The jungle was humid and calm. The huts were small and nondescript, with the exception of one large structure. The large room within was filled with laughter, the jovial celebration not so much floating in the air as weighing it down with noise. It was almost too much to bear, not really relaxed yet not forced. More like a place where having a good time was to be expected, therefore everyone was doing their part. In short, it was a situation where the newcomers were being scrutinized, and the hosts were being judged.
None of which mattered to Rodney at the moment. He was curled over the table, his food half eaten and his body giving him hell. "Oh god," he groaned as he placed his hand on his throbbing stomach. "I can't even contemplate eating another bite. I don't even want to hear the word."
"What word?" Major John Sheppard teased, leaning in and waving what resembled a chicken leg casually in the air. It was one thing to see a friend in pain. It was another to relish in it, knowing full well that pure idiocy caused the discomfort in the first place.
The aroma caught, and Rodney blanched. "You know."
"What, this?" John let the leg hover before Rodney's nose before thumping it back onto his plate.
Rodney grimaced and swallowed heavily. "You're an ass," he forced out.
But John was just getting started. After all, it had been a long day. There was good food, good wine, and good company to pick on. "Why on earth would food bother you? I mean you of all people should appreciate the palatable splendor that this culture has to offer."
"Can it, major." Rodney squinted his eyes in annoyance and puffed in his cheeks as he held in a belch. "Oh god. This isn't good."
"Should I tell everyone to vacate?" John continued to tease. He'd caught Teyla's eye, who had been watching Rodney's reactions for the past several moments and was looking distinctly worried.
"No, no, I'll be fine, I'll just . . . go outside for a minute and, you know, get some fresh air."
"Just be sure to leave some for the rest of us, okay?" John said to his back as Rodney pasted on a crooked smile for his hosts and pushed his way outside. John shook his head in amusement as Teyla took the now vacant seat beside him.
"Is Dr. McKay quite all right?" she asked softly. She smiled at their gracious host through her question, tilting her head slightly toward John to allow for privacy.
"Oh, sure, you know Rodney. For someone who loves and relies so heavily on food for his well-being, it isn't being well back to him."
She glanced at the door behind them. "Should one of us go and see to him?"
"I really don't think that's such a good idea right now," John drawled, and his grimace told Teyla all she needed to know. She raised a brow, and gave an understanding nod.
"Man's got farts that would destroy a hive ship," Ford said around a chunk of meat. "You ever been in the puddlejumper when. . ."
"Yes, Ford, thank you." John cut him off and glanced down at his near empty plate. Not much chance of finishing it now.
Teyla cleared her throat and faced the chubby man seated at the head of the table who was watching them with great interest. "Misner Caugh, your provisions are most excellent. I only hope what we offer is equal in exchange."
"As do I, Teyla," Misner Caugh said pleasantly. His double chin flapped as he spoke, his eyes were shining over his drumstick. "The rainy seasons here are becoming more and more frequent, and it is becoming more and more difficult to grow our crops, as they suffer increasing risks at being washed away. I hope the land you offer on your planet is as fertile as you claim."
John eyed the plates on the large banquet table, finding it hard to believe they were in as dire need of fresh land as they claimed. Judging from the variety of foods, not to mention the rather overweight condition of the host, John found himself hard pressed not to suggest they simply got off their asses to find drier lands. He swallowed his words with the last of the bread as Teyla, ever the diplomat, said, "We have hardly been on Atlantis long enough to understand the full growing seasons of the planet, but I believe you will find our lands suitable. We would be more than happy to provide fields in exchange for some of the produce. We will even help to transport it back to your planet." She smiled, and John found himself wondering how it was that she never had to pick food out from between her teeth.
"And if you will excuse my asking," Misner Caugh wiped his large mouth with a cloth, "but I am sure you will understand, how can we trust you?"
Teyla smiled. "The only way you can trust us, is to simply commit to doing so." She gestured to John. "These people have been amongst our stars for only a short time. In that time they have earned my complete trust. They have only their survival to gain, and everything to lose. There is no other motive, except to provide for their people."
Misner Caugh faced John. "Hrmph. Your world was destroyed?"
