"Sensor sweep," Davra ordered as the Traveler ship exited hyperspace. "Let's make sure we're alone."
"All clear, Captain," the navigator reported a moment later.
"Very well. Proceed with surface scans," he said, leaning back in his chair.
"Preliminaries show breathable atmosphere and temperate to tropical climate. Two percent axial tilt…which means no seasons to speak of. Little to no surface topography, 30% of this hemisphere is covered by surface water…the rest has dense vegetation, no signs of technology."
"Patience, Keeva. Let's see what the other side holds before we jump to any conclusions."
"Davra, this is only the second truly habitable world any of us have found outside the gate network. Don't you think that's worth getting at least a little excited about?"
"First things first," the Captain insisted. "Take us through a quick trip around orbit before we start the regional scans."
"Fine with me," she said, accelerating the ship into a tight, low orbit for maximum speed, "but I still say we've found a gem. There's not a lick of ice down there."
Davra didn't say anything more. He simply watched the crescent of new surface features creep across the horizon. Suddenly small ridges started to appear…nothing too large, but given the lack of any other identifiable elevation on the world these stood out to the naked eye and the computer which was updating a spherical hologram as they progressed.
The more Davra saw, the more a knot started to form in his gut. Something about these ridges didn't sit right with him, and he had a sneaking suspicion that this 'gem' of a world might turn out to be another disappointment like their last. Three weeks ago they'd found a small, grass covered world of moderate temperature that appeared to be habitable from orbit. When they'd gotten around to landing their surface probes they quickly discovered the 'surface' wasn't quite solid.
The entire planet was a massive bog, and while technically habitable it wasn't what they'd been hoping for. They'd completed their analysis in depth and added the survey to the catalog of non-gated worlds for Atlantis. Perhaps Stevenson could find a use for 'bog-land,' but without a livable surface or any useful geological deposits, what that use might be was beyond Davra. They'd made the mistake of reporting it in early, before they'd completed their full survey, and this time he wasn't about to jump the gun.
The ridges, now covering a spherical area of about 100 million square kilometers, ended as suddenly as they began and the smooth surface features of the planet reappeared. The rest of the hemisphere appeared as its twin, but something about that cluster of ridges didn't sit right with Davra.
"Change course," he ordered in a whisper. "Bring us back over those surface features. Use the deep scan system Stevenson gave us. Let's see what's beneath the surface."
"Changing course," Keeva said without complaint. She was curious too, despite her enthusiasm. When she activated the specialized sensors she got a weird look on her face.
"What's wrong?" Davra asked.
"Our scans are being scattered. All I've got is a grainy image, but there appears to be a network of structures beneath the surface…a lot of structures."
"Natural or artificial?"
Keeva shifted the sensor readings to the holoprojector...another gift from Stevenson.
The angular and often grid-like pattern of subsurface chambers and connecting tunnels put to rest any doubt of the structures' natural formation.
"Captain we have incoming!" Keeva half shouted. "Numerous objects rising on an intercept course from the surface."
"We've seen enough for now," Davra said evenly. "Break orbit."
The Traveler ship accelerated upwards quickly, but the smaller ships coming from the surface were gaining on them.
"I see 'em," he said as two larger contacts emerged from hyperspace in front of them. "Make ready to jump to hyperspace."
The fighters rising from the surface began firing green energy weapons at the Travelers' engines while even more fighters poured out of the two capital ships.
"We can't take much of this!" Keeva yelled as she flew an evasive course and the Captain returned fire with the ships' weapons. The shields were now taking small hits from the fighters, a few every second. One of the oddly shaped craft exploded under the impact of the Travelers' weaponry as four more large ships emerged out of hyperspace in front of their new trajectory…they too deployed fighters."
"I think they want their home kept a secret," Davra said, concern evident in his voice. "Get us clear now or we won't be going home!"
"I'm trying," she said, tipping the ship over and heading back down to the planet at full thrust. A loud bang sounded from behind and the ship slew to port.
"Shields breached," Davra yelled.
"Hang on," Keeva said as they passed through the last of the fighters that had been trailing them. She managed to get a hyperspace window formed in front of them just above the atmosphere. The Traveler ship dove into it like a bullet fired into a pool of water.
Keeva breathed heavily. "That was too close," she said as the proximity sensors pinged an alarm.
"We're being followed," Davra said just before a ship-wide alarm sounded.
"Intruder alert!" Keeva said unnecessarily.
Davra punched a few buttons. "Engineering level," he said, pulling out his sidearm. "Stay on the bridge and keep us ahead of them. Send a distress signal while you're at it."
"I'm on it," she said, turning back to her station as the Captain went aft.
When he neared the engineering level he heard sounds of fighting ahead. Several Traveler weapons could be heard firing, as well as several large bangs, but he couldn't discern any alien weapons fire. He'd assumed that when their shields had gone down the enemy had managed to get something aboard…and they had to kill whatever it was before it took over or disabled the ship. If they dropped out of hyperdrive now they were as good as dead.
Two seconds down Davra came to the penetration point in the hull and his jaw dropped. How the thing hadn't purged their atmosphere he couldn't say, but one of the alien fighters had rammed into their hull and the clearly exposed cockpit told him that his crew was fighting the pilot.
He gave the fighter one last look, then took a step aft when he caught a glance of something out of the corner of his eye. Davra stepped backward and confirmed his glance. There was a thin layer of goo in the seam between the fighter and his damaged ship. Whoever these people were, they'd designed their fighters to do this…it hadn't been an accident or a last ditch maneuver.
Davra shook his head and ran aft.
When he emerged in the engine room he found six of his crew dead, with another fourteen injured. Twenty more crowed the area, save for a small section of floorspace that held the bodies of three aliens with grayish skin and visible cybernetic implants in their skulls. The armor that they wore had multiple blast marks…apparently the things had gone down hard.
