Author's Note: This story was written for the 2010 genficathon hosted on Live Journal. A huge shout out goes to Rusting_roses for her wonderful betaing, for listening to my frustrations with this fic, for helping me ironing out the plot, and for being an all around awesome person. This story might not have happened without her support. Updates will be posted regularly until story is complete. Complete fic word count is 27,000 words.
Chapter 1 – Sometimes it Rains
"Why do I need to go on this mission again?" Rodney asked as he slumped into the chair next to Sheppard in the front of the jumper.
Sheppard calmly responded as he began the sequence of commands that would activate the jumper, "I figured you could probably use a hiatus from the lab. I sometimes think the fumes down there get you a little wonky after a few days of holing up down there."
Mckay fumbled with the seatbelt before snapping back, "The lab only smells a bit fishy! We back right up to the desalination unit; it helps with our cooling system for all of the critical projects we're working on. But besides your personal sadistic streak, that doesn't explain why I need to be going."
The jumper began moving, the bay doors opening as they dropped into the gate room at Sheppard's command. "These people are our trading partners. That means we are somewhat obligated to help them in periods of duress. God knows we've asked the same of our allies during our times of need."
Rodney still wasn't entirely sold on the idea though; he had been supposed to run some diagnostics on a jumper that hadn't been performing at full power output lately. This little detour was going to mean a late night and a caffeine binge if that jumper was going to be ready for a mission tomorrow. He doubted Elizabeth would rearrange the schedule just to give him an extra day. He threw a glance back at his teammates who were settled on opposite benches in the rear of the jumper, "Teyla, can you give us a few more details on what to expect?"
Teyla looked at him calmly, "All of the information I possess on the Verdeans is in the mission report Colonel Sheppard asked me to prepare. I don't know what else I could add."
Rodney huffed a bit and said something under his breath before addressing her again, "Normally I'd have read the report, but only if I am given ample notification that we are going off world," he said a bit bitterly, throwing a sideways glance at Sheppard in pilot's seat. "Sheppard dragged me out of bed and right down here saying we had to go. I didn't get a chance to read the mission briefing."
Teyla nodded. "The world we are visiting is what my people know as Verdea. There are two rival ethnic groups on this planet, the Serns and the Koles. While tensions run high, for the past several seasons they have maintained a strained peace. The Sern faction has a new leader that is pressing for expansion of territory into what have traditionally been Kole lands."
McKay absorbed that, "And how does this beg our involvement?"
"The Serns are a larger faction with a stronger military; they have been more aggressive in their warring tactics recently. The Kole maintain small military outposts in different communities. A large Sern contingent has barricaded one such community on a narrow peninsula. With monsoon season currently in progress on this planet, water levels have steadily risen and the Kole are suffering extreme flooding with no route of escape."
"Ok, I follow you so far…but I'm still not seeing where we come in here."
"This is a community that we trade with regularly, both here on Atlantis and my people on the mainland. The Athosians have extended an invitation for temporary refuge for these individuals until the monsoon season ends in a few weeks and they can return to their settlement if the water levels have dropped sufficiently. They may also travel to another Kole city by sea when the waters are calmer to bypass the blockade by the Serns. The gate is on an island and we will be helping to transport their elderly and children to it to avoid putting them at risk on the open water."
McKay scrunched his brow a bit at this, "The Ancients were generally a pretty smart bunch. The gates have always been in an easily accessible location before. So why would they switch it up and go for an island venue all of a sudden?"
Sheppard knew the answer to this one and chose to chime in. Of course, he had also had the answer provided to him in the mission report. But no reason to let McKay know that, he couldn't avoid outclassing the brilliant astrophysicist on the rare occasions he was able to "Planets aren't static all the time, Mckay. Things change, climates change. The piece of land was originally attached to the mainland when the Ancients built the gate there but water levels have risen and turned it into an island."
