RATING: T for language and adult themes.
SEASON: Third season set during the episode The Return.
MAJOR CHARACTERS: The boys, of course, (if you don't know who I'm talking about, you're in the wrong fic)
CATEGORY: a little of this, a little of that.
SUMMARY: Just because they've been sent back to Earth, doesn't mean the adventures stop. John and Rodney run afoul of McKay's new project in Area 51 and it's just like old times. Sheppard-McKay friendship.
SPOILERS: Since this fic is set during the time they are back on Earth during The Return Part 1, that episode is hit pretty hard. But anything up to that point is fair game.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please. I thrive on it and so do the bunnies.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, else I would have let them stay on Atlantis and the Ancients be damned.
NOTES: This story is a stand alone fic, not part of either one of my series. In addition, this is by far my longest fic and first to reach 50,000 words! I'll be posting it in four parts as the beta checks are complete.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Special thanks, as always to Koschka for the final once over and how she kept me going on it. Also, thanks to Kodiak for her input and checks, as well. And thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed my other stories…it really is very much appreciated!
Variable 1: Time
"Think about where you are in the solar system."
Those were McKay's first words to me. Not, "Hi, nice to meet you. I'm Rodney McKay." Not, "How did you do that?" Not even, "Who the hell are you?" I'd sat in the chair at the Antarctic outpost and before I could think, 'damn my ass is cold,' I was leaning back and staring at the icy ceiling above me. And while I may have had a thousand questions as to why and how and who, Rodney never did. He simply took in the empirical evidence before him (man in chair has gene) and used me as the tool he recognized me to be (man in chair can make chair work the way it's supposed to).
"Think about where you are in the solar system."
The words had been spoken in what I would eventually learn was McKay's typical tone– I'm right, just do it, and don't waste time arguing. So, I had. And I did it in just those terms. Not 'I'm on Earth or Antarctica or weird ass underground facility', just, 'here I am, find me if you can'. And it found me, damn did it ever. Whatever it was… fate, destiny, purpose… it found me and hasn't ever let go. Who would have thought that sitting in a chair would lead to a trip across the universe, a discovery of an amazing city, a battle against a deadly enemy, a realization that there was more, so much more to what I had always accepted as my existence? Who could imagine that a glowing map of orbs floating above my head would change my definition of the world and intertwine my life with so many others that sometimes it was impossible to distinguish where one began and another ended?
"Think about where you are in the solar system."
Rodney's order in that frozen complex had been limited to the Milky Way, but that was just the beginning. It was the jumping-off point for what was waiting on the other side of the wormhole in another solar system, another galaxy, another Ancient facility. Atlantis had opened so many doors I had locked to myself and now she had been locked away from us all. The Ancients had returned and like a landlord come to collect overdue rent, they had evicted us and we had lost the most amazing thing that had ever happened to any of us. Oh, she was still out there, across the distance of space. But we weren't allowed to travel that distance and only time would tell if we ever would get to again, time that had been passing way too slowly for me. Time, distance, velocity, they were a bitch when you got right down to it.
"Think about where you are in the solar system."
Back in the Milky Way, back on Earth, that's where we were and it wasn't just the City that had been taken away, it was everything, everyone. Carson was at the SGC with me, but Teyla and Ronon were still in Pegasus, Elizabeth had holed up under the guise of writing her memoirs, and Rodney had been assigned to Area 51. And for weeks the world had just felt… off and I was sicker than hell of feeling that way. Maybe that's why I suggested it– a weekend in Vegas. Carson and I would fly up to Nevada on the weekly transport between 51 and the SGC, we'd grab Rodney, drive into the city, and drink and gamble and laugh and forget exactly where we were and why.
"Think about where you are in the solar system."
That's exactly what I didn't want to think about. It was the wrong solar system, the wrong galaxy and I was working with the wrong team. So much so that seeing McKay after so long was a little bittersweet. When Carson went to deliver a report to another doctor at the base and McKay took the time to take me to his lab and show me his latest project, some new energy field they were working on to replace the hyperdrive systems on the next generation of intergalactic cruisers, it left me feeling a little homesick. And my first thought when we were suddenly standing in the middle of a desert, with nothing but sand dunes, a lone camel, and a village in the distance was this is just like old times. But eventually nostalgia gave way to the reality of the situation when we jumped to another place and time and then another and the reality was we were so totally screwed.
"Think about where you are in the solar system."
Those were McKay's first words to me. And as he spoke them to me again as we jumped once more, variables in a bizarre equation where time, distance, and speed were completely in flux, I hoped like hell they wouldn't be his last.
Hanif did not understand why he was the one that had to come find the camel. After all, it was Gershom's fault that the wretched creature had been able to break his restraints and wander away from the camp. Never mind that his brother was not yet six years of age, never mind that their mother looked to Hanif for help when their father was away trading because he was the oldest. Well, except for Shifra, but she was just a girl and what good were girls anyway? Her bride price was going to impoverish the family; that was if she didn't poison them with her cooking first.
Tugging at the camel's leads, Hanif spoke a curse he had overheard Ibrahim, the leatherworker, once use when his tools slipped and he cut his hand open. The animal simply grunted gutturally in response and the boy tugged once again. "Come, you miserable devil, or I will suggest that father trade you along with Shifra."
The winds shifted and Hanif wrapped his scarf across his mouth and nose to block out the blowing sands that hissed down the face of the dune he was climbing. Why could the camel not just wander over to the well or try to eat the dates that were drying? Why did he have to wander so far away that the only way to find him was to follow the quickly disappearing tracks across the ever-shifting sands? And why did he have to be the first born son and stuck with all the responsibilities when his baby brother was the one that had tugged the harness free during his play? Soon he would be old enough to travel with his father and he would be able to leave the mundane chores of small boys and useless girls behind and become an important man in the world. Soon he would see the wonders of the cities and the foreigners his father spoke of with their strange clothes and stranger languages.
Actually, it occurred much sooner than he had thought.
"What do you mean you don't know what happened?"
The voice of the man had Hanif stopping in his tracks as he looked for the source of the strangely accented words.
"I mean just that, Sheppard. I have no fucking clue how we ended up here…wherever here is, or even whenever here is."
