Title: FIGURATIVE HELL AND LITERAL HIGH WATER
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story was created for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s), not me. Thank you to the amazing writers, producers, actors, crew and directors who bring these shows to life.
A/N: Takes places early in Season Four – not long after Missing.
Description: Rodney's desperate to save his team, and Keller's just trying to keep up, on a planet where hurricanes can last for days.
CHAPTER ONE: BUILDING THE STORM
Lightning flashed, and Jennifer jumped.
"Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate thunderstorms," she muttered, trying to stifle the shakes as thunder erupted through the room, rattling everything in it. "Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate."
"You say something, Doc?" Major Lorne looked up from his book from across the room. He sounded calm and, annoyingly, amused. She resisted the urge to glare at him, pulling together a mask of professional disinterest. When she finally looked at him, she even managed a smile.
"No," she said, hating how feeble her voice sounded. Why couldn't she have a strong voice like Teyla's? Or Colonel Carter's? "Just…" she shrugged, thinking quickly, "wondering if we're going to be able to leave this planet without getting completely soaked. This storm came out of nowhere."
Lorne's little smile said he saw right through her. Jerk. Just what she didn't need—another one trying to act all older brother on her.
"Afraid not, Doc," Lorne said. "There's no cover between this hospital and the Gate—luckily, it's not far." He glanced out a window. "If we run for it, might not be that bad."
She sighed softly. She hated getting wet. Grimacing, she returned her attention to the photos she was studying on her laptop—a random set of blood samples from the general populous, taken by the portable digital microscope. She frowned at the images. They certainly seemed to support her initial diagnosis, but the machines back on Atlantis would better confirm—
Lightning flashed again, and she jumped once more. Damn it! Looking up at the ceiling, she unconsciously held her breath as she waited, mentally counting out seconds in "Mississippis".
She winced as thunder burst around her ears, even more explosive than before, and more items in the gray hospital room rattled. Something fell of a shelf behind Jennifer, and she flinched. Then she froze as the lights suddenly flickered, going in and out like some terrible horror movie cliché. Oh god—it really was a dark and stormy night! Well, except that it was still morning—around 10:00 am. But still…
The lights returned to full power a second later, but she continued to stay still until she was sure it wasn't a fluke. Releasing a shaky breath, she looked to the left, out the large plate window at the gray and green planet outside, and grimaced at the water streaming down the glass. The rain and wind were pummeling this planet.
What a bad day to visit.
The planet was called Helena, which had initially pleased her greatly (it was also called M7X-whatever, but she never did have a head for numbers). The name reminded her of Montana, and going on road trips to Glacier National Park with her dad as a kid—memories she cherished. They'd always stopped in Helena on the way out there, eating at this diner on the side of the road which served the best blueberry pancakes ever created. So, when she'd been told that, as part of a trade agreement, her services had been offered to study an infectious disease here that sounded a lot like malaria, she'd actually been looking forward to it. That, and meeting a population that, apparently, was almost entirely blond—which sounded too bizarre to be true (but it was. So, so blond!).
To make it even better, Colonel Sheppard's team was going to be here as well, to check out some Ancient sounding ruins, and, well, she liked being around the four of them. Being chief of medicine sort of set you apart (which, frankly, was nothing Keller hadn't felt before), but so did being chief scientist, chief military officer, and the only two aliens in the City.
And they'd become her friends.
Oh, sure, she had no pretensions to thinking she'd ever be considered "one of them"—not like Carson had been, or Elizabeth—but they were still her friends. Her best ones—though she doubt they knew that.
Either way, she was happy that they were going to be coming to Helena with her.
But then, almost as soon as they'd come through in the early morning light, the Colonel's team had headed off into the dense evergreen woods, to some far off place out of radio range, leaving her here with her small medical team and Major Lorne's team in the Helenan main settlement—a town made almost entirely of concrete. Not that she didn't like Major Lorne—he was a good guy—but…
She glanced at him. He smirked at her again.
Fact was, he looked eerily like someone she'd dated while getting her first research doctorate at Harvard. And, well, the less said about that debacle the better. Needless to say, she sometimes found herself thinking rather nasty thoughts about the poor man, when she was sure he was nothing but kind and good.
Perhaps because he was so kind and good.
He had to be hiding something. Ooh, maybe he was gay!
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He was watching her. At her glance, his eyebrows lifted in a question.
She blushed mightily, and he smirked.
Oh, fabulous. Now he probably thought she had a crush on him. Great. Now his smiles would move from amused and brotherly, to patronizing and brotherly. Should she kill herself now, or wait until she was back on Atlantis?
