The Warrior of Oz
RATING: T for language and minor violence.
SEASON: Second season before Grace Under Pressure.
MAJOR CHARACTERS: The boys, of course, (if you don't know who I'm talking about, you're in the wrong fic),along with Ronon and Teyla.
CATEGORY: a little of this, a little of that.
SUMMARY: Ronon's point of view as he learns that you really never can go home again… unless the gate screws up and sends you there. Sheppard-McKay friendship.
SPOILERS: Anything up to Grace Under Pressure is fair game.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please. I thrive on it and so do the bunnies.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own them or the Wizard of Oz, which is a good thing because I can't afford the monkey chow.
NOTES: This story is part of the Point of View series. It's not necessary that you read the others but things might make a little more sense if you did. The list is on my profile page if you're interested. Also, this story creates a great deal of history for Ronon and the Satedan culture in general. I have no doubt that at some point in the future, if TPTB ever show us more about Ronon, this story will become AU overnight. For now, I can imagine.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Special thanks, as always to Koschka for her betaing, berating, and begging for more, even though she originally curled into a fetal position when I told her I was writing Ronon's POV.
Part 1: Home is Where the Gate Sends You
"For God's sake, Rodney, just pick one and do it." Sheppard's voice is light with annoyance, exasperated more than anything. A characteristic that raises my hackles more than the lines of worry that I can see behind the dark glasses he wears. It is something I've learned about the man that has become my new commander, the more dire the situation, the more calm he becomes.
McKay's reaction, on the other hand, almost has me breathing a sigh of relief against Teyla's unconscious head that lolls against my shoulder. "Pick one? Just like that you want me to pick one? Just throw out all scientific reasoning and cast logic to the wind and maybe play 'eenie meenie minie moe' with our lives in the process?"
"I was thinking more along the lines of 'a wink, a blink, a bottle of ink' myself."
"Brilliant plan, Colonel. Why didn't I think of that? Oh, yes, maybe because it's the equivalent of Russian Roulette and my suicidal tendencies are tending to be a little less suicidal than yours today." Unlike Sheppard, the more frantic the situation the more frantic McKay becomes, but that just means he's thinking, coming up with a plan, and in the short time I've been with these people I've learned that his plans usually work.
"Fine, then I'll pick one." Sheppard reaches a hand toward one of the glowing crystals only to have it slapped away distractedly by the concentrating scientist.
"Not that one," McKay tells him testily as he chews a thumb nail in thought.
"Then which one?"
"If I knew the answer to that, do you think I would be standing here discussing playground games with you?" He doesn't even look up from the nest of crystals in the podium before him. McKay has determined that it is some kind of lock on the gate. If the crystals aren't pulled and placed in the correct order, the gate will redirect the wormhole and send us to another location.
"Playground games? What the hell kind of playgrounds do they have in Canada where they play Russian Roulette?"
"I swear to God, Colonel, who needs a bullet to the brain when I have you making my head explode from sheer irritation?" McKay's frown is rewarded with a smirk before he squats and studies the podium from below.
That is the difference between the two of them, one of the many; Sheppard covers his concern with confidence whereas McKay covers his confidence with concern…and both of them do it very verbally, although one tends to do it much louder than the other.
"No rush," I tell them as I heft the unresponsive weight in my arms and continue to watch the path leading back to the village, "but I'm thinking we should probably get Teyla back to Atlantis."
McKay spares the smallest of tight glances in my direction then returns his attention back to the crystals. Sheppard frowns as well and warns the scientist, "Ronon's right. Don't make me dare you, McKay."
"Shut the hell up," the other man sings under his breath, standing and reaching out a wary hand only to pull it back again before actually touching anything on the podium.
"Better yet, I'll double dog dare you."
"Oh, well, in that case…" McKay flutters his hands and bobbles his head in mock urgency before dropping them and fixing Sheppard with an annoyed glare. "You are so goddamn juvenile sometimes it's astounding. If I don't get the sequencing just right, there is no telling where the gate will send us."
Sheppard shrugs. "Fine, it sends us somewhere else besides Atlantis, we just dial up the gate there…one that doesn't have a special door lock on it…and go home."
"And what if the gate is in orbit? What then, oh mighty font of knowledge that you are? I seriously doubt 'one potato, two potato' is going to do us a hell of a lot of good as our bodies implode in on themselves in the vacuum of space."
Potatoes? Dogs? What do those have to do with anything? Evidently something important or they wouldn't be reacting the way they are, although the one person I could ask is lying limp in my arms with a growing lump and spreading bruise on her forehead.
"But you have an idea what the correct sequence is, right?" When he doesn't answer, Sheppard continues to press him with an exaggerated, "Rooodney?" At the small shrug he receives, a smile spreads across his face. "I knew it! Let's fix it, dial it and get off this planet before the natives get even more restless than they already are."
"It's not that easy, Sheppard. I mean, the different colors obviously represent the different systems that power the gate, but it's just a matter of determining which systems go with each color. And then there seems to be an extra one, that doesn't seem to go with any system I'm familiar with."
