This fic started off with the idea of rewriting the episode Trio to include Sheppard and from their evolved into rewiriting Trio with Sheppard instead of Carter and Carson instead of Keller and eventually ended up being essentially an AU-version of Trio, set pre-Sunday and involving the original (Season 2-3) core cast. All action and dialogue are taken from the episode, except where rewriting was needed to make the context make sense, given the characters involved.

This fic turned into a mammoth endeavour and is waaaaaay longer than I thought it would be! But it was kinda fun to take an episode and kind of rewrite it. All feedback and concrit gratefully received. :)

"Which planet is this, again?" Elizabeth asked.


Colonel Sheppard's matter of fact response was immediately followed by Rodney's more strident explanation. "The one with the frequent tremors."

Carson's expression was earnest as he added, "Not to mention an abnormally large number of people with debilitating respiratory problems."

"It's a mining planet," Rodney dismissed. "It's not that surprising."

"Not everybody worked in the mines, Rodney," Carson pointed out.

John intervened before she could, the tone of his voice suggesting that this was not the first such discussion he'd had to break up during their brief trip off-world. "Get to the point, guys."

They reached the control room level and headed towards Elizabeth's office as Rodney explained in more detail, "They're experiencing upwards of four tremors a day. My seismic teams concluded that the area where they built their settlement is dangerously unstable..."

"Not to mention my environmental and air quality tests came out way into the red."

Rodney spared Carson an impatient look. "My analysis was enough, thank you."

"Well, obviously it wasn't enough for them," Carson pointed out. "Anyway, these people said they've experienced tremors for as long as they can remember."

"Yes, and I'm pretty sure they've been breathing even longer so, again, my problem trumps yours," Rodney argued.

"This is not a contest." Elizabeth reminded them. "Obviously they're living in a settlement that's not safe for habitation. You need to convince them to move to another part of the continent."

John shrugged, a measure of frustration in the gesture. "Well, we tried. It's not working."

"Why not?" She sat down at her desk as John slipped into one of the pair of chairs arranged in front of it, hooking an arm lazily over the back in his usual relaxed slouch; Carson and Rodney warred silently for a moment as they both reached for the second chair, resulting in a battle of glares that ended in Carson rolling his eyes and pointedly stepping around Rodney to pull up a third chair. Elizabeth held back a sigh.

"Twenty years ago, the Genii kind of took over the planet and employed 'em all as miners," John explained.

Elizabeth frowned. "Mining what?"

"Haven't a clue," Rodney interrupted, "but whatever it was, they cleaned out the deposits and left."

"So ...?" she prompted.

"So they think we're like the Genii and they want their cut," John grimaced.

"Ah." Elizabeth sat back with a grimace of her own. Nothing was ever simple in the Pegasus galaxy.

"They're willing to move," Carson told her, "but they have a list of demands a mile and a half long."

"And negotiating with alien settlements is not exactly why I joined the Air Force," John pointed out. Elizabeth held back a small smile; given his past record in "negotiating", she should probably be grateful he hadn't promised them C4.

"We were hoping if you had some time, maybe you'd be willing to come..." Carson suggested, his expression hopeful.

Rodney interrupted before she could reply, telling her eagerly, "It'd save us a lot of time in the back and forth." A little too eagerly, she thought.

She turned to her laptop and pulled up her schedule for the next few days. "Ok. I should be able to free up some time tomorrow afternoon."

She looked up to find Rodney looking uncomfortable and John shifting uneasily in his chair. "Uh. We kinda told them we'd be back this afternoon," he admitted apologetically.

She sighed. "John…"

"Seriously, Elizabeth. At least four tremors a day!" Rodney interrupted. "The sooner we convince them to move, the better."

"Fine." She stood up. "Then you'd better go back there this afternoon, as promised, and do your best to convince them. I'll free up my afternoon for tomorrow and join you then."

John's expression was resigned as he stood and she thought she could detect a stifled smile on Carson's face but Rodney, as ever, was not one to give up easily, not moving from his chair as he argued. "Oh, but it would make much more sense for you to go. Are you sure you can't…"

"Tomorrow," she told him firmly, her tone making it clear the matter was closed. Rodney didn't bother to hide his disappointed sigh as he followed John and Carson from the office.

