Chapter Eight

Rodney waited alongside Ronon in the jumper bay. Lorne's team of marines was off to one side, talking amongst themselves. Lorne himself had yet to arrive. "I thought Teyla said we had to approach peacefully," Rodney said, gesturing toward Ronon's holster and his big blaster.

"Sheppard's going," Ronon replied.

"Right. Good point," Rodney agreed. Sheppard would not be leaving without his trusty P-90 and hand gun. With the special water thrown into the pot along with mineral T-9, Rodney hoped they managed to get something out of the deal with the Omari. But then, there was always the Daedalus. If they could figure a way through the sensory soup on the planet's surface, they could beam people directly onto the mountain and the Omari would be none the wiser.

Sheppard appeared, walking alongside Carson and Lorne. The three of them were geared up and ready for off world. "As soon as you get to the other side of the wormhole, keep the jumper cloaked and land. Do not fly around, you won't know the birds are there until you're right on them. Put down as close as you can to the village – hopefully it'll be enough so that our radios will work."

"Got it," Lorne acknowledged.

"What about me?" Carson asked, half a step behind Sheppard. His familiar medical back pack was strapped to his shoulders, looking a lot more beat up from its time in the Pegasus Galaxy.

John turned toward him. "You stay in the jumper with Lorne."

"Now, Colonel …."

"Carson, I'll be in visual range. You can still keep an eye on me."

Rodney snorted and turned to Ronon. "Care to wager how long that's going to last?"

"I can hear you, McKay," Sheppard said as he approached.

"So can I," Carson called from the ramp of the jumper.

"It's not exactly a secret!" Rodney shot back.

"Come on," John said, headed for the steps that would lead to the control room and then to the gate. "Let's go get Teyla."

"And Woolsey and Bowen and Kremer," Rodney tacked on as he and Ronon jogged along behind him.

"Yeah, yeah. Them, too."

The Omari holding cell was little more than a cave dug into the side of a grassy hill. A wooden frame supported the inside of it. Long, rough-carved wooden slats secured the opening and allowed light and air inside. Richard stood on one side of the barred opening while Teyla stood on the other. Kremer and Bowen were settled in separate corners farther back in the cave eating the meal the Omari had provided for them. Richard had a feeling one or both of them would be asking for a transfer if and when they returned to Atlantis.

"Any idea what's going on over there?" he asked Teyla as they watched several excited scouts ran into the town center, shouting for the tribal chieftains. The three elderly men who made up the main ruling body appeared from inside the central building and approached the newcomers. There was a lot of gesturing and arms waved in the direction of the dark mountain that the villagers called Guardian.

Teyla shook her head. "I cannot hear what they are saying from here. But it no doubt has something to do with the mountain."

He was beginning to develop an even worse feeling about the situation than he'd previously had. "The question is whether that is a good thing or a bad thing."

"I think we are about to find out." Teyla's gaze remained locked at a point to the left of the village center.

Confused, Richard noticed that whatever had captured Teyla's attention, was also affecting the people who had been previously moving about the village engaged in whatever tasks villagers engaged in. As if by some mutual signal, they had all ceased their activities and were looking toward the edge of the forest.

At first, he wasn't sure exactly what they all found so interesting, but then a subtle movement caught his eye. Once he saw the motion, he saw the structure. It blended almost perfectly into the backdrop of tree and mountainside. An inner flap was thrown back and a man stepped through and began to make his way toward the village proper.

"Who is he?" he asked Teyla. The new man wasn't especially large, but he had a very strong presence. Even from fifty yards away, Richard could tell that this man held power among the people. He needed to know as much as he could before the hearings began.

"I have never seen him before," Teyla surprised him by saying.

Several more scouts entered the village, moving quickly. Richard squinted, then stood up straighter. "I think those might be the same men who escorted Major Lorne back to the gate. Do you think something happened to him?"

"If so, they would have brought his body back with them."

Richard didn't feel comforted by that thought. He felt even less comforted as in the course of the conversation the unhappy, excitable group looked toward he and Teyla. When the man from the dark tent turned and began to make purposeful strides toward the holding cell, the rest of the group followed.

"Dial it again!" John called up to Chuck and Rodney as he paced beneath the control room, waiting for Atlantis to get a lock on the Omari gate address. He glanced upward at the bottom of jumper as he waited. The ship was hovering just above the still-open jumper bay access door.

The last three times they had dialed the system had not been able to engage. After the second time, to Chuck's displeasure, Rodney had gone up to make sure Chuck was dialing correctly.

This time the symbols obediently lit up, but after the seventh symbol was input, the gate wound down, unable to lock in the coordinates. "Obviously still nothing!" Rodney called down unnecessarily.

"Is it possible they're trying to dial us?" Ronon asked.

John looked upward at Rodney, waiting for the answer to Ronon's question. He was beyond annoyed to be stuck here waiting when they were needed on the other side of the gate.

"I doubt it," Rodney replied. "But let's wait and see shall we if anyone tries to get through to us."

"Lorne, stand by," John said into his radio before settling in impatiently for the wait.

"Standing by," Lorne replied.

A full minute passed while John considered all of the things that could be going wrong out there. He did a mental calculation of how long it might take to the get the Daedalus, currently three days out from Atlantis, to the Omari world. The answer wasn't reassuring.

