Summary: There is a lot of space between the stars, and it's a lot of space to be alone in. Injured, McKay and Sheppard are just trying to get home, but the galaxy isn't a kindly place...
Spoilers: Set sometime pre-Sunday.
Disclaimer: I don't own.
A/N: This story's been writing itself on and off for several months now, and it's now got to the point where I can finally post it. I really hope that you enjoy reading! Please do leave a review to let me know what you thought, I'd very much appreciate it :)
THE LONG STAR MILE
There was a lot of space between the stars.
Hell, Rodney had known that perfectly well already. As he liked to inform anyone in the vicinity, often at annoyingly regular intervals, there wasn't much that he didn't know when it related to astrophysics, or to physics in general, come to think of it, not forgetting computer science, and maths, and, well, pretty much anything that interested him. Which, as Sheppard would probably describe it, was anything that beeped or lit up or was covered in strange symbols or numbers.
So this discovery wasn't something that should have come as a surprise to him.
But there was a great deal of difference between knowing and experiencing. He stared out of the Jumper window, still mesmerised by all that space. Somehow, he had never managed to truly appreciate its vastness before, despite all the times he had previously had a similar view out of an identical Jumper window. But on all those other missions, he had had company. People to talk to, people to blame, people to help him.
Now there was only silence. This particular mission was fast becoming a contender for his least favourite ever. And that was saying a lot.
"I'm just a scientist," he muttered mutinously, as though there was anyone around to listen, or to care. He couldn't bear the quiet any longer. His voice got faster as he continued. "This is not what I signed up for. I wouldn't have come to a different galaxy in the first place if I'd known what sort of things I'd be expected to do. 'McKay, fix this. Fix that. Rodney, if you've got a few minutes spare, would you mind saving all our skins? Again.' Why is it always me?" He broke off to scowl at the utter darkness before him. The stars burned brilliant, transfixing him for long moments, but sending him no answer.
It was easy to pick out the brightest of the stars, directly ahead, but from his position the much smaller bodies orbiting it were invisible. Yet again he pulled up the HUD across the window, his eyes darting over the fast-flickering numbers and symbols, checking and re-checking the calculations in his head. Usually he would have no problem with trusting a computer system implicitly, but it was hard to convince himself that the jumper truly was moving at the speed it supposedly was, when the distant stars refused to come closer. Barring unforeseen circumstances, reaching the second star in the binary system at maximum sub-light speed should take about twenty hours. But if the Pegasus galaxy had taught him anything, it was that there were always unforeseen circumstances.
"Simple recon mission," he continued, preferring the sound of his own voice to the vast silence surrounding him. Sometimes Atlantean technology was too perfect for its own good. He would quite like a little engine noise, some perceptible shuddering or a change in gravity not perfectly compensated for by the inertial dampeners. Something to convince him that he was in fact moving, rather than hanging immobile in this black void. Alone.
He'd never felt so alone before.
He continued talking, hastily, before those thoughts could gain ground. "When are simple recon missions ever simple? They always go wrong. Is it me? Maybe I'm a bad luck charm. Born cursed, that sounds about right. Story of my life."
Neither the blackness or the pinpoints of lights appeared to care. It was a vast and indifferent universe which he was alone in. The sheer emptiness of it instantly subdued him as he stared out into it. And he felt numb. As if a large portion of his mind had closed itself off.
"It wasn't my fault," he half-whispered to the unfeeling stars. "I didn't know that this would happen. How could I have?" But his reassurances to himself didn't explain why his left hand was unconsciously clenching and unclenching, even while his right hand brushed over the controls autonomously, checking and rechecking the data readouts he had long ago memorised.
"It isn't as if we haven't been in dangerous situations before now," he continued, but his heart wasn't really in it anymore. "In fact, it seems to be the norm these days. I should be used to it by now, shouldn't I?"
Silence swirled around him as he paused to draw breath. He had the sudden overwhelming impression that the universe was getting irritated with his mindless chatter. "Shut up, McKay," he imagined it muttering wearily, in the same languidly sardonic tones of John Sheppard.
The explosions had begun with no warning whatsoever. He had wasted a few precious seconds indignantly expressing his outrage at that.
"Yes, McKay, because I post a warning next to all the booby traps I set!" Sheppard yelled impatiently. "Now RUN!"
"Booby trap?" Rodney asked incredulously.
Ronon paused to glare at him in a way that clearly said, Yes, McKay, it's a trap. Now would you please shut up and start moving faster before I decide to shoot you and leave you behind?
Ronon might be a man of few words, but he had some extremely expressive glares.
Rodney ran as fast as he could, but he was still lagging behind the others, as always, while chunks of dirt erupted around them. A brief glance at the scanner revealed energy signatures surrounding them, with more activating every second, in a pattern which herded them back towards the Gate. But he had no doubt that very shortly the order of the explosions would cease to be so considerate. The magnitude of them was already increasing so visibly that he didn't need the scanner to confirm it.