"So, tell me what to do to help," my team leader offers his friend. And they are friends, though I have no idea why.
They start to converse quietly and I roll my eyes, keeping a close watch on the trail. Earthlings. And I thought the Wraith were a bizarre breed. At least I know what drives them, what motivates them… hunger and sport. But these two strangers from a different galaxy with their talk of using animals and vegetables to make decisions and a friendship that looks more like a blood feud, I don't understand them. I asked Teyla about it once and she simply told me to watch and I would see. But the more I watch, the more they appear to be on the verge of ripping out each other's throats than anything else. Still, I don't doubt that either one would lay down his life for the other if the time called for it… and that I just don't get.
From over the hilltop a mass of locals swarms into view. Evidently our show of superior fire power didn't deter them completely. I shift Teyla in my arms so that I can better grip my gun. "Okay, now you need to rush," I inform the two behind me as I move toward the gate. We're still out of range of their hand slings, one of which took Teyla out when we first encountered them, but I'm not so sure about the catapult that I can see them loading on the hilltop.
"Oh, shit," Sheppard exclaims even as he raises his own weapon. "Decide, Rodney…now."
The scientist bounces on his feet. "Okay, okay, red first, then blue is definitely next…" He pulls the two crystals then stops, contemplating his next move. In the distance I can see the ball of fuel burst into flames as the arm of the weapon is cocked back.
"Now, McKay. Do it," Sheppard grits.
"Green. Green has to be the next one… or purple."
"Aw, hell." Sheppard reaches around him and pulls the green then purple crystal. "Now, Rodney. Now means now."
"Hey! What do you think…"
But I cut off his rant as the fireball launches straight for us. "Down!"
"Wha…?" is all McKay manages before Sheppard tackles him to the ground. I drop and cover Teyla's body as well, feeling the heat of the flames on my back as they crash around the podium and DHD. Wrapping arms around my unconscious team mate I roll us away, raise my head and see another ball of fire being prepared.
"We need to get out of here." Sheppard only nods at my assessment of the situation.
McKay, however, can't stay that quiet. Sitting on his knees, he points an insistent hand at the fire. "The DHD is surrounded by a wall of flames. I don't know about you, but I didn't wear my asbestos underwear today."
I stand and yell to Sheppard, "Take Teyla," then without waiting for a response jump through the flames. From the other side I can hear him cursing me, but I don't care. There are a lot of things I don't care about. A lot of things I've never cared about and a lot more I've learned not to, my life being one of them. Running from the Wraith for seven years you can't care about anything or anyone, including yourself. You can't worry; you just do, and do, and do again, and again. And that's what I am doing… just doing. No caring, no wanting, just doing. If you stop to think, to fear, to feel, you go crazy. As I breathe in the superheated air around me, I can't help but wonder if maybe I did just that.
Blinking my tearing eyes, I begin dialing the address to Atlantis. The flames are blistering my skin but I don't even feel it. I stopped letting myself feel much of anything years ago, about the time I was surrounded by other flames… the flames of my home world as the Wraith destroyed it. Pushing aside thoughts I haven't allowed myself in years, I continue to dial. Outside the blaze, the cursing turns to my name. "Ronon, get the hell out of there!"
I punch the final tile and jump back through the wall of fire. Sheppard has Teyla in his arms and is already standing by the rippling surface of the gate. McKay, who is standing beside him, points a frantic arm back toward the natives. "Fire, more fire, go, go, go, go, go!" He pushes on Sheppard's shoulder, urging him into the gate. Sheppard waits the split second to see that I am sprinting toward them then disappears through the circle with our injured team mate, McKay close on his heels.
In the air behind me I can hear the fiery missile approaching. I reach the stairs and can smell the sweet aroma of fuel igniting the timbers that make up the ball. With a final push of my legs, I launch myself into the ring and tuck and roll to a stop on the other side. Only when I open my eyes, it's not to the cool shade and metal platform of the embarkation room in Atlantis, but to bright sunlight and green grass and cool dirt under my hands.
I push myself up, looking around in confusion just as the rest of the team does. Sheppard adjusts Teyla in his arms, catching her swaying P90 before it falls, and raises an eyebrow. "Okay, either Elizabeth's been redecorating since we left, or this isn't Atlantis."
McKay turns instantly to me. "Did you dial Atlantis?" When I nod he demands again, "Are you sure you dialed Atlantis?"
"Positive," I tell him as I push myself to my feet and look to the crashed spires and mangled rubble of the city in the distance.
From beside me I hear McKay ranting. "I knew this would happen, I just knew it. We didn't get the sequence right and that damn lock sent us somewhere else."
"Well, where else did it send us?"
With a frustrated shake of his head, McKay addresses Sheppard's question. "How the hell am I supposed to know? It's not like you know, do you, Sheppard? I think not. Do you know, Ronon? No, not very likely."
"Yeah, I do know," I tell him simply, ignoring his gaping mouth and blinking eyes, unable to pull my own from the ruins in the distance. "It's Sateda."