She sighed and turned so that she could look at him fully. "Yes?"
"You nearly done?"
She sighed again, looking back at her laptop. The pictures gave her no more information than they had before. Enough to give out some test samples of medicines. She tapped her radio.
"Marie?" she called.
A short pause, then, "Yes, Doctor Keller?" Marie, as always, was clipped and profession over the radio.
"How is it going?"
"Nearly done," Marie answered. "We've taken the full range of samples you requested. I'm just taking a couple more from some of the healthy children for comparison. There's folk here sheltering from the hurricane, so I'm taking advantage."
Jennifer nodded, "Great. Are you still in the clinic room?"
Marie gave a small laugh. "If you can call it that."
Jennifer smiled. "The Helenans call it that."
Jennifer smiled at Marie's snobbery, and looked up at the ceiling. "Okay, we'll come down to you. Are Huong and Doug down there as well?"
"Yes, and the rest of Major Lorne's team."
"Let them know we'll be ready to leave as soon as you're packed up."
"Will do. See you soon, Doctor."
"Check. Oh, and Marie…" Lightning flashed again, and Keller hunched her shoulder as she looked out the window. "Marie, you might ask the Helenans if we can borrow some ponchos. Keller out."
Jennifer pushed through the doors of the main hall of the Helenan hospital and found total chaos. A shout to "get out of the way!" and she was jumping backwards as two stretchers passed by, each surrounded by a cloud of Helenan medical workers. Her eyes quickly catalogued the blood covering the patients, unconsciously performing her own mental triage as the wounded were swept away towards another room.
She grabbed a doctor running past, a young woman with a long blonde ponytail. "What happened?"
"Oh, um," the doctor looked caught, almost guilty. "I…I'm sorry, I don't have time. Ask the minister." With a sharp tug, she pulled herself free and ran after the patients. Keller frowned, looking behind her at Lorne. He was frowning deeply as well.
"That seem odd to you?" she asked. His frown turned into a grimace, but he didn't say no.
"Let's find the others," he said, turning away from what was probably their pre-op and striding swiftly towards the clinic rooms. Jennifer grasped the handles of her two medical cases a little tighter and jogged after him.
Two more stretchers were carried past before they got to the clinic. More blood and trauma.
They pushed through the double doors into the first of the small clinic rooms, and found Marie there, talking quickly to the tall, blond Helenan minister who had been assigned to help them. He turned and smiled with relief upon seeing her and Lorne.
"Oh, Ancestor's be praised," he breathed, leaving Marie mid-sentence and walking over to Keller. The nurse frowned deeply at the rudeness, and placed her hands on her hips. Jennifer just shrugged at her and looked up at the tall Helenan, noticing he had his hands lifted up as if in prayer. "We need your help."
Jennifer's eyebrows lifted. "My help?"
"A bolt of lightning sparked an explosion at one of our local factories—we've many people hurt. I know this is not part of your agreement with us, but we could really use an extra set of hands. The hurricane is preventing many of our physicians and surgeons from coming in." He turned, gesturing at Marie. "Your assistant told me that she couldn't do anything without your say so, but—"
"She's right," Jennifer said, nodding at Marie before turning back to the minister. "And while, in most circumstances, I would absolutely volunteer our help, truth is, other than myself and Marie, none of the others here are trained medics or physicians. They're researchers—microbiologists and pathologists."
The minister's eyes drooped then, the sadness clear on his face. "Oh."
She took a breath. "However—"
"Doctor," Major Lorne's voice cut in. There was no questioning the tone of his voice—he was warning her not to agree to anything reckless.
She turned and looked at him, and, though she knew perfectly well that he was only trying to be helpful—she felt unbelievably irked by the interruption. She had just been about to say that they would talk to Colonel Carter about sending help, but the look on Lorne's face….
And then she did something she knew she shouldn't have.
She turned back to the minister and smiled. "However," she said, "I'd be happy to stay. The rest of my team will take the samples back to Atlantis, so the pathologists can get started. Marie," she looked at the woman, "you're in charge of getting the project started."
"Doctor!" Lorne sounded upset. It just made Keller smile more.
Of course, in the back of her mind, she was screaming at herself for being such an idiot. Stupid, stupid, STUPID!
No wonder Rodney got into so much trouble—he probably did this all the time.
The next thing she knew, Lorne was apologizing to the minister and dragging her to the other side of the room to talk to her.
"Look," he began, "I know you want to help—I saw how bad those people looked—but this is the sort of thing you need to run by Colonel Carter first. More to the point," his eyes narrowed, "what you're suggesting is going to split up my team, and I hate having my team split up."