An hour later, as they trekked all the way back to the settlement, Rodney was still feeling aggrieved at Elizabeth's unreasonable refusal to change her schedule and come and deal with this for them. She was the trained negotiator, for goodness sake. He was no good at this stuff and Sheppard was worse. And, quite frankly, if these people were too stupid to move out of what was clearly a chronically seismically unstable region, then he didn't know what he could possibly say that would convince them to change their minds. When he'd expressed this opinion to Sheppard, he'd received a narrow-eyed look and a pointed suggestion that perhaps calling the villagers "terminally stupid" hadn't been the best method of persuasion.

The walk to the settlement was a good 30-40 minutes across mostly open fields. It was a marginally better prospect than trekking through gloomy woodlands, though Rodney was unhappily convinced that his second exposure in one day to acres of grassland would play havoc with his allergies later. As they trudged through yet another field, Carson was already beginning to huff and wheeze beside him.

"I'm not used to this off-world business," he complained. "All this back and forth is getting me winded. Could we not have taken the Jumper?"

"Oh, suck it up," Rodney told him, feeling less than charitable. "It's not that bad. I have to hike this much almost every day."

Carson gave him a look that was slightly incredulous. "You do?" On Carson's other side Sheppard, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, kept his attention on their route as he gave a small snort.

"Yes!" Rodney insisted indignantly. "I'm a very active person."

Sheppard's head turned at that, his mouth curved in amusement as he asked, "You are?"

"Your last physical would kind of contradict you," murmured Carson quietly.

Rodney bristled at that. "That is private medical information that should not so cavalierly be shared in casual conversation, Doctor."

Sheppard's attention was directed ahead of them again but Rodney didn't miss the grin on his face.

"I don't think it comes as a great surprise to the Colonel," Carson smiled.

"That's not the point, you know?" Rodney told him, feeling his irritation build. "I'm no Ronon, " he admitted, loftily ignoring their grins, "I'm not gonna be on the cover of "Shape" magazine any time soon, but I can handle myself in combat; stand my ground when I need to…"

Fate, Rodney would decide later, has a particularly cruel sense of humour, the solid ground beneath his feet choosing that very moment to give way spectacularly. It was so sudden, so unexpected, that he didn't have time to scream, didn't have time to even register the sensation of falling. One minute he was walking and talking and the next thing he knew was sudden, jarring impact that knocked the breath from his body.

For a moment he was numb, too stunned to process what had happened, and then sensation flooded back in and owwwww, that hurt! He was vaguely aware of Sheppard's voice, echoey and distant, saying "Don't move." Good advice, he thought vaguely, letting out a groan. He blinked dazedly and found himself looking up at a patch of daylight. It looked awfully far away.

Sheppard was telling him to, "Get down on your stomach – spread out your weight," and that was a stupid idea but then two faces appeared over the edge of what he realised was a hole in the ceiling of… of wherever he was… and things began to make more sense.

"Rodney?" Sheppard called down to him. "McKay, are you all right?"

"Ow." Personally, he thought that summed things up pretty well.

"Thank God," Sheppard breathed.

"Don't move, okay?" Carson yelled and Rodney was too shaken and aching to point out the ridiculousness of that advice. Well, almost.

"Not a problem," he assured them blearily, his voice sounding about as rough as he felt.

Sheppard's head was little more than a tuft of unruly hair far, far above. "We're gonna head back to the Gate, try to get some help," the tuft announced.

Apparently working on the assumption that Rodney had given himself permanent brain damage in the fall, Carson decided to reiterate his entirely redundant advice. Rodney glared up at the doctor as he yelled down, "Just try to stay as still..."

With a suddenness that was terrifying, Carson's words cut off, morphing into a wordless yell that mingled with Sheppard's surprised shout and the roar and clatter of soil and debris hitting the ground. The hole above turned dark as the light was blocked out by falling dirt and bodies and Rodney scrunched his eyes shut, cringing away from the expected impact. He was vaguely aware of two dull, painful sounding thuds mixed in with the patter of half a ton or so of soil.

The rain of dirt petered out and for a moment there was a hushed, expectant silence. And then somebody gave a muted groan and Rodney thought, "Yeah, I know how that feels." He opened his eyes to see a much bigger hole up above him. He turned his head, very carefully, to find Sheppard sprawled face down beside him, dirt caked in his hair. On his other side Carson muttered something indistinct that Rodney suspected was probably very rude. Rodney was just grateful for the minor miracle that neither of them had actually landed on him. The air was thick with dust and Rodney coughed a little as Sheppard stirred sluggishly. With sending for help abruptly off the menu, Rodney reluctantly decided he couldn't lie around here and wait for rescue so he flexed a leg experimentally and was relieved to find only general aches and pains and not the stabbing agony he had been half expecting.