"Sateda? As in, 'hi, I'm Ronon Dex, warrior of Sateda'? That Sateda?"
I don't even try to hide my irritation at McKay. "Yeah, that Sateda."
Sheppard seems to consider the fact for a moment. "Well, what are the chances that we would randomly end up here?"
"Small," McKay informs him. "Astronomically small. Infinitesimally small. Which brings me back to my original question of are you absolutely sure you dialed Altantis?"
"Yes," I insist, then waver in my conviction. "At least I think I am."
"That doesn't sound very absolute to me," Sheppard counters. When I shift uncomfortably he turns his attention back to McKay. "Look, it doesn't really matter how we got here, let's just get back to Atlantis. Teyla needs medical attention and, besides, she's getting heavy. Dial the gate, Rodney, and get us home."
McKay does as requested and the wormhole bursts into life. A few seconds later we are walking through the gate…and back into the sunlight of my home world.
"Okay, Toto, I don't think we're not in Kansas anymore." At my confused expression, Sheppard goes on to explain his statement. "Toto's a dog in an Earth movie… and they travel to this world with Munchkins...these little people that might reach your ankles…"
"More dogs?" I ask.
"And a lion… oh, and flying monkeys with hats. What's not to love about that? I'll see if I can get it for you when we get back. That is if we ever do get back."
"Oh, this is not good. This is really, really not good." McKay is already dropping his pack to the ground, rummaging for his tool kit and prying open the bottom of the DHD.
Sheppard lowers Teyla to the ground and gently places her head on the coat I supply before moving to stand over the DHD. "Can you fix it?"
"Well, seeing as I have no idea what is wrong with it," comes the testy reply from beneath the console, "I have no idea what it will take to fix it."
"Right. Well, I'll just leave you to your work then."
Angry blue eyes peer out at Sheppard. "Sure you don't want to come down here and randomly move things around like you did on the gate lock?"
"Thanks, but I think I'll leave that to you this time."
McKay doesn't stop working. "Well, what'dya know, there is a God."
Our team lead makes his way back over to where I squat beside Teyla. "Listen, I know it's been a while since you've been home, but is there anything we should know about? You know, giant slugs or man-eating moths or something like that?"
I let a small snort escape. "Nah, nothing like that. Of course, I was a city boy; didn't get out into the forests much except on military exercises."
"Hmm. From the set up you had going in that cave of yours, I would have thought you were an old pro in the woods."
"You learn a lot in seven years," I tell him, adding silently that it was a lot more than I had learned the couple of years I had served in the Satedan military before the culling. I let my sights drift back to the city in the distance, as if I could look any place else.
"Must be weird, huh? Coming back here after being away for so long."
"You have no idea."
"Oh, you might be surprised," he responds cryptically. Before I can ask exactly what he means by that, Teyla stirs beside us. At Sheppard's coaxing, she opens her eyes and squints in the sunlight.
"Colonel Sheppard? Ronon? The natives… they attacked us, correct?" Her hand goes to the knot on her forehead and Sheppard gently pushes it away.
"Yeah, you were hit, but we got away from them, so you're safe," he reassures.
Her eyes dart to the landscape around us. "We are still on the planet?"
"No, at least not that one."
"But we are still off world… on another planet? I do not understand."
"Neither do we really. Somehow we ended up on Sateda."
"Sateda?" she asks in shock, looking quickly to me for confirmation of Sheppard's statement.
I simply shrug in agreement as he continues. "Yeah, my sentiments exactly, but McKay's working it, so we should be fine, as long as he can keep from blowing up another solar system while he's at it."
"I heard that," the scientist snaps as he climbs out from under the DHD.
"Well?" Sheppard asks him as he helps Teyla to sit. I place a hand at her back to steady her as she closes her eyes against a wave of dizziness.
"Well, you don't have to worry about me blowing away an entire solar system with the DHD. I could probably take out a big chunk of the surrounding neighborhood with it, but the planet as a whole is safe. Which is good, seeing as we might be here for a while. I can't find anything wrong with the damn thing that would keep us from dialing out and back to Atlantis."
"Nothing?" I'm torn between wanting desperately to leave and at the same time wanting desperately to stay.
He sighs. "The only thing that I can think that it might be… and I stress might, is the coordinates crystal. If it's cracked internally and I can't see it, then that might explain why it can't get a good lock on the correct coordinates and it's sending us back here as some sort of failsafe."
"So, how do we fix it?" I ask.
"We don't fix it. If the crystal is damaged, then we need to replace it."
With a wince, Sheppard asks, "And I don't suppose you have a spare on you do you?"
"If I did, do you think I would still be here talking with you?"
"Is there nothing else that you might try, Rodney?"
At Teyla's question, he shifts his shoulders. "We could maybe send a radio signal through. The failsafe, if there is one, may only keep matter from passing through, not waves. If I boost the signal, connect the radio to transmit directly through the DHD, we could maybe get a distress message to Atlantis."
"I heard a lot of 'ifs' and 'maybes' in that plan, Rodney."
