1Title: The Hunted

Author: ValleyA & Teprac S

Spoilers: Anything from Seasons 1-3 is up for grabs!!

Characters: Sheppard, McKay, Teyla, Ronon, Weir, Lorne, Beckett, Zelenka, Stackhouse and numerous original characters

Category: Gen, action/adventure, suspense, angst, h/c

Rating: T-for violence and language

Summary: Sheppard's team is attacked off planet. Part of the team is stranded on the other side of the gate, but both the stranded team and Atlantis have problems to resolve before a rescue can be started

Feedback: It is very appreciated.

Disclaimer: There is no profit from this story. All rights belong to the creators Stargate Atlantis, but the original characters, ideas, and story belongs to me.

Author's notes: Sorry this tale has been so long in coming, but RL and my muse have bedeviled me. I'm hoping this story, like fine wine, grew richer with time. All things happen for a reason. In this case, the extra time gave me to realize how much I relied on the brainstorming of a friend and excellent writer, Teprac S.

At one point, I had become a very grateful co-author. So kudos to Teprac S or as she likes to post on the list JJ from Montana!! And another heartfelt word of thanks to Annie Booker for skimming over the story with her experienced eye for detail!! We all come out ahead with the kind of help that this story has been given. It could have died a hundred times, but the muse kept pushing forward….and the Hunted was born from those efforts.

And to you reviewers: Thanks so much for all of the feedback given so far. It's much appreciated and has an amazing association with new inspiration and future plot bunnies! LOL! Everyone wins with this combination (at least I hope so) Thanks again for all the support! These rabid sga fanfic enthusiasts are among the best of any other out there! May our interest in the stories NEVER wan.

Have fun, y'all!!!

"The Hunted"

by ValleyA & Teprac S

Chapter One

"Just why did we have to be here so freaking early?" Dr. Rodney McKay asked. His question ended in a yawn, then he rubbed his eyes with his palms.

"For someone with a near photographic memory, you have some serious recall issues," Lt. Colonel John Sheppard said, sarcasm echoing off his words as they walked uphillin the early morning sunlight. There was still a bit of a chill in the air, even with the sunshine, at least enough to know this world was at the end of its harvest season and winter wasn't far off.

Teyla Emmagan smiled playfully and said, "I believe some of the doctor's memory lapses are selective in nature."

Ronon Dex grunted. "Might be because he slept during our briefing yesterday."

"I did not. I merely rested my eyes at times. I've been very busy with important research, something so complicated none of you could even begin to understand."

"Have you ever noticed how he's always cranky this early in the morning?" Sheppard asked the others, ignoring Rodney's comments.

Teyla nodded. "It seems to be associated with his consumption of coffee. I do not think he had enough before we left."

"If you would listen – it has nothing to do with – I mean, it's not because – ah, hell, never mind, I withdraw the question," McKay said with a disgusted sigh.

Sheppard glanced at Sgt. McMurphy, a tall man with an tri-athlete's muscled build, sandy colored hair and crisp blue eyes, and his team of three Marines. John pointedly slowed down to walk beside them, instead of McKay. "We're out here so freaking early, because this is when the village elders asked us to show up. It's their harvest festival day of gratitude. All we have to do is spend the day with them, eat lots of good food, and enjoy the harvest related festivities. At the end of the day, we pick up the fruits and vegetables we've paid for, and head back to the gate. Now, how easy is that?"

He raised his chin to look at Rodney again. "Is that enough of an answer for you?"

McKay nodded his head with a general air of boredom. "Yes, yes, so we are going for food I just as easily could have enjoyed in our very own mess hall without getting blisters on my feet from a five mile hike to said village. Someone painted a much better picture of the mission than is actually the case."

Sheppard grinned again. "You say that now, but wait until you meet the local ladies. Remember, you weren't with us on our initial visit here."

McKay rolled his eyes. "Ah, the ladies. Yes, you did say something about them, but you still neglected to mention the marathon journey to the village."

Sheppard rubbed his tongue along on the inside of his cheek. "Look, it's not anything close to five miles – probably more like three, if that – so suck it up. Besides, you were too involved in the discussion about food and women to ask about the distance from the gate. That'll teach you to pay more attention to our briefings in the future."

McMurphy leaned closer to Sheppard as they walked along and whispered, "Sir, is he always like this?"

Sheppard smiled, gesturing toward the scientist. "McKay? Oh, this is a good day for him. You should see him when he's really in a mood."

