Disclaimer: It's not my fault. Really, it's not, so don't sue. Wonderful writing and such lovely characters with actors that entertain so thoroughly. Can you blame me? Oh, and I don't own Terminator, Running Man, Cujo, Looney Tunes, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, cause if I did that jacuzzi I've been eyeing would be oh so mine ... sigh.

Category: General, team, friendship

Spoilers: Trinity, The Hive, The Tower

Beta: Joann (feel pity for her, she's been doing this since my childhood-but not too much pity since she owns a large part of the blame) All mistakes are mine.

Summary: As if the Genni and Wraith using us for target practice and food isn't enough. Now the computers have decided to take offense to our very existence. They look like those robot dogs parents get their kids so they won't be forced to clean up the mess from a real pet, except in poodle form. I mean, they have puffy tales, for Pete's sake! Sure they're made of some weird alloy instead of cheap metal and plastic, but you see the resemblance, right?

XXXXXXXXXX

"Reminds me of North Pole in July."

Sheppard actually stopped mid stride and turned to eye McKay warily. Surveying the site of their latest mission the Colonel glanced left then right, looking for cold, icy, and white. Nope. Gate, jumper, tall green grass, blue sky, and some kind of an insect. Make that lots of insects and they had an annoying attraction to his ears.

"Ohhkaay. Either we need to look into the size of the holes on that butterfly net you're modeling, or you've finally lost the ability to complete a coherent thought." Pausing Sheppard appeared to consider something before continuing. "Then again, not sure anyone but Zelenka could say your thoughts were coherent to begin with. They're more run-on sentences sprinkled with interludes of half-sentences that seem to end before they begin."

Gifting the Colonel with a sarcastic eye roll followed by a patented head tilt of mock disgust that he was forced to deal with such immaturity, McKay snorted with contempt.

"Not The North Pole, Colonel."

The unspoken 'why, oh why does everyone around me have to be such an idiot' was classic McKay as the scientist continued with an air of infinite patience. As if speaking to a child, a very immature and irritating child, he turned back to Sheppard.

"I was referring to North Pole, Alaska. Small town just outside Fairbanks, candy cane street lights, huge Santa Claus statue and ... You know, the people up there actually answer all those 'Dear Santa' letters?" Seeing Sheppard's frank look of confusion mingled with curiosity Rodney continued, waving one hand in a quick fast forward motion.

"Spent a year up there one week. Stayed in this hotel across from what was referred to loosely as a 'highway'. Beautiful weather really. Mid seventies and eighties every day, no humidity, clear blue skies, sunshine 24-7, which takes a little getting use to. And there was this little hut just two minutes away called the Mocha Moose. Never had a bad cup of coffee and they always topped it off with these little chocolate covered coffee beans."

As he wound down, Rodney's clear blue eyes lost focus and he unconsciously licked his lips, mind obviously derailed by thoughts of hot coffee and sweet chocolate. Seeing the scientist's dazed expression Sheppard sighed in exasperation before giving an impressive eye roll of his own. Stepping closer he nudged McKay to at least keep moving while he daydreamed.

"McKay."

With a quick blink Rodney began walking and talking again arms flapping through the air as he continued. Sheppard shook his head, stifling a chuckle as he was suddenly reminded of a startled chicken trying in vain to take flight.

"Anyway, nice place, beautiful even, but the mosquitoes..." The scientist gave an exaggerated shudder before finishing. "I swear, they weren't bugs, they were small birds. And what's worse, the came in swarms. Not just pockets, mind you, but giant flocks."

Another shudder and McKay gestured to where Ronon was scowling as he waved a hand through the air. The large man glared fiercely at the bugs swarming around his dark dreads as if through mere expression he could repel the hoards.

"See, just like North Pole."

With a smirk Rodney snapped his fingers before pointing triumphantly at the netting draped over his head and down to his shoulders.

"Besides, I know you're just jealous. I at least won't look like I've just come down with a severe case of the chickenpox when we return to Atlantis."

With a small hum of satisfaction the scientist bounced lightly on the balls of his feet as he waded through the field of grass. Ronon, Teyla, and Sheppard shared a long look of contemplation, each pondering the most effective way to kill one obnoxious physicist, before following McKay.

Ronon grunted in disgust as he quickly overtook the scientist and brushed by to take point, 'accidentally' bumping against McKay's nearest shoulder...hard, but not too hard. Rodney didn't respond to the shove, but his smirk widened as he stared down at his scanner.

"What's a Santa Claus?" Ronon growled, eyes intently searching the field surrounding him.

"A round jolly guy with blue eyes. Kinda looks like McKay only with more hair than he could grow in a lifetime. Has a much better disposition too. Hands presents out to kids at Christmas time. That's a holiday back on Earth."

"Oh ha, ha, ha, Colonel. You could almost be funny. And my hair is not white, thank you very much."

McKay didn't even spare Sheppard a glance up as he sneered. The Colonel smiled sweetly before responding.

"No McKay, it's ho, ho, ho but close enough. Now all you need is a beard and..." With a theatrical stare down at the brown hair covered by netting the Colonel continued. "...do I see some gray, maybe even white?"

Rodney's mouth opened for a retort, but snapped closed as the scanner he held began to flash rapidly. Instead a soft 'huh' was his only response. At the sound the rest of the team froze, each nervously fingering weapons. Historically knowing that 'huh' often preceded 'oh crap', which led invariably to running, which was hastily followed by ducking, weaving, and even sometimes dodging.

Sheppard could take the running, in fact he kinda enjoyed the chance to stretch his legs. However, the ducking and weaving and especially the dodging got a little old. Because that meant someone was throwing something at them. Usually pointy and sharp or rounded and deadly somethings and really he had just the proper number of holes in his body already, thank you very much.

With a quick shake of his head the Colonel was vaguely horrified to realize his internal rambling had become McKay-ish in nature. Blinking away that horrible train of thought, he turned to see Rodney raising his flickering scanner in a slow circle before murmuring another soft 'huh'.

All three of his team members actually flinched at the second sounding of the word as their hands tightened almost painfully around their weapons. From the corner of his eye the Colonel witnessed Teyla throwing one of her best side glares at Rodney.

"McKay." Sheppard ground between clenched teeth in a sing-song voice, patience losing to tension.

Absently the scientist waved a hand at the Colonel, his eyes never leaving his scanner. "Yes, yes, yes. I'm just...huh."

With the third 'huh' Ronon actually spun around catlike and all three of them barked in unison.

"McKay!"

That finally got the full attention of the physicist and his head swung up to meet three matching glares. After another eye roll Rodney glared back at his team.

"Oh please, as if glaring at me is going to make the information become suddenly clear. And seriously, are you trying intimidate me? Because, I've got to tell you, really not working."

Taking a moment for a deep calming breath Sheppard took a side step toward the scientist and spoke softly.

"Rodney. Wanna tell us what's going on before all hell breaks loose or should we just start the running now."

McKay shook his head before beginning to walk in another direction through the field, legs moving quickly.

"And you call me dramatic. No reason to freak out yet, just getting some strong readings. They're hard to pinpoint, that's all. But no lifesigns so far. Looks like whatever is here is over that hill ... I think."

Ronon moved to keep ahead of McKay as Sheppard probed his friend for clues as to what they would be walking into this time.

"You think?"

Rodney let out a brief huff of irritation, one arm circling through the air. "Like I said, hard to pinpoint. Really Colonel, despite what you might think I don't just talk because I like the sound of my own voice. Try to at least pretend to pay attention."

Sheppard shared a glance with Teyla as one side of her mouth raised in a small smile and was just about to voice a retort when they topped the hill and came to an abrupt halt. Looking down into the small valley before them the Colonel absently waved away the constant buzzing from his ears as they stared down at a small dome.

Nestled between green fields, the dome was a smooth mirrored silver and glowed softly from the reflection of the slightly red tinged sun in the clear sky. It looked to be about the size of ten football fields. McKay tilted his head slightly as he flicked his gaze between the dome and his scanner.

"Kinda looks like a large pimple doesn't it."

Shifting his eyes from the dome Sheppard stared instead at the scientist. "I mean it McKay, those holes are just way too small in that webbing of yours."

Studiously ignoring the Colonel, Rodney gestured Ronon down the hill. They reached the floor of the valley and stopped a few yards from the dome's solid edge. With steady strides McKay walked straight to the glossy surface and, after taking a reading, placed a hand on the smooth wall. Releasing a breath he had been unaware he was holding Sheppard followed the scientist and tapped a long finger against the dome.

"So, what are we looking at here? Obviously not a large pimple. Do you think it's Ancient?"