"Yes, you did, Colonel. And just so you know, I was being extremely optimistic in my assessment of my odds of success. Chances are, if the coordinates aren't locking for people to go through, they won't lock for radio transmissions to go through either."
"Well, it's not like we have any other options." Sheppard turns an assessing gaze to the sky. "How long do you think it will take?"
"To tie into the system? Probably a couple of hours."
"Ronon, how much daylight do we have left?"
I study the sun just as he has before answering, "About the same."
Sheppard sighs. "I was afraid of that. I really didn't want to be caught out in the open like this after nightfall." He turns to me hopefully. "Is there anywhere near here that could provide us shelter?" With a reluctant hitch of my head I indicate the city in the distance. "I was afraid of that, too. So what do you think, McKay, start now and stop in the middle or hold off until morning when you can do the job in one take?"
Before he can answer, I speak. Saying what I had held off telling them, hoping that McKay might come up with a way to get us back to Atlantis and we might avoid a trip to the city and the ghosts it holds. But seeing as that trip is inevitable, I decide I might as well tell them what I know. "There are crystals in the city."
"What?" the two men demand simultaneously.
"In the Sanctuary of the Ancestors. They're kept there as relics of the Ancients. We never knew what they were used for and they may not even be the right kind, and the Wraith may have destroyed them during the culling. But they were there the last time I was."
"Well, thanks for sharing, Ronon. Why the hell did you wait until now to tell us?"
With a quick glance in my direction, Teyla responds to McKay for me. "That is not important, now. What is important is that we might have a way to replace the damaged crystal and return to Atlantis. And the sooner we find the crystals, the sooner we can do just that."
Sheppard studies me the way he had the sun a moment before. "Teyla's right. Gather your gear and let's hit the trail." He turns to assist McKay as I help Teyla to stand.
"Thanks," I mumble so that only she can hear.
"Ronon, I understand your reluctance to return to what was once your home," she whispers in return, leaning heavily on my arm. "I feel the same about Athos. But you must remember that you are part of a team now, and that must override any… hesitation you may feel."
I can't help but grin at her carefully selected word choice. Hestitation. Not concern, not anxiety, not dread, not the one word that I refuse to allow myself the luxury of feeling. I wrap an arm around her waist and help her to walk. "Thanks," I tell her again.
"We will go to the city together, as a team. And we will face what we find there the same way."
I nod in resignation, knowing that she is just trying to alleviate my… hesitancy. But knowing just as well that while the others might be with me, there are some demons I will have to face alone.
The road to the city is overgrown, the stones that had made up the path bucked and twisted by plants and time. Too much time. Seven years without having someone to provide the proper care can take its toll. And then when they do show up, you have to wonder if there's anything left to salvage. If it would be worth the effort of tearing it all out and rebuilding or just walking away and letting the wilds run amuck until there's nothing left that's recognizable. It's a hard decision, and sometimes I wonder if it would have been easier never to have been given the choice.
Teyla spends most of the trip staggering along with my support, stopping occasionally to let the spinning nausea pass. Sheppard spends most of the trip to the city covering his growing concern for his team member by explaining his comment, "It's not exactly the yellow brick road, but it'll do in a pinch." I hear about cowardly lions that are really brave and tin men that need hearts and smart scarecrows and young girls with red shoes and a dog and all of them traveling to a glorious city to find a way home. And a witch that rides a broomstick and something called a 'bicycle' who is trying to stop them, and a wizard who isn't a wizard and a tornado and rainbows and of course the flying monkeys with hats.
"Kind of like us," Sheppard concludes.
"Like us?" McKay crinkles his forehead. "How is this anything like us?"
"We're traveling to the city to find the crystals and our way home."
"Well, I certainly hope we have better luck than they did with that plan. So, lets see, that would make you the Scarecrow because, well, just look at you." McKay waves an all encompassing hand at Sheppard who just rolls his eyes. "And Ronon has the whole lion's mane thing going with his hair. That would make me the Tin Man with my panache with all things mechanical, so all we need is for Teyla to break out her ruby slippers, tap her heels and chant 'there's no place like home' ad nauseum and we'll be back to Atlantis in time for dinner." He finishes with a brisk rub of hands and sarcastic smirk at Sheppard who considers for a moment before nodding his head in agreement.
"The Scarecrow, huh? I can see that. That would make me the brains of the operation then." The smirk dissolves into an expression of dawning and a raised finger of protest but Sheppard cuts him off with a question for me. "Which way now?"
We have reached the outskirts of the city, the remnants of the trader's booth where merchants and craftsmen from off world would register to sell their goods here on Sateda slumps in the middle of the road. Beyond that is the arched bridge that led into the city proper. Remarkably, it's still standing although some of the support cables have snapped and snake their way across the only passageway over the river that curves to form the boundary on three sides of Sateda. "The Sanctuary's on the opposite side of the main square, by the river."
With a broad sweep of his arm, Sheppard indicates the tiled walkway that leads to the bridge. "Well, then, you're our tour guide, lead the way."
