Title: "Honor Bound"
Author: Kristen999
Character(s): Sheppard, Ronon, Rodney (Friendship) Appearances from the rest.
Genre(s): Stargate Atlantis: Gen. Angst. H/C.
Rating: T for language and violence
Summary: Sometimes all that matters are the codes and values you uphold. A deadly vendetta will test loyalties, limits and friendships, with more at stake than anyone realizes. Contains Shep Whump.

Spoilers: Will play around with what could have happened between "Sateda" and "Common Ground".

Notes: This is my first multi-chapter Atlantis fic. I'll be posting a chapter every few days, until it's complete. I want to thank Beth for all of her help, prodding, and changing all that red to purple. I also want to thank Mandy for all of her invaluable encouragement and suggestions. You gals rock!

The power behind any ambush is the concealment of tactical advantage. Laying in wait until the last possible moment when the targets are caught off guard and never given a chance to recover. It was perfect really, nearly three miles from the gate. Just far enough to be an issue if things got messy. They were following a worn path through a bamboo forest. The area was dry, really dry. Where the area wasn't crammed with an endless supply of toothpicks, thousands of shriveled vines encompassed everything else, like kudzu did back on Earth.

A low level energy source disrupted communications and gave them a three hour window to touch base with Atlantis. Funny how that was two more too long to do any good.

"We've got to find better cover!" Sheppard shouted as something whizzed by his left ear.

"Ya think?" Rodney's panicked voice was drowned out as bullets rang through the air from multiple directions.

"We need to get out of this crossfire," Ronon grunted, his gun blasting back at two of their attackers hidden by an ocean of tall bamboo trees.

Teyla crouched by Sheppard, firing in the direction of the men taking pot shots at Ronon's position.

The thick rods of browns and tans camouflaged the enemy. The team was pinned down by at least a dozen men, a few of which perched high in the heartiest of trees. Each team member huddled low, using the clumps of wood for protection as the air filled with increased fire behind and above them. It was a simple, effective trap; basic Ambush 101 type stuff and they... no he fell for it. Hook, line and sinker. Walked right into the snare like some green recruit.

Sheppard was pissed. If they all got out of this in one piece, not only were those responsible for their current predicament going to feel his wrath, but he was going to drill every team leader in the signs of ambushes and impose more training in detecting them sooner. The woods snapped all around them, bamboo splitting as projectiles cut the rods in half. Sheppard clung to one advantage. They couldn't see the bad guys, so their attackers couldn't see clearly either, shooting blindly at the team's likely locations.

Time to run, recover, and mount an offense.

The terrain several hundred yards ahead seemed impenetrable, with large stumps, fallen trees and tangles of roots that could provide cover. The problem was the open path leading towards the protection, the plants thinning out into a clearing first. Fed up, Sheppard pointed his P90 at the goons hidden above them. He squeezed the trigger, showering the snipers with heavy fire.

"Teyla! Concentrate on our pals across the way!" Then he yelled at Ronon. "Keep your focus on the ones hidden in the trees! We have greater fire power and can overwhelm them!"

With the team's automatic weapons, their opponents were unable to get any shots off during barrages. The P90 vibrated in his hands as Sheppard shouted at Rodney. "Run for that cover!"

"Are you kidding me?"

Sheppard screamed over the roar of ammunition. "Now, McKay!"

The physicist weaved and bobbed just like he did during the weekly training sessions that Sheppard forced most of his non-military members to undergo. Rodney should have had enough off world experience and encounters to be an expert by now.

The air grew acidic, choked with gunpowder and the dry heat of the planet. Combining their firepower kept the enemy pinned down long enough for Rodney to disappear behind the woody brush.

Sheppard watched a body fall to the ground from the high tree tops as he bombarded the area with heavy fire. One more crashed through the canopy, a casualty of Ronon's weapon.

Two down.

Teyla sent short bursts at three locations as the enemy separated into smaller groups and split off. It would be nice to have a single front to concentrate on instead of being faced by a three prong attack on the ground and sniper nests above. The Athosian aimed at a cluster of fighters inching closer. She rolled away barely in time as those at her four o'clock peppered the area where she had just been crouched.

"They are gaining ground," Ronon warned, blasting red bolts at the tops of the tree line and alternating to cover Teyla.