"When?" Hanif looked down from the dune and spotted the two men that were completely unaware of him thanks to their argument. Taking advantage of their distraction, he dropped to the sand and crawled cautiously to the edge to peer at them as the taller, dark-haired man repeated his demand, his voice rising in outrage. "When? Since when is when in question?"
"I told you the field takes advantage of the work Janus did on the time travel Jumpers. He basically used quantum tunneling to jump multiverses as the velocity approaches the speed of light. It was really just a matter of tweaking the calculation to manipulate the distance part of the equation so that the ship could basically skip the time portion of the trip and appear almost instantaneously at the destination…"
"Stop, stop, just… stop." Running fingers through his uncovered hair, he shook his head. Honestly, how did these men expect to survive in the desert dressed the way they were? Dark clothes that soaked in the heat and stood out against the golden sands, they fit tight against their chests and legs and their arms were as exposed as their heads. "I don't want a lesson on quantum physics…"
"It's actually closer to special relativity," the lighter haired man corrected, the one with the strange eyes– blue in color and skin pale and turning pink as he watched them. Perhaps they were demons or gods. But then, the gods he had seen come through the chappa'ai had eyes of fiery gold and voices of howling sands and spoke more with their bodies than their words. Although the pale one seemed to speak nonstop with both.
The dark-haired one raised a finger in warning. "I don't care. I just want you to figure out how to get us back."
"How? Build a Jumper with a time machine out of sand? Sheppard, we were supposed to be leaving for Las Vegas. I have my cell phone, my leatherman, and five hundred in cash in my wallet. I don't even have any snacks on me because they're loaded in the cooler in the car. So, unless you happen to have some Ancient device you squirreled away and didn't tell anyone about that is masquerading as your ass, we're pretty much out of luck here."
The camel, which had remained remarkably quiet for the entire length of the conversation let out a gurgling bleat and Hanif threw himself flat against the sand to avoid being seen as both men turned their attention up to the dune.
"Is that a camel?" the pale one asked.
Not daring to look up, Hanif prayed that they would not see him but awaited the inevitable when they would. But instead of them yelling up to him in their strange clipped accent, the dark-haired one said, "Oh, hell, it's happening again."
And then there was nothing but the whispering of the sands.
Hanif raised his head tentatively, then sat all the way up when the men were gone. Completely gone. There were no footprints beyond those where they had stood, and if not for those, he would have thought that maybe he had imagined them.
Demons, definitely, from a world with no sun and no sand and apparently no camels. Grabbing the reins of the animal, he broke into as fast a run as the beast would allow him, calling for his mother as soon as their tent was in sight. He was the eldest son, and he had the responsibility to warn his tribe of what he had seen.
Today was obviously Larim's lucky day. How else could one explain the fortune of coming across Brenna, the blacksmith's daughter, preparing to bathe in the cool waters of the pond? The path was secluded, one rarely traveled unless there was need to go to the Old Lady's farm, which there rarely ever was. Hence, there was no surprise that Brenna seemed unconcerned that she would be seen as she untied her skirts and they dropped to her ankles.
As chance would have it, Larim did have need to visit the Old Lady that day. His father's milker had gone dry, and seeing as the Old Lady was so… well, old, she had garnered a reputation of knowing how to cure these things. So Larim had been sent to seek her advice on how to resolve the issue. Larim seriously doubted there was much to be done; the animal was probably as ancient as the Old Lady herself. But it was a good excuse to avoid working in the fields and a beautiful summer day for a stroll through the shade of the forest, and Larim jumped at the chance even though the Old Lady drooled when she spoke and smelled of rotten vegetables.
And now to find Brenna, with her long braid of red and freckles across her plentiful bosom that she was about to expose as she unfastened her corset even as she stood ankle-deep in the water… Larim did his best to stifle the threatening whimper and tried to decide where, exactly, he should keep his hands. Settling in behind the berry bush, Larim decided nothing could ruin this moment for him. Nothing.
Until the two men suddenly appeared in the middle of the pond.
When the thrashing in the water started, Brenna let out a scream. Larim was torn between revealing he had been watching and coming to her aid, or just watching for a bit longer to see if they were really a risk.
"You have got to be shitting me!" one of the men, the one with dark hair, exclaimed as he started toward the shore.
Brenna screamed again and even though Larim couldn't understand the unintelligible words the man was yelling, his irritated tone convinced Larim that he should act. When he stepped by her side, Brenna screamed once again at the sight of him and gathered her undergarments modestly in front of her.
"No, wait, it's okay," the other man was saying as he swam sloppily toward them. "We aren't going to hurt you. And we didn't see anything… well, maybe a little but not intentionally. I mean, we weren't looking to look; it just sort of happened."
"Real smooth, Rodney. Way to break the ice with the locals." The man reached a point where he could touch bottom, stood and continued toward them sluggishly on foot. Larim stepped in front of Brenna at that point, pulling his dagger and glaring angrily at the men in hopes that they would consider him a threat. It evidently worked because the one man held up an appeasing hand as the second man gained his feet and stood behind him. "Whoa, hey, we aren't going to hurt you or your girlfriend, buddy, so you can just put that thing away."
Larim didn't understand anything these men were saying and their strange words combined with their strange clothes and the even stranger way they had just appeared in the water made him reluctant to trust the soothing tone, so that he continued to hold the knife before him. "I don't think he understands me," the man whispered back over his shoulder to his companion. "Do you understand me?" he asked.
"What do you want? You are not welcome here. Go away and leave her alone!" Larim's angry demand was met with a confused stare.
"I don't understand a word he's saying," the man murmured back again. "Do you understand him?"
Larim took the opportunity to ask Brenna, "Do you understand what he is saying? Because I do not."
The girl shook her head then gripped his shoulder and warned, "Look out!" as she ducked further behind him when the other man responded in outrage.
"I understand he's going to stab us if we get any closer to them." Water flew as the man's arms flailed.
"You freaking out about it isn't helping the matter, McKay."
"Well, forgive me if I'm a little distressed by the fact that we're standing in a lake and not my lab back on Earth."
"How do you know we aren't on Earth?"
Larim followed where the angry man pointed into the sky. "Since when does Earth have two suns?"
"Then do something and get us back to your lab," the taller man ground out in annoyance.
"Sheppard, I don't know why you think I can somehow just snap my fingers and miraculously everything is going to be back to normal."
Letting out a frustrated sigh, the taller man rubbed at his forehead as if he had a headache. "Okay, look, we are stuck in the energy field, right?"
