A/N: I'm a whumpaholic, what can I say? As always, feedback is appreciated and will probably improve the story dramatically, esp since this is my first crack at whump...
Disclaimer: Not mine, not making money from this, in fact, I'm losing money cuz it's late and I'll probably be late to work tomorrow...
Chapter One – Can Anything Else Go Wrong?
SGA1 plus one CMO ran full tilt through the dense, muddy forest, all but Dr. Keller firing their weapons into the trees, trying to keep the very pissed-off natives one step behind.
"Rodney I told you that 'ZPM containment device' looked like a shine!"
"Oh sure, blame it all on me," Rodney screamed randomly firing his p90 out in front of and over his head, "how was I supposed to know there was a civilization out there so primitive it would worship the galaxy's greatest power source as a god!"
"The shrine part might have given you a clue!" Sheppard shot back, firing blindly into the forest that flanked them on both sides.
"Move it!" Ronon shouted, a hand on Jennifer's back as he shoved her ahead of him, trying to take their pace from fast, to faster. She did her best to breathe through the pain of over-exertion and couldn't help but wonder with a touch of irony why, in a situation such as this, she seemed to be out of energy-boosting adrenalin. She shifted her heavy pack and focused on stepping in Rodney's footprints the way Ronon had shown her, to avoid any traps that may have been laid. But an arrow landing at her feet caused her to abandon the whole pretense.
Ronon couldn't help a slight sigh of relief when he saw Jennifer picking up the pace some, even if it was caused by a too-close call with a near deadly accurate arrow. He turned to fire into the trees again when three arrows impaled a tree trunk beside him.
Their attackers blended well with the landscape, making their movements nearly impossible to track, and it left them all with no other option but to fire at random into the forest. When he turned to shoot again he felt a stinging sensation like a garbn bite and he immediately reached up to pull a sharp dart from his neck, more annoyed than worried. When he did so, however, a sickly sweet smell invaded his nostrils and it was only because of the arrows whizzing past him and the movemnt in his peripheral vision that he wasn't able to panic.
"We'll never make it to the gate! I am almost out of ammunition." Teyla shouted from her spot at Ronon's six.
Sheppard, already having devised this, was searching the surrounding forested area for a more defensible position where they could wait out the native's fury. His eyes landed on a small cave about fifty meters to their left. He took a half second to wonder if there might be some sort of giant, indestructible, man-eating bear creature living inside, and decided it didn't matter. They were dead either way.
"Break left Rodney!" He shouted, and turned off, taking point and leading the way up the steep hillside littered with rocks and small bushes toward the mouth of the cave.
Jennifer screamed when another arrow whizzed by her ear and ran all the harder, even though her chest was already heaving and her ankle felt like she might have twisted it when she tripped over that badly placed boulder about half a click back.
The climb up the steep hill was anything but easy, covered in spiky bushes which she kept accidentally grabbing onto in an attempt not to fall off, not to mention that they were sitting ducks for the entire, horrible climb. She was grateful that everytime she slipt, Ronon was there, a strong hand hoisting her up the next few inches so she could regain her footing. The sound of his canon firing behind them repeatedly kept her moving, reminding her the danger that had them on the run in the first place was not far behind.
Most of the opening of the cave was blocked by a huge bolder that left only a little bit more than a shoulders-width of room for them to get inside. It was the sort of spot Ronon would have chosen to hide as a runner and he was glad John had picked it, but not overly surprised. Ronon all but pushed Jennifer inside the small opening when they reached the top and, ignoring the heat he could feel on his neck and the pain starting to pound behind his eyes, he paused just outside and layed down cover fire for Teyla as she ran inside.
"Oh, great," Rodney's voice was high and shaky with adrenalin, "there's no back door here, Colonel, how do you expect us to get off this planet?"
John looked back over his shoulder from his spot beside the opening, across from Ronon while they shot down a few overly exuberant natives who came out into the opening of the steep hill and tried to climb up.
"I don't know Rodney," he replied testily, "but we'd been running for a while and I figured this was a better idea than collapsing in another click and being offered up as some sort of burnt offering to the gods of ZPM."
Both he and Ronon kept their weapons at ready while deadly arrows shot from the tree-line below but fell far short of reaching the mouth of their cave.
"What did you you say those markings on the side of the shrine said, Teyla?"
She walked toward him from the back of the cave where she had been confirming there was in fact 'no back door', "I could not decipher all of it, but I believe they held the ZPM in high regard as a powerful diety."
"So it's not likely they're just gonna let this go and let us to walk back to the gate any time soon?"
She shook her head and John sighed. He knew Teyla was almost out of ammo as was he, and with the way Rodney fired his weapon incessantly when panicked, they probably had a good 100 more shots between them. They wouldn't last another fire fight.
