"Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive"
Sir Walter Scott
"Why do I have to come again?"
Sheppard clipped up his vest and closed his locker with a little more force than was necessary. "Because Rodney, I said so."
"I know that!" McKay snapped. "That's why I'm questioning it. Isn't this more of a military thing?"
"You've been cooped up in that lab for days. The air will do you some good."
"But I have air here ," McKay griped. "And I have things that I need to do."
"Yes. Simulations to run, devices to catalogue … I think you get the idea." He gestured with a flourish of his hand. "I'm very busy."
Sheppard crossed his arms over his chest. "You're coming."
McKay was dragging his heels. He hadn't even opened his locker or bothered to check his handgun out of the armoury. It was a good job Sheppard had done the latter otherwise he'd be there all night.
"Teyla doesn't have to go," McKay whined.
"Torren is sick. She doesn't want to leave him."
"So let me get this right. You're too sick to go off world, but not too sick to sit up all night running simulations?"
McKay glowered at him.
"You're not sick. You're not even contagious anymore. You're fine."
"Oh and when did you get your medical degree Lt. Colonel Doctor Sheppard?"
Sheppard passed him his handgun.
"It's the middle of the night."
"It's not even passed nine."
"Either way it's late."
"You were going to be up all night anyway."
"And that's another thing." McKay raised a finger and wiggled it. "Ladon asked you to come alone."
Sheppard rolled his eyes and tossed McKay his vest. "I know."
"I don't even know why you're meeting him. Why can't this wait till tomorrow or better yet, why doesn't he come here?"
"I don't know, McKay. That's why I'm going to find out." Sheppard gave him a withering look. "Would you hurry up and get ready."
McKay sighed and heaved his vest on as if it were weighted with lead.
Woolsey was standing in the doorway. He looked oddly out of place in their locker room and Sheppard couldn't recall a time when he'd ever seen him down there.
"You're sure about this? After the incident with Latria-" Woolsey started to ask.
They had been invited by the Coalition of Planets in order to form an alliance. However, the team had been misled and were forced to stand trial for their alleged crimes against the Pegasus galaxy. The Genii had tried to push their luck. Ladon had maintained that at no time had they forced their agenda with the coalition to be the new military might. Contrary to what everyone believed, Sheppard was still wary of Ladon.
"I've talked to him about that. Apparently he was trying to sway them over to our side and they got the wrong impression."
"And you believe him?"
"No," Sheppard half smiled. "Not really, but he's been useful in the past and the Genii are still formidable. They've got leverage with a lot of our trading partners."
"Well I've spoken to Chett and he has informed me that the planet you're visiting wasn't in the database."
McKay looked up from tying his boot laces. "Chett? Who's Chett?"
"Chuck," Sheppard informed him.
"Chuck is Chett?" Woolsey scratched his head. "I've been calling him Chett for months. Why didn't he say?"
"The planet? " Sheppard urged.
"Oh. We sent through a MALP but there's some kind of interference. We couldn't get a lock on any life signs."
"Oh wonderful," McKay chimed in. "Could you tell if there was, oh I don't know, oxygen there?"
Sometimes it was best to just ignore McKay.
"Ladon said the planet was abandoned." Sheppard assured Woolsey. "I've got this. I'm aware it might be a trap, hence the back up."
"Oh," McKay said. "You think this might be a trap so you're taking me? Lovely!"
"I don't think it's a trap. It's not in Ladon's best interests to screw us over. He knows that."
"I wouldn't be so sure," McKay told him.
"He was just trying his luck with the Latrians and it back-fired, especially since the Latrians now favour us."
"What could he want to discuss at this time?" Woolsey asked.
"No idea." Sheppard shrugged. "McKay, hurry up. Mr Woolsey, we'll be fine. I'll see you both in the 'gateroom in ten minutes."
The village had obviously been abandoned a long time ago. All that remained were decimated huts and flat lifeless earth that stretched towards a thick forested area.
As Woolsey had stated, the 'jumpers were reporting no life even though Sheppard was standing directly beneath them and McKay informed him that his Life Signs Detector was on the blink. According to McKay, a harmless low level radiation was most likely the cause.
Sheppard kept one hand on his sidearm and the other over his p90 as he approached the figure standing alone. "Well, I'm here."
Ladon smiled amiably. "Thank you for coming at such short notice, colonel."
"How'd you find this place?"
"We used to trade with the Arnarians. The Wraith wiped them out many years ago."
"Right," Sheppard said, scanning his surroundings. He was all too familiar with this level of destruction. "Any reason I couldn't pick up your life sign?" he asked, holding up a LSD.
"It's safe here."
"You sure about that?"
Ladon arched an eyebrow. "You don't trust me?"
"Come on Ladon, don't be offended. I don't trust anyone," Sheppard said, hand still poised over his weapon. "What was so urgent it couldn't wait till daylight?"
Something shifted in one of the abandoned buildings and Ladon's hand drifted towards his own weapon. He was unusually jumpy tonight. Sheppard turned the light on his p90 and aimed it at the building; a creature resembling a rat skittered out and Sheppard switched the light off.
"It's just a rat."
"It's a Cassack." Ladon corrected him.
"Okay, it's just one of those."
When Ladon still didn't elaborate on their cloak and dagger meeting, Sheppard finally said, "I take it you're still having trouble with the rebel groups."
"Their attacks are increasing in frequency." His wariness was replaced with a look of weariness. "Just last week I lost two more men."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
He knew what it was like to lose good men. He'd lost count by now. He used to mark them down. He'd scratch a notch into the back of "War and Peace" but had eventually run out of space.
In Ladon's eyes he saw anger, but they'd been battling the rebels for months and this wasn't new.
"What's going on?" Sheppard asked.
"Do you recall our last meeting?"
"Before or after my tribunal?"
"I have explained the situation with the Latrian's. It was not my intention to betray you."
"As you keep saying."
Ladon stared at him and Sheppard finally relented.
"I remember. You said your city had been attacked," Sheppard said.
He had met with Ladon a month ago to discuss their alliance. The conference had been held in a neutral location. At that time Ladon had voiced his concerns about a number of the Genii who had defected. It was common knowledge that they had formed their own coalition and for the last two years they had been an occasional nuisance. Sheppard had only come across the rebels a few times. Mostly they were stealing from other worlds and now and again a quiet drink in a bar had turned into a drunken brawl. But last month they had orchestrated a coordinated attack on the Genii home world.
"I fear it's going to happen again." Ladon sighed heavily. "Men who were previously loyal to me have suddenly disbanded and joined the rebels."
"You think they're planning something?"
"I don't know," Ladon told him. "But something must have changed."
Overhead, thunder rumbled and the rain started to spit. Even if Ladon said this world was uninhabited, it still didn't mean it was safe. After all, assumption was the mother of all fuck ups and if it rained any harder then visibility would be limited and they'd be sitting ducks out there in the open.
"We'll step up our patrols." Sheppard said, gearing up to leave.
"As have I."
"I take it getting a meet with the head honcho of your rebel group isn't going so well?"
"Kalan is unwilling to talk to me." Ladon told him, eyes darting to the side as if he too were expecting trouble.
Kalan, it turned out, had spearheaded the entire attack on Ladon's home world and had been the cohesive in bringing all of the rebel groups together as one.
"If the situation changes and you need backup just let me know." Sheppard turned to leave and Ladon stopped him.
"I think it wise that you do not visit my home world for a while."
Sheppard heaved a breath and turned on his heel. "We have an agreement, Ladon."
"I know the terms of our alliance. I agreed to them, even if they were a little unreasonable."
"Unreasonable?" Sheppard tried not to laugh. "You don't exactly have the best track record."
"At the time I was just following orders. Haven't you ever followed orders that you considered to be unjust?"
Sheppard wasn't going to answer that question. Only because it was too close to the truth.
"I understand your need to know what we're doing at all times, and I have cooperated on each occasion, providing you with the necessary evidence that we're not as Doctor McKay puts it "up to no good", but this time I have legitimate concerns." Ladon stood to join him and met his eyes with a dark look. "That's why I called you out here. Why I wanted to talk to you alone. We're not safe."
"When have we ever been safe?"
Ladon looked frustrated by his interruption. "You realise Kalan wants your head on a plate for killing his uncle. His family were wiped out by the wraith after you woke them up and Kolya was all the family he had left."
"Someone's always out for my head. No change there."
"I'm serious, Colonel."
"So am I," Sheppard countered.
"I know Kalan. You think Commander Kolya was bad?"
At the mention of his name Sheppard felt the muscles in his neck and jaw contract.
"I get it."
"Yeah. Unfortunately, I do."
He had always known this would be a difficult union. There was no way for him to atone for what he had done. Ladon seemed to have made his peace with him, albeit out of necessity of the alliance, but many of his men had clearly not.
"I'm afraid of another attack," Ladon said.
The rain was beginning to fall harder and, if possible, the sky had managed to get darker. "You need a place to lie low?"
Sheppard hadn't been expecting that. "Okay. It'll take me a few days to sort out."
"I still need to be in contact with my people, Colonel. If I completely disappear I'll lose influence." Ladon paused and wiped rain from his face.
Sheppard wondered if he feared a Coup.
"I get it." Sheppard told him. "How're you gonna explain your sudden absence?"
"Let me worry about that."
A flashlight cut through the darkness, its beam danced over them and then promptly shut off. Sheppard had his p90 up and aimed at the same time Ladon unholstered his own gun.
"You see that?"
Sheppard didn't wait for the beam to pick them out again. He grabbed Ladon by the arm, who promptly shirked out of his grasp, but Sheppard wouldn't be deterred and pointed towards the buildings, gesturing for Ladon to follow.
They found a wall that had been knocked down but that offered enough cover when they crouched down.
"Did you come alone?" Ladon asked.
Sheppard quirked an eyebrow. "Well, not exactly."
"You said it yourself, dangerous times. I was covering my back." Sheppard narrowed his eyes, "You?"
Ladon pursed his lips; his silence was an admittance of guilt.
"That knock to the head I gave you that one time must have made you forget."
"Very funny Colonel." Ladon said, peeking over the wall. "Your team?"
"My most trusted advisors."
"You sure you trust your most trusted advisors?"
"Do you trust your team?"
"We could go on like this all night." Sheppard groaned. "We're both liars. We both trust our team. Where are your men?"
"In the tree line. Yours?"
"Tree line and …" he cleared his throat. "I have two 'jumpers in the air. Cloaked."
"It seems that you are the one with the trust issues."
"Oh, don't sound so surprised." Sheppard told him. "Standard operating procedure. We don't go to a new world without backup."
"Something tells me that you don't take this level of backup every time you leave Atlantis."
Sheppard reached for his radio at the same time as Ladon and they simultaneously asked their teams what the situation was. As they were talking over each other, they gave each other a disgruntled look.
"Lorne, we've got movement in the trees. You see anything?"
"We've got six unknowns to our three o'clock."
Sheppard turned to Ladon. "How many men do you have out there?"
Ladon lowered his radio. "Six. You?"
"Seven," Sheppard sighed.
"Mallin? Colonel Sheppard has seven men in your location."
Sheppard depressed his radio. "Lorne, it's probably Ladon's men. Why don't you introduce yourself?"
He listened as Lorne called out, heard movement and then. "Yeah, it's Ladon's men."
"Make your way to our position. Home time."
With the benefit of hindsight he should have known Ladon would bring a few friends along.
Lorne was cut off and abruptly the tree line was lighting up with the familiar cadence of gunfire.
Sheppard was the first to break cover, all the while trying to get through to Lorne.
"Major! What's your position? Major?"
"Sir, we have a dozen unknowns firing on us."
Sheppard turned to Ladon and he shouted, "Not my men!" Before Sheppard could accuse him. He got back on his radio and then said, "They're reporting the same."
"My same sentiments," Ladon told him as they moved as one towards the trees.
"Major! Fall back to our position!"
"I thought you said this place was abandoned, Ladon?"
"It is! I don't know what you're implying."
"Ah, hell." Sheppard ducked when a few errant bullets splintered a tree in front of him.
He took cover and Ladon did the same. In a matter of minutes, his men were rushing out of the trees, moving backwards and firing their automatic weapons at the same time. He added his own fire as Ladon's men rushed out to join them.
"Get your men back to the gate! We'll provide cover!"
Ladon didn't move.
Sheppard rolled his eyes. Neither of them was going to back down and he had to wonder if Ladon was trying to prove his place in their alliance by showing he could be trusted to back him up.
Sheppard counted his people as each one emerged. He counted two missing; Ronon and McKay.
"Lorne!" he called out over the rapid fire. "Where the hell are my team?"
Lorne ducked behind another tree and stopped firing to point back into the forest.
"Ronon was covering our six!"
"And what about McKay?"
He shouldn't even be there. Sheppard had thought it would be good for him to get some air. He'd been holed up in his lab for five days and this was supposed to be a cake walk. Sometimes he wondered why he ever thought a cake walk would be simple. Their luck really did suck.
"Dammit! I'm going in. Draw their fire."
He felt someone tug at his arm and it was Ladon.
"Were you not listening before when I said we were in danger? It could be rebels. What about your ships?"
Sheppard considered it and then shook his head. "The trees are too dense. We'd need to draw them out into the open and something tells me that's not going to happen."
"Then get them to land and come help."
"They'd have to park two miles away; by the time they get here it could be too late." And then he added. "It's my team out there. I'm going."
Ladon's expression softened and he cocked his weapon. "We'll provide cover. Mallin!"
One of his soldiers rushed over. He was tall and stocky with heavy set eyes and short greasy hair. "Sir?"
"Go with Colonel Sheppard and make sure he doesn't get himself killed."
Mallin nodded dutifully; Sheppard exhaled sharply and took off into the tree line with unfamiliar backup.
The rain had made the ground slippery and visibility, as he'd predicted, was shitty.
He pushed on regardless; slipping behind trees, jumping overturned logs and when he could, he reached for his radio.
"Sheppard!" Ronon's voice came through loud and clear and he was sure he could hear McKay in the background cursing away.
"Where are you buddy?"
"I am not fine! I got shot!"
"He's got a graze on his leg."
"Where are you?"
"Where are you?"
"Looking for you."
The line went dead and Sheppard gripped the radio tightly as if it would somehow make Ronon speak to him. He didn't even know where he was going. He was moving on instinct, trying to think like Ronon and failing. He came to a stop and Mallin bumped into his back.
"Did you get a good look at the guys shooting at us?"
Mallin shook his head. There was no follow up answer and it unnerved Sheppard.
"We'll head this way." He gestured with his p90 and noticed that Mallin tightened his grip on his own weapon. "Ronon would try to get to higher ground if McKay was injured."
Sheppard started moving again, all the while feeling that something was wrong.
He could hear the gun fire in the distance and the roar of his team's automatic weapons.
They'd be holding their own and hopefully drawing their attacker's fire away from them.
Sheppard tried the radio again. "Ronon?"
He chanced a look over his shoulder. Mallin was practically boring a hole into his back. There was something about this man that just didn't sit right. His eyes were dark and mean and his features were set and hard. His body language screamed that he was on edge.
"You okay?" Sheppard asked.
Mallin nodded, but his eyes were somewhere else. He was distracted and shifty and Sheppard wanted him to leave.
"You can head back. Think I've got this one."
"Ladon told me to look after you," he said.
"I know that's what he said."
"And I take my orders from him."
"Right. Well, you lead. I'll cover our backs."
Mallin narrowed his eyes at him but then very slowly edged forward and started to walk with deliberate steps.
"Ronon?" Sheppard said into the radio, eyes not leaving Mallin.
"Where the hell have you been?"
His radio crackled and a different channel opened. "Colonel, they seem to be retreating." It was Lorne.
The gun fire sounded like it was beginning to peter out. There were a few bursts here and there, but nowhere near the previous level. Hopefully the bad guys wouldn't be retreating in their direction.
"Really?" Sheppard wanted to say that had been too easy, but he didn't want to tempt fate.
"Ronon left me behind. I'm alone in a cave and he's off chasing one of the men. Just thought I'd let you know because I have no idea where I am. I'm hoping someone, preferably Ronon, because he abandoned me in the middle of nowhere and is the only one who knows my location, will come and find me. And stop me from bleeding to death."
Sheppard smiled. McKay was fine. "Okay, Lorne I'm going to get McKay. McKay, sit tight. Ronon, buddy, get your ass back…"
And then something slammed into his back. His head connected painfully with a tree.
Driven down to his knees by the force, Sheppard struggled to get back to his feet.
The radio had fallen from his hand and was lying at the base of the tree, not quite covered by sodden leaves. He dove for it and his fingers brushed the casing, but a boot caught him in the side and he couldn't stop himself from curling around the pain.
Mallin looked down at him with a blank expression. He picked up the radio and tossed it to the side. Sheppard's p90 was ripped from the front of his vest and when Sheppard went for his Beretta, Mallin stamped on his hand and removed that as well.
The rain was falling harder now, spilling its contents to the earth and Sheppard could barely see through its treacherous veil.
"What are you doing?" he asked, just to fill the void between them.
Mallin had his back to him and Sheppard took his chance. He scrambled in the direction of the radio, managed to get to his feet and miraculously found it lying on a patch of uncovered mud. He depressed the switch, managed to get out a, "Lorne, fallback to my…" before the radio was kicked from his hand and Mallin was stabbing something into the back of his neck.
"This will slow you down!" Mallin said.
He released Sheppard. The explosion of pain behind his eyes was truly excruciating. He immediately put his head in his hands and leaned forward, all the while hearing the distant call from Lorne on the radio.
Mallin was shouting into his radio. "I've got him!"
Sheppard tried to get up, but his limbs were struck by some horrible lethargy and he was nauseatingly dizzy.
"I've got him!" Mallin repeated frantically.
Sheppard realised that he must have been injected with a sedative and Mallin was calling for back-up to come get them.
He clamped his eyes shut, faintly aware of the rain pelting his back and nothing else. His world was narrowing to a pitter patter that matched his rapid heartbeat.
"Sheppard? Sir? Sheppard are you there?"
He couldn't move. The pain had completely paralysed him.
"Sir? Are you okay?"
He could hear the chatter over the radio, but all he could do was take in deep, stuttering breaths.
"Sir. We're coming."
Sheppard opened his eyes to find he was lying on the ground. It had stopped raining, but it didn't make much difference because he was soaked through anyway.
He managed to push himself into a sitting position.
His head was still throbbing.
He turned to the voice and squinted to see through the undergrowth, just as another figure, presumably Mallin rushed off in the opposite direction. He couldn't have been out long if Mallin was still hanging around. Maybe he screwed up the dosage? Either way, a familiar voice had driven him away.
Sheppard dragged himself over to his Beretta and aimed it into the bushes where Mallin had vanished. His aim was lazy and realising Mallin had gone, dropped his arm to his side.
"Here!" he called out again.
A familiar figure angrily swiped branches to clear a path and Ronon sprinted over to his position.
"Did you see him?"
Ronon looked at him dumbly. "Who?"
Sheppard prodded the tender area around his eye and sighed. "Just help me up."
Ronon assisted him into a standing position, and when he was upright and leaning against a tree, Ronon picked up his weapons and handed them back to him one by one. Sheppard reholstered the Beretta and hooked his p90 over his shoulder.
Ronon used his radio to let Lorne and the others know that he had located their MIA superior and said they'd meet them back at the village.
"Where's McKay?" Sheppard asked, breathing deeply in the hope it would abate his headache. "Please tell me you haven't left him in that cave."
Ronon smirked. "He's with Lorne. Figured out the cave was only minutes from their position and made it out alone."
"So, the part about bleeding to death?"
"Overreacting as usual."
"What happened to you?"
They started walking and Sheppard could feel the effects of his beating with every step.
"Mallin did a number on me."
Ronon growled, "I'll kill him!"
"No," Sheppard snapped. "We don't know that Ladon was involved, yet."
Ronon glowered at him, then relented a little because he patted Sheppard on the shoulder. "Keep moving before you freeze to death."
Sheppard hadn't realised that he had his hands wrapped around his midsection. Now that he thought about it, he was feeling chilled to the bone, but he wasn't entirely sure it was from the cold or because of the gut feeling that something wasn't right.
"Mallin stabbed me in the neck," he said, rubbing the tender area.
Ronon narrowed his eyes, grabbed Sheppard's collar and then turned him around.
"Looks like a puncture wound. Like a needle."
Sheppard groaned wearily. "It hurt like a bitch."
"What do you think it was?"
Sheppard tripped over his own foot and managed to clip a tree with his shoulder. Ronon reached out to right him.
"I think it was a sedative. When I was on the ground he was calling for someone and telling them he had me." Sheppard stopped again and rubbed at his head. "I feel like I do when Keller gives me the same shit."
Ronon was watching him closely. "You still need to get that checked out."
Sheppard knew what he was thinking. They all knew about bio-warfare. "I will."
They'd figure it out. It was probably nothing.
They trudged on, and the closer they got to the village, the more apparent it became of the damage inflicted by gunfire.
"Funny how that rebel group turned up tonight," Ronon said.
"You think it was by chance?"
"I don't know," Sheppard told him as he uncoordinatedly climbed over a ridge.
The beams of several flash-lights could be seen up ahead, criss-crossing and jumping wildly. Then the trees thinned out and they were back at the village.
Lorne was the first to approach him, asking if he was okay, but Sheppard was moving forward to grab Ronon's arm. Someone had to stop him from beating Ladon within an inch of his life.
"You're not going to threaten Ladon," Sheppard told him in a low voice.
"What the hell happened to you?" McKay asked. He was sitting on the ground with a bandage wrapped around his leg.
Sheppard handed his p90 off to Lorne and approached Ladon, who was standing in front of him with a shocked expression on his face. It probably had something to do with the way that Sheppard looked; beat up, bleeding, soaking wet, and covered in wet leaves and bits of twig.
"Your man attacked me." He took a step forward and Ladon's men closed in around him protectively.
Ladon looked genuinely confused. "Mallin?"
"Yes," Sheppard said. "Mallin."
Ladon looked from Sheppard to his men.
"Oh quit the act!" McKay snapped. "You planned this from the start!"
"McKay!" Sheppard said in a tired voice.
Ladon was defiant, even under the scrutiny of the Atlantians. "What are you insinuating, Doctor McKay?"
"You tell me."
Ladon smiled and shook his head, obviously amused.
"He has a point," Ronon said and when Sheppard looked behind him, Lorne was nodding as well.
"I had no part in this."
"How do we know that?" McKay asked.
"Mallin was my cousin." Ladon told him. "He was more like a brother."
"Don't you think it's a little convenient that we show up on an uninhabited planet where it's impossible to detect life signs and we just so happen to stumble upon a Genii rebel group?" McKay asked, not even trying to mask the vitriol in his voice.
"Rodney," Sheppard warned in a low voice.
For some reason Doctor Weir popped into mind. She had told him once not to jump to conclusions, and to preserve an alliance at all costs until they knew the whole picture. If it was the case that Ladon wasn't involved, they'd still need him on their side.
"I can see how you might come to that conclusion, Doctor McKay. After all, I was involved in the plot to take over Atlantis," Ladon said.
McKay pointed emphatically. "Exactly!"
"However, I have aided your fight against the Wraith. I have reformed the Genii coalition and allied myself with Atlantis and I gave you valuable information regarding Kolya's whereabouts. I also called Colonel Sheppard here to warn him further about the rebels and their activities and Doctor McKay to ask for his assistance."
"We know this, Ladon," Sheppard said, distantly aware that not so long ago he had been Ladon's biggest opposer, but everything he had said was the truth. Ladon had helped them, more than he should have and, tonight, he had been scared.
"You're a powerful ally. I have no wish to become Atlantis' enemy." Ladon rubbed a hand over his beard. "Obviously, Mallin has been disloyal and gave our location away to the rebels."
"More than that!" Ronon snapped. "Mallin tried to kidnap Sheppard."
"Is that true?" McKay asked.
Sheppard went to speak, but ended up wincing and reaching for his head. When Lorne and a few of his men stepped forward he held a hand up. "I'm fine," he said.
"What happened out there? Is Mallin…"
The relief on Ladon's face was palpable.
"He beat on me, stabbed me with a syringe and then when he heard Ronon ran off."
Ladon raised his chin. "Stabbed you?"
"Yeah," Sheppard said. "He said it would slow me down and then he was calling for someone on the radio to come get us."
"You think he meant to kidnap you?"
"We'll find him."
One of Ladon's men suddenly spoke and it occurred to Sheppard that they had been silent throughout their exchange. "I warned you of his insolence!"
Ladon's eyes went wide and he turned to the man. "Bal, he is my cousin. I have known him all my life. I never thought he would do this. "
"Wait," McKay made a noise that was somewhere between a laugh and a snort of disbelief. "You were warned about him? Oh this just gets better!"
Ladon's expression was grim. "He has been under suspicion for a few months now, but I never believed it. I had spoken to him of the accusations and he swore he was faithful to me."
"Accusations of what?" Ronon asked.
"A number of our projects, agreed and coordinated with your people, have been sabotaged."
Bal shook his head in a manner that suggested there was more to it than just that. "He was inciting hate against the Atlantians. This was bound to happen!" he moved in close to Ladon, but Sheppard could hear his words. "They have superior weaponry, ships that can go invisible; they'll kill us like they did the others!"
Ladon raised a hand to silence him. "I am sorry that I doubted you, Bal." He patted his shoulder.
"I don't believe this!" McKay groaned.
"I never thought he would do this to me. Lie to me." Ladon snapped. "I am as angered by this as you." He looked Sheppard in the eye. "I am sorry, Colonel. You must believe me."
Sheppard didn't know what to say. Ladon seemed sincere.
"Our doctors and staff can provide samples of everything we have within our medical stores and the materials he might have had access to. Most of the resources in our possession have been provided by you."
Sheppard nodded and gestured to his people. "Head back to the 'gate."
As Lorne's team left, helping a limping McKay, Ronon refused to move and Sheppard wasn't surprised.
"Ladon," he said. "If I find out that you had anything to do with this…"
"I give you my word that I did not."
"I hope that's the case." He turned to leave. "I'll expect those samples in Atlantis by morning. Don't disappoint me."
"And our agreement?" Ladon asked hesitantly.
Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck. "I'll have news for you in the morning."
When Sheppard stepped through the 'gate and back onto Atlantis, he could practically hear the rumour mill grinding already.
At the infirmary, Keller gave him one look and passed him a pair of clean scrubs. He pulled the privacy curtain and started the grim process of removing his wet clothes. His boots were entrenched with mud, and when he turned them upside down, water dripped out onto the floor. His pants were practically glued to his thighs, and between his vest and t-shirt he found clumps of dirt and wet leaves. His Life Signs Detector clattered to the floor. When he retrieved the device, it failed to light up on command. Usually he couldn't turn the damn thing off. Just another casualty of their failed mission. Oh and he felt like crap!
He could hear Major Lorne apprising Woolsey of the situation. McKay and Ronon were chipping in with what they thought had happened and how Ladon shouldn't be trusted. Sheppard rolled his eyes. Not many people on Atlantis liked the idea of aligning themselves with the Genii and now there was more fuel to the fire.
"Ladon…" he was about to say that Ladon was asking for their help, when the curtain whipped open.
Sheppard pulled the scrubs pants up in one fluid motion.
Teyla was standing there with Torren balanced on her hip. "I heard."
He tugged the scrubs top over his head and hissed when his ribs protested. "That didn't take long," he said when his head was through.
"Are you okay?" she asked, craning to see the cut on his cheek.
"I'm fine," he told her with a dismissive flick of his hand. A nuance he had no doubt picked up from McKay. "You should see the other guy."
Teyla arched an eyebrow. "Ronon said that Mallin intended to kidnap you?"
Sheppard hopped up onto the infirmary bed and removed his mud caked wristband and watch. "How's the kid?"
Teyla sighed and sat beside Sheppard. She bobbed Torren on her knee. "He is much better. This bird pox…."
"Chicken Pox," Sheppard corrected her.
"This Chicken Pox is nearly out of his system."
"Well, who knew Doctor Z had never had it."
