Passing of Sins

Chapter Two

'All I'm saying is: why can't I fly the Jumper a bit more?' John Sheppard asked as he looked across at Rodney McKay who was expertly piloting the Puddle Jumper through the planet's atmosphere, just above the tree tops.

'Gee, I dunno, Sheppard, maybe because I need the practice? Flying in a straight line is all good and fine but I need the finesse.' Spotting a large clearing he brought the ship in for a gentle touch down. 'See?'

Teyla appeared over Sheppard's shoulder. 'Those mainland trips have improved your skills, Rodney,' she said, approvingly.

'Yeah, buddy,' Ronon added from where he was sitting. 'You're almost as good a pilot as you are a fighter.'

McKay threw back at grin at the Satedan. 'How you feeling, anyway?'

Ronon noted the glances from Sheppard and Teyla. 'After our last sparring session, I got knocked down so many times, my ass is killing me,' he explained.

Rodney, are you sure this is exactly what happened?

~ SGA ~

Rodney McKay blinked and stuttered to a halt. The rest of Sheppard's team along with Elizabeth were all sitting in Weir's office. 'What do you mean?'

'I need to know exactly what transpired on your last mission if we're going to find out what happened to John,' Elizabeth said.

'What do you think I was doing?'

Elizabeth, looking a little lost for words for a second, glanced at Ronon and Teyla. Ronon, who was leaning against the doorframe, just shook his head in bemusement.

Teyla acknowledged Weir's silent appeal and spoke up. 'Perhaps I should speak of what happened.'

Rodney turned in his seat and glared at Teyla. 'What makes you so special?'

Teyla inclined her head slightly. 'My people have a strong tradition in retaining information that is passed on as stories. And besides,' she tried to mollify McKay's pride, 'you were busy taking readings of that strange power source and might have missed some important information.'

'Oh well.' Slightly relieved at the thought of not having to tell the whole story on his own, Rodney settled back in his chair. 'By all means then.'

Elizabeth smiled her thanks. 'Please, Teyla, start at the beginning.'

~ SGA ~

'All I'm saying is: why can't I fly the Jumper a bit more?'

'Gee, I dunno, Rodney,' Sheppard replied, as he navigated the ship along the tree tops. 'Maybe because I like to get there in one piece?'

'What's wrong with my flying?' asked McKay. 'I can fly in a straight line.'

'Sure and that's swell when all you have to worry about is dodging planets, but atmospheric flying takes a bit more finesse.' Sheppard tilted the jumper, as if in demonstration, to avoid a slightly taller tree. Spotting a large clearing, he brought the ship in for a gentle touch down. 'See?'

'Well maybe if I got the chance to fly occasionally, I might get some finesse!'

'Perhaps when we aren't as busy, John could take you to the mainland for some practice?' said Teyla, ever the peacekeeper.

'Gee, thanks.' As Sheppard turned to glare at Teyla, he noticed Ronon smirking at the bickering. 'How's those self defence classes going, Rodney?'

That wiped the smirk right off the Satedan's face.

'Oh don't remind me,' Rodney complained. 'My ass is killing me. Say, can we land a little closer to where we're going so I don't have to walk as far?'

'Do I have to explain the concept of stealth to you again?' Sheppard said.

'Yes, let's sneak up on the primitive village, you just want to make me suffer.'

'Works for me,' Ronon said, as the team made their way to the back of the Jumper to collect their gear.

'They may not have your technology, Rodney,' Teyla said, 'but that does not make them primitive.'

'Fine, slightly less advanced then, happy? I still have to walk half a day to get there.'

Sheppard set the cloak for the Jumper and followed his team out. 'First, it's only a few clicks and second, you're the one who detected the power source that we're checking out.'

'Oh, so now it's my fault?!'

'If you're going to whine the entire way, then I'm going to order you to shut up. Now, which direction?'

'You can't order me about like that, I'm a civilian!' Rodney pulled out a handheld scanner and pointed off to his right. 'This way.'

McKay and Teyla began walking away towards the distant village. Ronon looked at Sheppard. 'Can't we just shoot him?'

Sheppard sighed, 'Don't tempt me.'

~ SGA ~

'I still say they were made for each other,' McKay explained as the team walked towards some distant hills.

'Batman and the Catwoman?' Teyla asked. 'And these are real people?'