McKay actually looked away from the scanner and up at the Colonel. "Looks like it. Similar enough anyway. Maybe a little older than Atlantis, but same idea."

Smiling slightly Sheppard leaned against the dome's warm surface. "Don't suppose you plan on getting us in sometime today?"

With a glare Rodney turned to a barely visible crack in the wall and with a quick motion of his fingers a panel appeared underneath. Shortly afterward a door in the wall snicked open softly and McKay turned a smug face to Sheppard as he gestured the Colonel in.

XXXXXXXXXX

Bored. Teyla was bored as they passed through another hall followed by a room. Each one appeared to be an exact duplicate to the dozens of hallways and rooms before that. Halls and rooms and rooms and halls, all glowing softly and immaculately clean. They had been wandering through the complex for a full hour now and Teyla was beginning to actually miss the annoying insects.

A few paces in front of her Sheppard and McKay sniped back and forth, their quiet voices the only sound in the silent hall. Except... Tensing slightly Teyla turned to look back down the hallway, ear cocked to catch the whisper of a sound. In front, Ronon had stopped as well and was staring past Teyla, dark eyes intent.

Surprisingly picking up on the tension in the air, McKay became silent as he stared down into his scanner and Sheppard dropped a pace back to stand beside Teyla. The Colonel's eyes flicked between the hall and Teyla's tense pose as he whispered, "What you got?"

Teyla frowned, eyes focused upon shadows in the near darkness. "I am unsure. There was a sound, a scuffle against the floor. But it stopped as soon as we did." Taking a graceful step, Teyla leaned further down the hall as Ronon's deep voice murmured behind her.

"Sounded like an animal. Small, four legs, could be more than one."

"I'm getting some pretty odd readings here. No life signs yet, but fluctuations in power. Whatever it is, it's getting bigger. Not one large lump, but more a whole bunch of little lumps massing together."

McKay's voice was actually subdued as he spoke, his face drawn into a frown. Sheppard glanced between the fidgeting scientist and Teyla's intense surveillance before responding.

"Okay Rodney. You figure this place out yet? Because, unless you've got a good reason for staying, it's sounds as if this is our cue to leave. Preferably before you say another 'huh'."

McKay glanced up from his scanner, face distracted. "What? Oh yes, yes, yes. It seems to house some sort of large computer toward the center of the complex. I'm thinking it was possibly an Artificial Intelligence of some kind based on the faint interlinking I'm seeing from the sensors running through the walls. Fascinating really..."

Cutting him off Sheppard leveled a hard glare. "So when did you plan on imparting this little tidbit of information to the rest of us? And why exactly have we been wandering aimlessly for an hour?"

With a blink of surprise McKay tipped his head up as he responded. "I didn't tell you about the computer? Could have sworn..." Stopping with another blink and a shrug he continued caustically. "Besides, we are not 'wandering aimlessly', only you do that. We are working our way to what I believe is the central processor."

"Again McKay, is this a good enough reason to risk the whole running and dodging thing? Is there something actually worthwhile behind this? Cause I'm really not in the mood to be subjected to your girlish scream today."

Before Rodney could respond Ronon growled. "You're not becoming obsessed again are you? Because I don't feel like getting blown up."

McKay froze, eyes remaining locked on the scanner as Sheppard threw a hard glare at Ronon. Teyla opened her mouth to try and lessen the tension, but before she could say a word the soft whisper of sound down the hall suddenly became a much louder scuffle. Instinctively the team hedged closer to Teyla, weapons raised.

"Okay, you're right. It's time to leave. I don't know what that sound is, but I'm showing increased activity coming from the AI. I thought it wouldn't have enough juice to power up, but apparently it's being fueled by some kind of solar plating on the dome. And right now it's sending what I would guess are commands to whatever is massing down the corridor."

Rodney's eyes remained focused on his scanner as he snapped the words out. Frowning, the Colonel jerked his head in a brief nod looking down at the now furiously flashing scanner.

"Got another way out that doesn't include going through whatever is making that sound?"

Teyla never heard McKay's response. Seeing a hint of movement in her peripheral vision, she whipped her head back to the hall. With a warning shout she took two quick steps back as a small object shuffled into view in the dim corridor. The team was now staring down at what appeared to be some kind of small machine. It sat on four petite legs and was less than a foot in height. Two small glowing yellow eyes were set in a head the size of a tennis ball and it's metallic body gleamed in the faint light. Before he could stop himself Sheppard spoke softly.

"Huh."

Three pairs of eyes trained on the Colonel and he mumbled a 'sorry'. Using slow movements, Sheppard inched around Teyla and stared down at the small machine. Angling his head he tried in vain to get a closer look without actually getting closer. Behind him he heard McKay hiss in alarm and he tried to step back, but he wasn't quick enough.

Sheppard didn't even see the beam streak out to slam into his left shoulder, but he felt the searing pain that accompanied it. That was when the muffled shuffling they'd grown accustomed to exploded into a frantic surge of small bodies tumbling out of the shadows and straight at the team.

Ten, twenty, forty, too many to count, way too many to stop. A tidal wave of silvery machines came scrambling over each other, intent on the four humans who were just as frantically scrambling to retreat down the hall.

Teyla had a firm arm wrapped around Sheppard's waist, supporting him as she fired her P90 with her other hand into the mass of bodies. Behind her she could hear McKay's pinched voice shouting directions as Ronon grabbed the back of her vest. Pulling steadily he increased her momentum, stabilizing her as he guided her through the halls while firing over her shoulders.

XXXXXXXXXX

Once again it was hall, room, hall, room, only instead of boredom Teyla was gasping for breathe. Her arms burned from supporting Sheppard on one side and her weapon on the other. The Colonel leaned heavily against her, yet somehow managed to get his own weapon up and firing. They were both equally surprised when after entering yet another room a door slammed shut behind them, clicking neatly into the floor. Not stopping to question their luck, they continued their backward scuttle until two more doors had clicked into place and they could no longer hear the eerie squeal of metal against metal.

Blinking rapidly in the sudden silence Teyla helped Sheppard slide to the floor, before doubling over herself. Hands on knees heaving in deep full breaths it took a few long minutes before she became aware of a soft beeping behind her. Turning, she registered that sometime during their frenzied dash McKay had managed to retrieve his data pad from its pack on his back. He was now cradling it in one arm as his other hand flew across the screen. The scientist mumbled softly, fingers dancing and Teyla caught the words 'disengaging commands' and 'firewalls'.

Turning to the Colonel, Teyla echoed his small smile of relief as they realized that the closing doors had once again been the work of the self-proclaimed genius. The sound of gasping breaths and small gulps of air filled the room until McKay interrupted, his rapid-fire speech breaking the stillness and tension.

"What is this a bad parody of The Terminator? As if the Genni and Wraith using us for target practice and food isn't enough. Now the computershave decided to take offense to our very existence. They look like those robot dogs parents get their kids so they won't be forced to clean up the mess from a real pet, except in poodle form. I mean, they have puffy tales, for Pete's sake! Sure they're made of some weird alloy instead of cheap metal and plastic, but you see the resemblance, right?"

Sheppard ignored the rant and Teyla merely raised a thin eyebrow, resisting the obvious questions and settling for an explanation later. The Colonel groaned as he attempted to move his left arm which was hanging limply from his shoulder. Kneeling Teyla examined the hole that had burned through his vest and gently probed the scorched shoulder beneath. With a strained nod of thanks Sheppard turned his attention from her ministrations and focused instead on Rodney.

"Still think the Ancients made these things?"

McKay examined the nearest wall as he responded. "Oh, I know they had a hand in it. The technology is definitely Ancient, no doubt about that. Now that the AI has so nicely run a considerable amount of power into this section because of, and I can't emphasize this enough, the whole trying to kill us thing. I think I can ... "

McKay fell silent as he yanked a small panel open on the wall and began swiftly running wires from the glowing crystals to his data pad. A short time later McKay frowned at the information running across the screen then grunted in annoyance.

"Looks like this whole place was an experiment gone wrong. Those robo-pets-from-hell were originally created to be controlled by the AI, allowing it to make repairs without requiring human attention. If I had to hazard a guess I'd say that this AI was intended to be downloaded to Atlantis to make it more efficient. They didn't expect it to go Terminator on them, no Arnold Schwarzenegger films for them I guess. Looks like when things went south they just cut their losses and left. Once again, leaving another mess for us to step into. You know I'm really getting tired of stepping in Ancient sh-"

Sheppard interrupted the rant with his own grunt of understanding and agreement. Squirming as Teyla gently placed a bandage over his burned skin, the Colonel stared hard at the door they had fled through.