Zelenka had brought it back from earth after visiting his sister and her three children. He was still covered in little spots even now, and McKay had been mocking him non-stop. That was until it turned out McKay hadn't had Chicken Pox before either. Hence why he'd been holed up in his lab for days on end hiding.
"Well, I am glad you are okay," Teyla said, smiling. "And that Mallin was unsuccessful."
The curtain moved and Doctor Keller was standing there with an instrument tray.
"How's McKay?" Sheppard asked.
"It's a flesh wound," she told him, patting Torren's knee as she passed Teyla. "Sheila's stitching him up now."
"Not good!" McKay griped from the next bed. "She hasn't even given me an analgesic. Ow!"
"Quit whining, Rodney!" Sheppard told him. "And stop scratching."
"I can hear you from here."
"Well, if Zelenka hadn't infected me with the pox then my skin wouldn't be so aggravated and itchy. I look like a prepubescent boy because of him and I'll have scars!"
"Because you keep scratching," Keller interjected. "You're over the worst of it. I've got some more calamine lotion if you need it."
"As do I," Teyla said scratching at her own spots.
"Yeah me too," Ronon moaned.
His were disappearing quicker than the others. Thank God Sheppard had already had Chicken Pox, otherwise they would have been a sight. It was bad enough his three team members were covered with spots.
"You okay buddy?" Ronon asked.
Sheppard realised that the infirmary was mercilessly empty. He hadn't even seen Lorne, Woolsey, and the other's leave.
"I sent them outside," Teyla told him. "And I will be waiting with them."
Ronon patted his leg. "Me too."
"Yes John. Fine. I know. Still, we will be waiting."
Sheppard sighed heavily as Keller snapped on some latex gloves. "So, aside from the obvious," she said, gently probing the area around his split cheek. "Any other complaints?"
Keller pulled the privacy curtain around them.
Sheppard leaned forward to show her the sore area just below his hairline. Keller made a "hmmm" noise.
"Hmmm?" Sheppard asked.
"Ronon told me about the attack."
"It's more than likely that it was a sedative, given the circumstances, but I don't want to rule out anything just yet. Anything else?"
"My ribs hurt. Don't think they're broken."
"We'll take a scan anyway just to be sure."
And when Keller flashed a penlight in his eyes he closed them tightly. "Bit of a headache."
After Sheila had drawn some blood and scurried off to the labs, Keller ushered him off the bed and guided him to the ancient scanner. Whenever Sheppard saw this thing, he couldn't help but think of the retrovirus incident. He regarded it with a look of disdain and lay down.
The scanner came down on top of him. Keller pressed a few buttons and initiated the scanning sequence.
He could never relax under this thing.
Just as it started to move along the length of his body, the light started to flicker.
"Hmm, that's odd," Keller said, watching the lights pulse.
"Is that….normal?" Sheppard asked, turning to look at the doc.
She was frowning. "No, it.."
There was a loud whining noise.
"That's definitely not normal," Sheppard said.
The flickering continued.
"We should get you out of there."
Sheppard watched the lights. They were strangely mesmerising.
He was vaguely aware of Keller speaking to him. She was at the main console. He could see her moving around in his peripheral, but couldn't seem to look away from the lights.
They sped up, and then, suddenly, the scanner's glass casing shattered, raining shards down on him. Thankfully, he managed to close his eyes in time, but he could feel the shards cutting exposed skin. Then, just as quickly as it had malfunctioned, the scanner whirred softly and cut out.
"Oh my god!" Keller pushed the scanner aside, just as McKay was racing over, injured leg suddenly forgotten.
"What the hell was that?" Sheppard asked, pushing himself into a sitting position and watching as blood seeped out of assorted tiny cuts.
"I don't know." Keller reached for some gauze and applied it to the biggest slash that was on Sheppard's knuckle. "I'm sorry, John."
"Well, my day sucked anyway," he replied. "Any idea what happened?"
McKay had pried open a side panel in the scanner and was examining the exposed wires.
"Looks like it overloaded, which shouldn't happen by the way." He checked the settings on the main console. "Are you sure you programmed this right?"
Keller gave McKay an annoyed look. "I use it every day. I think I know how to program it." She turned to Sheppard. "Looks like we'll have to do this the old fashioned way."
Sheppard flicked a piece of glass off his arm and sighed.
"I'll have Marie clean your cuts," Keller said as she directed him to his bed.
He pushed himself up slowly and walked tiredly back to it.
McKay was on his radio, asking Zelenka to bring up his laptop and a diagnostic tool. Keller rambled on about the cuts on Sheppard's arms and face and how they were superficial, shouldn't scar, and that she would have to run more blood tests or something. He didn't care. She could do what she liked; he was suddenly so tired that all he wanted to do was…
Sheppard rubbed his eyes. The infirmary was dark and he recognised the night shift. Obviously, he had been a patient here one too many times.
"How long did I sleep?"
"Six hours. You looked like you could do with the rest. How are you feeling?"
"Okay. Headaches gone." He sat up and could feel the stiffness in his ribs.
"Your ribs aren't broken, just bruised. Your cheek is stitched up and you've got a nice shiner."
Sheppard gave Keller a wan smile. "Great."
"We just got your blood results back and they're clear. Whatever you were injected with has metabolised quickly. That's certainly characteristic of a sedative."
"Ladon's people are going to bring samples tomorrow that you can test anyway."
"I know. Hopefully we'll find the answer there. You're scheduled for another blood test in," she checked his dirty watch, "seven hours so I suggest you get cleaned up and rest."
"Cleaned up?" Sheppard looked at his hands and they were filthy, so were the once clean bed sheets for that matter. "Guess I'm a little muddy."
"Go take a shower and we'll have a new bed set up for you. I'd let you go back to your quarters but I want to monitor you tonight, just in case."
"You're a worrier, doc."
Keller smiled and handed him a towel. "Call it being thorough."
The next morning Sheppard's blood test came back clear and he was allowed to leave the infirmary. He endured the usual, if anything changes come back, speech and beat a hasty retreat.
The commissary was blissfully empty at that time in the morning. Sheppard grabbed some coffee and headed out to the terrace. He felt strangely guilty. Normally he had breakfast with his team, but today he just wasn't in the mood for company.
He looked up. Woolsey was standing there with his hands clasped behind his back.
"Mind if I join you?"
Sheppard kicked out the chair opposite and Woolsey regarded it with a raised eyebrow before sitting down, back ramrod straight, hands clasped on the table, now.
"I've spoken to Doctor Keller. She informed me that your blood tests all came back negative."
Sheppard took a swig of his coffee before nodding.
"Colonel, I wanted to talk to you in private with reference to the events of last night. Get your side of the story, so to speak."
"What do you want to know?"
"I am aware that your team believe last night was a trap. In fact, they have been particularly vocal on the subject."
"And by team, you mean Rodney?"
"And also Ronon."
"I'm sure Lorne threw in a few objections as well."
Woolsey didn't answer. Instead, he asked, "What do you think?"
"Bottom line. I don't think Ladon was responsible for the attack on our team or the attack on me."
"Ladon wanted to meet in private because he feared another attack on his own world. He asked for our help to find him a place to lie low."
Sheppard nodded again.
"So, you think the rebels turning up was merely a coincidence?" Woolsey asked, distracted when a few people drifted onto the terrace.
Realising they were interrupting an important meeting; they turned back and headed inside.
"It was pretty obvious to me that Mallin had given away our location to the rebel groups."
"And his attack on you?"
Sheppard smiled. "I think he just wanted to hurt me. He wanted to take me down so I was easier to capture."
"You think it was a revenge attack?"
"You know as well as I do that it was always a possibility."
"I have read those mission reports." Woolsey's expression conveyed that he understood perfectly. "Do you have any ideas as to where we can stow Mr. Radim?"
"PX304," Sheppard suggested. "It's a small community, but they have an underground network of catacombs that they live in year round. I'll ask them if they'd be willing to take him in."
"Good idea. Our first priority should be to set up a meeting with Ladon. I'd like to speak with him about his cousin."
"We definitely need to find Mallin," Sheppard said, leaning back in his chair to relieve some of the discomfort in his side. "He's been to Atlantis. He's got Intel that we can't let fall into rebel hands."
"You think that's where he's hiding?"
"From experience, it's best to assume the worst and I can't think where else he'd be hiding."
Woosley stood and carefully moved his chair back before he smoothed invisible creases out of his uniform. "I'll set up a meeting then."
Ladon Radim appeared on the screen in front of him, flanked by two of his men. It had been agreed that there was no sense in Ladon coming to Atlantis. After all, they wanted to maintain a low profile for the time being.
"Ladon," Woosley said. "Thank you for meeting with me."
"Mr Woosley." Ladon bowed his head. "I would like to apologise again for what happened last night. Had I known Mallin was compromised I would never have…."
"We understand," Woolsey interrupted. "Colonel Sheppard believes that you were not responsible for the attack."
Ladon quirked an eyebrow. "Really?"
"I have to say I am surprised to hear that."
"Yes. As was I," Woosley admitted.
"I do not wish to damage our alliance in any way. I hope we can work together and continue a mutually beneficial relationship."
Woolsey nodded and looked to the men that were with him. Ladon must have seen something in his expression because he introduced the two at his side.
"You can trust Sayan and Kanar. Sayan was against the siege of Atlantis from the very beginning and when Kanar disagreed with Kolya on capturing Colonel Sheppard, he was beaten and dropped on an uninhabited planet with no supplies."
Kanar turned his head and Woosley could see the big ugly scar that ran down the length of his face.
"For those that disagreed, there are those that welcomed Colonel Sheppard's actions during the storm and his subsequent ending of Kolya's regime."
"As long as you trust them, Ladon. I hear you have some supplies for us?"
"Yes. We have samples for your Doctor to test. If you agree, I would like to send Sayan and Kanar through with them. They will be unarmed."
Woosley looked down into the control room and at the soldiers who were surrounding the area. "That will be fine. Chuck, lower the shield."
Ladon waited patiently.
"Your men are free to come through."
Ladon gestured to his men and within minutes they were entering Atlantis with a large crate between them.
"Do you have any leads regarding your cousin's whereabouts?"
Ladon nodded. "I do."
"I would like you to send through any details to me. As you can understand, we'd like to conduct our own search."
"As long as you understand I will be sending my own teams out to find Mallin?"
"I wouldn't expect anything less, Ladon. And if we find him, we will hand him over to you."
"I assume Colonel Sheppard will be leading the search?"
"I have already spoken to him."
"I know he tends to be a 'shoot first, ask questions later' kind of person."
"Mallin will be unharmed. It is not our place to punish him. That will be yours."
"I will send the details through then." Ladon lowered his voice. "I assume Colonel Sheppard has cleared me for…"
"We just need to finalise some details, but I should imagine you can leave tomorrow."
"I'm going to cut the transmission and redial so your friends can return home. Please keep us appraised if you hear anything else."
"I will, Mr. Woolsey."
Sheppard found McKay in his lab staring at his laptop with a look of pure concentration. He didn't even notice Sheppard come in, which meant that Sheppard couldn't help but sneak up and tap him on the shoulder.
McKay screamed and pressed his hand to his chest. He gave Sheppard one of his death stares.
"I see you're feeling better," McKay said.
Sheppard leaned against the work bench and smiled. "Can't keep a good man down."
"Good? You nearly gave me a heart attack!" McKay snapped. "What do you want, anyway?"
"We've got to go offworld and speak to the Narayans."
"About putting Ladon up?" Sheppard nodded. "Do they know they'll be in the presence of evil?"
"Not this again."
"I just don't know how you can trust him after everything that's happened."
"You could say the same about him trusting me," Sheppard stated.
"I just think it's a bad idea."
"I know. But, I'd rather know where Ladon is than have him disappear on us. Look, you're coming anyway so go and gear up."
"I can't. I'm busy."
"Yes. I realise that's a concept that you're not familiar with, given that you seem to have an appalling amount of spare time to play golf and sit around in your room reading comic books, but I am."
"They're graphic novels, McKay."
"Whatever," McKay said with a wave of his hand.
"What's going on?"
"The city's been experiencing odd power problems."
"Ancient scanners exploding odd."
"Right," Sheppard winced at the memory. "Did you figure that out?"
"No," McKay admitted. "And since then, there have been other power fluctuations.
They're small, but they could mean something. I need to stay here and check them out."
Sheppard sighed. He wanted all of his team offworld with him, but if there were problems with Atlantis, then McKay was the best person to fix them. Sheppard patted him on the shoulder. "Okay. See you later."
As Sheppard was leaving, McKay swivelled around in his chair. "Bring me back some of that green Jello stuff they have there."
"It'll be on my list of priorities."
"Oh hardy ha!"
The Narayans were happy to help in housing Ladon. The fact that he had been Genii did not seem to be an issue, and several families had volunteered to take him in.
They were located far enough away from the 'gate and were the only inhabitants of this planet. Their technological level was base, but their moral and ethical standards were high. Ladon would be safe here. The only thing he'd be in danger from was high cholesterol.
Each time they visited, the Elders laid out an impressive spread for them.
Having eaten their fill of food and declined the ceremonial wine several times due to its extremely high alcohol content, (Sheppard wasn't falling for that again!) they said their goodbyes and left the village in high spirits.
"McKay's gonna be pissed he missed that," Ronon told him with a sly grin.
"Yeah, who knew that space rodent thing would taste so good," Sheppard said.
"I believe Ladon will be safe here," Teyla agreed. "Although, I do not believe he will appreciate you telling Elder Santha that he would enjoy their Xanthas ceremony and would be grateful for a lead part in the festivity."
Sheppard tried to look innocent. "Who doesn't enjoy dancing naked around a fire, huh?"
Ronon clapped him on the back and laughed.
"Yeah, well," Sheppard paused.
He could hear something rustling in the trees. Holding up his fist, Teyla and Ronon froze and both reached for their weapons.
Sheppard pulled the LSD from his front pocket, but he couldn't read any life signs. Nothing. In fact, the tablet was completely dead. "This thing's useless," he said.
Ronon moved forwards to the undergrowth with the aim of flushing whatever or whoever it was out. If this place proved to have hostiles or dangerous predators they would have to revise their decision to leave Ladon here.
"One, two…" Ronon jumped into the bushes and a Carrick scampered out and across the track in front of them.
Ronon laughed and Sheppard shook his head. This whole situation with the Genii had made them jumpy and he didn't like it.
Sheppard didn't sleep well that night. It probably had something to do with the fact that the lights in his room refused to switch off. He'd already left the warmth of his bed three times to turn them off and seconds later, always when he was comfortable again, they would pop back on.
He had left them like that for a good hour, hoping exhaustion would lull him to sleep, but then all he could think was that they were going to explode like the scanner. Nothing put you less at ease for sleep than thinking the ceiling was going to crash down on top of you.
Sheppard had fidgeted, turned and achieved nothing more than twisted sheets. In the end, sheer frustration drove him from his quarters and he found himself wandering the halls aimlessly.
It was late, but he knew all of his team mates would be awake at this time; McKay in his lab working on solving Atlantis' different issues, Ronon in the rec-room watching Aliens again and Teyla would be up with Torren for the late night feed.
He couldn't decide which one to disturb.
In the end, he slinked into the rec-room and dropped into the chair next to Ronon.
"Can't sleep?" Ronon asked
"Same old," Sheppard said with a sigh. "You're not watching Aliens."
"Nah," Ronon said, and when Sheppard looked at the screen more closely, he recognised it was Aliens versus Predator.
"Why do you watch this stuff late at night?"
Ronon shrugged as one of the aliens burst out of the predator's body.
They sat in companionable silence for a while. Sheppard guessed that's why he chose to go to Ronon. Ronon didn't feel the need to fill the silence with talk about everything and anything like McKay did. And if he remained too silent with Teyla, she would inevitably try to talk about feelings. It was easier this way. He could just sit and watch alien's burst out of predator's stomachs and not feel like he owed something back.
"Please tell me you are not watching the same film, Ronon." Teyla was standing in the door with Torren cradled in her arms.
"I like it," Ronon told her as she came to sit beside him.
"I will never understand why," she said, grimacing at the gore in front of her.
"Same here," Sheppard said. "Too much like real life."
"Torren seems to like it," Ronon pointed out.
Teyla looked down at her son, who was staring intently at the screen and smiling. "I hope he does not take too much after you," she said, but the corner of her mouth was twitching upwards.
"Ah, good looks, great hair," Ronon said.
"The eating habits of a pig!" McKay remarked as he walked in and plonked himself down on the arm of Sheppard's chair. "What are you all doing up at this time?"
McKay liked to think he had the monopoly on being awake passed midnight.
"We were having a secret meeting about how much we despise you," Sheppard dead-panned.
"What?" McKay's eyes went wide and then he smirked. "Oh, I see. A joke. Ha! My sides are splitting."
Ronon pointed at the screen. "Like that guys! Whoa!"
"Why aren't you in your lab?" Sheppard asked around a yawn.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Am I not allowed to leave it?" Even McKay couldn't be bothered to continue his sarcastic remark, and his tone softened. "I'm taking a break from staring at an endless screen of numbers."
"No luck with figuring out the power problems, then?"
"The outages aren't following any uniform sequence. One minute there's an issue in the commissary, the next it's in the 'jumper bay."
"Ah." Sheppard yawned again. "You'll figure it out."
"Oh, and there was nothing wrong with that scanner you brought me today."
"Yes, really. But thank you for wasting an hour of my day when I don't already have enough to do."
Sheppard frowned and stifled another yawn as one of the predators reappeared from being invisible.
"Go to bed, Sheppard." Ronon told him, already distracted by the impressive sword the predator was wielding.
"Right," Sheppard pushed himself out of the chair and shuffled towards the door. He figured he was tired enough to sleep with the lights on now. "Don't stay up too late.
It's a school night."
Sheppard headed back to his quarters and when he got there, he swiped his hand over the door console.
Frustrated, he tried again and the door beeped loudly. Atlantis never said no to him!
At first, he thought there was something wrong with his vision, but then he looked up and all the lights in the corridor were blinking and pulsing like Atlantis' heartbeat. He watched them for a minute or two, finding them oddly soothing. Then, one of the furthest lights suddenly crackled and went dark.
He shivered. It had become unexpectedly cold all of a sudden.
Another light crackled and went dark, then another…
He tapped his earpiece and sighed. McKay answered straight away.
"What is it? I'm watching this horrible film that Ronon insists on watching every night!"
"I can't seem to get into my quarters. The door controls don't work and there's something weird going on with the lights in the corridor."
Sheppard heard Ronon make another "Whoa!" noise in the background and then bark out a laugh.
"And I want to go to bed, so can you do something about it?"
"It's probably just another power fluctuation."
"That still doesn't help me get into my room."
"Fine. Do you have something that you can pry the panel open with?"
"I left my tool kit in my other sweat pants."
Sheppard tried waving his hand over the door control again, but this time it made a strange hissing noise that made him step back.
"What is it they say about sarcasm?"
Sheppard couldn't resist. "Lowest form of wit. I guess that's why you use it so often."
"I was going to help you, but now I think I'll let you sleep in the corridor."
"And I think I'll revise your duties on Atlantis and have you check out the issues we were having with the sewage system."
"Funny, Colonel. Not that's at all within your power."
"It's within Woolsey's. I can make that recommendation if you'd like?"
"Just stay where you are and I'll come to you."
"Thought so." Sheppard leaned against the wall and crossed his arms.
Whatever was happening with Atlantis' systems didn't seem to be confined to the lighting. Obviously, some short-out somewhere had caused the heating to be turned off in this section and he could already see his breath, it was so cold.
He was left watching the lights.
The next bulb in the chain didn't immediately fizzle out. Instead, the intensity increased and several seconds later it exploded and glass pinged the floor below it.
Sheppard was just about to say "not this again!" when all the lights started bursting in quick succession. With nowhere to go, he crouched down and put his hands over his head as the lights above him sparked and overloaded.
"McKay! Hurry up!"
"I'm going as fast as I can, Sheppard. The transporter isn't working so I'm taking the stairs. What's going on?"
"Things are exploding up here!" he snapped. "That's what's going on!"
The door control was next. The panel ruptured from the wall and struck the floor with a loud clang.
The door controls were sizzling and smoke was billowing upwards. The fire safety system didn't seem to be initiating.
"What the hell?"
Sheppard hadn't realised that McKay had arrived and that he was wielding a fire extinguisher. Sheppard took it from him and aimed the fire suppressant at the door panel. The flames were smothered in seconds.
"What did you do?" McKay asked with a sigh.
"Nothing," Sheppard retorted, annoyed that McKay's first instinct was to accuse him.
"It went cold, the lights started exploding and then that caught on fire and the fire system didn't…"
He cut himself off when suddenly the fire alarm blared once and water started to fall from the ceiling. "…go off," Sheppard finished, wiping the water from his eyes.
Sheppard arrived in the 'gateroom just as Chuck was announcing confirmation of Ladon's IDC. With the shield lowered, Ladon walked through the 'gate, carrying a pack over his shoulder. He looked remarkably relaxed for someone who was yet again under suspicion.
"Colonel Sheppard," he said, dropping the pack onto the floor. "Thank you again for organising this."
Sheppard hooked his thumbs into the front of his tac vest. "You ready?"
He wanted Ladon off Atlantis. Even though he didn't think Ladon was responsible for either attack offworld, it didn't mean he wanted him hanging around his city.
Ladon looked back at the 'gate and then to Sheppard. "I thought…" he paused and cleared his throat.
Sheppard suddenly realised why Ladon looked alarmed. "You thought?" he smiled. "You thought you were staying on Atlantis?"
If Ladon was embarrassed he managed to hide it. "I had thought it would be the best option, given your predilection for wanting to keep an eye on me."
Sheppard stepped in close and lowered his voice, aware that everyone was watching them. "I want to keep my eye on you from a distance, Ladon."
"Right," Ladon said. "If you do not trust me…"
"You're damn right."
"You said you believed I had nothing to do with attacking you."
"I don't think you did, but it still doesn't mean I want you in my city."
"And I provided samples for your doctor to test. I presume you found nothing."
No, they hadn't.
"You asked for my help, Ladon. This is what I'm offering so take it or leave it."
Ladon looked thoughtful before saying, "Where will I be staying?"
"The Narayan's are happy to put you up. We helped them defend their village against a Wraith attack a few months back so they owe us one."
"Not many people have heard of them. They tend to keep a low profile."
Ladon nodded. If he was surprised at being kicked out so quickly, he didn't show it.
His words were cut off by the 'gate alarm blaring and Sheppard checked his watch. None of the offworld teams were due back for another few hours yet. "What have we got?" he asked, taking the steps up to control centre two at a time.
Chuck looked up from his station. "It's Major Langley's team, sir."
"Patch them through," Sheppard told him. "Langley, what's up? I know your team's as bad as mine for late check ins. You're early."
He could hear Langley laugh before answering. "That's true, sir. But we thought you'd be interested in what we've just spotted."
"A group of rebels have just entered the village. We've hung back and it doesn't look like they know we're here, yet."
"Eight sighted. Three of them have gone into a bar. They're all armed. The villagers seem to recognise them and are running scared."
"You've got a team of five, right?"
"Yes, sir. We can engage if you'd like?"
"No. You're outnumbered. Monitor their positions and report back if anything changes. I'll head up a team and come to you."
"No worries. I'm kind of enjoying sitting in this tree. Makes me feel youthful."
Sheppard smiled. "Just don't fall out and break your neck. Sheppard out." He turned around and Ladon was standing beside him, pack abandoned at the bottom of the stairs.
"What's going on?"
"Rebels have been spotted on PX493. It's a trading post. The Mayas. Know them?"
"I've heard of them, but don't have any dealings with them. Do they know if Mallin is there?"
"I don't know. That's why I'm going to find out."
The 'gate took longer to disengage than usual and when it did, something shorted out on the console that Sheppard had been leaning on. He stepped back and stuck his finger in his mouth just as Chuck jumped out of his seat.
"Call McKay down here and get him to take a look at that," Sheppard said; he couldn't keep the weariness out of his voice. These systems problems were beginning to be damn problematic.
Chuck nodded and eyed the station as if he were worried it might suddenly blow up.
"Problems?" Ladon asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Just a few technical issues," Sheppard told him. "Nothing to worry about."
Ladon didn't look convinced. He turned his attention back to the Mayan planet. "The minute the rebels see you, they will kill you on sight."
"Not many people know what Mallin looks like. I do. I'm going."
"If Mallin is there, perhaps I should come with you."
"I'd suggest you stay here till we return." He turned to Chuck. "Radio Teyla and Ronon and tell them to gear up and get down to the 'gateroom."
"What about Doctor McKay?"
"He's got a city to fix."
Sheppard pulled the 'jumper up, above a nasty weather system, and headed towards the village.
He could feel the 'jumper controls tug in his hands and he adjusted the inertial dampeners incrementally until they were flying smoothly through the air.
"Can't believe Ladon thought he was staying on Atlantis," Ronon said from the passenger seat.
"Perhaps we were not clear in stating the fact," Sheppard heard Teyla say.
"We can't trust him."
"That maybe the case, but he knows having said we will keep him safe, we will keep our promise."
"Not like he deserves it."
Sheppard had to adjust the 'jumper's course again and it occurred to him that flying had never felt like such hard work. Normally it was all intuition, but today he really had to fight to keep the 'jumper in the air. He had to wonder if it was him and not the weather. He'd felt out of sorts that morning. Getting up had felt like a mission in itself and a hot shower hadn't seemed to make a dent in the lethargy that seemed to pervade every bone. But then, he had been up late last night, supervising the clean-up crew outside his quarters. Then there was the small issue of actually getting into said quarters.
Sheppard narrowed his eyes and radioed Langley. "What's your position?"
"At the edge of the village on the western side. The rebels are still in the bar, sir."
Sheppard checked his watch. "Okay, let me know if anything changes. We're heading in by 'jumper. Shouldn't be too long."
"Major. You flew in by 'jumper. Any problems?"
"No. Not that I can think of. Why?"
"Ah, it's probably nothing."
"Okay sir. Langley out."
He bought up the HUD and squinted through the front portal to make out a good landing spot. As soon as he adjusted navigation, the HUD disappeared. He had to concentrate hard for it to reappear on the screen. He was distracted and he wondered if the others had noticed, yet. He'd learned a long time ago that his team were frighteningly in tune with his moods.
"Is there a problem, John?"
He could always rely on Teyla. "Damn ship's fighting me," he said. "You think the problems we're having on Atlantis could have effected the 'jumpers, too?"
Teyla looked thoughtful. "That is a question for Doctor McKay."
"Yeah," Sheppard nodded. "Shame he isn't here."
The controls jerked suddenly and Sheppard grabbed them with white knuckles.
He was struggling to keep the thing in the air. No matter how hard he tried to concentrate, the ship was pushing against him, refusing to cooperate.
"What's happening?" Ronon asked, moving forward in his seat.
"I don't know," Sheppard told him and forcefully instructed the HUD back onto the screen. If he was reading it right, the left drive pod was about to cut out. That just didn't happen.
Sheppard didn't look at Teyla. He gripped the controls as hard as he could and started to bring the 'jumper down to a survivable height. The underside scraped the tops of the trees and as he struggled to control the ship, tree branches were slapping across the front portal. Sheppard told them both to brace for impact.
The console in front of him started to spark and Sheppard grit his teeth. His head felt like it was going to explode. As the ground neared, the pain behind his eyes increased two fold and the edges of his vision greyed.
And then the headache was gone. Just like that, he felt his connection with the 'jumper die and they were sliding across the ground. Natural momentum carried them for what felt like an eternity, crashing them through the trees and eventually they came to a stop at the edge of the village.
Sheppard cautiously raised his head and let go of the controls. His hands ached.
The lights were off in the cockpit and the rear. There was no familiar hum and although his connection had been severed he could feel the ghost of a headache. He also felt cold and strange.
"Everybody okay?" he asked, just as Ronon was picking himself up off the floor and Teyla was nodding uncertainly.
The villagers were scattering, frightened by their dramatic entrance. Major Langely's team were split, half running after the spooked rebels, the other half coming to assist them.