Splinters of the smooth bark hailed down on Sheppard's head, the snipers pinpointing the large trunk he hid behind. A second set of men converged on them from the left. He dived, spun, and fired another array into the highest of the trees. Then he scrambled to take up point behind a pair of olive stalks and stuck the barrel of his weapon in the empty space between both, shelling the other enemy group and preventing them from gaining ground.

He really needed to carry heavier ordnance on these missions. A good grenade or two. Right now it was time to get the others out of harm's way. That started with taking out one of the three sets of hostiles.

"Teyla, cover me!"

"What are you doing, John?" But she sent a wide spray of suppression fire into the forest as he took off.

He heard a scream as another enemy fighter took a swan dive as a result of Ronon's accurate shot. Sheppard recognized a flanking maneuver when he saw one and was determined to stop it. He kept low, with a keen sense of where his targets were going, and circled behind them. He made sure his feet didn't crunch on any of the dry vegetation as he approached. The ground was dry, dark sand mixed with mulch and all the brittle bamboo made it tough to be stealthy.

He could make out four men dressed in earth toned, militaristic clothes, but not matching uniforms. They blended well with the rest of the autumn colors of the planet and each gripped a rifle. None of the soldiers carried any backpacks nor did they seem heavily supplied. That was good, Sheppard thought. If they were not prepared for a long offensive, maybe the team's ammunition would outlast them. He saw the four men pause as Teyla concentrated her cannonade at another unit. The soldiers took this opportunity to attack while her attention was diverted.

Sheppard stepped quietly, creeping closer to the unsuspecting men. There was a tan and green shoot, thick as an oak that he leaned on for cover. As four of his quarry prepared to blitz his team again, he didn't hesitate, squeezing the trigger, taking them all out in surprise. He quickly searched them for weapons, pocketing a couple of small handguns.

The rat-a-tat-tats increased in ferocity, gunfire erupting into a non-stop fury ahead of him. Sheppard double timed it back, his chest heaving, every breath choking on the heavy scents of spent gunpowder and gun oil. The thunder of the fire fight consumed all sounds around him. He continued his mad dash through the jungle, ducking limbs and vines that smacked him in the face as he passed.

Red streaks of death blazed trails in the sea of brown. Ronon was giving away his position with his weapon, shooting up at the sniper nests, then with more volleys deep into the woods.

Breathing hard, Sheppard used the red bursts to find his way back. A trail of heat singed his arm, a slug grazing his bicep. He spun to counter, but there were too many bullets flying and he ended up diving to the ground a few feet from Teyla.

"What the hell happened?"

Teyla covered him while he scrambled to his knees. "Reinforcements merged with the two groups we were trying to take out when you left."

"Well that's just great."

"They're all raiding at us at once," Ronon grunted between shots.

"Let's get to that overgrowth. We need to re-group with McKay." He reloaded his clip again and tried to slow down his breathing. "How many more are in the trees?"

Ronon answered with a blast from his gun. The satisfying crash of another bad guy made the Satedan smile. "Last one."

"That's something," Sheppard muttered.

"We can use a heavy stream of fire to give us enough time for escape," Teyla suggested.

"Agreed. We have less to worry about when we're not having to watch over our heads."

Sheppard waited until the rest were ready. "On my count, we'll barrage them, then make a break for it."

The three sent a wall of lead in the direction of their pursuers, ripping apart the thicket and sending their enemy to the ground with the force of their automatic fire. Then they ran, driving through the forest before the enemy recovered enough to know what happened.

Ronon arrived first at the mess of roots and stumps of gigantic trees, slowing down enough to figure a way through the tangled barrier. There were dozens of fallen, dying trees, creating a dumping ground of rot. Sheppard followed Teyla through the jungle gym.

"Thank goodness for small miracles," he mumbled as he ducked down and climbed over discarded bamboo as large as logs.

"It would appear that this forest had been used to harvest resources and this is an abandoned pile of leftovers." Teyla peered through an opening in some of the debris. "I think that clearing may have been a landing area at one point."

Sheppard walked over to her, wiping sweat from his brow and looking for their missing member. "Where's Rodney?"

