A/N – This story takes place between Inferno and Allies (Season Two). Hope you enjoy it! KKG


Chapter 1

Lt. Colonel John Sheppard wondered if Captain Kirk ever got this bored. Or if Jean Luc Picard had ever fallen asleep at the helm. Either way, American television often portrayed sitting in the Captain's chair of a rather large interstellar spaceship as exciting, intoxicating, a dream beyond all dreams. John found it…tedious. At this moment, he felt extremely sorry for Commander Caldwell; no wonder the man was always trying to worm his way on to Atlantis. Visions of driving a bus danced in the Colonel's head and he shuddered. This was no life for him.

He leaned back into the control chair of the Orion, absently listening to the low hum of the engines, and yawned. In front of him, stars twinkled through the huge viewin.g window as the Ancient ship limped through space.

They had left Atlantis about four hours ago, Rodney wanting to test some of his repairs to the antique ship. Now, after cruising around the emptiness of space in a rather haphazard, zig-zag fashion, John was ready to call it a day.

"Anything?" Rodney McKay's muffled voice called across the room. He was lying on the floor, the upper half of his body lost in an access panel. John cocked his head, his hands tightening on the arms of the chair as he concentrated on the ship. The Colonel felt a slight prickling sensation as something – he wasn't quite sure what – suddenly came to life.

"Yeah! Something in the…mess hall area, I think," he replied. He closed his eyes, trying to pinpoint the precise location of the activation, knowing that 'near the mess hall' would never satisfy McKay.

"Could you be a little more specific, Colonel? There's only about ten zillion crystals to trace under here, and turning on the pizza oven in the kitchen wasn't on the 'to-do' list today." Rodney shoved himself out from under the panel, climbed to his feet and scurried over to his laptop. Wires cascaded from the computer, interfacing with the crystals controlling the Orion. He muttered to himself under his breath as he glared at the keyboard, his left hand absently rubbing at the scar on his right arm.

"Did you say pizza, Rodney?" John heard his stomach rumble. Glancing at his watch, he realized it was long passed lunch time. Man, he was hungry. And the Orion didn't have any food supplies yet. In fact, they were lucky the Orion was still flying.

After their narrow escape from Taranis, McKay and Dr. Zelenka, along with a handful of technicians, had swarmed onto the Orion, doing their best to repair the ship. It turned out to be a lot more difficult than anyone thought. The fact that Rodney had gotten the ship to move at all seemed all the more miraculous as the inspections revealed the extent of the damage. The ship was in sad shape, and McKay had reluctantly admitted that getting the Orion back up to it's full capabilities may be impossible. As it was, they could fly, but only very short distances, and then only on sub-light speed. While using the hyperdrive had saved them from a fiery death, it had also fried many of the circuits.

The biggest problem was the lack of replacement parts. While both Atlantis and the space ship used crystal technology as power conduits, most of the crystals in the city were far larger than those used on the ship, and unusable. And, as Rodney had pointed out, they couldn't just run down to the locate parts store and get a new one.

Both men looked up as Ronon Dex entered the control area. Or tried to. The door had stalled as it slid to the side, leaving a rather skinny gap for the runner to squeeze through. As Ronon shoved his tall form through the crooked opening, Rodney glanced up and frowned. Sheppard just shook his head in disgust.

"Hmmm? Pizza, yeah, sounds good," Rodney replied absently. His brow furrowed as he watched the read-out on the screen, then he sighed. Turning to the Colonel, he said, "You activated an exhaust vent in the main kitchen area." The scientist collapsed wearily into a nearby chair, running his hands through his hair. "This isn't going to work."

John felt his temperature start to rise, but suppressed his angry retort. McKay looked exhausted, and John knew that the scientist was becoming frustrated with their lack of progress. Rodney and Zelenka had cooked up a plan to remove the crystals from some of the less essential systems, and use them to replace any damaged crystals where they were absolutely needed, like the hyperdrive system. So far, the experiment was proving to be a failure.