"Oh. Uh," John straightened and shifted in his chair. "No. No, it wasn't."
Misner Caugh frowned, his thick brows almost obscuring his dark eyes. His pitted skin furrowed. "Then why did you leave? Was there sickness?"
"No, no sickness. Nothing threatened our world, just ourselves." He glanced at Ford, who nodded in impressed agreement.
"I see. So. . .you seek to threaten another world in restitution?" His tone was one of puzzlement, not accusation.
"Uh. . . heh." He gave a weak laugh. Considering the events since their arrival in the Pegasus galaxy, John had little reason to question the accuracy of the statement. He leaned forward, his hand palm upwards as though to physically offer an explanation. "No, see, the people that built Atlantis, they're our ancestors. We traveled to this galaxy to learn more about them," he looked to Teyla, who gave a nod of approval, ". . .and to explore other cultures."
"Ah. . ." Misner Caugh nodded. "Then you are 'letgno anala'. The wandering intellect."
John raised his chin as the odd words sailed over him. He tried to catch them, but couldn't. "Something like that. And speaking of intellect," he stood slowly and gave a polite nod, "my colleague was feeling a little under the weather, I should probably go out and check on him." He smiled disarmingly. He had no intention of sitting there while Teyla and Misner Caugh batted around their whimsical political debates, especially when he was, well, there was something about Minser Caugh that disturbed him. Probably his table manners. Either way, Rodney's condition was the lesser of the two evils, and to be truthful, it was possible he was just a tad bit . . . curious . . .as to his welfare.
"Good luck with him, sir," Ford muttered. "Personally I wouldn't wish that on the Wraith."
The night was darker than he was used to. Stars blanketed the sky in the absence of a moon, and while they shone brightly, it wasn't enough to fight through the thickness of trees. The yellow firelight shining from the small huts was the only thing that lit the area as he walked out, and looked around. He found Rodney with his head down, one hand braced against a bent tree. The man was sweating and pale in the dim light, and shaking. It was obvious he had been violently ill.
John walked to him, his friend's condition alarming him. He'd had thought Rodney was either blowing hot air, from which end didn't matter, or he was just a little sick- feeling. Curiosity turned rapidly into concern. "You okay?"
Rodney quickly looked up. "Hm? Oh, Major." He looked at the ground around his feet self-consciously. "I, uh, lost most of what they fed me, so watch where you step."
Sage advice. John's eyes darted downwards. "Well, good news. Looks like that's on the menu from now on."
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me." Rodney pushed himself upright, and swayed uneasily.
John frowned. "You really don't look so good. I mean, you look worse than usual."
"You wound me."
"Maybe we should get you back through the gate."
"I'm fine." He wiped at his brow, rubbed his palm on his shirt. "I think I cleared my system, not to mention the possibility of dislodging vital organs. Are we really getting stuck with that crap?"
"Crap? You ate two plates full!"
"Don't remind me."
"You'd rather starve?"
Rodney looked up sharply. "Right now? Yes."
John just snorted. "You and your delicate system."
"That sounds almost insulting, Major." He winced, and his hand went back to his stomach. "You didn't happen to bring my pack out, did you?" he asked weakly.
"Guess the spice didn't help, huh?"
"Dante's inferno has nothing on. . ." his speech halted, and his splayed fingers gripped the bark on the tree he leaned against, "just go and get the pack for me, will ya?" His voice was suddenly smaller, and Sheppard couldn't refuse him, not when Rodney was obviously feeling so poorly.
He knew McKay had been complaining of stomach pain for over a week. Test after test showed nothing more than inflamed stomach lining, which warranted observation and medication, but other than that was fairly painful and harmless. John had warned Rodney as they first entered the banquet not to eat too much, to pace himself, because he knew the man hardly eaten in two days. In fact, Weir was to the point of grounding him from the mission, but the Linsewe boasted of a feast that Rodney wasn't likely to try and pass up, illness notwithstanding.