"Yeah well, we already know they weren't very good at putting their toys away. You'd think they could at least put one of your handy dandy signs on the outside door. 'Really, really dangerous. Don't touch- Ancients.' The question now is, how do we get out of here without another attack from the killer pet pals. Not exactly man's best friend are they?"

Sitting back on her heels, Teyla shut the med kit beside her and eyed the Colonel's pale complexion. With a firm grasp she took his slack left hand and squeezed gently. Turning his attention away from McKay, Sheppard met her clinical expression.

"Can you feel that?"

Sighing softly he shook his head, grimacing with the movement.

"Not really. I can feel some vague pressure, but nothing distinct. It's throbbing so much it's making me fairly nauseous and my head feels like it's about to explode. Keep trying to move my fingers, wrist, elbow, anything. Nothing doing."

Teyla frowned as she began to hunt through her pack for a temporary sling and was surprised when a long white object floated into her hands. She smiled at the soft netting laying across her fingers. Sheppard chuckled lightly and glanced to the busily tapping scientist. "Thank God for insects the size of small birds and over-prepared physicists."

After the injured arm was safely secured within the netted sling the team converged around the Colonel's sprawled position on the floor.

"All right Rodney, appears we've worn out our welcome ... again. Got that back door ready?"

McKay scoffed, chin jutting out sharply. "Of course the back door's ready. Ready and already open as a matter of fact. There's only one problem."

Sheppard's eyes narrowed as Ronon squatted beside the Colonel, eyebrows lifting with expectation.

"Problem?"

"Yes, problem. What? Is there an echo in here? The problem is keeping the door open. Seems the AI is becoming more aware because of the increased activity. It must have originally shut itself off to preserve power and probably from sheer boredom. But now ... "

"So your saying we're entertainment? Have we switched movies now? Terminator wasn't good enough, now we're in the middle of Running Man? When did my life become one long eighties flick?" Sighing in disgust Sheppard rubbed his temple with frustration. "Okay, solutions?"

McKay had that look of grimly terrified determination that the Colonel had really come to hate as he responded.

"Divide and conquer. Well more like divide, distract, and conquer really ... "

"McKay ..." Waiting until he had sharp blue eyes focused on him, Sheppard continued patiently. "Rambling! Are we getting to the solution soon?"

Standing in what Sheppard thought of as 'lecture mode', shoulders back, chin out, and hands clasped firmly behind him, McKay snapped a nod.

"I'm going to make my way to the central processor and get the complete attention of the AI. If it's not otherwise occupied that open door will slam shut long before we reach it. So while you, Teyla, and Ronon move to the door, creating chaos and distractions galore, something you excel at, I'll just ... "

"No. Teyla and I will head to the exit, but Ronon's going with you. No argument McKay."

Rodney shut his mouth with a somewhat relieved sigh and Sheppard shifted awkwardly on the ground, obviously chafing at the idea of splitting up the team. Hazel eyes narrowed even further, showing a bare hint of color between dark lashes as Sheppard scowled at his fidgeting friend.

"Question is, how are you planning to get out without us as a distraction?"

McKay exchanged his data pad for his scanner and after a few quick pokes offered it to Teyla. Snapping his fingers impatiently he held a hand out to Sheppard after pointing to the Colonel's vest. "I need your scanner. I've already set up mine to home in on the exit."

Frowning at the obvious delay, Sheppard pulled out his scanner and passed it to McKay. "You haven't answered my question."

Squirming further under the intense stare the scientist focused his attention away from Sheppard and onto the scanner. "Yes well, that's where things get a little dicey. We brought jumper five, right?"

"Yeah, still not sure why we had to leave it back at the gate. Couldn't be so we were forced to wade through the flocks of insects, cause I know you wouldn't do that to us." Sheppard's eyes narrowed at the small smile tugging at McKay's mouth.

"Yes well, it just so happens that jumper five is equipped with some of the drones we acquired from that buried Ancient city. A few well placed shots should get the AI's attention and give us the distraction we need to ... " Rodney ended with fingers wiggling in a scurrying movement.

"You want me to fire on a dome which is well over 10,000 years old, as far as we know, while you and Ronon are still inside? Anyone else see this as being slightly suicidal?"

Sheppard's voice was soft and careful, a diversion from the concern and maybe even fear that flickered across his face. Ronon and Teyla exchanged grunts of agreement, but the Colonel's eyes remained glued to McKay as he crossed his arms and tucked his hands firmly between his arms and sides. He returned Sheppard's gaze steadily, but Teyla was fairly certain his expressive hands had been secured in order to conceal their nervous trembling.

"Ha, thought you would like it. Took a page from the 'John Sheppard Book of Survival'. Now ... "

Freeing his hands McKay clapped them once loudly, effectively breaking the intensity of Sheppard's gaze. Briskly rubbing his hands together Rodney turned to the door leading away from the 'dogs' and looked to his team, eyebrows raised expectantly.

"We probably don't have a lot of time left before the AI gets around my firewalls and opens those doors. So, shall we?

With Ronon and Teyla's help Sheppard was levered carefully to his feet, hissing softly. Teyla kept a firm hold under his good shoulder and tried to ignore the shiver running through his thin frame. Scowling fiercely at McKay's strained look of innocence, the Colonel turned to Ronon before exiting the room.

"When it's time to high tail it you carry his ass out if you have to and ignore the babble. No excuses. Understood?"

Ignoring the vaguely hurt expression on Rodney's face, Teyla threw her own grim look at Ronon. She was rewarded when the large man directed a firm nod of understanding to both her and Sheppard. The Colonel was unapologetic as he turned to Rodney, eyes pinched with concern.

"Listen to Ronon. I don't want anyone left behind."

The scientist's mouth opened and a thousand sarcastic retorts hovered on his lips. But after a long look into Sheppard's face something flickered in his eyes and instead he merely nodded. Teyla's gut clenched as she recognized what had passed between the two men. It occurred to her that the ghost of Doranda had finally been laid to rest, only to be replaced by a new ghost. The tension in the Colonel's wiry frame spoke of his recent inability to protect his team. Adding to that inability was the helplessness he had felt when he was forced to leave McKay behind.

It didn't matter to Sheppard that he had no options, that Rodney had probably been safer back on the planet with Ford's men than in the Hive. What did matter to Sheppard was leaving McKay and the resulting overdose that almost cost Rodney his brilliant mind and more importantly his life. All in an effort to ensure his teammates weren't left behind. Sheppard appreciated the sentiment, Teyla knew, but he resented the necessity of the scientist's actions. After all, his job was to use that impressive brain, not his body, to fight battles. Endangering his genius with an enzyme overdose and a brawl with Ford's guards should never have been part of the plan.

After one last moment of unspoken communication between McKay and Sheppard, Teyla found herself being prodded down yet another hall. Taking one final glance back to her teammates as they disappeared around a corner she felt a whisper make its way past her lips.

"Be safe."

XXXXXXXXXX

"Despite what Sheppard may think, I don't need a constant babysitter. I mean yes, I know that I'm essential for Atlantis' survival, but I'm not a child."

Ignoring Ronon's snort McKay switched gears and continued.

"Eventually you're going to have to actually acknowledge my place on this team. I know you're uncomfortable working with a civilian, but that doesn't mean my contribution isn't important. Even if you have trouble understanding what I'm doing, the fact remains that it more often than not gets us out of some pretty uncomfortable situations. Maybe one day you'll actually trust me. I'm working to regain Sheppard's trust, might as well work at earning yours at the same time. I can multi task."

"I trust you."

McKay actually let the silence drag for a few long seconds before sliding his eyes to his side and up to give the Runner a long look before turning his head back to the scanner.

"Yeah." Rodney drew the word out as he returned his attention to the task at hand. "Right, sure you do."

"I do." Did Ronon sound defensive? Perhaps a little. Okay, maybe more than a little. He tried again, this time with a level tone. "I do. You just get. . .distracted sometimes."

He was trying to be subtle, but subtly from him was like modesty from McKay. It was just wrong. With a sniff Rodney acknowledged the pitiful attempt.

"Well this is not Doranda and believe it or not, I have been known to actually learn a thing or two from time to time." Though his words were harsh, the tone was surprisingly understanding. "I assure you, as fascinating as this AI may be, my focus is getting Teyla, the Colonel, and oh yes you, out of here alive. I'm not attempting to 'fix' this particular screwed up experiment. In fact, I will be trying my hardest to inflict as much damage as possible."