"Obviously," the other man snorted.
"Then how do we get out?"
"If I knew that, do you think I would still be standing here with pond scum gathering around my knees?"
"All right, let's think about this a different way. How did we get in it in the first place? You said it was contained and limited to that confinement area you had set up."
"Well, somehow it did." When the first man threw his arms up in frustration, the second man continued. "Colonel, we're talking about a theory that is based on randomness. By definition it's unpredictable. Everything we understand about physics says quantum tunneling shouldn't take place, but it does. So if it found a way to escape the confinement chamber, then I'm not entirely surprised."
"You might have said something about that when you offered to show me the damn thing," the man growled.
"Do I have to warn you to watch out for asteroid impacts every time we step out the door? Because we have a better chance of that happening on the same day you win the lottery than the power field escaping confinement."
Larim started to coax Brenna toward the path, thinking that this might be a good time to slip away while the two men argued. But before they could take two steps back, the tall man turned his attention back to the two of them.
"Do you see a million dollar check in my hands, Rodney, because I don't. What I do see is you and me in a pond, a half naked woman and a guy with a knife blocking our path out of the pond, and no way to let them know we want to get out of the pond because we can't understand each other."
Larim raised the knife menacingly when the man pointed emphatically in his direction. What were they arguing about? How to attack them? Which one was going to attack them? What to do with their dead bodies after they attacked them? None of those were pleasant thoughts.
"And why the hell can't we understand them?" His face twisted in bewilderment. "We can understand everyone else we come across."
The second man shrugged. "Probably because there isn't a stargate on this planet. There are theories that the gate somehow allows people from different worlds to communicate with each other."
"No stargate? You mean we're stuck here?"
"The two of us leaving this planet is controlled by the same mechanism as us arriving on this planet, which has absolutely nothing to do with the stargate."
"But is completely random?"
"More or less." The chin rose defiantly and the man almost lost his footing as he leaned back.
"What the hell does that mean?"
"It means two data points are not enough for me to extrapolate a pattern. We could jump back to Earth any second now, we could sit here for a day and a half before we jump to an entirely different planet or we could be here for the next fifty years and never jump again."
The two men stood as if waiting for something expectantly and Larim's eyes darted nervously in anticipation of what was to come. Brenna pressed her partially exposed breasts against his back and he wondered how such a good day had gone so horribly, horribly bad.
Finally, the taller man gave a disappointed frown. "It doesn't seem to be the any second option." When the other man shrugged in agreement he pointed toward the shore. "Might as well get out of the water if it's going to be the fifty years." Once again the other man shrugged and they started toward Larim and Brenna.
With a nervous lick of his lips, Larim brandished the blade dangerously. "Do not come any closer! I will kill you if I have to!"
The tall man shook his head exhaustedly at the warning and kept walking. "Kid, it's been a long day and I should be on my way to flirting with a scantly-clad cocktail waitress serving me watered-down free drinks at the craps table. And the fact that the only things in common between that scenario and this one is water, crap, and a scantly-clad woman isn't improving my mood any."
"I am serious! Come no closer!" When the man ignored him, Larim had no choice but to lunge at him with his knife.
Before he could blink his eyes, his own knife was pointed back in his face and Brenna let out a squeak of terror as she buried her face against his neck. "You over extended your reach, your weight distribution is off and you're gripping the hilt too tight. Be lucky it was me; Teyla would have had you over her knee for a spanking for such a pathetic form."
Eyes widened in fear, Larim barely dared to glance at the second man peering curiously over the shoulder of the one threatening him with his own knife. "Really? She really does that?"
The man with the knife rolled his eyes. "If I say yes will you show up for the occasional hand-to-hand training session?"
And just as suddenly as the knife was in his face, it was gone… and the men with it.
"Wha…what happened? Where did they go?" Looking around, Larim fully expected them to somehow jump out of the bushes and murder them both with the knife, his knife. But they were nowhere to be seen and neither was his dagger. He had liked that knife; it had an ornately carved hilt of black onyx and a sharp blade. It had been gift for his sixteenth birth celebration and now it was gone. It had vanished into thin air as quickly as the potential for a good day had.
But all thoughts of knives and mysterious men vanished when Brenna launched herself into his arms and kissed him full on the lips.
"Larim, you were so brave!"
Then again, maybe it was worth losing a stupid knife if this was the compensation.
Ka'tec had served his god well.
For twenty-six of his one hundred and fifty-three years, he had been First Prime to Horus. He had fought many battles over that time, leading his god's troops into the fray with honor and courage, and today had been no exception. Today, however, was to be his last. If the wound had happened to any other part of his body, his symbiote would have healed him. But the blast had killed his symbiote and now it was just a matter of time before he followed it into death. Sebok's troops were greater in number, but Horus's army held the position bravely and Ka'tec was convinced that even though he would fight no more battles for his god, the others would be victorious this day.
His eyesight was dimming, but it mattered little as the view of the battlefield was obscured by the wall he had fallen behind and he could still hear the blasts of staff weapons close by, the orders being shouted, the screams of their foes as death took them. They were soothing sounds, he decided, more common to him than his wife's voice calling his younger children in from play. Ha'nak was progressing well in his training and would soon be joining his god's forces in battle. He had hoped that they would serve together when his son first drew the blood of the enemy, but that was not to be. And there was no use in lamenting that fact, so he concentrated instead on the sounds of warfare that would accompany him in his death.
"Shit! Shit, shit, shit!"
The roar of the battle was interrupted by the frantic voice that settled close by.
"Yeah, that pretty much sums it up."
The second voice was calmer but obviously in pain and Ka'tec focused his vision enough to see two strangers, dripping wet, hunkering behind the wall a few feet away from where he lay.
"That's a staff weapon blast, Sheppard. You were shot by a goddamn staff weapon!"
"Seeing as it happened to me, Rodney, I kind of figured that out on my own." The injured man shifted with a grimace. "Aw, fuck, that hurts."
His caretaker tugged at the top of his shirt to expose the burns that covered his shoulder, neck and left arm. Running a shaking hand through his soaking wet hair– and how had they managed to get so wet? There was no water for miles around here– the second man gave a desperate look to his injured companion. "Christ. I don't know… we don't have anything… hell, I don't even know what to do if we did."
"It's all right, McKay." The injured one assured and Ka'tec decided he was no stranger to war.
