Welcome to the Job
For Tielan, Secret Santa delivery. I don't own the characters, they belong to others. No infringement for profit intended, just meant to entertain.
This story is set early season two, between "The Intruder" and "Runner," so no Ronon. The story tracks a mission gone awry, the team trying to deal with it – and Lorne getting introduced to the job back on Atlantis.
Chaos ruled in the gateroom. Several of the science staff were scrambling, a handful of Marines were locking in ammunition and Doctor Weir had just raced out of her office. With an alarm blaring in the background, there was no doubt there was trouble.
That was the trouble with adventure – the tendency for someone to end up with stab wounds, broken bones, life-threatening injuries or getting shot at.
Not much bothered Evan Lorne in that respect, though. He'd broken his first bone when he was seven, climbing up the downspout of his grandparents' home in Connecticut – and then slipping near the top, losing his footing on the siding of the house and falling fist-first into the semi-frozen October soil.
A week later, a cast on his left wrist, he'd been climbing the seawall just down the street, slipped on the smooth surface, and slid to the bottom, shredding the one pair of good jeans he had left. He'd pleaded with his parents for new sneakers – obviously, the grip on the old ones weren't cutting it. They'd said no, grounded him for the rest of the vacation and suggested (rather forcefully) that he stick to climbing on a jungle gym.
He hadn't listened. And he still didn't. Which, all in all, pretty well prepared him for life first in the SGC, then on Atlantis. At least, that's what he'd thought at first. Right about now, Earth suddenly sounded very, VERY appealing.
"Maj—der fire. Keep-shield up—further notice—day—copy?"
It figured on his first day on station, he would be the ranking military officer in the gateroom. It further figured that, when Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard's team went off-world to inspect a possible beta site – the mission Sheppard had first intended to send him on – that everything would go straight to hell.
Three hours earlier
John Sheppard stared at Dr. Elizabeth Weir, his gaze shocked and yet, oddly unsurprised.
Elizabeth shook her head; her dark brown hair glinted in the weak sunlight coming through the window across from the control panel in the gateroom.
"You're not joking." Elizabeth's sympathetic smile was all the answer he needed, even though it didn't help and it certainly didn't curb his irritation.
John opened his mouth to voice what would've been what the military would have called a "strenuous objection of a forceful nature." But Elizabeth raised her hand and waved him into a chair across from her desk.
"I know, I know." Elizabeth's voice seemed a least a little sympathetic. "We've been back on base only 24 hours and already, Rodney and Zelenka have a 'critical' mission of vital importance."
"That's redundant, you know." John dropped into the proffered chair, letting his voice settle into his normal drawl. The best way to deal with the science department – hell, with Rodney McKay, since there was no doubt he was behind this 'critical mission' – usually involved sarcasm and wit – in large quantities. "And…how critical can it be if it waited six weeks?"
A half-smirk skirted across Elizabeth's lips.
"Well, that's apparently the issue. Being gone six weeks, after a siege that ended with Atlantis apparently vanishing in a mushroom cloud, gate travel is running a little behind." He could hear the exasperation and sympathy – not to mention her own brand of sarcasm – creeping in. "Besides, after six weeks on board the Daedalus, I figured you'd be dying to get off world."
John raised an eyebrow.
"No, getting almost baked to a crisp in a sun due to a Wraith computer virus has made me appreciate the comforts of Atlantis. I WAS hoping to get to enjoy them a little."
"You mean, you were hoping to take a day off and hit golf balls off the South Pier." Damn. She was quick. John felt his lip curl under a little, what was becoming his normal expression when he knew his boss had him cornered with absolutely no good excuse whatsoever.
A thought popped into his head.
"How about letting Major Lorne lead the team?" John still wasn't quite sure about Lorne, and his gut was telling him the feeling was mutual. SGC was many things, but accepting of mavericks wasn't one of them. His second in command still looked like he couldn't quite decide whether Sheppard had a point – or should be shot.
"Actually, I was thinking of having him up in the gate room, observing the day-to-day operations," Elizabeth said, a sympathetic smile on her face. "Face it, John, I'm not letting you come up with an excuse on this one."
"I don't want an excuse. I just don't want to waste time chasing down every half-baked lead the science department comes up with." Sheppard could hear the frustration rising in his voice, and he tried to clamp down on it. "We've got more important things to do."
"Like spending time chasing down leads on Lieutenant Ford?"
"As a matter of fact, yes!" There was no room for argument with him on that subject. Absolutely none.
Elizabeth didn't even try. She watched him for a moment, a searching look on her face. For a minute, Sheppard felt like she was trying to probe the depths of his soul, find the one thing that could be said that would make the whole situation right. The problem was, there were really only two avenues she could go down when it came to Ford, and one of them involved the fantasy of announcing the lieutenant walking through her office door.
"John, I know how you feel." Elizabeth's voice was calm, sympathetic, but not cloying. He had to respect her for that. "But we need to keep going with the nature of this mission. You know it, and I know it. Besides, you've chased down the most likely leads, and nothing has panned out yet.
"I won't make this an order, but…" Her voice trailed off, and Sheppard let out a sigh, knowing he was defeated.
"But you'd rather I not make your day miserable by sitting here wasting your time."
Elizabeth chuckled. "You're not wasting my time. You're confirming my instincts that you're the one I wanted back here, in this position." John raised an eyebrow, and she continued. "The fact that you care, Major–"
"Lieutenant Colonel." The correction was out of his mouth before she even had a chance to correct herself.