Sheppard expected the physicist to be huddled behind a tree, but he was nowhere to be seen. His pulse went into overdrive, eyes searching the unexplored area. "Damn it, McKay, where did you go?"

Teyla and Ronon took up places behind a large pile of wood, each glancing back in hopes of finding their missing friend.

"Stay on point, I'll look for--" He froze, ears honed in on a strangled cry. "Stay put!" he hollered over his shoulder, his feet already running.

One rule in the military dictated that you didn't split up; dividing up your numbers was detrimental to any success. Of course, that was contradicted by that other pesky rule about protecting every member of the team. He hadn't gone far when he heard a familiar voice groan.

"Over here! ... God, this is so bad!"

Sheppard spotted McKay on the ground, his face screwed up in intense pain, his left foot caught in a hole. The way Rodney was writhing, his hands clutching at his ankle, reminded him of a trapped wild animal's desperation. By the time he crouched down to inspect the injury Sheppard knew why.

"Jesus, McKay!" he swore, not really angry with his friend, but enraged at what he saw.

"Get it out, Sheppard!" Rodney panted, his cheeks rosy, perspiration glistening on his forehead.

"Shhh, I know it hurts, but you've got to keep still," Sheppard commanded.

Taking a deep breath, he took out his knife and dug around the booby trap revealing several sharp spikes concealed by a layer of dirt. Rodney had two sharp pieces of wood embedded in the heel of his boot, obviously puncturing the man's foot.

Sheppard had never served in the jungle, his tours of duty consisting of arid dunes, sand, and sky. But he'd been taught how to deal with this type of trap and quickly dug around the tiny wooden daggers tracing the ends buried in the harder soil underneath.

"I'm going to cut the spikes, then pull them out. It's going to hurt, but you can't cry out. We have to get back to the others."

According to one of his commanding officers, during the heat of battle there wasn't time for compassion. Acknowledging there was a kernel of truth in that load of bull Sheppard tried to detach himself far enough to ignore his friend's pain. "Just give me a minute," he begged, his voice reassuring.

Rodney, to his credit could have screamed his head off. But, knowing the consequences of giving away their location, he bit his lip, latching on so hard, a trickle of blood ran down his mouth.

Sheppard was proud of the man. "It's just a scratch," he joked.

The scientist's face flushed even redder with indignation. "Just a scratch? I've been stabbed. I have two massive wounds in my foot. Carson's probably going to have to amputate if I don't bleed to death."

Sheppard's blade made quick work of the primitive trap and sliced through the brittle wood. He freed the injured foot, blood dripping over the laces. He verified that only one of the spikes had gone all the way through the man's sole and out the top part of the shoe.

"Hang in there just a little longer."

"I'm going to lose all my toes. I'll have a permanent limp." Rodney groaned before biting his hand. Then he began panicking again. "What if it's poisoned or laced with a toxin?"

"It's not."

"What if it is?"

"Going to pull them out now." Sheppard wasn't going down the road of worst case scenarios right now.

"You're not a dentist and these are not my teeth, colonel!"

There wasn't time to mess around. "One... two... three."

Sheppard yanked the one jutting out from the sole. Rodney struggled to hold back a scream. Then he pulled the one that went all the way through in one fell swoop, his friend rolling to his side to cover his cry.

He wanted to inspect the injury further, but they couldn't afford that luxury right now. "Come on, we have to head back." There had been no sounds of gunfire and the silence had him more worried.

He slung Rodney's arm around his shoulder, his P90 trained in front of him as they limped back towards the debris pile. Rodney hopped as best he could, complaining under his breath the entire time, his 9mil ready in his other hand if needed.

Sheppard watched for movement and scanned for anything suspicious, every sense on high alert. There was no such thing as laying a single booby trap. He wrestled with his new burden, a hand wrapped around his friend's waist, his eyes flicking over every inch of soil.

Any section of uneven ground or speck of dirt was suspect. They lay in wait; devices to maim, blind, or kill. His t-shirt underneath was soaked through with sweat and his armed throbbed, but all that mattered was his vigilance.

Searching... searching... then he saw it.

"Whoa!" Sheppard froze, Rodney nearly tumbling over from the sudden halt in momentum.

"What the hell was that for?"

