CHAPTER 10 – THINGS GO SOUTH

She reported to the jumper bay as requested after first stopping off in the gear room and getting some assistance from one of the marines as to what 'full gear' meant. When he was done helping her, she had wished she hadn't asked. Tactical vest, P90 and a backpack filled with emergency rations that weighed 10kilograms. She groaned. It was heavy now, but she knew that after a training run with that on her back and the heavy tactical vest, she was going be feeling more than just a little under the weather. She was exhausted from both the lack of sleep from the night before and the emotional rollercoaster that she had been riding around and around. She had felt a brief moment of respite last night, had thought that finally it was coming to a stop at the station and she could get off. But today? That ride was taking another spin on the track, and she was feeling both nauseous and light headed. The marine said little to her as he assisted and she guessed that her reputation was following her around the base like a bad smell. She was too tired to attempt any conversation herself, so let him pull tabs and clip on additional gear in silence.

When she arrived in the jumper bay, Lorne was there and watched her approach with curious eyes. He noted the dark circles on the pale face and the lackluster approach and wondered if he should send her to the infirmary for a check, rather than pulling rank and making her pay some penance for the stunt she pulled yesterday. She did not look well, her eyes were overbright and did not seem to focus on any one thing, instead they skittered around the gate room, as though to spend too long looking at any one thing would bring unwanted attention. He'd make her do the run, but keep an eye on her. Like the Colonel he was starting to think there was a little more beneath the surface than what this prickly, mouthy woman let the world see.

"Ok team. The terrain on P9T12Y is a little mountainous, and certainly not a walk in the park. I have chosen this particular planet because the oxygen levels are a little richer. This will make you work a little harder. If you find this hard? Then running on the mainland will be a cinch. There are no heroes here. If you feel faint or lightheated you will stop. For safety reasons. The additional oxygen can cause problems in some people. We work in the buddy system - again for safety. Miss Barlow? I'll not inflict you on any of these impressionable lads here, so you'll be with me. Any questions?"

His eyes linked immediately with Jo's as if waiting for a protest of some sort, and she rolled her eyes, clamping her mouth shut immediately. She was already in his bad books and did not wish to take out another page.

They stepped through the gate and Jo staggered a little on the flipside, the weight of the pack and her already tired body, taking more than just a little pounding as she passed through the wormhole. Lorne, a little concerned, steadied her, sending the other teams ahead. The course had already been mapped out by him previously. When they had first arrived in Atlantis, Lorne had spent some time setting up the different training scenarios, and this particular course was of relative difficulty and marked along the way. It was twenty kilometers long and included some slightly mountainous terrain with a jungle type topography and he knew that it would challenge even the fittest recruit.

Boot camp Pegasus style.

"You up for this, Barlow?" He kept his voice brusque, but his eyes were professionally assessing her pale skin, now covered in a sheen of sweat. He clamped a hand at her wrist, and felt her pulse, which seemed rapid and a little out of control. His eyes narrowed when she pulled her hand away, and fiddled with one of the straps of her backpack.

"Good to go, Major. Sir!" Her voice was equally brusque. She didn't want to upset him further and attempted to fall back on her military days, keeping communication to a minimum and a cold respect in her voice.

"Let's do this then." He paused. "Barlow?"

"Sir?"

"What was your rank, before you... uh... left the military."

"Kicked out...sir. Not left. Call a spade a spade. And rank? That would be Major... Major."

He raised his eyebrows. To push through to major that fast, she must have been something special. And it must have taken a hell of a knock to make her turn her back on that.

He set off at a medium pace, a small nagging finger in his conscience pointing out that it was unlikely she was medically fit for this and knowing that she now she had her own reputation to maintain, she would not willingly pull out. His responsibility as her superior officer was to push her, yes. Kill her...no.

They ran an easy 10k and then he made her stop for water and a two minute break. He noted that she did some stretching to ease her muscles from the punishment that John had dished out yesterday, and his estimation of her rose a notch or two. She had not complained, and had not slackened the pace. Perhaps, if she could find her way back to that place in her life when things made sense, she would find some way to reinstate her tenure in the military. If there were extenuating circumstances to her dismissal, then it could perhaps be revisited. Second chances. There were few people out there who did not deserve them, and from what Lorne had seen of Jo today, she was a pretty sure candidate for one.

Lorne had just clipped his water bottle back to this tactical vest when a telltale whine vibrated overhead. Instinct kicked in, and he grabbed Jo's arm and moved quickly off the path into the bushes along side the track.

Once she was secure, he clicked on his radio. "Wraith. Incoming. Take cover. Everyone copy that?"

He waited until he had received confirmation from all the teams and turned to look at Jo. Instinct had kicked in, and he had forgotten for that moment, that Jo was military trained. He had not needed to protect her, but she did not know about the wraith, and his first thought had been to get her away from the darts and the potential beam.

"Jesus, Major. What the hell was that. My father..." She paled, and shut her mouth quickly, and turned away, looking up at the sky instead, to track the sound of the whine, watching as the dart headed back in their direction.

"You father – what? Jo?" Something in her voice had him softening his. "Your father was shot down, wasn't he? You can be rest assured it wasn't by wraith. They've yet to venture into the milky way galaxy."

"Wraith... I understand from the data base that the wraith only visit planets where human settlements have been established. Why would they come here? You said yourself, this planet is too rich in oxygen to sustain human life for long periods."

"You've been studying... good girl. You need to understand the enemy. And out here? The wraith are our enemy, the enemy of humans in this galaxy. I don't know why they're here... I have been to this planet many times, and never encountered wraith. Look out... we've got another dart incoming."

He pulled her deeper into the bush as a second dart flew overhead.

"I need to contact Atlantis. Wait here while I go back to the gate. You'll be safe if you stay off the main path. They're searching for something."

"Major... it's over ten clicks back to the gate. Let me go. If I ditch the pack I can get there quicker... hell, I hold the 10k record at boot camp. Nobody could catch me on a good day."

Something in her voice dragged his gaze back to her, watching those silver eyes as memories drifted through them, obliterating the present for a few precious moments.

"And today, Jo? Is today a good day...? 'Cause yesterday... I don't even want to think about that place you wallowed in. Definitely not a good place..."

"Yesterday, Major... I was a girl with nothing left, but questions that needed answering. That's all I can tell you for now. The rest of the story is a work in progress. Today? I'm trying... "

He risked placing a hand on her cheek, something in those silver eyes bringing out a pang of longing in him. Not that sort of longing, but she needed someone to put their arms around her and give her back a little of what she had thrown away. He deliberately avoided using the word 'lost'. Her path was not lost, it was destroyed by her own actions. She needed a friend to help her rebuild it, and Lorne was a sucker for anyone who had the guts to grab hold of that second chance.

"Thanks for the offer, Jo – but I need you to wait here. Keep contact with the other teams and they'll work their way back to you, under cover."

"Major, with all due respect... sir." He smirked a little at her irreverence, this time done with humour. "We need to find out what those darts are here for. If this planet has not provided them with human... sustenance... in the past, then they are here for another reason."

"After I radio Atlantis. And you stay put for now...ok?" he gave her a sharp glance, and she widened those eyes, pulled herself up to her not so substantial height and said nothing.

"Jo... acknowledge my orders... please. Give me a little piece of mind... hmmm?"

"I... acknowledge... your orders, Major. Most definitely."

That wasn't the same as obeying them. Was it? That ship... Lorne could be wrong. I have to check out where those ships are going... my father could be here... somewhere.

And as Lorne cast a last glance at her as he shucked off his backpack, he felt a prickle of unease. Something in the tone of her voice just did not sit right.