Ronon clapped a hand onto Sheppard's shoulder and asked if he was okay.
Sheppard nodded dumbly and reached for his p90, ready to head out to assist Major Langley.
"What just happened?" Teyla asked.
Ladon Radim had been waiting patiently in Mr Woolsey's office for the last three hours. He didn't object. Not really. Mr Woolsey had been appraising him of their searches of other worlds to locate his cousin and reinforced the fact that when they found him they would do the right thing and hand him over. Ladon believed him. He just wasn't sure if he could trust Sheppard to do that if he found him first. Ladon hoped, in some distant nefarious part of his brain, that Mallin wasn't with the other rebels on the planet Sheppard had gone to so he could assist his team. Of course, Mallin was to be reprimanded and he would be punished suitably under Genii law, but he was still the only family Ladon had. His sister had fallen victim to radiation poisoning the previous year.
The alarms in their control room started bleating. Ladon leaned back in his chair to get a better view as Mr Woolsey excused himself and went to talk to their 'gate technician: the boy who didn't look like he was in control of shaving yet, let alone one of the ancestral rings in the city of the ancestors.
He could tell from Woolsey's expression that the news he was receiving wasn't good, and on instinct Ladon walked out to join him.
"What's going on? Have they located my cousin?"
Woolsey regarded him but didn't answer. Major Langley was informing them over the radio that they had lost a ship and that his own had been playing up on the return journey.
Woolsey turned away to answer. Ladon waited patiently.
Their shield was disarmed and the room filled with another puddlejumper. This one helmed by Major Langley, Ladon presumed. It hovered for a few seconds before ascending to the ceiling where it opened like an iris and the ship disappeared above them.
Woolsey was listening on his earpiece intently and then he turned to Ladon. "Major Langley was successful in capturing one of the rebels."
Ladon raised his eyebrows. Surprised. "Do they know who he is?"
"He's not giving his name."
Sheppard entered the observation room that looked into the holding area below and crossed the short distance to look down and see the rebel pacing back and forth.
He looked young, maybe in his twenties and had hair that was just passed his shoulder and braided into a plait. He was dressed in a uniform that was reminiscent of what Ladon was wearing, only this one had borne the brunt of time and was faded and ripped in a dozen places.
"Colonel Sheppard. Are your team okay?"
Sheppard regarded Ladon with narrowed eyes and then looked at Woosley. He wanted to ask why he was still here on Atlantis and, more importantly, why he was here on the observation deck.
"He said anything yet?" Sheppard asked.
Ladon smiled at the rebuttal.
"We were waiting for you to get here, Colonel," Woolsey supplied. "Ladon would like to talk to him."
"I don't think that's such a good idea."
Ladon gestured towards the young man. "His name is Karo. His father was a good friend of mine for many years and I believe he would be more willing to talk to me."
Woolsey nodded in agreement. "I believe we should try it. If it doesn't work, then you get your turn."
Sheppard considered his options. He didn't see that he had much choice. "Why did he leave?"
Ladon looked uncomfortable with the question, but he didn't ignore it. "He did not agree with my alliance with Atlantis. More to the point, he did not agree with my alliance with you, Colonel."
"And you think he'll talk to you?"
"It is a better option than sending you in there."
Sheppard conceded and waved a hand for one of the guards to escort Ladon down to the room. While they waited, he and Woolsey stepped up to the window.
"So we lost another 'jumper?" Woolsey stated with a sigh.
"Yeah," Sheppard admitted. Although, he still didn't understand what had happened. "Major Langley was having similar issues on our way back."
"If Doctor McKay doesn't figure this out soon…."
"I know." Sheppard didn't even want to think of the logistical nightmare that it was going to be to re-locate everyone.
"What happened this time?"
Sheppard scrubbed a hand through his hair and turned to the source of the annoyed voice. "You say that like we're always breaking the 'jumpers." He paused.
"We dropped out of the sky, McKay!"
The lights above them did their flickering trick and everyone stopped to stare at the ceiling. In the observation room, Karo was looking up as well, his expression confused.
"Well, obviously," McKay snapped, stalking over to the balcony. "Oh, that's him is it?"
"Are you sure whatever's going on with the city couldn't have…infected the 'jumper in some way?" Sheppard asked.
He had felt the resistance the entire flight. Something had been wrong and he refused to believe it was pilot error. Linking with those ships was like breathing. Something had been stopping him from taking a breath today.
"I mean, it happened when we were on the Daedalus. Maybe it's happening again."
Woolsey was familiar with this report. "A virus?"
"It systematically took over the systems of the ship and eventually passed onto some of the onboard computers of the F-302's," McKay explained. "But there's no evidence of a virus. Are you sure-"
Sheppard shook his head. "I didn't crash that 'jumper, McKay."
"What about something on the planet surface?" Woolsey suggested.
"Major Langley's team flew there in a puddlejumper and they didn't experience any problems. I've checked their flight log and there's nothing to suggest any interference on the way out. However, there were a few instances on the way back that follow the same course as what we've had on Atlantis. We're going to haul the wrecked 'jumper back here and test it though." McKay's eyes widened down at the two men in the observation room. "You're letting him interview?"
Ladon leaned against the table and Karo continued to stare up at him with his arms crossed defiantly over his chest. He'd always liked this kid and he didn't want to see him harshly punished.
Karo smiled softly when recognition dawned and then he schooled his features to one of complete neutrality. "Ladon."
"If you answer my questions then I will give you amnesty. You may return to the Genii home world and I will see that you are protected," Ladon said.
"And if I don't?"
"Then I shall have to leave you in the custody of the Atlantians and Colonel Sheppard."
Karo considered his options and shrugged.
"We used to be friends, Karo."
"We were," Karo agreed fondly. "Until you chose to align yourself with a group of people who understand nothing of the Pegasus Galaxy and who have only brought more trouble than good in settling here."
"I recall you saying that, Ladon."
Ladon nodded. He had said that. Perhaps on some level he still believed it were true.
"You would rather the Genii still be lead by the likes of Kolya or Cowen? They were failures, steering us in the wrong direction."
"At least in those days, we had a strong identity. Now you're nothing but Atlantis' pawn."
"I lead the Genii, not Colonel Sheppard." Ladon turned to look up at the observation window where he could see Woolsey and Sheppard hidden in the shadows.
"Their influence has made you soft. You've given up on developing the gene therapy, abandoned production on weapons that might have destroyed the wraith, who incidentally Colonel Sheppard woke up-" Karo paused and shook his head. "The rebels want a return to form. They want to be independent again."
Ladon bit his tongue. He wanted to argue the points, but with Sheppard and Mr Woolsey watching over him he had no recourse. He had to raise his chin defiantly and answer as convincingly as possible. "It's time to move in a new direction." He leaned in close and lowered his voice to a whisper. "And I believe it is wise to keep your enemies close, Karo."
Sheppard knocked on the window above, obviously annoyed that he couldn't hear the conversation below. Ladon turned to him and smiled sweetly.
"The Genii people do not want this," Karo told him, waving his hand around to indicate Atlantis.
"How do you know? You abandoned us a long time ago."
"You think you're still in charge? Before I left they were already checking up on us. They'll never truly trust you, Ladon. What kind of an alliance is that?"
"An alliance that benefits the Genii." For now, he wanted to add. "As for them checking up on us, I allow them onto my world. There's a difference."
"The rebels are a better cause, Ladon. You'll come to realise that."
"We have expanded our trading partners to a level we never envisaged, we have medical supplies to treat our sick, we have a strong position within the Pegasus Coalition-"
Karo studied his nails, disinterestedly. "I heard about that. I also heard that you were trying to influence the council to back the Genii over the Atlantians. What does Colonel Sheppard think of that?"
Ladon ignored Sheppard's outburst through the earpiece that had been given to him before entering the room. "I assure you, if I had been responsible, I would have succeeded."
"We're talking about this again, Ladon."
Ladon was finding Sheppard distracting. He wanted to remove the device from his ear. Instead, he simply grit his teeth and waited out Sheppard' tirade.
"I'm a proud man, but even I can see that this was the right choice." Ladon told him, pulling his collar away from his neck. The room was stiflingly hot. Karo was sweating too, but Ladon had at first dismissed it as nerves. "Kalan wants retribution for his uncle's death. Don't you see that? He's using all of you for a personal vendetta."
Karo grinned. "He's carrying on the work that his uncle started. Atlantis isn't rightfully theirs because they found it first."
That much was true and had Ladon been able to establish a gene therapy that worked, he might have pushed harder for it. But what use was a city that you could never make work?
"We were once the military might. We were feared, we were powerful and they all looked at us for help," Karo said.
"He attacked the Genii home world." Ladon pulled in a breath that seemed to fall short. "Did you know that?"
Karo looked away.
"You left a sister there. She could have been killed."
Karo's jaw tightened.
"She misses you. Perhaps you would like to talk to her again?"
"My sister chose to stay. I gave her the option to leave with me but she refused."
"Maybe she believed you were wrong."
"I can't change that."
"So you do not care that her life remains at risk?"
"Sometimes there are acceptable casualties."
Ladon circled the table. "But it doesn't have to be that way."
He stared up at the observation window where he knew Mr. Woolsey and Sheppard would no doubt be watching him closely.
He noticed the condensation on the window, dripping to the floor in rivulets. Maybe this was a tactic of the Atlantians – sweat the answer out of the prisoner. He studied the four walls. He felt like a prisoner. Either way, Ladon did not appreciate it. He was uncomfortable and light-headed in this heat.
"If I was to tell your sister to leave, where would she go?"
"That isn't fair!" Karo stood up and slammed a fist onto the table. He dragged in a breath and coughed before saying, "She has nowhere to go."
"She would not look for you?"
"No. She would not."
"Ladon, this is Sheppard. We're having an issue with the ventilation down here…..we need to get you out of there."
Ladon turned away and walked to the farthest wall. "You said you'd give me a chance to talk to him."
"This isn't an elaborate ploy to get my turn."
"Colonel, I believe I'm getting somewhere with him."
"Well, if you'd rather suffocate."
"We're on a planet, how can we-"
"I know, I know. The outer parts of the city are fine, but down here we rely on… the air to circulate through… vents. They've packed up."
"I'm not finished."
"If you haven't already noticed, the airs getting pretty thin," Sheppard told him breathlessly.
"Give me a minute."
"You've got whatever time it takes… for me to come down there and drag you out."
Ladon watched as Sheppard and Woolsey moved away from the window.
"What was that?"
Ladon turned to Karo and lowered his voice again. "I am aware that the rebels see this alliance as weakness and perhaps a few of the Genii people left behind, but the vast majority recognise, as have I, that Atlantis is a formidable force. I have them working for me. Protecting me. They underestimate me, Karo, as have your rebels." He took a step back and smiled. "This alliance suits me, right up to the point where I decide it doesn't. I'm smarter than Cowen and Kolya. That's where they got it wrong."
"You're deluded, Ladon. I wouldn't be surprised if someone wasn't plotting your death right now. Probably Sheppard."
Sheppard wouldn't do it. He's bound by moral standards."
"And you're not. Lucky him." Karo coughed into his fist. "Why am I here? They wouldn't bring me here if they didn't need something."
"I'm looking for Mallin."
Karo stared at the table and sighed. His cheeks were red and he was dripping with sweat. "Mallin?"
"He attacked Colonel Sheppard and we wish to find him."
"Kill him you mean."
"He's my cousin."
"If I tell you, will you let me go? Will you return me to the world I was captured on?" He coughed again.
"Perhaps," Ladon leaned against the table when a wave of dizziness assaulted him. He couldn't look weak in front of this man. Not now. He was getting somewhere. "Do you know where he is?"
Karo stared at the table for a long time, still deciding whether to help.
He had obviously decided that he could do little damage from a cell. "I know he was spending a lot of time on a planet called Suretheya."
It was getting harder to breathe. Harder to pull in enough oxygen. "Is he working alongside the rebels?"
"The Genii factions are currently split."
"Deliberately. I haven't heard if he has joined us, but that doesn't necessarily mean he hasn't. I cannot believe he finally had the guts to leave."
Ladon looked up. Suretheya. He knew of this planet.
"So, I can go?"
Ladon shook his head. He had been underestimated again. "You will be returning to the council on our home world. There your punishment will be decided."
"That isn't-" Karo stopped talking and placed a hand on his chest.
Ladon was feeling it too. The air felt thin and the heat…
"You wish a return to the old ways, I can arrange it."
"They wouldn't let it happen!" Karo snapped.
"So now you want Atlantis' help?"
Ladon gripped the edge of the table just as the doors opened to the interrogation room and Sheppard entered, flanked by several soldiers. He was panting heavily and his cheeks were flushed.
"What is this?" Karo heaved, eyes wide with panic. "I can't breathe!"
"We need to get out of this section, now," Sheppard said and Ladon moved for the door. He didn't need any more convincing.
Karo remained seated. "I'm not going anywhere with you."
Sheppard took a step forward and raised his hands. "The air isn't circulating down here like it should." He coughed to emphasise the point. "We need to leave now, unless you want to die."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "No."
"Ladon!" Karo snapped.
Ladon turned back. "He is telling the truth."
Sheppard ushered Ladon from the room and his men followed diligently to keep an eye on him. "I'm going to walk to the door, Karo. I suggest you follow."
Sheppard was a second too late. The door snicked shut in front of him. He activated his earpiece. "I take it McKay's working on this?"
Woolsey was quick to answer. "Yes Colonel. The panel for the door on this side is completely dead."
Sheppard passed his hand over the sensor. "This side too. Can you get out?"
"Yes," Woolsey said.
Sheppard turned to Karo who was leaning against the table and taking deep breaths. It was almost painful to watch. "Dammit! Get out of here. Get to safety. We'll be fine."
"Are you sure?"
"No sense in you waiting if McKay's working on it. I'm sure he'll have this figured out soon. He'll probably wait till the last minute, but he'll get us out of here."
"Ladon is refusing to leave."
"Ladon, get the hell out of here!"
"I'm staying. Karo is my responsibility."
"You're taking this whole new level of responsibility too far. He's mine now. Just get-"
"It's one of my people in there Colonel. I'm staying."
Sheppard remembered saying that to Ladon once and there was nothing more he could say. Hopefully McKay would get this door open before they all starved of oxygen, a point that felt remarkably close.
"I know, I know, I know….just….I'm working as fast as I can."
"Right. Okay, I'll just wait as the air runs out."
"Thank you for reminding me I'm on the clock. I hadn't realised. In fact, I was going to have dinner in the commissary and then try and save you!"
"Just…hurry up," Sheppard said, trying to breathe as slowly as he could. There was no sense in panicking. It used more oxygen up. He looked up at the observation window above. "Is it just this door that's closed?"
"That one and the one that connects the corridor to the observation room. There's an exit clear from the observation room, though. Why?"
"I might have found a way out."
"What? Through the window? Think you can make it?"
"It's kinda high. Just… you work on that, I'll work on this."
"Okay, just hold on! Don't die before I figure this out."
"Oh, okay, tha-"
Sometimes Sheppard got really tired of being caught off guard. For someone half the build and half the age, Karo was remarkably tough and he managed to ram Sheppard into the wall effortlessly. Sheppard's shoulder connected with a thud.
"Would you stop-"
Karo slammed an elbow into the side of his face and then tossed him forward. He landed awkwardly and all rational thought rushed out with the air from his lungs; air that was impossible to retrieve under the circumstances. He tried to catch his breath and felt panic well up.
Karo was saying something and all Sheppard could see was stars.
With one burst of energy he reached out for the table, managed to get into a standing position, albeit shakily, and shoved Karo against the wall. He pinned him there, his forearm against his throat.
"Are you finished?"
Karo was choking in his hold.
"We need to get out of…here," he told him. "This isn't getting us anywhere."
Karo clamped his eyes shut and tried to take in a breath.
"If I release you, will you promise not to do anything like that again?"
Karo's lips were turning blue and the veins in his forehead were bulging. He nodded.
Sheppard released him. The boy bent over and staggered, coughing into his fist and holding onto the wall as if his life depended on it.
"Now, there's a window up there. If we can break it and get through, we should be able to get out of here." Sheppard tried to judge the height.
It was doable. Just.
He reached for his berretta and Karo instantly moved backwards.
Sheppard gave him a tired look before turning away. He pointed the gun towards the window and fired several times. He aimed the bullets central and close together, imagining it was a paper target at the shooting range, and made sure he expended every bullet. Now that he'd drawn attention to the gun he didn't want Karo to shoot him given the chance.
Once Sheppard had reholstered the weapon, he passed a chair to Karo. "Take out your aggression on that window up there."
Karo looked at him as if he'd lost his mind.
"I've weakened the glass. Now we just need to break it."
Karo threw the chair up at the window. It made a dent but it didn't break the glass.
Sheppard picked up the fallen chair that had near missed both of their heads on the way back down. He heaved in a stuttering breath before tossing the chair as hard as he could at the window.
"Ladon, you out there?" he asked.
No answer. What a surprise.
On the fifth attempt, by which time they were both exhausted, Sheppard managed to break the window. The glass fell into the room, scattering the floor with tiny shards that seemed to fly everywhere.
Sheppard pushed the table against the far wall and indicated for Karo to follow.
"I need a leg up," he said and showed Karo how to position his hands. "You need to push me up and …I'll pull you out."
Karo shook his head. "You'll leave me here."
Sheppard rubbed a hand over his face. He had a throbbing headache and he felt incredibly dizzy. He didn't have time for this. "Whatever you've heard-"
"I believe it," Karo told him.
"You shouldn't believe…everything you…hear."
Karo held his hands out. "I have it on good authority."
Sheppard pressed his boot into Karo's interlocked fingers. "On three….one, two, thre-"
He managed to grab hold of the railing next to the window. It took all of his reserves of strength to cling on. His palms cut into the glass left on the frame and he sucked in a deep breath. He pulled himself up and slid into the observation room he had previously left behind.
He lay on the floor for a minute, trying to draw in a lungful of air, but it was falling painfully short and he couldn't seem to get up. He coughed and his chest felt like it was going to explode.
"I'm coming," he said, remembering Karo and moving to the window.
When Karo saw him he held his hands out. Without the leg up he had to jump to reach Sheppard's hand.
"Did Ladon try to influence the coalition?" Sheppard asked, his hand briefly brushing against Karo's. This kid needed to jump higher.
Karo finally gripped his hand and struggled to get up the wall. "That's…what I heard," Karo said as he fell into the observation room. He made an attempt to get up and promptly collapsed, his chest moving rapidly, his body swathed in sweat. "Can't-"
"Breathe?" Sheppard finished for him. "I know. Help's on it's-"
"No," Karo coughed and bucked against the floor. "Can't trust…Ladon."
Sheppard turned to the kid.
"Same here," Sheppard told him. He went to move but found he was assaulted by the same wooziness.
"I can-" and Karo's feet were scraping across the floor. "Can't…breathe!" His hands were clawing out for purchase, anything, something that might bring him air.
Sheppard activated his earpiece. "I need a medical unit down to the ob…."
"We can't get to you, colonel. The entire section has sealed itself off from the rest of the city."
Sheppard heard Woolsey's voice, but couldn't find the energy to respond. He was so tired right now.
Karo had stopped breathing and was staring lifelessly at him from across the room.
Sheppard knew his only option was to try and breathe for him, but without enough air to even keep himself going that wasn't looking likely. Sheppard rolled away, eyes searching the room for something, anything…….
"Karo's not breathing!" he said into the radio, aware that his voice sounded faraway and floaty.
His head connected with the floor and he blinked. There were so many white stars in his vision, dancing and moving… it was soothing… he took a breath and it caught… and it caught… and it caught…
When Sheppard woke up in the infirmary the first thing that struck him was that he was breathing clean, cool, refreshing air. Before opening his eyes, he brought his hand up to the mask that was fixed to his face. A second later he felt a hand slap it away.
"Hey!" he said, voice distorted by the mask.
"You need that," McKay told him. Sheppard opened his eyes to find the scientist leaning against the bed and staring at him with concerned eyes. "Are you okay?"
"I can breathe," Sheppard told him.
"I was a minute too late."
Sheppard moved to sit up in the bed and lifted the mask. "I noticed."
Ladon was in a bed in the corner of the infirmary. There were extra guards surrounding him and Ladon probably noticed that.
McKay shook his head.
"How'd Ladon take it?"
"He's not giving much away," McKay said.
"Was anyone else hurt….earlier?"
"No. Everyone made it out and we've sealed off the section for now."
"Afraid you're losing your touch?" Sheppard chided gently. "You'll figure it out."
"Woolsey's called a meeting tomorrow morning. He's going to want answers. I don't have any yet, but I'll be working through the night."
"No change, there," Sheppard sighed.
McKay was late to the debrief. He rushed in with a cup of coffee and near spilled it when he dropped into his seat. There were little indentations on his cheek that suggested he had fallen asleep on his keyboard.
"Sorry," he said, waving a hand.
Sheppard couldn't help but smile.
McKay didn't look amused. "What?"
As Ronon tried not to laugh, Sheppard's attempt to abort his own snigger ended with coffee going down the wrong way.
"Oh do you have to do that!" McKay snapped irritably.
Sheppard continued to cough and Ronon slapped him on the back to help dislodge whatever had blocked his airway.
"I realise I didn't save you from the whole starving of oxygen incident, but I'm under enough pressure as it is. Do you have to keep reminding me?"
"Coffee," Sheppard spluttered. "Went down…the wrong way."
"Oh." McKay leaned back in his chair. "Well, continue then."
Sheppard shot him a murderous look across the table, but he didn't say anything. McKay was obviously stressed and overwrought and there was no point in getting into an argument when they all had enough to worry about.
Woolsey finally cleared his throat at the end of the table.
"Please continue, Mr Woolsey," Teyla said.
The doors to the room slid shut and Woolsey looked up, removed his glasses and rubbed his face wearily.
"So," he started. "Any progress in finding out what's going on with our city, Doctor McKay?"
McKay looked up, blinking owlishly. "There seems to be a systematic failure of …I mean, we're talking everything. Life support, ventilation, the control room systems, even the laundry room has been effected." He paused. "But it's too random. We haven't been able to predict when problems will next strike and there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with the Zed PM or a virus that's causing this."
"So that would be a no," Ronon stated, leaning back in his chair.
McKay narrowed his eyes over his coffee.
Woolsey nodded. "I've had reports that the filtration system for the water tanks has been affected, meaning we've had to resort to bottled water. I don't need to tell you that its of limited supply out here."
"I know of a people who would be willing to supply us in exchange for medical provisions," Teyla added.
"That would be welcomed," Woolsey replied.
"I shall set up a meeting with them," Teyla told him.
"Everything regulated by ancient technology has been affected," McKay said. "It's going to get a lot worse if we don't find an answer soon."
McKay gave them a run-down of what else they could expect to be affected. It turned out pretty much everything on Atlantis was run by ancient technology. Even the washrooms, and Sheppard didn't dare think what would happen if they were out of use.
"If this gets any worse we're going to have to think about moving people to the Alpha site, just till this is resolved," Sheppard said.
"I agree, Colonel. With these kinds of problems," Woolsey checked his list. "Food destroyed by refrigerators acting up, gases randomly venting in the armoury, life support malfunctioning near the Gym, the only medical scanner in-operational due to fault, the self destruct arming itself," he looked up grimly. "Our ability to respond to a crisis is severely compromised."
"What are the SGC saying?"
"Not much. Until we're able to determine the cause of all of this, they won't allow anyone through the 'gate. They can't take the risk of Stargate Command being affected."
"So what now?" Ronon asked.
"We're trying to run as many systems off the generators that we initially bought on the expedition, but that's difficult when we still have to go through ancient equipment."
"So we're screwed?"
"Ronon," McKay rolled his eyes, but then paused. "Well actually, yes."
"What about removing the ZPM?" Teyla suggested. "Would that not solve our problems?"
"A hard reset? I'm not sure that would solve anything. The main problem is if we try it, it's not guaranteed that we'll get it working again and-"
"That would leave us without a shield. We'd be sitting ducks," Sheppard said.
Woolsey looked up at the ceiling as if he were expecting the answer to be there.
When he spoke, his words were grim. "I would recommend everyone stay in their quarters, but-"
McKay waved a hand. "Yes, yes flickering lights, fluctuating temperature, poisonous gas….yes I know."
"So we let everyone wander around and hope nothing happens?" Sheppard asked.
Teyla looked worried. "That seems….unwise."
McKay glugged down his coffee and then raised a finger to say he'd be with them in a minute. When he was finished he said, "I suggest restricting access to crucial systems and closing down non-critical areas of the city."
"And re-strict all but essential off-world activity until we have this resolved," Sheppard intoned.
"And Ladon?" Woosley asked. "What do we do about him?"
"Well, he spent the night in the infirmary and has been given a clear bill of health. Now I want him off Atlantis. I trust him less than I usually do right now."
"When have you ever trusted him?" McKay snapped.
"That's why I said less, Rodney." Sheppard coughed into his hand, a residual reminder of his near death experience. "I think he knows something."
"So that's it," Woolsey said gloomily. "We wait this out and see what happens."
McKay heaved in a breath and slumped forward. He sounded exhausted when he admitted, "I don't know what else to suggest."
"Is there any more business to attend to while we're here?"
Teyla raised her hand. "I do." She looked down at the table. "I would like to leave Atlantis."
Sheppard leaned forward in his chair. "Why?"
"While we have these unresolved issues, I feel this is an unsafe environment for my son. I wish to take him off-world."
That made sense. Sheppard hadn't even considered how this would be affecting Teyla. He kind of assumed she'd be sucking it up with the rest of them, but she was a mother, now. Her priorities had changed.
"We can arrange that," Woolsey said. "As long as it is temporary."
"Atlantis is my home," Teyla told them all. "I will return."
Sheppard found Teyla in her quarters; balancing Torren on her hip and attempting to fold clothes with her free hand.
"So, you're really leaving?" he asked.
Teyla turned to him, but she didn't seem surprised to find he had followed her. She handed Torren over and Sheppard cradled him against his chest.
"You know I cannot stay." She sat on the bed and balled up the towel she had been folding into her lap. "I do not wish to leave, but for the first time since coming here…I feel unsafe."
Sheppard joined her on the bed. "Yeah," he admitted. "I get it. I do. Just wish you could hang around. Might need the back up."
Teyla smiled warmly and reached out to touch his shoulder. "Should you need me, I am simply a radio call away."
Sheppard smiled and handed Torren back. "When are you leaving?"
"Just make sure you come say goodbye before you-" he cut himself off and stared up at the lights.
"They have been doing that for days," Teyla said, unconcerned. "Torren has not slept because-" she paused and rubbed her face. She looked tired. "I will come find you before I leave."
The commissary was bustling with activity when Sheppard arrived. When he moved to the front of the line he could see why. It was breakfast, but there were hams, chicken, sandwiches, fruit, various meat dishes and ice cream on display. With the refrigeration units packed up and not enough room to store everything, they didn't have much choice but to put everything out.
Sheppard grabbed what he could and sat down to join Ronon, only for the lights to switch off.
Testament to just how used to the problems everyone was, nobody made a move to eat elsewhere. Instead, Mag lights split the darkness and candles were lit and everyone resumed consumption of their breakfast. The atmosphere was lively. It seemed some people even seemed excited by the developments.
"You wanna come with me to drop Ladon off on Naraya?"
Ronon looked up from his chicken and ice cream with an expression of contempt.
"Good," Sheppard told him. "We're leaving in an hour."
Ronon was an imposing force when he wanted to be and today was no exception. He was trailing closely behind Ladon as they walked to the settlement with his weapon raised slightly.
Sheppard knew he didn't want to be here. He didn't want to help Ladon full stop, but Sheppard had explained over and over again that if they didn't help him, he would go underground and they'd have a hard time keeping tabs on him.
Ronon, disinterested in trying to intimidate a clearly amused Ladon, fell into step beside Sheppard. "Still don't see why we're helping him."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Ever hear the phrase, keep your friends close and your enemies closer?"