"Don't move if you feel any shooting pains," Carson advised breathlessly, struggling to push himself to a sitting position.

"I would never move if that was the case," Rodney assured him, managing to roll over, carefully, and get his arms under him.

Sheppard had made it as far as his knees and was casting a practised eye over each of them in turn. "Well, it doesn't look like any of us are bleeding."

"At least externally," Rodney qualified, feeling justified in a little pessimism.

"Well, that's a godsend," Carson pronounced. Rodney wouldn't say as much but privately he had to agree. That hole was a long way up and it was a wonder none of them had broken or seriously damaged something in the fall.

With a fair amount of groaning, and not just from him, the three of them picked themselves up and made an attempt at dusting themselves down and Rodney got his first proper look at their surroundings. It was a room. A square box of a room, high-ceilinged, with support beams crossing from one wall to the other maybe 10 foot or so up. It was plain, utilitarian and obviously industrial in purpose. The floor, walls and ceiling all seemed to be made of metal and the hole far above showed where the metal of the ceiling had corroded and weakened; a nice little booby trap just waiting for anyone unlucky enough to step in the wrong place.

Pipes ran along some of the walls and stacks of ancient crates, some of them cracked or smashed from the team's ignominious entrance, were piled here and there. Aged bits of tools or machinery littered the floor; everything looked rusted and abandoned. "This whole place is a tetanus shot waiting to happen," Carson commented reprovingly.

Turning around Rodney wasn't entirely surprised to find a familiar symbol adorning the far wall. He huffed out an exasperated sigh.

"In fact, where the hell are we?" asked Carson.

Rodney jerked a disgusted thumb in the direction of the symbol, "I'd guess the Genii mining facility."

"They just don't build 'em like they used to, huh?" Sheppard commented, craning his neck to look up at the hole above.

"I am particularly not fond of the ceiling work," Rodney agreed acidly.

Carson looked around, musing aloud, "If this is part of a larger facility..."

"...then there should be a way for us to walk out of here, right," finished Sheppard. The room had two doors on opposing walls and Sheppard took the nearest, a solid-looking blue door with a control panel set into the wall beside it.

Sheppard set his shoulders and gave the door an experimental push.

The other door was painted red and its opening mechanism appeared to consist of a large airlock type wheel. Rodney took a firm grip on the wheel and was about to try and turn it when Sheppard called over, a little impatiently, "Little help here, McKay?"

Rodney turned to see both Sheppard and Carson pushing at the blue door. Quite frankly, he thought a door with a manual mechanism was likely to be a better bet than one with an electronic one. "What about this one?" he asked.

Sheppard shook his head, saying succinctly, "Red means bad."

Rodney couldn't help an instinctive reaction, snatching his hands from the wheel. "Oh. Yeah," he agreed a thoughtfully, "Can't argue with that logic."

Sheppard and Carson were focusing on trying to force the door open with brute strength. Rodney preferred to use a more cerebral approach; he headed straight for the control panel, leaning in to examine the keypad.

He stepped back with an expression of disgust.

"Well, d'you see this?" he pointed out. "That's not gonna budge unless we enter the right code." He leaned back in for a closer look, aware of Sheppard peering over his shoulder. "Look, these symbols are Genii numerals."

"But you can crack the code, though, right?" Carson asked expectantly.

Rodney sighed. "The problem is that the control panel is electronic…"

"It's not impossible, though, right?" Sheppard pushed.

"No. No, it's just ... highly, highly unlikely," Rodney admitted.

Hands on his hips, Sheppard turned to survey the room, and the limited possibilities it offered. "OK, so..." he decided, indicating the red-painted door, "door number two?"

"After you, Monty," Rodney gestured wearily.

Sheppard moved past him, rubbing absently at his left shoulder, and Rodney found himself wondering just how much damage the Colonel had done in the fall. Sheppard looked the door over carefully and took a firm grip on one side of the wheel, bracing himself solidly. With a small show of reluctance, Rodney did likewise on the other side.

"Okay, on three," Sheppard warned. "One, two, three."

The two of them pushed and strained, gritting their teeth as they put steady pressure on the wheel, but despite all their effort, it didn't budge even an inch. Rodney let the tension go with a gasp, Sheppard following suit.

Rodney sighed. "There goes that plan."