Suddenly they felt the ship drop out of hyperspace.
"Haverson, what's wrong?" he asked the second engineer. The first lay dead a few meters away.
The young boy looked around for a few seconds, checking equipment, then turned back to the captain and shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing, Captain. The engines are fine."
"They're not fine," Davra argued, pushing his way through the crowd as a bang sounded on the port side. "Check the ship," he ordered everyone. "There may be more intruders."
"Captain," the boy said after running a quick diagnostic. A second bang sounded from the starboard side. "The hyperdrive disengaged because of a direct command from the helm station."
Davra raced back up to the bridge. If the aliens had simply disengaged the engines then maybe he could kill them and jump the ship back into safety…it also meant that Keeva was probably dead too.
A few minutes later he burst back onto bridge, pistol leading, and stopped dead in his tracks. Keeva was still in the pilot's seat…and flying the ship through an enormous asteroid field.
"You are absolutely crazy," he said, retaking his seat. He was glad that she was still alive.
"If you have a better idea…" she said, pulling the ship hard to port. A small thump sounded on their right side.
"Why aren't the shields up?"
"I need the engine power. They're still behind us. Feel free to take the guns again."
"I don't believe this," he said, pulling up the targeting program for the aft firing arc. Sure enough there were several fighters weaving through the field after them…
"Like hell they are," he said, firing a few shots. They missed the much smaller fighters, but caused one of them to go evasive…right into one of the floating rocks.
Davra expected some snide comment about his targeting ability from Keeva, but she was totally preoccupied with keeping them off the rocks.
Ronon was in mid swing when Corporal Jorson spoke behind him, but he didn't falter. He completed his uppercut, followed by two quick jabs, then a headlock which he reversed and flung his opponent head over heels into the training mat. He released the new recruit and helped him to his feet.
"You're fast, but your brain can't keep up with your body. Stop trying to think ahead and learn to react. You have to feel your leverage and work on one grip point, one moment at a time, one moment flowing into another hold, punch, or block and continuing on to the next. If you can learn to do that even I will have trouble taking you down."
The thin man nodded respectfully. "Feel, don't think ahead," he repeated.
Ronon slapped him on the shoulder then turned around to lock eyes with the Corporal. "More recruits?" he guessed.
"Yes and no," Jorson said. "A new group came in a couple hours ago, but one of them says he knows you…and he has combat experience with the Wraith. He claims he was a…'runner.'
Ronon's look grew even more serious than usual. "Take me to him."
"Yes, sir," Jorson said reflexively as he led his commander back to the newly constructed set of barracks. They'd been recruiting so many Pegasus natives that they'd had to expand their infrastructure three times over the past year. All together, Yavin now fielded a green army of 1,500 'regulars' that had passed Ronon's minimum standards to go offworld on missions, but the training center fielded another 25,000 recruits…all of which now fell under Ronon's direct command.
Sheppard, Teyla, Ford, and even Brand had all gradually moved on to other assignments, due in part to Ronon's undisputable success with his original 'green team.' Ronon hadn't hesitated to take the reins…and the army that he was building had started to feel more and more like home. None of these recruits were Setidans, nor were they up to their caliber, but the core group was no longer a disparate group of mill workers and field hands…they were soldiers. Not the best, or the brightest, but they had heart, as much so as his fellow Setidans in some cases. These men and woman had suffered for generations under the oppression of the Wraith. They knew the stakes…and finding the motivation to endure Ronon's tough and sometimes cruel training had never been a concern.
Ronon Dex was proud of what they'd accomplished, but he wasn't satisfied. He was a Setidan and these were his men. He wasn't going to be comfortable fighting alongside them until they'd reached Setidan standards…and he wasn't going to let them rest until they had.
The Corporal led Ronon into the second level of the 27th barracks where a Sergeant Ketts had a group of three dozen men and four women seated in rows as he gave them basic instructions in a very loud and clear voice. He stopped the moment he saw Ronon and saluted with a fist to his shoulder.
Ronon waved away the gesture as he looked over the newcomers. As he did one man in the back stood up silently. Their eyes locked for several long seconds.
"You," Ronon said in a harsh whisper.
The man smirked without any trace of humor. "I heard you were recruiting to fight the Wraith. Figured you could use my help."
Ronon walked forward, the others scampering out of his way, until he stood directly in front of the man. "You don't belong here."
The man stiffened. "If that's the way you want it, then I'll leave."
Ronon shook his head humorously. "No, you won't."
The man stepped a few inches closer to Ronon. "Who's going to stop me?"
They stared at each other for a moment, then Ronon finally broke the silence. "Sergeant."
"Yes, Commander?" he asked, stepping to his side, but keeping his distance from the other man.
"Have this man transferred to 1st barracks and the elite training group. He's no rookie."
The Sergeant hesitated for the briefest of moments, then caught his drift. "Immediately, Commander" he said, motioning to one of his lower ranking staff.
The slightly shorter man raised an eyebrow as the two still hadn't broken eye contact. "Well, that went better than expected."
Ronon finally broke into a smile and extended his hand.
Kiryk took it in a firm grip. "Quite a place you've got here."
"Growing by the day," Ronon said, noticing his armband was gone. "What happened to your gadget?"
"Permanently broke a while back. Sold the pieces to buy food and gear."
"Well, those days are over. The Ancestors are supplying us with everything we need now."
"So I'd heard…but I didn't believe the rumors."
"Believe it," he told him. "In a few years time we're going against the Wraith hot and heavy on the ground while the Ancestors kick their butt in space."
"Looks like I came just in time," Kiryk said.
Ronon grabbed him by the shoulder and led him away from the raw recruits. "Welcome to the party."