The sergeant's eyes widened, then he looked at Sheppard suspiciously, as if he was lying.

"Har-har-har," McKay muttered without turning in Sheppard's direction.

Sheppard chuckled until Ronon stopped and sniffed at the air, his demeanor suddenly serious and defensive, and the group's lighthearted repartee vanished in the heartbeat between those moments. Sheppard tightened his hold on his P-90 and stepped closer to Ronon. "What is it?"

Ronon sniffed again and made a face. "Something's not right. Can't you smell it?"

Sheppard caught a whiff of something foul, but he couldn't identify the scent. He met Ronon's gaze for a moment as Ronon took in the area around them warily. They were stopped just before the crest of a hill that eventually led its way down into the village and its network of fields. Sheppard stepped closer. After a moment, he gestured to Ronon with his head. "Check it out."

Turning back to the others, he said, "McMurphy, have your men stay here, but spread out a bit. If there's trouble, I don't want to all of us to be in one place."

"Yes, sir," McMurphy said with a nod. "You heard the man, spread out and keep your eyes open."

Sheppard followed Ronon up the hill with Teyla and McKay falling in step behind him. McKay made a few disgruntled sounds, and then asked, "Wait, I don't get it. What exactly is the problem here?"

Sheppard didn't look back. "Something smells wrong."

Rodney sighed. "The same thing happens at Atlantis after burrito night and nobody goes on alert–"

"McKay," Sheppard said in a warning growl.

There was something more urgent in Ronon's movements when he headed in a slightly different direction along the ridge, like he was a purebred bloodhound hot on a fox's trail. He climbed the incline with long strides that left his companions trailing behind him. Teyla and Sheppard scrambled to keep up, but came to a halt when Ronon stopped abruptly.

McKay began to whine, "Come on, you guys, I don't need a climbing contest after a marathon hike. Remember, I'm the extremely intelligent team member who uses his brain more than his muscles, unlike other members of the team . . . "

"Whoa," Sheppard said as he saw what Ronon was looking at. "That can't be good."

Teyla whispered, "By the Ancestors . . . "

Ronon cursed under his breath and turned away as a light breeze came up from the valley. Rodney finally joined them, saying, "What's that disgusting stench? Ah, geez, will you look at that . . . "

The three of them stood, staring at machinery and manpower clearing the hillside in such a way that left the terrain completely barren, raped for its minerals with no hope of ever restoring the place back to its original beauty or to even be salvageable for living things to grow back again.

"Strip miners?" Sheppard asked as McKay stopped at his side.

"My god," Rodney muttered.

"But when could this have happened?" Teyla asked in amazement. "And why?"

"Sinomean Raiders," Ronon said, walking back toward them. "Judging by the extent of mining on that hillside, I'd say they must have come soon after we left last week."

Teyla frowned. "I have never seen the aftermath of their operations with my own eyes."

"Pray you never do again," Ronon said.

"We need to get down there and check out things for ourselves," Sheppard said, turning back to the path leading to the village, waving to McMurphy to join them.

No one said much as they covered the distance to the village. They came to a stop just outside town. Sheppard motioned to McMurphy to divide the group in half, and the two teams would circle the village from different sides. After a few minutes of searching, it was obvious there wasn't anyone in the village and it didn't look like they'd been there for days.

Sheppard met up with the rest of their team just outside a grove of fruit trees, now stripped bare of their fall bounty. Ronon glanced around warily. His voice was low and grim as he said, "We should move to deeper cover. We're too exposed here."

Sheppard licked his lips and nodded. "I know what you mean, the hair on the back of my neck is standing on end. Let's go."

They started to turn back when they discovered they'd been surrounded by short men in black uniforms carrying very big guns. Any thoughts of putting up a fight disappeared with a burst of gunfire at their feet from one of the gunmen.

McKay took one look at them, and put up his hands as he glared at Sheppard, muttering, "Next time, Sheppard, just leave me at home."


A petite woman in an all black dress uniform with gold epaulettes jutting off her shoulders entered the room. Like the other Sinomeans Sheppard and his people had already encountered, she was short, maybe four and a half feet tall, but heavily muscled, reminding him vaguely of a pit bull.

She wandered about as she studied each one of them in turn, but her gaze lingered longest on McKay. As she moved, she toyed with a metallic, cylindrical object she had pulled from her pocket. It seemed to fascinate her as she touched a point, making the shape change configurations before touching another point that caused a different arrangement.

"Who are you?" she asked finally, without emotion.