"Well this is one of those occasions."
"Why would you be friends with your enemies?"
"That's not…" Sheppard sighed. "The point is-"
"Why would an enemy be closer than a friend? That saying sucks."
Shepard sighed. Sometimes the gap in their cultures was infuriating. Had it been McKay with him, he would have understood. Okay, so he would have disagreed vehemently, but he'd have got the saying at least.
Sheppard shouted ahead and indicated for Ladon to veer right. Ladon hefted his pack into a more comfortable position and nodded, moving forward as if he knew where they were going.
"I just hate helping him. You know he has something planned," Ronon said.
"Probably. Haven't figured out what, yet."
"You're going soft, buddy."
Sheppard narrowed his eyes. "Who says?"
"People talk. Are talking. They don't want this alliance."
Sheppard knew people talked. He'd have to have his head in the sand not to realise, but to hear it coming from Ronon made it all the more real.
Ronon shrugged. "Don't like to hear people bad mouth you."
"I'm their leader. It'll happen and, trust me, they could be saying a lot worse."
"Just saying, the longer this goes on the more you'll lose credibility. I say we cut the Genii loose and see how they get on without us."
He had a point. Maybe they were reaching the end of their uneasy alliance. What was the point when neither of them trusted each other? So what if Ladon wanted to be on top? Atlantis had a bigger influence over this galaxy. Their reputation was in a better condition than the Genii's who, for years, had begged, stolen and deceived everyone that came into contact with them.
After this, he'd have to review their position. Cut ties. Let Ladon flounder on his own.
When Sheppard entered the lab, Zelenka was leaning over a laptop, his head in his hands, and McKay was pacing back and forth in front of the whiteboard, marker clutched between white knuckles. They barely noticed him slip in; that was until he placed two cups of coffee down on the work bench.
"Thank you, colon-"
"Eurgh!" McKay wiped his mouth and stared at the coffee as if it were an alien life form. "It's cold!"
Sheppard shrugged and walked over to the whiteboard. "The transporter took me to the wrong destination four times."
McKay regarded the coffee with a forlorn look and abandoned it on the side.
"Well, thank you for the gesture," Zelenka said.
"Yes, yes…thank you," McKay waved his hand and moved Sheppard aside to get to his precious whiteboard.
"Is Ladon gone?" Zelenka asked.
"Just said our goodbyes. It was emotional," Sheppard dead-panned.
Zelenka stifled a yawn and stretched out his back.
"You guys look like you could do with some sleep," Sheppard told them.
Both men had dark circles under their eyes and sweat patches on their clothes. From the looks of it, neither had slept in days.
"Thank you for that astute observation," McKay snapped. "I can't get into my quarters anyway." To Sheppard's arched eyebrow, he sighed.
Normally, Sheppard enjoyed riling McKay but he could tell that would be misplaced today.
"We have yet to find a resolution to the problems, before you ask," McKay said.
"Any luck with my 'jumper?"
"We haven't had time to look at it yet. It's on the Eastern pier."
Sheppard was about to suggest they make it a priority, but he became distracted.
The whiteboard read like a crime investigation. On it was marked all the places that the short-outs and errors had initially occurred, and the markings moved out to show how other systems had been affected.
Infirmary, the corridor outside Sheppard's quarters, the control room, the armoury, the 'jumper bay, the gym ….
If Sheppard didn't know any better, they were tracking his movements over the last few days.
"We've been trying to find a common denominator. Maybe-" McKay must have noticed Sheppard's expression because he paused and put his hands on his hips. "What?"
Sheppard tried to push the feeling of ill-ease aside. It couldn't be.
"It's probably nothing," he said.
Zelenka came to stand beside him. "What is it?"
"He doesn't know anything," McKay told him in an irritated tone and then, curious, he inquired, "What do you know?"
"Just these…" Sheppard licked his lips and pointed. "The infirmary, that's where it all started."
"Oh, well done Colonel Holmes!" McKay scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Did you get all of that from reading the board? You know? Where it says, the infirmary is where this all started?"
Sheppard tried to reign in his annoyance. Sometimes McKay was intolerable. "That's when the scanner exploded."
"And?" McKay asked impatiently.
Sheppard turned to them both, one hand gesturing to the board. "The scanner I was under."
McKay looked at him with a blank expression. For a genius, McKay was being insufferably slow.
"I think it's me."
Zelenka looked confused.
"Don't you see," he pointed at the board. "It started in the infirmary, I was there. The corridor outside my room, I was there. Then when we received Langley's Intel I was in the control room, I went to the armoury to get my gear, the 'jumper…"
"You were-" McKay's eyes widened. "Your gene?"
It was beginning to make sense. Sheppard groaned, "Langley wasn't experiencing problems with his 'jumper till I got on board."
"That would make sense," Zelenka said excitedly. "But how?"
"It has to do with whatever you were injected with offworld. That's when this all started," McKay said. "Because you have been everywhere that ancient.." he trailed off and looked around the lab.
Zelenka was animatedly rambling on about how they could pinpoint the exact gene responsible and solve the issues, but Sheppard was watching McKay as he scanned the lab.
"What is it?" he asked finally.
"We need to get out of here," McKay said.
Zelenka grabbed McKay's arm. "What is it?"
"I don't have time to-"
One of the gizmo's lying on the work bench next to Zelenka's laptop suddenly started to glow and emit a shrill noise. Seconds later, a mechanism on the far side of the room was moving, another on a shelf in the corner was vibrating, a fourth was droning with an intermittent blinking light.
There was ancient technology everywhere.
"Crap!" Sheppard pushed McKay out of the way just as one of the devices flew at them and careened into the far wall. It exploded into a dozen pieces.
"Perhaps we should leave now?" Zelenka suggested, ducking.
It was like there was a mini war going on above their heads.
"Whatever was happening before was intermittent but it's been steadily getting worse!" McKay shouted as a glass beaker shattered on the far side of the room. "Don't you have any control over this?"
Sheppard shot McKay a look. "Obviously I don't!"
The lights dipped above them and the whiteboard was knocked over by something else that was moving around up there.
How many flying devices did they have down here for Christ's sake?
"Move!" Sheppard instructed, giving McKay a shove in the back.
McKay gave him a look that said he was unimpressed.
They crawled across the floor and towards the exit, dodging more errant devices along the way.
When they were out in the corridor, Sheppard went to palm the door closed, but McKay elbowed him out of the way and did it himself.
Behind the door there were the sounds of more things breaking. Most likely very expensive things.
"You destroyed my lab!" McKay snapped and Zelenka cleared his throat. "Our lab. You destroyed our lab."
"Obviously, I meant to do that," Sheppard snarked back.
"Don't touch anything!" McKay shouted.
Sheppard jerked away from the wall. "What are we going to do about this?"
McKay was quiet for a moment and then he raised a finger. "Follow me. Zelenka, go to the control room. I'll give you instructions when I get there."
"When we get where?" Sheppard asked as they walked towards the transporter.
McKay sighed and gestured at the stairs. "To be on the safe side," he told him.
Sheppard asked, "Where are we going?"
Sheppard had been following McKay for twenty minutes when they finally arrived on the western pier. This area of Atlantis had been heavily damaged by the storm and therefore wasn't resided in full time. It was the furthest point in the city and was entirely derelict.
McKay finally stopped and activated his earpiece. "Zelenka? Oh good you're there! Cut power to the west pier, sectors A through to H7."
The lights above them died out. Sheppard turned on the Mag light he had been carrying around since breakfast and aimed it in McKay's face. "What are you doing?"
"I've cut all the power to this area of the city."
"So you can't interfere with any of the Ancient technology. It might help us resolve the other issues if you're as far away as you can possibly be."
Sheppard looked around the room that McKay had brought him to. It was an old living quarters. There was a mildew-ridden bed in the corner, the windows were dusty and the floor was stained and damp.
"I can't stay here!" Sheppard snapped, realising what McKay was saying.
"Just until we figure out how to… figure this out."
"We've got to find Mallin. If he injected me with whatever caused this then I have to find him and I can't do that from here." Sheppard went to sit on a nearby chair, but thought better of it when he saw what was on the seat.
"We'll bring a new mattress and a few throw cushions. It'll be like home."
"It's freezing in here."
"Okay, let's go back to the main city. I'm sure there's a self destruct you can accidentally activate or a small child you can get stuck in a transporter or a nurse you can poison with vented g-"
"Okay." Sheppard raised his hands to stop the rant. "I get it."
"I don't think you do," McKay said. "Have you seen how much damage you have done in a few days?"
"I realise that, Rodney. This isn't my fault."
"I wasn't saying it was. The reality is that we can't find a workaround if you're… around."
"Just stay here for now."
Sheppard stood in the centre of the room long after McKay disappeared. The room seemed to have taken one hell of a kicking from the storm. It had obviously been heavily waterlogged, forcing the previous occupant to another room. There were a few knick-knacks lying around, old books and paperwork. He wandered out into the hall, but he couldn't see much and he wasn't up for exploring without any of his gear.
He went back into the room and sat down on the edge of the desk, crossing his arms against the cold and wondering what the hell he had been injected with and why.
McKay, true to his word, had returned with Ronon and few soldiers. They had a camp bed and some MRE's for him to eat, and Lorne tossed him a sweater as he walked in. Sheppard pulled it over his t-shirt and pushed his hands into the sleeves.
It also hadn't escaped Sheppard's notice that two camp beds had been bought over.
"McKay," Sheppard patted him on the shoulder. "Thanks, buddy."
"Don't mention it," Ronon answered and McKay looked embarrassed.
"I've got to fix the city, remember?"
Sheppard narrowed his eyes and turned to Ronon. "Thanks." Ronon shrugged as if it was the least he could do.
The room was cleaned and set up. It still looked like crap, but it was crap that he could live in for the time-being.
"Jennifer is running more tests on your blood"
"Right." Sheppard nodded. "Just surprised she didn't pick it up before."
"She might have but you broke the scanner, remember? And you'd have to be looking to find something wrong with the gene. Basic blood tests wouldn't pick it up."
"Right." Sheppard didn't pretend to know what McKay was talking about. "Just tell her to be careful; don't want to turn into a bug again."
McKay and Ronon weren't laughing. Sheppard had thought it was funny.
"I'm going to monitor the cities systems and see if you being away brings us back under control," McKay said. "I'll be down later to run some more tests myself. If we can figure out a way to control whatever's happening we might be able to bring you back into the city."
"Haven't had so much luck so far."
"We didn't know there was a problem before."
"So I just wait?" Sheppard asked as everyone started to leave.
"Yeah." McKay looked around the room. "I'll uh…see you later."
Ronon had left to help Teyla get settled-in off world and McKay hadn't come back, yet.
Sheppard had received sporadic feedback from Woolsey, but aside from that he felt like a leper.
He'd wandered the halls he was confined to and had a poke around in some of the old rooms. He remembered Ford had lived up in this end, but he hadn't been able to bring himself to find his quarters. He wouldn't find anything there. What was the point?
Sheppard shuffled back to his room. He was frustrated. What good could he do from here? If Mallin had the answer then they needed to step up their searches and find him. What if the gene being messed up was only the first stage? He could have been brain-washed, he could have been infected with a virus that would eventually kill him or cause him to kill others. What if he was a threat?
He laughed. He was already a threat. One man had died because of him. He'd brought pain and misery to the Atlantis expedition, something he had always assumed he would do naturally.
"Quit brooding," McKay snapped when he entered the room.
"I wasn't," Sheppard told him. He was in a mood. He couldn't help that. He hated being useless. "Any news?"
McKay passed him a tray of food and a bottle of water. "No, not yet. A few issues have resolved themselves, but mostly it's the same."
"Did Lorne speak to Woolsey about continuing the search?"
McKay sat on the camp bed next to Sheppard. "He's reluctant to let anyone off-world for missions. He said if anyone got seriously injured we'd be unable to treat them effectively."
"Keller's a doctor."
"With only the basic supplies at hand. She spends half of her time locked out or in the infirmary."
"We send them back to earth."
"Stargate Command won't allow us to return until we have a definite answer, remember?"
"We do have an answer. It's me."
Sheppard scrubbed a hand through his hair. He hadn't realised just how dependent they were on Atlantis to run efficiently. In truth, this city was their biggest weakness.
"You feel like testing out your gene?"
Sheppard gave McKay a sideways look. "You're kidding me."
"No. We need to know what kind of control you have. I'm going to bring down some devices – harmless ones – and we're going to go out onto the pier and test them. If you're able to control them you might be able to heal the city."
Sheppard shrugged. It was worth a try.
"I'll be back later."
"You're leaving? Already?"
"I would stay….I just-"
Sheppard nodded and picked at his food. "Yeah, that's cool."
Doctor Keller arrived with a medical case a few hours later. She hadn't come alone, but the men that had escorted her stayed out in the corridor.
"They know I'm not a threat out here, right?" he asked Keller as she snapped on latex gloves.
She looked back over her shoulder and smiled nervously. "They're just on edge. The issues back in the main city haven't exactly resolved themselves just yet."
"But you're going to fix that."
Keller reached for a syringe to collect more blood. "I'm going to try. Knowing that we're dealing with a possible mutation of your gene-"
Sheppard grimaced. "Don't say that."
"I didn't mean-" she looked embarrassed. "Not like before-"
"When I turned into a-"
"No." She drew the blood back into the syringe. "But from first glance it looks like you have a protein floating around your system that's interfering with your active ATA gene. It's complicated."
She withdrew the needle and popped a piece of gauze on the injection site.
Keller closed her medical case and went to sit beside him. "Okay, as you know the ATA gene is always on. It instructs various cells in the body to produce a series of proteins and enzymes that interact with the skin, the nervous system and the brain and that's what allows you to operate Ancient technology. Now, whatever you were injected with has left a deposit of proteins and enzymes that are…." she paused, searching for the appropriate word. "Let's say, in a state of flux."
"The deposits from the injection are instructing ancient technology to shut down while your natural gene is trying to compensate by asserting itself more aggressivley and that's why equipment has been overloading and on occasion simply shutting down."
"I guess that kind of makes sense."
"Like i said, it's complicated."
"So, how do we treat it?"
"For the moment, I'm trying to find a temporary solution. I've been looking at Doctor Beckett's initial research and he mentioned that when he started the first trials, people had adverse reactions when they encountered Ancient tech and there is mention of sedatives being used to dull the nerve and brain function of patients to lessen the effect on ancient technology. Eventually, the gene died and just stopped taking."
"So you want to shut off my gene?"
"I want to dull it's impact. But that would only be temporary until we could figure out a way to cure you completely."
McKay arrived an hour late. Sheppard didn't say anything when he had arrived but he had been standing in the corridor waiting excitedly for the beam of his flashlight to appear for all that time.
Waiting around just wasn't Sheppard's strong suit. For as long as he could remember, much to his parent's annoyance, he had always had way too much energy. McKay thought he was crazy, but Sheppard needed to run and spar and go shoot things just to tire himself out at night enough to sleep. Being confined to one room was Sheppard's idea of hell.
He'd also come to realise, that as much as his laid back demeanour denoted, he was in fact a control freak. He hated not being in the loop and knowing what was going on in the main city. He hated that he couldn't help solve the problems they were having. And he hated that he couldn't be offworld searching for Mallin even more.
When McKay had arrived, Sheppard felt his sense of ill ease and all that pent up energy dissolve away because now he would be doing something constructive.
"What you got there?" Sheppard asked, as they walked to the eastern pier.
McKay was carrying a metal box in his hands and had his laptop balanced on top of it. "These are some rather innocuous devices that were catalogued when we first arrived on Atlantis."
When they arrived at the east pier, McKay handed the box over to Sheppard to manually open the door. Even with the box sealed, Sheppard could feel the box was vibrating. With the door gaping open onto the pier and the afternoon sky stretching out in front of them, McKay snatched it back and they found an area away from the city to set up.
McKay opened the container and there were four devices nestled together.
"Is that the children's toy with the flashing lights?" Sheppard asked, taking the device out before he even realised what he was doing.
McKay made a panicked sound and scrambled forward to retrieve it. "Did I say you could touch it?"
"I thought you said they were innocuous?"
McKay narrowed his eyes.
"The whole point of you coming out here was to test my control of the gene. I can't do that if I can't even touch the devices."
"You don't have to touch them," McKay snapped and he pointed at one of the other devices lying in the box that had activated.
Sheppard had seen it before. It was another toy. This one was a memory game. You were supposed to watch the coloured lights and then tap them back into the device in the order that they had appeared. There were games on earth similar to it. Only with this game, if you succeeded an impressive hologram appeared of a man that looked like a wizard and he would congratulate you.
The lights on the device were moving in sequence.
"See," McKay told him.
Sheppard reached down and picked the device up. The blinking lights moved…red, yellow, blue, green, yellow-
And then it went dead.
"Can you turn it back on?"
Sheppard stared at the device and thought on. Usually that was enough to bring any of the ancient equipment online, but this time the device remained lifeless in his hands. "No," he said. "I'm trying, but it's not responding. Have I killed it?"
Another of the devices suddenly came to life and this one hovered out of the box and remained there, hanging between them.
"Did you think that one on?" McKay asked, looking at his laptop and then back to the floating device.
"I didn't think anything." Sheppard reached for the airborne gizmo, but it flew away from his hands and climbed higher.
"Oh great! Now you've scared it off!"
"Last I checked it wasn't sentient. Is it?"
"Of course not!" McKay gestured at it.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."
McKay stood up from where he had been sat and tried to reach the device. It climbed a little bit higher.
"Okay, get it down."
"I can't," Sheppard said, dropping the device he had been holding, back in the box. As soon as it left his hands it lit up and the coloured lights started to move back and forth.
"I'm beginning to realise that this was a monumentally stupid idea."
Sheppard arched an eyebrow at McKay.
"I'm not saying I'm stupid. I'm saying the idea was." McKay jumped again, but the flying device whizzed away from them and towards the edge of the pier.
"We could try more…maybe-"
McKay cut him off. "I'd say the results were conclusive, wouldn't you?"
"Yeah." Sheppard tried to command the flying toy back to him, but it wasn't responding to his call. "This just highlights how royally screwed I am."
"Keller's still working on a cure for you."
"I know," Sheppard said, staring back at the abandoned section of Atlantis he would no doubt be spending more time in. "But, I'm starting to get cabin fever."
McKay closed the lid on his laptop. He stared at Sheppard and looked sincere when he said, "I'm sorry, Sheppard."
"This isn't your fault."
"No," McKay said. "It isn't. I wish it was though because then I might be able to solve it."
Sheppard licked his lip and then pointed behind McKay. "Oh," but he was too late.
The flying device bumped into the back of McKay's head and he bent forward and cursed loudly.
Sheppard couldn't sleep. Instead, he lay awake for a long time staring up at the ceiling, willing exhaustion to seize him and bring morning.
He turned his head and looked over to the other camp bed, where he could just make out Ronon's silhouette.
"Sorry, buddy. Keeping you awake?"
"Nah, can't sleep either." Ronon shuffled under the covers. "Freezing in here."
"You don't have to stay," Sheppard told him.
"And risk you having more abandonment issues?"
Sheppard couldn't help but laugh, even if it was too close to the truth. "You think McKay's gonna figure this out?"
Ronon was silent.
"Yeah, he hasn't said, but I think this might have him stuck for an answer."
"McKay unable to solve something?" Now it was Ronon's turn to laugh and he sounded sincere. "It's McKay. Might be in the last minute but he'll do it."
"Yeah." Sheppard pulled the covers up to his chin and sighed. "Keller says there's a strange protein interacting with my gene. Whatever that means."
"Brooding all night isn't going to help."
"I can't help it. I need to do something. You of all people know that feeling."
"I do. But I know when to trust the experts."
Sheppard groaned. "The experts are taking too long and the only person who might know what's going on with me is out there."
"So we'll go find him."
"Sure. One small problem. I leave here and I take a few ancient systems out with me." Sheppard considered it. "I have to do something. If I'm not here then the problems might get better."
Saying that out loud tapped into a fear he'd had for so long. Without him…..
"This isn't your fault."
"If we weren't in an alliance with Ladon this wouldn't have happened."
"No, he'd just attack you somewhere else."
"I'm serious." Sheppard leaned on his elbow. "If we hadn't have gone there and met Ladon I wouldn't be in this situation. Maybe this whole alliance is a bad idea. Ladon's had a few good tips but otherwise he's out for himself. We should cut them loose, like you said."
"Okay." Ronon moved and the springs of his camp bed squeaked loudly, filling the vacuous space between them. "Let's do that."
"You should try to sleep."
"You should try."
Sheppard lay back and tried to curl his blanket under his toes. "You wanna sleep?"
"Yeah. Shut up. Goodnight."
Sheppard closed his eyes but he still couldn't sleep.
"You still awake?" Ronon asked.
Sheppard sighed and threw the covers off. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and rubbed at his head.
"Why don't you take a walk?" Ronon suggested.
"Oh, you mean around the damaged section I'm confined to?" Sheppard chuckled. "I'd probably just end up falling through the floor."
"Well you could always-"
Sheppard stood up suddenly, shushing Ronon. "Can you hear that?"
There was a sound coming from outside. It was like a distant humming; otherwise barely perceptible.
"What?" Ronon said.
"I don't know." Sheppard strained to hear. He moved to the window and wiped away years of encrusted dirt. Beyond the pane, the sky was black except for… "What is that?"
Ronon joined him at the window. He pressed his nose against the glass and then turned back to Sheppard. "That a star?"
"No, it's moving around up there." Sheppard heaved a breath and rubbed his forehead in frustration. "Can't you hear it?"
"Kinda…like a buzzing. Sounds familiar."
"Kinda sounds like-"
"A drone!" Sheppard finished for him.
"It seems to be coming-"
"Yeah," Sheppard said.
There was a split second before realisation dawned. They jumped over Sheppard's camp bed and ran for the corridor. They both dove onto the floor at the same time, just as the drone smashed through the wall behind them and continued through the wall on the other side of the corridor. The hole it left behind was smoking.
"What the hell?" Sheppard asked, massaging his aching head.
This just kept getting better and better.
Sheppard pushed himself up onto his knees and then went back to their room to retrieve his earpiece. Through the newly formed opening out into the night, he could see more drones in the sky, circling and swirling.
How had that have happened?
He watched, rooted to the spot by morbid curiosity as one struck the north pier and the side of one of the buildings crumbled into the sea below.
Sheppard tapped his radio. "McKay?"
McKay sounded distraught and panicked when he finally answered. "Are you okay?"
"We're fine," Sheppard told him. "Who's in the chair?"
"No-one. Well, I was… we were conducting some maintenance when the drones just discharged."
"Well get them down, safely."
"They're not under my control."
"I've tried and they're not responding to my commands!"
"Then I need to-"
McKay was quick to veto that idea. "No way. You are not coming to the chair room."
"You need to get them out of here or at least-"
"Were you not listening when I said they wouldn't respond?"
When you were in the chair you, were in complete control of the drones. You would instruct them to discharge and then have autonomy over where they hit, how they hit and the degree of explosion they caused on impact. Without them being controlled, they were swirling around the sky and there was no telling where they would hit.
"I didn't even think the drones could work without someone sitting in the chair. When I got out of that seat they should have dropped from the sky!"
"What's going on?" Ronon asked, heading over to the window,
"McKay sat in the chair and the drones discharged and now they're striking randomly." Sheppard tried to think fast. "Put the shield up!"
"That's what I'm trying to do, but it's not working. This is all your fault!"
"Why in the hell were you in the chair, McKay?"
"I was down there fixing one of the broken consoles and I was tired and I just…I just sat down and-"
"You fell asleep."
"Only for a second but my gene must have activated the chair and the drones discharged and the rest is….well the rest is threatening to destroy us all."
"Get Lorne down there, he might be able to stop them."
"Lorne's on his way, but I'm not sure he'll be able to control them. Zelenka detected a massive power surge when they discharged."
"Caused by my gene? Great. So now what?"
One of the drones came down and struck the sea. The ensuing crash had water sluicing into the air. But at least no one was going to get hurt.
That left one more and it was heading straight for them.
Sheppard woke up on his back in the darkness. He'd managed to land awkwardly with his leg twisted beneath him. He didn't know what had happened, but blinking until his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see a hole in the ceiling above him and he could guess what had happened.
"Here," he heard a voice call and when he looked to his left, he could just make out Ronon lying beside him.
"You hurt?" Sheppard asked, attempting to push himself into a sitting position. The move made his vision swim and he clamped his eyes shut in an attempt to abate the nausea it brought.
"Arms broken," Ronon said, obviously in pain.
"I take it the drone hit us."
"Guess so." Ronon shifted beside him and rubble clanged to the floor.
"Where are we?" Sheppard asked.
"Fell through the floor."
"I know that," Sheppard said. He rubbed the back of his head and felt that it was wet. If he'd been able to see his hand, he would have guessed it to be covered in blood. "I mean, what the hell is this room?"
"No idea. Too dark."
Ronon was standing when he grabbed Sheppard's arm to help him up. Sheppard stood unsteadily. Ronon placed his good arm around his waist to keep him upright.
"You okay?" Ronon asked.
"Hit my head. Kinda dizzy." Sheppard swallowed thickly and then carefully extricated himself from Ronon's hold. "I'm okay. You know, these passed few days have really sucked." He reached up to his earpiece and found it missing. "You still got your radio?"
"Get a medical team down here. Better get the engineers as well." He tried to see through the darkness. "Probably got some structural damage up there. Don't want anyone else falling through the floor.
Ronon nodded and activated his earpiece to do just that.
It was oil black down here. Sheppard's senses went as far as hearing and what he could hear was water.
As Ronon relayed their situation to McKay, Sheppard took a step forward and his boot connected with the floor, making a sloshing noise.
"We've got water down here," Sheppard said to Ronon.
"McKay and a team are on their way. Water?"
Ronon joined Sheppard and bumped his back. Sheppard teetered forward and his foot found air. Luckily, Ronon grabbed his arm and hauled him back before he could take the plunge.
"Guess the drone went straight through," Sheppard said, trying to calm his frazzled nerves.
"We better wait over there," Ronon said. They sat on the floor below the gaping hole in the ceiling. At least there, the moon spilled a little bit of light onto them.
"Sorry, buddy," Sheppard said when he looked at Ronon's twisted arm.
Ronon regarded it with a shrug. "Had worse."
"This is all my fault."
"The drones? That was McKay."
"But it only happened because of me. Whatever I was injected with has seriously screwed up my gene. Even with me out here, supposedly at a safe distance, the city is still being affected."
"You can't help that."
"Yeah I can." Sheppard gave him a serious look. "I'm going to leave."
Ronon looked doubtful. "And go where?"
"Naraya? I could talk to Ladon some more." Sheppard rubbed at his head. His body was beginning to let him know just how badly abused it was and just how tired he felt. "If I put enough pressure on him he might talk. Maybe he has other leads he's not telling us about."
"Know you don't believe me, but this wasn't your fault," Ronon said.
"Feels like it."
"It's not." Ronon reached up to his earpiece, listened for a second and then passed it to Sheppard. "Keller."
Sheppard deliberately answered cheerfully. "What's up, doc?"
"I heard. Are you both okay?"
"Ronon's busted his arm. Other than that, I think we're intact."
"Okay, I'm on my way with a medical team. For obvious reasons I can't take you to the infirmary but I can treat you where you are."
Sheppard had been moved to another room after their rescue. Ronon had been taken to the infirmary to have his arm x-rayed and plastered and one of Keller's nurses had spent the night on a camp bed in the corner of Sheppard's room, just in case he had sustained an injury they might have missed. Without being able to check him over properly, it was a sensible precaution, and though Sheppard didn't admit it, he was glad of the company.
When he woke up in the morning, the sense of guilt that pervaded him was almost overwhelming. He had caused this. A prisoner in their care had been killed because of a fault. Ronon had broken his arm. McKay and Zelenka were overworked and exhausted. Teyla had been forced from her home. Several people had been injured in overloads caused by his defunct gene. And Sheppard had been pushed to the outer reaches of the city and the worst he had sustained was intense boredom and a bruised tailbone. It wasn't right.