Undeterred, Sheppard looked around the room again, telling them, "Hang on a minute," and bending to pull out a long metal rod from the debris piled on the floor. Realising his intent, Rodney helped him feed the length of metal through the wheel and they both took a grip on the bar, bracing themselves again.

Sheppard nodded. "Okay, three: one, two, three, go."

Rodney pulled with all his might, Sheppard leaning his weight against the rod from the other side and slowly, reluctantly, the wheel turned in place with a clunk. With a huff of relief, Rodney slid the metal pole out of the wheel.

Sheppard was reaching for the wheel when Carson suddenly interrupted, "Wait, whoa-whoa-whoa!" Carson had never been a big fan of going off-world and his discomfort was evident as he asked worriedly, "What if ... what if that door was sealed for a reason?"

Rodney regarded him with a mixture of impatience and derision. "What, you think maybe there's a scary monster back there?" he jibed.

Carson bristled. "No! But this is a mining facility and who knows what kind of toxins are in there! Like you said, red means bad."

Rodney quailed a little at that, his impatience evaporating rapidly. Carson had a point; abandoned mines could mean all sorts of dangers, his imagination rapidly supplying suggestions such as toxins, subsidence, lethal gas build-up, collapsing tunnels…

Sheppard looked at Carson and at Rodney and then around the small box-like room in which they were effectively trapped. "I'm willing to take the chance," he told them firmly.

Carson grimaced and Rodney shared his worry but he also agreed with the Colonel's assessment; right now they didn't have any other way out of here. Reluctantly, he added his weight to Sheppard's and they pushed firmly at the stubborn door until it suddenly gave and swung open away from them. Sheppard lurched forward a little as the door swung out and Rodney heard him give a startled, "Woah!" as he grabbed hold of the doorframe to steady himself.

What Rodney saw through the open doorway was enough to make him grab onto the doorframe too – more for reassurance than for balance. The door opened onto what he could only describe as a chasm; a huge, hollowed-out space under the surface of the planet. Their room was high up – horribly high up – on the side of the cavern and there was nothing beyond the door other than a sheer drop down to the chasm floor a long – long, long, long – way below. What looked like horizontal mine shafts dotted the far wall of the cavern, daylight filtering in weakly through the openings, and built out from the opposite wall, were several box-like structures raised up from the cavern floor on tall metal stilts. Rodney was distinctly unsettled to see, here and there on the cavern floor, evidence of some of those same box-like structures having collapsed.

Feeling distinctly queasy, Rodney summed up the situation in what he felt was a succinct assessment. "Well, I guess in Genii, red means screwed."

Sheppard grimaced. "Okay." He swung the door closed, cutting off the gaping emptiness beyond, and looked at his watch. "Okay, look, it's... we've been in the field for, what, half an hour? We've got another five before we need to check in, so the safest thing for us to do is just sit tight and wait."

Rodney was not good at waiting. He wandered over to take another look at the control panel for the blue door.

"When we don't check in, they'll send a team," Sheppard theorised. "Our radios should work down here, right?"

Rodney nodded. "Yeah, they should."

Sheppard looked about as comfortable with the idea of a five hour wait as Rodney felt, opening a nearby locker and peering inside even as he confirmed, "Okay, so we sit and wait." He closed the locker door and opened the next one along.

Carson didn't seem to share Rodney and Sheppard's restlessness; he sat down on an abandoned crate with a resigned, "Okay." Rodney started trying to prise open the control panel, background bumps and clatterings telling him that Sheppard continued to search the rest of their meagre surroundings.

"Anyone bring any cards?" Carson asked, a little plaintively.

Sheppard laughed shortly. "'Fraid not, doc."

Rodney was about to add a scathing remark about how he'd make sure playing cards were included in the standard off-world kit whenever Carson was on a mission, when there was a sudden rumble and the room began to shake. Rodney stared up at the opening far above as the ground shook under his feet. "Tremor!" he gasped in horror, remembering the reason they were here in the first place – the dangerous instability of this region.

Carson had jumped up from his seat and had his arms outstretched, wobbling as he tried to balance against the shuddering of the floor; he looked terrified. Sheppard was holding onto the wall as the room shook, looking around in concern as an ominous creaking sound joined the rumbling. And then, as suddenly as it began, the tremor stopped.

For a moment there was silence.

"That sounded very, very bad," Rodney decided.

Sheppard swallowed audibly. "Uh, what do you suppose the probability is that this room is on the same kind of metal stilts as those other rooms we saw over there?"