The scientist took a quick pause and glared expectantly at the larger man, one eyebrow raised in irritation. Ronon stared placidly back, unimpressed with the tirade, one eyebrow raised in a mirrored response. With a sigh of frustration Rodney stared back down at his scanner and shook his head. Ronon eyed the scientist's taut back, every muscle concentrated on solving the current problem. After a moment of silence the Runner shrugged before speaking in a deep rumble.

"It's just different. Too much thought and not enough action. I'm use to action. But I do trust you McKay, at least to save us." The 'but not to save yourself' was left unspoken. Ronon had long been surprised that someone with such a healthy sense of self-preservation could become so blindly focused on a problem that he ignored his own possible danger.

The silence that ensued was abruptly interrupted by Sheppard's sharp voice across the radio.

"McKay, looks like the AI has punched through your firewalls, or found another way around. We've got more of those damn robots hot on our tails, no pun intended. We're definitely fulfilling that 'distraction' part of the plan."

The Colonel cut off quickly and the sound of weapons fire burst through the transmission. Rodney cringed as the thunder of rounds sounded loudly in his ear. When Sheppard was finally able to speak again Ronon frowned at the gasping voice as the Colonel tried to catch his breathe.

"Damn they're quick. Don't suppose you could slow them down a little?"

McKay was already shaking his head, eyes wide with concern. "I'm sorry Sheppard, if I do anything now it will draw the AI's attention too soon. It'll be all over us before I can get to the central processor."

The sigh that followed was clear even over the continued rat-a-tat of the P90's. "Figured as much. Well I highly recommend you get to that processor soon or we won't be causing much more of a distraction."

Without a word Ronon found himself following a sprinting scientist as McKay flew down the hall when Sheppard's transmission cut off abruptly.

XXXXXXXXXX

Teyla and Sheppard backpedaled as quickly as possible while struggling to keep from tripping over their own feet. The hall pulsed with movement as the robots crawled over each other in their haste to get closer to the humans. Beams shot out, barely missing the two as they ducked and dodged.

Sheppard was leaning heavily on one of Teyla's slim shoulders as she fired with one hand and held the scanner with her other. Teyla's voice was as tight as the muscles rippling under his hand when she shouted.

"Colonel, we are nearly to the door and it is currently closed."

Grimly Sheppard shook his head in frustration. "I know, just keep moving. McKay will get it open."

They had almost reached the exit when their luck ran out. With a cry of pain Teyla stumbled. Her left leg crumpled beneath her as a beam glanced across her thigh. Grunting from the pain in his arm the Colonel let his weapon fall against his side as he wrapped his uninjured arm around Teyla's waist. Gritting her teeth and pushing with her still mobile leg Teyla tried to help his efforts to move them to the door. The writhing metallic mass surged forward, sensing their weakness.

XXXXXXXXXX

Ronon and McKay flew down the hall and through the open door, coming to a sudden stop on the other side. Before them was the largest room they had seen since entering the complex. Two doors framed a nondescript wall with a large console in the middle. Sitting in front of the console was a lone chair. Upon seeing the console Ronon whipped his arm up, weapon trained on the screen above the chair. He snarled when Rodney's hand slammed over his, forcing the weapon down.

"No, that won't work. Your weapon, though impressive on a Wraith, will not be nearly as effective on this. Believe me, we'll get more attention when I start mucking up the gears."

Moving closer to the chair McKay realized that it was a predecessor of the chairs they had found in Antarctica and later Atlantis. It was shorter and smaller and it sat directly in front of a slim board that was the Ancient equivalent of a keyboard. The board was positioned below a large screen in the console. With a quick glance McKay could tell that this chair didn't recline and he was somewhat relieved.

Moving quickly Rodney exchanged his scanner for the data pad and after connecting it to the console, he began furiously typing in commands. All three doors were soon shut and, if he was lucky, they would remain that way until he opened them. Then, with a sinking feeling, he moved to examine the console and it's chair more closely. Hoping that the technology didn't require a gene as strong as the Colonel's, Rodney slipped slowly into the seat. He let out an explosive sigh of relief when seconds later the chair lit with his tentative thought of 'on'.

Before him Ancient text flew across the screen and he quickly became immersed with the data. Ignoring Ronon's stealthy pace as he circled the room, McKay focused instead on burrowing into the AI program. The lights flickered briefly in the room as the AI slowly became aware of the danger. Suddenly the room flooded with a painfully bright light. Ronon and Rodney both squinted their eyes at the searing brightness, tears streaming down their cheeks.

Clenching his teeth painfully, McKay worked his fingers over the board. Eventually the lights dimmed leaving him to blink away the white spots from his vision. Behind him Ronon grunted with relief and Rodney nodded his head in agreement, eyes still glued to the large screen and board.

"Try Sheppard, see if you can get through this time." McKay's voice was tight with tension. Another grunt and Ronon's gruff voice echoed in the room.

"Sheppard ... Teyla ... Come in ..." Long seconds passed and Ronon scowled harder into the silence. "Teyla, Colonel Sheppard respond before McKay has a fit."

From his place in the lit chair Rodney snorted but didn't contradict Ronon. Long fingers twitching around his weapon Ronon turned to see Rodney's eyes flick to him, filled with concern. Ronon was preparing to try one last time when the silence was broken by Sheppard's gasping voice.

XXXXXXXXXX

Teyla felt the door cool and solid against her back us she leaned against it, Sheppard a reassuring line of heat against her side. They were out of time and out of space, surrounded and outnumbered. The Colonel released her and lifted the P90 clipped to his vest, elbow against her shoulder as she sat heavily on the ground.

No words were spoken between them nor looks exchanged as they prepared for what would be the final attack. As if wanting to prolong the tension the flood of robots slowed. Their movements became stilted and sluggish until finally they froze just a few feet from where Sheppard and Teyla huddled.

Staring in disbelief at the scene in front of her Teyla was unaware of the door sliding open behind her until she found herself staring up into a clear blue sky. Soft grass was a cushion beneath her and cool air caressed her face as she blinked in relief and confusion. Turning Teyla saw the Colonel beside her looking equally confused. The skittering of metal legs against the corridor's floor broke through their stunned astonishment and they began scrambling back. Pulling their legs away from where they still lay inside the doorway, they readied their weapons for the expected assault and waited. Muscles knotted in tension as a long minute of silence crawled by. When no beams of light punctured the dark doorway and there was no sign of the metal scrambling bodies, Teyla turned to Sheppard. Eyeing each other in confusion, their bodies shook as they leaned against each other for support and comfort.

Tentatively Sheppard edged forward to peer cautiously through the open door. His head shifted from one side of the opening to the other. After a long moment of hesitation he took an unsteady step back and closed the door before turning to face Teyla. Raising one slim eyebrow Teyla waited patiently, too tired to voice the question.

"Gone, all gone. Just like that." With a snap of his fingers Sheppard shook his head in exhausted surprise.

"Ronon and Dr. McKay must have been successful in reaching the AI." The letters rolled off her tongue stiffly, uncomfortable with yet another unfamiliar Earth term.

"That's Rodney for you. Has to be so dramatic. Can't just save the day, has to throw in the optimal amount of sheer terror so you have a true appreciation of his genius. As if anyone could possibly forget it." Sheppard managed a small chuckle between gasping breaths as he shook his head with affectionate admiration.

Attempting to control his labored breathing, the Colonel was startled when his previously silent radio burst to life with Ronon's deep voice.

" ... ard respond before McKay has a fit."

"Tell the mother hen that he can reserve the mad clucking and pecking for his science department. We seem to have lost our entertainment value. We're outside the dome and the Fidos have hightailed it to more interesting pursuits. They're probably on their way to pay you two a visit now. Wouldn't want you to be lonely."

Ronon's voice rumbled with relief. "Understood." In the background McKay's rambling was a comforting constant. "McKay says the 'Fidos' are responsible for the radios not working, something about jamming the signal."

The whine of McKay's voice was followed again by Ronon's steady tones and Teyla thought she could actually hear the big man's shrug. "He's babbling now. How are you?"

Looking pale and wrung out the Colonel stumbled to stand behind her. Squatting as best he could, he gripped his right hand under her arm and hoisted her unsteadily to her feet. Placing weight tentatively on her injured leg Teyla grimaced as the muscles cramped. Sheppard scrutinized her carefully, his good arm snaking around her waist to balance and support.

"Teyla took a hit." Sheppard paused, allowing her to stabilize herself.

"How bad is it? Think you can make it to the jumper?"

Taking an experimental step forward Teyla clenched her teeth from the pain, but found that her leg wasn't completely numb like the Colonel's arm. Nodding her head she looked at what had, on the way down from the gate, been a gentle slope. Now it loomed like a small mountain before them.