Okay, she admitted to herself, that was kind of bad of her. And, yes, she really should have gotten permission first, but…
"I can't back out now," she replied. "I'm sorry. You're right, I should have thought about your team first. But, honestly, I don't think there's much danger. This storm—hurricane—is pretty serious. It's not like anyone could attack this planet while it's happening. I'll be alright. Plus," she frowned, "they clearly need my help."
He grimaced. She pushed on.
"I'd like you to take Marie and the others back to the gate and through. Leave one of your men here with me, like Sergeant Brent, and we'll follow as soon as the worst of the casualties are taken care of. And if, say, Colonel Carter wants to send more personnel to help, or sends you back to fetch me away before I'm done—well, she can make that decision. But right here, right now, I'm telling you that I'm staying."
He frowned, eyes studying her face. She felt confident in the decision, and didn't hide it.
"Besides," she added, "do not forget that Colonel Sheppard's team is still here…" she grimaced, thinking about the weather outside, "somewhere. It's probably a good thing that someone stays here to be a contact in case they need help. They're out of radio range, remember?"
Lorne lowered his head, sighed, then looked up again. After a moment, he nodded. "All right. We'll do it your way, Doc."
She smiled. "Thank you."
Lorne nodded and turned away, already ordering his men to pack up and prepare to leave—all except Sergeant Brent, who he ordered to stay behind with Jennifer.
As the sergeant looked at her, Keller smiled and hoped, really, really hoped, she wouldn't regret this.
Keller shouted "good luck, stay safe!" to Lorne and the others as the small group pushed out the doors into the hurricane winds; they were quickly swallowed up in the howling rain, lost to her sight almost immediately. She felt the force of the gale for the first time as they left, the icy rain smacking her cheeks even though she was a good five feet inside the main doors, and she shivered, glad she wasn't leaving in that. It wasn't safe out there.
As soon as the doors were shut, however, she shifted gears, forgetting about everything but the job she'd agreed to do.
Ten minutes later, she was standing at the operating table, pulling off the bandages pressed tightly to the wounds of a young man, quickly assessing the damage. She frowned at the state of his body—what the hell? Her eyes narrowed, flashing to the silent nurses assigned to her, and finding their gazes downcast. She shook her head—did the minister really think she was so stupid that she wouldn't notice the nature of the wounds? Gritting her teeth, she said nothing as she set to work.
Her radio crackled at one point during the procedure, and Sergeant Brent, who was in the OR with her, answered it. That static was heavy and the words unintelligible. Keller ignored it—Brent would tell her if it was anything important.
She had only just finished closing the patient up when another was pushed into the little OR they'd given her—making her feel momentarily like she was in a MASH unit. Sighing, she bit her tongue again as she recognized the small hole in his abdomen for what it was, and asked for a scalpel from the nurse they'd assigned her.
The third patient was conscious when he came in, blinking up blearily at her as she set to work on his leg. Local anesthesia she presumed—pretty advanced, considering the otherwise early twentieth century nature of these facilities. The boy said nothing the whole time, just looked small and pale and lost as she worked on him.
When the fourth patient came in, a young woman with a shoulder wound that wasn't that serious, Jennifer guessed that they were nearing the end. She was able to clean and stitch her up in just minutes.
There was no fifth.
Glancing up at the clock, she saw that about three hours had passed. That made it close to one in the afternoon here (which was late afternoon back home), and she was starving and exhausted. She sighed, frowning at the fact that there had been no word from Atlantis in all that time. Had the major made it back?
Pulling off her surgical gloves, she peeled the mask from her face and walked out of the stifling little cement room into the hallway. Once there, she breathed in the cool air deeply and dropped into a chair along one wall, tipping her head back against the concrete.
Brent dropped himself onto the chair next to her.
"You okay, Doc?" he asked.
She nodded, closing her eyes. "They didn't give me anything serious," she said dismissively, which, was partially true—the last two patients hadn't been difficult. Her words slurred a little, and she grimaced. Damn, she was tired.
With a sigh, she pulled off the bloody gown she wore and tossed it in a bin off to her right, along with the gloves and mask. Then she closed her eyes again, and found herself yawning deeply.
Wasn't there something she wanted to tell Brent? A comfortable lethargy pulled her down. Vaguely, she felt someone draping something over her…
When she opened her eyes again, it was half an hour later and her neck hurt. With a groan, she leaned forward, rubbing at the nape. A blanket dribbled off her shoulders, pooling on her lap. She smiled at Brent's thoughtfulness.