He glanced back at his team as he pondered their potential options. Rodney was pacing restlessly, clutching the straps of his backpack, which now held their stolen ZPM, tightly. Jennifer was seated on the ground near the wall at the back of the shallow cave, her shoe and sock off as she gingerly tested out her ankle.
"Everything alright doc?"
After a moment she nodded. "Just some bruising, maybe a slight sprain. I should be fine," she said, putting her sock and shoe back on. She looked up and saw Teyla bleeding from a grazed arrow hit in her arm, "as long as we're here why don't you let me stitch that up?"
Teyla glanced down at her right bicep and raised her eyebrows in surprise, "I was not aware I was injured."
Jennifer smiled as the Athosian came to sit beside her, "adrenalin does that."
Ronon was leaning heavily against the wall across from John, his eyes scanning the surrounding area carefully.
The sun had disappeared abnormally fast and with it the forest outside had grown quiet, almost motionless. The moon had quickly taken the sun's place and lit up their steep mountainside like it was day. The silence made John tense and he glanced repeatedly at the surrounding foliage for any sign of their angry friends.
Ronon shifted as if uncomfortable on his legs, and winced slightly.
John frowned, giving his attention more fully to the Satedan, "Ronon, you alright buddy?" He scanned Ronon's body for any visible injuries, his eyes pausing on a small pinprick's worth of blood on his neck. At his tone, both Teyla and Jennifer looked up.
Ronon didn't answer immediately, instead slid down the wall to a crouching position, his gun trembing slightly as he held it out at his side, pointing out of the cave's opening.
"Don't think so," he shook his head, "got hit."
"I'm on it."
Jennifer quickly pressed a bandage over Teyla's stitches and hobbled over to Ronon's side, looking worriedly at the wound in his neck.
Jennifer looked up at him briefly and then back, "hit how? With what?"
"A dart," he said quietly.
She nodded, the hole that the weapon had left looked dart-sized, almost like a needle poke. But a small area surrounding the wound was red and almost splotchy in color, as if irritated.
"Just a dart? Nothing special about it?" She fished for more information.
"It had Neant on it," he said reluctantly, letting his gun fall to his side, as if exhausted from holding it for so long.
Sheppard could have sworn Teyla's face went completely white and it made his stomach clench.
"What is that?" John asked, Teyla's unconsciously whispered 'oh Ronon' did nothing for his stomach and he repeated urgently, "what is Neant?"
"Poison." Teyla answered simply.
Sheppard bit his lip. He looked back at Ronon, he could tell just by the signs of pain and fatigue the Satedan was already showing, which had to be substantial considering he was showing them at all, that this was a poison to be reckoned with.
He took a deep breath, glancing outside, his voice took on a commanding tone.
"Alright people, we need options."
"We could fight our way to the gate." Ronon suggested immediately, tilting his head to give Jennifer's cool fingers better access to his neck. She thanked him silently, and noted with concern that the skin around the small wound was very warm to the touch.
"Impossible," Rodney shot down immediately, "it wasn't working ten minutes ago when all five of us were running full out, no way we'll make it the remaining two miles if you can barely stand."
"Besides I don't advise movement, it would probably just advance the poisens' spread through his blood stream." Jennifer added, glancing briefly at John.
He pursed his lips, nodding, "I agree."
"Let me run ahead to the gate and radio for help, I can run faster alone and it will be easier under the cover of night." Teyla suggested, standing and moving toward her team leader.
John didn't even consider it, "No way Teyla, if anyone was going to make a run for it, I would," he glanced at Ronon, "but we're outnumbered 10 to one by my count-"
"Twelve," Ronon corrected, squinting at the brush outside in an attempt to ignore the Doctor's close proximity. Moonlight showing beads of sweat sprouting on his brow.
"Well there you have it, and like you said Teyla, we're almost out of bullets."
Jennifer noticed the veins surrounding Ronon's dart-wound bulging and the red rash-like area still growing. She bit her lip harder, a thousand poisons and remedies running through her mind. Unfortunately, all she had on her was a basic field kit and some vials she had used to take samples of a flower with supposed regenerative properties.
"Ronon are you in any pain?"
He took a moment to answer, and she wondered if he heard her.
"Where?" She asked urgently, wishing not for the first time, that he wasn't a man of so few words.
"My head," he admitted, "hurts some. And my neck burns." He winced when she reached up to probe the irritated skin with her fingers again.
She nodded, believing his reluctant complaints, "Rodney will you bring my pack over here?" she said, then looking at Teyla, "Is it bad? I mean, are we talking? Fever? A paralytic? Or …"
Teyla sighed and spoke up, "I have never known Neant not to be fatal."