His boots dug in, skidding before an invisible wire that crossed in front of them, the sunlight reflecting off of it the only clue of its existence. It was a wonder he hadn't triggered it during his frantic run earlier. "Don't move," he snapped, as he felt the physicist begin to fidget, trying to regain his balance.

"What now? I mean jeesh, isn't it bad enough that I can't walk? Now you're trying to trip me and break my leg on top of---"


Rodney finally came to grips and peered down at what was holding Sheppard's rapt attention.

"Is that a ...um... trip wire?"


"But...you haven't triggered it...right?"

"No, I haven't. And I'd like to avoid that if I can," he growled, following the wire to where it disappeared on each side of a tree.

He swore he could hear his heart bang against his sternum, and Rodney's rapid breathing was a dead giveaway in the now eerie hush of the jungle. The silence was interrupted by a shot that was soon followed by another.

"I'm going to walk over it, then help you."

Rodney's eyes widened. "Are you n--"

"Not now!" He drew in a breath and began carefully stepping over the tripwire.

He could feel all four chambers of his heart pump wildly, chaotic surges of adrenaline flooding his system. Damn if the enemy couldn't hear all the frantic thumping. Calm. He had to remain calm: for Rodney, for Teyla and Ronon. His focus stayed glued to the ground, easing his right leg over the deadly threat, then the left. He then guided Rodney over, the physicist's arms pinwheeling madly as he fought to stay upright.

The occasional echo of gunfire had been increasing steadily, from random intervals to constant hammering. Sheppard burned with the desire to plow ahead, but the ground was just as deadly as a bullet. They moved methodically and his anxiety level sky-rocketed as it occurred to him how many other obstacles he had missed the first time in his haste to find Rodney. Every step, every crunch of dirt under his boots could lead to new surprises in the form of spikes, bombs, or snares.

In the dead falls of trees ahead, Ronon's braided head could be seen ducking down, then popping up like a jack in a box. Teyla risked a fleeting glance in their direction, her visible relief short lived as she returned another scattering of bullets. Sheppard hurried as fast as he could, Rodney trying his best to keep up at his side, surprisingly silent.

Sheppard deposited his friend near a clump of stumps, the scientist leaning heavily to keep pressure off his injury but keeping his weapon ready. They were all soldiers now.

He didn't know whether to be incredibly proud or disheartened at the sight.

They waited, but once again, the forest fell into silence.

"This area is booby trapped." Ronon used his weapon to point east of where he and Rodney had just returned from. "I disarmed a crude explosive device over there."

This day is just getting worse. "Yeah, Rodney got caught in something more archaic; his foot's a mess." He worked his jaw back and forth. "I think this was a set up."

Teyla's eyes cautiously swept the hushed woods before checking up on Rodney, who for once waved her away. "You think we were driven here?"

Another lure. Whoever these people were, their tactics were sound. The amount of planning involved in this ambush had taken a lot of time and effort. It bothered him the layered complexity of these engagements.

"Doubling back to the gate is gonna be difficult. I think the whole area behind us is filled with more fun toys."

"They're backing off, waiting to see what we're going to do," Ronon pointed out.

Everyone noticed another lull in the bombardment.

"They might be re-grouping. They don't have a lot of extra ammunition, probably saving it. Hoping their little tricks will catch us off guard," Sheppard theorized.

His eyes flicked to the spot Ronon had pointed out. "What type of explosive device?" he asked, his brain working a mile a minute.

The largest member of his team paused. "Crude. A wire attached to a container of fuel."

Sheppard's eyes brightened. "Fuel?"

"Yeah." Then, after a beat, Ronon grinned.

"Um, excuse me, but are you two going to clue in the intelligent one before he passes out from blood loss and pain?" Rodney grumbled, using his sleeve to mop at his forehead.

Teyla tended to him, using the lull to remove his shoe and wrap a dressing over his foot. McKay grunted and fussed when she applied pressure to the bandage.

"Careful! You could cause nerve damage."

She looked at him calmly. "You will be fine."

"I wonder how many more are around," Sheppard murmured, actually seeking out the concealed hazards.

"Are you looking to get blown up now?" Rodney accused.

He didn't reply. Insteadhe squatted down next to a camouflaged container, hand following another sinister thread waiting to be set off. The trigger was simplistic and he easily defused it. The jug sloshed as he lifted it, examining how much fuel was inside.