"Lieutenant Colonel." Her smile grew wider, albeit a little sheepish. "The fact that you care is why we need you here. And why I need you to take this mission today."
John nodded, and looked down at his watch. He had about two hours before they had to be ready, and half of that would be chewed up checking weapons, prepping the team and making sure Rodney had his PowerBars and pudding cups.
But maybe he could slip in a bucket full of golf balls off the south pier, all the same. And after that, he might actually be able to talk Elizabeth into sending Lorne in his place.
Another volley of arrows streamed over their heads as John tried to make his voice heard over the static on his comm..
"Atlantis, do you copy? Keep up the shield until further notice, and send the Daedalus to pick us up." He glared at Rodney over that last little bit. Somehow, in the confusion of running from the village gathering hall, the IDC had slipped out of Rodney's pocket. No doubt, the PowerBars and pudding cups were still intact.
Rodney, cringing behind a tall, fairly broad stone that kept getting hit with arrows, glared back at him.
"What!" The familiar panicked irritation made Rodney's voice grate. "I FELL. When YOU told me to run faster!"
John rolled his eyes.
"I told you to run faster so you wouldn't get shot in the ASS!"
"Yes, well, you still made me trip." Rodney snorted, then cringed again as an arrow whistled past his face and embedded itself in the tree behind him.
Bows and arrows. That's what was pinning them down. No guns, no Genii, no Wraith with stun guns. Just simple bows and arrows from a tribe of locals who had taken exception to a small little fact Rodney chose to reveal at the worst possible time.
Sheppard couldn't resist his frustration any longer. He edged around the corner of his rock as soon as the arrows went by, and fired off about 10 shots in succession. He had no idea if any of them had found their targets, but even blind luck with one villager would be better nothing.
Then he turned to Rodney, and fired off a salvo of another kind.
"McKay, when someone asks if you're an ancestor, say YES!"
"That would be lying, Major!"
"Colonel, and if it keeps them from shooting at us, all the better!"
"You're missing the point, Sheppard!"
"They aren't shooting at us because we're NOT ancestors!"
"They're shooting at us because we're not ancestors and living IN ATLANTIS! It's the same damned thing!"
"Technically speaking, yes, they –"
"RODNEY!" Teyla's insistent voice overpowered Rodney's explanation, reining the scientist into silence. Her glare, perfected over the last year, didn't hurt, either. Neither did another arrow coming perilously close to Rodney's nose, forcing the scientist down to the ground in an unmistakable cower.
"We gotta get out of here" And figure out how to keep them from spilling that Atlantis was still there. Sheppard hadn't quite figured out how they'd connected them to the city, but right now it didn't matter."On three, you two break for the treeline. I'll cover you, and follow once you find cover."
He saw Rodney square himself over his feet, ready to run. Knowing Rodney, he would achieve top speed. He and weapons didn't agree very well. Teyla dropped into a crouch, waiting for signal.
"One, two, gogogo!" Sheppard heard, rather than saw, the two of them race for the trees. He'd already turned away, letting loose as continuous a stream of bullets as he could and still aim. As his chamber clicked empty, seemingly seconds later, Teyla's voice was echoing in his earpiece.
"We are safe, Major. You have a moment if you – GO NOW!"
Sheppard didn't hesitate, though in the back of his mind, he wondered how many more times they'd screw up his rank. He turned and sprinted, noticing that no arrows seemed to be tracking his position. But the tree line was more than a few steps away, and he'd have to be quick.
He just wasn't quick enough. As he reached the low brush surrounding the trees, he dug in hard and dove for the tree line. When he did, a sharp, vicious pain blossomed in his side. Already committed to the dive, he rolled off balance, snapping the shaft of the arrow and shoving its head further into his side.
"Sheppard!" Rodney's voice sounded particularly panicked, and he pushed John over in a rush. He saw what was left of the shaft, the blood surrounding it, and immediately blanched.
"Ohhhh, shit, shit, shit. This is not good!" Sheppard rolled his eyes, and tried to take a breath, force some air back into his lungs. The effort hurt like a son of a bitch, and the edges of his vision turned gray.
Rodney was right. It wasn't good. Gingerly, he tried to get to his knees, Rodney's insistent hands working to push him back to the ground.
"Nonono, Major, we need to –"
"We need to MOVE, Rodney." He struggled to get to his feet. This time, Rodney grabbed his arm, steadying him. Which was good, because as soon as Sheppard got to his feet, the gray started turning to black.
Then Teyla's hands were on the other arm, and the three of them were on their feet, running as fast as Teyla and Rodney could carry Sheppard. He did his best to keep his feet under him, but every stepped forced him further and further down a slippery slide of darkness.
"Colonel? What is wrong? Rodney, is he injured?" Teyla slowed enough to a slow lope, presumably to get a look at his side. Sheppard kept his eyes closed, not sure if he'd be able to keep his feet.
"No, he's got an arrow in his side and blood pouring out! That's no problem at all!" The sarcasm in Rodney's voice forced Teyla to a stop.
"Really, Rodney. There is no need to –"
Teyla never got a chance to finish. There was a cracking sound beneath them, then Rodney let out a shout. When he did, John's eyes flew open – just in time for Rodney's hands to yank him down so suddenly he didn't have a chance to protest.
As he slid to the ground, he vaguely realized the ground was vanishing beneath him. Then Teyla landed with a crash on his injured right side, and the pain flared so suddenly and completely that awareness fled, wrapping him in a dark blanket and pulling him under without a word.