"How are you feeling, Colonel?" Marie asked.
When Sheppard raised his head, she was sitting in an armchair, reading. By the looks of it, she had been up for hours.
"I feel good," he said, pushing the covers aside. "Ronon doing okay?"
"He's in plaster. He dropped by about an hour ago and brought you breakfast."
Sheppard looked at the tray that was on the floor next to his camp bed and arched an eyebrow. "Guess he's forgiven me."
Marie smiled. "Guess so."
"So you want to leave?" Woolsey asked.
Sheppard nodded. He was wrapped up in a sweater, gloves and a scarf because it was so cold in the abandoned sections. He felt like a vagrant.
"I think it's the only option. The problems we are having with Atlantis haven't gone away because I'm holed up here."
Woolsey crossed his arms over his chest. "That is rather evident from last night," he said. "Doctor McKay?"
McKay looked up from where he had been sitting on the camp bed, laptop balanced precariously on one knee. "Huh?" And then the question finally reached his addled brain. "Oh, yes. A few systems seem to have resolved themselves, but we're still experiencing power fluctuations, mainly in the area's just outside of this section and they're having a trickle-down effect. The chair room isn't far from here-"
"And I don't seem to have any control over it," Sheppard told them both. "So I can't stay here."
"Where would you go?" Woolsey asked.
"Naraya. I'll go keep an eye on Ladon. See if he has any more leads. Maybe we could go to Surethya and-"
"Not a good idea," McKay said. "We haven't ruled out that they don't have ancient technology. You could destroy an entire world just by stepping foot on it."
"Okay, so you go and I stay with Ladon. Either way, I need to leave Atlantis. Maybe the systems will recover if I'm not around."
"Has Doctor Keller had any success with developing a cure?" Woolsey asked.
"Not as yet," McKay said. "She's discovered the protein responsible, but it's flushing it from the body that's the stumbling block."
"And how would we get Sheppard off Atlantis without damaging systems further?" Woolsey asked.
"I can decrease the power flows to each area he passes through. It probably won't make much difference but it might minimise the damage."
Woolsey seemed reluctant, but he finally conceded. "Okay, Colonel. This isn't exactly ideal, but you have a go. Let us get everything set up and we'll contact you when we're ready."
"Okay, we're ready for you."
Sheppard walked through the corridor and the lights were turned off ahead of him. Swathed in darkness, he switched on his flashlight and moved onwards towards the 'gate room. It was slow progress with McKay having to shut down each area as he passed through.
"Okay, take the left fork and head up the stairs."
Sheppard entered the stairwell and looked up, just as everything turned off.
"When you get to the top you'll have to wait a few minutes. You're setting something off in the bisecting corridor."
Sheppard reached the top rung and waited. The lights were flickering and a door control up ahead was sparking.
"We've got major power spikes. You'll have to go right and head through…no wait!"
Sheppard stopped and sighed.
"No, go left. I've managed to divert the power away for now but move quickly."
Sheppard jogged down the hall. Something was making a whining noise behind him, but when he chanced a look there was nothing there.
He activated his earpiece. "Something's making a strange noise up here."
"That would be the ventilation straining to work. It'll pass."
"Yes, Sheppard." McKay said.
"How's Atlantis doing?"
"You're breaking her."
"Wow. Thanks for softening the blow, McKay."
"It's the truth. Would you rather I lie? Everything is perfectly fine, colonel. There is nothing wrong. Please ignore the alarms and the-"
"Very funny. You realise I'm leaving."
"That much is obvious."
"Maybe forever. So you should be nice to me."
"You'll be back in no time."
Sheppard passed a door that was straining to stay open.
"If Keller doesn't figure this out soon then-" he stopped himself from continuing.
"Okay, you're nearly at the 'gateroom. We can't shut anything else down otherwise it diverts power from the control stations up here and obviously we need to be able to dial the 'gate."
"My gene might screw it up anyway."
"I'm hoping you wont be in here long enough to mess anything up. I'm going to activate the 'gate and you're going to have to go as soon as you get in there."
Sheppard moved quickly. He could see the 'gate room now.
So no goodbyes….
"We've just lost life support, where you are…thank you!"
"Obviously that was my intention," Sheppard snapped.
"Just hurry up. The 'gates dialled and Ronon's already on the other side waiting."
"Yes. You'll have a friend. Now hurry-"
Sheppard jogged into the 'gateroom just as the lights turned off. He headed straight for the 'gate. No looking back. Before he knew it, he was on Naraya and Ronon was standing by the DHD with his arms crossed.
"Took you long enough."
Sheppard grabbed his pack and activated his earpiece. "How's Atlantis holding up?"
"I've only got about a hundred systems to fix," McKay noted. "But, we'll figure this out."
"I know," Sheppard said, and the 'gate shut down.
They headed towards the village, Sheppard with a heavy pack on his back. He'd been here enough times to know that there wasn't anything threatening lurking in the bushes, but he was still wearing his tactical gear.
The sky was smoking and when they arrived in the village, the central fire pit had been ignited and people were standing around warming their hands as the sun balanced on the horizon. It smelled like Christmas; the crackling fire, the smell of roasting meat and the mulled wine that was being handed out took him back to a happier time. No-one hear seemed to bare to burden; they were relaxed, conversation flowed easily under the dulcet tones of a group of young girls.
It got cold here at night. Below freezing cold. The Narayans stayed below ground in a series of catacombs that were hand carved out of the rock. There were small pits in the centre of each dwelling layered with blankets and animal skins. He'd stayed here before and found them cosy enough.
They'd cleared coming here with Haral, the leader of the Narayans, and after a warm greeting and an invite to warm by the fire, Sheppard and Ronon handed their packs off to one of Haral's men to take to his dwelling, and he and Ronon located Ladon.
When Ladon spotted them, he didn't look surprised. It was as if he had been expecting them.
"Colonel? What are you doing here? Have you found Mallin?" Ladon asked.
Sheppard held his hands out over the fire and shook his head. "No."
"You're staying here? Both of you?" Ladon asked, surprised.
Ronon glared at Ladon and smiled. "Got a problem with that?"
"No," Ladon told him. "Still having problems on Atlantis?"
Sheppard wondered why Ladon had asked that. It put more fuel to the theory that he knew something. But he didn't want to address it just yet. "No. Everything's fine. To be honest, I just wanted to check up on you."
Ladon smiled. "I wouldn't have expected anything less."
Sheppard noticed that Ladon had paint on his cheek. "What's that?"
"Oh." Ladon wiped at his face and sneered. "Thank you for saying how much I would enjoy their festivities."
"Don't know what you're talking about," Sheppard told him.
"I'm sure," Ladon replied.
One of the Narayans blew a horn as the sun dipped behind the hills. It was the signal that it was time to go underground for the night.
"If you'll excuse me," Ladon said, leaving them to the fire and the encroaching darkness.
"Looks like he was expecting us," Ronon said.
"Yeah." Sheppard narrowed his eyes. "Let's find out what he's been up to."
When Ladon was out of sight, Sheppard moved to the other side of the fire.
Anyone else would have mistaken the man standing waiting for them with a traditional woven gown and the hood pulled up over his head to be a Narayan. For example, Ladon.
The man turned and lowered the hood. "Sir," he smiled.
"Lt. Has Ladon got wind of who you are yet?"
Lt. Nickels shook his head. "He doesn't suspect me, sir."
"Good." Sheppard said. "What's our friend been up to?"
"He's mostly been keeping to himself," the Lieutenant said. "I haven't seen him interacting with the Narayan people other than at dinner. Even then he tends to sit alone. He's made a few trips to the 'gate."
"To dial the Genii home world?" Ronon asked.
"We haven't been able to establish that just yet."
"He did say he wanted to be able to contact his people." Sheppard kicked at the dirt and sighed. "I can't shake this feeling that he's up to something."
Lt. Nickels smiled. "I've got the same feeling."
"Okay," Sheppard told him. "Let me know next time he goes and we'll find out what he's doing. For now, continue to lay low."
Sleeping in the catacombs was a hell of a lot more comfortable than sleeping on the outskirts of Atlantis. Sheppard woke up at dawn and headed up to the surface to go for a run.
Aside from a few permanent structures set up for the Narayans to serve their food and shelter from the rain, the land here was flat and expansive. It was bordered by thick scrubby trees that hid the main village from the 'gate. He sprinted across the level terrain and regulated his breathing as he fell into a comfortable pace. With all of the problems they had been experiencing on Atlantis, he hadn't been able to keep up his normal exercise regime and as he moved he could feel all the tension drain away.
As the sun began to rise higher and streams of orange stretched out over the land, he could feel the heat and started to sweat. He headed for the shade of the trees, where he could at least do some cross country running. Once he was there and following the path towards the 'gate, he thought he saw someone up ahead. He tempered his sprint to a slow jog, wiped sweat from his eyes and waited.
There, standing on the ridge!
He looked back towards the village and considered getting back-up. Instead, he turned to the figure, but it was gone. It hadn't been a Narayan. They all wore identical woven gowns. It couldn't have been Ladon or Ronon because he'd passed by both of their rooms on the way out and had noted they were still sleeping.
In the distance, he heard the 'gate dial up and soon after shutdown. Whoever it was had left.
Sheppard turned back to the settlement and sprinted.
"Any idea who it was?" Ronon asked as they walked away from the breakfast crowd.
They left the chatter several yards behind them. There was no sense in panicking the Narayan people, and they didn't want Ladon overhearing their conversation, although from the way he tracked them as they left suggested he knew something was up.
They sat down on a chopped-up log that served as a seating area around the currently dead fire. Sheppard picked some fruit from his plate and shrugged at Ronon's question.
"One of Ladon's men?" Ronon asked next.
"I don't know, but whoever it was they didn't want to stop and chat."
Ronon smiled and gestured to the distance. "Looks like we got company."
Sheppard turned around and saw who Ronon was referring to. McKay, Teyla and Doctor Keller were heading toward them.
"Hey," Sheppard said. "What's all this?"
McKay dropped a large case he had been carrying and wiped sweat from his forehead. "There, you happy now? You've broken me. My back aches and-"
Sheppard popped some bread into his mouth and spoke around it. "Hi to you too."
McKay turned and had the decency to look guilty. "Oh, hi!" he peered at both of their plates and grinned. "Oh, do they have the green jello?"
Sheppard hooked a finger behind him. "Next to the not-oatmeal stuff. And they have coffee."
McKay's eyes widened. "I'll be…..uh…." and he took off in the direction of food, all complaints about carrying Keller's medical case and his back forgotten to hunger.
Teyla and Keller sat opposite.
"It's good to see you, Teyla," Sheppard said. "How're you and the kid holding up?"
Teyla reached out and patted Sheppard's arm. "We have returned to Atlantis."
Teyla nodded. "The problems seem to have reached a more….manageable level. Torren is much happier now that he is back where he belongs." She studied Ronon's cast. "I heard."
Ronon gave his cast a dismissive look. "Doesn't hurt."
"And I hope you are not feeling responsible, John?" Teyla said. "From what I have heard, none of this was your fault."
Sheppard avoided her eyes, because if he looked at her he would have to lie and say he knew it wasn't. In reality, he couldn't help but feel guilty.
"So," Sheppard said, just as McKay sat beside him with an overloaded plate.
"What?" McKay protested. "I'm hungry!"
"You had breakfast merely hours ago," Teyla told him. "And you were having more than your fair share then."
"Hypoglycaemic," McKay stated.
Sheppard rolled his eyes. They'd heard it all before.
"So Doc, what brings you here?" He asked.
Keller, who had been sitting with her eyes closed as she basked in the sun, turned to him and smiled softly. "I've come to draw more blood. I think I'm finally getting somewhere."
"Really?" Sheppard sat up straighter. "A cure?"
Teyla looked away and McKay cleared his throat at the same time. From the way they were behaving, he felt his mood darken. Obviously, whatever it was, it wasn't permanent.
"I'm talking about a temporary fix to allow you back onto Atlantis." Her smile dropped. "I'm still a long way from solving this. I'm sorry."
"No, it's fine," Sheppard said, trying to act unmoved. "I get it. Don't want you messing up my genes any more than they already are."
Ronon, sensing the need to change the topic, asked. "How's Atlantis?"
"Most of the systems are beginning to recover," McKay answered. "It was like they were in some kind of hibernation and they've gradually started to wake up."
"And the systems that overloaded?" Sheppard asked.
"We've had a team working round the clock. Nearly fixed," he said. "And Lorne's been helping us test-"
"Lorne?" Sheppard tried not to sound disappointed. Normally he was the go-to guy for anything relating to the gene.
"Yes Lorne. He's been helping us test the repairs."
"Right," Sheppard said.
Teyla looked to Ronon and Sheppard didn't miss it.
"I'm fine," he told them all. "Just…eager to get back."
"I am sure that will be soon," Teyla said.
Sheppard nudged Ronon's arm and nodded to where Ladon was walking to the outskirts of the village, alone.
"Where's he going?" Sheppard said.
Ronon went to stand up but Sheppard stopped him.
"What?" Ronon demanded.
"Stay put. We can't follow him." Sheppard activated the radio on his vest. "Lieutenant?"
"You still by the 'gate?"
Lt. Nickels was quick to answer. "Do we have movement?"
"Ladon's on his way to your position. Keep an eye on him and watch where he dials."
"Will do, sir."
"You believe Ladon is deceiving you?" Teyla asked, leaning forward to steal food from Ronon's plate.
"Something's not right," Sheppard agreed.
McKay squawked. "Ha! I told you so!"
"You just can't stand that I was right," McKay told Sheppard.
"McKay!" Sheppard groaned.
"Oh come on." McKay looked to the others for support. "You were all thinking the same thing. This alliance was a joke from the start."
Sheppard thought he ought to feel offended at that remark. After all, he had pushed for it in the beginning.
"Perhaps you were correct, Rodney, but it lacks grace to gloat," Teyla told him.
Keller looked embarrassed. Sheppard had never heard her opinions on the alliance, but from her silence it looked as though she agreed with McKay.
"You know, I'm getting really tired of you questioning my decision," Sheppard snapped.
McKay looked contrite. "I just-"
"I know," Sheppard said. "I know what you all think and I know what everyone's been saying. Let's just leave it at that."
Sheppard gave him a pointed look and was about to retort when Lt. Nickels voice whispered over the radio.
"He's dialled the Genii home world. Looks like he's giving them an update."
"Okay," Sheppard said. "Stay with him till he leaves."
When breakfast was finished, Keller took more of Sheppard's blood and secured it in her medical case. Ronon walked her back to 'gate so she could conduct her research from the fresh sample. McKay and Teyla stuck around well into the afternoon, but they eventually had to leave.
As Sheppard waved them through the 'gate, he felt a pang of longing to step through with them. Even though Ronon was here, he felt isolated. Ronon could go back if he wanted, would go back in the end. But if Keller couldn't figure out a way to cure him, where did that leave Sheppard?
Sheppard woke in the middle of the night to the sounds of screaming. With his eyes adjusting to the darkness, he coughed hard into his fist and realised that he was having difficulty breathing.
"What's going on?" Sheppard asked, simultaneously reaching for his gun and a flashlight. When he switched it on, it barely cut through the darkness. Something grey and wispy passed through its beam.
"Is that smoke?"
Ronon coughed into his fist. "Yeah, looks that way."
They scrambled for their gear, both wheezing and choking. People were rushing passed the opening to their room, bumping into one another, their cries seeming to echo in the small space.
Sheppard grabbed Haral just as the other man ran by. "What's going on?"
"The main entrance is blocked with fire!" he exclaimed. "There is another exit this way."
Sheppard started to follow, then he remembered Ladon and turned to go back. He spotted Ladon emerging from his room. Sheppard shone his flashlight on him and aimed it at the weapon on his belt. He'd told him to come here unarmed.
"Ladon!" Sheppard snapped.
Ladon pointed his own beam of light in Sheppard's face. "Am I not allowed to defend myself?"
Sheppard went to say that he was safe here on Naraya, but evidently that wasn't true, so he grit his teeth and said. "This way!"
The route that Haral took them through was long and winding. The passageway narrowed and everyone was pinned together in the claustrophobic space, all battling to get up the ladders and out into fresh air. Sheppard helped a woman and her infant up to the surface, then he lingered just long after everyone had escaped to make sure he was the last man out.
The exit took him into the tree-line. From there they were hidden from view.
Everyone was coughing and many were lying on the ground, greedily gulping in the cold night air. For some, the air they had previously needed so badly was now choking them, and the smell of smoke from their clothes was overpowering.
"Who did this?" Haral demanded, his face flushed and sweating. "We have done nothing to deserve this."
Sheppard could see that there were people leaving entrance of the catacombs in the village.
They looked familiar.
"Genii rebels," Sheppard said.
"The rebels?" Haral looked upset, panicked. "You promised me that your friend's arrival would not lead to this."
"I know," Sheppard told him guiltily.
"Had I known…." Haral started and then paused. "What is done is done."
Sheppard looked to the Narayan's who were now watching him expectantly, their eyes wide in fear. "Get your people to safety, Haral. My men will deal with this."
Haral turned to his people and started to usher them away. A dozen gowned men stayed behind and Ladon approached Sheppard with an incredulous look.
"We only have a few weapons between us," Ladon said.
"We have more than that," Sheppard told him and gestured with his hand.
Several Narayan's dropped their gowns to reveal Atlantian uniforms underneath. They were all wearing tactical vests and had p90s as well as several handguns.
"You lied to me!" Ladon snapped. "You had your men here all along?"
Sheppard sighed. He was tired of playing games. "But aren't you glad of that now?" he asked, waving towards the rebels. "I guess we're both liars. Again."
Ladon laughed. "You think I had something to do with this?"
Ronon closed in on him and lowered his head to meet Ladon's eyes. "The Narayan's don't trade with other worlds because no-one knows they're here."
"You found them," Ladon countered.
"They were in the database," Sheppard explained. "And we saved them from the wraith. Before that, no-one visited for decades. So why are there rebels here all of a sudden?"
"It is merely a coincidence."
"That's a lot of coincidences, Ladon."
Sheppard walked away. "I don't have time to argue this right now."
Sheppard instructed his team to circle around the permanent structures in the village and from there they would storm the rebels and drive them out by force back to the 'gate.
Sheppard had been expecting the rebels to put up a fight, but no sooner did they start firing then did the rebels retreat back to the 'gate. They followed and where the rebels went, so would they, even if it meant following them through the 'gate.
It was time to get answers.
On the other side of the 'gate, Sheppard stumbled to a stop and looked around. Snow everywhere. The entire landscape was blanketed by it and it was freezing. There was no sign of the rebels that had run off.
Several seconds later and Ronon and Ladon emerged, soon to be followed by Sheppard's men.
At first glance, it seemed to be a deserted planet. It was night here and the 'gate was in a clearing with little cover. Sheppard immediately recognised that as a tactical advantage for the rebels.
Ronon crouched down and pointed at the ground and footprints. "Looks like they went that way," he said, standing with a fluid-like grace.
Cartell looked up from a Life Signs Detector then put it back in his pocket.
"That's not going to work with me around," Sheppard told him.
Cartell smiled. "Forgot."
"We should follow these tracks before they get covered," Ronon said while looking up to the sky. The snow was falling lightly at this stage but there was no telling when it might turn ugly. If that was the case, then the tracks would be wiped away in an instant.
"Okay," Sheppard said. "Lt Martins and Ramierez, establish a link to Atlantis and let them know we're here." He looked to Ladon, who seemed uncomfortable, and said, "Everyone else. This way."
It wasn't long before they had arrived at a steep incline. At the top, there were several buildings that looked like warehouses and there were lights on inside.
"What do you think, sir?" Cartell asked.
Sheppard considered their options. The warehouse wasn't that big. It could fit maybe twenty men inside. There wasn't enough of them to storm the warehouse, but if they took it from all sides then at least they'd have the element of surprise and might be able to contain them.
"I can't see anyone out there," Cartell said. "You think they're all in that warehouse?"
Sheppard couldn't tell. "We've got lights on. Someone must be in there."
There was no telling how long they'd all stay in there or how long it would take for Lorne to mobilise a team to go offworld. They'd have to move now and take advantage of their circumstances. Back up would arrive shortly. "We'll go in two teams. You take the left flank and we'll take the right."
Instinctively, they separated into their teams. Moving low and quickly, they piled towards the warehouse. Ladon powered forward to walk at Sheppard's side.
"This is ridiculous. We're obviously outnumbered."
"They're all in the warehouse. We get them trapped in and-" Sheppard paused. "Do you know something, Ladon?"
Ladon shook his head, but his eyes belayed the neutral expression. He knew something, he just wasn't willing to share.
When they arrived at the right flank, Ronon climbed up the side of the building, balancing precariously on an overturned wooden crate.
"See anything?" Sheppard asked.
"About a dozen men. Centre of the room." He hopped down from the crate. "Easy."
Sheppard activated his radio. "Major. You in position?"
"We've got about a dozen men in there."
"Not as bad as we thought."
"On my signal, storm in. I want this to go down quickly. Warning shots if you can."
"Yes, sir." And Sheppard could hear Cartell's smile in his tone.
Sheppard edged around to a side door, his team pressed in closely behind him.
"What are you going to do?" Ladon hissed. He was holding his weapon up between shaking hands. Sheppard had to remind himself that Ladon wasn't military; he was a scientist.
"Maybe you should stay out here."
Ladon shook his head. "No," he said.
"You're going to end up hurt."
"I know how to fire a weapon and be accurate doing it."
Sheppard didn't have time for this. He gave Ronon a look that said keep an eye on him and then activated his radio.
Ronon kicked the door in at the same time Cartell did, but when they entered the room the men who had been here before were all piling out the rear.
"What the hell?" Sheppard called out and raced towards the back.
He stopped in his tracks when he saw that the room was full of crates and there was a table in the centre with familiar, ancient-looking devices lying on it.
He noticed the blinking device on the table; no doubt it had activated the minute he got close enough.
"Out!" he shouted. "Get the hell out now!"
His men looked confused at the countermanding of his initial orders, but when they realised what this place was, they started running.
Sheppard ran back the way he had come and pushed Ladon out of the door. "Keep going!" he called out.
"What was that?" Ladon asked, chancing a look over his shoulder.
"Ancient-" Sheppard felt the explosion buffer him forward. He landed on his stomach and rolled over just in time to see the windows of the old warehouse smash down on them, then the furthest wall was crumble in on itself.
Thick plumes of smoke and ash surged into the sky.
Sheppard pushed up onto his elbows and quickly activated his radio. "Cartell, you okay?"
There was no answer and Sheppard could feel his heart begin to hammer against his ribs.
"Cartell? You there?"
Ronon was picking himself up off the ground and watching him.
There was a burst of static and another voice answered. "Cartell's dead, sir, and we have several unknowns advancing on our position."
"Get the hell out of there!"
Sheppard was getting to his feet when he spotted a familiar figure watching him in the distance. As soon as their eyes met, Sheppard was running towards the other abandoned warehouses focused on one thing: catching the rat bastard who did this to him.
People were firing automatic weapons and he had to duck as he passed into one of the other buildings that had escaped destruction by the ancient device he had accidentally activated. He slammed the door behind him and followed the figure that was dashing away from him.
"Mallin!" he called out.
There was another explosion from outside. It shook the building and some of the glass above him cracked, but thankfully didn't fall.
The door behind Sheppard opened to Ronon holding his weapon up. Sheppard pointed and made a hand gesture that meant circle around. They quietly started the search.
The warehouse was filled with old machinery. Nobody had been here in a long time, that much was obvious. Everything was rusted and dusty. Thankfully, it wasn't ancient technology. It looked like it had belonged to a farming community.
A blur of motion to his right had Sheppard jogging forward. He moved left and hid behind something that looked like a tractor.
Sheppard waved to Ronon who was searching the opposite wall and indicated for him to stay where he was. Sheppard then moved silently through the warehouse, careful not to jostle any of the old equipment and signal his presence.
He heard whispered voices and poked his head around one of the machines to see Ladon pinning Mallin against the wall. At first, Sheppard had thought Ladon was angry, but then he released Mallin and they patted each others arms cordially.
"What are you doing here, Ladon?" Mallin asked, voice hushed.
"It wasn't my intention to come here, but I thought it wise to find you before they did."
"Did the rebels see you?"
"Did they see Sheppard? On Naraya?"
"Yes." Ladon leaned against the wall and looked thoughtful. "The path should be set now."
Mallin smiled widely and gave Ladon a friendly shove in the shoulder. "We're nearly there. After all the planning…"
Ladon cut him off with a raised hand. "Do you hear something?"
Mallin looked towards Sheppard. Sheppard ducked fast, holding his breath and hoping that he hadn't been spotted.
"No, Ladon. I don't see anything. You're getting jumpy in your old age," Mallin said.
Another explosion outside rattled the old machinery.
"Jumpy for good reason," Ladon countered. "You need to leave, Mallin. Colonel Sheppard and his men are here. They're looking for you."
"What about you?"
"Don't worry about me. Just go!" Ladon snapped. "Or this will all be for nothing."
Sheppard looked up and watched as Mallin nodded and started out towards the rear of the building. Sheppard broke cover and approached Ladon. He wasn't even thinking; he slammed Ladon hard into the wall and pinned him there.
"We're talking about this, later" he said in an angry voice he didn't recognise as his own.
He called Ronon to get Ladon, then took after Mallin.
The door that Mallin had escaped through took him to the back of the warehouse. There was a hill that led into a forest and Sheppard slid down it to the bottom. He chanced a look behind him. Even at night, the sky looked black with smoke above the warehouse and he could see flames licking against that darkness.
His mind dwelled on what was back there.
Cartell was dead. Who knew how many others were injured.
Sheppard rushed through the trees, aware that he was leaving the other's behind, but intent on capturing Mallin. He was so close now. He couldn't give up.
He should have known from the start that Ladon had been planning something. As if he needed their help. As if he wanted their help. It all seemed so obvious now as
Sheppard charged through dense branches and the traitorously deep snow.
He didn't have time to catch his breath let alone answer Ronon's frantic radio calls. He was a tracker and Sheppard had probably left a clear sign of where he had been. Ronon would find him.
He pushed through the undergrowth, feet digging into the snow. With every step it felt like it was leeching his energy.
But he had to keep moving. He had to keep pushing forward. Then, suddenly, there was no grip and he was sliding across a vast whiteness bordered by vegetation from either side.
He fought to regain his balance and ended up skidding to a stop. A few yards ahead, Mallin was standing deathly still.
Sheppard heard a crack and looked down at his feet.
"Sheppard! Where are you?"
Sheppard could feel the ground beneath him shifting, and when he turned to look behind him, the ice was beginning to splinter.
"Ronon. Kinda busy."
He turned to the rebel, who was staring down at his own feet.
"Don't move," Sheppard told him, raising one hand pleadingly.
It was dark out here. He could make out Mallin from the fire in the sky and the moon's just behind him, but if one of them fell it was going to be difficult to find a way out of the darkness and gloom. Down there, under all that ice, it would be impossible to see. It would be a slow, isolated death.
Mallin took a step backwards and the ice began to buckle.
Sheppard bought his p90 up in front of him. "The more you move, the more the ice is going to break up. Stop moving."
"What do you want?" Mallin asked, holding his weapon out in front of him. "Did Ladon send you?"
"You can forget the act," Sheppard snapped. "I heard what you said back there."
Mallin laughed. "You don't know what you heard."
"Look, just don't move. I just want to talk to you. That's all."
"I'm not talking to you." Mallin took another step backwards and Sheppard held his breath.
He might be able to make back to solid ground. Maybe. But then the ice could have cracked and in this light he wouldn't have a clue if he were stepping on solid ground or not. He couldn't gauge the depth of the ice or what it was they were standing over. The ice field seemed to stretch forever. If he had to guess he'd have said it was a lake. The trees behind him swayed as the wind picked up. It was as if they were gesturing him over to them, urging him to get off that ice.
"This ice is going to crack. Unless you want to freeze to death, then I'd suggest you move this way. We'll backtrack to the bank, very slowly."
