The rain fell firm and almost hot. John was wet to his skin within seconds. He could see only a few feet ahead through the sheets of rain. Carefully, he started to walk downhill. With every step he sank deeper into the mud. Having only one arm to keep his balance, John's descent was slow; he wanted to avoid another fall at all cost.
The hill hadn't appeared half as steep before the rain had started. When John looked back up, pants smeared with mud up to his thighs, he could see nothing but a vague shape in the rain.
John turned back towards the Jumper, at least where he thought the Jumper was. There was nothing there. The darkened sky and heavy rain hindered his vision, but he should be able to see the lake and the Jumper in the distance. John turned ninety degrees - nothing. Another ninety - nothing. Two more turns and he had come full circle. There was nothing out there, but rain. The uneasy feeling John had had before was back where he had started. He told himself not to panic and tapped on his radio.
"Ronon, Teyla, this is Sheppard. Please respond."
All he heard in response was the sound of the falling rain.
John felt for the pocket of his jacket. Relief shot through him when he felt the hard, flat object under his fingers. He pulled out the device and held it to read the screen. There was nothing. No living being registered within the range of the Ancient scanner. It couldn't be. Both the Jumper and the cave were within the radius covered by the life signs detector. John concentrated hard, trying mentally to connect to the technology, but he couldn't. His mind felt nothing to reach out to, but John wasn't sure whether the detector worked that.
All the alarm bells in his head were going off at the same time. John drew his Beretta.
Thunder cracked somewhere in the distance, loud and hard. Lightning followed immediately. In the flash of illumination, John suddenly saw a towering dark building. It was huge, roughly shaped like a pyramid and it hadn't been there before. The bolt of lighting had only sparked for the fraction of a second, but it had been enough to imprint the image on John's mind.
The sky was in uproar, but John didn't pay any attention to the thunder and the worsening rain, as he tried to make out the structure he had seen just seconds earlier.
There was something dark ahead in front of him, but the building storm didn't allow John to make out clear details. He couldn't explain how they could have missed a structure this big before, in the middle of the dessert. The Wraith could create illusions--John was aware of that--but nothing as elaborate as this, and the life signs detector would have alerted him of their presence.
John tried again to raise his team on the radio, but again, there was no answer. He wished he had taken at least a flashlight. All he had was his Beretta, the life signs detector and a Power Bar.
By now, the wind was blowing the rain sideways and the sky had darkened even more. There was no doubt that a storm was brewing. John knew he had to get back to the cave, or at least to some shelter before the wind picked up full speed. The rain was already pelting against his face hard, and his sense didn't stand a chance against the rain and wind.
John had a good sense of direction. He didn't have Teyla's instincts, but he had years of training on his side. He had turned in an exact 360 degree circle, so he could still pinpoint the direction he had come from and the way to the Jumper at the shore. The only problem was that where the lake should be, he had seen something different, or at least had thought he had seen something.
John chose the prudent alternative and headed back to where he had come from. A sense of danger was still tingling in the back of his head but the life sign detector, his only reliable source of information under present conditions, didn't show anyone in the vicinity.
Gun ready to fire, John headed back to where the incline had been. Going for back-up was the best choice in the situation. Within two minutes, daylight had almost disappeared. The little visibility he had had before was gone. With the storm starting to brew now, the strange building or whatever it was that he had seen was taking a backseat to getting back to the safety of the cave.
John counted his steps in the darkness. Twenty. He was walking through deep mud. Thirty, still nothing. He should be getting to the incline by now. He saw nothing but darkness ahead. He tried the radio for the third time, but there was no response, not even so much as static. It was as if he had walked down the hill and stepped off the planet. And among all the crazy things that had happened to him in the Pegasus Galaxy, this was new.
Five more steps and John still had nothing but mud under his boots. The wind building up, and combined with the pelting rain, the sound of rushing water filled his ears. Even though he had to be close to the cave, his voice would never carry over the noise of the storm. John had to make it on foot; he couldn't wait out the storm in the middle of the dessert unprotected. It might be different from desert on Earth, but once it started to rain, they could experience massive flooding.
John took another step forwards and stepped into nothing.
John heard muffled sounds, somewhere off to his side. As he quietly listened, they became more distinct and he recognised familiar voices.
"Finally, it's time it stopped raining. This is the worst planet we have ever been to! Everything's wet. My boots are never going to dry. Foot rot, I'm telling you!" That could only be Rodney.