Ronon came over with an inquisitive expression. "What do you plan to do with that?"

Sheppard grinned devilishly. "Something that might be really impressive if I could find some more," he said, holding up the explosive liquid.

Ronon and he may not have seemed alike in many ways, but they shared more in common than any outside observer would assume. Sheppard didn't need to elaborate; the warrior took off without any words exchanged between them.

Sheppard then went over to check on Rodney. The physicist sat at the base of a large stump, enjoying the brief reprieve. The white bandage on his foot was already soaked through with red but didn't appear to be too serious yet.

"This sucks more than you know," Rodney whispered, his foot obviously throbbing in pain.

"I stepped on a nail once," Sheppard offered, then went to stand guard.

"They are waiting," Teyla warned, the quiet unnerving them all.

"How many clips do you have left?" Sheppard didn't want to panic, but the last he checked he only had one extra.

Her expression was all he needed to know. If their reserves were this low then the bad guys had to be worse. If they weren't getting re-supplied.

Rodney chewed on his fist. They had morphine but Sheppard couldn't risk giving the man something that'd dull his reflexes too much. He hated the decision and when he met these soldiers face to face, he'd take it out on them.

Ronon reappeared as quickly as he'd left, carrying two more containers. "You thinking what I think you are?" the burly man inquired, handing the items over.

Sheppard only needed a moment to take stock of how much they could use. "Yeah, we turn the tables on our friends."

Out-numbered, probably out-gunned, and cut off from escape was already plenty to contend with, but their pursuers had gotten restless. As soon as he and Ronon had finished pouring the small amounts of fuel over the decayed piles of trees, the onslaught began.

The forest roared with the sound of Teyla's P90, her suppression fire allowing Sheppard time to create a circumference around the their little fort, making sure that he splashed enough on the base of the bamboo stalks.

"Are you done yet? Because our friends aren't going to politely wait for you to finish," Rodney whined, noting that groups of the enemy had merged to form a single line.

"Let them come!" Sheppard shouted.

Ronon grabbed Rodney, pulling him back before he could trigger any more hidden booby traps.

The enemy soldiers maneuvered around the junk piles of stumps, a few using sections to hide behind and set up new positions. Others filed into the clearing that they had just vacated, falling back to one side. Despite taking several losses, more men forged forward, obviously larger in number from reinforcements.

Their attackers spotted the team's close proximity and began shooting. Sheppard ducked, several bullets just missing him. He came back up shouting, "Now!"

Ronon aimed his weapon and blasted the hidden container of fuel, engulfing the dry stalks of decayed wood. The fire erupted, eating up everything in its path. A ring of flames quickly burned over the trail of gasoline Sheppard had meticulously poured in a circle, trapping most of the enemy unit caught in the dumping ground. The woods filled with the screams of the soldiers and the team escaped during the chaos the fire created.

Sheppard bit his lip, ears filled with the voice of Johnny Cash.

I went down, down, down, down and the flames went higher. And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire. The ring of fire.

They had to move faster. Ronon stopped long enough to haul an irate McKay over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. "Just enjoy the ride," the man grunted, despite livid protests from the scientist.

Three miles or more to the gate and the woods behind them crackled and raged. The plan was working too well; the fire spread, following them. The only good thing about the wall of blazing death, was that it ensured the enemy was too occupied to give chase.

He didn't have time to dwell on death, or figure out what the hell had gone wrong this time. Sheppard was intent on survival and making sure everyone made it back in one piece. He hated the unknown, wondered who or what had set up this little fiasco, not even able to identify those who had ambushed them. He tried to push other dark thoughts aside, but something wasn't quite right. The forces should have easily overtaken them, but there was no time for paranoia so he focused on his team's safety.

Twenty minutes later the gate was in sight. Hundreds of yards became tens and one group's salvation became another's fury.

The attack was clumsy, filled with reckless hate and desire for vengeance. Six men rushed them, too much fury to waste time with guns. Maybe the guerrillas were out of ammo, but it didn't matter. Sheppard was tackled by a burly man who was on top of him immediately. He blocked a right jab and punched the guy right in the mouth, bone and flesh crunching with the impact. Enemy A reminded him of Gary Busey; wild sandy hair, insane blue eyes and a face old beyond the man's years.