Major Lorne listened to the Colonel's message break up, and then become nothing but static. He looked around for inspiration and saw nothing but his own horror echoed in everyone else's expressions.
Oh, shit, oh, shit –
"Major, what's the situation?" A light hand rested briefly on his shoulder, just long enough for Lorne to jump a foot into the air. He whirled around to see Elizabeth Weir looking at him, her worried frown slipping into a slight smile.
"At ease, Major. Just tell me what's going on."
"Well, ma'am –"
"Doctor, or Elizabeth. Please."
"Doctor Weir, we've got an emergency alert from Colonel Sheppard, something about them being on their way to the gate and coming in hot." Lorne felt a little bit of heat rising in his cheeks. He felt like an idiot, trying to give a military report to a civilian. It was about as much fun as briefing that idiot Woolsey. "That is, they were taking fire…"
"I gathered that, Major. What happened?"
"Well, the reception cut out." He frowned. What the hell was normal protocol in this situation? "Dr. Zelenka tried to reestablish, but it was more static than words. I think Colonel Sheppard was trying to say keep the shield up, so nothing could get through the gate, but then he said something about a day…and then there was nothing but static."
This time, it was Doctor Weir's turn to frown. She turned to Dr. Zelenka.
"Radek, see what you can do to clean up that message, and in the meantime, get Colonel Caldwell up here." She turned back to Lorne, and he felt himself stiffen to attention. "Major, get a squadron of Marines together and be ready to take a team off-world. Let's use a jumper this time, shall we?"
It seemed prudent, though who the hell was next in the pilot rotation, he had no clue. Lorne wished half-heartedly that the colonel had gone with the first plan, stayed here and sent him off world. Lorne could handle the military aspects, but Atlantis was still a mystery to him. And right about now, that little fact was eating away at his composure.
A spark of panic – just a small spark, but a small spark all the same – flamed in his stomach. What a great first day this was turning out to be. Lorne felt about as competent right now as a corporal that had just been busted back down to private.
"Major?" Weir's voice cut into his thoughts, and Lorne looked up to find her with that slight smile on her face again. "Don't reinvent the wheel. Ask Lieutenant Wilkinson."
Doctor Weir smiled, and then pointed at the clipboard lying on the DHD panel. The clipboard Sheppard had handed him heading down to the gate three hours earlier. The clipboard with the duty roster on it. Shit.
"Colonel Sheppard may hate paperwork, but he manages it pretty well." She gave him an encouraging grin. "And he also told me Lieutenant Wilkinson was due for a run in the jumper. So, if I might suggest…"
Lorne grabbed the duty roster before she could say another word. Sure enough, Wilkinson was at the top of the pilot roster. The rest of the marine contingent on the first rotation today was listed as well. His face flushed red as he looked up at Weir, who simply smiled back.
"A suggestion, Major?" Weir's tone was conspiratorial, the volume not much above a whisper. Lorne simply nodded, not entirely sure whether he was amused or irritated.
"Keep a sense of humor. You'll need it." Lorne could hear the worry in her voice, but also the sympathy. It didn't take very long for him to remember how long it had taken for Sheppard and his team to find trouble out their first day out here, either. The situation began to slip into perspective, and in spite of himself, Lorne started to smile.
When Sheppard came around, he immediately became aware of three things.
One, he didn't hurt quite so much. Two, it was quiet, and three, he was alive to appreciate both facts.
He slowly opened his eyes, and found Teyla looking down at him, a look of concern gracing her features.
"John. You are awake. Good." Sheppard smiled a little, and tried to stretch. He had no clue whether this was a good idea or not, but he felt he'd better find out whether he could move.
The stab of pain in his right side was sudden, sharp – and surprisingly less than he expected. He grimaced anyhow. "Ow." His tongue felt thick and furry, and the words were a little slurred.
Teyla's hands pushed him back to the ground.
"We have bandaged the arrow in place, and managed to stop the bleeding for now." He looked down his body, and saw a jagged piece of wood, about and inch and a half long, surrounded by gauze and padding. "Dr. McKay also felt it … prudent to read Dr. Beckett's instructions on an appropriate dose of morphine, and administer it."
Ah, that explained the fuzziness, at least. And the grogginess. Being awake was a distinct disadvantage on the "pain" side of things. Unfortunately, he needed to be awake and paying attention to things.
"Why is it so quiet?" He looked around. "Where's Rodney?"
"I suggested that he check out the tunnels leading away from our position." Teyla's smile could only be described as relieved. "He was quite … anxious at our predicament once he realized we could not return the way we came."
Sheppard felt almost owlish as his eyes narrowed.
"The way we came? That sounds ominous." In response, Teyla pointed behind his head. Rather than try to move a second time, John inched his neck back a bit, and strained to see in the dim light.
Whatever they had fallen through – whether it was some sort of natural formation or erosion in the bedrock – it had been a steep drop. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he could see they were in a fairly large cave, and the ceiling – complete with the jagged hole they'd apparently come through and slid down an embankment from – was about 20 feet above them. He could see from here that the loosely-packed dirt of said embankment wasn't about to give anyone any traction, though there were footprints enough to suggest someone had tried.
Sheppard looked back at Teyla, a rueful grin on his face.
"How many times did Rodney try to get back up that?"
"Many. With much swearing. I was not aware he had so colorful a vocabulary."
The mental imagery there was priceless. When he got back to Atlantis, he would have to work on expanding Rodney's vocabulary a little more. Between him and the Marines, he was reasonably sure they could find a few phrases Rodney didn't know. It would peeve him off to no end.