"I believe it was a graze. I can feel my knee and foot. I will be able to maneuver adequately, if you could assist me with balancing."

"All right Ronon, we're on our way to the jumper. Hold the fort and try to keep McKay's panic to low roar. We'll ... "

Sheppard's voice was suddenly cut off by McKay's outraged bark. "Well excuse me if I don't feel like being an extra in Cujo. I don't have a lot of time here so shut up and listen. As soon as those dogs get closer you'll get all the silence your little heart could desire."

The Colonel frowned at the reminder but didn't interrupt as he continued to help Teyla up the slope.

"I need you to focus the first few drones on the east side of the dome. According to these readings some of the solar plating has been damaged over time, but that's where the plating remains relatively undamaged. The AI appears to be drawing the most power from that area. After you've done some damage there work your way to the room we're in now. Luckily this particular facility doesn't appear to have any external defenses. It could actually predate the Ancient's conflict with the Wraith ... "

Rodney's voice trailed off as his focus on the conversation dwindled. Teyla watched as Sheppard's mouth twisted with concern.

"I'm not firing on your position."

XXXXXXXXXX

Ronon loomed over the chair behind him and Rodney was reassured by the steady presence. Fingers flying he shook his head, a quick snap left then right.

"You don't have a choice Sheppard. I can't beat this thing. I can only try to keep one step ahead of it. The only reason we're even still in the running is all the AI's systems haven't been fully initialized. The power is on, but it hasn't booted up completely. I'm pulling strings and twisting threads, but eventually it'll get fast enough to straighten it all out before I can mess it up again. Pretty soon we'll lose radio contact whether the dogs are around or not. Shortly after that these doors will open or the AI will find a back way into the systems controlling the chair. Either way we're ..."

Abruptly the board beneath his fingers began to glow. Dimly at first, but increasing steadily until it was a deep angry red. Hissing, McKay pulled his hands from the board shaking his fingers hard. Sheppard's voice was an urgent shout in his ear as he stared at glowing board.

"McKay, what's going on? Rodney?"

Sucking on his red finger tips he pulled them out to blow lightly against the skin. "Damn it! The AI's heating the control board. It's like touching a burner. I need you to shut up and go blow stuff up. The sooner the better."

"Almost there, we'll ..." The Colonel's sentence was cut short as the radio fell silent, leaving McKay and Ronon to stare warily at the large console before them.

Ronon turned from the console to look down at the scientist before checking to see that the doors were still securely closed. Beyond them he could hear the angry scratching of metal against metal followed by the thump of bodies piling against the thick doors. McKay started violently from the sounds, glancing nervously from the screen to the doors.

"Oh no, no, no, I don't think so. We are so not going out under a pile of over-enthusiastic robot puppies. And people wonder why I like cats better. Give me lazy, self centered tabbies any day. Much better than these overactive mindlessly devout chihuahuas that think we're their new chew toy, or in this case target practice."

From the corner of his eye Ronon could see McKay grabbing up his data pad, fingers stabbing angrily. Minutes passed before Rodney mumbled in grudging satisfaction and the reddish glow of the board dimmed. Grimacing slightly, McKay threw a hesitant look over his shoulder before jutting his chin out stubbornly. Ignoring Ronon's suspicious glare, Rodney flexed his fingers once before diving back down to the board.

Ronon lurched against the chair as the scientist muffled a scream when his fingers touched down upon the still searing surface. Beads of sweat immediately formed on McKay's pale forehead and he bit his lip until he tasted blood, but he didn't stop. Seeing Rodney's determination, Ronon hesitated before withdrawing his outstretched hands.

"McKay ..."

Rodney didn't give Ronon the opportunity to finish as he interrupted in a strangled voice. "Ronon, I need you to back away from the chair. I'm not sure ..." Breaking off McKay panted softly before continuing. "I'm not sure what it will do next and I'd rather there be only one of us caught in the backlash."

Ronon glared before taking a step toward the chair, intent on providing as much protection as possible.

"Seriously Ronon, you're the warrior I'm the geek. You fight the killer Fidos and I'll wrestle the computer. Trust me, you can't possibly help here."

Watching McKay carefully, Ronon grudgingly turned back to the doors as one began to creep open. Dozens of slick metal bodies attempted to slip through the slit between the floor and door. Behind him McKay's burned fingers darted over the slowly cooling board. Ronon fired his weapon at the squirming robots not even waiting for them to clear the door. Scorched, motionless bodies were quickly pulled away to be replaced by shining, thrashing substitutes. Between blasts Ronon muttered to Rodney.

"I trust you McKay. You'll figure this out."

Ronon could hear McKay's barely audible mutter catching words like 'idiot' and 'of course I'll figure this out'. With a grim smile Ronon kept firing, trying to keep the dogs at bay, or at least far enough away that he and McKay couldn't be tagged by the lasers.

"Almost there. Almost ... ha!"

McKay raised a blistered finger in triumph as the door began to slide shut. Just as it was sliding tightly into the groove on the floor the entire room vibrated and they heard the faint boom of an explosion in the distance. They both looked up in relief as if they could see through the ceiling to the jumper circling above. As the faint vibrations rumbled to a halt, the frenzied scuttling from outside the door stopped suddenly. For a time McKay's whimpering breaths were the only sounds echoing through the large room. Thirty seconds hadn't passed before the skittering started up again only to slowly fade.

Ronon looked from the quiet doors to McKay's slumped shoulders. Rodney was staring blankly at the screen still streaming with data. Pacing to the chair Ronon placed a gentle hand on the nearest bent shoulder. McKay jumped violently under the touch before blinking owlishly up at the large man.

"Time to go McKay." Ronon's voice was a rumble in the still room.

"Right, yes right. Time to go."

McKay's voice was only slightly shaky as he pressed the back of one hand to his forehead, wiping away sweat and fear. Glancing at his scanner Rodney then gingerly poked at his data pad before turning to see a door slide open. Ronon whirled to the door, but immediately relaxed after seeing the empty corridor beyond. Wincing at the contact with his burned hands Rodney handed both data pad and scanner to Ronon.

With a sigh the scientist swung a foot down to the floor and leaned forward to press up and out of the chair. Before he could push clear he froze, body bent forward. Ronon glared impatiently at McKay and shifted restlessly until he took a closer look at the scientist.

Growing alarmed the Runner moved to the seat, hand reaching out to grip McKay's shoulder.

"Don't ... touch ... me ..."

Carefully Ronon drew back his hand and shifted around the chair, bending low to see Rodney's face. The sight that met him brought a chill to his spine and he immediately knelt beside the chair to get a better angle.

Rodney's face was distorted with tremors of pain. Tendons bulged thickly down his pale neck and his chest strained for each breath. Leaning forward slightly Ronon could feel the hair on his arms stand on end as a faint pressure radiated from the scientist. Eyelashes clumped together with tears and sweat were plastered against white cheeks. At Ronon's approach the screen began flashing violently and Rodney's back arched in agony. Ronon recoiled and the flashing subsided. As if he could feel Ronon's scrutiny, McKay's eyelids parted ever-so-slowly.

"What can I do?" Ronon was surprised when he heard the helplessness seeping into his voice. Reaching down he planted both palms flat against the smooth floor, a reminder to not touch the rigid scientist. Even with his sensitive hearing Ronon could barely catch McKay's reply.

"Can't ... AI l-lonely ... bored ... wants st-stimulation ... p-play toy ... Shep ... Sheppard ... h-has to ... boom ..."

Watching the agony and frustration reflected in McKay's pinched features, Ronon's brow furrowed as he tried to decipher the words into coherent thoughts. "The AI wants to keep you alive for fun, you're its new play toy."

Pausing when Rodney's eyes gave a slow blink of acknowledgment Ronon continued. "You think it won't let you go until Sheppard's closer and it's in immediate danger. That could be cutting it close McKay."

Slitted blue eyes clenched shut as Rodney's chest hitched even harder with each breath. Exhaustion was carved into every taut line of his body and when he spoke again the word was more a pant than a sound.

"Go."

Huffing softly Ronon ignored the request. Instead he sat, long legs crossed, on the floor beside the chair, eyes never leaving McKay's pallid face. Barely resisting the overwhelming urge to drag the scientist from the chair and away from the room, Ronon sat quietly. He was relieved when he felt the next explosion echoing through the complex. The vibrations shook the room harder than before and Ronon hoped that the AI could feel some measure of pain.