"I'll take my chances out here," Mallin shouted over the wind. "There's a bank just the other side."
"And there's a bank over here that's closer. The deeper the water the thinner the ice. If you fall in out there-"
Mallin took another step back. "Like I said, I'll take my chances."
Sheppard sighed and also took incremental steps backwards. Heel to toe, very, very-
There was a thwack sound as the ice began to give. Mallin stopped in his tracks and held his hand out as if that would slow the fracture.
"This water's below freezing," Sheppard warned him.
"Right you are," the rebel stated, backing up. He aimed his weapon at the ice at Sheppard's feet.
"That would be a bad idea," Sheppard said.
"I wouldn't be the one freezing."
"Don't do it. You'll break the ice you're standing on as well."
And then Mallin was firing and Sheppard was diving to the right as the ground he had been standing on opened up. Ice-cold water started to glugg over the edges.
The rebel turned to run and Sheppard watched as the ice broke in front of Mallin. He cried out and disappeared under the surface.
Sheppard could let him die - end whatever it was that he and Ladon had been planning - but a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach told him that he needed Mallin. He was the only one who knew exactly what he'd injected him with. He could be the only man to save him.
Sheppard considered the bank and then the hole in the ice, where Mallin's head bobbed up and a scream ripped from his throat before he disappeared under again.
"You had to shoot the ice," Sheppard moaned as he dropped onto his stomach and dove forward, keeping his weight evenly distributed. "You couldn't just listen…"
Living in Antarctica, he'd received training on what to do in this kind of situation. What he wasn't supposed to do was approach the hole because if the ice couldn't hold Mallin's weight, it probably couldn't hold his. But in the time it would take to crawl back to the bank and get something to throw to him, Mallin would either freeze to death or drown.
As long as Sheppard was lying down, his body weight would spread over a larger surface area which, in turn, would make the ice less likely to break.
Sheppard pushed his hands under the surface of the water and tried to feel around for the rapidly freezing body. His hands were already subject to pins and needles and it was agony. The edges of the ice hole were breaking off in chunks, but as he tried to back up, Mallin gripped his hand and pulled hard. Sheppard's shoulders and head became submerged and the initial shock made him forget how to breathe.
He felt Mallin grab his hand again and he tugged. He managed to drag the rebel out of the water. Mallin went to get up and Sheppard stopped him.
"No! Roll away from the hole and stay on your stomach all the way back to the bank. Whatever you do, do not stand up!"
Mallin regarded him with a look of confusion. Sheppard demonstrated and got him to follow him onto the bank.
They lay there for a minute, coughing and shivering until Mallin went to get up.
Sheppard cocked his p90. "Stop."
Mallin was on his knees and Sheppard joined him, wiping the cold water from his hair and feeling that it had already frozen.
"I want answers, Mallin."
"You'll have to ask Ladon. I need to leave. They'll be searching for me."
"You're hypothermic, Mallin….you need help."
"I'll…be….fine," Mallin told him.
Sheppard got to his feet at the same time as Mallin. There was a split second where Sheppard thought that Mallin was about to say something, but then Mallin was grabbing the barrel of his p9o and ramming it back into Sheppard's stomach. His tactical vest offered little protection for his bruised ribs and he doubled over and spat bile onto the floor.
Mallin was going to walk away.
Sheppard ran forward and jumped onto his back, punching Mallin in the side of the face as they were driven down into the mud. And here they were again, fighting in the middle of nowhere.
Sheppard pinned Mallin's shoulders to the ground, but Mallin kicked his foot back and it landed in Sheppard's spine.
"I'm not letting you go until you talk," Sheppard shouted, pushing Mallins face into the snow. "And if I don't let you go you're going to freeze to death out here."
Mallin coughed and spat out snow. "Like I said, you'll have to ask Ladon."
"Fine." Sheppard stood and kicked Mallin onto his back, then pressed his boot into Mallin's throat. Mallin tried to gain purchase on Sheppard's boot but he couldn't push him away.
"What the hell did you inject me with?" Sheppard demanded.
"I'm sure….that's…become fairly…obvious by now."
"I'm aware of what it's done," Sheppard said. "I want to know if there's a cure."
Mallin's smile dissolved when Sheppard pressed harder.
"Is there a cure?"
"Possibly," Mallin choked out.
"That's not good enough, Mallin."
"That's…all you're going to….get," Mallin panted. "Unless you let me go."
"What are you talking about?"
"For me to get your cure. You'll need…to let me go. I have a job to…do. That will benefit you…and the Genii."
"And the rebels?"
Mallin pushed Sheppard's boot off him. "I'm not working for the rebels. " He got to his feet and massaged his throat.
"I don't believe you."
"You saved my life just now so I'll tell you one truth in return. I am not working for the rebels. I'm working for Ladon."
Sheppard sighed. "Throw your hands forward in a windmill motion to get the blood circulating."
There were sounds through trees, people calling out Mallin's name, and Sheppard could tell that he was outnumbered. There was no point in getting captured before he had a chance to talk to Ladon.
He turned back to where Mallin had been standing, but he was gone.
Sheppard considered going after him but the voices and the thrashing of undergrowth were too close for comfort.
"This isn't over Mallin," Sheppard snapped before retrieving his P90 and rushing off into the trees. He found a large bush and hid behind it, p90 aimed through a gap in the centre. These men were rebels all right, and when Mallin approached them they walked him back up the ridge.
Sheppard had let him go. The only man who knew where the cure was and he was letting him walk away. He tapped his comm link.
Sheppard waited a beat.
"Ronon, buddy? You there?"
He was beginning to get that feeling again that something wasn't right.
"Lt. Rameriez? You there?"
Sheppard gave it a few minutes before heading back the way he had come. He was freezing and taking his own advice of rotating his arms around in circles to get the blood flowing. He tried the radio again, but his call was returned with silence.
He headed up the steep hill towards the warehouse. Once there he found no signs of life. The warehouses were now shells. The walls had fallen and the roof was smouldering in the snow. He moved to the front of the warehouses and stopped dead.
There were bodies everywhere. Some his men, some the rebels, but what was obvious was that something had happened here while he had been gone.
Sheppard searched each man, retrieving dog tags where he could and hoping he wouldn't find the Satedan's body. He couldn't see Ronon. He was also surprised to find that his back-up hadn't arrived, either. They would have been here by now. Something must have happened at the 'gate.
There was a noise from one of the bodies and when Sheppard rushed over, he found Ladon crawling out from one of his men's corpses. Ladon was covered in blood but Sheppard doubted it was his own. When he was upright, he looked around at the destruction and his facial expression was remarkably controlled, as if nothing had happened here.
Sheppard felt angry. It was at that point he snapped and grabbed Ladon's arm.
"Gone. Taken by the rebels."
"I don't know!" Ladon snapped back, attempting to twist from Sheppard's grip.
Sheppard didn't release him. He held on tighter, making sure to dig his nails into his flesh. "You know what's going on and you're going to tell me!"
Sheppard held up his p90.
"I've had about as much as I can take with you, Ladon. You lie and you cheat and-" he paused, knowing he was the idiot for ever having pushed this alliance. McKay had been right. "What's going on? What do you know?"
Ladon managed to get out of Sheppard's grasp, then took a few stumbling steps backwards before finding his balance.
"Mallin told me something's going on," Sheppard said.
Ladon looked surprised. "He did?"
"Yeah," Sheppard said with a nod.
"But he didn't tell you what."
Sheppard shivered. It was too cold to be standing around and they were out in the open. "We're heading back to At-"
Then there were sounds coming from their two o'clock. Bushes rustling and foreign voices.
"Where are we going?" Ladon asked as he lagged behind.
"We're finding a place to hide. Those weren't my people."
Sheppard stopped abruptly when he nearly stepped onto another ice field. This one seemed to stretch out further. He could barely make out the other side. He stood on the edge of it and scanned the landscape before spotting something they could use to their advantage. There was a large circular outlet pipe, probably from one of the destroyed warehouses, and it was hanging over the bank to the ice field. It was going to be a tight squeeze but they had no other option.
"This way," Sheppard said climbing down the bank to get to it. "Get inside."
Ladon regarded the pipe with a contemptuous look before he climbed in and moved to the rear. Sheppard followed him. It was dark inside, but the moon carved out enough light for them to see each other. Sheppard thought about packing snow into the entrance to retain some heat, but that would be time consuming and he'd be out in the open. And at the moment, this was only supposed to be temporary.
Sheppard tucked his hands into his armpits and drew his legs up to chest. His clothes were still wet and uncomfortably heavy, chaffing in areas he didn't even want to think about.
Ladon was also bunched up tightly and shivering. "We're going to freeze to death out here."
"We just need to wait until the rebels have had a look around and realise we're not there. I don't intend on staying here all night."
Ladon pulled the collar up on his jacket as if to make a point. The way they were crammed together wasn't exactly comfortable. The steel pipe was cold and an awkward shape. Sheppard's backside was rooted into a dip and his spine was arched forward by the pipe curving behind him. There was just enough clearance for his head, but he still forced to lean forward. His ribs protested, but he had little choice.
Ladon was silent. He was looking out to the ice field.
"What are we doing here, Ladon?" Sheppard asked.
Ladon didn't turn to look at him. "Hiding."
"I'm not talking about now. I'm talking about with this alliance." Sheppard said.
"You want to end it?"
"I think we've outgrown it."
Ladon didn't say anything. He simply rubbed at his arms and legs in a bid to generate some heat. His avoidance of Sheppard' statement was infuriating. He must have come to realise it too. At least before their alliance, Sheppard had known where he'd stood with the Genii. Now he didn't know whether to shake Ladon's hand when he met with him or shoot him on the spot.
There were noises in the distance, disjointed voices that barely carried over the wind. The message was clear, though. The rebels were still searching for them and creeping closer with every breath.
While they were trapped, Ladon didn't have the option to squirm away and Sheppard decided to broach another subject.
"You need to tell me what's going on."
That got Ladon's attention. He looked to Sheppard and then towards their exit again, as if he were considering leaving.
"This has gone far enough don't you think?"
They sat in silence for a few minutes, listening to the wind howling passed the pipe opening. It was still snowing outside, heavier now. At least their footprints would be erased. Hopefully the search party would be forced back by the severe weather.
"You're not going to like what I have to say," Ladon said.
"There's a surprise."
"And might I remind you that you can't kill me because you still need me."
Sheppard stared at his thigh holster and wondered if Ladon still had his weapon. It didn't look like he did.
"Just tell me," Sheppard pressed.
Ladon paused briefly before straightening up and saying. "Once you know, you'll try to stop it. You realise I can't let you do that."
"Ladon." Sheppard was tired and cold. He wasn't in the mood for games. "Quit stalling."
"I mean it," Ladon said. "This has taken over a year of planning and I cannot have you interfering."
Sheppard deliberately rested his hand on his gun. "Tell me."
Ladon was pensive.
"Ladon!" Sheppard growled.
"We have been trying to find a way to infiltrate the rebel groups for a very long time. One man was able to successfully integrate and feedback information to me, but because of Kalan's structuring of the rebel groups, he's never been able to get close enough to give us the opening we need to take Kalan down."
Okay, so Ladon had a plan to potentially overthrow the rebel leader, Kalan. This wasn't new. Sheppard had known the key to Ladon's success would be to disband the rebel groups and he had also suspected that Ladon had men working on the inside.
"What structure?" Sheppard asked.
"Kalan doesn't go off-world. He has an entourage that guard him at all hours. He doesn't allow new members of the rebels to meet him. Instead, they stay out on the fringes of their society and they have to earn the right to meet him. Des'a has been with the rebels for two years, now, but has not progressed through the ranks to meet with Kalan, yet."
"I have been successful. Finally." Ladon's smile faltered. "This is the part that you won't like."
"I'm guessing that."
"We needed to find a way to push anyone who managed to infiltrate the rebel groups into Kalan's inner circle much faster."
"Mallin? He managed it right?"
Ladon nodded and then paused abruptly to turn to the opening where the voices sounded like they were getting closer. Ladon lowered his voice to a whisper.
"We figured that Kalan was more likely to accept Mallin if he could prove from the outset that he was loyal to the rebels and achieved what no one else could." He swallowed thickly. "To punish you, Colonel. By forcing you from what Kalan see's as your saving grace - Atlantis."
"I guess he doesn't really know me, then. I don't need Atlantis to kill him," Sheppard threatened. "What aren't you telling me?"
"Mallin injected you with a serum that he has been developing over the last year, which caused the adverse reactions you have been experiencing. As predicted, it forced you from Atlantis."
Sheppard could feel anger welling up. "So, the meeting about the rebels? Mallin attacking me? That was all planned from the start?"
"And you needing a place to lie low?"
"That much was true. My home world isn't safe. However, I needed to be able to keep an eye on you to ensure the serum was doing its job. Once you were evicted, Des'a spread the rumour that you had been cast out of Atlantis."
Sheppard scrubbed a hand over his face wearily. "So that's why the rebels showed up on Naraya?"
"Obviously they needed to verify that it was true." Ladon looked unrepentant. "Nothing that has happened over the last few days has been a coincidence. It was all pre-meditated."
"You son of a—" Sheppard cut himself off when he heard voices approaching. He held his breath, almost certain they were going to find them because his luck was really sucking these days. He had his p90 aimed towards the entrance just in case.
The voices petered off and moved away. He kept his gun trained, anyway. He really wanted to train it on Ladon, but the other man hadn't finished explaining yet.
"So Mallin forces me out of Atlantis, Kalan finds out he was responsible, praises him and allows him into his inner circle? That sounds a little too easy."
"Mallin is my Chief Scientist and has, for the last year, resumed his work on the gene therapy."
Sheppard moved forwards and glared at Ladon. "I knew it. I knew you were hiding that from us!"
"Not for the purposes you think."
"Keep your voice down."
"Would let me finish?"
"Oh, please, continue."
"His success was inconsistent. The closest he came was to develop a gene therapy that would work fleetingly, but then it was absorbed into the bloodstream and caused several adverse reactions when combined with ancient technology."
Sheppard couldn't help but scowl. That sounded familiar.
"So what does this have to do with Kalan accepting Mallin into his fold?"
"Kalan has been staying on a planet in an ancient facility. It has been reported that there used to be a man of ancient descent living there who looked after the structure. Kalan, known for his temper, in his bid for the man to bring every system online besides just life-support and the lights, inadvertently killed him. Now Kalan has a working facility but neither he nor his men can get any of the systems to work."
"Now that Mallin is in the inner circle he is going to demonstrate to Kalan his gene therapy. The demonstration will go smoothly and the patient will be able to use ancient technology briefly before they fall victim to what you have, only the ancient equipment will just shut down. By the time Kalan realises, and he'll no doubt want to be the next test subject, everything will shut down. Life support, the doors, all systems…everything. Just as you have been experiencing on Atlantis."
"So he'll starve of oxygen. That'll take time, Ladon. They'll get out."
"The facility is located in an ocean, just like Atlantis. Only when this facility shuts down the facility itself will lower into the sea to keep it hidden."
"How do you know so much about this facility?"
"We were aware of this facility before Kalan discovered it and claimed it as his own. We were forced to abandon it when we couldn't make it work."
"And you didn't tell us about it?"
Ladon smiled. "No. I didn't."
"And what about me?"
"We have measures in place. I need them as leverage."
"You'll tell me now."
Ladon held his hand up. "Shhhh, can you hear that?"
Sheppard could. More voices. "You're dead, Ladon!" he whispered.
Ladon rolled his eyes as the voices died down.
"Surely Mallin will be killed."
"He has surrendered to that. It's for the greater good."
"I'm not sure if they have him or not. Or if they have taken him to the facility."
Sheppard digested the information. Ladon had been planning this for a year, and although they had suspected that the Genii had been continuing their gene therapy research, despite claiming to the contrary, Sheppard couldn't believe they had missed the obvious. Ladon's motivations. All the signs had been there. Sheppard hadn't missed them, but he had thought that whatever Ladon had planned to do, he'd be there to bring him down.
Ladon didn't seem remorseful and the worst part was, that Sheppard still needed his help. Measures had been put in place, Ladon had said. Did that mean there was a cure out there?
They sat in the pipe for an hour. By that time, they were both stiff and cold when they cautiously left to head back to the 'gate.
The snow was falling in sheets and it was difficult to see where exactly they were going, but at least it meant they were well covered, and Sheppard couldn't see any signs of the rebels who had been searching for them.
Ladon followed him closely. He'd probably try to return to his own world when they arrived at the 'gate. Sheppard wasn't about to let him. He moved quicker as his muscle aches eased and the cold seemed to get driven out by a fiery anger. People had died because of Ladon's actions. He'd lost more men on this mission and their bodies were lying exposed in the snow, their blood spilt. Ladon wasn't showing any signs of being sorry and he wondered if Ladon was still holding a grudge and so saw their deaths as evening the score, so to speak.
They reached the embankment that led up to the warehouses. By now, any remaining fires had been smothered. He moved quickly through the broken buildings and passed the bodies that were nearly wiped away by the snow.
He didn't have time to stop and uncover them. He'd have to get a team here to retrieve the bodies.
At the 'gate, Sheppard turned to Ladon.
"Last chance. What's the location of the ancient facility?"
Ladon didn't say anything.
Sheppard dialled Atlantis. After his IDC had been confirmed, he asked for a team to come through to bring back their dead and for McKay to come and help retrieve the last addresses dialled from the DHD. Ladon had been pacing behind him the whole time, and though asked more than once, still had been unwilling to give him the location of the facility.
It didn't take long for back-up to arrive. Lorne had around a dozen men with him who trudged off towards the warehouses with stretchers. McKay had come through with his laptop and a few other bits of equipment and surprisingly, Doctor Keller and Teyla joined them.
"How long's it going to take you to get those addresses?" Sheppard asked, stepping away from Keller as she attempted to wrap a foil blanket around him.
McKay looked like an Eskimo. He had a thick coat on with a furry hood that was pulled up over his head, then a scarf that he'd pulled up over his mouth. Sheppard also hadn't missed the gloves on a string that he was wearing usually worn by children.
"It shouldn't take me too long," he said, shivering. "This planet is freezing."
"Yes," Keller said, ushering Sheppard to sit so she could treat him. "And you're borderline hypothermic, Colonel."
Sheppard accepted the foil blanket that Teyla wrapped around him and tilted his head to the side as Keller took his temperature. Ladon was sitting beside him with a blanket but hadn't spoken in a while.
"We need to get you under a warming blanket. Your core temperature is dangerously low and we need to get you a change of clothes," Keller said, pointing to his sodden pants.
Sheppard nodded, too tired to respond. He could have fallen asleep standing up.
"John," Teyla gave his shoulder a nudge. "You need to stay awake for the time-being."
"Yeah," Sheppard rubbed his face and realised he was wearing Teyla's gloves. He couldn't remember putting them on.
"What happened here?" Teyla asked, pulling her woollen hat down over her ears and bunching her shoulders together against the cold. "Major Lorne has reported that we have no survivors."
"Rebels attacked Naraya and we followed them here," Sheppard told her.
"How did they find you?" McKay asked, turning away from the DHD.
Sheppard shivered against the cold. "How much longer?"
"Oh, I'm nearly-" McKay paused. His eyes widened. "It was Ladon wasn't it?"
Ladon looked up from where he was sitting. Perhaps he had now realised he wasn't getting to leave so easily. "Yes," he admitted. "It was me."
McKay looked startled at the admission. Sheppard was surprised as well. He was expecting him to lie and take back everything he had said earlier.
"I'll fill you in later," Sheppard told him. "Keep working on that."
Teyla seemed to be angry. She was glaring at Ladon in a way that would make Ronon proud.
"We'll find him," Sheppard said. "In the meantime, you know Ronon. He'll be holding his own."
"I know," Teyla said. "But none of this would have happened were it not for Ladon."
"He knows we're done after this." Sheppard slurred.
Teyla finally looked away from Ladon. Her concerned eyes were now focused on him.
"Colonel?" Keller crouched down in front of him. "How're you doing?"
Keller leaned in close to Teyla and said something about him slurring his words being a sign that they needed to get him back to Atlantis right away. Ha! Sheppard thought. He couldn't if he wanted to.
"John?" Teyla reached for his hands and rubbed them between hers. "We think it wise to get you home."
"I want to," Sheppard said. "I can't, remember?"
Keller was reaching into her case. She pulled out a syringe and a blue vial.
"I haven't been able to properly test this, but I think now's as good a time. You're freezing. I need to get you into the infirmary to warm you up and give you some fluids. This is based on Carson's research. It's a combination of-"
Sheppard gave her a pleading look. He was tired. He was cold. He was hungry. The science could wait.
Keller seemed to read his expression. "It's a light sedative. It might make you feel a little spaced out, but it's going to stop your gene from working temporarily. We can get you to the infirmary and at least then I can treat you and run more tests at the same time."
Sheppard nodded and rolled up his ice encrusted sleeve.
"I want you to understand the implications," Keller advised. "There will be side effects and…" she paused. "This might not work."
"I know. I trust you," Sheppard said.
As Keller injected him, McKay suddenly stood up and put his hands on his head.
"McKay, what are you-" Sheppard turned and saw they were surrounded by rebels.
He was beginning to wonder how they had slipped passed Lorne and his team when he was brought back to reality by the sound of several safety's disengaging and around twenty weapons aiming at them.
One man was holding Ronon's stunner. It was the last thing Sheppard saw.
Sheppard's head was throbbing when he awoke. But all his brain could conjure up was the image of snowflakes descending from a black sky.
He wasn't cold. That was the first thing he realised. In fact, his skin felt flushed. He was lying down on his back and he could hear something humming. When he opened his eyes, there was a ceiling that he didn't recognise, and then Ronon was looming over him.
"Ronon?" Sheppard slurred. His tongue felt weird. He went to sit but he felt oddly uncoordinated. His arms and legs were numb and tingly and his vision swam around. He felt detached and weird.
He looked up to see that they were in a cell. He had no clue where he was and how he'd got here.
"You okay?" Ronon asked, helping Sheppard sit against the wall.
The injection. Keller had given it to him just as they were about to head back to Atlantis. She said there might be side effects and that he'd feel spaced out.
"Yeah, just…" Sheppard paused and pushed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "Give me a minute."
Ronon did, leaving a comforting hand on his shoulder until he could look up and explain to Ronon how Keller had given him the injection and then they were captured. He also told him about Ladon, and how he had planned all of this.
"I'll kill him," Ronon growled.
"Me first," Sheppard told him.
Speaking of Ladon.
"He's here. Kalan took him away a few hours ago," Ronon said.
"Was anyone else brought here?"
"Don't think so. Only seen you and Ladon."
Sheppard hoped that the others had managed to get away.
From Kalan's presence it was obvious that they had been taken to the ancient facility he was obsessed with. The humming Sheppard had heard on waking was the force field that had them trapped. Beyond that, there was a large room with a central console.
"So, what's the plan?" Ronon asked.
Sheppard turned to him and couldn't help but laugh derisively. Their circumstances weren't exactly favourable.
Ronon smiled, realising the source of his amusement.
"Once Kalan's gene starts to malfunction, everything's gonna shut down. I don't know how long that's going to take."
"So we need to get out of here." Ronon stood up and paced the cramped cell.
"Yeah, I can't imagine that's going to be easy. Were you conscious when you were bought here?"
"So we have no idea where the 'gate is and how far."
"Kalan's got a lot of guards."
"And our weapons and my tactical gear. I was stunned with your blaster."
Ronon kicked at the far wall. He really loved that gun.
"If McKay managed to get away then he has the last 'gate addresses that were dialled from the DHD. He'll find us."
"That could still take time."
"I know and the odds would be stacked against them to come in here and rescue us."
"So, I guess we just wait." Ronon sighed. "I hate waiting."
"McKay will find us."
"If he got away."
Sheppard rubbed at his head wearily. "What about you? How come you let them capture you?"
"I didn't let them catch me."
"So, the bodies by the warehouse-"
"Managed to take out a few men and then somebody clubbed me over the head." Ronon turned and lifted his dred's. The back of his neck and shirt were covered in blood. "The Genii play dirty."
"We already knew that."
A door opened in the corner of the room and several guards, Ladon, Mallin and a man that Sheppard presumed was the Genii leader walked in.
The force field was briefly disengaged and Ladon was pushed into the cell. His nose was bleeding and his right eye was swollen. Sheppard had to admit that he was a little pissed that he hadn't been the one to do that to him first.
Kalan approached the cell. He was a large man with a stocky build. His hair was long and greying, with white wisps at his temples. He was dressed in an immaculate Genii uniform, only this one had a patch on the breast pocket that Ladon's didn't have.
"The symbol of the rebels," Kalan explained when he saw Sheppard admiring it.
Sheppard stood up and moved towards him, careful not to make contact with the force field.
"Colonel Sheppard," Kalan said, seemingly pleased with himself.
"Kalan, I presume," Sheppard said. "Nice to put a name to the face I'll eventually kill."
Kalan laughed. "What makes you think you'll get the chance?"
"Oh, I'm sure you'll slip up sooner or later." Sheppard said.
There was a ripple of laughter from Kalan's men.
"The others…on the planet-"
"Yeah. Are they alive?"
"Unfortunately." Kalan seemed disappointed. "They managed to escape and take a few of my men with them."
Sheppard released the breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding.
Kalan walked away, moving to one of the consoles. "I hear you have lost your ability to command ancient technology?"
Mallin was in the corner of the room, setting up what looked like a series of injections. Even from here, Sheppard could tell that he was nervous; his hands were shaking as he prepared the vials.
"Temporarily," Sheppard told him.
"It looks like I'll be able to control it before you can." Kalan said, turning to Mallin. "This better work."
Mallin walked over with the syringe. "I assure you, it will work."
"If it doesn't, I hope you can swim."
Mallin went to inject Kalan, but Kalan shook his head and gestured to one of his men who was rolling up his sleeve. Obviously, Kalan wasn't willing to risk it not working, perhaps even fearing a trap.
"How long does it take for the serum to be effective?" Kalan asked, watching Mallin closely as he withdrew the syringe from the man's arm.
Mallin cleared his throat and gestured towards one of the consoles.
Kalan's man walked over to it and placed his hands down. Nothing happened.
"Give it a minute."
"Just…..wait," Mallin assured them.
The console flickered and, suddenly, switched on. Within seconds it was awash with light as systems previously unavailable to them started to power up.
Kalan smiled jubilantly. "Well, it would seem you are saved."
"Who's next?" Mallin asked.
"Me!" Kalan volunteered, and proffered his own arm out to Mallin. Once he was injected, he indicated for others to receive the serum.
"We have access to everything," Kalan was saying as he moved around the console. "Everything!"
Mallin looked to Ladon who was still hunched in the corner of the cell.
"Gather as much information as you can!" Kalan instructed.
Sheppard turned to Ladon. "Information?"
It was Kalan that answered. "This is a data storage unit for the ancients. It lists the location of every ancient facility and its schematics, including Atlantis."
"Are you happy now, Ladon?" Sheppard hissed from the corner of the cell.
"This is all your fault," Ladon snapped, trying not to attract attention.
"How do you figure that?" Sheppard asked incredulously. "You started this."
"If you hadn't followed the rebels then we would never have been captured. Now all of our work has been for nothing and we will die down here."
"If you hadn't messed around with the gene then we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place," Sheppard told him.
Mallin approached the force field, checking that he wasn't being watched. But Kalan was preoccupied with his new toy.
Ladon stood up. "Is there anyway to get us out of here?"
"The facility is heavily guarded. If I release you, you'll be killed before you manage to get out."
"So, we're trapped," Ronon said. "We knew that already."
"I'm sorry, Ladon." Mallin said.
"How long before their gene starts screwing this place up?" Sheppard asked, massaging his temples.
"Not long. A few hours at the most."
"Maybe we can use that. If the systems start shutting down then this force field will drop. We might be able to make it out before the city starts sinking."
"And if the doors shut before this opens, Colonel?" Mallin asked.
Sheppard didn't have an answer.