Despite the crick in her neck, she felt a hell of a lot better, not as tired. Pulling the blanket up, she started to fold it, feeling slightly guilty now for having dropped asleep so quickly. A side effect of her residencies—she could fall asleep at the drop of a hat. At the same time, staying asleep was not something she was good at. Anxiety—fear of being needed—always woke her up before she wanted to.
Placing the folded blanket on the floor, her stomach grumbled angrily. Apparently, she was even hungrier than before.
As if hearing her thoughts, an instrument tray was placed on her lap—without instruments. Instead, she stared down at a wrapped sandwich, potato chips and bottle of water. She looked up, smiling gratefully at Sergeant Brent who had appeared from nowhere, it seemed. He smiled back.
"Figured you might want the lunch you brought with you," he said. "I found it in your backpack."
She nodded, smiling more broadly. "Thank you." He grinned, settling himself against the cement wall opposite as she dug into the meal. "You hear from Major Lorne?" she asked then, her mouth full of ham and cheese and relishing the tang of mustard on her tongue.
He nodded. "During your first patient. Storm was wreaking havoc with the signal, but I could make out most of it. They made it to the Gate, but it took them almost half n' hour longer than it should have, and one of your team may have been injured by some flying debris on the way."
Keller was instantly alert, almost dropping the sandwich. "Injured? Who? And how badly?"
"Dr. Houng Nguyen, and not badly," Brent said quickly, raising a hand to calm her, "but they needed to carry her through the gate. In the end, they all went through because Major Lorne determined it was just too dangerous to stay outside a moment longer. Sounds like the hurricane's gotten really bad—oh, and he wants me to keep you inside as well. Said not to risk going to the Gate until it's cleared up. He said they'd send back help when the weather allowed, or unless we contact them and let them know they're needed sooner. I told him you were doing okay. You were, weren't you?"
Keller grimaced, putting the sandwich down and looking up at the concrete ceiling. There were no windows where they were in the center of the hospital structure—just lots of cement and fluorescent lighting. But even here, she could hear the howling winds outside.
Unfortunately, she'd remembered what she'd wanted to tell him, which meant that, no, they weren't okay and, yes, they'd have to go out in that.
She'd just operated on gunshot and arrow wounds.
She was about to say something when she saw him look down the hall at the double doors, and give a thumbs up to someone standing there. The Helenan standing there gave a nod and took off.
Jennifer's eyebrows lifted. "What was that?"
"Oh, the minister wanted to know when you were awake. He seems to think you'd want to talk to him."
She snorted. Damned skippy. She rolled her shoulders, stuffed the last bite of food in her mouth, then put the tray to the side and brushed the crumbs from her thighs. Looking up, she saw Brent was frowning at her now.
"Doc," he said, "I need to ask a question."
"You want to know why the minister thinks I'd want to talk to him," she replied.
"Pretty simple, really," she answered, sighing. "I just spent three hours operating on soldiers, not factory workers. Those wounds were from a firefight. And the minister must know I'd figure that out."
Brent's eyes widened slightly, then narrowed in annoyance. "You should have said something before," he admonished, his hands gripping his P90 a little more tightly. She grimaced.
"I know, I just…I couldn't in the operating room and then I stupidly fell—"
She was interrupted by the sound of the doors at the end of the hall swinging open with a bang, and footsteps echoing swiftly towards them down the hall.
The blond Helenan minister was moving fast, his broad shoulders hunched slightly as he wrung his hands together. He smiled when he saw her. When she didn't smile back, his expression dimmed and he dipped his head.
She stood and placed her hands on her hips, lifting her chin to clearly show how pissed off she was. Brent was up and by her side immediately, his hand resting on his P90. The minister glanced at the soldier sorrowfully, then returned his full attention to Keller.
"Doctor," he began, "thank you again for—" Jennifer held up a hand, stopping him.
"You know perfectly well," she stated quietly, "that those wounds were not from a factory explosion."
He flinched as if slapped, and, if possible, his head bowed even more. "No," he admitted sadly.
"That first boy had two bullets in his chest and shoulder. The second had one in his abdomen. The other two looked like they were hit with arrows or crossbow bolts." She lifted her eyebrows. "Care to explain?"
He sighed, then gave a single nod. "I'm afraid we occasionally have skirmishes with the indigenous population. The 'Auggies,' we call them."
Jennifer frowned. "The what?" She didn't hide her confusion. "This isn't your planet?"
"Of course it's our planet," he said quickly. "For about a hundred years or so, it's been our home. But…" He sighed again. "Before we came here, there was another group of people living here and," he shrugged, "they didn't want to share."
"The Auggies," Keller said.