XXXXXXXXXX

Sheppard's arm ached, his shoulder throbbed, and he was pretty sure that the pounding in his head was going to crack open his skull any minute. Flying with only one hand was giving him flashbacks of playing teenager's parent to Rodney's drivers ed student. Looking down with a thin smile he tried to loosen his white-knuckled grip and relax the muscles knotting in his arm. Pulling up the HUD the Colonel compared the display to the readings Rodney had been telling them about. Sheppard carefully steered as far away as possible from the center pulsing blob of energy that he knew was the AI. Instead he followed a glowing tendril that stretched out to the edge of the dome.

Beside him Teyla was a statue, motionless yet radiating an intense concern and impatience. Through the corner of his eye he could see her lean forward as he fired, eyes narrowed in concentration. Their breaths were heavy and quick as they watched the drone snake out, slamming into the dome's paneling. Fire erupted as silver panels spun rapidly through the air, twisting and flickering in the sun. Waiting just long enough for the large fireball to fade to a billowing cloud of smoke, Teyla tapped her radio.

"Ronon, Dr. McKay, do you read? Ronon, Rodney, if you can hear this, Colonel Sheppard plans to keep the first few rounds close together. After the first three there will be approximately ..." Sheppard felt her eyes on him, questioning. They had concocted a loose plan by the time they reached the jumper, but now they were, as usual, flying by the seat of their pants.

"Ten minutes should give them enough time to clear a section, but not enough time for the AI's little helpers to lose interest."

"Ten minutes. The Colonel hopes that will give you sufficient time to clear a section. However, we will not fire on the central room until receiving contact. I will repeat this message before each hit in the hope that the message will reach you. Teyla out."

Sheppard tried to ignore the eerie silence and instead focused on watching the minutes tick by. Shifting restlessly beside him Teyla's brown eyes narrowed with concentration as she stared at the HUD. Another drone was sent out followed by a brilliant burst of heat and scorched metal and Teyla tried again. Only to be met by more heavy stillness.

XXXXXXXXXX

Another hit rocked the room, this time causing the screen in the wall to flicker briefly. As the data stream stuttered McKay's body shuttered viciously and tilted forward, then fell hard against the console. Surging forward Ronon caught Rodney's trembling body before he slid bonelessly to the floor. Bloodshot blue eyes opened to meet concerned brown eyes as McKay managed a ghost of a smile.

Ronon's voice was rough with a relief he wouldn't admit as he pulled Rodney up from the floor. "Time to 'blow this popsicle joint'?"

McKay swayed on his feet and his knees threatened to buckle. Ronon ducked low nearly bent in half and pulled one of Rodney's arms across his shoulder. It was an extremely uncomfortable position, but at least the shaking scientist wouldn't be forced to swing upside down over his shoulder. Gently Ronon passed the scanner to McKay's waiting hand as the two turned to hobble out the door.

Pausing just beyond the doorway, Ronon turned to scowl at the quietly flickering screen of the AI. Shifting Rodney's weakly shuttering body closer to his, Ronon felt a surprising surge of anger and protectiveness. Knowing it wouldn't actually harm the AI, but still needing the release Ronon fired two quick bursts into the screen. The screen darkened and he felt a small measure of grim satisfaction.

"Feel better?"

"Yeah, you?"

With a weak smile McKay tilted his eyes up to catch Ronon's gaze. "Yes actually ... thanks."

"McKay, what's a 'popsicle joint'?"

Rodney's faint snort of laughter followed them out the door and, in a voice still far too soft for Ronon's liking, he responded while checking the scanner.

"Oh no, I neither have the time nor the energy to explain that one. Ask Sheppard, I know he's to blame. Speaking of Sheppard. Colonel, Teyla come in please."

After a short pause Sheppard's voice tumbled from the radio, tight with anxiety.

"McKay! What the hell. We're on our third drone here, where have you been?"

McKay turned a white face to Ronon eyes starting to roll until he winced from the movement. The sound of their awkward gait clattered in the empty hall and Ronon could hear a slight tremor underlining Rodney's voice as he responded.

"Sorry Mom, we were having so much fun playing with the pups we lost track of time. We were thinking about adopting a few for the labs, might even increase productivity. I can just see it now, 'sic 'em Fido, good boy'."

Sheppard response was heavy with an odd blend of relief and amusement.

"Oh no, you are so grounded, no television and no allowance. You both better be on your way home now or you can forget about phone privileges for a week. And as for adoption, I bet they're not house trained. Besides, over half the scientists already have regular sessions with Heightmeyer after enduring the terror that is McKay. Who needs Fido when we already have the original Cujo? Zelenka even has you housebroken- well almost."

Sheppard paused and the humor vanished revealing the tension it had been hiding.

"You two okay?"

Feeling McKay sag further against him, breathe ragged with the effort to remain standing, Ronon miraculously found himself speaking for Rodney.

"McKay got a little too close and personal with the AI, it had a crush on him ..."

Rodney interrupted with a barely audible 'must be my animal magnetism and sparkling personality' and Ronon growled at the interruption before continuing.

"It had a crush on him, literally. It put up some kind of shield around him, didn't look like much fun."

"Felt like I was in a Looney Tunes cartoon." McKay's tone dropped an octave as he recited. "And I will love him and squeeze him and call him George." Returning to it's normal tenor Rodney's voice was petulant and a little slurred. "I don't even look like a George."

"Rodney, can you stop your babbling long enough to give me a position? We're have trouble finding you with the sensors. And Ronon, if you can fight through McKay's yabbering I'd like a better idea of his injuries."

The Colonel's voice was its normal drawl, but Ronon could hear the concern.

"Looks like he's in shock. Burned his hands pretty badly on the console. Not sure what the AI did, but he's having problems standing or even holding his head up at this point. I'm not sure how much longer he's going to be able to stay on his feet. I'm pretty much dragging him now."

McKay scowled down at the scanner, apparently ignoring the larger man, but Ronon could see the scanner quiver uncontrollably. Blinking rapidly Rodney shook his head, but he was obviously having difficulty focusing on the device. When he spoke his voice had slowed even further, sounding more drunk than sober.

"Another problem. The AI's getting pissed. It knows what we're doing, of course. It looks like it's making a last ditch effort at revenge. I'm showing masses moving this way. We're not that far from the exit, but the door has just closed on us."

The Colonel's response was no longer a drawl, but clipped and precise. "Open it."

Ronon could feel Rodney's entire body sag even further against him with a sigh of mingled frustration and fear. No longer able to speak clearly, his voice stuttered with exhaustion and shock.

"C-can't ... we've g-got f-full attention. C-c ... center st-stage. No w-way I c-c-an get aro-around it." Taking a shallow breath Rodney continued and Ronon could hear the strain at his attempt to voice his muddled thoughts. "B'sides we d-don't have t-time, F-fidos to f-fast. I c-couldn't fo-cus on m-my data p-pad to s-save my l-life ... literally. Evrythng's blur ..."

Ronon winced as the tired voice ground to a halt, McKay's head fell limply against his shoulder, the effort of speaking taking its toll.

"Damn it McKay stay with us. Focus. How do we get the door open?" Sheppard's voice was showing some strain as well as it snapped across the radio.

Ronon grunted at the obvious answer. "Blow it."

Beside him McKay's eyes raised and his mouth hung open, horrified. There was a long silence across the radio before the Colonel responded.

"That's even worse than McKay suggesting we hit the complex and that was in a completely different area from where you would be."

Ronon watched as Rodney's horrified expression dropped away to be replace by tired acceptance. "Sh-sheppard, I ... I got n-nothing. H-he's right. D-do it. We're out o-of t-time. No choice."

From behind them Ronon could hear a distant scuffling and he urged McKay forward faster. Feeling the change of pace Rodney stared blearily at the scanner before trying to stuff it back into a vest pocket. After a third attempt the scanner slid in and he managed to pull his nine millimeter out with an unsteady hand.

"Sheppard, we've got company. Blow it quick before we're too close, because we really can't afford to slow down right now."

Ronon was relieved to hear heated cursing but no argument and then the radio went dead once again. Ignoring McKay's gasping and the ache in his own back from its twisted position, Ronon pushed harder down the hall. From behind them beams of light sliced through the gloom, hitting the ground just inches from their heels. Before Ronon could turn them to fire back a solid wall of heat and debris slammed them off their feet and into the nearest wall.

Unable to turn McKay in time Ronon felt himself crash into the smaller body as they were hurled into the wall. Quickly releasing McKay's arm Ronon let the scientist slide down the wall as he turned his back to the debris. Crouching over to shield Rodney he winced as hot metal dug into his back.