The other man, however, obviously was. "That is a wound from a staff weapon," he insisted emphatically. "People die from those." His hand pointed to where Ka'tec lay as if in example and the Jaffa would have laughed if he was not so close to death.
"People die from bullet wounds, too, and I've my fair share of those along the way."
"Yeah, but we've always at least known of a way to get back to Carson and now we don't even have that."
A stray blast hit the wall sending stone shards flying. The uninjured man did his best to cover the wound and protect it, even as the injured one covered his companion's head as he did so. "Keep down!" he ordered. "Last thing we need is both of us hurt."
"Last thing we need is one of us dead," he countered before looking around hopefully. "We need to get out of here."
The injured one nodded in agreement before slumping down a little further. "Do you think we'll jump again anytime soon?"
The snort he received in answer was bitter. "I can only imagine where we would jump to. Dead center between two Jaffa armies in the heat of battle is kind of hard to top. What's next, a pit of snakes? A vat of acid? The center of a sun?"
"McKay," he spoke the name calmly in hopes of conveying the same to the other man, "do you think we will jump soon?"
"I don't know," the other admitted in defeat. "We stayed in the pond a little longer than in the desert so we might stay here a little longer still, but like I said before, we could never jump again."
Desert? Ponds? There were neither anyway near the area. He wondered if perhaps these slaves had been driven mad by the experience of witnessing the battle.
"There's Jaffa here, so that means there has to be a gate, right?"
"Probably, but what good does a gate do us?"
"We dial Earth, we go back to the SGC, they'll have doctors there, maybe a way to help us get out of the field."
Ka'tec had never heard of these strange places, which made him think that perhaps these men were in the service of Sebok and the god had expanded his hold of worlds. If only he were not mortally wounded, he would be able to warn Horus of the news.
"Colonel, do you have any idea what year it is? We don't even know if the SGC is in existence yet or still in existence. We could dial back to Earth and end up in ancient Egypt or an Earth overtaken by the Ori for all we know."
"Yeah, but we wouldn't be here." A flare of pain had the man fisting a hand into his friend's shirt and hissing another curse.
"You make a compelling argument, there," the second conceded as he patted the slowly relaxing hand in sympathy.
"Weapons," the other gritted, "we need weapons." And he tilted his head toward the fallen Jaffa.
"Oh, you can't be serious. Pry it from his cold, dead hand? How very Charlton Heston of you."
"Better his cold, dead hands than ours, McKay." Ka'tec could see him swallow as he slammed his head back against the wall in response to the pain.
A staff weapon blast was indeed painful; Ka'tec knew that from personal experience. He had received ten in his time as First Prime and many more prior to that, all healed by his symbiote, except, of course, for this last one. However, even the glancing blast that this man had received could be fatal to one of the slave race as they did not have the healing power given to the Jaffa by their gods. And he was almost impressed by how well such a lowly creature could handle the hurt.
His uninjured companion crawled over to where the Jaffa lay, reaching out a tentative hand to try to take the staff weapon he still grasped and Ka'tec shifted his eyes to better see him.
"Holy fuck!" He skittered back away at the action and the Jaffa smiled to himself, even though his lips were beyond such actions. "He's still alive!"
"So are we. But we won't be for much longer if you don't take his weapons."
With a torn look back at the man turning paler where he sat, the one Ka'tec had frightened drew closer again with a running dread-filled mumble. "Goddammit, goddammit, goddammit…"
He tried to tighten his grip, but it was no use. He was moments from death; let them take the weapon. He had fought bravely and died well. It was an honor to die in the service of Horus and those two would never live to see another day, it was obvious.
The image of the two faded as the staff slipped from his fingers but he heard the injured man remind, "The zat…take the zat, too." And the last words he heard in his mortal existence were, "Now, which way to the gate?"
Horus was a prick.
Sebok had come to that conclusion long ago. Even when Horus had inhabited the body of a woman for several decades and didn't actually have a prick, he was still a prick. The thought caused the Goa'uld watching from his position near the gate as his army swarmed across his nemesis' forces to smile at his own joke. He made a mental note to share it with Ra the next time he saw him, after Horus was castrated once and for all, that was.
The battle had turned in Sebok's favor and with the chappa'ai in his control, there was no way that braggart Horus could bring in more troops quick enough to turn the tide. It was a pleasant feeling to know that victory was assured and he almost let the two slaves he saw working around the edge of the battlefield go through the ring unchallenged as a result. After all, one was obviously grievously wounded given the way he leaned heavily against the other. And the staff weapon in the hand of a slave was quite the ridiculous picture. Not to mention the outlandish clothing they wore. Horus had always considered himself a fashion trendsetter, but to dress his slaves like that? Honestly, he was doing Horus a favor by annihilating him like he was, otherwise he'd be the laughing stock of the system lords.
But as tempting as the thought was to let them escape, Sebok had actually grown bored sitting and just watching the battle. And the slaves offered him a nice distraction from the mundane task of overseeing his war. Ordering his private guard to maintain their posts, he strode the short distance to the dialing device where the two were trying to escape.
"This is unfair, slaves. Trying to leave before your puny god falls to his knees before me and you can swear allegiance to your one true deity."
They hadn't heard him approach– the injured one appeared to be barely conscious and the other was attempting to balance his charge and the staff weapon while activating the ring– so that he jumped in alarm when the Goa'uld spoke. The reaction made Sebok smile even as he raised his hand and sent them flying backward with his hand device.
The staff weapon rolled out of the slave's hand and the fact that the air had been knocked from his lungs afforded Sebok plenty of time to stroll to where he lay on the ground.
The slave received no response to his groaned hail as the other slave was sprawled unmoving just out of his arms reach. Too bad, Sebok thought in disappointment as he noted the wound on the man's shoulder. He would just have to make do with slowly killing the one.
The obvious distress of the slave as he rolled to try to reach the other man just made the Goa'uld realize what an opportunity he had missed. Torture was just so much more fun when it involved two. Perhaps they were brothers. Perhaps they were lovers. In the end, it didn't really matter as the emotional reaction to watching another die was almost identical, regardless of what the relationship.
"It appears that it is just to be the two of us," Sebok commiserated.