Beep! Beep! John turned as an alarm activated, and he mentally called up the monitoring screen. The hologram flickered into life, momentarily distorted, but with a mental nudge, John was able to keep it steady. A small red pulse indicated an object, about twenty minutes from their current position. Further investigation by the ship's computer (which required John to squint in concentration for a moment) revealed the object to be a ship. John felt a rush of apprehension; they were in no way ready to tangle with the Wraith.

"McKay?" he asked. The scientist had already started a scan, frowning as the screen wiggled and fizzed intermittently. He slapped at it lightly, and a moment later, he shook his head.

"Not the Wraith. I can't identify it, though." Rodney's fingers danced across the keyboard, then he shrugged. "There's nothing like it in the database."

John grimaced. Now what? The Orion was barely able to fly, let alone encounter a potential threat. Still, if it wasn't a Wraith, that meant that there was another culture out there somewhere who had space flight capability. That was intriguing; so far, they hadn't met anyone who had advanced to that level of technology, not even the Genii. Maybe they were potential allies. And maybe they had some replacement crystals; or knew where to get some. Either way, John's initial instinct was to check it out.

"Okay, we're going to take a look," he informed the scientist. He saw McKay's eyes widen, but, for once, the scientist didn't argue. Next to him, Ronon gave a wide grin of delight. If John had been bored flying the Orion, then Ronon had to be practically comatose from inaction. Sheppard returned the runner's grin, then added, "Give Carson a call, will ya, McKay?"

Rodney stood and peered out the side window. Next to them, in a puddle jumper, was Carson Beckett. The physician was cruising next to the Orion, easily keeping up with the big ship's slow speed. With the Daedelus still two weeks away, Elizabeth had insisted that someone accompany John as they tested the Ancient ship. Knowing that Carson needed the practice, John had coerced the reluctant physician into joining them.

"Orion to Jumper Two. Carson, come in," Rodney barked into his headset. There was a slight pause, and then Carson Beckett's Scottish brogue sounded in his ear.

"Yeah, Rodney, what's up?" As McKay watched, the jumper swerved a bit to the right, and Carson swore softly. Rodney only smirked; the physician wasn't going to like his news.

"We've located a ship, and we're going to check it out." Rodney waited, and sure enough, Carson's reply was less than supportive.

"I'm not sure that's such a good idea," the physician warned. "You know, I'm not so good at flying this bucket o' bolts. And what if something goes wrong, or we get attacked?" Carson's words were interrupted by Teyla's warm voice.

"Dr. Beckett, I am sure that Colonel Sheppard would not willingly put us in any danger." Rodney squinted through the window, seeing Teyla's feminine form perched on the co-pilot's seat. She had volunteered to ride along with the nervous physician, knowing that her presence would be reassuring.

"Carson, bring the puddle jumper into the landing bay," came John's voice over the comm. Perhaps it would be a good idea to keep the presence of the smaller ship a secret, just in case.

"Acch! You want me to land this thing – while we're moving?" Carson's' voice had risen in dismay, and John shook his head. The man could handle bleeding orifices and broken bones with ease, but present him with technology, and he literally flipped out.

"You'll be fine, Beckett. Just take it slow and head into landing bay one. I'll have Ronon meet you guys. Sheppard out." He cut off any retort the physician had, concentrating on keeping the Orion steady. After all, it was the first time Carson had ever tried this maneuver.

"Are you sure about this?" Rodney asked, concern on his features. The physicist circled the room, his eyes on the various control screens.

"He'll be fine, Rodney," John replied, knowing that Carson's abilities weren't what McKay was questioning. He saw the scientist's mouth tug down, and shrugged. "Look, whatever it is, someone needs to investigate. And since we're the only ship in the neighborhood, it looks like we're elected. Besides, maybe they're friendly," he added hopefully.

Rodney merely shook his head. "That would be a first," he muttered.