Of course, they had to get out of here first. Which, if he'd heard Teyla correctly…
"You sent him off to explore tunnels? What tunnels?" Sheppard had assumed they'd slipped into some sort of weather-shaped sinkhole.
" It appears we fell into some sort of … creation." Teyla gestured to the walls, which for the first time, Sheppard noticed were smooth and shaped. Too shaped to be anything put man-made. The Filothians had mentioned ancient ruins and safeguards against the wraith. They'd probably found them – the hard way. Not only that, but if they were man-made, that implied there might be another exit other than the now-inaccessible skylight.
Suddenly, Sheppard felt just a little more awake, a little less willing to sink back into blissful unawareness. He shifted around, trying to get up on his elbows. With Teyla's help, maybe he could move around, see just where'd they'd fallen.
Teyla's hands were quick, and he was pushed back down to the floor in the space of a second or two.
"Colonel, Rodney is searching." Her tone brooked no argument. "For now, that will suffice. He is doing something, and you are resting. That means neither of you will be a problem."
Sheppard snorted a little. Obviously, Teyla had forgotten about his last stint under Carson's care, the one that ended with him going AWOL after a day. However, reminding Teyla of that would certainly earn him no freedom – or brownie points.
Of course, it sounded like Rodney hadn't earned any from her, either.
"McKay just a little antsy, huh?" It was too easy to get McKay riled up. So far, though, Teyla hadn't figured out how to deal with him – which essentially was to let him run until the rant ran out of steam.
Then again, Teyla HAD sent him off searching the tunnels. There might be hope for her yet.
"Dr. McKay … is challenging when it comes to my patience. And his well-being." Teyla's voice sounded half-amused, half-disgruntled. "He does not deal well with adversity."
"Ah, but there you're wrong." Sheppard shot her a disapproving look. "You just need to understand him."
Teyla raised an eyebrow. "And you do?"
"Well, yeah." Actually, that was one of the things John was most proud of during his time on Atlantis. Figuring out how the members of team functioned – including one rather histrionic-prone doctor – was part of why his team held it together so well. "It's all about the situation. Some people, when the bows and arrows start flying, know just what to do. Others, not so much."
"Rodney would certainly seem to be the latter."
John grinned, and settled back onto the ground, settling into the makeshift bed Teyla had made of what felt like their jackets.
"Yeah, but that kind's not so bad either." John's grin slipped into a smirk. "I bet you a week's worth of coffee that he comes back with something, now that he's got something to do.
Somehow, the look on Teyla's face – though she spoke no words – promised the bet would have no takers. John let out a light sigh, and closed his eyes. Now would be a good time for a short nap, since Teyla realistically wasn't going to let him do anything else.
One hour later
Major Lorne looked over the briefing room from his position near the head of the table. In front of him were a handful of science personnel, Colonel Caldwell, Lieutenant Wilkinson, another marine, Sergeant Coughlin – and Dr. Weir.
He was about to participate in his first briefing in Atlantis, and right about now, he really wished Sheppard were here instead. It was far easier to deal with being shot at than putting up with bureaucracy.
Dr. Weir cleared her throat, and the light hum of voices ground to a halt.
"All right, people. One at a time. Tell me what you've found out." She pointed at Radek, who immediately began speaking.
"Cleaning up the message was almost … do prdele!" Lorne had to grin just a little. Sheppard had warned him about most of the Czech's vocabulary of obscenities. "Useless. The static caused total breakup. Obscured what we didn't hear."
"So, what you're telling me is we have what we have, and we're not going to get anything else?" Weir's voice sounded weary and a little dangerous.
"Well, I will run one more filter, but … yes." Radek shrugged. "I doubt even Dr. McKay could get more."
Weir heaved a sigh. "Just don't ever tell him that, Radek. I'd like to hear my options. Major Lorne?"
Lorne did a quick scan of the room and swallowed.
"Well, we have a jumper prepped and ready to go." Lorne pointed at Wilkinson. "We've got a pilot, and Coughlin's got a squad of Marines armed. I'd like to take the jumper through, and see if we can scan the surface from the planet."
"Okay, that's one option." Weir looked around the room. "Colonel Caldwell, what's the status on the Daedalus?"
"We're ready to go, but the trip to PXV-391 will take about six hours." Lorne could see him keeping a carefully neutral face. "I don't like leaving this up in the air that long, especially with Lieutenant Ford still on the loose. He could be as much a danger as these natives."
Weir started to answer, but Lorne interrupted. He had to.
"If we send the jumper now, we could at least have the team on site and narrowing search options." The idea gained some momentum, and he plowed ahead. "We could scan the radio frequencies, too, and see if we can't pinpoint their location. In fact, we might not even need the Daedalus."
"That may be, but I prefer to have more than one option. It could very well be Colonel Sheppard was calling for the Daedalus, which is what we heard in the message." The truncated "day" in the message. Lorne suddenly wondered if she had a point.. "Major Lorne, you and Lieutenant Wilkinson take the jumper to the planet to take a look around. I'll leave it up to your discretion on whether or not to take the squad of Marines. Meanwhile, Colonel Caldwell can take the Daedalus, and we'll have both ships available. It'll take about six hours for him to get there, so you'll have some time to search. I take it that will satisfy everyone?"
Caldwell nodded, and Lorne realized Weir was looking at him. He deferred with a simple, "Yes, ma'am."
"OK, then let's go." The dismissal was clear in her voice, and everyone got up and began to disperse. Lorne stood as well, but Weir gestured at him to stay. Lorne straightened to attention, but she quickly waved that off.