Rodney thought about the rooms on stilts they'd seen across the cavern and how very high up they were… and how many of them were already crumpled on the cavern floor. His voice came out a little cracked when he replied, "Very high."

"But this one's more stable, right?" Carson fretted nervously. "I mean, we're still standing."

Sheppard looked around him thoughtfully. "Yeah, but with the three of us and this dirt, we've just added, what? Four, five hundred pounds?"

Rodney looked down at himself and did some rapid math, not liking the implications of the answers he was getting. "Uh, I'd say about six hundred," he admitted.

"Right." Sheppard was obviously doing his own math. "And this region experiences how many tremors a day?"

Rodney's heart sank into his boots. "Four times a day at least."

Sheppard grimaced, his mouth a tight, unhappy line as he cursed softly, "Shit."

Carson was following the conversation with a growing look of panic. "What is it? What's wrong?"

Sheppard explained the problem succinctly. "The supports that are stopping this room from dropping into the chasm are gonna rapidly destabilise now that we've added all this extra weight."

"I don't think we're gonna be able to just wait for Atlantis to figure out we're missing," Rodney added worriedly.

Sheppard nodded. One thing Rodney liked about working with Sheppard was that the man thought on his feet. He could pretty much keep up with Rodney – well, as much as anyone without multiple degrees could – and over the years they'd developed a kind of shorthand that, at times, came dangerously close to finishing each other's thoughts.

"You're right," Sheppard agreed. "We're gonna have to find a way out of here."

As Rodney craned his neck to look up at the hole in the ceiling, he was aware of Sheppard doing the same.

"Well, there are a lot of crates in here," Carson suggested hesitantly.

"Yeah, rickety old ones!" Rodney quantified, reminding them, "I killed, like, three of them on the way down!"

Carson wasn't convinced. "But maybe we could make a pyramid – stack them up and climb out?"

Rodney huffed in exasperation. "I don't think there's enough to..."

"There are, actually," Sheppard interrupted. He was eyeing the distance from the floor to the ceiling carefully and Rodney had to remind himself that Sheppard was a lot better at math than most people realised. "Just barely enough to get us high enough, but we should be able to make it work," Sheppard suggested.

Rodney didn't quite share Sheppard's confidence. "D'you think they'll support our weight?" he argued.

Sheppard had a familiar look on his face, the one that said he'd already decided on a course of action and was not going to be dissuaded. "There's only one way to find out," he stated firmly.

Rodney sighed heavily. Far be it for him to be the voice of negativity – or, more accurately, reason – but he had a bad feeling this was not going to end well. Figuring he had a better grasp of the engineering principles involved than Carson, Rodney joined Sheppard in manoeuvring various crates into position under the opening in the ceiling, leaving Carson to do what he could to reduce the weight they'd added to the room, using a broken sheet of metal as a scoop to shove as much dirt as possible out the red door. Rodney kept his eyes from the open door as he worked and tried resolutely not to think about the long drop below them or the flimsiness of the metal stilts that were all that was holding them in place.

He manhandled a crate into place with a groan – these things were heavier than they looked – and made one last attempt to make Sheppard consider the risks here.

"All right, look," he advised, "If we're actually gonna do this, I figure we need to stack these things, like, twenty feet high in order to climb out, so no matter how we build it, it's gonna be unstable."

Sheppard was unperturbed. "Well, only one person has to climb it," he countered mildly. As Carson swung the red door closed, to Rodney's unspoken relief, and moved to join the tower-building process, Rodney noticed an appraising look in Sheppard's eye as he looked over his team mates.

Apparently, Carson picked up on it too as his eyes widened and, before Sheppard could say a word, he objected, "Oh, no. I'm not good with heights, so..."

"So, Sheppard goes," Rodney finished firmly, forestalling discussion of any other options.

"What, you're not even gonna consider yourself?" Sheppard asked, a little pointedly.

"It's heights!" he repeated, in case Sheppard truly didn't realise the foolishness of his suggestion. "I'm probably worse than he is!"

Sheppard gave a somewhat put-upon sigh. "Let's get started," he decided.

"Alright." McKay waited as Sheppard climbed onto the collection of crates they'd placed under the opening and then he and Carson between them lifted a crate up and shuffled it onto the first layer, where Sheppard could position it according to whatever design he had in mind. It was back-breaking work, lifting the crates up to position them on the next layer, and it only got more so as the height of the tower increased and Rodney had to climb onto the first layer himself, Carson lifting the crates up to him and he having to lift them, on his own, high enough for Sheppard, already three layers up, to grab them from him. He gave a groan as he lifted yet another crate.