Everyone in the cave froze at that. John, who'd been leaning against the large boulder and looking outside, whipped his head around and Rodney suddenly stood motionless. Jennifer looked like a deer caught in headlights for half a moment. Then, almost as if someone had flipped a switch, the doctor in her took over. She took in Teyla's words, accepted them, and began running through her options of how to prevent them. Taking her pen-light from the outside pocket of her pack, she twisted it on and brought it up in front of Ronon's face.
Ronon immediately turned away, squeezing his eyes shut. Teyla took a step forward, but didn't say anything.
"Please Ronon, let me check this, then I'll," she reached into her pack again and came up with an instant cold pack, "put this on your neck. I can only keep it on for a while, but it will make it feel better."
Ronon frowned at her and considered this, glancing twice at the small white square in her hand before nodding.
Jennifer gave him a quick smile and checked his pupils as quickly as possibly, noting his barely audible gasp of pain when she did so. He closed his eyes again when she finished and Jen threw a concerned glance at John before squeezing the cold pack and returning her light to her bag. "Okay, Ronon, I want you to lie down."
"I'm good, Doc."
Teyla cut off Jennifer's response, coming to stand on the other side of him.
"Now is no time to be brave Ronon, you know the effects of Neant poisoning as well as I do, and you know the pain you are feeling now will only get worse." She spoke with a severity born of sisterly worry that the team did not often hear. But it got through to Ronon and he reluctantly moved away from the wall and lay down.
As promised, Jennifer gently placed the cold pack against Ronon's neck and went to join John and Teyla on the opposite side of the cave, Rodney having taken up John's post at the entrance.
"Okay, I think you should tell us what this stuff is going to do," John spoke quietly, holding his weapon loosely against himself, his brow furrowed in a concerned frown.
Teyla took a deep breath before she began.
"Neant acts slightly different in everyone, but the symptoms are usually consistant. First there is pain around the wound and a headache, which rapidly increases in severity."
"He's already got that. His pupils are sluggish, and over reactive to light."
Teyla nodded, "then there is extreme joint pain which is often followed by a burning sensation that is described as 'in the blood'."
Jennifer pursed her lips and nodded, "then what?"
"It is not uncommon for the victim to see and hear things that are not there and sometimes…" she paused, glancing at Ronon nervously.
"What Teyla?" John prompted.
The Athosian turned back, swallowing hard and lowering her voice even more, "sometimes the pain experienced is so severe it causes the person to…take their own life."
John and Jennifer both inhaled deeply, also turning to glance at Ronon, and then looking at each other, neither really wanting to hear the rest, but knowing they had to.
"But, if this can be avoided, there will then be a brief period of respite when the poison seems to have run it's course, the person will act normally and feel much better," she shifted on her feet, still glancing frequently over her shoulder at her friend, "then there is what we call a 'shaking', I believe the word you use, doctor, is," she paused, looking at the ground in thought, "a seizure." When Jennifer tensed again, Teyla knew she'd remembered the correct word, "it is very strong and more often than not, results in death when the heart stops." Teyla grew quiet and John was almost afraid to hope that was all.
Jennifer nodded, her face impassive as she took in everything Teyla had told her, trying to come up with treatments for the symptoms Ronon had yet to experience. At least she knew what to expect this time, too often in this galaxy she found herself blindsided by the intricacies of her various, terrifying, medical emergencies.
A pained grunt brought them all out of their dark silence and they turned back to Ronon, Jennifer and Teyla immediately going to his side.
He was lying flat on the ground, fighting what was becoming an overwhelming urge to wrap himself around his head. He kept his eyes shut tight and his teeth clenched, ignoring their words of comfort.
"Weir will call us when we're overdue," John said, hopefully "That's in four hours. I'll radio for a cloaked jumper and we'll have him back to Atlantis in a matter of minutes."
"Does he have that much time?" Jennifer asked, looking at Teyla as she stripped her coat to put under Ronon's head.
"I do not know. For some, Neant is fatal within minutes," She looked down at Ronon and smiled, "But Ronon is strong. It may take days."
Ronon cracked open one eye and started to smile, but clenched his mouth shut to keep from screaming in agony as the invisable walls closing in on his head tightened even more.
"Teyla," Jennifer pressed, anxiously. If she was to go by what Teyla told her, by this stage of the poison's progression, Ronon should have been writhing in pain. She'd always known he was strong, but she was now finding she didn't really know the true extent.
Teyla looked up, her eyes shrouded in sadness. She took a deep breath before answering.
"The longest I have ever seen someone survive was three hours."