"At ease, Major. I just wanted to make sure you know I'm happy with what you're giving me. We've been through this with Maj…Colonel Sheppard's team before." She half-smiled. "That rank is still going to take a little bit of time. In any case, Colonel Sheppard's team has a knack for finding trouble. I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of this and everyone will be fine."
Lorne raised an eyebrow. There was no way she could be THAT optimistic.
Weir smiled again, this time, with a slight wink.
"Well, with a minimum of damage anyhow." She nodded at him. "You'll get used to it, Major. Really. Just another day in the Pegasus Galaxy."
Surprisingly, Lorne found himself smiling slightly. She had almost sounded like General O'Neill for a second. There were more than a few other similarities, too. Suddenly, he felt a little bit more at home.
"Just another day of stargate travel, right?"
Weir smiled, then sighed. "Unfortunately."
Sheppard had achieved the state of light doze, aided by the steady, relaxed breathing of Teyla, who seemed to be meditating by his side. The peace was a welcome break, and it also ensured that they would hear Rodney well before he got back in their direct vicinity. The morphine was still keeping the pain at a tolerable level, and he normally slept with one ear open anyhow.
Therefore, John wasn't shocked when he heard pounding footsteps approaching. Rodney's general state of being during any crisis – minor or major – involved doing everything at full bore, up to and including returning to report.
But he just barely got a chance to open his eyes before Rodney's feet tangled themselves, propelling McKay into an undignified heap on John's lower body. Somehow, he avoided the arrow shaft. Sheppard grimaced as he tried to pull away in time, and huffed out a sigh as the wind got knocked out of him.
Teyla reached Rodney as he fell, and quickly pulled him off John. The look on her face and the tone in the voice that followed would have shocked most six-year-olds into submission.
"Rodney! You must be more careful. What if you had –"
He didn't give her time to finish.
"Bodies. There's bodies, and rotting flesh and there's no way out –"
This time, Sheppard intervened.
"Bodies, and bones. Lots of bones. All sorts of bones. All piled up at the end of the –"
"McKay!" John tried to sound irritated. It wasn't too hard.
"And they're still rotting, the bodies I mean. And did I mention –" John gave up and raised his voice to a shout.
"Oh, YOU shut up! You didn't trip into them and almost land face first in a desiccated corpse!" Given a chance to retaliate, the panic that had overcome McKay was fading into the background, and the scientist's natural arrogance came to the fore.
That Shepard could deal with. Hauling in as deep a breath as he could manage – which wasn't much – he drawled, "I'm sure it was more scared of you than you were of it, Rodney."
This time, McKay rolled his eyes.
"You're completely ignoring the fact I found CORPSES!"
John forced a smirk on his face, trying to stay calm. "Actually, McKay, I'm not. But maybe if you explained what you found instead of babbling –"
"I'm not babbling!"
"Yes, you are." Sheppard worked his best smug expression. "Rather incoherently, even. Now just tell us what the hell you found!"
McKay harrumphed, and then pulled himself free of Teyla, who was still holding his arms. He plopped onto his rear end, and then tugged, of all things, a Powerbar out of his pocket and unwrapped it. John and Teyla both glared.
"What? When I get scared, my blood sugar drops!" Rodney talked around his first bite. "And after that, I'm surprised I'm haven't passed out –"
"PASSED OUT. On the floor." Rodney glared back. "About a quarter mile down that shaft over there," he pointed in the direction he came from, "there are about 20 bodies. And a lot more bones. They've been down here a while – "
"Define 'a while,' McKay." Sheppard was more than a little nervous about that. If the corpses were ripe, there was no telling what the hell they carried.
"Have you ever seen The Mummy?" As a matter of fact, Sheppard had. Oh. Then they weren't that fresh, probably dried out in this climate and toughened in the process. At least a few months' process.
"Okay, so, you found the bodies. What else did you notice about them?"
McKay frowned. "Other than the fact that they looked like they'd climbed all over each other to try and get to another hole about the size of that?!" He pointed at the ceiling of the cavern. "About the SAME height, same size. Looks like those are our only ways out. And if they are, we are SCREWED."
Sheppard sighed. Unfortunately, McKay was right in one regard. They probably weren't getting back out the way they came, and that left them with very few options. Not totally screwed, but about halfway there.
"Then we sit back and wait. Between that last message –"
"IF it got out, which I sincerely doubt, given the atmospheric condi – "
"BETWEEN THAT LAST MESSAGE, and Dr. Weir and the Marines, I would guess we can expect a rescue sometime in the near future." Sheppard rolled his eyes a little at McKay, just to return the favor. "Assuming your Powerbar supply doesn't run out."
"Oh, now that's totally unfair! And you haven't even let me – "
This time, Teyla interrupted.
"Rodney, Colonel Sheppard. Both of you, stop." Sheppard clamped his mouth shut, and to his relief, so did McKay. Amazing what that tone of voice from Teyla could do. Right then, it brought a level of sanity to the conversation.
"Rodney, please go and continue to search the tunnels. It will do you no harm to see if perhaps you missed something the first time through."
McKay muttered something suspiciously like a curse, but got to his feet. As he did, he stuffed the last bite of his Powerbar into his mouth.
"Fine, but when I end up with a broken neck because I tripped over the ancient remains of some god-forsaken miscreant that just happened to fall down the exact same hellhole –"
Teyla shoved her Maglite into his hands.