Sheppard was kneeling on the topmost layer, settling the last crate into place, when the rickety-looking tower began to creak ominously. Carson took an involuntary step back, a look of concern in his face. "Maybe you should come down from there," he suggested nervously.

Ignoring both the ominous noise and Carson's worry, Sheppard slid the crate into place and, carefully, climbed to his feet. He was close to the opening, Rodney could see, maybe even close enough to climb out if he could climb up onto that last crate…

The creaking was getting louder and Carson tried again, "It sounds like it's..."

Even as he spoke, even as Sheppard straightened up, his eyes on the opening above, there was a horrible snapping sound and Rodney felt the tower shake under his feet as one of the crates on the bottom layer gave way with a sharp retort. As the foundations collapsed, the entire tower gave way and Rodney was forced to jump quickly clear as the structure abruptly collapsed in a cloud of dust and debris. Sheppard, perched atop the tower, was thrown to the ground as the pile of crates first toppled sideways and then crumpled.

"Sheppard!" Rodney's panicked reaction was instinctive.

Carson was at Sheppard's side in an instant, all trace of his previous nervousness gone, the doctor replacing the reluctant gate-traveller. Sheppard, face down in the debris of the crate tower, gave a groan and moved sluggishly, trying to turn himself over.

"Easy, easy," Carson admonished, helping Sheppard to roll carefully onto his back. "You okay, Colonel?" he asked.

Sheppard didn't answer immediately and Rodney fretted impatiently, "Is he all right?"

Before Carson could answer, Sheppard pushed himself to a sitting position with a heartfelt groan and announced, "Oh, that was fun."

Rodney hid his relief under righteous reproval. "Look, the bottom level won't hold. The crates aren't strong enough to stack."

Sheppard grimaced stiffly. "Yeah, I got that, thanks," he grumbled pointedly.

Carson was the first to voice the thought on all of their minds – so now what? – but he'd barely opened his mouth when another tremor shook the room, everyone freezing in place as what was almost certainly the metal support struts under them creaked alarmingly. The tremor was mercifully short but it served to galvanise them to action.

"That's not good," Sheppard stated shortly, climbing determinedly, if stiffly, to his feet, Carson helping him up with a hand under his arm. "We need another plan – and quick," he told them.

The crates were out so they turned their attention to the rest of the room, searching through the debris and opening up every cupboard and drawer in the hope of finding something – anything – useful.

"I've got some files here," Carson announced, surfacing from the debris with a concertina file in his hands. He pulled a document at random out of the file and grimaced. "Anyone read Genii?"

Rodney was only vaguely listening to Carson because he'd just caught a glimpse of something much more interesting – and likely to be useful – in the pile of debris he was searching through. "Hello, hello!" he exclaimed as he reached down to snag an odd contraption of two three-pronged hooks joined together by a short metal bar.

"What have you got?" Sheppard asked, looking around from searching through another locker.

"Grappling hook," Rodney announced. "At least, something we can use as a grappling hook." He dumped the contraption onto of one of the intact crates and began working to unscrew the hinge connecting one of the hooks.

"Great!" said Carson. "Now all we need is some rope."

Rodney looked up at the opening, far above. "Okay, just a sec. The ceiling is, like, what, twenty feet?"

"Twenty five?" Carson hedged.

"All right, twenty five," he agreed, a little shortly. "So our jackets end to end are five or six feet. We tie those to our shirts, maybe even our pants together. That should be able to get us up there and support our weight," he decided.

Carson gave him a look that combined incredulity with mulish stubbornness. "I am not taking my clothes off and climbing out in my underwear!" he exclaimed.

Rodney bristled. "Look," he huffed impatiently, "do you want to get out of here or not?!"

Carson crossed his arms defensively, indignation colouring his cheeks, but before the argument could really get going Sheppard straightened up from his investigation of another locker and calmly announced, "Found rope."

Carson greeted the news with a smile of relief and Rodney's building ire quickly evaporated.

"Rope and lanterns," Sheppard expanded.

"Oh, good!" This was the first good news they'd had today. With a hook and sufficient rope, suddenly getting out of here was not quite the impossible task it had seemed.

Sheppard lifted the coil of rope out of the locker. "More than enough for what we need," he gauged.