"You should eat something, McKay." A deep and powerful voice responded and something scratched across a surface.
"I think Colonel Sheppard is starting to wake up." The voice was female. There was more indistinct noise and something soft and warm touched his forehead.
"Colonel Sheppard, can you hear us? You need to wake up."
"Sheppard! Wake up!" Ronon ordered and suddenly John recalled the last time he had been down-and-out, when he had woken up to Ronon slapping him in the face. That he wanted to avoid.
John opened his eyes. There was nothing, just shadows and darkness. John remembered the rain and the darkness before he had fallen and panicked. It had to have been some nightmare. John struggled to sit up, reach for his gun, but strong arms were already holding him down, applying pressure to his recent injury. The pain immobilized him quickly and John had no choice but to stay put. Suddenly a light came on, so bright that he had to close his eyes for a moment.
"It's all right, Colonel Sheppard. You are safe." He heard Teyla's reassuring voice and opened his eyes again.
The light was coming from a storm light Rodney was holding. They were in a cavern of some sort. The walls consisted of solid rock, closing into a domed ceiling over them, but from where he was lying, he couldn't see daylight anywhere.
"Where are we?" It was the first of many questions on his mind.
"Deeper inside the cave. The wind was blowing in water; we had to seek shelter. Hopefully the storm will soon end," Teyla replied. She seemed calm, like nothing unusual at all had happened.
"Rodney found you lying outside in the streaming rain," Ronon explained before John could ask.
"Yes, you were lucky, major. Without me, your skinny air force ass wouldn't be here now. What did you do out there anyways?" Rodney seemed chipper, although he was dripping wet, like the rest of John's team.
"I was looking for you. What else should I be doing out there?" John was getting the feeling that something was not all right. He pushed himself up into a sitting position. The last time he had had that feeling, it had turned out that he was being help prisoner in an artificial reality. His dead friends showing up had tipped him off that time. It wasn't going to happen to him again, this time; John was going to be ready.
"So, how is the Jumper doing?" He asked casually, and reached to feel for his side arm, just in case. It wasn't there.
"I managed to lock everything before the storm got going. Once the storm dies down, we should be good to go," Rodney replied. "Not unless you want to go up there and risk electrocution."
John had to agree, it was better to wait out the storm. One crash per mission was enough. He wasn't content with what Rodney and the others had told him though. Something didn't add up. John clearly recalled the huge black building he had seen in the brief moment of lightning. He was sure it hadn't been a dream. It wasn't just that, the seeming error of the life signs detector and his 'accident'.
John went to search the pockets of his jacket, when he realized that he had been stripped to his tee shirt.
"Rodney, would you please hand me the life signs detector?"
"That planet is dead. Don't worry, not even Ronon is worried." Rodney handed John the device.
Like all Ancient technology, it automatically activated in the hands of a gene carrier. Like John had expected, it displayed three life signs around him.
"Rodney, can you tell if this was malfunctioning at some point?" John asked, not sure how much to reveal. If this was an artificial reality, like he had experienced on the planet of the fog-aliens, he couldn't trust anyone.
"Those things weren't made by Microsoft." Rodney shrugged and took the scanner from John. "I can access the memory. It records the scanned data and the location relative of the nearest hyperspace beacon." Rodney got up and walked over to his backpack.
"What are you thinking?" Ronon asked. John had hoped the others would stay out of this, but as soon as Ronon sensed the mere possibility of a threat, he was ready to engage it.
"I don't know," John admitted a half-truth. "I used it to find Rodney earlier, when the storm was just starting out. The life signs detector wasn't showing anything. I just want to make sure we are not missing anything." He hoped that would sound believable. It was true; he was just omitting a few details.
"I don't think the Wraith could land in this storm," Ronon considered. "No one can live on this planet for long and the race that built the citadel is long gone. I do not believe we are in danger here." Ronon crossed his arms over his chest. He too was dripping wet. Sheppard wondered whether they too had been out in the rain.
"Still, I'd rather know for sure. We had our surprises before." The heavy wind and rain reminded John of another time when a threat had come unexpected because they had trusted the wrong people.
"As you wish, Master." Rodney balanced his open laptop on top of a crate of equipment from the Jumper. The scientist started working, leaning over the keyboard. The only sounds in the cave were the rain and the soft clicking of keys.