Which was why his stress levels soared exponentially upwards when John suddenly swerved from the path. "What the hell are you doing?" he yelled, or tried to yell, but he was almost completely out of breath, and there was more of a panicky squeak in his voice than he cared for.
"The Jumper!" yelled back John, ever more in shape than Rodney, and ever the pilot. Correction. Ever the suicidal pilot.
Rodney would have gone after him anyway. He really would have. Even as his mouth opened to tell John exactly what he thought of him. But before he had time to take two steps along his new trajectory, the ground beneath John boiled upwards, throwing him into the air with the accompaniment of a deafening thunderclap. His limp body thudded to the ground, and lay still…
The vividness of the unbidden memory kept Rodney's eyes pressed shut and squeezed both hands into fists, while more adrenaline thudded through his system, setting his heart racing. The same cycle. His body wanted him to fold into sleep, but every time he did, his mind forced him into adrenaline-fuelled wakefulness. Something about that worried him, but he couldn't really put a finger on it. And he couldn't cope with any more problems right now.
For a brief moment he allowed himself to fantasise that when he opened his eyes he would be back safely in the familiar surroundings of Atlantis, having fallen asleep at his workstation again. Preferably with Zelenka bringing him a steaming mug of coffee.
Hopefully, he cracked open one eye, but the same visage greeted him, the Jumper interior, which remained both Zelenka- and coffee-less. "Dammit," he muttered wearily to no one in particular, which was just as well, as no one answered him. His voice, even muted, sounded unnaturally loud. And even with the adrenaline, the thought of moving felt like an unbearable effort. He let his eyelids fall shut again. After all, he had plenty of time…
"Colonel!" he shouted, shaking the man's shoulder desperately. Too late, he remembered you weren't supposed to do that if there was any possibility of a neck or back injury – and there definitely was that possibility. But he didn't have time…
"Sheppard! Wake up!" he snapped, fear lending a sharp edge to his voice. He wanted John to snap back at him, but he just continued to lie there, pale and still and smeared with earth.
He couldn't see Teyla and Ronon at all.
Rodney wasted more precious seconds weighing up his options. The path to the Gate had so far proved less perilous than the rest of the planet's surface during their hasty evacuation, but it was much further than he could manage if he would be dragging an unconscious Sheppard with him. In contrast, the Jumper was much closer, but a potentially far more dangerous option, considering the buried mines that almost certainly lay in their way. Hence why the team had been running for the Gate, and not the Jumper.
He made a decision. Hoiking his arms under John's, back injury or no back injury, he began to drag him backwards as fast as he could go, stumbling on the uneven footing.
His radio suddenly crackled to life in his ear. "Colonel Sheppard, Dr McKay, please respond!" Teyla had apparently noticed at last that they were no longer behind her.
Rodney used more precious seconds to half release John and click the button on his radio. "Get… to the Gate!" he wheezed, the effort of talking on minimal air harder than he had expected. "Sheppard's hurt. We'll… catch you up… in Jumper."
"Hurry up!" That was Ronon. Rodney didn't bother answering. What did they think he was doing?
He didn't have enough breath to waste on words, but inside his head he was keeping up a litany of curses, at himself for still being, despite his best intentions, so much more unfit than the others, at John for being so idiotic and allowing himself to be injured, and most of all at the long-vanished civilisation who had decided that turning their entire planet into a minefield as their last act was a good idea. Yes, if the Wraith had come here it would have been a great lesson for them, but what about innocent explorers? Could they not have posted a warning near the Gate, for heaven's sake? A massive chain reaction set to go off as soon as anyone reached the ruins of their city – oh yes, that was a brilliant idea. Probably courtesy of the same calibre of sublime forethought and cleverness that distinguished the IOA.
The panicked thoughts tearing through his brain kept pace with his unbearably slow, lumbering movements, and with the hungry breaths he sucked in as his muscles screamed out for more oxygen.
At long, long last, the familiar rounded shape of the Jumper's hull swam into his vision when he snatched another glance behind him to check on his direction. At least they hadn't cloaked it, detecting no life signs in his initial scan of the planet's surface. He decided to take whatever small mercies he could get, and to be thankful for them.
"It'd be… nice… if you decided… to wake up… now," he gasped to John's dead-weight form. "You know, since… you keep telling me… how much better… a pilot… you are… than me…" No response.
He dropped John for a few seconds to open the Jumper hatch. Bending down again towards the Colonel, he felt the scanner slide out of his jacket and grabbed for it one-handed, too late. More seconds. It landed on the short grass screen-up, and he glanced at it automatically. His eyes widened.
"Rodney?" demanded his earpiece, in Teyla's voice, but he ignored it. Of far more concern was the power spike building up all around him. This was not good…
Using a burst of strength he hadn't realised he still possessed, he tightened his grip on John, dragging him bodily inside the Jumper and dumping him unceremoniously onto the floor. And then he ran back outside, for the scanner. He couldn't help it. Preserve Ancient tech had become a mantra engraved so deeply into his consciousness that he was unable to ignore it.
He almost made it. In fact, he had it in his hand, and one foot on the Jumper ramp, when all hell broke loose around him…