The man dove for the staff weapon and Sebok slammed his booted foot sharply on top of the hand. Letting out an incoherent yelp of pain, the slave gazed up imploringly. "Look, I know you probably won't believe this, but we don't have anything to do with this battle at allllllll!" The word stretched deliciously as he ground his boot and when he lifted it the hand was instantly cradled against the man's chest. But the pleading continued. "If you will just let us go through the gate, we'll get out of your hair. Which is very nice, by the way. I like the braids and the loops and the headdress really sets off…"
Sebok cut off the prattle with the weapon attached to his palm. That was the problem with those in the service of the enemy; they were either talking too much or not talking at all. But the ribbon device always solved that problem, no matter which it was. The slave rose to his knees as his muscles spasmed, his back arched involuntarily, and his mouth opened in a gasp for air as the beam accessed the pain centers of his mind. Yes, that was much better than all that blabbering.
Sebok was just trying to decide if he wanted to push the man into unconsciousness or keep him lucid for a while longer when he was suddenly enveloped in a field of his own. The hand device shut off and the slave that had been under its power crumpled to the ground just as the Goa'uld did and that's when he realized the second slave wasn't dead and was, in fact, in possession of a zat'ni'katel.
Keeping the weapon fixed on the incapacitated god, he managed to drag himself over to other slave. "Rodney, you okay?"
The man's hands were curled into fists on either side of his head. "Fuck," he panted, "I think my brain… is going to explode."
"No, it's not." The words were just as much an order as a comfort and he placed his hand on the other man's head until his breathing evened out. "Can you stand up?"
"Yeah," he grimaced as he opened his eyes again. "Can you?"
"If you help me get to my feet, I'll stay there," the slave assured and Sebok wished he was free of the paralysis so he could knock them both down to their knees again.
The two men staggered to their feet, the slave Sebok had just begun to play with when he was so rudely interrupted shook his head. "Holy crap, Sheppard, I think you just took down a system lord."
"Good, that means when I fry his ass with the second blast I'll be within my standing orders from the SGC." The one with the zat'ni'katel prepared to fire once again.
"Colonel, you can't kill him."
"He was in the process of killing you, McKay. I'm just going to return the favor." The vicious curl of lips on the slave's face was almost ruined by the way he swayed where he stood. But Sebok didn't doubt that the man meant every word. And the fact that a slave was so confident that he could kill a god was more disturbing than the fact that this one was prepared to kill him.
"We can't change history. Who knows what role he's supposed to play?"
"I'm voting for the dead false god role. Now, dial the gate."
"Colonel, you can't…"
"Dial the gate, Rodney."
With an irritated wave of arms, he did as instructed, grumbling as he pressed the tiles, "Fine, but if you aren't born because of this, don't come crying to me to fix it."
The slave with the weapon, the one that had called him a false god, the one that evidently knew more than any slave ever should, frowned, but he never lowered the zat'ni'katel, and the Goa'uld knew his life hung in the balance.
The whooshing sound indicated that the circle had opened and the one who had activated it walked to his fellow slave's side. "Come on, Sheppard, let's go." He held out his hand for the weapon and the other continued to consider his option. But before a decision could be made, both sets of eyes widened. "It's happening again."
"Get to the gate!" the one threatening Sebok's life snapped and the two men moved quickly out of his view.
When he was finally able to move again, his personal guard had found him and the two were gone. Brushing off the guard's assistance, he stood and ordered his First Prime, "Call back the troops and send a message to Horus that I want to meet with him."
"Yes, my lord," the Jaffa bowed before leaving to see to his commands but Sebok watched him go with a disturbing wariness he had never felt before.
Slaves that knew who they really were was much more important than a petty squabble. It always ended the same anyway… thousands of Jaffa dead and the two of them still very much alive and stuck refilling the ranks of their army. As much fun as that could be, there were more serious matters to attend to. If the slaves knew, then there was a chance the Jaffa did as well, or would soon enough. And that was one reality that Sebok had no wish to face. Horus may be a prick, but the prick you know is better than the prick you don't.
Frowning at his analogy he decided maybe that was one he wouldn't share with Ra, the man took things out of context so easily.
When Adina had realized the ring had opened, she had woke Mani and Wirake and sent them to meet the travelers. In the past, she would have gone herself to give them a proper greeting, but her arthritis pained her in the cold and so she left the fetching to the younger folk and prepared to welcome them before the comfort of the hearth. Besides, the lodge was only a ten-minute walk from the portal, and with the full moon and clear sky they would have no doubt seen the smoke from the fire, but it was best to make sure they did not wander off in the wrong direction and become lost on the ice.
Wrapping her thickest robe around her shoulders, she set to making tea and had Mani's mate, Kimba, warm some of the stew from supper. The commotion woke Kimba's daughter and Adina bent over the baby, chubby hands grasping and the end of her braid that dangled over the bed as she shushed her. Rocking the basket gently with a metallic clink of her bracelets, she cooed, "Shhh, little one, family is coming." It had been a long time since anyone had visited. The few Original that still dwelt on this world or the others nearby rarely came through the ring anymore, and those that had gone ahead had other means of visiting if they saw fit.
The infant settled back into slumber quickly, her sleepy sighs blending harmoniously with the sounds of the other sleeping inhabitants of the shelter. It was a familiar sound to the old woman, one she often listened to as she sat and stoked the fire at night. She had found that the older she grew, the less sleep she seemed to need, and waking in the middle of the night to soak in the presence of her people had become a common practice. She had been born in this same lodge, as had her mother, and her mother's mother, unlike her grandmother's parents. They had been brought across the great water from a land of dry heat and red sands so that the Original could help them reach their potential. Although from the stories her grandmother had told her as a child, it was more from loneliness that they had recruited the native inhabitants of this world than a higher purpose in advancing a race.
Many over the years had left with the Original, in their flying craft or through the shining face of the portal. Her own children, carriers of the bloodline she had passed on to them, had been among those that went off into the unknowns of this world. Others had gone ahead and never looked back. But not Adina. She had been born on the ice and had chosen to spend the rest of her days here. A decision she had never once regretted and the tribe seemed to respect that decision and honored her for her service to them.