'No,' Sheppard explained, 'they're fictional characters that McKay here spent too much time fixating over as a kid.'

'Oh, right,' McKay huffed a little, 'like you've never thought about it. Need I remind you of some of our conversations about comics? At least I've stopped reading them.'

'First,' Sheppard held up one finger, 'they're graphic novels and second, what's wrong with reading them?'

Teyla shook her head and looked at Ronon, who just rolled his eyes and kept on walking.

There was a muffled curse as McKay, who was busy studying his scanner, stumbled over a bush.

'Nice trip?' Sheppard asked.

Before McKay was able to answer, Ronon stopped walking and reached for his weapon. 'Sheppard,' he growled.

'Yeah, I see.'

'See what?' Rodney looked up and saw a small group of people emerge from a stand of trees. The group consisted of six people; all of them were armed with long knives or machetes, apart from the youngest two, who were carrying bows. All were dressed in long knee length tunics belted around the middle, soft looking leather trousers and sturdy boots. None of them looked particularly friendly when they spotted Sheppard and his team. 'Oh, that,' Rodney continued. 'Is it asking too much to meet nice friendly slightly less technically advanced natives who don't want to kill us?'

'With the Wraith around?' Ronon said.

'Besides,' Teyla added, 'we don't know if they want to kill us, just because they are armed. We're armed yet we don't want to hurt people.'

'Most people.' Ronon glared in McKay's general direction but luckily, the scientist missed the look.

'Let's play nice, children,' Sheppard said as they continued walking towards the strangers. 'Maybe they know something about Rodney's village.'

'Ten bucks they start shooting at us straight away,' Rodney muttered.

'Hi,' Sheppard halted his team a few feet away from the other group. 'Nice day for a walk.'

A few of the strangers glanced at each other but no one spoke.

Okay, Sheppard thought.

'We're explorers,' he tried again, 'we're exploring. Don't suppose you know of anything interesting to explore?'

'Why don't you just ask them for a map of the stars and a tour guide, while you're at it?' McKay asked.

'Rodney, shut up!'

'Greetings,' Teyla stepped forward, 'we mean you no harm. I am Teyla Emmagan, these are my friends,' Teyla introduced each team member in turn. 'And you would be . . ?'

Two of the men in the armed group nudged a third. With a look of resignation, he stepped forward. 'Forric, m'name is Forric.'

'Hello,' Teyla smiled at Forric, 'there is no need to be afraid of us.'

'I'm not afraid!' Forric blurted out. 'I'm not!'

'Of course you're not,' Teyla replied soothingly, 'but I am sure you don't meet strangers very often. I know I was surprised when I first met my friends.'

'You were?' Sheppard said, then he caught Teyla's look. 'Yes, yes you were, but then we became great friends, right guys?' He turned and glared at Ronon and McKay, who decided to play along and mumbled in the affirmative.

'We have come a long way,' Teyla continued. 'Do you know of a place we could stay for the night? We would love to learn more about your people and perhaps trade.'

'Trade?' The older of the bow wielding members in the group looked interested at the thought. 'It has been a long time since we saw traders, what would you trade?'

It wasn't until she spoke that Sheppard realised it was a young girl, since each of the strangers had short hair, hidden under cloth caps.

'Quiet, Sharra,' Forric hissed.

'Food, supplies, information,' Sheppard addressed the girl. 'We're always looking for new things and trade partners.'

'Yeah, like this lot would have anything of value to trade,' Rodney grumbled.

'Power source, Rodney,' Sheppard muttered as he smiled at the strangers.

'We should take them back to the village, Forric,' Sharra said.

'Sharra!' Forric hissed. 'We can't take all of them.'

'Let the Masters decide,' she said.

'Masters?' Somehow, Sheppard didn't like the sound of that.

Sharra stepped forward to stand next to Forric. 'They are our leaders and advisors in all things. They were appointed in the long ago by the Great Ones in the fight against the Enemy.'

'They must be talking about the Ancestors and the Wraith,' Teyla said.

Sharra looked puzzled. 'I am not familiar with those names.'

'The Great Ones have many names,' Teyla said.

'Yeah, we call them the Ancients,' Sheppard added. 'Cause they're . . . well, ancient.'

