TITLE: THE SEEKERS
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). Thank you to the amazing writers, producers, actors, crew and directors who brought it to life. (Past Tense! So sad!)
CHARACTERS: Rodney, Team, OCs with guns
STATUS: Complete in 12 parts (to be posted as I revise)
ACKNOWLEDGMENT: Thanks NT, as always.
SPOILERS: All the way through to the fifth season, with some blatant ones for First Contact and Search & Rescue. I've seen 'em all and I'm going to use them all…well, except for the season finale. This probably happens before that.
A/N: This was written as a Christmas gift for my friend GateBiscuit, who requested a team story with "traps, traps, traps!" 'cause that's how she rolls.
A/N 2: I did not set out intending to limit it to the two POVs I did, but that's how it ended up. Once I'd started down that route, I forced myself to stick with it—just to see if I could.
DESCRIPTION: A kidnapped McKay, traps, a focused Ronon, more traps, a determined Sheppard and Teyla, traps again, a temple of doom, even more traps, OCs with guns, and a dash of team love to finish it off. And, as it's me, something probably explodes.
CHAPTER ONE: THE INCREDIBLY STUPID IDEA
"This is an incredibly stupid idea. You know that, right?"
Raina clenched her jaw, and shook her head. "Shut up and keep moving."
"Was it yours? Or Harpo's? Because it'll answer a question for me that I've been curious about: are you the moron who thought it up, or the even bigger moron who agreed with it?"
"You need to shut up." Raina answered through gritted teeth. It was taking an enormous amount of will power not to pull the trigger. Think of the gold. She delivered a fairly vicious kick to a loose rock on the path, taking out some of her anger that way. "And for your information, I think you're wrong."
"You say that because you have the gun. You and Harpo up there. But, since you know who I am, and you know who is probably searching for me right now, then you must realize somewhere in that blonde, pea-sized brain of yours that this is a terrible, horrible, and completely asinine idea!"
"Oh for….What is wrong with you?" she demanded, waving the gun at him. "Do you want me to shoot you?"
"I want you to let me go! And if you do," his voice changed, from enraged to plaintive in less than a second, "I swear, we won't come after you. I'll tell them it was a youthful indiscretion on your parts, two kids out for a joyride, so to speak. I mean, what are you, 18? 19?"
"40?" he squeaked. "Really? Wow, healthy eating, eh? Lots of trips to the gym? Is he older than you? Because, if so, what's his secret? I mean, seriously, all that blond hair, how is he not losing it? I was almost as blond as him until my mid-twenties, then I started to—"
"Okay, okay, look, I'm just trying to do you a favor here. My teammates really frown on people kidnapping me. The big one? Ronon? He gets really angry, and you don't want to see him angry. So, how about letting me go, huh?"
"Why won't you shut up?"
"Not in my nature. Look, I know I keep saying this, but this? This is a really, really bad idea. You need to let me go. It's in your own best interest, trust me."
"Not happening! Now shut up and keep moving, or I swear, I'll shoot something that won't slow you down but still cause you great pain—do you really need your left pinky for example?"
"Oh nice. Very nice." The sarcastic anger was back. How did he switch between the two so quickly? "Do they teach you sadism in kidnapping school, or is it just part of your natural charm?"
Raina's eye twitched, but she still didn't pull the trigger. That was a miracle, really. She had hated this man from the first moment she'd met him. If she hadn't needed him so badly…
Dr. Rodney McKay of Atlantis. A man from another galaxy, so the story went, with a knowledge of human, wraith and Ancient technology that defied reason, if not human ability. He'd woken Atlantis, he'd challenged everyone from the Wraith to the Genii to the Ancients themselves, and won, time and time again. He'd destroyed worlds, and created others. There was even a story that he had destroyed an entire solar system. He had all the markings of a god among men.
Not that Raina believed half of it, or even a quarter (a solar system? Come on!). But even if she didn't believe the stories, she had expected him to be extremely intelligent. There was always a layer of fact underlying every fiction, and he and his team had most definitely woken the sleeping city of Atlantis. That alone set him above everyone else in this galaxy, the Wraith included. So, she'd expected brilliance.
What she hadn't expected was the arrogance.
Or the smug smile.
Or the sneering tone.
Or the increasingly grating voice.