By the time the front door opened with a gust of wind and blowing snow, the water for the tea was boiling. It was a good thing she had sent an escort; the two men that entered the common dwelling of her people might have frozen to death before they ever reached it if she hadn't. Mani had given them his fur wrap and still they were shivering as they huddled together under it. The first thing that struck her about the men was that there was ice in their hair and on the exposed legs of their pants, suggesting they had been wet when they came through. The second was how the dark-haired man stumbled and the other took a little more of his weight with a mumbled, "Easy, Sheppard, we're almost there," indicating that it was more than heat he was gaining from his companion. Injured, then. Injured and lost… because who would knowingly come to the ice soaking wet? And in need of shelter and food and time. Yes, she decided, they definitely needed some time. It was doubtful she could give them as much as they needed, but she would do what she could.
When they reached where she sat before the fire, she indicated the furs set out before her, "Come, sit, warm yourselves. You are welcome here."
The two dropped heavily to their knees, the injured one seemed on the verge of doing it even without her invitation, and his eyes fought to focus on her. "Thank you." Even through the slight slur she could hear the genuine gratitude.
"We need a doctor," the other said without preamble, "a medicine man, someone to treat injuries. I don't suppose you have anything like that around here, do you?"
Pushing her grey braid off her shoulder, Adina moved forward to the injured man. "We have medical knowledge. I will attend to your friend as best I can." Pulling back the furs, she could see the angry red of the wound and feel the warmth coming off of it. "Kimba," she called to the young woman, "bring me my satchel."
Flicking her eyes up at the men, she decided they were not going to make formal introductions as protocol required. Best then that she do it herself. "I am Adina, by the way."
As if realizing he was remiss, the one man blinked in surprise. "Oh, I'm Dr. Rodney McKay and this is Lt. Colonel John Sheppard." The way Dr. Rodney McKay looked to the other man made Adina think that introductions were something that usually fell to Lt. Colonel John Sheppard.
"Such long names," she observed, sitting back to retrieve the two mugs of tea that should have finished steeping by then. "Conversations on your world must take a very long time."
"Call us John and Rodney," the wounded one offered, taking the mug with the hand on his uninjured side and sloshing the beverage as he shook. Rodney ignored his own cup and helped John get his to his mouth. John did not seem too pleased to require the assistance, nodding shortly when he had had enough.
Rodney seemed to take it in stride, taking up his own cup after a quick glance toward and another nod from John. "Or Dr. McKay. If you feel more comfortable with that, then I'm fine with it."
"McKay, these people are helping us, I think we can skip the formalities."
"I'm just saying if she feels uncomfortable being on a first name basis with strangers…"
Adina cut into the argument with a small smile. "Rodney and John will work just fine." Kimba returned with the bag and the old woman indicated the bed closest to the fire. "If you will lie down, I will tend your wound." Rodney helped John to his feet, the motion causing John to wince in pain, and walked him to the bed. "It would be best if we removed the garment."
Rodney rolled his eyes as Adina and Kimba helped John remove the wet shirt, then he took a strange, curved, metallic object from John before the women covered the injured man's lower half with more blankets to try to warm him. "It never fails that you always find a way to end up bare-chested," he taunted, but the man blanched white when the wound was completely revealed and pulled the furs around his shoulder tighter.
Adina frowned and squinted, finally shaking her head in frustration at her failing eyesight. "Light." At her command the ceiling to the lodge lit.
The two men exchanged wide-eyed expressions of shock, Rodney snapping his fingers and pointing at her. "You! You have the gene!"
Adina continued her study of the shoulder. "If you mean that I am of the bloodline, then, yes, I am. My grandfather was one of the Original that returned from their world of water many, many years ago. The two of you have it, as well, although weaker. And yours, Rodney, is somehow… different."
The old woman almost snickered at the frown she received in response. "It still works," he insisted.
"I am sure that it does… in a limited capacity."
The imminent retort never made it from his lips as he looked around as another thought occurred to him. "Oh my God, Sheppard, it worked. Dialing Earth, it worked."
"This doesn't look like the SGC to me," John challenged, sucking in a breath as Adina pressed gently at the wound.
"We didn't go to that gate; we went to the Antarctic gate. The SGC gate's probably buried in Egypt or maybe it hasn't even been built yet. I'm not sure exactly when on Earth we are but I'm guessing not long after the Ancients returned to Earth from Atlantis, but we're definitely in Antarctica. Evidently the gate buffered us from changing locations but it didn't stop us from slipping through time."
"How does being back on Earth ten thousand years before the SGC was founded help us exactly?"
Adina had busied herself mixing the poultice that she thought would alleviate the pain. The actual healing would come once the area was numb. Her skills were not as strong as the Original and took several treatments. But she was fully expecting the question that came next from Rodney.
"These Original, are there any still here?"
"No, they left long ago. Some went ahead to a higher existence, others around this world to meet other people. Some to other worlds in the stars."
"Did they have a facility near here? A place they lived, worked, came and went from?"
"They did," she told him simply as she began to apply the medicinal paste. "We return there from time to time for food and other supplies. The ice only provides so much." And the Original had promised to provide the rest when they had brought her people there generations in the past. She was as close to living proof of that as anyone would get. "Does that feel better?" she inquired of John.
"Actually, yeah, it does." The lines softened around his eyes as the numbing started to spread.
"Can you take me there?" Rodney asked desperately as Adina turned to mixing the powdered pain medication with John's tea.
"It is several hours walk to the only remaining opening that leads down through the ice, but the boys can take you, if you want to go." And maybe that would be for the best, she decided. She could talk to John in private that way.
John, however, did not agree. "McKay, what the hell do you think you're doing?"
"If I can get to the facility, I might be able to find something to help us escape the energy field."
Finishing down the bitter drink with a grimace, he countered, "And just what do you think you're going to find there that you haven't already in our time? You probably know that facility as well as these people."
"The energy field is based on Ancient technology. If I can access the database and look for specific information on the component systems we utilized and the work Janus did here, maybe I can figure out how to get us out."
Adina rolled her eyes at the name. She should have known this was partially her grandfather's fault. It would explain why he had given her warning that the men would come and his intervention with the others would allow her to slow the flow for a little while longer.
John frowned harder at the rationalization. "You know, we've been gone for quite a while. Surely they've missed us back at 51 by now and eventually they'll put two and two together. What if they just turn the unit off?"
"Then we may never get back. We'll probably be stuck wherever and whenever we are when the unit shuts down. Besides, time passage in the field is different than outside the field. We may get back and years have passed, or it could have just been a few seconds." When John didn't respond, only looked like he wanted to hit something, Rodney pressed his advantage. "The sooner we figure out a way to get back, the better our chances of getting back to the time we left. And the outpost is just too good of an opportunity to pass up."