The eight of them, Sheppard's and McMurphy's teams, sat in chairs forming a rough circle with their hands bound in front of them. Sheppard's gaze swept over the men under his command. He knew he could trust McMurphy and Erdman to keep their cool, along with his own team, but the other members of McMurphy' team, Costa and Jacobson, were new to Atlantis. The last thing Sheppard needed was for someone to go off half cocked. There was still a chance he could talk his way through this mess.

Then again, he thought as he stared at the five armed guards flanking his people, things might require a little more than just talking, but he'd try the diplomatic approach first. He studied his captors more closely. These people were small, but their weapons were intimidating and their manner ruthless.

"I asked who are you?" the woman repeated, and Sheppard got the feeling she didn't often repeat herself.

He looked up at her, smiled, and shrugged. "We're traders, just simple traders."

She sneered. "You are very well armed for simple traders."

"Gauging by our current situation, I'd say we weren't armed well enough," Sheppard said, wincing slightly.

She met his gaze. "Obviously. I am Captain S'moa Conteale of the Sinomean Raiders."

There was something sinister in her slight lisp that gave Sheppard pause. He took his time before answering her, making sure to pour on his charm. "Nice to meet you. I have to say I wish we'd met under better circumstances, though. Look, we can talk this out like rational adults. Why don't you just untie us?"

"There is nothing to talk out. I ask the questions, you answer them."

Sheppard's gaze narrowed. "And if we don't?"

"You don't want to explore that avenue," she said, the unspoken threat hanging in the air.

Sheppard forced himself to take on a lighter tone again. "Why not just let us leave? We can promise never to come back."

Conteale straightened, her eyes dark. "Then I'd say you were lying through your teeth."

"Come on, lying is such a harsh word," John responded, speaking softly, playfully even, but there was no humor in his tone.

The captain faced him again. "What is your home world?"

Sheppard sighed. Why the hell did the people always want to know where they came from? He'd learned long ago the best way to protect Atlantis and Earth was to keep information like that to himself. He gave Conteale his best smirk instead"Our people are a bit shy with strangers. I'm sure you'll understand if we aren't forthcoming with that sort of information."

S'moa gave him a hard backhanded blow to the mouth that came so suddenly, Sheppard didn't have time to roll with the strike. He grunted, and then spat blood from his split lip. His men strained at their bonds, but they settled down once he shook his head slightly, then he turned his attention back to her and glared. She met his gaze with even more hostility and said, "I don't like people who try to be funny. You'll find that I have no sense of humor and I find the whole interrogation process very irritating."

"I'll keep that in mind," Sheppard said as he rubbed his tongue over the cut in his lip, anger still flashing in his eyes.

"See that you do. Now, are there others who will come looking for you? If so, how long until you will be missed?"

S'moa stepped closer when Sheppard didn't answer. "Well?"

"Sorry, Captain, but all I can think of are funny answers and I really don't want to piss you off any more than I already have. My mouth hurts."

Sheppard got another hard backhanded blow, this time to his temple, causing his head to snap to one side, making the edges of his vision darken, but at least he was more prepared for it this time.

"If you won't speak to spare yourself abuse, perhaps you'll do it to save one of the others."

S'moa pointed to Teyla and one of her men stepped forward, grabbing Teyla by one arm, yanking her to her feet. With the other, he held a large, jagged knife to her throat. Sheppard lifted his chin and said hoarsely, "Wait. Don't hurt her."

John blinked a couple of times and saw Ronon start to stand, but then one of the guards hit him hard in the stomach with the butt of his rifle. Ronon fell back into his chair, looking winded but not broken. Conteale eyed Dex warily before she gave Sheppard a heartless smile. "I assume you have some answers for me now?"

Sheppard turned his head, meeting her gaze. "Yeah, sure, just leave my friends alone."

Conteale put the back of her fingers to the reddened skin on Sheppard's temple where a bruise was quickly forming, and let them slide down to cup his chin. Sheppard felt his skin crawl with her cold touch, but the cold wasn't merely from her skin temperature; it seemed to come from a coldness creeping from her soul.

"I think I will wait to hear your answer before I have my man release her," she said without expression.

Sheppard shied away from her, much like he would have done if a rattlesnake was licking at his cheek. "Okay, whatever, just keep that knife away from her throat."

With a nod from Conteale, the man holding Teyla smiled and pressed the knife more firmly against Teyla's neck, hard enough to draw a trickle of blood.