Or the way she'd wanted to club him with every broken branch she walked passed.
She looked longingly at a particularly stout branch of tenwood as she climbed over another felled tree in this dense forest. Herod lead (or "Harpo" as McKay had dubbed him for some inexplicable reason), McKay was in the middle, and she was last, shoving the Atlantian forward with her weapon anytime he appeared to slow or falter. To be honest, she was beginning to enjoy the minor amount of pain she could inflict with just the right shove. When he stumbled on the far side of the tree, nearly going down on one knee, she caught up and shoved hard enough to earn a pained, "Ow! What the hell? I'm moving! I'm moving!"
She smiled, pleased.
Then the smile fell.
Blood and spit, he really was turning her into a barbarian.
Breathing in slowly, she let him pull away from her, out of shoving distance. And clubbing distance.
He scrambled over another downed tree, still following Herod. She followed a heartbeat later, keeping an eye on his hands, making sure they weren't reaching for anything that might give them away. But he was keeping them close by his sides, moving efficiently, non-threateningly.
Only his voice made him a threat.
To her sanity.
Seriously, how was he not dead yet?
Oh right. His team.
She glanced down at her watch, checking the time. Nearly mid-morning. Sheppard and the other two would be waking up sometime in the next couple of hours. Kale-fruit juice was strong, but not as long-lasting as would be ideal. But she'd had to use something local so as not to around the suspicion of the villagers when she and Herod had arrived a few months ago, as refugees. Coming to a new place packing packets of strong sedatives would not have been a smart move.
Besides, Kale-fruit juice had the benefit of smelling like what she had been told was "citrus," which guaranteed McKay would not drink it along with the others, based on the intel they'd received.
Kidnapping him just before dawn, thus, had been fairly easy. The look on his face when he realized the others weren't going to wake up and save him…
Raina gave herself a mental pat on the back for the simplicity of the plan. Even Herod had been impressed, and she'd long ago thought she would never impress her older brother ever again.
"Are we there yet?" McKay suddenly demanded, sounding like a recalcitrant child. "Because I'm really beginning to hate this walk."
"Keep moving," she ordered.
"How come big and silent up there never talks?" McKay asked then, twisting his upper body so he could look at her over his shoulder.
"Herod only talks if something needs to be said," Raina replied. "And so far, nothing has needed to be said."
"Nothing has needed to be said?" McKay spluttered, throwing up his arms. "Are you joking? You kidnapped me, are walking me to god knows where, and you have yet to tell me why! I've asked, but all I get is a 'keep moving' from you, or silence from Harpo up there. I'd even take a horn blat if it'd give me a clue. I mean, if you had marched me through the Gate to the Genii homeworld, I would have had a clue. Or if you had taken me to a Wraith ship or some Ancient facility, I would have figured it out. But this endless walking to nowhere? What the hell is up?"
"You talk too much," Raina spat.
"I talk too much," McKay repeated, giving a short laugh. "Well, I should. I'm talking for three, apparently. Look, at least give me a hint. Don't I at least deserve that? You need me for something, obviously. I'm guessing it's not to give a lecture on the space-time continuum, so what is it? You need something fixed, possibly, or perhaps broken? Maybe even blown up? Typically, it's one of the three." He arched an eyebrow at her, and Raina simply glared in return. He raised the other eyebrow at that, so much so that his brow furrowed like an accordion.
"Just keep moving," she said again.
"Oh, come on," he insisted, tripping slightly over another tree root. "You're going to tell me eventually, why not now?"
"If I tell you," she asked, "will you shut up?"
"No. But it'll probably shut me up for a time."
At least he was honest. Raina sighed.
She pursed her lips, trying to decide if it was worth the risk. If she told him now, and he got away before they got there, he might inform others of its location and the treasures it might hold. At the same time, having him shut up even just for a moment would be wonderful. As she pondered, she leapt over a small patch of mud—one McKay had sloshed through almost deliberately. Leaving a rather obvious footprint.
She stopped abruptly, turning to look down at it.
"Wait!" she snapped, halting both her brother and McKay in their tracks. Herod whirled around, pointing his gun at McKay before the man could even think to use her distraction to some sort of advantage. She smiled as she saw McKay's shoulders slump out of the corner of her eye.