I start forward and Teyla places a shaking hand on my arm. "Please, if we could rest for just a moment." She is pale and even though the day is cool she has a fine sheen of sweat on her face.
Sheppard's brow furrows in worry. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea."
"Across the bridge, there was a plaza surrounded by a park." I look to Teyla. "If you think you can make it that far."
She forces a grateful smile. "Of course. That will be fine." But the grip on my arm trembles and I slide an arm around her waist to help her along.
In front of us I can hear Sheppard and McKay discussing her condition quietly.
"Teyla doesn't look so good, Colonel."
"Gee, Rodney, thanks for stating the blatantly obvious."
"I'm just saying that maybe she should stay in the park until we find the crystals. No need to drag her all over Sateda on a wild goose chase in her condition." McKay trips over a bridge cable and Sheppard snags his pack to keep him from toppling forward on his face.
"Careful, McKay, don't need two walking wounded. And, yeah, I was thinking the same thing. Maybe you should stay with Teyla while Ronon and I go on ahead."
"So, you are now the team expert on Ancient crystal technology? That whole genius Scarecrow complex has really gone to your straw-filled head. No, if anyone is going to the Sanctuary, it's me."
With a sigh, Sheppard concedes, "Fine, you and Ronon go on and I'll stay with Teyla. Just stay in radio contact the entire time. Understood?"
"Can't stand to think of missing out on any of the fun, huh? Maybe you'll get lucky and there'll be a playground at the park. Slide, see-saw, jungle gym, one of those giant spring-mounted ducks…"
Sheppard and McKay come to a sudden stop as we step off the bridge and onto the tiled walkways of what had once been Sateda. The plaza spreads before us in all its desolate splendor. This had once been one of the busiest locations in the city… street vendors selling their wares, merchants passing between the trade district and the commerce district, travelers entering and leaving the city, families in the park… it was always filled with people of all ages and classes.
And it still is.
My mind cannot stop cataloging the dead. Their bodies reduced to withered shells but the clothing and gear they carried marking them better than any physical feature ever could. The faded blue dress of a school teacher near the fountain, the woven baskets of a tradesman scattered near where he fell, the garish sashes of the entertainer dulled by time as he lay draped across a bench, the tarnished armor of a warrior and behind him the small forms of children and their mothers near what had once been the gardens…once been but now untended and wild and tangled like the endless number of bodies before me. Once been. There had once been life here. There had once been a great city with proud people, vibrant and colorful and alive… but it crumbled under the Wraith like the husks of the humans they left behind. Grey and silent and empty and… dead.
"Ronon?" Teyla's voice is soft at my side. I clench my jaw and swallow thickly as I look down to her. "Perhaps we can find another place to rest."
I only nod.
Sheppard takes a step toward me, his face grim with sympathy. "How about this way?" He indicates an arched alleyway that led to the financial quarters, one of the most populated areas of the city. I shake my head, still unable to find my voice. The attack had come during the working period when the buildings would have been packed with people. The devastation would only be worse there than here.
I clear my throat and point across the plaza. "That way. The military barracks were over there."
Sheppard seems to understand. The barracks would be empty as we had scrambled to defend the city. "Right. That seems like a good place to take five."
We work our way across the plaza, meandering between bodies as best we can. McKay tilts his head as we pass the remains of another soldier. "He has a sword just like yours."
"McKay!" Sheppard hisses in warning, but I'll take the curiosity over the pity any day.
"Military issue," I tell him. "The hilt indicates rank. That man was a Task Master."
"Is that a high rank?" McKay asks curiously.
"From hearing the Marine's talk, it would be similar to a Drill Sergeant on Earth, only with a much longer bond."
"I doubt many of the Marines would describe their relationship with their Drill Sergeant as a bond," Sheppard offers.
"And you were a Specialist, right?" At my nod the scientist continues his line of questioning. "So was that a higher rank, lower rank, special strike team, what?"
"Hardly," I snort. "I was barely nineteen when the Wraith culled. I'd only been serving for a few years."
"Nineteen?" McKay blurts in shock. "My God, when I was nineteen I was…" he stops to recollect.
"In college," Sheppard provides, "doing a whole of a lot of stuff I shouldn't have been."
"Well, yes, so was I. Although a lot less of the stuff I shouldn't and much more of the stuff I should to advance science as we know it."
"Uh huh," Sheppard patronizes. "And would all this advancement of science be before or after the infamous 'toking' incident."
"Okay, that was told to you in the strictest of confidence," McKay snaps.
"Rodney, you said it in front of everyone," the other man justifies, "including Ford's little gang."
"Yes, but the only ones that would understand it were you and Ford and he was psychotic to begin with." At Sheppard's rolled eyes, he turns to me. "Did you understand the comment?"
I do my best to keep a straight face. "No idea," I lie. Like Sheppard hadn't let me borrow his copy of 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' to learn more about Earth culture. Which I did, mainly that Earth women like to show their breasts. However, most of them on the Atlantis expedition evidently don't know that. Maybe they should watch the movie and refresh their memories.