"Okay, that's enough," he decided. "Try it again."

The lit symbols again made their circuit around the face of the gate. The seventh symbol illuminated, and the coordinates locked with a satisfying clunk. The expected whoosh of energy appeared before collapsing back into the placid blue of the puddle.

"About time," he muttered before tapping his radio and connecting with Lorne. "Okay, Major. Time to execute. Remember, go in low. Land as soon as you can as close to the village as you can."

"Acknowledged," Lorne's voice sounded in his ear even as the jumper continued its descent into the control room. John watched as the ship began to cloak halfway through the puddle.

He wondered at the irony that during their last mission, when they had gone to the Omari world to find the then missing Doctor's Bowen and Kremer, Lorne had been on the ground, while John and his team had been in the cloaked jumper. Today, the roles were reversed. He wondered what bearing that might have on the success of the mission.

"Coast is clear, Colonel. Jumper two holding then proceeding to landing site." Lorne's voice sounded across the radio link through the wormhole just as Rodney fell in along side Ronon on John's left side. The three of them stepped through the gate together and emerged to mid-morning on Omari.

"Well, no one is shooting darts at us. That's a positive," Rodney murmured.

John half-glanced in his direction, then focused on the large dark mountain before them. From the first moment he'd set eyes on it, he'd had a feeling about it; something he couldn't put a name to. It had bugged him then; it bugged him now.

But, as he stood there, staring at the mountain, something tickled at the edges of his consciousness. It was a feeling like an insistent ant crawling across his skin. It wouldn't go away. Suddenly the memory of a dream returned, of this world, decimated after a Wraith attack. Everything was death and ashes in early pre-dawn light, but something had glistened against the landscape.

John looked toward the object and the twilight of the dream gave way to the brilliance of mid morning.

"Are we just going to stand here?" McKay's voice snapped him out of the vision … dream … whatever it had been, but not before he saw something peaking through the tall grass near the DHD.

He moved forward a few steps and stooped to pick it up. It was a strip of leather-like material woven through with bits of polished black and green stone. It had belonged to Jaron.

"What's that?" Rodney moved up behind him.

John slipped it into his pocket. "Let's go," he said, and then set off toward the village.

"Hey, wait a minute … you can't just …."

John kept walking.

Richard shifted closer to Teyla, even though she was on the opposite side of what amounted to wooden bars. The Omari who had thus far seemed somewhat reasonable now seemed to be forming a lynch mob.

The man from the dark tent was in the lead and came to a stop directly in front of Richard. No emotion could be read on his stoic features; his expression was completely unreadable. After several moments of silence, Richard stuck out his hand.

"I'm Richard Woolsey. Leader of Atlantis. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

The man did not speak, but pointed in the direction of the wooden bars. Two of the scouts immediately went to work at removing them.

"If we are to start the hearing now, I'll need to know what to call you," Richard tried again as Teyla and the doctors were led out of the holding cell.

"You may call me Emoktuk. I am a hearer of the moods of the guardian. Through that gift, I guide this people."

Richard nodded his understanding – a spiritual leader then. "Will you be the one to conduct the hearing?" he asked. Emoktuk had intimidation down to an art form.

"I will decipher the Guardian's feeling in this matter. Will your people abide by my decision?"

Richard blinked. He didn't think 'that depends on your decision' was what Emoktuk wanted to hear. "What will your decision be based on?" he asked instead.

"The Guardian must decide. I merely speak for him."

"Shouldn't we wait for the others? So that they can speak for themselves?"

"It is no longer necessary. The Guardian has already spoken."

Richard blinked. "What did the Guardian say?"

"The Guardian does not speak with words, but the Guardian has expressed displeasure. The watchers saw the ring opening during the night, but no one passed through. And this morning, not long after your messenger left, the ring opened again, but no one passed through. I myself felt Guardian power pass off our world in the night. And today, there is a great disturbance.

"It is your people who have caused this imbalance. If we do not act to right the wrong, the Guardian will leave us forever."

"What are you saying?"

"These must be sacrificed."

"Sacrificed? How sacrificed?"

"We have a drink. You must consume it and then you will sleep the dreamless sleep of eternity."

"No – I'll not be executed for trespassing!" Kremer yelled. "Woolsey, you've got to do something. This is ridiculous."

"You're not going to be executed," Richard snapped.

"You do not respect our beliefs as you would have us think," Emoktuk said.

"I do. But I am a leader like you. I cannot allow you to execute my people for something that is considered a minor infraction on my world. They did not know the severity of the crime."

"Getting started without us?" a voice drawled from behind the crowd of warriors, tribal leaders and by standers. The latter parted to reveal Ronon Dex, Dr. McKay and Colonel Sheppard standing, in the open.

"John!" Teyla called in amazement.

Richard gaped. The last time he had seen Sheppard, he had been hooked up to a chest tube and monitoring equipment in the infirmary. The fit looking man standing before him was not the same one who had been lying on the gate room floor less than twenty-four hours earlier.

"I got better," Sheppard replied. "Rodney will explain later."

"Later may not be possible Colonel."

"Oh, yeah? Why's that?"

"Emoktuk here is the spiritual leader of the Omari people. He believes that we have offended the Guardian and for that yourself, Doctor's Bowen and Kremer, Teyla Ronon and McKay must die."