Teyla resisted the urge to shake her head. John Sheppard was many things; a great leader, a cunning warrior and most of all a good friend, but she sometimes wished he could try to be like Doctor Weir and be more diplomatic. Many societies in the Pegasus Galaxy idolised the Ancestors and did not take kindly to anyone speaking lightly of them. 'We would be honoured to meet with the Masters. We hope to become friends.'

'We should take them back, Forric, it is getting dark.' Sharra turned and addressed Sheppard's team, 'It can be dangerous after dark. There are many animals that roam at night. This is why we are armed.' The others in her party smiled and nodded in agreement.

McKay caught Teyla's look. 'Yes, yes, they don't want to shoot us, this time.'

Forric looked uncertain but in the end agreed with Sharra. 'Follow us,' he muttered.

~ SGA ~

It was almost dark when the group came over the brow of a hill and reached their destination. It was situated at the bottom of a range of low lying hills next to a slow flowing river. Most of the open land was taken up with tilled fields that were just starting to show signs of vegetation. They saw a stone wall about seven feet tall that surrounded the entire village and Sheppard assumed it was some sort of defence against the dangerous animals everyone seemed to avoid. The buildings were all single storey wooden dwellings; they appeared to be empty and dark. All except for one stone building that stood in the middle of the village, this one hummed with voices and energy and with the faint golden glow of candles.

'We should hurry,' Forric said as they began their descent, 'it is evening tithe.'

'Evening tithe?' Sheppard asked.

'Yes,' Sharra explained as everyone increased their pace. 'Every evening we come together to give thanks for the day and share food.'

'Great,' McKay said. 'I'm starving.'

'Always thinking with your stomach,' Ronon said.

'Oh right, like you've ever said no to free food,' McKay snapped back, as Sharra moved to the front of the group, leaving Sheppard and his team to talk amongst themselves.

'It is their religious ceremony, Rodney,' Teyla said. 'You should be more respectful.'

'Fine, whatever, as long as I can eat.'

By this time they were on a road that led to an open wooden barricade, the entrance to the village.

'Looks like you might be too late, Rodney,' Sheppard commented. 'Seems the tithe is over.'

Peering into the gloom of the evening, the team could just make out all the villagers leaving the stone building, carrying with them the source of the golden light in the form of long candles and bundles of what Sheppard assumed was the evening food. Some of the villagers, who were heading towards their homes near the barricade, came to a halt as they noticed the approaching group.

'Forric?' one of them called out. 'Is that you?'

'Yes,' Forric replied. 'We've returned early from the hunt, we've brought . . . ,' he hesitated and looked back at Sheppard, 'we've brought friends.'

Sheppard stepped forward and put on his best "aw shucks we're just glad to be here" smile. 'Hi.'

The villagers murmured and looked anxiously at each other. No one seemed all that happy to see them; it was like meeting Forric's group all over again.

A less well adjusted person might start to take offense at the constant lack of welcome, Sheppard thought.

Sharra and Forric walked over to the villagers and began talking to them quietly.

Sheppard looked back at his team who were loosely surrounded by Forric's hunting party, Teyla was watching the villagers, trying to read their body language and gauge their intentions, Ronon was glaring out into the darkening night, always on the look out for any danger and Rodney . . . Rodney was being Rodney, he was sighing impatiently and shuffling from foot to foot.

He caught Sheppard staring at him, 'Any chance we could move this inside, my feet are killing me and its getting cold. Oh, and did I mention I haven't eaten for hours?'

'All in good time, Rodney,' Teyla murmured.

'Easy for you to say, I happen to have a high metabolism and I'm starving.'

Sheppard saw Sharra nod at someone and pat their arm before returning to the waiting group. 'It is agreed, we will take you to the Masters.'

'Finally,' Rodney grumbled as he pushed his way forward. 'Don't suppose there's any food left to eat?'

Sharra looked surprised at the question. 'I don't know.'

Ever the diplomatic one Teyla smiled at Sharra. 'Don't mind Doctor McKay, he is looking forward, as we all are, to meeting the Masters.'

Sharra smiled at the Athosian and gestured for the team to follow her towards the central stone building.

Sheppard moved next to Teyla and spoke quietly, 'Some days I don't know what we'd do without you.'

Teyla smiled and looked sideways at Sheppard. 'Probably spend more time imprisoned than you normally do.'

Sheppard just laughed.