"See?" McKay demands.
"Rodney," Sheppard starts patiently, "if they didn't understand then, what makes you think they understand now?"
The scientist blinks. "Oh…well, you still shouldn't blurt things out like that."
"Then maybe neither should you."
"I was drugged! I cannot be held responsible for my actions during that time period."
"So, what is your excuse now?"
Before they can descend into all out bickering, Teyla interrupts. "Is this not a good place to take a rest?"
The place she's chosen was once the parade grounds of the barracks. I had spent many a day tending the grounds as part of my initiation into the military. Now it's overgrown too, but almost pleasantly, with patches of early autumn wildflowers spread across the overgrown grass.
"Looks good to me," Sheppard agrees before seeking my concurrence. "Ronon?"
"This is fine." I lead Teyla to the remnants of the wooden fence around the field so that she can sit and lean against it before joining the two other men where they stand.
"Ronon, you and McKay are going to go on to the Sanctuary. I'll stay here with Teyla, see if I can maybe find someplace for us to bunk down for the night, maybe in the barracks. How far to the Sanctuary from here?"
"Not far," I assure. "If the crystals are there, we should be back within an hour tops."
"Good, I'd prefer not to have the team split up after dark. I don't know about you, but this place gives me the creeps."
I hide my own discomfort behind a taunting twist of lips. "Don't worry, Sheppard, we'll be back in plenty of time to tuck you in."
At my comment he gives me a scornful smirk. "Just be careful and make sure you do that. And keep McKay out of trouble."
"Oh and why am I the only one that might get into trouble?"
"Fine, Rodney, you keep Ronon out of trouble, too. There, are you kids happy? Then get out of here and get back fast."
"That's the plan," McKay confirms then indicates for me to take the lead.
I guide him around the barracks and onto a path that provided a back way into one of the residential districts and a shortcut to the Sanctuary. I'm surprised the dirt trail is still visible but it was so well worn over the years by those of us that used it to visit friends and family in our down time, that even after all these years I can still make it out amongst the weeds and grasses.
"So, is there any other Ancient technology in this Sanctuary besides the crystals?"
"No," I tell him simply as I put out a hand to help him, only to pull it away at the last second as he rights himself. We are picking our way down a slope leading back to one of the main roads. McKay teeters along, catching himself from slipping every few steps. I stay close, ready to catch him myself if he falls, following Sheppard's orders to keep him out of trouble. And I have a feeling Sheppard would consider letting the scientist break his neck in a fall to be trouble.
McKay is an… interesting character. From the moment I met him dangling upside down from a tree I've not known exactly what to make of him. Smart, there is no denying that. And arrogant, no denying that either. Nor can you deny that he is annoying and loud and grating. But he's dependable and Sheppard trusts him with his life, Teyla too, and McKay seems to take that trust very seriously, so I try to push aside my irritation and trust him as well. And so far, I haven't been disappointed by taking that chance.
We reach the bottom, to my relief, with no mishaps. My traveling companion places hands on knees, catching his breath with a dramatic grimace. "So, this is… a shortcut… huh?"
"Yeah," I grin.
"And, uh… we have to… climb back up that… when we come back?" He waves a hand at the slope with dread.
I consider the hill then the man. "It may not be that much more of a shortcut if you have to climb it."
"Oh, good. I'm glad you see my point. Shall we?"
I nod and take up my role as trailblazer once again.
"So, it must be weird coming back here after all this time?"
I roll eyes skyward at the replay of Sheppard's question as well as the man's inability to remain silent for even a few minutes. "Yeah, a little."
"Well, you know what they say about never being able to go home again." I raise frustrated eyebrows at him and he amends, "Then again, you probably don't, seeing as 'they' are in an entirely different galaxy. Still, I'm sure you can understand the sentiment behind… what?"
I've stopped short in the road we are traversing. Not even realizing until just now where my feet have automatically taken me, not until I look up and see the house in front of me.
"What is it?" McKay asks, his eyes darting nervously around the street. When he sees me staring at the house he seems to come to a realization. "Oh. Is that… is that where you lived?"
"No." I shake my head as if clearing away a dream, because that's all it really is now. "No, I lived in the barracks."
"Ah, of course. You're family's home, then?"
"No, they lived on the other side of the city. It's nothing; I just thought I saw something." And I had, just for a second I had glimpsed a part of my past that I hadn't thought about in years.
"What sort of something? A dangerous something or a no big deal something?"
"It's nothing. Just a shadow."
He gives me a quizzical look before offering. "Should we check it out?"
I hesitate… this isn't like McKay to want to go investigate a potential danger… before understanding what he's doing, what he's presenting me. And as much as I know I shouldn't, I can't resist. "Yeah, maybe we should."
He pulls his sidearm, whether to complete the ruse or because he's genuinely concerned, I don't really know, but I do the same as we enter the door. The front room is neat, just as her mother always kept it. I almost expect her younger brothers to run down the stairs as I come in, her father to offer me a drink of his latest brew, her mother to invite me to the dinner table, her to… I halt my progress through the house. Maybe this isn't such a good idea after all.