Smoke curled around them and when the rain of debris ended, Ronon sat back on his heels. Sparing a quick glance at Rodney's still face he shifted the limp body into a fireman's carry and stumbled to his feet. The clicks of metal against metal from behind him spurred him toward the heat. Coughing he moved deeper into thick smoke, looking desperately for the light at the end of the tunnel.

XXXXXXXXXX

Sheppard stared blankly at the large smoking hole in the side of the smooth dome surface. Beside him Teyla's normally calm voice cracked as she kept trying unsuccessfully to contact Ronon and McKay. Landing the jumper close to the dome, he was already opening the back hatch before it had touched down.

Forcing exhausted limbs to move, Sheppard struggled from his seat. Pushing and pulling on any available surface, he stumbled out of the jumper. Using the side of the jumper as support he worked his way forward toward the gaping hole in the dome. Leaning heavily on the jumper, Sheppard had just stopped to cling to the front of the ship when the sound of coughing erupted from the hole. Squinting at the dark smoke, he caught a shadow of movement. Blinking and pushing off the jumper he had managed a step forward when the shadow solidified into Ronon's large frame. The Runner stumbled over piles of debris and through the smoke until Sheppard could see a limp body slung over the broad shoulder.

The Colonel forced himself to stay by the jumper, knowing he couldn't help Ronon if he collapsed himself. Instead he called out.

"Ronon! To your right."

Ronon's face turned to Sheppard and the Colonel could see the Runner's eyes were red from smoke and his voice was hoarse when he spoke.

"Those machines are still behind us."

Cursing softly Sheppard swung his P90 up as Ronon neared the jumper's nose. He heard the robots clattering over the rubble before seeing the soft glow of yellow eyes blink in the dark smoke. He was vaguely reminded of Christmas lights before seeing the small bodies surging through the smoke and toward the jumper.

Ronon cleared the rubble and was making his way to the back of the jumper when Sheppard began firing into the scurrying mass. After a few bursts from the P90 he followed Ronon into the jumper as Teyla triggered the hatch closed. Sheppard dove for the controls and was clear of the ground before the first metal bodies could scale the debris.

Glaring hard at the soft glow on the HUD signaling the AI's location Sheppard growled as he released one last drone. Watching carefully as the large football of light streaked across the screen, he felt a dark satisfaction when the drone dove down, ripping through metal and burrowing deep until it found its target hidden underneath. With a final glance to see the AI's pulsing light dim then blink out, he made a beeline for the gate.

Glancing back Sheppard caught Teyla's worried expression as she helped position Rodney's limp body on the floor of the jumper. Graceful brown hands gently brushed across and down McKay's ashen face and came to rest just below the slack jaw, pressing to find a pulse. A second quick look back as the jumper neared the gate and he felt a jolt of alarm at the look of naked fear in Teyla's eyes.

"He is not breathing. I cannot find a pulse."

As she spoke she was already moving, positioning herself at McKay's head, grasping firmly under the pale jaw to tilt his head back. Beside her Ronon hunched over the still form, large hands knotting against the motionless chest. With his heart in his throat Sheppard reached an unsteady hand out and dialed the gate. He waited impatiently for the wormhole to form, each passing second feeling like a year. As soon as the wormhole was established he keyed his IDC and began speaking so fast he felt as if he was channeling McKay.

"Atlantis we have a medical emergency. We need a medical team in the jumper bay. I repeat medical emergency, McKay's injured. He's not breathing and there's no pulse. Teyla and Ronon are performing CPR."

He paused to breathe, wishing the same could be said of the quiet body behind him. Listening to Ronon's deep voice calling out a steady cadence, Sheppard forced his stuttering heart to slow and began a mental cadence of his own.

"Almost home, almost home, almost home."

XXXXXXXXXX

Carson could say that he had been hanging innocuously around the infirmary merely in order to finish up paper work. Yes, his shift had ended over an hour ago, but being CMO of Atlantis often meant too much to do and not enough hours in the day. He could also say that he hadn't laid the surgical tools out in preparation, their clean silver gleaming under the soft Atlantis light. After all, it was important to inventory the tools on a constant basis, just in case of an emergency. He could also say that his continued jumpiness and lack of attention to the aforementioned paperwork was because he had skipped supper. He could say all of those things, but he didn't bother with the lies. Nor did he bother feeling surprised when Colonel Sheppard's hurried voice announced the true reason for his continued presence in the infirmary.

One ear listening to the Colonel's quick summation he flew out the door, medical team following in his wake. Frowning at the exhaustion clearly evident in Sheppard's voice Carson clicked onto the frequency as soon as the Colonel stopped for a breathe.

"Colonel Sheppard, are there any other injuries?"

Carson wasn't surprised at the relief in Sheppard's voice as he responded after a pause, Teyla's voice a soft murmur in the background.

"Carson. Yes, Teyla and I have minor injuries from some sort of energy beam. Gave us a nasty burn and numbed the entire area, although Teyla's was more a graze. Also ... Teyla says Ronon has some burns and embedded metal in his back, explosive debris. Nothing life threatening though."

Cataloging the information Carson shook his head in wonder at Atlantis' top team's innate ability to stumble into trouble the second that they stepped past the gate. With a sigh he questioned once again how he managed to become friends with a group that was always on the cusp of being killed. But then, with as much time as they spent in the infirmary he could hardly be blamed for the friendship. Still, he really did prefer playing audience to the team's shenanigans anywhere other that in his domain. If not for the emotional strain, then for the strain on his staff. And it was always a strain, even if only one of them was under his care. For where there was one, the others were sure to follow.

"All right Colonel. We're almost to the jumper bay now. What details can you give me on Rodney's condition?"

To all but that those who knew him well the Colonel sounded calm and controlled, but Carson could hear the strain. To his ears Sheppard's voice was beginning to sound rough with frustration and concern, a combination that forced an unpleasant chill along Carson's spine.

"We're not sure. Ronon says he has burns on his hands, but it was the run-in with some kind of force field that was trying to crush him that really wiped him out. We were separated at the time, but according to Ronon he was on his feet, though just barely. They both got caught in an explosion just before we returned. Apparently Rodney was between the wall and Ronon when the blast occured, must've been checked pretty hard into the wall. Guess that'll teach him to prefer hockey over football huh?"

The attempt at humor was a thin stretch and Carson's response was soft.

"We'll take care of him Colonel."

Carson was relieved to see the welcoming sight of the jumper bay doors ahead. Taking a deep calming breath he watched the incoming jumper settling gently down. Not waiting for the hatch to lower completely, Carson and his team packed into the small space, one nurse already kneeling beside the prone form, defibrillator paddles prepared and charged. Taking quick vitals Carson was eerily reminded of another patient and another time before he blinked away the unpleasant memory. No blood was present on the side of the still neck. The patient lying so pale on the floor wasn't a soldier but a scientist. An extremely accident prone, sarcastic, arrogant, annoying scientist who had, miracle-upon-miracle, managed to become a close friend to one CMO. Despite, or maybe because of, the never ending diatribes and slurs about Carson's profession, his native land, and anything else that could possibly be used as ammunition.

His team was crisp and efficient, snapping out vitals and hooking up monitors as Carson took the paddles from the waiting nurse. Hands steadier than his heart Carson positioned the paddles and allowed himself to fall into the rhythm of his practice.

Long minutes later Carson sighed with relief as Rodney's vitals stabilized and the tense air in the jumper relaxed a notch. Hesitant to relinquish his position Carson slid slowly to the side, waving to the two techs waiting patiently by a gurney. His eyes remained glued to the quiet scientist as he was gently lifted onto the gurney, but Carson was still very much aware of the tense team at his side. Sensing the question long before it could be voiced Carson shook his head as he spoke.

"I don't know Colonel. I need to get him back to the infirmary and get a better look at him. He's stable for the time being."

Finally he managed to break his attention away from the gurney to the silent presence beside him. Rapidly shifting gears Carson's eyes narrowed as he inspected the pitiful trio crammed into the front of the jumper in order to afford precious room for the medical team. Frowning at the evident exhaustion and pain pinching the three faces to varying degrees, Carson gestured to the nearest nurse before turning to leave.

"Nancy, make sure these fools get checked before they end up in my waiting room. They can just as easily wait in nice comfortable beds and from the looks 'o them that's where they'll be belonging."

Hoping to escape from the inevitable protest Carson moved out of the jumper, but didn't escape in time. Behind him he heard a soft grunt from Ronon and Sheppard's light drawl.

"Did he just call those narrow slabs of granite 'nice' and 'comfortable'? I mean, has anyone seriously ever considered them either? Hey Ronon, you've slept on some pretty uncomfortable spots in the last seven years, would you call the infirmary beds 'nice' and 'comfortable'."