She knelt down and picked up a nearby stick from the ground, and proceeded to slosh out the bootprint with it. Not that it would make much of a difference. He'd been very good at distracting her, hadn't he? He hadn't been chalking rocks, but he was still doing his best to leave as obvious a trail as possible. She should have been paying better attention. She'd taken the time to clear their tracks closer to the village, but in the last couple of hours…
Standing again, she walked up to him, muddy stick still in hand. He watched her come, his lips pressed together in a thin, crooked line, his brow furrowed in annoyance.
Without warning, she smacked him with the muddy stick on his right arm.
"Ow! Hey! I—"
She hit him again, harder this time. It wouldn't do more than leave a nasty bruise, but his yelp and quick, stumbling back step, landing him on his ass when he fell, was nonetheless very satisfying.
She tossed the stick away and leveled her gun at him, pulling back on the hammer.
"You should be more careful where you step," she hissed, enjoying the quick flash of panic on his face. He held up a mud-covered hand in front of his face.
"Wait, wait," he begged. "Don't, please! You need me." His peered up at her between his fingers with pleading blue eyes. "Don't you?"
She stared at him a moment, as if considering. Yes, they needed him. Quite badly, truth be told. But he didn't need to know that.
She feigned hesitation for a moment longer, long enough for him to understand that she wasn't playing a game here, and then lowered the gun.
McKay released a held breath and lowered his hand to the muddy ground.
She gestured with her weapon for him to stand up. He sighed, and pushed himself to his feet, groaning slightly at the movement. When he was back on his feet, he gave her a steady glare, wiping his muddy hands on his pants as he did so.
"Get moving," she ordered, once again gesturing with the weapon. Herod had already started walking. McKay grimaced, but didn't say anything as he turned to follow.
Raina allowed herself a small smile over having won that battle, even if it was small.
She didn't notice the piece of silver Powerbar wrapper McKay had left on the ground when he'd fallen.
Ronon studied the ground intently, moving with a measured and sure step. Fact was, the tracks were pretty easy to follow, despite someone's fairly good attempt to cover them up from time to time, like this particular boot print. Certainly, in the beginning, he would have been hard pressed to find any trace without the life sign detector guiding them (especially with his mind still muddled with Kale-juice), but now it was as easy as following an animal cub. McKay had clearly been stomping, enough that his boot print stood out in clear relief more than once along the way.
Ronon was almost insulted that McKay thought he needed to leave such an obvious trail for them.
"Damn it," Sheppard muttered, shaking the life signs detector for the third time in so many minutes. "This planet is really beginning to piss me off."
"His transponder signal is gone again?" Teyla asked, peering over his shoulder where he had stopped.
"It's intermittent at best, now. Whatever is radiating that magnetic energy and messing with it, it's getting stronger. I'm not even registering us, now."
"Meaning we're walking closer to the source," Teyla said.
Ronon watched as Sheppard looked up from the small hand-held device, squinting into the distance through the trees, as if he would see McKay walking towards them at any moment. But the Runner knew that it wouldn't happen. This print was dry—a couple of hours had passed, at least. It was already past noon; they needed to move faster. Sure, they were catching up, but not fast enough.
"We don't need the detector," he said, kneeling next to the partial boot print in the mud, and then looking up hill following a trail of recently upturned earth. He smiled wryly when he spotted the shiny piece of paper.
Teyla had clearly seen it at the same time, heading across the muddy patch of earth in order to pick it up. She studied it a moment, and then shoved it in her pocket, turning around to look at the two men with her.
"I know you two can track him," Sheppard acknowledged with a sigh, rubbing his head. "But following his transponder signal would have been faster, had this thing been working properly." He rattled the detector again, as if shaking it would make it work again. He frowned when, clearly, the screen was just as blank as before.
Ronon didn't disagree with Sheppard's statement. McKay, he would have argued with. But Sheppard was just stating fact. Still, Ronon knew how good he was. He might not work as fast as following the transponder signal, but he trusted his skills to keep them moving quickly. Especially now that the lingering effects of the Kale-juice, as the locals had called it this morning when they'd given them the antidote, had finally worn off.
"Just follow me," he said, standing again and moving to climb over the felled oak tree. "McKay's leaving an obvious trail."
"I know," Sheppard said quietly, frowning even more deeply and switching his gaze to the footprint. "Question is, why are they letting him?"
