This is a long story that I've been working on for eons, and while it's still a work in progress, I can safely say that it's 80 percent written. I hope that those of you who choose to read this bear with me while I finish tweaking and writing the ending, and I will try to get the entire story posted as soon as possible. This is set in oh… let's say late season 2 and largely focuses on John, but I promise we'll see the Atlantis gang, particularly Rodney, very soon.

A huge thank you to my brilliant and astonishingly patient co-pilot, beta and wonderful friend, for all her invaluable help with this story. And while I like my fics to jibe as much with canon as possible, I am not, nor will I ever be scientifically minded, so that being said, please pardon, or skim over any and all skiffy scientific mumbo-jumbo, and maybe, hopefully, suspend your disbelief. We all read fanfic for the characters anyway, right?

Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis and its characters do not belong to me and are the rights of their respective owners. However, the original characters and wonky science are all mine.

Constructive feedback is always welcome and forever treasured.

The fierce wind whipped her long, white hair, the tangled strands catching in her eyes, obscuring her already cloudy vision. She almost stumbled past the dark shape on the ground, but then she noticed it was not, as she first presumed, a bundle of rags, nor was it a decayed animal carcass. The shape was that of a human, and by the breadth of the dirt-covered back and shoulders, she guessed it was a man.

Filled with a mingling of caution and anticipation, the woman stopped walking and stared openly at him. Even face down, she could see that the man was not of her own. He was a stranger, and strangers were no longer encountered in this harsh, occluded land.

Carefully, she pulled a dagger from the sheath on the waistband of her heavy cloak. Even now, curiosity, which had always been her downfall, still got the better of her, and she stepped closer to study the man's still form.

He lay with his legs splayed, all but buried in the dirt, his head turned to the side and cradled protectively in the crook of his arms. It looked as though he had been thrown some distance, and she pondered on that a moment, her clouded eyes darting to the cliff side some four yards away. Though her vision was too poor to make out any details, she had seen the rocky crevasse so many times its rough details were indelibly etched in her memory. Still puzzling, she redirected her attention to the man at her feet. His thick hair was more gray than dark, and she wondered if he were near as old as she was. She could see nothing of his face but the curve of a high, dust coated cheekbone. His visible ear was streaked with blood.

With the toe of her shoe, she none too gently nudged his shoulder. Nothing. She nudged him once more. Still no response. With an inexplicable sense of disappointment, she wondered if he might be dead. Where had he come from? She knew full well that there were no longer any settlers but those of her own village on this land, and that no others had been banished here in decades. This made her smile wryly – the fact that no others had come in so long hadn't stopped her regular pilgrimages to the cliff side where they had all turned up. Just in case, she had told herself over the long years. Just in case… How many times, trudging back from one more fruitless visit, had she had cursed herself a sentimental fool?

And now… perhaps not so sentimental after all, she thought with a measure of satisfaction.

Wincing at the interminable pain in her side, dagger still in hand, she crouched beside the man and shoved him onto his back. He was so limp it was easy to turn him over, despite the fact that she was no longer a strong woman. One dusty arm fell bonelessly across his chest, and now that she could fully see his face and hairline, she realized her error – the man was not old, at all. In fact, he was still young, in his prime. His thick hair, which stood on end in disarray, was not graying; it was dark brown, almost black in color, only matted with the interminable dust and dirt of the terrain. The lower half of his face was caked with dirt-clotted blood that had come from his nostrils, and more of it had trickled from his other ear, trailing the length of his jaw and neck. Sand and more dirt had caught in the corners of his deep-set eyes and his eyelashes. She tried to wipe them clean, in case he woke.


The sound of her named being called from a distance gave the woman no pause in her scrutiny of the stranger. She laid her hand on his chest, noting his strange clothing – some sort of heavy vest of armor, a dark green jacket and black shirt beneath. After a moment, she determined he was still breathing, the chest rising and falling with such shallow motions that it was scarcely discernible. Her gnarled, arthritic thumb rested in the hollow of his throat, and she could feel his slow but steady pulse, the life still resolutely beating within him. That discovery sent a thrill of hope through her.

"Tosia, where are you?"

Without turning in the direction of the fearful, masculine voice, she finally shouted a reply. "I am here, Antal!"

Momentarily, a tall, burly young man trotted over to her. Though he had seen twenty-four winters, Antal's cognitive abilities had not developed much beyond that of a ten-year-old child's. Years back, Tosia had once unkindly thought that Antal's alarming pubescent growth spurt had occurred so rapidly that it had left no room for his mind to catch up. Even still, Tosia loved the young man as fiercely as though he were of her own blood, and his loyalty and fortitude were near equal to her own.

"What did you find?" Antal asked, crouching beside her. His was a curiosity that again matched Tosia's, further strengthening their kinship. His dark eyes widened when he saw for himself. "Where did he come from?"

Tosia, noting the apprehension in Antal's gaze and voice, smiled and patted him on the forearm. "I do not know, so it appears that we have an interesting puzzle to solve, do we not?"

Antal stared at Tosia's scarred, battered face, then nodded and smiled broadly once he comprehended her meaning. Like a child, the unknown was something wondrous instead of frightening to him.

"Can you carry him, Antal?" Tosia asked.

Antal nodded again, and without hesitation, gathered the stranger in his strong arms, his motions uncommonly gentle for a man of his size. The stranger's head lolled over the crook of Antal's elbow, the long legs dangled limp, and the trio headed back for the village, bowed against the incessant wind.

-- tbc --