"You should leave," Ladon suggested. "Get word to the others and have them storm this facility."
"And for this to have been for nothing?"
"Yes, Mallin. We will have to find another way to collapse the rebel groups."
"I won't leave. We've worked too hard for this," Mallin said.
"If I die, who will take over?"
"There are other men eager to step into your place. My life was to be lost on this mission, but now that your life is at stake you want to abort? If two lives must be lost to ensure the end of the rebel's regime then, so be it." Mallin said. "I'm sorry."
"Mallin!" Ladon hissed as he walked away.
The injection that Keller had given him was making Sheppard feel like crap. He was also beginning to think that if he hadn't been given it, they might have been able to get out. After all, what Kalan and the others had been given was supposed to shut down ancient technology. Sheppard's made it shut down, but also made it malfunction.
There was the chance that he might have been able to make the force field act up. They could have been free by now and fighting their way out. Okay, it would have been a slim chance but a chance nonetheless.
"Does Mallin have the cure here?" Sheppard asked.
Ladon stopped probing the area around his eye and shook his head.
The force field came down and one of Kalan's men grabbed Sheppard from where he was sitting.
"Where are we going?" Sheppard asked.
"Kalan wants to speak with you."
Sheppard was taken to a small room that connected onto the central chamber.
Kalan was waiting for him, arms crossed over his chest.
Sheppard was pushed into a chair and his hands were tied behind his back. He was still feeling slightly detached under the influence of the drug Keller had given him. He didn't like it. His senses were dulled.
"Kalan. You wanted to talk?"
Kalan approached him and stood too close for comfort. "I figure that I have been given a unique opportunity with your arrival."
"Really?" Sheppard tested the restraints.
"And if I don't take advantage of that unique opportunity I may never have it again."
Sheppard grinned. "I've heard that I'm a difficult man to catch. Just ask Kolya, oh… that's right, you can't."
Kalan's eye's darkened and the smile that had been curving his lips straightened into a hard line. The punch to the jaw had Sheppard nearly toppling off his chair. He licked his lip and tasted blood.
"Sorry," Sheppard panted. "Hit a nerve with that one?"
Kalan didn't speak. Although his expression didn't show it, it was clear from his demeanour that he was still upset by the remark.
"You have ruined the Genii!" Kalan spat.
"I think you did that yourself," Sheppard answered back.
"No." Kalan shook his head. "I will return the Genii to how they used to be and I will eventually take the place of Ladon Radim as ruler."
"You won't have that chance."
"Really?" Kalan circled Sheppard as he straightened up.
"Yeah," Sheppard told him.
"Why have you aligned yourself with Ladon?"
"I've been asking myself the same thing, lately."
"He knew this facility was here all along. Did he tell you that?"
"It's true he omitted certain information," Sheppard told him. He could feel blood dripping down his chin. "But, he'll pay for that."
"He was too weak to take it for himself." Kalan smiled. "And now, I have it, and I also have information about Atlantis."
Sheppard swallowed thickly. That wasn't good.
"What do you want, Kalan?"
Kalan was staring intently at his knuckles. He'd managed to split them open on one of Sheppard's teeth.
"I don't have the required codes to gain access to the city itself."
"So that's it. You want Atlantis."
"Well, you can't have it."
"Why? Because you got there first?"
"Well, that and I just managed to get myself a sweet room on the west pier." Sheppard dead-panned.
"I want the codes, Colonel."
Kalan was cracking his knuckles. That was never a good sign.
"Sorry, but you're not getting them."
Kalan looked up at the ceiling and sighed. "I thought you might say that."
Sheppard spat blood onto the floor. He was listing to one side and practically hanging off the chair. His cheek was throbbing, and although his nose wasn't broken, it sure felt like it. Every breath and every word tasted like blood.
They'd been here for what seemed like an eternity. He was no nearer to giving out the codes to Atlantis and Kalan was no nearer to growing tired of hitting him.
"Are you ready to give in, yet?"
Sheppard managed to right himself and he blinked dizzily. At least there was one advantage to feeling slightly disconnected. "No," he croaked out. "Not even close."
Kalan walked to stand behind him and Sheppard instinctively tensed. The blow to the back of his head had him reeling forwards. He toppled off the chair and his knees connected painfully with the hard floor. His abused ribs followed, then his chin.
Without the use of his hands, he was unable to roll onto his back, but Kalan helped him with that. He kicked him in the stomach and then pushed him over.
"You won't need them." Sheppard licked his lips and tried to tether himself back to reality.
Sheppard met his gaze. "Because you'll be dead by then."
"And I suppose you'll be the one who will miraculously manage this feat, beaten and locked up in this facility?"
"No," Sheppard laughed, distantly aware of the way it made his stomach ache. "You've already consented to it."
Kalan crouched down, suddenly interested. "What are you talking about?"
The lights above them flickered. It was happening already. How long had it been? Had they really been in here for hours?
"Did you research what Ladon's man injected you with? I mean, he gave an impressive demonstration but did you consider the long term effects of that injection?"
"Mallin is known for his research into the gene therapy. Word has spread quickly of his skills."
"Let me guess…that rumour spread from a man called Des'a."
Kalan narrowed his eyes.
"He's a plant of Ladon's. Both of them are. You've been injected with the products of his failed gene therapy. It works for a few hours and then-"
The lights went out above them. There was only a strip of light from the control room that provided them little illumination.
"I'm not. That.." Sheppard nodded at the dead bulb. "That's just the beginning." He swallowed thickly. Blood was running down the back of his throat and it made him want to gag.
"That's just a blown light, Colonel"
"Ladon's been planning this from the start."
"How do you know this?"
"If we don't get out of here soon, the whole structure is going to sink to the bottom of the ocean once all the systems have powered down."
Kalan shook his head and gripped Sheppard's shoulder, pinching the nerves there. "I don't believe you."
Sheppard grit his teeth against the pain. "You're going to have to, because if you don't then we're all dead."
The door opened and one of Kalan's men was standing there. He looked down at Sheppard and then back at Kalan. "Sir, we need to talk."
Kalan grabbed Sheppard, hauled him into the central chamber and back to his cell. He was unceremoniously shoved in with his hands still tied behind his back. Ronon managed to catch him before he could hit the floor. He untied the rope that had Sheppard bound and lowered him to the floor.
"You look like crap," Ronon said, grimacing at the state of his face.
Sheppard didn't have a mirror but the expression on Ronon and Ladon's face was enough. He looked bad. "Had better days," he admitted, guarding his right side.
"Some of the systems have been shutting down." They heard the rebel tech announce.
"What do you mean shutting down?" Kalan shouted.
"The power seems to be…draining away."
"Then turn them back on."
"We've tried, but nothing's responding." The man demonstrated and the console remained dark. "It's like we've lost the ability to command the technology. Everything that's powered up dies when we try to initiate it."
"What did you say in there?" Ladon demanded.
"I told him the truth, Ladon." Sheppard admitted.
"Let me try!" Kalan snapped.
He approached the console and placed his hands on its surface. Nothing happened. After a few seconds, he slowly raised his hands.
"See," his man said. "Nothing is working."
"Are you sure it's us? Could it be the facility itself? A problem with the-"
"Kalan. It's not the facility of that I am sure."
Kalan walked over to Mallin and aimed a gun at him. "What did you do?"
One of the doors to the main room descended and a row of computers on the far wall turned off by themselves.
"What did you do?!"
Mallin was unrepentant. He squared his shoulders and accepted his fate. "Nothing you didn't already deserve."
"So you did deceive us?" Kalan said. "This was all planned from the very start."
Mallin raised his chin defiantly. "Yes, it was."
"Reverse this." Kalan shouted.
"Or you won't."
"You are lying!"
"I haven't been able to reverse the process. What's been done is done. There's no going back now. You wanted a return to form. You wanted the Genii to revert to their old ways, well here you have it. We've lied and we've manipulated you to do exactly what we wanted. Just like the good old days."
"You injected a supposed ally of yours with the same serum. I do not believe that you do not have a cure to this."
Mallin shook his head. "I don't have one. Not here, not anywhere."
"Then perhaps Ladon knows."
Mallin was quick to rush to his defence. "He doesn't know anything."
"He apparently orchestrated this whole thing. Surely he knows something."
"I worked alone. Ladon was not involved in the production of the serum."
Kalan lowered the weapon and closed his eyes briefly. "How long before we lose all of the systems?" he asked one of his men.
"An hour, maybe two-" one of them answered.
"And there is nothing we can do?"
Kalan opened his eyes and pointed the gun at Mallin's temple. "One more chance."
Mallin was silent.
Kalan pulled the trigger and Mallin collapsed to the floor. Blood poured out from the wound in his head. Sheppard finally understood Kalan's temper and how the original occupier of this facility had come to a swift end.
The force field came down once again and Kalan pushed the gun into Ladon's chest.
"What do you know?"
Ladon shook his head. "We don't have a cure if that's what you're getting at."
Kalan turned to Sheppard. "Do they have a cure?"
"I honestly don't know."
Kalan's finger was squeezing the trigger slightly. One tiny flinch and that bullet would be expended into Ladon's chest.
"If you know something, Colonel, then I suggest you voice it now. Otherwise your alliance is over."
"Do it," Sheppard said.
Ladon's eyes widened and Kalan suddenly looked intrigued. "You would not want to save Ladon's life?"
Sheppard rubbed at his bruised cheek. "No. It's not worth saving."
Kalan grinned. "Well, it seems all isn't well between Atlantis and Ladon. I have to say that I find this an interesting development."
"What can I say?" Sheppard said.
An alarm started to bleat loudly and Kalan reholstered his weapon. He went to set the force field but it failed to initiate. "Watch them!" he barked at his men. "What is that alarm?"
"Life support is failing and this entire section is starting to shut down," one of his men said.
"Can you stop it?"
"No. We'd need the gene and that's not the worst part."
"What?" Kalan asked, growing angrier with every passing second.
"This facility has a failsafe that if every system shuts down, then it retracts into the ocean. They'll be no way out once that happens."
Kalan was a stubborn man, refusing to leave even though they were swathed in darkness and not a single system was responding to his touch. He had angrily searched Mallin's corpse for a clue to the cure and then had raided his medical case. Coming up with nothing and now having his men insist that they leave, he was beginning to understand the implications.
"Is there nothing that we can do?" Kalan asked.
One of his men shook his head.
"How much information did you manage to pull off the systems?"
"Nothing, sir. Our storage device was wiped when the systems started shutting down."
"But you were reading through the information, you remember some of the locations." Kalan was getting desperate.
"I was busy trying to get other systems online. You said you wanted us to see if this facility had weapons capabilities. I didn't…perhaps one of the others…." His words petered off when Kalan pointed a gun at his chest.
"I'm disappointed Arden." Kalan's mouth twisted angrily. He lowered the gun. "But I cannot kill my brother."
Arden smiled gratefully. "Thank you."
Kalan paced back and forth.
"What is it now?" Kalan asked.
"The facilities shields aren't engaging for the descent."
Kalan gestured for him to continue, clearly not understanding what that meant.
"If the shields don't initialise then when we descend, water will fill every corridor. We'll all drown."
Arden approached his brother. Had Kalan not said he was related, Sheppard would never have known. "We should leave before it's too late."
"No. I can't-"
"Kalan. Please. We will find another facility."
"And be unable to make it work!" Kalan snapped.
"We don't know that this is permanent. The serum might wear off."
"Or it might have disabled our ability to use this technology forever."
"Kalan. We must go now."
Kalan obviously didn't want to leave. He stood there deliberating until the decision was made for him.
Another alarm sounded and the only door that was open started to slide shut in a series of jerking motions, as if it was undecided about closing.
"Everyone get out!" Kalan instructed. "Climb to the higher sections and find a way out."
Arden patted his brother on the back and headed towards the door. "Kalan, are you coming?"
Kalan looked torn.
"The systems are going to continue to shut down." Sheppard snapped. "We need to get out of here."
His people were quick to mobilise, squeezing through the ever decreasing exit.
"Maybe we do," Kalan said.
Sheppard, Ronon and Ladon followed but Kalan was blocking the way out, holding the door and preventing it from closing as he pushed through. "But you don't."
He released the door and it shut behind them, leaving them in the darkened room.
Ronon and Sheppard tried for a few minutes to prise the door open. Often times on Atlantis if you put enough brute force into it, you could open them enough to get through. Today that wasn't working. Sheppard stepped away and Ronon grunted and kicked at the door. It wasn't going to budge.
"There has to be another way out," Ladon said, moving to the far side of the room. He stopped as he passed Mallin's body and hesitated before walking away. His death had affected him, but he wasn't going to admit it.
All the doors were sealed shut.
"Look around, see you if you can see a way through," Sheppard said, walking to the centre of the room and scanning it. He could barely see. What few consoles still beeped with life were starting to shut off. It seemed that with a high enough concentration of people with the defective gene, the deterioration of this facility was much quicker than it had been on Atlantis.
They were running out of time. Sheppard wished McKay was here. At least he would have been able to calculate when the structure would start its descent.
It could happen any minute and they were unprepared.
"Over here!" Ronon called out.
Sheppard and Ladon reached him at the same time. Ronon had managed to prise a panel open in the floor. There was a ladder that went further into the bowels of the facility.
"How did you know that was here?" Sheppard asked.
Ronon slapped Sheppard on the back to wake him from his fugue. "This place is like Atlantis. Figured there'd be a hidden access hatch around here."
Sheppard knew that. He groaned and rubbed at his head. Whatever Keller had given him was seriously messing with him.
"That's going in the wrong direction!" Ladon said. "We need to move upwards."
Sheppard considered their options.
They didn't have any.
If they took this route, there might be areas that weren't closed off yet and they could find an alternative way up.
"Move it," Sheppard told Ladon, giving him a prod from behind.
Ladon regarded him and stubbornly crossed his arms over his chest.
"Well, if you don't want to follow you can always stay here," Sheppard told him as Ronon climbed into the tunnel and started descending the ladder.
Predictably, Ladon finally followed when they were both half way down the shaft.
There were several vents on either side of them, none big enough to fit a human. At the bottom there was an open passageway.
Without any lights, they were forced to feel their way along the walls. Sheppard stumbled a few times, reeling from dizziness and extreme exhaustion. Keller had said there would be side effects – only he'd figured at the time he would have been on Atlantis. Being in an unfamiliar facility, fighting to find a way out, was not optimum.
"You okay?" Ronon asked when Sheppard bumped into his back.
"Yeah, just…" he swallowed thickly. "Keep moving. I'm fine."
Ronon advanced. Above them they could hear frantic voices calling for help. Some of Kalan's men were trapped and hammering away for someone to come save them. It was difficult to ignore but they couldn't help them.
"There's a door up ahead," Ronon said, and when he reached it he cursed in Satedan. "Closed."
"Hang on." Sheppard recognised this design of door. They had many on Atlantis. In a power cut they were able to open them manually. "There should be a side panel you can open."
Ronon dug into his shirt and pulled out a knife. Sheppard near sliced his hand on it when he reached for it. He seemed to have spent the last week primarily in darkness and it was beginning to get old.
Sheppard felt around the door for the panel and managed to prise it open. The plating fell to the floor and clanged loudly, which encouraged the trapped men above them to start banging and begging for help again. Sheppard reached into the opening and found the manual door lever. It took all of his effort - the handle seemed to be rusted in places - but the door crept open enough for them to all squeeze through.
The room they entered had a central light on. The far wall was made of glass and beyond it was the sea. Soon, that water would be flooding these areas as the facility began to sink.
"I can't see a way out," Ladon said unhelpfully. "We're going to drown down here."
"Colonel, I see nothing to be positive about."
"We're still alive."
"For the moment."
"Would you both shut up," Ronon intoned. "Found an air shaft we can climb up."
"See?" Sheppard said. "After you."
Ladon climbed in. Sheppard followed and Ronon's shoulders barely fit in the vent.
"Reminds me of Die Hard," Sheppard said as he wriggled along.
"Reminds me of Aliens," Ronon said.
Sheppard paused. "You just had to say that didn't you?"
"You know when Newt is hiding and-"
"Ronon," Sheppard warned. Because it would just be their luck that there was some kind of space monster hiding out in these vents, and he really wasn't in the mood to tempt fate.
"Colonel, the vent seems to move up at the end. Looks like there are some rungs to climb up," Ladon said.
There was a sudden vibration and the entire building seemed to groan.
"We moving?" Ronon asked, just as Sheppard became aware of the sound of water coming from somewhere.
"That doesn't sound good," Sheppard said, straining to listen.
"We're starting to sink," Ladon told them.
"Yeah." Ronon was looking behind him.
"That water?" Sheppard asked.
Ronon nodded. "It's getting higher. Can see it coming down here."
"Okay," Sheppard gave Ladon's ankle a whack. "Go…."
Ladon started climbing up the vent, and just as Sheppard was about to grab hold of the ladder, he could feel water lapping around his legs. Ronon was creeping closer and telling him to move faster.
By the time they were all climbing, the water was filling the vent. Sheppard bumped into Ladon's legs.
"I can't. There's a cover to this vent."
"Well get it open."
"It's sealed shut."
"I think there are screw fixtures."
Sheppard reluctantly handed a knife up to Ladon. "Try this."
Time was ticking by. Sheppard could hear shouts coming from another section. People were drowning. If they didn't move quickly, so would they.
"I'm going as fast as I can," he said, voice shaking.
Ronon was now submerged up to his waist.
"Come on, come on, come on," Sheppard repeated, knowing that he sounded like McKay. "Dammit! Get out of my way."
"I can do this!" Ladon told him.
"You're taking too long."
"You can trust me to do this."
"It's about the only thing I can trust you to do," Sheppard said. "Because you want to save your own ass. Just move-"
Sheppard forced Ladon out of the way. He crammed up beside him and managed to get his hand through the wire in the vent covering to jam the knife into a screw keeping it shut. Ladon pushed his hand through and steadied the knife in the screw while Sheppard twisted it. They got one out and had three more to go.
"Hurry up, Sheppard!" Ronon was pushing himself up between their legs, trying to get air as the water rose.
"Nearly there, buddy," Sheppard got the third and moved onto the fourth.
Ladon's hand was shaking as he twisted the knife. The water was now at his mouth and Ronon was fully under.
"Nearly got it. Damn!"
The screw got stuck and he fought to get it out.
"Hurry!" Ladon urged.
Water went over his head and then-
The vent cover popped off and they all climbed out, coughing and spluttering to watch as the water gulped over the edges and into the new room they were now trapped in.
"Do you think Kalan managed to get out?" Ladon asked, pushing water out of his hair.
"Hope not," Ronon said, lying on his back.
"Do you know how big this building is?" Sheppard asked.
"There's another floor above this one," Ladon said.
"Okay, so we just need to keep-"
The building shuddered and groaned again and the water that was coming up from the vent was pouring into the room. It was already at their ankles.
"That water's coming in from somewhere," Sheppard said. "Maybe if we can find out where we can swim out."
Ladon looked disquietly nervous.
"What?" Sheppard asked. "Oh don't tell me-"
"I can't swim," Ladon admitted. "I'm not sure I'd be able to get out that way."
"Well, given that this place is pretty much sealed shut, I think it's the only way. You'll have to suck it up." Sheppard moved to the far wall where there was a row of consoles that had yet to shut down, and looked to the closed door. There were no other vents in the ceiling to climb up nor panels in the floor.
Ladon examined the door. "Is this not like the other door?"
"No, that doesn't have a manual lever," Sheppard told him, then considered it. "Come here and give me a hand, we'll see if we can wedge it open."
All three of them gripped and pulled, but nothing happened. There was nowhere on the door to get a hold so all they ended up doing was straining the muscles in their arms.
"Well, guess we're not getting out that way." Sheppard said, leaning against one of the consoles. He ignored the bleep it made.
"We could swim back down. Water seemed to come in pretty quick down there," Ronon suggested.
"It's a long way," Sheppard said. "Think you can hold your breath that-" the console made the bleep noise again and Sheppard turned to it. "What the-"
It bleeped again and a bar on one of the screens was moving from green to red. That was usually a bad sign and meant something was going to….
Sheppard rushed away from it, shouted for Ronon and Ladon to move and managed to get to the far wall just as the console exploded. They were showered with plastic and metal. When Sheppard looked up, the console was still smouldering and the door had opened.
"What the hell was that?" Ronon asked, clearly confused.
Sheppard looked at his hands. "That injection Keller gave me must be wearing off. I overloaded it."
"Can you do that again?" Ronon asked. "Maybe we could-"
"No. I can't predict when it's going to happen. It'll probably do more harm than good."
"It seems to have done good here," Ladon said, gesturing to the door.
The water was at their knees as they sloshed through into the corridor. There were a few emergency lights in this hall so they could just about see. It wouldn't be long before those lights dulled so they had to move quickly.
Then they had two options, left or right.
"Ladon, you said your guys knew of this facility's existence. Did you ever come here?"
"I didn't. So before you ask, I don't know which way is out."
"Okay, well maybe we should-"
A panel slid down in front of them and Ladon was forced to jump one way as Sheppard and Ronon jumped the other. They both landed in the water and Sheppard looked up to see that Ladon had become trapped on the other side.
Ladon was banging on the door, but they couldn't hear what he was saying. His words were muffled by the thick panel.
"Looks like we're going this way," Ronon said, pushing himself out of the water. He reached out for Sheppard's hand and pulled him to his feet.
"Ladon—" Sheppard cut himself off.
"He'll find a way out. Remember, he's on his own now. You don't have a duty to save him."
Sheppard wanted to argue that point, but Ronon was right to a certain degree. And there was nothing he could do, anyway. Ladon was trapped, they were trapped, they'd have to both try and make it to the next level.
They followed the corridor, wading through water that was now up to their chests. The lights above them had been pulsing and the interval between them going off and coming back on had increased. It wouldn't be long, now, before they were plunged back into darkness.
"It's a good thing Rodney isn't here," Sheppard said. "He'd be freaking out by now."
"And you're not?" Ronon asked.
Sheppard threw him a look. "No. You'd think I would but I've come to expect this kind of thing."
"What happened to staying positive?"
"Oh I'm positive we'll probably drown down here." He smiled and so did Ronon. In reality, Sheppard still didn't quite believe they would die. He really was used to being in these situations and then having rescue turn up at the last minute. "We'll get out," he amended.
They reached the end of the corridor, but this time there was no door.
"End of the line," Sheppard noted.
The facility started to shudder again and the water level rose to their chins. Sheppard raised his head. The water was freezing.
"I say we go back and swim down that vent," Ronon said. "Better chance down there than up here."
"I don't know, buddy. It was a long way down."
"Only chance we've got. I think the water started coming in down there. Must be an outlet to the sea we can swim through."
The wall to their left exploded and both men were thrown against the other wall. It was somewhat buffeted by the water, but it still didn't mean it didn't hurt. The water levels went down a little.
"Colonel Sheppard?" Kalan was standing there. He seemed surprised to see them alive.
Kalan was wearing Sheppard's tactical vest. "I see you found my stash of C4," Sheppard said.
"You mean my stash of C4."
The water was steadily rising. Sheppard was having to tread water just to stay afloat. Kalan had been lucky and blown a hole up to the level above them.
"Where are your men?"
"They became trapped in one of the rooms."
"You left them behind?" Sheppard said.
"I made a strategic decision," Kalan told them. "There's not much more of this explosive left."
He had no other option. He was going to have to bargain with him.
"Look, I know you want to kill me on the spot-"
Kalan smiled. "That's true."
"But if we work together to get out of here then I might give you a head start when we're up on the surface."
"I'm the one holding your weapons, Colonel."
"They're water logged. You really think they're going to work now."
"There's a chance they might," Kalan told him.
"Look, we don't-" Sheppard choked on some water. "We don't have time for this." He pointed up to the hole. "Let's get up there and argue about this when we're not about to drown."
Kalan conceded, realising that maybe he should work with them for the time being if he wanted to live.
They climbed up and through the hole. They were on the top level now. Nowhere else to go.
Kalan still had Sheppard's gun trained on him.
"Look, I might know where there's a cure for what's going on with us," Sheppard told him. Ronon gave him a look. Sheppard was lying, of course. "If you don't shoot me and we find a way out, I'll tell you where it is."
Kalan nodded. "And after that, I can shoot you?"
"All bets are off, believe me."
There weren't many doors that were open. There was one that was raised slighty off the floor and some of Kalan's men were behind it, attempting to pull it up. Sheppard toyed with the idea of leaving them behind, but it was one thing ignoring the sounds of hammering and faraway voices, it was another to see dozens of hands poking out, reaching for help, their voices clear and pleading.
Sheppard indicated to Ronon to help him try and raise the door much to Kalan's disgust.
"Leave them. We don't have time for this."
"They're your people," Sheppard said, struggling against the heavy door. The water was rising again.
"You're wasting time!" Kalan snapped. "We need to find a way out!"
"The C4 you have. Use it to blow this door!" Sheppard said.
"No," Kalan replied. "There are only two blocks left."
"Then we can use one to blow this and get these men out and we can use the other to get off this facility."
Ronon straightened up and moved forward, puffing his chest out. "Hand it over."
"No!" Kalan raised his weapon and turned to move away.
Ronon grabbed him and pushed him against the wall.
Kalan was serious when he said, "We can waste time here or we can find a way out. Once we've found a way out we'll come back and rescue these men with your C4, but not before."
Damn it! He had a point.
"We're coming back," Sheppard said.
They found a room on what Kalan said was the outer part of the facility.
A few of Kalan's men had managed to get there and they seemed surprised to see Kalan arriving with him and Ronon.
Sheppard ignored their looks and started searching for the best location to put his C4. They were confined to this one room. Sheppard was having difficult working out where the outer walls were; they'd been turned around so many times on the way up here.
"You've been here longer," Sheppard said. "Where's the outer walls?"
Kalan had grouped together with his men and was whispering conspiratorially. They were probably working out a way to capture Sheppard and Ronon if they ever got out of here.
"Kalan!" Sheppard snapped.
Kalan looked over and pointed. "Over there."
"Okay," Sheppard set the charge up. "We're going to need to move away. Find cover."
They all hunkered down behind one of the dead consoles. It was a surreal situation, them and the rebels working together. Sheppard counted down to give them some warning before blowing the C4. When he depressed the trigger, nothing happened.
"Why hasn't it blown?" One of Kalan's men asked.
Sheppard waited a moment before standing, just in case there had been a delay. It shouldn't matter that the C4 had got wet, and the blasting cap he'd used had been in good condition. That only left one more piece of equipment to malfunction. He examined the detonator in his hand and could see that there were several wires exposed in the casing. Their C4 would be useless if they couldn't set the charge off.
"What is it?" Ronon asked, noting Sheppard's dour expression.
"The detonator's broken."
"What?" Kalan exclaimed. He pointed at Ronon. "You must have broken it when you manhandled me."
Ronon gave him a dismissive look.
"Looks like we're going to have to find another way—" Sheppard trailed off.
One of the consoles in the centre of the room had started smoking and Sheppard realised that it was his gene attempting to reassert itself.
"What is that?" one of the rebels asked, taking an exaggerated step back.
"Are we coming back online?" Kalan asked.
"Could be," someone said.
Sheppard raised his hand to stall their excitement. "Whatever Mallin injected me with when he attacked me, made my gene screw up. Instead of shutting things down it makes things overload."
Kalan looked thoughtful. "So if we wait around long enough—"
"It doesn't work like that. I don't have any control over it when it happens."
"So, we just wait?" one of the rebels asked.
"What if it doesn't work?" another said.
"We're going to drown!" Arden shouted.
The water was still rising.
"So what now?" Ronon asked.
There was a glass dome at the top of the facility. It looked too thick to be able to shoot it out and it was likely none of their weapons would work given the amount of water they'd all tread through to get up here.
"Start pulling panels off the wall, maybe there's a way through," Kalan suggested, instructing his men to get to work.
Sheppard stood in the centre of the room, willing his gene to go crazy and make something explode. The central console was directly below the glass. If his gene made it overload, the ensuing explosion might make the glass blow, then it would simply be a case of climbing up.