John started to speak, stopped, then finally asked, "What if we jump while you're gone? Will we end up in the same place or in different times and on completely different planets?"
Rodney seemed to deflate then, looking unsure of himself for the first time since they had entered the lodge. "I don't… I don't know."
"Alone, on an unknown world; those aren't optimal field conditions, McKay."
"Oh, and I suppose these are? Have you taken a look at us, Sheppard? We're in wet street clothes, no medical supplies, no food, no water… not exactly my definition of optimal."
"And adding 'no teammate' to the list somehow makes that better? What happens if you end up back in the middle of a battlefield?" Adina checked the cream on his shoulder and John cursed at the touch.
"Forgive me; I had hoped it would have taken the pain by now."
He tried to apologize but Rodney interrupted him before he could. "And what happens when their herbs and potions don't work?" Turning to the old woman he held up a hand. "No offense, but is that going to have any chance in hell of treating that wound?"
"No, the salve will not heal him," Adina admitted. "It was my hope to make him more comfortable and ease the pain."
"Sheppard, I practically carried you here from the gate. You're burning up with fever. That is a serious burn and it needs treatment. Real, medical treatment. I helped Carson catalog most of the medical equipment that he found at both facilities. If nothing else, I could at least maybe find something to help you."
John shook his head. "I'm the team leader, it's my call, and I say no going it alone."
"That team doesn't exist anymore, Colonel. I'm making my own decisions."
John looked as if Rodney had punched him in the face and Rodney looked as if he wished he could take back what he had said but was too stubborn to do it. Boys. Adina had never bore a son of her own, three daughters instead, but she had looked upon all the tribe as her children and she had seen this behavior more times than she could count. And whether the result was a bloodied nose or a bruised ego, the resultant hurt was the same and usually just as unintentional.
With a shooing motion for Rodney, she decided it was time she stepped in. "Your yelling will wake everyone in the lodge. Go, sit by the fire and dry yourself. No one is going back on the ice with wet clothing and not before dawn and that is still several hours away."
"But, I can't wait that long, we could jump before I even get a chance to head out."
Rodney's protest was met with a shove from the old woman. "You will not leave this world so soon. Sit, eat, rest. You will need them all for the time to come."
"How do you know we won't jump so soon?" There was as much suspicion as there was curiosity in the question.
But Adina was not to be swayed. "What world is this that you hail from that you have never been taught to respect your elders?"
She honestly did not know how long she would be allowed to slow the flow, but she had spoken the truth. Rest and dry clothes would serve them more than anything Rodney thought he might find in the facility. The answer to their problem did not lie there and both men knew it if they would both just take the time to stop and think things through.
Rodney, settling on the floor by the fire, took the bowl of stew Kimba offered, and turned his back in a sulk. Well, at least they were no longer arguing to wake the lodge and she could turn her attention back to John's shoulder. Placing her hands once again on the wound, she began the healing touch she had inherited from the Original. John closed his eyes and swallowed down a yelp and Adina braced herself as the pain transferred to her own body. She would only be able to treat a wound this severe in small spurts or she herself would be overcome. Rodney glanced back worriedly at the sound and Adina indicated his bowl with a weary hitch of her head.
"Eat your food, Rodney, all will be well." Placing a hand on John's forehead, she felt the fever still burned, but that would pass eventually. "Rest, now. When you wake, you can eat and regain some of your strength."
"Feel… weird," he mumbled drowsily.
"That is to be expected. And the medicine in the tea will make you sleepy. Rest. I will check on you again a while later."
He fell almost instantly into sleep and Adina swayed with her first step toward her seat by the fire. Kimba took her by the arm and led her the rest of the way. "Thank you, dear one." And Adina placed an affectionate hand on the mass of dark curls as the younger woman tucked furs tight across the elder's legs.
The ebony face, much darker and more beautiful than her own, turned up and smiled back even as Kimba chided quietly, "You will harm yourself for these strangers if you are not more cautious."
"Fear not, child. I will not be leaving you so soon." She had stayed behind, even as she had moved beyond, something that no one had ever been allowed to do before. But perhaps the others felt guilty for abandoning their charges and although that guilt was not enough for them to stay, it was enough for them to allow her to act in their stead. "Besides, these strangers need my help more than anyone right now and their time with us is limited so I must do what I can in the time that I have." With a gentle pat she told the girl, "Make some broth for when John awakes. I will take the time to rest myself."
When Kimba went to her task, Adina glanced toward Rodney, who was picking at his meal. "Shall I grind it small and feed it to you like a newly weaned babe or will you chew it on your own?"
Rodney simply frowned but took a bite and then another. Satisfied that he would finish the food, she closed her eyes and dozed by the fire. She wasn't sure how much time had passed, but she woke to the soft croak of John's voice.
Rodney seemed to wake from a snooze just as Adina had, sitting abruptly and looking around in confusion. "Here." Remembering where he was and who had called, he stood quickly and moved to John's side. "What's wrong? Do you need something? More of that…stuff the old woman put on you?"
"Take the zat," he told the anxious man hovering above him.
"And do what?" Rodney's brow creased in worry. "Oh, crap, you're not hallucinating from the fever are you?"
"Take the zat with you when you go to the Ancient base," John clarified. "In case we jump and never… in case we get separated."
"Oh, right." Rodney shifted awkwardly from foot to foot. "Good idea."
"You remember how it works, right?" Rodney nodded his head that he did, but John went on with his instruction anyway. "One shot disables, two shots kills, and three shots vaporize the evidence."
"Yes, yes. I've been associated with the SGC longer than you. Remember?"
"I just want to make sure you don't panic over a snow drift and take out your guides by getting trigger happy, is all."
Adina had seen the teasing smirk on John's face, but that did not stop Rodney from looking to her nervously and assuring, "I'm not going to shoot them. He's exaggerating."
"I am old, Rodney, not without a sense of humor," Adina assured him with a roll of her brown eyes.
"Well, I'm actually a very good shot… most of the time. And like he said, the first shot doesn't kill…"
"Rodney," John cut him off before he could make the two men assigned to accompany him any more uneasy. "I think you should stop talking now if you don't want to head across the ice on your own."