Ronon didn't answer. He knew why it worried Sheppard. Either they were being led into a trap, with McKay as bait, or whoever had him would kill him soon—probably long before they could catch up to the scientist. Neither boded well.
"We will find him soon," Teyla promised, curling her arms more tightly around the P-90 held to her chest. "They could not know that the villagers would aid us in waking this morning. Per the Village Leader's own words, we would likely still be asleep now if they hadn't found us. That gives us at least three more hours more than they would have accounted for." She lifted her chin, her chin set in a stubborn way that was remarkably McKay-like. "We will find him, and find him well."
Sheppard just grunted. He put his sunglasses on and shifted his gaze to Ronon. The Satedan disliked those sunglasses—they were a way for Sheppard to hide. He didn't like it when Sheppard hid.
"Shouldn't you be moving?" Sheppard asked him.
Ronon frowned slightly, turned, and started jogging away from them, following the most likely route that the kidnappers had taken, eyes on the ground for more signs. He heard Sheppard and Teyla move to follow close behind, and trusted them to cover him so he could keep his eyes out for tracks—and traps.
Raina released a relieved sigh when she saw the entrance of the underground temple, now familiar to her sight despite the thousands of years of growth hiding it. They'd made it.
When Herod stopped and turned to look at her, offering a hint of a smile, she found herself smiling back.
"I take it, we're here?" McKay asked, crossing his arms and lifting his chin arrogantly. "Wherever here is—standing in the middle of a forest surrounded by nothing but trees, rocks and, oh look, squirrels with…wow, really sharp teeth. Not so much squirrels then." He backed up from the tree he'd been standing next to.
"Yes, we're here," Raina acknowledged, pulling the pack off her shoulders. McKay turned and watched her without blinking, his arms not unloosing from the defensive, angry posture he held.
"And here is?" he asked.
She didn't answer immediately, instead pulling the map from her pack. Unfurling it, she handed it to him.
He stared at it a moment, then, with a sigh and a sidelong glance at Herod (her brother still had his gun trained on the scientist), he took it.
For a moment, he just looked at it, then, slowly, he began to smile. Then chuckle. Finally, he began to laugh, short and ugly and full of mockery. Raina's eye twitched again.
"Are you kidding me?" he asked, turning the map around so she could see it. It was old, that much was obvious from the fact that it was painted on hide instead of vellum and stained with use. It showed a series of chambers in an underground temple, with arrows and tiny print written in each room. The last room had a big black "X" on it. The text scattered over the map was partly in Ancient, partly in the trader's language, and partly in Wraith. The last was the reason why most people wouldn't touch the map even if their life depended on it, even if they could read Wraith, which 99% of the population of this galaxy could not (or would not). But Doctor McKay could. More to the point, he wasn't afraid to do so.
Even better, he had the kind of mind that would be able to decipher the puzzles, because that's what was written in each room. They were puzzles, which, once solved, would show them how to get past the traps…
And find the treasure.
"You kidnapped me to read a treasure map?" he spluttered, still laughing, as if it were the funniest thing he'd ever heard. "For real?" He bent over, holding a hand to his chest, gasping for air. "Oh my God, Sheppard is going to love this!"
Raina gritted her teeth, walked up to him, and, when he looked up at her…
Promptly slugged him.
He fell back with an audible "oof," landing on his rear again, the map landing next to him. Touching a hand to his face, he looked up at her with a bemused expression before it was quickly replaced by anger.
"You hit me!" he declared, as if this were a shocking thing.
"You deserved it," Herod said, standing by Raina's side now. McKay's eyes widened comically.
"He speaks! Quick, someone make a recording for posterity!"
"Shut up and read the map," Herod replied, walking over to pick up the discarded hide and tossing it to the Atlantian. Rodney flinched, as if he'd expected her brother to hit him, but Raina knew Herod too well for that. Her brother was big in size, tall and broad shouldered, short sleeves revealing corded muscles, but he rarely hit anyone. His size alone was enough to cow most people, and Herod used the threat, rather than his actual fists, to make his point. It made him something of a gentle person as a result.
No, the only one who ever really used violence was Raina. Not pretty enough to obtain a good husband, too blonde to be taken seriously on her home world, and short enough to be ignored, she'd found acceptance in being able to wield weapons very, very well.