"Nice place," McKay says casually behind me. "Remarkably well preserved for being vacant for so long." As if grasping the implications of his observation he backtracks. "I'm mean, that is, I'm sure it was much nicer…"
But it's enough to push me forward. It's empty. I won't find anyone here. There's no reason not to look a little further. "Let's check out the second floor," I cut him off before he can talk himself into a deeper hole.
At the top of the stairs I head straight for the third door and open it onto a room I knew very well, probably too well, much better than her parents would have approved, that's for sure. A room that always smelled of spices from the bakery where she worked. A room draped in burnt oranges and sharp pinks and silken golds on bed and curtains and screens. But all that I can see is grey and dull and pale emptiness and all I can smell is dust and age and a heavy dampness from the window that is open and has let in the last rain. A window I used to climb through with a wicked grin and waggling eyebrows and anticipation of being hushed so that her parents didn't hear us. The whispered promises that as soon as I got the coil on my hilt we would have a place of our own, start a life of our own, start a family of our own. But none of that is here now, the smiling face to greet me, the long hair to tangle around my fingers, the eagerness, the desire, the…
How? How could I have ever been so damn young? How could I have ever been so confident that there was such a thing as a future and a home and a family and… love? Well, I guess I learned my lesson the hard way. McKay was right. You can't go home again, because it and all those other fantasies never really existed in the first place. They are just brightly colored dreams that disappear when you open your eyes and see a pale face sneering at you and preparing to suck your life away, only to have them tag you and watch you run and run and run and…
"Ronon, McKay, do you copy?"
I suck in a startled breath at the voice in my ear, opening my eyes to the empty room before me.
"Yes, Colonel, we're here," McKay answers in a low voice, as if he doesn't want to disturb me.
"You need to come back to the barracks. There's something I need you to take a look at, Rodney."
"Can't this wait? We haven't even reached the Sanctuary yet."
"I don't think so, McKay."
"Well, why can't we go to the Sanctuary first and I'll look at it when we get back?"
"Because I found something that started blinking, and it looks like it might be Wraith."
"Okay," McKay conceded, "that's a good reason. We're on our way, just… whatever you do, don't touch it."
"Oookay," is the vague response back.
We are already out the door and I force myself not to look back, leave the past firmly where it is rich and colorful and nonexistent and head quickly instead to where I'm needed now. Don't think, don't feel, just do.
McKay doesn't slow as he calls back. "My God, Sheppard, you already touched it didn't you?"
"No!" he answers instantly. "I just walked into the room, it started blinking, and I called you."
"It started blinking after you walked into the room?"
"More or less right when I walked into the room."
"Oh, fuck," is McKay's only response back.
"That's exactly what I said when it happened."
"We'll be there as soon as we can," McKay promises and picks up the pace even more.
"Hey, Rodney, you don't think it's going to explode or anything, do you?"
"I think its going to call in some things that are worse than explosions." The scientist bobbles his head. "But it wouldn't hurt to get out of the building, just in case."
"Right," Sheppard agrees then is gone.
We double time it back to the barracks, McKay not even complaining about the climb back up the hill. As we approach the parade grounds, Sheppard rises from where he is sitting beside Teyla, recapping the canteen he had offered her as he moves to meet us.
"How is she?" I ask as I look over to the Athosian slumping against the post, her eyes are closed and mouth is tight with pain.
"She's definitely been better, that's for sure," he responds quietly. "She's getting disoriented, having trouble remembering where we are and what's happened. We need to get her back to Atlantis."
"Well, if you would stop finding new problems, Colonel, and let me solve the one we already have, we just might be able to do that." McKay snaps impatient fingers but the frown of worry on his face is obvious. "Let's see this new toy of yours."
Sheppard leads us through the empty halls of the barracks and our boots echo eerily off the walls. The hush is as unbearable as it is unnatural. The only time it was ever this quiet normally was during night security details, but even then there were always sounds… snoring, shifting, mumbling. Men don't sleep silently, the only time they're truly silent is when they're dead. And the dead silence of Sateda is screaming all around me, made all the louder as it reverberates through the well-known building that was once my home. The path we are following is more than familiar and leads straight to the Commanders offices. Even in the gloomy stillness, I can't help the smirk that comes as I recall the last time I was sent to this office and why. I've never been one to turn down a challenge and the extra duty was almost worth it for the look on Meardon's face alone when Cassis had to show up for inspection in nothing but his breast plate and boots, having to live up to his boasting claim that his other 'sword' was all the weapon he would ever need. But then, a week later, the two of them were standing next me when we were culled and I never saw them again. And the smirk disappears.
Not that it wouldn't have a few seconds later when we enter the office. The device is blinking slowly in time with an ominous ping that fills the room. "It's a transmitter isn't it?" Sheppard asks. "Like Teyla's necklace."