Another grunt was followed by Ronon's deep voice. "No."

Succinct as ever, Carson choose to ignore the comments as he began walking away from the jumper. He was two feet from the jumper when a soft voice caught his attention.

"Carson ... "

Turning, his eyes settled on two very tired and worried hazel eyes.

"As soon as I find anything out you'll know."

After one last intense look Carson turned, jogging to catch up to the gurney. He was very much aware of the concern emanating from tense team as the jumper bay doors closed behind him.

XXXXXXXXXX

Sheppard twitched on the small infirmary bed, shifting positions in a vain attempt at finding a happy medium between uncomfortable and full-out butt coma. Stifling a smile he noticed Teyla doing the same from the corner of his eye. Ronon sat in a chair between them his expression smug as he watched the two squirm. His back had required antibiotics and some stitches, but he had managed to dodge yet another stay in the infirmary. Sheppard and Teyla did not fair as well. Fortunately for her, Teyla's wound had indeed only been a graze. Although painful, she was regaining full motion and would have her freedom in a few hours time.

Sheppard glared with envy at both Ronon and Teyla, his incarceration would be a little more extensive. The large burn on his shoulder was blistered and bloody, but nothing unusual. What had him stuck in the infirmary again was the temporarily immobile shoulder and arm. He was finally able to feel his fingertips, but instead of numbness he felt deep shooting pains. Unsure of the long term neurological effects of the 'Fidos' beam, he was being held under observation for at least 24 hours.

Not that he truly minded. To be honest he knew that he'd be sitting in the infirmary waiting, even if he hadn't been assigned a bed. Still, it was the principle of the thing. John Sheppard hated the need for the bed even more than the bed itself, and that was saying a lot.

Absently Sheppard fingered the soft netting sitting in a puddle on his lap. He's been given a true sling long ago. However he'd retrieved McKay's mosquito net with the defense that he'd rather not endure the scientist's whines and reminders of allergic reaction or possible death by itching. He twitched yet again on the bed, eyes wandering to where they were awaiting the appearance of Carson Beckett.

Hours had passed, but no news had been forthcoming. Elizabeth had come down shortly after they'd settled in, leaning casually on John's bed as they gave their reports. But he hadn't missed her eyes shifting every few minutes to the empty bed beside John's or the short look over her shoulder to the empty doorway. Finally after running out of excuses to loiter, Elizabeth had grudgingly returned to her job leaving the order that she be informed of any changes.

As if her presence had been a cork a flood of visitors wandered into the infirmary after her departure. The trio struggled not to laugh at the flimsy excuses to visit the team. Sheppard actually lost the fight when Zelenka came in, mad hair flying and muttering about clumsy lab technicians and broken fingers. The nurse had looked at his broken fingernail with barely contained annoyance and had handed him a band aid. Sheppard was pretty sure he could see Bugs Bunny on the small bandage. Mumbling and raising his chin in defiance he glared at the trio as if daring them to utter a comment. Sheppard was so strongly reminded of another very much absent scientist that he had found himself unconsciously twisting the netting on his lap between his long fingers.

Radek's soft accent broke through his thoughts and he blinked to find the small scientist standing beside him, blue eyes soft with understanding.

"He will be fine. There are far too many scientists to cower with sharp words. Loud obnoxious reminders of his genius and the grand stupidity of the masses. Blah, blah, blah."

Sheppard managed a small grin before the scientist whisked away, head shaking as he ranted about how not everyone could laze about in the infirmary all day. The Colonel could swear he even heard something in the rant about championship thumb wrestling as well as muttered comments about Colonel's with fetishes for hospital scrubs.

The deluge of visitors had finally slowed to a trickle about an hour ago and the team became more concerned at the amount of time that had passed. Sheppard was just about to climb out of bed to get in some much needed pacing when a voice sounded from beside his shoulder. Whipping his head up in surprise he was met by a set of tired blue eyes and he tensed in anticipation.

"Carson, I swear McKay's right about that voodoo practice of yours. You could give Ronon a run for his money in the stealth department."

Carson smiled gently as he leaned against Sheppard's bed, checking his dressing and writing something down in the chart he held. The Colonel endured the inspection without comment, but his eyes, burning with impatience and concern, never left the doctor's face.

Finally Carson acknowledged the team's scrutiny with a sigh.

"He's resting comfortably at the moment. We'll be moving him in soon. I won't lie to you. We had more than a bit of trouble after getting him back to the infirmary. He broke some ribs when Ronon crashed into him and his glucose levels were bottoming as was his blood pressure. The real concern was the progressive shock. It was a bit of a balancing act to keep his body from shutting down. We've been pumping him full of fluids and he's wrapped in emergency blankets to hold in the warmth. We'll be keeping a very close eye on him for the next 24 hours, just in case there's any further complications. Again, we're dealing with unknown here."

Seeing Carson's scowl of frustration Sheppard allowed himself a low chuckle of relief.

"When are we not dealing with an unknown?" Then a little more seriously he added in a soft voice. "Thanks Carson, you did good."

Beckett shrugged as two nurses began rearranging beds to create a space for McKay's.

"I didn't do the hard work, just don't tell Rodney that, he's got a big enough ego as is."

Sheppard had opened his mouth to reply, but fell silent as McKay was wheeled quietly into position beside him. He stared hard at his silent friend, pushing against the thin mattress and craning his neck to get a better view. What he saw wasn't comforting. Rodney's face was white, deep smudges of purple lingered under his closed eyes and his expressive hands lay motionless. A few too many machines were hooked into the still form, softly whirring guardians of the seemingly fragile scientist.

Carson watched as the quiet teammates assessed the silent form, his expression one of gentle understanding. When three sets of eyes had settled on him once again he shared a long reassuring look with each before speaking.

"Barring any unknown complications, he'll be awake and complaining about how the infirmary reeks of sheep in no time, you'll see."

Sheppard felt a knot of tension he hadn't even been fully aware of loosen and unravel. With a final long look at Rodney's still form he finally closed his eyes and relaxed into the torturous mattress. Smiling slightly as he began planning ways to keep the normally frenetic McKay stationary so he body could mend. The smile quickly became wicked when a particularly evil suggestion popped into his thoughts, and he chuckled softly with anticipation.

XXXXXXXXXX

McKay squirmed in the small infirmary bed, impatiently tugging at his pillows, the blanket, the sheets, anything within reach. He was bored, oh so bored. He ached with a full body exhaustion, but he was also antsy. After begging, pleading, and whining for close to an hour for his laptop, Rodney had finally been forced to admit defeat when an irate Carson had appeared with a needle the size of a large tire pump. Muttering and cursing about aggravating scientists, Carson then disappeared into his office, ignoring Rodney's parting shot about Scottish doctors and an their fondness of phallic symbols.

Beside him Sheppard smile innocently as he swung a laptop up onto his bed. Rodney's eyes narrowed at the sight of both laptop and smile, already suspicious. Before he could ask about either the infirmary door opened admitting a slowly limping Teyla with Ronon at her side. Teyla smiled brightly at him, moving to squeeze his hand before perching on Sheppard's bed. Ronon's dark eyes swept over him, intense in their inspection before deciding he was satisfied with what he saw. With a brief nod and a nearly nonexistent smile the large man leaned against the other side of Sheppard's bed.

Rodney returned Ronon's nod before his eyes settled once again on the Colonel's wide grin.

"So Rodney, up for some movies. Ronon and Teyla were curious, so I decided with our free time we could have a movie marathon."

Rodney's eyes narrowed even further, his suspicion growing with Sheppard's grin.

"Oh really. What kind of movies are you playing in this marathon of yours?"

The innocent expression Sheppard directed at him only confirmed his suspicions.

"Oh just a few classics, I'm sure you'll enjoy them."

Over the speakers McKay could hear the steady thrum of the soundtrack to The Terminator and he groaned. With one well aimed pillow he allowed himself a thin smile of contentment at Sheppard's squawk of protest when the pillow hit it's target soundly closing the laptop with a satisfying snap.

"No more eighties movies for us, they're bad for our health."

Sheppard pouted as he faked a glare. Rodney smiled back, suddenly tired his eyelids began to sink down. Time for a nap, but first ...

"Hey Sheppard? That's quite a decorative group of bumps covering your face, might lose you some points with the ladies though. Bet if you asked Carson he'd rustle you up some calamine lotion for those. The pink will look just lovely with your complexion. I bet it'll bring out the color of your eyes."

With that said he fell deeply into sleep, a small smile a victory on his lips as Sheppard grumbled a petulant reply.

"That's it McKay, I'm keeping the butterfly net."