She pulled back the hammer on her gun, and Rodney turned his gaze to her, his eyes narrowing.
"You're both mad, you know," he said. "You can't really believe that this…" He picked up the hide and shook it out, then struggled to his feet while they watched, still holding the map. He held it up again once standing. "You can't believe that it's real. A treasure map? Seriously? What sort of treasure are you expecting to find?"
"You tell us," Raina prompted, keep her stare level so as not to give away her excitement. This is what she'd been waiting for, ever since her mother had shown her the map as a child. To be fair, she didn't really know what the map promised, but everyone who had ever seen it promised that, somewhere hidden in all the text—meaning somewhere hidden in the temple beneath their feet on this planet—was the promise of gold.
"Read it," Herod said, looming a little.
Rodney hunched away from him, almost like a turtle trying to retreat into a shell. "Fine. Fine. You should really meet my friend Ronon, by the way. I bet you two would have a lot to not talk about." When Herod loomed again, Rodney cleared his throat and turned the map around to read it again. "Umm…" He pressed his lips together, pushing them in and out, his eyes skimming back and forth. After a moment, he frowned, looking across at Raina. "It's nonsense. This text, at least, the bits that are written into the rooms, read like bad poetry and riddles."
"That's because they are riddles," Raina explained. "You answer the riddles, and you can get past the traps."
Rodney glanced at her again, this time favoring her with a grimace. "Traps? What do you mean, traps?"
"Read the text on the bottom," she said in reply. He frowned this time, but dutifully shifted the hide upwards in order to read the text written across the bottom.
She knew what most of it said—the part in the trader's language was easy, and she'd had the Ancient text translated by a priest on Keltan (that was where the word "gold" had appeared). The Wraith language, however, she'd never really confirmed. But the one person she'd found who could read a smattering of the language, an old man on Cyrrian who was rumored to be a former Wraith Worshipper, had told her that it said something about power.
McKay was still reading it, his brow furrowed, and, for the first time, she saw the scientist behind the arrogant façade. As his eyes shifted across the text, curiosity filled his features, and his back straightened slightly.
He looked up at her after a moment, eyes no longer mocking but, once again, bemused. Slowly, he shook his head.
"Even after reading this, you still want to go down there?"
"Why?" he asked aghast.
Raina arched an eyebrow. "Did you miss the part about the gold?"
McKay just blinked. "The gold?"
"The Ancient text says there is a room filled with gold," she said, gesturing at it with her gun. "Second to last line."
He looked down again at the map, and then shook his head. "You really are mad."
"It is not madness!" she snapped. "Stop saying that! There is gold down there, enough for a whole village to live on without ever having to work another day in their lives, maybe even enough to purchase safety from the Wraith. How is it mad to want to get our hands on it?"
Rodney snorted. "Oh please. It's mad because this reads like a dime store novel! It's nonsense, through and through. You can't possibly believe that you'll find the most powerful source of energy in the universe down there!"
Raina straightened, and her surprise must have shown on her face, because McKay's eyes narrowed.
"Wait," he said slowly, "you haven't read all of this?"
Raina cleared her throat. "We, uh…we've never found anyone who could read Wraith. I mean, I know the Genii can, but they…." She shrugged. "They don't play well with others."
He pursed his lips, but didn't disagree. He looked down again at the map. After a moment, he said, "And you didn't want to just ask us for our help rather than kidnapping me because…."
"We don't play well with others either," she replied, not ashamed to admit it. It was the way of this galaxy. "Whatever is down there, it's going to be ours alone."
He snorted, but nodded. "Gotcha. So you need me to…?"
"Read it. Decipher the clues. Get us past the traps and to the treasure room."
He nodded again, his lips still pursed, once more staring at the map. When he looked up again, his gaze was guileless. "So, you have never actually read this whole passage on the bottom all the way through."
She shrugged. "We got the gist."
He stared at her a moment longer, then held the map up in both hands.