"Yeah, you're probably right." As if trying to decide what else he should say, Rodney rocked back on his heels before finally speaking again. "Look, Sheppard, what I said earlier, about the team…"
"Was the truth," John interrupted. "You're right, Rodney; the team was the past. Maybe not as far in the past as we are right now, but it's still over and done."
"Yeah, well, just because it's the truth doesn't stop it from sucking out loud."
"No," John agreed, "it doesn't. So, just take the zat and get back here as soon as you can. Okay? Because the only thing that sucks worse than the team breaking up is me saying goodbye to former teammates."
Rodney nodded silently, then looked up at the roof as if he could see the dim light of dawn. "So… I guess I should get going. Do you need anything before I take off?"
"I think Adina has things under control here."
Hearing her name, the old woman pushed herself up from her seat. "Mani and Wirake will show you the way. Do not worry; your brother will be well cared for."
"Oh, we're not related… we just work… well, technically, we don't even do that anymore…"
"Rodney, you talk more than you should." Elbowing her way past him to check the wound once more, she snapped, "Trust that an old woman knows what she sees and that she sees what you obviously refuse to. Birth did not make you one of the bloodline, nor did it make you John's brother. But that does not change the fact that you are still both. Now, wrap yourself in the furs; the sun does little during this season to warm the way."
"I guess it's time to go," Rodney grumbled behind the woman's back.
"I guess so," John grinned and Adina had a feeling that Rodney rarely met anyone that he backed down from easily.
Doing as he was told, Rodney wrapped the furs around himself after securing the zat to the loop of his pants. Adina thought that he was going to leave without saying anything else, but he stopped before reaching the door. "You know, Colonel, even without the team, we make a pretty good team."
John grinned again, this time with a touch of melancholy. "See you around, McKay."
"See you around, Sheppard." And Rodney turned and left the lodge in a gust of swirling snow.
John watched him go then stared blankly up at the roof of the lodge with a sigh. Adina placed her hands once more on his shoulder. "Mani and Wirake have made the trip many times; he will be safe."
"Oh, I'm sure they'll do everything in their power to watch over him. And if it were anyone else besides McKay, I'd trust you'd be right." Adina started her work and John sucked in a ragged breath.
"I am sorry; the talent is not as strong in me as in my mother. She would have had your wound healed by now."
"You're ascended, aren't you?" John managed to grit out between teeth clenched against the pain.
"I am many things." The elderly woman removed her hand to appraise her work. The skin was still warm to the touch but the flesh was a soft pink instead of a scorched and bloody red and she was sure the fever would pass on its own soon enough. When her knees weakened, she sat on the edge of John's cot. "I have some talents but I am also just an old woman with an old woman's failings."
"But you know we're not supposed to be here in this time." It was as much a question as a statement.
"There is a saying among my people: the ice does not care if your feet are cold." She patted his arm. "Perhaps you are not supposed to be here, perhaps you are. The reasons, the causes, they are not important. In the end, all that matters is that you warm your toes."
"So, how do we do that?"
Reaching across John to retrieve the bowl of broth Kimba had prepared for him, she told him, "My grandfather was fascinated with time. He told me once that it is not a straight line, but is like a river. I have only seen a river once in my life, when I was a young girl and traveled with my grandparents to a land with green trees and black earth." Adina closed her eyes and smiled. "I can still remember the smell of that place─ dense and thick with the fragrance of life and death woven together like a basket. Not at all like the sharp, clean, scent of the ice." She opened her eyes again and cleared her head with a small shake. "But the river was wild, untamed, with currents and eddies and backwaters and I remember thinking a person could fall in there and be lost forever. When my grandfather asked why I was frightened, I asked, 'what should I do if I fall in?' And he told me, 'swim for shore'."
Using the back of his hand, John wiped at a bit of broth on his chin. "I'm not sure we know how to swim for shore."
"Before you succeed at a task, you must first want to."
John's eyes narrowed. "You're not going to tell me how to get out of this field, are you?"
Adina sighed, "I have told you all that I can. As much as I would like to help you more, I have other responsibilities."
She looked around at the people appearing from their sleeping pallets and gathering around the common hearth to prepare their morning meals. Her people. She could not risk losing them, at least not so soon. At one point, there had been three other lodges but the people had left, one way or another they always did. Now there were less than fifty members of the tribe. In a few generations, they would be gone all together, along with all traces that they had existed. Then she would be free to choose her fate, but until that time her place was here and her loyalty was here. She had already risked so much just slowing the flow like she had.
Turning her attention back to John, she continued. "Just as you have responsibilities. Soon you will have a choice to make and you will have to decide where your own loyalties lie, where your home lies."
Atlantis, the great city that had been here ages past, which had flown among the stars and now lay at the bottom of the ocean. Eventually it would rise again. Her grandfather had met a woman traveler lost in the flow much like John and Rodney and he had helped her to make sure that it did indeed rise. Now it had fallen to Adina to help two men that would ensure that it survived the attack that would take place far in her future and in a matter of day in the future of John and Rodney. But first the two must return to their own time. As much as the others wanted to save Atlantis, they would not break their own rules, and Adina had pushed them as far as she had been allowed. So now it was up to them. The confused expression on John's face, did not improve her confidence in their ability to do so.
"Can you at least tell me if McKay and I will end up on the same planet when we jump again?"
Not so much confused as worried, then. That she could understand. Standing, she told him what she could, "Rodney headed straight into the rising sun; that will not change for his entire journey." Moving to her seat by the fire, she lamented, "I am getting too old for this much excitement. I need a little nap before I can finish healing that shoulder."
"It feels much better," John assured her. "Thank you."
"Then you will not mind if I doze for a bit." She settled heavily, waving a hand at Kimba to stay where she was and finish nursing her daughter.
"No, go right ahead."
Taking John's approval, she closed her eyes. "I honestly do wish I could help you more, John. It is good to know that the bloodline has continued so strong throughout the generations."
"We appreciate all the help you've given us."
"And I bid you firm footing on your passage and warm destinations for your journeys to come." And with a final yawn, she slept.
Kimba woke her later, the baby down for her midmorning nap and the lodge abuzz with activity. "The stranger is gone."
She was not surprised by the news in the least. "Did Rodney return before they left?"
Kimba shook her head reluctantly. And it was over two hours before Mani and Wirake returned to the lodge to deliver the same news.