"Go now, Dr. McKay. Quietly, if you do not mind." Rodney heaved a sigh, and then, thankfully, walked away, clicking on the light as he went. John saw the depth of the cavern – about 10 feet in the direction Rodney was heading – and then McKay disappeared around a sharp bend, the light slowly receding.
Teyla dropped back down next to John and began exploring the wound on his side. John went to shoo her away, but she persisted. When she looked up to face him, her face exhibited a worried frown.
"Colonel, you are still bleeding. Are you feeling all right?" Teyla shot him a look before he could answer. "The truth, please, as Dr. Beckett would say."
Walk out of the infirmary one time AMA, and Beckett noticed. Do it twice, and apparently he informed all of Atlantis. Sheppard sighed, taking it carefully because his side had begun to throb.
"All right, all right. I hurt, okay? And I'm a little light-headed. Do we have the first-aid pack, or did we lose it?"
Teyla's face was grim, and also a little sheepish.
"When we fled into the woods, I dropped it in order to make better speed." She looked guilty. "I can make do with clothing as bandages, but with you losing fluids –" John finished the sentence.
"You want to start an IV, and you can't." Teyla nodded, and started to speak, but John stopped her. "Look, I would've dropped it too. We had to get out of there. Shit happens." He gestured toward the pile sitting next to Teyla. "Hand me the canteen, okay?"
This time, Teyla's face looked almost ashen. "It is empty, as is yours and Dr. McKay's. What little remained in them went quickly in cleaning your wound."
Four hours after departing Atlantis, Major Lorne began to get antsy. Six hours later, he felt about ready to crash the jumper into the planet below to avoid what felt like inevitable failure.
The scans from the air had shown nothing except milling groups of natives that were mostly gathered around what looked to be their primary village. Right now, Lorne was content just keeping an eye on them and trying to see any hunting parties that got sent out. Given the hostilities earlier, Lorne figured they would be reluctant to help them find Sheppard and his team.
Reluctant, hell. I just hope they're still in one piece. Lorne and Lieutenant Wilkinson were scanning the area, but the signals from Sheppard's chip – and Teyla and Dr. McKay's as well – were indistinct, but the vague readings were well clear of the village. With any luck, that meant they weren't in any immediate danger, but the fact the signals couldn't be locked onto didn't exactly make him optimistic.
That, and for some reason, the comms were still out. It made it impossible to communicate back to Atlantis, and about all they could do now was wait for the Daedalus to arrive on station. Dr. Weir had given explicit orders not to uncloak the jumper or reveal themselves, both for their own safety and for keeping the secret safe that Atlantis still existed.
Which left Lorne with nothing to do but pace the small cargo area of the jumper.
"Sir?" Wilkinson's voice floated back to him from the pilot seat, and he turned and raced back to the front of the jumper. When he got there, though, all she was doing was pointing at the empty seat beside her and sharing a slight smile with him.
"Major, please…sit down and let me do my scans." One corner of her mouth quirked up into a grin. "Frankly, sir, you're starting to annoy the hell out of me, and it's a little hard to fly, run scans and be annoyed with your superior all at the same time."
Lorne contemplated reminding her about that superior officer thing, but decided not to. She had a point. So, with a sigh, he turned and dropped gracelessly into the open co-pilot seat. His back, having long cramped from the constant standing and leaning over to look out the front window, screamed in relief.
Wilkinson sneaked a look at him, but when she caught him returning it with a glare, she focused on her eyes immediately back on the screen. Still, a rather smug little grin played across her face.
"Okay, Lieutenant. Spill."
"Well, sir, believe it or not, this isn't that bad." Wilkinson tapped a few controls in front of her, and a plotted course came up on the viewscreen. When she took her hands off the controls and the jumper began following the course, he realized she'd put the ship on auto-control.
"Lieutenant, how can you search with –"
"I put the same sensors I've been using on auto, along with the same search pattern. The ship'll let me know if we get anything showing up." She turned and looked at him. "Besides, this way we can look for visual clues. Like I said, sir, this isn't that bad. We've been here before."
"I thought Dr. Weir said we'd never been to this planet."
"We haven't. I meant we've been in the situation before." Her smile widened just a little bit. "Trust me, sir, this is pretty much SOP around here. Colonel Sheppard and his team just have a knack for finding trouble."
"I'd heard that." Lorne had read what he could of the mission reports on his way to Atlantis, and even with his experience with the Ori and various other species found through the Stargate, he'd been a little intimidated. "Also heard Sheppard almost got himself killed twice."
"Actually, three…no, four." Wilkinson chuckled, and started ticking off incidents on her right hand. "There was the suicide run with the bomb, the Genii attack, the encounter with the superwraith and the Iratus bug. Not to mention the various other run-ins with tro – "
Lorne's eyes narrowed. "The WHAT bug?"
"The Iratus bug. Didn't you read about that in the mission reports? When the jumper got stuck in the gate and they had to kill him to get the bug off?"
Lorne though for a minute, and remembered a mission report from Atlantis' first month. He'd read that Sheppard had almost gotten killed by an alien life form, and the report had probably even spelled it out, but damned if he remembered the name. And how the hell a bug – though, if you thought about poisonous spiders…
"Okay, so…the Iratus bug. It bit him and almost killed him, right?"
Wilkinson nodded. "And Sheppard's team was basically the reason he survived. That group – well, they just work well together. Even with all their quirks and their hassles, they're part of the reason this place works so well."
Lorne cracked a grin. "I'd call this more than a hassle."