"The Wraith are on the verge of defeating the Lanteans," he read, "overwhelming by sheer numbers the might of the Lantean fleet. The Lanteans' last defensive strongholds are crumbling; their most secret facilities are being raided and lost. They say the Wraith have learned to use the power of the Lanteans against them, making them all but impossible to stop. And so, the Lanteans have retreated, leaving us until they can return again with greater strength." He looked up, and Raina nodded. That much had been written in the trader's language, although "Lantean" was not the word she'd read. She had seen "Ancestor" instead. Still…he seemed to know what he was reading. McKay looked down again at the map. "So," he continued, "in secret, we have been hoarding what remains of the Lanteans' gifts to us, and what gold and precious metals we can find of theirs, into the remains of the destroyed facility on this world. We will seal it in, protect it with traps, and hold this secret close until the Lanteans return to claim what is theirs. This map shall be guarded, to be returned when they return, the treasure for them, and them alone, to find." He looked up again, pausing once more because now he had read the Ancestor's language. When she nodded again, to show she knew what he had read was true, he returned one more time to the text. "Should this map be found by Wraith hands, know that this map can never be deciphered by you. You will die before its secrets are revealed, and this temple will crush you under its weight. And when the Lanteans return, beside your corpses, they will find within a source of great power, the greatest this universe can hold, and they will take it in hand to destroy what is left of your evil race. This, we promise. Our ancestors be proud. Death to the Wraith."
When he looked up again, his eyes were narrowed to slits.
Raina was breathing hard, more excited now than she had ever been before. He'd read the Wraith language so easily! No silly superstitious ideas stopping him! She knew they'd found the right person to help them!
"So," she breathed, practically grinning now, unable to hold it back. "Can you do it?"
"Do what?" he asked, his voice low.
"Read the map," she said, waving her hand at it. "Help us find the gold."
He shook his head again. "You're not serious."
"Of course I can read it," McKay snarled, "but what's the point? It's a joke." He looked down at it again. "Gold and precious metals? The Ancients weren't interested in gold. They didn't need it! Why would anyone hoard gold for them, or think they would want them too? Anyone who knew them would know that the very idea is absurd. More to the point," he was staring at her now, eyes fixed and determined, as if he could get her to listen by the mere force of his stare, "if there really is a power source down there as powerful as all that, why the hell wouldn't the Lanteans have taken it with them? Or, better yet, used it while they were still here? No," he looked down at the map again, "whoever created this was a blowhard and a nutjob. And if there really are traps down there?" He looked up again. "You can count me out. Indiana Jones, I am not. I'm not even the National Treasure guy." He tossed the map at her, and it fluttered to the ground at her feet. "Go on your own raid for the lost ark. I'll wait for the DVD, thank you very much." He crossed his arms and lifted his chin.
And Herod grabbed him by the back of his neck, neatly lifting him up onto his tiptoes.
"You," her brother said quietly, "talk too much."
Raina smiled. She bent down and picked up the map as she listened to McKay plea to be let go. And when he squeaked again, this time with a distinctive underpinning of pain, she knew Herod was gripping even tighter.
And then abruptly, her brother let him go. McKay collapsed into a heap, whimpering slightly and curling forward over his knees, his hands on the back of his neck. Herod knelt down next to him, sneering when McKay finally lifted his head to meet his gaze.
"Are you really that foolish?" Herod asked, his voice barely above a whisper. "Everybody loves gold, Atlantian. It's the most precious form of currency in this galaxy, has been even before the Ancestors left. Hell, I bet even you like it."
The scientist shook his head. "That doesn't mean—"
"Of course it does. Don't lie about the Ancestors and say they didn't need it, or liked it. After all, they were as we were, once. Personally, I think you're just trying to stall, hoping your teammates will come along and save you. But they're not going to. They're too far behind, and once we're in the temple, they won't be able to follow us. Which brings me to my main point: you do not have a choice here. You read the map, lead us to the treasure, or we kill you. That simple. And if you whine about the idea of it one more time before doing so, I will break something inside you that you need very badly. Do you understand?"
A sort of squeaky affirmative answered him, and Raina smiled. Well, that was fun, she thought.
She walked across to the still sitting McKay and held the map out. He looked up at her with a defeated but still irritated expression, before taking the map with a shaking hand.
Sniffing, he looked again at the map. "I take it…" He stopped talking when his voice didn't rise above a croak, and Raina waited magnanimously as he swallowed and then cleared his throat. "I take it you know where the entrance is? To this first room?"
"Yes," she replied, allowing herself a modicum of smugness. "You're sitting on top of it."