Sheppard dumped the rope on the crate with the hooks and Rodney grabbed one end, already thinking ahead, envisioning freedom at the end of a swift, simple throw of the hook.

"What are you doing?" Sheppard interrupted.

Rodney regarded him in bemusement, hook and rope in hand. "Well, I'm gonna tie the rope on, toss it up there so you can climb up," he explained almost patiently.

"I can't do it."

"Hey, that's quitter talk," Rodney dismissed, surprised to hear Sheppard being so defeatist. A thrill of fear ran through him as he wondered if Sheppard was more seriously hurt than he was letting on, had really done some damage in one or both of the falls. Was that why he couldn't climb out of here..?

"No, I can't climb this," Sheppard explained. "This rope – it's too thin. We need to tie knots in it. I need something to grip onto."

"Oh. Right." Rodney's growing panic eased a little. He looked at the coil of rope and craned his neck to look up to the ceiling, feeling his heart sink. "That's a lot of knots," he commented morosely.

Sheppard shrugged. "We only need about," he glanced upwards, "thirty feet or so."

Rodney ran a quick calculation through his head… say one knot per foot or so of rope… and made a rapid decision. "Okay, well, you two get started on the knotting and I'll read those files." He put the rope and the hook back on the crate and, dusting off his hands, moved over to where Carson had left the concertina file.

As he picked up the file and began to leaf through it, he became aware of a conspicuous silence, and lack of rope-knotting type activity, and looked up to find both Sheppard and Carson regarding him incredulously.

"What?" he blustered. "Look, they could contain the code to the door there. Besides, three people can't knot the same rope." He waved a piece of paper, asking pointedly, "Unless either of you speak Genii?"

Carson rolled his eyes and Sheppard merely gave a small cynical smirk, his tone deliberately mild as he said, "Fine. We'll get started."

Rodney turned his attention to the motley collection of papers in the file and Carson and Sheppard started work on untangling the rope. For a moment or two, the only sound in the room was the rustle of papers and the rasp of rope sliding over rope.

Rodney was fairly engrossed in the, sadly, not exactly thrilling papers in the file and wasn't really paying attention when Carson and Sheppard began chatting as they worked. He lifted up his head only when the word "Cadman" caught his attention. Even after a couple of years, that woman still made him nervous, the memory of having her consciousness in his head still too unsettling.

"What?" he interrupted. "What about Cadman?"

"Nothing, McKay," Sheppard answered mildly. "We're just talking."

"About Cadman," he agreed a little nervously. "Why? Is she coming back to Atlantis?"

"Not that I'm aware, no," a hint of impatience had crept into Sheppard's voice and he was eyeing Rodney a little dubiously.

"Oh." Rodney tried to hide the flush of relief. "Okay."

"Would it really bother you that much if she were, Rodney?" Carson asked curiously.

"No, of course not!" he snapped, glaring at them both before turning back to the files with a muttered, "Having another person take over your body is a bundle of laughs."

"It wasn't exactly a carnival ride for me either, Rodney..." Carson teased but Rodney ignored him; he'd heard a noise, he was certain of it. A noise from up above. He tipped his head back to look at the opening far above. There it was again. Voices. It sounded like voices.

Carson was still prattling away in the background and Rodney shushed him impatiently, "Shut up a sec."

"No, Rodney!" Carson replied, affronted. "I can talk if I want to!"

"No-no-no," Rodney flapped a hand impatiently, still staring up at the ceiling, straining his ears to hear. "I hear something!"

Carson shut up at that and all three of them held their breath as they strained to listen. There! There it was again. Definitely voices!

Rodney felt adrenalin flood through him. People! People meant help, meant rescue. "There's someone up there!" he crowed. He was aware of Sheppard and Carson crowding in next to him to stare up at the hole as he yelled out hopefully, "Help! We're stuck down here! Hello?"

"What if the ceiling caves in on them too?" Carson fretted.

Rodney dismissed his concerns. "We caved through that section," he pointed out, indicating the pitted edges of the hole, "it's been eaten away by rust. The rest of the ceiling looks fine."

Sheppard squinted up at the metal of the ceiling. "He's right," he agreed. "As long as they don't fall in the hole, they should be able to get help."

The voices were closer now; whoever was up there, they were moving towards the hole. Sheppard tried to get their attention, shouting out, "Hello?"

"Help!" Rodney added, yelling as well. "We're stuck down here! Can you hear us?"