It wasn't that he wasn't hungry, he was simply scared to eat, and in Rodney McKay that was frightening enough. But the promise of a feast coupled with being confined to the city for nearly a month, catching up on his research that was waylaid by the hive ships approaching, he was ready to be off. He was convinced his stomach problem was merely a result of over work, and the stale air in Atlantis. Beckett couldn't deny the former, questioned the later (especially with the wonderful sea breeze, but there was no arguing with the man while he was in pain), and allowed him two days leave, under Sheppard's supervision, with the understanding that he try to eat. And of course, Rodney had to over eat and get sick. "Look at it this way," John said, returning with the bag, "you got out of listening to the trade agreement."
"Not sure which is worse," Rodney agreed, and fumbled with his pack. He pulled out a small bag and poured the contents into his hand, studied them, then replaced all but two.
"Between this and your motion sickness, you'll wipe us out of medications."
"You'd rather I stay sick? What is this, some kind of obscene test to see how well I can function under extreme duress?"
"I think you can tolerate things better that you let on. Though in this case," he examined McKay's face closely, and even put a hand to his brow, "you look pretty done in."
Rodney swatted it away. "Thanks for that. I've felt better. Now leave me alone. Go make sure Teyla's not trading our puddlejumper for cattle."
"Oh come on, she wouldn't." He smiled. Then a slight look of worry touched his face, and he hurried back.
Rodney managed a smile himself before sagging to the oversized tree roots, his head dropping to his chest.
The feast continued with no further interruptions. Afterwards, John dragged himself to the tent which he was, rather reluctantly, sharing with McKay. The man wasn't in sight, and the thought to look for him passed only half way though his mind before he collapsed flat on his face. And it seemed, not a moment later, shots rang out.
The noise was that followed was frightening. Rodney wasn't in the tent, and the people outside were not happy at all. More like panicked.
John grabbed his gun and peeked out of the tent. The sky was still black, but edged with a deep blue, showing that time had indeed passed once his head hit his makeshift bed. He walked out and was instantly grounded by a body knocking into him. He landed hard on his knees, then flattened himself to the dirt, rolling back to the flap of his tent to avoid the melee rushing about, people knocking into each other, their own feast fires still burning. In the distance he heard scattered gunfire, which brought him back to his knees, his head low. "Ford!" John pushed himself to his feet in a run, shouldering past the crowd in classic football defense. "Ford! Report!"
"Down here, sir!" John glanced to the ground in the distance and saw Lt. Ford huddled over a still form. Teyla? Crap . . .Sheppard ran to them, skidding in the dirt.
"Teyla?" He cupped her smooth cheek in his hand, and looked to the young man for an explanation. They rounded their bodies over her still form, shielding her from the crowd.
Ford was shaking his head. "They just kept coming, sir! I tried to pull her out of the way." He grunted as a knee knocked into his back. A young boy stumbled, and moved on.
John was checking for blood. "She wasn't shot? I heard shots."
"I did too, Sir, it woke me up. Teyla was out here, and people were starting to run."
"No, I mean just now. . ."
"I had to fire my weapon into the air to clear them. People were falling over each other, trampling everyone."
John cradled Teyla's head between his hands. "Where the hell did they get guns?"
"I don't know . . ."
At the moment it was a moot point. "Where's McKay?"
"He wasn't with you?"
The surprise in the young man's voice was not a good sign. "No, he wasn't in the tent when I woke." The people had fled into the jungle, leaving John with an armload of Teyla, a missing scientist, and a very bad feeling. "You have no idea why they suddenly went nuts?"
"Not unless it was the gunfire from earlier. Look, shouldn't Dr. McKay be here?"
"Yes, he should." John sighed and shifted the Athosian. "Here, get her to the gate while it's clear, she needs medical attention. I'll stick around and see if I can find Rodney."
"I'm sorry I couldn't. . ."
"It isn't your fault, Ford, now just get her to Carson, okay? I'll be in touch."
"Yes sir." Ford shouldered his rifle and with John's help, lifted the woman. She was Ford's height and almost more muscled. Getting her to the gate would be a chore.
John ran to his tent and secured his pack and weapons. All of Rodney's things were there, untouched. Another bad sign.
He shouldered his own belongings and launched into the jungle.