Sheppard bolted upright, intending to stand, but Conteale pushed him back into his seat. As he sat heavily, he heard the others struggling, too. His hands pulled at his bonds, but he knew already the knots were too well done to break free. Still, it didn't stop him from trying.

He glared at the guard holding Teyla, then at her at Conteale as she walked behind him. "Listen, Captain, you didn't have to do that. How do you expect to build trust that way–"

Conteale pulled her knife as he was talking, and let the sharp edge of it trace down Sheppard's cheek just as she had done with her fingers. Somehow, this wasn't as disturbing as her touch had been. So much for negotiating . . .

She came around to face him, still toying with the knife. "First question . . . where are you from?"

Sheppard looked up at her and answered honestly, "A lot of places."

S'moa didn't hit him again. Instead, she nodded to her underling. Sheppard's heart leapt into his throat as the guard holding Teyla pulled back the blade, but instead of slicing her throat, he grabbed her hair and cut off several locks with a single slash.

"Why, you bastard –" McKay began, but his voice was soon drowned out by the other voices joining in to protest.

Conteale waved a hand in the air and the armed guards quickly quieted the others, using the butts of their rifles for intimidation. Without looking away from Sheppard, Conteale took the locks of hair from her man, who then he put his arm back around Teyla's neck. She dangled the hair in front of Sheppard's face. "Hmm, could you be a little more specific?"

Sheppard licked his lips as he stalled. If they weren't going to talk things out, then they would have to go with plan B. He just hoped McMurphy' team would be able to follow his lead when the time came. "Sure . . . sure, as much as you'd like."

"Now, we may be getting somewhere. Tell me, where are you from?"

He didn't blink an eye. "A planet called Tatooine. The woman with the knife to her throat is Princess Leia, the big guy is Chewbacca, the four in the middle are called Darth Vader, Obiwan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, C-3PO and I'm Han Solo."

"What about him?" she asked, pointing the knife in McKay's direction. "He must have a pretty name."

Sheppard looked up at her sharply and his voice broke with surprise as he asked, "You mean McKay?" He didn't mean to say Rodney's name out loud, but the words slipped out in his confusion.

"Mac-Kay. It suits you," she said with a flirting smile as she looked at Rodney.

Rodney gulped. McKay was obviously not enthused about S'moa's interest in him and Sheppard was rapidly tiring of the situation. Hell, he was tired of the whole damned affair and it echoed in his voice as he said, "Look, I realize this must be a special moment for you, but can we get back to the conversation at hand – "

Conteale responded by slashing back with her knife, catching Sheppard's upper left arm with its sharp edge, and didn't stop until it cut across the width of his arm. The fabric of Sheppard's jacket gaped open with the cut and blood spilled forth, immediately darkening the surrounding fabric. Sheppard gasped with the abrupt pain and squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to keep from crying out.

"Impudent fodder! Do not presume to push my patience!" she hissed at Sheppard.

His head whipped up to face her, his breath fast and shallow. "I'm sorry, Captain, but I thought you had an interrogation to conduct–"

She spun around, looking like she was going to make another strike with the knife when McKay jumped in, obviously trying to pull her attention away from Sheppard and back to him. "Listen, Captain, while it's very interesting to watch you work out your issues of domination and control, maybe even sexy in a kinky kind of way, you had better leave him alone!"

S'moa's hand stopped in midair and she turned to McKay, a smile playing on her lips. "And why would I do that?"

"Well, uh, because I said so – I mean – because I asked you to . . . " he said, his voice getting higher and squeaky as he gave her a hesitant smile.

She approached McKay, her tongue licking at the splattering of Sheppard's blood on her fingers. McKay visibly paled and shrank back. She kept coming until her face was mere inches from his, her behavior seductive. "You realize I should kill you for your insubordination, but it just makes you more interesting to me. You are a special one. I like special ones . . . "

She paced around McKay, leaving Sheppard alone for the moment to recover from his arm wound. Sheppard knew he could handle pain, blood loss, even torture, but he didn't know if he could stomach watching her coming on to McKay without losing his breakfast.

Conteale reached down and picked up both of Rodney's bound hands as she examined his fingers, then she released them, letting her hands roam up his chest until she got to his head. Her fingernails ran through his hair and dropped to the back of his neck as she looked him directly in the eye. "You have no calluses on your hands and you're obviously intelligent. You must be the brains of your operation, and you wisely chose to let your underlings like this one speak for you."

Rodney's gaze darted to Sheppard and back to her. He straightened and puffed out his chest. "Yes, well, you're right. Of course, these are my underlings and I don't appreciate you damaging them just to suit your whims."