The voices stopped and then, a moment later, two faces appeared over the edges of the hole. They were boys, no older than teenagers, but they were people, people who could go and get help and get them out of here. They peered downwards in surprise, one of them venturing an uncertain, "Hello?"

"Oh, thank God!" Rodney huffed in relief.

The second boy found his voice. "Who are you?" he asked.

"We're visitors," Sheppard told them. "We were on our way to speak to the people of your settlement."

"You shouldn't be down there," the first boy told them dubiously.

"Yeah, we know! We fell in here by accident," Rodney explained.

The second boy seemed to realise the implications of that, asking, "You all okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, we're fine," Rodney dismissed, his mind focused on the greater goal; get help, get out of here. "We're just stuck. We need some help," he told them.

The first boy didn't look convinced. "You shouldn't be down there," he repeated, sounding oddly worried.

Rodney couldn't prevent a hint of irritation from creeping into his voice. "Yeah, thanks, kid!" he said pointedly, trying to get things back on track. "Like I said, we..."

He broke off as Sheppard none too subtly stepped in front of him, his manner easy-going as he called up to the boys, "Go tell your parents. Tell them where we are, that we're stuck and we need help."

Rodney could feel his patience rapidly draining as the boys shared an uncertain look. "I don't think we can do that," they decided.

Rodney was outraged. "What?! Why not?!" They were trapped, for god's sake. In imminent danger of falling to a very messy death thousands of feet below. What kind of backward, ignorant Neanderthal would refuse to help them?!

"We're not really supposed to play out here," one of the boys explained. "If our parents find out..."

Oh. Of course, Rodney realised with a kind of numb despair. The kind of backward ignorant Neanderthals who were too dumb to move out of a seriously geologically unstable region.

Sheppard was doing his best to play pals and talk the boys round. "It's okay," he reassured them. "I promise you won't get into trouble."

They didn't look convinced. "You don't know my father," one of them explained. "He'll be very upset."

"I'll explain the situation to him. It'll be okay." Sheppard was still trying to do the reassuring thing but it didn't seem to be working.

Carson tried another tack. "Please? We're ... hurt. We need help."

That didn't work either. The boys got suspicious, with one of them pointing at Rodney, "Wait a minute. He said you were all okay. I asked him."

And that was it. That was Rodney's patience for this farce all used up. This was precisely why he didn't like children. He pushed past Sheppard, feeling his face flush as he snapped, "Alright. Listen to me, you little brats. I am older than you and I am in charge!"

He was vaguely aware of Carson trying to stop him, but he ignored the despairing "Rodney!" and the hand on his shoulder. "You will go back to your parents," he ordered angrily. "You will tell them we need help, or so help me..."

This time it was Sheppard who grabbed hold of him and the grip on his arm was firm and uncompromising, enough to make Rodney take notice, the initial flush of anger fading.

Sheppard ignored Rodney's outburst, still trying to play the persuasive card, "D'you need something?" he asked the boys. "Anything. We can get it for you. If you help us, we'll get you whatever you want."

That seemed to get a reaction and the boys started whispering to each other. The knot of fear in Rodney's chest eased a little. They were getting somewhere. The boys would get help. They'd get out of here.

"Oh, yes, good," he encouraged Sheppard. "Great idea, yes."

He ignored the tinge of sarcasm in Sheppard's wry, "Thanks."

Rodney regarded the boys' discussion a little impatiently. "Maybe you should offer to shoot their parents if they try to tell them off," he offered sourly.

Sheppard gave him a long, slow, disbelieving look. "McKay!"

"What?" Rodney didn't see the problem here. From his experience, most kids would jump at the chance if someone with a big gun offered to tell their parents off. "D'you wanna get out of here or not?!"

"I think we can reason with them without resorting to offers of bodily harm, McKay," Sheppard insisted.

Rodney wasn't so sure. "If you say so," he grumbled.

At that moment, entirely proving his point, the boys finished their whispered conversation and one of them announced, "We're gonna go now. Bye."

Before Rodney could even frame a suitably outraged reply, they scooted back from the hole and disappeared from view.

"No!" Carson cried. "Wait-wait-wait-wait-wait!"

A tousled head popped back into view and for a brief moment Rodney nursed a tiny spark of hope that the kids had seen sense, but of course it was not to be; the brat merely wished them good luck before disappearing again. Rodney turned to scowl at Sheppard. "I told you so."

"Forget it, McKay!" Sheppard advised shortly. He looked at his watch, his mouth twisting unhappily. "Four hours and fifty minutes," he sighed.

To be continued...