Apparently Gary had a lantern jaw as he was not even fazed or too pissed to care. Gary grabbed a fistful of his vest, hoisting him up to meet another swinging fist. Sheppard blocked it again, but not the downward motion of the guy's elbow right into his sternum, once, then twice. Pain lanced through his chest but he ignored it. Instead he jabbed the combatant in the throat with his left hand.

Gary wheezed and it was just the moment Sheppard needed to knock him over, digging his knee into the man's gut and sending him flying off. Sheppard rocketed to his feet, eyes locating where his P90 lay after being knocked away in the struggle. His fingertips brushed over it and he pulled it into his arms, aiming point blank at Gary's chest. The damn thing jammed and he threw it to the ground in disgust.

Gary recovered and staggered to his feet. Seeing that the colonel had been disarmed, the bad guy pulled out a hand gun. Enough of this, Sheppard thought. He launched forward, kicked it out of the soldier's hand and then grabbed Gary by the shoulders and drove a knee into the wrinkled face. Blood spurted out as Sheppard broke the man's nose and the brute crumpled to the ground.

Teyla fended off two more bad guys as all the battles deteriorated to hand to hand. Rodney's 9 mil wavered from solider to solider, the physicist not confident enough to shoot any of them in apparent fear of injuring his team mate. Teyla wrenched Goon One's hand back until his wrist snapped, then landed a three punch combo that sent the guy staggering. Goon Two rushed at the Athosian, but Rodney stuck out his leg, tripping him. Unfortunately, he used the leg with his bad foot and fell to the ground in a heap of agony. Teyla's well placed kicks to the head and belly of her adversary kept the guy down, which allowed her to see to her fallen comrade.

Assured that those two were holding their own, Sheppard had a split decision to make. Three men circled Ronon, all of them wielding a knife. The Satedan could hold his own, but it quickly became an unfair fight when one of the three threw dirt in Ronon's face.

Ronon's roar was the exact moment Sheppard chose to even up the match, taking on a dark haired guy with a long knife scar that ran down the corner of the left eye, across his cheek and down the brute's chin. Scarface intended to stab Ronon from behind while the big guy lashed out blindly at the two in front of him.

Sheppard pulled out his 9 mil but, unlike Scarface, wouldn't shoot a man in the back. He crept up from behind and slammed the handle of his automatic against the base of the goon's skull. Scarface's knees buckled as he slumped to the ground. Ronon easily dodged the other two's blades, despite his eyes still being irritated from the dirt. A leg sweep and a few well placed thrusts and both bad guys were on the ground.

Confident that Ronon had the upper hand, Sheppard decided to check back with Teyla and Rodney. He hadn't managed a step when he heard a noise. A noise he felt in the pit of his stomach. The unmistakable click of a P90 just before firing. And it was right behind him.

He whirled around in time to see Gary's face go red with rage, Sheppard's very own P90 aimed at the back of its owner's skull.

"I coulda told you it was jammed," Sheppard taunted with a wry smile.

Gary's face turned even redder and Sheppard wasn't fast enough to avoid the butt of his own rifle as it was brutally slammed into the side of his head. He heard the crack of metal on bone just before his vision filled with stars. The world grayed around the edges and the ground rushed up to meet him. As he dropped he caught sight of Ronon loosing his blaster on Gary, taking out the sneaky SOB.

"Can you stand?" Ronon's voice cut through the buzzing in his head.

"Uh..." It was the only word he could utter before someone hauled him to his unsteady feet.

Ronon's hand kept him from swaying. "Come on, McKay's dialing Atlantis."

The jungle was filled with a dull roar, or was the noise in his head? Sheppard wasn't very sure, but he could make out the worried look Teyla gave him as Ronon guided him over to the gate. Teyla helped Rodney over to the familiar field of crystal blue, the colonel taking one last look at all the fallen men on the ground. He really wanted to take one of them along for interrogation later, but wasn't too stunned to remember the fire raging towards them.

Teyla led Rodney through the gate and Ronon urged Sheppard through, one hand on his elbow. As the liquid light glistened, he could have sworn that he spotted something mechanical in the sky. Whatever it was, it couldn't have been natural, but before he could ascertain what it might be, they were back at Atlantis.