"Yeah, well, so would Dr. McKay." Wilkinson tapped another control in front of her, and he realized she was setting up a scan of communication channels both on the planet and in space, probably so she could listen for both Sheppard's team and any communication from the Daedalus. "He's had more than a few words with Sheppard about the trouble this team gets into."
Lorne thought about his few encounters with Dr. McKay, and had a feeling those conversations had run a lot longer – and with a lot more whine – than just the "few words" Wilkinson described. In fact, given what Lorne had seen of McKay, the whining probably dominated the conversation.
Then again, with the amount of crap Sheppard and his team ran into, he probably had cause.
"So why does Dr. Weir keep letting them go out like this?" Though Lorne pretty much had guessed the answer already. In fact, as soon as Wilkinson started to speak, Lorne said the same thing.
"Because they work so well together." They both laughed, and Lorne added, "Let me guess, they fit together like SG-1 did, right?"
Wilkinson smiled. "Pretty much. And you know, we're in an entirely new galaxy.. If we didn't find trouble, it would find us. Since Sheppard and his team deal with it so well, why not let them handle it?"
Lorne grinned in return. "I get the point. But I won't be happy until we find them and get everyone back to Atlantis.
"Who said you had to be, sir?" Wilkinson's smile slipped, just a little. "I said we were used to the trouble, not that we liked it." Wilkinson looked down at her hands for a minute, and seemed to think hard about her words. When she finally spoke, her voice had an edge of intensity to it Lorne couldn't ignore.
"We don't leave anyone behind, ever. Might as well learn that now, Major."
Lorne just nodded. That, as much as anything else, summed up what he was feeling, what they were all feeling – and why his frustration continued to run rampant.
"What … do you think … they used … it … for?"
Rodney's voice was hoarse, barely above a whisper, and he sounded like he was panting, out of breath in the heat of the cave. Neither Sheppard nor Teyla were having any trouble hearing him, though. On Sheppard's part, the voice was both a comfort and an annoyance. He desperately wanted McKay to shut up, but on the other hand, talking kept all of them going.
"Used WHAT for, McKay?" Sheppard had a shrewd idea where this was going, and if he didn't feel like shit warmed over and then baked in this damned cave, he wouldn't have encouraged Rodney.
But he did, and Rodney answered.
"This cave." Rodney coughed, and Sheppard got a sense of the effort behind the words. "It's … not just a … cave. It's not … NATURAL. It's … it was MADE. And … then they shoved … shoved people down here."
They'd been in circles on this particular issue for the last hour, which had been preceded by other hours of pointless conversation. Sheppard had begun to fade in and out after a few hours, and the dampness on his side had never decreased. He'd given up looking at his watch, and right now, they were all worn down, worn out and out of time. Rodney had found nothing in his further searches of this underground monstrosity, except hints that it was entirely constructed. In the meantime, the heat had risen as the day wore on.
They were all heat exhausted, and Sheppard something more. They were running out of time. All he wanted was one little rescue. Hell, they owed him one. Elizabeth sent him on this mission, and he'd be damned if she didn't give into a few of his wishes. Like letting him search a few extra planets for –
"We're gonna die down here. Just like they did." There was no panic in Rodney's voice, none of his normal obnoxious anxiety. He sounded – resigned. And damned if it didn't piss him off.
"NOONE … IS GOING … TO DIE." His voice was as raspy as Rodney's, and the effort he put into the words pushed Sheppard to the edge of his limits. Dizziness made him feel like he'd fall over, even if he was already on the ground. "Do you understand me, Rodney? We're all getting out of here."
Rodney's response was petulant. "Oh, like you can –" and then the rest of the sentence dissolved into a cough. Sheppard just laid his head back and waited for McKay to stop. But when he did, it was Teyla who spoke first.
"Rodney, we are together. They will find us." Teyla's voice sounded as strong as any of them, but Sheppard knew the heat and the discomfort in this hellhole of a cave had affected her as well. Teyla, however, remained as calm and cool as she normally did, hers the voice of reason.
"No one will be left behind."
Silence answered her. Sheppard wanted to prompt Rodney, but lacked the ambition at this point. Teyla was right, though. They were together, and they would stay together. Even if a rescue didn't come, they would … Sheppard didn't want to let himself complete the thought. He struggled to keep a handle on his consciousness, but it began to creep away slowly.
And as it did, weird and crazy voices began filling his head. There were noises, and odd lights, and Rodney making wisecracks. If Sheppard had to go, had to let his grip on the present slip away, he hadn't planned on hallucinating a sarcastic Rodney.
But as the blackness overwhelmed him, Sheppard heard one statement very clearly, and wondered what in his warped mind would allow Rodney to have such free reign.
"Beam us up? Beam us UP??! What are you, the starship Enterprise? And where the hell is Dr. McCoy, anyhow…"
18 hours later
As soon as the city settled into a nighttime pattern, Major Lorne excused himself from the control room. They'd gone through McKay, Teyla and Colonel Sheppard's reports, and decided to lock out the gate address until the team had recovered enough to consider any possible action. After hearing why the team had been attacked, they'd also sent back a team with a cloaked jumper to monitor and jam any transmissions. For now, that would hopefully be enough to keep their secret. If it wasn't, Lorne really didn't want to think much about the alternatives.
Meanwhile, Beckett had taken Sheppard into surgery immediately upon their return to Atlantis, and pronounced about two hours later he would live. The arrow had nicked the Colonel's liver – fortunately, a very small nick, or he would have bled to death before they'd been rescued. As it was, it had been a little too close for comfort.