She smiled and brought her face closer to his, her fingers cupping his cheek. "I've never met anyone quite like you. You intrigued me from the very first moment I saw you. Tell me about your strengths . . . you are very intelligent, right?"

McKay's ever present ego shone brightly for a moment. "Well, yes, yes, I am."

"What kinds of things can you do, pretty one?"

"McKay . . . " Sheppard warned, blinking at the sudden appearance of sweat in his eyes. He swallowed hard to push back the bile welling up his throat.

S'moa spun around, holding the knife in Sheppard's direction again. "Silence!"

She started to move toward Sheppard when McKay cleared his throat, trying to draw her back to him. "I'm a scientist. I fix things, design systems, do research . . . "

Conteale's appreciation for McKay's gifts seemed to swell with the revelation. "Your prettiness and intelligence could be very handy to me. I don't normally consider men of other races appealing . . . but you, you are special."

McKay was speechless, and her words made Sheppard open and close his mouth, as if he was trying to get rid of a bad taste. In the next breath, she turned to one of the guards and said, "Kill the rest, but let him live."

McKay looked aghast. "Wait! Why-why do you have to kill them?"

"What else would I do with them? Just let them go? Surely, you jest. I suppose they could work the mines – packing the crystals for loading onto my ship . . . " She sighed, deep in thought. She looked at McKay and at the others, then a wicked smile drew the corners of her lips upward. She stepped closer to him again, her hands running across his chest and shoulders. "If I did as you wished, what would I get out of it?"

"Get?" McKay asked, his voice painfully high as she brushed her fingers through his hair. "I think you have the wrong impression about me . . . "

S'moa frowned in confusion, as if trying to understand why he wasn't jumping at her flirtatious offer, then she eyed Teyla, as if she was the reason behind his diffidence. "This isn't your woman, is she?"

Rodney stammered. "My woman? No, no, of course not, but–"

"Then what do you care if she lives or dies?

Rodney blinked a few times, struggling to come up with a good answer. "Well, she's a member of my team and – "

Conteale turned and walked to Teyla's side, sneering with jealousy. "He wants to keep you safe from harm."

Teyla stared at her without any hint of fear. "I can defend myself." Teyla's gaze hardened as she asked, "What have you done with all of the villagers?"

The defiant question seemed to surprise Conteale. She frowned for a moment, assessing Teyla before her gaze went cold again. "They are working the mining operation outside, of course. Benji power crystals can be so unstable once exposed to open air. Better to have the villagers blown up in the packaging process than my own people."

"And the children? There were several children here when we visited last."

S'moa looked disgusted. "The children have been locked up to keep their parents in line, but I tire of them. All but a handful of them will be eliminated in a short time. Most Sinomean Raiders keep their hostages alive until they are ready to leave, but I have different ideas. It is why I have risen to where I am now. It will be easier for all concerned this way."

Teyla's entire body went rigid, her voice low and threatening. "You kill those children and you will not live to see another day."

This time, S'moa did laugh out loud, placing the tip of the bloodied blade in her hand against Teyla's ribs. "You speak bravely, but do not use such words with me again or they will be the last words you utter."

There was some noise out in the corridor. Some villagers, four adults and nearly twenty children looked terrified as they slowly passed by the doorway. One of the men recognized Sheppard and cried, "Help us!"

The man was struck in the back by a Sinomean and the group kept moving on.

S'moa smiled, sheathing her blade. "Ah, it appears that their end is here sooner than I thought."

"Why you bitch!" Sheppard said as he bolted from his chair, only to get a rifle butt in his side. He collapsed back into his seat, the air knocked from him, but his rage still burned.

Teyla seemed to swallow back her fury, and avoided looking directly at S'moa, as if one look at Conteale would dissolve her restraint. Instead, she watched Ronon and then Sheppard. Sheppard gave her a slight shake of the head as he tried to steady his breathing. Teyla followed his lead, though reluctantly, doing nothing more.

Rodney jumped in, distracting S'moa. "Come on, Captain, you don't need to kill anyone." He swallowed hard. "Maybe you and I could just go somewhere alone to – you know – talk."

"S'moa," she said softly. "Call me S'moa."

"Okay." After another hard swallow, he choked out softly, "S'moa."

Her grin widened and she twirled her long strands of dark hair around a finger. "While I don't believe Princess Leia's wild boasts that she can defend herself against me and my men, your offer is intriguing."