He studied the images from the aerial drone. A live test demonstrated reflex, cognitive skills, and the very elements of a soldier's psyche. How a person performed under battle was one thing, but to pit them against a variety of obstacles with other lives in the balance? That exposed the true core of any man.

The Hunter clicked "save" as the drone hovered towards his location, docking to its station. He turned the machine off and waited. The forest burned slowly, the ash and smoke creating a cloud overhead. Tree roots snapped under the clumsy boots of the guerrilla soldier, the goon's heavy breathing a dead giveaway as to his identity.


The mercenary huffed, out of breath, searching wildly and wiping at the dark hair that matted to his scar ravaged face. This one had engaged in battle only to be taken out by the target of the exercise. The leader of the rag tag army stood out in the open, checking a wristwatch in impatience.

The Hunter avoided the twigs and plants that would signal his approach. Once he was upon this pathetic excuse for a soldier, gloved fingers tapped the control at his wrist. The cloak that blended him into the environment shimmered, revealing his black body armor.

Scarface staggered backwards, surprised and fumbled for a weapon. "Sir! We...we completed our mission."

The Hunter nodded and stepped closer, looming over the hired muscle. "Did you pay your men?"

"Yes... yes, I did." Scarface evened out his harsh breathing and lowered his weapon. "I've sent them on their way."

"And they remain unaware of who hired them for this mission?" he asked from under his mask.

The captain sweated profusely, wiping at his brow. The Hunter smiled; the environmental controls of his suit kept him evenly cool. He measured the rapid heartbeat of the brute in front of him with his sensor readings. This specimen was out of shape and incapable of enduring any type of hostile climate. Weak and useless.

"They are hired thugs and do not question such things." The mercenary braced himself on his knees, blood from his head wound staining his tattered tan uniform. "The Lanteans are quite a resourceful lot."

A true military mind would have bandaged the injury to conceal all trace of one's movements and location. He draped a meaty arm around the winded man's shoulders and brought him closer. "The target was skilled. A very impressive display. He may prove a worthy opponent."

The mercenary's sweat was such a sour, foul odor. Constant bathing and clean clothes should always be a priority. Stealth was the primary key to any hunt.

"The Lanteans are weak. If it were not for their technology they would have been defeated long ago." The man laughed, trying hard not to stare at his black mask.

"Do not underestimate the skills of any enemy."

His guest licked dry lips. "We could have killed him. Took them all out for you. I don't understand this whole game of yours."

The Hunter squeezed the shoulder beneath his fingertips, then petted the head affectionately. "I highly doubt it. The fire was a risky maneuver, one worthy of admiration, and tilted the odds to their favor. And my way is not for you to question. It's a tradition that you couldn't possibly fathom."

The mercenary squirmed. "I lost a lot of men."

"You were unable to control them. You were not to pursue the Lanteans towards the gate."

"They wanted revenge."

"There is no room for such emotion; it is the root of all failure."

The knife blade slipped silently from the glove, passing smoothly through the space left by the removal of his third and fourth fingers for just this purpose. The Hunter sliced the tender throat in one quick motion, the spray splattering the chest plate of his armor. The body twitched a few times, the mercenary's eyes widening in sheer shock before closing permanently. His lifeless body slumped to the ground.

"No trace. No witnesses."

He tapped his head piece. "I have gathered all my needed data and will begin my mission."

"That is good news."

He wiped the steel of his blade over his knee. "It will take a few days to get to Atlantis undetected, but the target will be neutralized."

"You will uphold the honor of the Genii even while our leadership serves to undermine our dignity and refuses us our calls for justice."

"I will contact you after my mission is complete."

"The death of Colonel John Sheppard will be a date long remembered by the families of those who seek vengeance."

He frowned at the emotional displays. He didn't care what the motivations were for this particular assassination. It was just another contract to fulfill, a job to complete as his code dictated. Although, the suspicion that this hunt might prove challenging had him looking forward to testing his skills.

Black leather gloved hands broke down the equipment and hefted the console over his shoulder as he headed towards his aircraft. "I will collect payment upon proof of death."

"We will pay extra if you deliver his head on a platter," the radio squawked.

The assassin smiled. "We will see what can be arranged."