Oh the irony. His gene acting up on Atlantis had been a hindrance, resulting in death and destruction and now he needed it to work and it wasn't playing.
"What are you doing?" Ronon asked.
"I'm concentrating," Sheppard told him.
"Yeah." Sheppard said, distracted.
"Right." Ronon patted him on the shoulder. "I'm going to help rip this place apart."
"Wouldn't expect anything less."
"You could help."
"I'm concentrating," Sheppard said, still feeling oddly disconnected. "Just-"
Ronon smiled. "Okay, concentrate away while I destroy this place."
Sheppard stared at the console. He willed it to overload or overheat or something.
He was aware of the others taking parts of the wall away. Some of the men were swearing loudly, others were panicking and many were watching him and probably wondering why he wasn't helping. Their noise was overwhelming. Sheppard shut his eyes and tried to focus on one thing.
"Explode," Sheppard commanded.
After a minute, he opened one eye to see the console was dead and unresponsive. Maybe it needed to be on already for it to work.
There had to be a way. He couldn't give up. He approached the console and placed his hands down.
After a beat, he stepped back and kicked it.
"Help us with—" Kalan snapped.
The rest of that sentence was lost when the ceiling collapsed in.
At first, Sheppard thought he had been successful and had managed to overload the console, but when he looked up he could see something crashing towards him.
It took him a second to realise what was happening.
He dove out of the way to avoid falling glass from above and watched from knee deep water to see one of Atlantis' jumpers lying broken and smouldering before him. It had completely decimated the central console. The water around him was moving out in rhythmical waves.
Nobody seemed to be injured. The rebels were pushing themselves up to their feet and gaping at the ship before them. Kalan was still sitting in the water and flicking glass from his shoulders.
Sheppard pushed himself out of the water and looked to Ronon, who seemed uncharacteristically worried. The jumper had literally just fallen from the skies and it had landed hard.
They waited, and when there was still no sign of movement after a minute, Sheppard and Ronon raced round to the rear and manually released the door.
It fell down, spraying water everywhere. Inside the cockpit it was completely dark.
McKay was picking himself up off the floor.
"Oh my god!" McKay said, rubbing his bruised head. "What the hell just happened?"
"We lost power," Lorne told him from the pilot seat. He pushed himself up in a series of jerking motions, reaching for his radio when he was upright.
His co-pilot, Lt. Adams, was just regaining consciousness and two other solders were out for the count.
When Lorne saw Kalan, with his weapon aimed at them all, he narrowed his eyes. "Friends of yours?"
"No," Sheppard told him. "Meet Kalan. He's the head of the rebels."
"Oh," Lorne waved and then aimed his p90 at the man. "I'd suggest you drop that."
McKay was looking wide-eyed and freaked out. "We just dropped…" he snapped his fingers. "Like that. Lorne!"
"It wasn't my fault," Lorne griped.
"No, of course not—" McKay stopped when he saw Sheppard and Ronon. "Oh." Realisation dawned. "It was you."
"My injection must have worn off," Sheppard said. "Sorry."
"Sorry? You just took down your own people!"
"Rodney, I didn't even know you were up there!"
"But you still….you broke another 'jumper!"
Sheppard was getting frustrated. The water was beginning to spill into the rear compartment of the 'jumper.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"Keller said your injection would work for much longer. Obviously or we wouldn't have come here otherwise!"
"Oh. Thanks, Rodney."
"I mean in a ship. We would have come on foot."
"It wasn't just me." Sheppard swept his hand out to indicate the men watching. "Everyone on this base has been injected with the same serum. The whole place is shutting down and—"
McKay, in the interim, had reached for his laptop and was monitoring the readings. "I can see that. You also realise this facility is sinking?"
"Yes, Rodney, we had noticed," Sheppard said.
"Of course, the shield hasn't initialised. I guess that's why we have all of this water."
Ronon gave Sheppard a look that said, "Is he serious?"
"The entire lower structure is flooded," Sheppard told him.
Ronon smirked. "At least you found us a way out."
"Yes well…." McKay rubbed at his neck. "I'm sure the whiplash will be worth it!"
"Lorne," Sheppard said, taking a weapon from him. "Good to see you. I take it you have ropes we can use to get out."
"Yes sir." Lorne had a cut on his head that was bleeding, but he pointed at Sheppard instead. "Been in the wars?"
"Something like that," Sheppard told him, checking the gun's magazine. "Got any C4 and a detonator?"
"Yeah," Lorne looked confused as he reached into his vest pocket. "Why?"
"I've got an errand to run. Get these people out and swim for the bank. I'll be with you in a minute."
"Where are you going?" McKay asked. "We've rescued you. The least you can do is stick around!"
"There are people trapped on this level. I'm going to get them out!"
"Atlantians?" Lorne asked, moving to follow.
"Rebels," Sheppard explained.
"Leave them!" McKay snapped. "We don't have much time!"
"Neither do they. Just…" he waved his hand. "Just get out of here. I'll be right behind you."
Kalan came around from admiring the 'jumper. "I'll come with you."
"I can do this alone."
"Like you said, they're my people."
Ronon wanted to go with him but Sheppard vetoed it. "I'll be right back. I've got this. Help the others out of here."
"Ronon. That's an order."
They headed back towards the room that Kalan's men had become trapped in. Sheppard set up the C4 and detonator and told the men in the room to get back, get down low and cover their ears.
Kalan and Sheppard hid behind another wall and he pressed the charge.
This time it worked. The door blew outwards and came off its hinges, slamming against the opposite wall. Within minutes, men were racing out and up to the tower without any thanks.
"Why did you do that?" Kalan asked. "They're not your people. They're the enemy."
Sheppard didn't know. It was ingrained in him. If he hadn't seen them, he probably could have walked away, but no one deserved to die in such a manner - drowning in the dark. He wouldn't wish that on anyone.
"Come on, let's get out of here," Sheppard said, starting to move away.
"Wait!" Kalan shouted as Sheppard turned to leave.
Kalan grabbed him from behind and Sheppard could feel his breath on his ear. "You didn't really think you were going to get out of here, did you?"
Sheppard struggled against Kalan's hold and managed to push him back against the wall. But Kalan managed to get a cheap shot in and punch him in the side. They both connected with a thump and Kalan released him.
"My people will kill you, Kalan." Sheppard told him, suddenly feeling a little light-headed. That damn injection!
"I'll take that risk."
"You won't get out of here alive."
"Maybe." Kalan tilted his head. "But it'll be worth it."
Kalan moved up close and Sheppard raised his weapon. "Don't make me shoot you."
His hand was shaking and his arm felt strangely weak. He grimaced and the aim of his weapon lowered. Something wasn't right.
Kalan took the opening and punched him in the stomach. Sheppard gasped. That punch had hurt a lot more than it should have. There was no recoil; his fist hadn't bounced from his tensed stomach muscles. Then he realised why. Sheppard reached down and felt that something was embedded in his flesh. He hadn't been punched. He'd been stabbed.
"Wha-" Sheppard blinked and tried to stay conscious. Kalan hadn't punched him the side, either. He could feel the wound throbbing painfully.
Kalan pushed the blade in his stomach further and twisted it up and Sheppard felt all the nerves respond. It was agony, like a wildfire in his gut. There were too many organs….too much to go wrong. He could bleed out before he even left here. He already felt like he was going into shock. Kalan stepped back and retracted the blade.
"That's for my uncle," Kalan said.
Sheppard tried to stay on his feet. He reached out for the wall but it was no use and he sank to his knees, blinking dizzily against a darkness that threatened to engulf him. He couldn't seem to connect to the reality of what had just happened. He'd been stabbed twice. He was bleeding out.
He pressed his hand against his stomach to staunch the blood and could feel it seeping out between his fingers. He reached for his side, to the other wound, and it was slick with blood.
"How are you feeling, Colonel?" Kalan asked, amused.
Sheppard tried to raise his arm to fire his gun, but he couldn't find the energy to do it. He was shaking.
"Come on, Colonel," Kalan goaded. "Aren't you going to fight back?"
Sheppard managed to raise his arm, but the gun he had been holding had been submerged in the water. When he pulled the trigger, nothing happened. The mechanism was too waterlogged to be effective. He tossed it to the side and attempted to get up. His hands slipped on the wall and he fell onto his knees, coughing against the taste of blood in the back of his throat.
"Your time is over, Colonel."
Sheppard was fading in and out. His vision was beginning go black when he heard the cadence of a gun firing. Kalan jerked backwards, gripping his chest. He fell into the water and was still struggling for Sheppard even with his last dying breaths.
Sheppard was weak, but his hand connected with the knife he had been carrying. Ronon's. It didn't matter that it was wet. He pushed off the wall with the last of his energy reserves and drove the knife into Kalan's throat.
Kalan reached up, made a horrendous gurgling noise and then collapsed back into the water. The water was deeper, now. He'd be completely submerged, drowning in the dark.
Ladon rushed over to his position. "Are you okay?"
He crouched beside Sheppard and moved his hand away from his stomach.
"Evidently…not," Sheppard told him without humour.
"Come on," Ladon said, helping Sheppard up.
Sheppard tried to see down the hall, searching for someone else. "You shot him?"
"Yes," Ladon told him. He seemed inconvenienced by Sheppard's condition and they only managed a few steps before Sheppard was slipping out of his grasp.
"How'd you get here?" Sheppard asked, using his free hand to hold onto the wall. His legs were shaking and, god, he was cold. His teeth were chattering uncontrollably.
No not cold. Shock. He was going into shock.
"I managed to find a vent. It bought me out down there. We need to keep moving."
"Right," Sheppard said. "And the gun?"
"I found it," Ladon told him. "On one of the drowned rebels."
Sheppard's vision was greying out and he was tripping over his own feet as he moved. It was hard pushing through the water. Ladon was a slight man and he was having trouble supporting Sheppard's weight.
"Go on ahead. Bring my team here—" Sheppard told him, slipping again.
"We're nearly there," Ladon told him.
"Why are you helping me?" Sheppard asked. "Why didn't you just leave me back there?"
Ladon didn't answer.
"I mean… you screwed me over. Can't return to…Atlantis." He paused and tried to reign in the pain that was ripping through his gut. "Should've left me."
"Would you have left me?" Ladon asked, struggling through the water.
"Probably," Sheppard admitted.
Ladon stopped and Sheppard sagged against the wall. When Ladon released him, he sank to the floor. His legs were useless. There was so much blood. It was colouring the water around him.
When he looked up, Ladon had gone and Sheppard smiled wryly. Of course he wasn't going to help him.
"Rat bastard," Sheppard muttered, pressing his hand into his side.
He closed his eyes briefly. He was cold and tired. What was the point? If he couldn't return to Atlantis then what was he going to do? Return to Earth? Ha! That was a joke. Maybe he could live with the Athosians and be Atlantis' offworld contact… he considered it and sighed. He'd never be able to go to any worlds where there was ancient technology. Too much of a risk. He'd never be able to fly a 'jumper again. He'd never feel the ancient technology respond to his commands again and that was an experience in itself. Life just wouldn't be the same. What about his team? Would they carry on without him?
He laughed and it sounded hollow; deflated even. Dying really made him maudlin.
"There he is!"
A flashlight to his face had him blinking and looking up to shield his eyes. Any other time he would have been pissed off. This time, he was glad the light had pulled him from the brink of unconsciousness. He'd followed the light and instead of dying, he'd ended up back here, bleeding out in a darkened corridor.
McKay, Ronon and Lorne were sloshing towards him. Ladon was standing there behind them, coated in Sheppard's blood.
When McKay used his first name, it was always a bad sign.
"M' fine," he said, attempting to get up.
"No, hang on," McKay said.
Ronon pulled him into a standing position and Lorne supported his other side. When McKay saw the extent of his wound, his eyes widened.
"I know it looks bad," Sheppard said.
"Bad?" McKay echoed. "Bad? What happened?"
"Kalan," Sheppard told him as they trudged back to the main room. "For Kolya. Should've seen it coming."
"Should've let me come with you," Ronon reprimanded him.
When they arrived at the main room, no ropes had been rigged up and Lorne must have seen the expression on his face because he started to explain.
"It's too high. There's no way for us to secure ropes."
"So, what….now?" Sheppard asked.
The rebels were watching him. Some seemed to be masking smiles, the ones that he had rescued looked suitably guilty.
"We're going to have to wait till the water rises and swim out," Lorne told him.
"Right," Sheppard nodded. "Okay."
"You're going to make it," Ronon said.
Sheppard was too tired to disagree. He let his head hang between them while the rebels talked over him.
"Where's Kalan?" one of them shouted, his voice nearly smothered by the sound of rushing water.
"He's dead!" Ladon said.
"He attacked the Colonel and I shot him," Ladon shouted. "Kalan's regime is over!"
"He might not be dead. We should go back for him," someone suggested.
There were the sounds of agreement and when Sheppard looked up, several of his men were leaving they way they had arrived.
Ladon turned after them. "He's not worth it!" he snapped. "The water's rising quickly. You should stay here and—"
But most of them that wanted to help Kalan had already left.
"We need to get help," McKay said.
Sheppard didn't raise his head again – too much effort – but he knew McKay was referring to him.
"That might be a problem," Lorne said, lowering his voice. "What with Atlantis out of bounds."
"We'll get more of the injection-"
The facility shuddered and seemed to lower further. Sheppard raised his head a little to see that the top of the facility had obviously come level with the sea and now water was spilling in through the hole the 'jumper had created. They moved back so they weren't under the torrent. The water was rising rapidly. It was already at their chests and it was freezing cold. At least in the cold Sheppard couldn't feel anything. He was numb below his shoulders.
"Oh my god," McKay was saying. He was panicking. Ever since the incident with the whale and him getting trapped under the water in that 'jumper, he had feared situations like this. Sheppard wished he could reassure him. After all that was supposed to be his job, but he wasn't in a fit state to convince anyone.
McKay's voice hitched up. "I'm not a good swimmer. I had to wear arm bands till I was twelve!"
"We'll keep you afloat," Lorne said, taking on Sheppard's role.
McKay had moved closer. "How? You're going to need to hold onto Sheppard!"
Sheppard lifted his head. God, he could barely keep his eyes open. "I can swim."
"I know," Sheppard said. "But I'll be able to swim."
He concentrated on breathing and on staying alive.
"What are we going to do? We can't take him to Atlantis…."
"We'll figure that out if we get out, Rodney," said Lorne.
"If we get out, Major? Don't you mean when?" McKay asked.
Sheppard's feet lifted off the floor and it was time to start kicking. The rebels were shouting, some were sinking below the water; others were clinging onto the walls for support. That wasn't a bad idea.
"Let me hold onto the wall," Sheppard told them. "Easier that way."
Lorne and Ronon swam with him and Sheppard clung onto a pipe that ran up the length of the wall. He could hold on and reserve his strength for the hard part. The minute this facility sank and they were on the outside, the suction was going to pull them back down. He'd need to kick like crazy to avoid being sucked back under.
Ladon was holding onto the walls. Sheppard remembered what he had said about not being able to swim and reluctantly Sheppard ordered one of Lorne's men to help him stay afloat.
So that's what fear looked like on Ladon. Sheppard would remember that expression.
"Why are you even helping him?" McKay snapped.
Sheppard smiled. "Because I'd rather shoot him than let him drown here."
"This is not how I expected….my day…to go," Lorne was saying, shivering in the water. His lips had turned blue and all of their breath was coming out as mist.
"Like the titanic," McKay said, hands moving frantically as he treaded water.
"Want me…to find a closet door…to push you…on?" Sheppard asked, remembering how Rose (yeah, he'd seen the film a few times. Not that he'd ever admit it) had heartlessly shoved Jack into the water. I mean, he might have been alive. Okay so he was pretty much a popsicle by that stage, but—
"Sir!" Lorne commanded. "You have to stay awake."
Sheppard's head dunked under the water briefly and Ronon hauled him back out. He choked on the cold water.
"Sorry, was just thinking about that lame film."
Ronon gave him a look. "Yeah. You love it."
Ladon was looking between them as if they were all nuts.
"It's f-f-freezing," McKay stammered. "I d-don't think I'll ever g-g-get warm ag-g-gain."
"Just think warm thoughts," Sheppard told him.
"That would be easier were it not for me being freezing!" McKay snapped. "I can't feel my fingers."
"You're doing better than me then. I can't feel much of anything," Sheppard said.
They were nearly at the top. The rest of Lorne's team were ushering them over and by the looks of it they'd lost a few more rebels. Those that had gone after Kalan had never returned. By accident or design, they had died with him.
"Time to move, sir," Lorne told him. "You need to let go of the pipe."
Sheppard let go and promptly sank. Ronon grabbed him and positioned him on his back in a lifeguard move to swim over to the hole. Sheppard stared up at the ceiling, feeling the only warmth in his body seep out of the deadly cuts. He was fading away.
The sky appeared, brilliant and blue. He didn't know what was happening but he was happy to let Ronon support him.
"We're out!" McKay said. "I can't believe we're out!"
Sheppard continued to stare at the sky.
"We need to go now," Lorne said. "Swim as hard and as fast as you can to the bank."
"Why?" Sheppard heard McKay ask. He sounded terrified.
"There's going to some pull created by the facility going down. It'll yank us back in. Thought you'd seen Titanic?"
McKay choked on water. "Oh no. The scene where the ship—"
Sheppard felt Ronon start to swim. He continued to watch the sky, drifting in and out of consciousness. The sky was soothing. It's where he felt most at home. He'd always figured he'd either die up there. At least down here he could still see it and—
Without warning, the sky disappeared and water covered his face and was in his nose and mouth. He forced clarity into his brain and realised they hadn't escaped the pull. He should have been anticipating this. He should have been ready to hold his breath.
He moved his arms and kicked his legs. Each move caused pain and he couldn't help but curl into it. The water was red.
He felt someone grip his wrist, tight and unrelentingly strong. Ronon. He tried to help, but the water had clogged his airways. He tried to breathe and couldn't.
Another set of fingers wrapped around his other wrist and someone was holding him around his waist and lifting him up. He didn't know who was winning. All he knew was that it wasn't him.
Sheppard came back from the darkness tentatively. He couldn't remember much of anything. He guessed they'd gotten out because he wasn't dead. His side was throbbing painfully and his head felt as if it was stuffed with cotton wool. He hadn't even opened his eyes yet and he was incredibly tired.
"I want to leave. I don't like it here."
"We know you don't like it here, McKay! You've told us every day since we've been here."
"Ronon, we're behind enemy lines. They could be plotting something against us!"
Enemy lines? Sheppard snapped his eyes open and tried to sit up. Several sets of hands and voices tried to keep him in place.
"John, you must remain still." Teyla said in a calm voice. "You are safe here?"
Sheppard relaxed under their hands. "What happened?"
"You were badly injured," Doctor Keller said, appearing in his peripheral. "But you're going to be okay."
Doctor Keller? Sheppard scanned the room. He was confused. It looked more like a cell. It was dark and grey. There was nothing particularly sterile about this room.
"Where am I?"
"The Genii home world," Teyla explained.
"Genii?" Sheppard moved onto his elbows and expected them all to stop him. They didn't.
"We had no other choice," Ronon told him. He didn't sound happy about it.
"What about that drug?" he asked.
"You were bleeding out, you needed immediate surgery and I didn't want to risk giving you the serum in that condition. Ladon suggested we bring you here."
"Yeah," McKay said. "I told them it was a bad idea."
"You're free to go whenever you please," Ladon said, entering the room. "Colonel Sheppard. I'm glad to see that you're awake."
"Glad?" Sheppard sank into his pillow. "Not sure I share the sentiment."
"Of course, I didn't have to help you," Ladon said. "I could have left you to die in front of the 'gate. By that time, you were pretty much dead anyway."
Sheppard had no recollection of that happening. His last memory had been of that blue sky and then water surging into his mouth.
"Remember?" McKay asked. "No, you were out for the count by the time we swam to the shore. Which, by the way, was miles. Then you had to go and stop breathing and we had to take turns in giving you CPR."
"I bought you back on my turn," Ronon boasted.
McKay shot him an irritated look. "After the efforts of the rest of us. Where was I? Oh and then you were conscious enough to tell us all to leave you behind and say you were fine and then when we arrived at the 'gate you were bleeding out so badly that we thought you were dead again."
Sheppard really couldn't remember. "Sorry."
"We had no choice but to accept Ladon's help at that point." McKay admitted.
"We appreciate the assistance," Teyla told Ladon tersely. "But we will be moving John to a more…neutral location."
"I'd be more than happy to help with the escort," Ladon said.
"Don't need your help," Ronon told him.
"No," McKay chimed in.
Ladon smiled and nodded. "I won't stop you leaving."
Ronon took a step closer to Ladon. "Better not."
Sheppard was beginning to flag. "Ladon?"
The Genii leader turned to him.
"You realise this is over."
Ladon's smile didn't drop. "I had thought there was no going back."
Sheppard met his gaze. "If I found out, you mean."
Sheppard had woken up on New Athos a day later. He'd been confused, but his team had been there to explain that they had thought it better to re-locate him, especially as many of the Genii rebels were returning to the Genii home world.
Although he'd been put up in one of the nicer tents and he was being treated well, Sheppard had grown bored of being here. He felt out of the loop. Major Lorne had been running Atlantis in his absence. McKay, Teyla and Ronon had been bringing through the reports and trying to keep him informed but he felt left out. Hearing news second hand just wasn't the same. Stories weren't as funny. New ancient finds weren't as interesting.
Sheppard had to wonder if this would be his life from this point on. Keller was no closer to finding a cure. She had been working through the night, every night, and even with McKay's experience and the help of a dozen other scientists and geneticists, including one Doctor Carson Beckett, they were unable to find a permanent solution to his problem.
Four days later, Sheppard braved the outside world and pushed the tent flap aside. Halling was standing there with a tray of fruit and a water bowel.
"Breakfast?" he asked, smiling amiably.
"I'll take it in my room in a little while. Just going to go for a walk."
"Are you sure that's a good idea? You are still recovering,"
"I'm going crazy in there. I won't go far."
Halling looked panicked. "Your team asked me to watch over you."
"You're doing a good job." Sheppard patted him on the shoulder as he passed.
He wandered the settlement for a while and was eventually forced back to his room by pain. Okay, so maybe he wasn't ready to be out and about just yet, but at least he'd seen the sky.
When he walked back into his tent, there were some of his men surrounding it.
"What's going on?" Sheppard asked. "Look, I know I was supposed to stay in bed but—"
"You have a visitor," Lt. Fraser replied. He smiled at Sheppard having been caught out though. "And you are under strict instructions to rest."
"Funny, Lt." Sheppard peeked into the tent and recognised the silhouette.
"What do you want, Ladon?"
Ladon was standing there with his hands behind his back as he bobbed on his heels. "I'm unarmed, Colonel."
Sheppard moved to his bed and sat on the edge of it. "What are you doing here?"
"I think you've suffered enough, don't you?" Ladon said cryptically.
"What are you talking about?"
"Tell your people to go to Surethya." He had a piece of paper in his hand. "Here are the co-ordinates. Ask for a man called Geis'a. He has the cure you seek."
Sheppard narrowed his eyes. "You lied."
"So did you."
Sheppard smiled. "Why are you doing this?"
"To be honest. I don't know. Humility? Guilt? Or maybe I figure at least on Atlantis I can keep an eye on you."
"Our alliance is still over."
"Was it worth it?"
"Well," Ladon noted. "With Kalan dead at my hands, many of the rebels have asked to return to the Genii home world, and those that have decided not to come back have disbanded. I doubt they'll reform any time soon. Word has spread that you…saved some of the rebels when you didn't have to. I don't think you'll see much trouble for a while."
"So it was worth it," Sheppard said bitterly. "Well. At least we know where we stand, now."
"Yes," Ladon said without a hint of regret.
He turned to leave.
Then paused. "By the way, I'm not lying about Surethya. Mallin stole his research."
"There's a surprise."
"He has the gene naturally. His people rely on it to defend their city. He was just trying to find a way to replicate it so they could continue to protect it. If you ask for him and say you are an enemy of the Genii, he will provide you with the cure."
Sheppard watched him leave and clung onto that piece of paper, undecided as to whether he was lying. There was only one way to find out.
A week later, when Sheppard arrived back on Atlantis there were people waiting in the 'gateroom for him. Cheers and applause erupted as he walked up the control room stairs to meet Woosley.
After a debrief and a demonstration that his gene was back to normal, he headed for his room. He passed through the corridors, watching as the lights turned on to welcome him and the doors swished open on his command. There were no explosions and the air was still circulating. Everything was as it should be.
His room looked the same. There was no laundry on the floor so Teyla had probably picked it up and put it away. He turned to his desk and there was a stack of paperwork and a note from Lorne that simply said, "The length you'll go to, sir, to get out of paperwork! Enjoy!"
Sheppard laughed and switched on his computer to check his e-mails. He was supposed to be resting but this would only take a second.
He was waiting for his computer to boot up and was lying on his bed when the lights started flickering. Fear clenched in his gut. Ladon was dea-
Behind his door he could hear someone laughing. Sheppard sighed and, easing himself off the bed, he swiped his hand over the door sensor. It didn't smoke and overheat. Instead, the door opened to reveal McKay and Ronon standing there, messing with one of the control panels.
"You guys are dead!" Sheppard told them, realising they had been responsible for his near heart attack.
"Busted," Ronon said, patting Sheppard on the shoulder.
"What do you want?" Sheppard asked, leaning against the door frame and guarding his side.
"Movie night," McKay told him. "We've got popcorn and cake and we even managed to smuggle out some beers."
"I can't drink." Sheppard told them.
"Okay, fine. We have cola!" McKay said. "Come on."
Sheppard looked longingly at his bed, then back to his two team-mates. It was no contest.
They headed to the rec-room together and when they arrived, Teyla was lying on one corner of the sofa with Torren curled in her arms. There was a blanket covering her feet and she tapped the space beside her with her foot. Sheppard sat while McKay took the comfy chair. Ronon was searching through the DVDs.
"So what are we going to watch?" McKay asked, grabbing a handful of popcorn.
"Aliens!" Ronon suggested.
Sheppard shook his head. "Air vents."
"Okay," Ronon grumbled. "What about the Abyss?"
"What? No!" McKay protested.
Ronon looked confused.
"Underwater facility," Sheppard explained.
"What about Titanic?" Teyla asked. "I enjoyed that film greatly."
"No!" All three of them shouted, though all for different reasons.
Sheppard tried to get into a more comfortable position. Although his stitches were healing, his side still twinged now and then.
"You suggest something," Ronon told them all in a sulk. "Don't see why we can't watch Aliens."
Sheppard leaned forward and searched through the movies. He finally spotted one he'd never get tired of and pushed it into the machine before anyone could protest.
"What was that?" McKay asked around a mouthful of popcorn.
"A classic," Sheppard said, pulling the blanket up to his shoulders.
They waited for the screen to reveal the movie. They didn't have to wait long when the title music started to play.
"You are such a loser," McKay told him, settling in his seat. "Really?"
Teyla was smiling brightly and Ronon was laughing.
"Top Gun is the perfect film," Sheppard said.
"Perfect?" McKay laughed. "Don't even get me started on how—"
"How what?" Sheppard yawned and curled his feet underneath him.
McKay glared at him. "It's moronic."
"Just watch the film," Ronon told them both. "Even if it does suck."
They sat in companionable silence for a while.
"Hey, Sheppard," McKay said.
Sheppard rolled his eyes expecting McKay to launch into a tirade about how inaccurate his favourite film was. "What?"
"You may be annoying and extremely childish. But it's good to have you back." McKay realising he had said something remotely sentimental, added. "Lorne seriously needs some lessons in using his ATA gene. You would not believe the chaos he caused in the lab!"
"Atlantis was not the same without you," Teyla said.
"Yeah, what they said," Ronon didn't look up, but he was smiling. Sheppard could tell.
Sheppard sank into the sofa and could feel his eyes drifting closed. He smiled. "Yeah, it's good to be back." He yawned and expected the others to tell him to go to bed.