Damned search and rescues aren't supposed to take 10 hours. Lorne fumed a little over that, not at all happy that he'd almost killed his superior officer after being on station only two days. It wasn't exactly good policy, especially with it having happened once already with Colonel Sumner.
Maybe the position really was cursed. Lorne found himself standing outside the door to the infirmary, barely aware of having made the short walk. He'd wanted to check on Sheppard, but now he was almost afraid to open the door. Whatever the hell the colonel had in store for him, it could probably wait.
The door slid open in front of him. Or not. Carson Beckett stood there, and smiled when he realized it was Lorne.
"Oh, Major, do come in. Colonel Sheppard's awake, and I'm sure he'd like to see a friendly face." The look on Beckett's face darkened just a bit. "Which I am certainly not, as I'm currently the enemy and the jailer all rolled in one."
"Oh, you'll learn quick, lad. Our Colonel does NOT abide by the infirmary. Even less so when there's a problem to be solved." Dr. Beckett gave him an encouraging smile. "Elizabeth's told me there's nothing to be done at present, but he should probably hear that from you and not me. Go on in."
With that, Beckett stepped around Lorne, and the major quickly ducked in the door to avoid getting caught in the two closing sides. He debated going right back out, but a voice stopped him before he could get the chance.
"Major." Sheppard's voice was hoarse, croaking badly. "C'mon over and pull up a chair."
Shit. Now he didn't have a choice. Lorne tried to put a neutral look on his face, and turned around, pacing quickly to the bed that held Sheppard. The older man looked him over, then gestured at the laptop Lorne was holding.
"I assume that's a report." Lorne nodded and handed him the pad, grateful for the distraction. Now that he was here, he had no clue what to say. He'd come down here to give the report, but what else?
Sheppard seemed to catch the indecision. After scanning the screen briefly, he looked up at Lorne.
"What's on your mind, Major?"
What WAS? It was a damned good question. After the last 24 hours, he felt like he'd been thrown in a washing machine set on spin cycle repeatedly. He loved adventure, and he'd volunteered for this job, but he felt this odd sense that he was getting a little bit more than he'd bargained for.
Sheppard cleared his throat and Lorne decided to just go the simplest route.
"I just wanted to…well, apologize, Maj…Colonel Sheppard."
"Well, what the hell for?"
What DID he want to apologize for? Lorne had come up here sure he needed to say the words. The overwhelming sense of guilt made that part certain. There were always things outside of his control – hell, the military was all about improvising for all of those various factors – but he couldn't feel that shitty without a reason – could he?
"Well, I'm sure Doctor Weir told you –"
"That you did good for your first day on the job." Sheppard gave him a grin, one that Lorne was quickly beginning to realize had a certain degree of ass-kicking in it. "Something about you being ready to take the initiative, although we need to work on the eager puppy-dog thing."
Eager puppy dog? Well, okay, he had been a little too ready to prove himself, maybe, but…really, a puppy dog? "That's an exaggeration, sir."
"Probably." Sheppard didn't look too concerned. He shook his head and continued. "Look, you survived, we survived. We got another set of natives pissed off at us, but who's counting these days? You got everyone back in one piece." Sheppard paused to look down at his side and winced. "Well, mostly, and that wasn't your fault. You can blame Dr. McKay for that one."
Lorne couldn't help it. A soft snicker escaped him. "Something tells me he won't be very happy about accepting the blame."
"No, but that's Rodney. You'll get used to it. Along with everything else around here."
Lorne raised an eyebrow. He really didn't want to get used to the doctor's blustering, panicky, overly-dramatic speeches. In fact, put me on a mission with him, and I guarantee that if he whines more than once, I'll --
Sheppard cleared his throat. "Okay, so, maybe not. Rodney's a bit of an … acquired taste. You see, he's part of the wacky reason this place works so well."
Lorne let that bounce around in his head a minute. There seemed to be more than the fair amount of insanity around here – especially if dragging back a wounded Colonel Sheppard was the norm. Then again, it really wasn't all that different from the SGC. He might be a little more comfortable with the military in charge, but the amount of SSDD syndrome really was about the same.
Lorne grinned, and as he expected, Sheppard returned it.
"Besides, you got us the hell out of there. No one died. No one disappeared." Sheppard nodded once, as if to confirm his statement, and in a flash of revelation, Lorne knew Sheppard wasn't just talking about his current team. He remembered Sumner's death, and Lieutenant Ford's disappearance, and he remembered the conversation with Wilkinson on the jumper. No one left behind. Not ever.
He locked eyes with Sheppard, and the Colonel nodded again, this time in shared, unspoken agreement.
"You see? Problem fixed. Welcome to the job, Major. Offhand, I'd say you're going to fit in pretty well around here."
Lorne started to answer, but before he could say a word, the doors slid open behind him. Two voices, each rising higher with every exchange, told him who it was before he even turned around.
"It could be unsanitary! I actually tripped over those bodies! How do I know they weren't carrying some sort of strange disease?"
"Rodney, the likelihood of such an occurrence –"
"Oh, and where's your medical degree, DOCTOR Teyla? I'm sure, in your vast array of herbal cures and witch doctor remedies, you have –"
Lorne turned back to Sheppard, a look of disgust on his face. Sheppard sighed, looked up at the ceiling, and mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like a prayer for patience. Then he looked back at Lorne.
"Run for your life. At least one of us can."
Lorne nodded, and turned for the door, sidestepping Teyla and Dr. McKay neatly. The day looked to be getting better with every second.