawned and looked up at Elizabeth grinned. "You know, you didn't have to send Lorne after us."
"I know." She looked around. "Where are Teyla, Rodney and Ronon?"
"Rodney is over there, fast asleep." Beckett crooked his thumb towards a screened off bed on the far side of the room. They heard snoring coming from that direction. "Teyla and Ronon are asleep in their quarters. At least they'd better be."
Elizabeth craned her neck to try to see McKay around the screen. "Is he alright?"
"Oh, aye. His blood sugar was a little low and he's bit dehydrated, but he'll be fine by tomorrow. Well, apart from a little sunburn, and some bruises and abrasions." Beckett turned his attention back to the Colonel's hands. "You know, he really does get hypoglycemic."
"Hmm. Rodney did a hell of a lot better than I thought he would out there. I kind of feel guilty keeping him out past bedtime." Sheppard grinned then frowned at the Doctor. "Seriously, he is okay, isn't he?"
Beckett nodded. "Aye. He's fine. From what I hear though, he's going to be sore as hell when he wakes up."
"I think we'll all be a little sore." Sheppard arched his back, wincing. "It was kind of a rough, what, two days."
Elizabeth leaned against the bed and crossed her arms, looking at Sheppard. "Yes, I'd like to hear all about those two days."
"Sure." The Colonel said absently as he watched Beckett tape the end of the gauze on his left hand. The bandages covered his palms but left his fingers mostly free, even though there were cuts and smaller blisters on most of them. "Join me for dinner?"
"The mission report can wait." Beckett picked up a syringe and an alcohol wipe. He jabbed Sheppard in the arm and quickly followed with a second injection.
"Ow. What're those for?" Sheppard rubbed the puncture marks with his fingertips.
"Antibiotics and vitamin supplements. Now, I want you to get some rest." Beckett said as he wheeled the table away from the bed. He saw Sheppard's scowl. "Okay, after you've eaten."
"Thanks, Doc." Sheppard carefully slid off the bed. Instead of immediately leaving the infirmary, he went over to McKay's bed, pushing aside the screen. Using his fingertips, he gently shook the sleeping man's shoulder. "Rodney, roll over. You're snoring again."
They heard McKay moan softly, but he turned to his side. The snoring stopped. Sheppard rocked his head a fraction to one side and grinned when Elizabeth and McKay chuckled. He headed for the door.
"Elizabeth, make sure he gets to bed." Beckett spoke quietly as pulled off his gloves. "Soon."
"I'll make sure he gets home, Carson." Elizabeth hurried out of the infirmary.
Sheppard turned the wrong way twice before they reached the mess hall. They were both happy to see few people lingering there. His painful hands posed a problem when he tried to pick up his tray. Before Elizabeth could set down her own tray, a young lieutenant seated nearby got up to help.
"Thanks, Jamison." Sheppard flashed the young man a quick smile.
"No problem, Sir." The young man smiled back then left.
"Where were we?" He said as he tried to maneuver his fork.
Elizabeth sipped a mug of tea as she watched him, resisting the temptation to help. He had a nasty bruise on his right cheek and dark circles under his eyes. All four of the team returned with bruises, cuts and scrapes. She'd heard enough from Teyla and Ronon to know he was exhausted. She was more than a little surprised that he had an appetite at all.
"Why didn't you just hide out and come back through the Gate when the Falnons left?"
"No place to hide. They don't have that much land and know ever inch of it." He looked at the bandages on his hands. They made it difficult to eat. Sheppard frowned at her. "We couldn't leave them without trying. The Wraith. The Genii. I couldn't leave them without trying to fix it."
Elizabeth knew the thought of leaving the Falnons would have eaten at him if there had been a possibility of helping. M7G-677 had been too close a call. She spoke softly. "We could have gone back, John."
"If we'd left, we couldn't have gone back." He was fighting to stay awake. "It might've been too late."
"They wanted to turn you over to the Genii." She reminded him.
He shook his head once. "Only a few of them. They're scared to death, Elizabeth. All of them. Everywhere. They're so scared of the Wraith, some of them are willing to take any help they can get."
"Well, the Falnons don't have to worry about that now."
The Colonel shook his head. He looked down at his tray, suddenly tiring of the meal. He dropped his fork and pushed the tray to one side.
"They're still vulnerable. The Wraith can walk through the Gate if they want to. The Falnon people have to live within a few miles of the Gate. We need to help them defend themselves if they need to."
She reached out and put her hand over his. "John…"
His eyes met hers. "You know it'll come to that one day. Any planet with that kind of protection is still vulnerable. The Wraith will eventually be forced to cull those planets. They only need to either land outside of the energy field or walk through the Gate. Falnon and the kids on M7G-677 will all eventually be taken. There's too many Wraith and not enough people to feed on."
"We'll help them." She kept her hand on his.
"Sorry." He closed his eyes and sighed deeply. Any remaining energy suddenly drained away from him. "I think I need to go to sleep now."
"Yes, yes, of course." Elizabeth stood up. She caught the eye of one of the mess hall staff and pointed at the trays. He nodded and started to walk over to collect them. "Come on, let's get you to your quarters."
Sheppard opened his eyes and stood up. "Did Beckett tell you to tuck me in?"
"Something like that." Elizabeth smiled as they walked out.