"Yes. As the story goes, on our old planet, we apparently reached a level of technological advancement that made us a threat to the Wraith. We were warned, and then targeted when we didn't…" his lips pursed, "devolve quickly enough. After the first culling took about half of our population," he shuddered, "the other half decided it was best to escape, to leave that planet and hide. Unfortunately," he shook his head, "none of our trading partners were willing to take us in. By the time we came here, we were starving and desperate. The Auggies were an undeveloped people, still using bows and arrows and with little or no speech or contact with the outside world. They were…" He frowned, looking chagrined under her stare, "easy to force back."
Keller's jaw tightened. "You killed them?" she asked softly.
"No!" he promised, raising a hand. "Not…no. Not if we could avoid it. But they kept attacking us, and our only choice was to overpower and subdue them. So, to establish order, we prevented them from tilling their fields, or tending their herds, or using the Gate. We pushed them into the forests. They…well, long story short, it worked. And, for the last sixty years or so, we'd sort of achieved a truce. But they've been acting up again lately…" he trailed off.
Keller didn't say anything for a moment, just soaked it in, wondering a little at how similar human populations could be, even across galaxies. "So," she said quietly, "I take it they acted up again today?"
The minister still had his head bowed, not really looking at her. "They attacked one of our secure areas near the western edge of our town. In the fighting, they managed to claim some of the guns from our guards, and this encouraged them into an ultimately suicidal attack on some of our warehouses. We managed to quell the uprising, but…there were casualties, and with the hurricane…" He looked up at her finally, "I am glad you were here."
Keller's eyebrows just lifted at that. She wasn't. Worse, a horrible suspicion had lit in her belly.
"Minister," she said, "why did they attack today? Of all days? With the storm raging, surely they were in as much danger from it as you?"
He continued to meet her gaze, his jaw tensing then releasing, until he finally had to look away. "It is possible," he offered slowly, guiltily, "that allowing your Colonel Sheppard's team access to the Ancestor's Ruins, which the Auggies consider sacrosanct, may have instigated the attack."
Keller felt punched in the gut by that, and she closed her eyes.
"Were they attacked?" Sergeant Brent asked tightly by her side.
The minister's eyes remained averted. "We believe so. Before our communication lines went down because of the hurricane, there were reports of fighting along the road to the ruins."
"Oh my god," Jennifer whispered, looking to Sergeant Brent. His expression was angry.
"You knew before Major Lorne left," he demanded the minister, "didn't you?"
The minister swallowed nervously. "We…weren't certain. Between the hurricane and the attack on the city…" He grimaced, looking at Brent. "I'm sorry."
Brent's nod was curt. "We need to go. We need to tell our people, and bring back help."
The minister nodded. "I understand, but I should warn you that this storm is still young. Hurricanes here only get worse before they—"
Someone shouted loudly from elsewhere in the hospital, interrupting the minister. He glanced over his shoulder at the doors at the end of the hall, frowned, and turned back to Keller.
"As I was saying, our hurricanes can last for days at a—"
Another shout, this time closer and louder, interrupted him again, and, when the shouting showed no sign of stopping, all three turned around to look at the double doors at the other end of the hall. Jennifer tensed, confused because—had she just heard her name called?
And then the voice, a very familiar voice, became suddenly clear.
"Where is Dr. Keller? Keller! Blonde—well not as blond as you people, but blondish— and pretty, doctorish looking, 'bout this tall. Is she still here? What do you mean you don't know? Then get the hell out of my way! What the hell is wrong with you people—hair too peroxided to think? Move, move, move! Keller! Damn it, where are you? Hey! Back off, Ken Doll! Let go of my arm! I don't give a rat's ass that you call this architectural nightmare of a concrete box a hospital! KELLER!"
She stepped forward towards the doors at the end of the hall, just as Doctor Rodney McKay shoved through them, drenched to the bone and wearing an expression as furious as the hurricane outside. A sea of blond men and woman fell through the doors with him, like a school of fish circling a shark, and they tried to draw him back through.
"I said let go!" he shouted, barreling through the small group and shaking two of them off who had grabbed his arms. He was badly out of breath, and his face was flushed with cold and sweat as he looked around. "Keller! Where…" His gaze landed on her, and his eyes lit up with utter relief. "There you are! Oh, thank god!" He jogged forward, shoving past the minister so he could grab one of her arms, his grip tight as he drew her close. "You have to come with me!"
"What?" Jennifer asked Rodney, feeling the quaking of his body through his grip. "Why?"
"They're hurt, all three of them and Ronon badly. Really, really badly. They need you." His voice grew more desperate, and he took a step away as if prepared to drag her by her arm. "Please, you have to come with me now!"