McKay is squatting on the floor scanning it, his forehead creased as he studies the mechanism. "Probably not that sophisticated. I doubt it would require an ATA gene to trigger it, in all probability its more like the Wraith equivalent of a trip wire. But it's definitely transmitting."
"So, now we have company coming on top of everything else," Sheppard observes.
"What do we do?" I ask.
"Turn out the lights and pretend we're not home?" At my raised eyebrow, McKay elaborates. "The first place they'll look is where the beacon is sitting… also known as this very spot. Let's not be here when they arrive."
"McKay's right," Sheppard agrees. "We'll all go to the Sanctuary. If the Wraith show, we'll lie low until they leave then head back to the gate and hopefully repair it."
McKay puts away his instrument and stands as he laments, "Too bad we don't have a Dart of our own, we could just use the DHD in it to dial home." Sheppard and I exchange glances. We've taken them down from the ground before, no reason why we couldn't do it again. McKay looks with confusion between the two of us before he realizes what we are considering. "Oh, no. Forget I said anything." He is already moving for the exit.
Sheppard jogs up beside him. "You said it yourself, Rodney, even if we find a crystal it might not work. But a DHD from a Dart would work, right?"
"Yes, Colonel, theoretically it would work if the problem is in the DHD." McKay doesn't even slow, just keeps going down the hall. "But even that is pure speculation. For all I know, the problem is with the DHD door lock on the last planet."
"How could a DHD from another planet keep us from dialing out from this one?"
It's a good question that Sheppard asks. One I am wondering about myself. "I don't know…" the scientist flounders, "maybe it transmitted a signal when we gated through."
"But why? For what purpose?"
"Colonel, you are asking me to try to understand the machinations of the Ancients. I have no idea why they did half the crap they did. I honestly don't think they had a purpose for half the crap they did. It may have been a whim, a practical joke…" he snaps fingers as an idea hits him as we exit back into the dwindling daylight, "Maybe it was a type of prison and we can only dial out if the crystals are reset on the planet with the lock."
"Well, if that's the case, Rodney, a new crystal in this DHD isn't going to do much good, now is it?"
McKay finally stops walking and turns to face our team leader. "Sheppard, I told you when I first looked at the DHD that I was grasping at straws and that hasn't changed. A new crystal might reset the overwrite that took place from the other DHD, if that is the problem. I still don't know how we ended up on Sateda in the first place, although I have my theories about that one." He slides chastising eyes in my direction and I bristle.
"I told you, I dialed Atlantis."
"Yes, Ronon, I know you think you did," he patronizes, "but under the stress of the situation maybe your fingers dialed of their own volition. Maybe you were feeling a little homesick."
"I haven't dialed Sateda in years," I insist, clenching my jaw to keep from losing my already short temper.
McKay spreads his arms and chuckles, "Well, look around, because here we are."
"You annoying little piece of…" my insult and advance toward the man is cut of by a combination of Sheppard stepping between the two of us and Teyla barking my name from her seat on the grass.
"Ronon!" I halt and turn to regard her. "I could use some assistance in standing," she tells me with a calm voice and warning glare.
With a final glower in McKay's direction I move to help Teyla. The scientist doesn't even see it, however, as Sheppard has dragged him over to the side and is talking to him in a low voice that I can still make out.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Rodney? I think we have enough problems without Ronon pummeling you into a fine paste."
"Do you know the address to Sateda by heart, Colonel? Because I sure don't. And the only person that I know that does was also the person that dialed the damn gate that brought us here."
"Yeah, and I was the one that chose the order of the crystals on the lock, so if the lock has trapped us here, then it's as much my fault as anyone else's."
"So you would rather I blamed you?"
"I'd rather you figured out a way to get us home. But if you feel the need to blame someone, I'd rather it was someone that won't rip off your head before you do get us home."
I help Teyla stand and glance back over my own shoulder to see McKay's slump. "That's just it, Sheppard, I don't know if I can get us home. Not quickly anyway, not with the limited equipment and resources we have. And if Teyla's getting worse..." He lets the implications lingers before continuing. "And now with the Wraith transmitter… I mean, who knows how many of those things may be around the city and how many we've unwittingly triggered already? Its not so much the idea of shooting down a Dart that has me worried as how many we may have to shoot down to get the chance to put it to use."
Sheppard places a hand on his friend's back and pushes him into motion. "Let's just hold the whole taking out a Dart plan in reserve, for now. We'll see if we can find the crystals first then worry about Plan B if it comes to that. Okay?"
"Ronon?" Teyla's voice is soft as she draws my attention from our teammates. "Perhaps Rodney is correct. Perhaps you were longing for home when you dialed the gate."
I consider the overgrown fields and empty buildings we have seen, the bodies that are dead and those that are simply gone. Somewhere out there, spread across many worlds are three hundred refugees, a handful of people that once called themselves Satedans and now call themselves survivors. I shake my head in denial. "I don't have a home."
"Teyla, Ronon, you two ready to move out?" Sheppard has taken point with McKay close behind. With a final affirmative nod from Teyla, who leans against me heavily, we move out.