Sheppard watched Rodney struggle to keep her talking, to keep her interest away from killing anyone while providing Ronon with more time. S'moa circled McKay's chair, drinking in his discomfort. Meanwhile, Teyla caught Sheppard's gaze again, her eyes widening in a silent appeal. Sheppard glanced in Ronon's direction, giving him a similar look. Then Dex nodded slightly and Sheppard smiled. He looked to McMurphy and prayed that the sergeant would recognize the unspoken order through their visual contact. McMurphy nodded once and glanced to his men.

In the next moment, Teyla said, "I do not boast, Captain."

Teyla elbowed the guard still holding her in the gut. She pulled the guard's knife away from her throat and flipped him over her shoulder. Ronon's hands were suddenly free, the ropes binding them apparently cut while they were talking. He stood, stabbing the guard behind him in the chest with one swift move, then spun around, slicing the ropes holding Sheppard's outstretched hands.

He turned to McMurphy, tossing him his knife. McMurphy cut the rope on Erdman's wrists as Teyla dropped down on one knee, where it landed squarely in her guard's solar plexus. As the guard struggled to breathe, she knocked him out with another blow to the head. McMurphy and Erdman took out the third guard with equal ease while Ronon pulled another knife and threw it across the room, hitting the fourth guard in the chest. Costa and Jacobson finished up, taking care of the last guard easily.

S'moa went to pull her weapon, but Sheppard moved faster. He took an empty chair beside him with one hand and struck her across the back with it with as much force as he could manage. She crumpled to the floor and didn't move. "See what happens when you don't know how to take a joke."

He tossed aside the chair and put a hand to his arm, cursing under his breath. McKay was on his feet and Ronon cut the ropes binding his hands as he stammered, "I-I thought you'd never move!" He shuddered.

"Did you hear what I was saying to her just to keep her occupied?" He shuddered again, more violently this time.

Sheppard took a deep breath and said, "You did good, McKay."

He stopped as Teyla pulled a field dressing from her vest and quickly wrapped it around his arm.

"Make sure they're secure," John said to the other members of McMurphy's team as Ronon and McMurphy were already busy sorting out the tac vests and weapons.

Moments later, they were armed and ready to go. Ronon glanced out the door as Sheppard went to a roughly drawn map of the mine, hanging from the wall. He ripped it down and held it in his hands.

McKay joined him and Teyla. John frowned and said, "It doesn't say where the villagers are being held."

Teyla nodded. "No, but it does show an extensive mine system throughout this hillside. It must be an older mining complex, as opposed to the massive operation we saw."

Ronon nodded. "The one on the hillside is a typical Sinomean operation. They sneak in, harvest a horde of Benji crystals using the locals, then kill everyone to leave no witnesses, and disappear."

"Benji crystals?" McMurphy asked as he checked the ammo in his P-90.

Teyla looked to him. "Power crystals, similar to what fuels your naquadah generators. They are very rare and can provide large amounts of power to operate various systems and are greatly valued in many parts of the galaxy."

"And just why haven't we heard of these things sooner?" McKay asked with obvious irritation.

Ronon and Teyla both shrugged.

"Table the discussion for later, people." Sheppard squinted, looking at the map and then out the door. "Which way were those kids headed?"

McKay shook a pointed finger at Sheppard. "No, we are not going to rescue anyone. You are injured. We need help to take these guys on and lots of it. There's no way we can handle these forces alone."

Sheppard shook his head. "Come on, McKay, there are eight of us. That should be more than enough to handle these little guys. Take away their guns and they have nothing to fight with."

McKay's eyes widened in dramatic horror, "Sheppard, if she captures me again, it's very likely I'll be raped! That's something I'll do anything to avoid."

"Listen, Casanova," Sheppard said. "You heard Conteale, there's only one certainty here. Those kids are going to die, which means there's really no choice in what we need to do."

Rodney squeezed his eyes closed for a moment, then let out a long breath. "I hope you realize we might die for a bunch of snot-nosed kids," McKay grumbled, but there was little conviction in his tone.

Sheppard responded, "I wouldn't have it any other way."

Ronon glanced out the door and then in their direction. "We need to get moving. Now."

They started to head out when McKay stopped to pick up something from the floor.

"McKay . . . " Sheppard said as he peeked back in from the doorway. "Are you coming or not?"

McKay nodded and followed him into the hallway. By that time, Teyla, Ronon, and the others were already far down the corridor, following the map's directions to the mine's entrance and freedom.