"That was a rhetorical question, Sheppard. I was just thinking out loud," Mckay responded, "Again, if we're playing pack mule for these folks, why am I along? Usually I leave the heavy lifting to you guys while I put my brain to good use."
Ronon's expression failed to hide his irritation. Of course McKay was looking at him when he said the bit about heavy lifting, but he wasn't all brawn. He let his anger fade though, as there was work enough to be done in the near future, he thought as he leaned back against the hull and closed his eyes to rest for the few moments of quiet they had left. He'd probably be doing lots of that lifting soon enough.
Sheppard grinned a bit, "Think Noah's Ark. The jumper's the ark; you're the mechanic who runs around making sure we don't spring a leak or dip out of the sky because of a short out or something. It's just in case we need some tech assistance, otherwise we'll let you stay in the jumper."
Mckay leaned back in his seat at that, "I suppose that's an acceptable compromise. I do have my tablet. I have some calculations I can work on while you guys are out dancing in the rain."
Sheppard's smirk widened, "Of course McKay, wouldn't want you to melt or anything."
Ronon peaked one eye open, "Probably a good idea. McKay's squawking when he has to suffer a little discomfort is as bad as the birds that we had back on Sateda."
"Hey! I resent that comparison. My conversation is probably the most stimulating you'll find anywhere."
Ronon shrugged, "Even the birds were good for something, made great target practice," he said, a hand settling lightly over his gun.
Rodney's eyes opened a bit wider and he kept his mouth closed, turning his attention forward again as the jumper advanced through the gate and into the downpour beyond.
McKay was huddled by the edge of the open jumper. It'd been three hours and they'd made two trips to the peninsula, if it could be called that. Most of the community had been under a good foot of water by the time they'd gotten there. Sheppard had set them down on the roof of a building and the settlers had come slogging up with bundles of possessions, packing into the back of the jumper like cattle. He'd had to stick his tablet into his raincoat to prevent it from getting wet. Keeping anything dry in a monsoon was a challenge and electronics and water didn't exactly mix.
That was the reason why he was running one final diagnostic on the jumper. Monsoon had been an understatement. The water was falling in a continuous sheet. Most of the settlers had made the trip by water in tiny canoe-like boats that Rodney had been amazed had survived the waves out on the open sea. From where the jumper was parked near the gate he'd watched the tiny lanterns bob on the waves, one for each boat coming in. Ronon and Teyla had been making trips back and forth from the shore, helping exhausted, soaked Koles carry their possessions up the slippery, rocky slope and through the gate to Atlantis. Sheppard had been flying back and forth, landing only long enough to pick up or drop off people before taking off again. They had made their final trip though, and with good timing. Sheppard was sitting resolutely in the pilot chair, focusing on keeping the jumper hovering a foot or so above the water. They'd lost the pile of boulders they'd been sitting on to the rising water a few minutes ago and Sheppard had piloted them into the air to prevent water from pouring in through the open back hatch.
Their window for remaining here was quickly waning. The gate was not in a good position. It was on the lower end of the island, and water had started trickling through the gate at first, but reports were coming through from the gate techs that didn't bode well. They had resorted to a bucket brigade to handle the water pouring back into the gate room. It was equipped with drains for light water drainage, but that system wouldn't make a dent in the waterfall that was currently flooding through.
Rodney flicked his attention between watching the diagnostics on his screen, searching out on the slope for his friends who were helping the last few settlers up from their boats, and the gate which was slowly disappearing beneath the water an inch at a time.
He bit his lip and typed a bit faster after taking a quick glance out at the landscape. Visibility was terrible between the heavy cloud cover and the torrential rain. They should've been back by now. They needed to go.
"Rodney, brace yourself," a voice shouted over the pounding of rain on the hull.
McKay didn't question it. When Sheppard spoke in that tone of voice you didn't argue. You listened immediately; it had saved his life more times than he could count. He set the tablet aside and slid both arms through the webbing that secured much of their equipment to the wall. He took in a sharp breath of air as a gust of wind tilted the jumper's axis sideways and his tablet began to slide.
I can't lose that, McKay thought, panicked. He removed one hand from the stabilizing grip he had established to lean forward for it.
Sheppard had thrown a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure McKay hadn't slid out into the water, "McKay, leave it! The wind's bad, last thing I need is you in the water!"
Rodney hesitated but drew his hand back, once again putting it to use holding on and he let out a small dismayed cry as the tablet slid down the ramp and into the water below. One less piece of technology for the mission, he brooded silently. He should've put that in with the other equipment.
His thoughts were interrupted as there was the sound of splashing. He sat up a bit straighter and tried to make out what was making the noise. There were a few deep grunts and then suddenly a pack was being thrown up into the jumper. McKay scrunched his legs up against the rest of his body to avoid getting hit.
A few more bags were thrown up and then a head appeared at the base of the ramp, followed by a torso and the rest of the body as the man clawed his way into the rear of the jumper. McKay risked letting a hand go from the webbing, leaning out to grasp the man's cold hand and pull him up.
A soaking wet Teyla was the next up, her teeth chattering as she wrapped her arms around her torso and sat down on the bench.
Sheppard was still looking forward, the wind gusts requiring his full attention to balance the jumper out as his teammates were climbing in, but he was listening intently, "McKay, what's going on?"
"Teyla and a settler are in," he shouted over the rain, watching Teyla to make sure she was ok. She was pale; water was dripping off her clothing and gathering in a small pool at her feet. She made eye contact with Rodney but made no effort to speak, the exhaustion evident from her expression, the chill evident from her body language and shivering.
The back of the jumper dipped down a bit as one more large figure climbed up over the edge, standing up on the ramp as he quickly shuffled into to the compartment, his head almost hitting the ceiling. Ronon shook his head a few times, reminding Rodney of a dog after a bath as the man's water logged dreadlocks threw water droplets in every direction. Rodney blinked as a few landed on his cheek.
Ronon dropped onto the bench, breathing hard as he reached into the webbing above him and brought down a folded wool blanket and passing it over to Teyla without any words passing between them, "That's everyone. We didn't see any more lights on the water."
Sheppard called back over his shoulder, "You're sure we aren't leaving anyone?"
Ronon nodded, "If anyone else was out there they aren't any more. The water's a lot rougher. A few boats might have flipped. We saw a few lights just go out- they didn't make it to the shore."
Rodney heard a muttered curse. Sheppard treated everyone like one of his own, whether they were a total stranger or a friend. The loss of any individual he was tasked to protect hit him hard. Rodney had silently passed the balcony John liked to frequent, had seen the man out there alone with a drink in one hand after a hard mission and knew that it meant someone was dead. That balcony wouldn't go unoccupied tonight, he thought silently.
"You're absolutely positive?"
Ronon was wringing the water out of his shirt, "I'm confident. There were no more lights."
"What if someone's lantern went out, maybe the flame went out with all the rain?"
"Maybe," he muttered without further explanation.
"Then we go back down, one more trip. I'm not leaving people here to die."
The mask Ronon normally kept in place faltered for a moment and Rodney saw the blank look in his eyes, the hunch in his frame. He was a verifiable rock, but that didn't mean he wasn't a man, a man who could feel tired and cold after being out in a monsoon. And if Ronon looked bad, Teyla looked worse.
Rodney chose then to speak, "I'll go, Sheppard. Let these two dry off."
John did look back this time, "You sure Rodney?"
Rodney nodded, "It's not far, I can be back in a few minutes."
Sheppard looked at him skeptically for a few seconds before dipping his own head in agreement, "Fine, be quick and be careful. The gate's almost halfway under water; we need to get out of here."
Rodney drew the hood of his rain jacket over his head, zipped it up as tight as it would go, and hopped down into thigh deep water. His outline quickly faded as he slogged off into the rain.