It was a settlement like so many others Teyla and her team had seen before, only it was empty. Remnants of simple stone dwellings fringed the outskirts of the town as they made their way along previously cobblestone roads, which were now grown over with the local vegetation. The only signs that the roads had been anything more than grass and weeds were the occasional stones that jutted up through the bramble to catch a boot, silent reminders of civilization that had been lost to the wilds. The edges of the access-way were bordered by a late-blooming flower of a deep orange to compliment the changing leaves of the trees around them and interspersed were tufts of native grasses, their fuzzy seeds bobbing lazily on the air currents in delicate clumps. Further in, Teyla could make out a half-collapsed common house in the town center and what appeared to be the shells of merchant shops surrounding it forming a plaza paved with more of the broken cobblestone.
For a dizzying instant, she could picture the shop windows, the wares long turned to dust, as they must have been at one time, filled with clothing made of bright fabric with short cropped sleeves, complimentary hats woven of straw, and leather boots trimmed in the same fabric as the clothes. She could see the cart being pushed along the street brimming with fresh spring vegetables, the farmer hawking her produce over the creak of the wooden wheels. She could hear the sound of children as they weaved playfully through the crowd of townspeople going about their daily business, could feel the press and bump of them around her as she walked the deserted streets with her teammates. And she actually slowed and took a breath to clear the sensation from her head.
Ahead of her, Rodney and John walked side by side in their typical stance– John with his hand resting lightly on his P-90 and Rodney with the life signs detector out, both scanning for danger in their own manner. Ronon was a few steps behind them, outwardly appearing at ease, almost bored, if you did not know him as well as those on his team. Any one of them could tell by the set of his shoulders alone he was as alert to a potential threat as the other two men.
“Well, there are no life signs,” Rodney informed them, hunching his own shoulders against the chill breeze that blew dried leaves across their path while still holding the detector in his hand. “Not that I’m surprised given the condition of the buildings.”
“No one’s been here in a long time,” Ronon added, his long leather coat rustling gently in the wind.
Regaining her bearings, Teyla could not seem to shake the feeling that someone should have been there, even though she agreed with Ronon’s assessment. She found herself holding her own P-90 with the same wariness she could sense in John, the chill she felt having little to do with the weather.
“What I don’t get is why there’s a village here at all.” John kept the team moving through the town even as he spoke. “I thought we were coming to find an Ancient outpost. This doesn’t look very Ancienty to me.”
“Well, the village itself may not be of Ancient design, but there’s something this way that might be.” Rodney pointed a finger toward the autumn-painted forest that was infringing on the small town. “I’m picking up a power signature. Faint, but definitely there.”
“Then I guess we keep looking,” John told them and changed their course to go in the direction Rodney had indicated.
Teyla followed, stopping as they passed the common house in the center of town when she had a flash of the townsfolk crowded in the building, the ripple of panic coursing among them, and the sound of a Dart flying overhead.
It was not until Ronon placed a hand under her elbow that she realized she had swayed and nearly fallen. “You okay?”
The worry in the Satedan’s voice had the other two members of her team stopping, as well. With a touch of embarrassment, she admitted, “I am sorry. It is just this place, this town… I am sensing something.”
“Like the presence of Wraith something?” John asked in apprehension, his hand tightening on his gun, even as Rodney unsnapped the holster of his sidearm, blue eyes darting nervously around them.
“It is not the same, although I believe the Wraith did cull the village at some point in the past.” Shaking her head, she confessed, “I cannot explain it. It is as though I can see the people who lived here before.”
Ronon’s eyebrows rose in disbelief. “Ghosts?”
Rodney tossed his head back. “Great, now she sees dead people.”
She shook her head to correct the two men’s assumptions. “It is not that… exactly. There is a presence here, more than one. But it does not feel the same as a Wraith, not exactly.”
“How many more?” John’s question was accompanied by him taking the detector from Rodney.
“I can read the damn monitor,” the scientist insisted at the act.
Ignoring the usual squabbling, Teyla explained, “I cannot tell. It is as if I can sense the entire population of the village that was once here and am seeing flashes from their past.”
Evidently convinced that Rodney was indeed reading the detector correctly and they were the only ones present, John handed it back. “Are you sure it is not just your imagination? I mean, old buildings, nobody around for what’s probably been centuries, it can be kind of creepy.”
“It is possible.” Although her tone let her team know she really did not believe it.
“Have you ever done this before?” Ronon had released her arm when he was sure she could stand but he stood close just in case. “Seen things like this that didn’t have to do with the Wraith?”
“Other than when the giant fish were trying to communicate with us on Atlantis, no.” When the men simply looked to one another as if they did not know what to make of her, Teyla furrowed her brow. “And none of you have felt anything odd since we have entered the village?”
“Well, not up until now,” Rodney insisted with a bit of blame directed her way. The other two simply shrugged apologetically.
With a sigh, she relented, “Perhaps you are right after all, and it is just the town causing my discomfort. We should continue on to see if we can find this power reading.”
“Are you sure? Because if you really think it’s something we should check out, we will,” John assured her.
“We should continue on,” Teyla reiterated firmly, pushing aside the unease she felt.
“All right. But if it happens again, let us know.”
Forcing a small smile, she nodded her head at her team leader and followed him and Rodney into the woods. Ronon stayed by her side; she could not miss the way he kept trying to look at her without being noticed. This time, her smile was more genuine as she tried to hide her humor at his failed attempts at stealth while observing her.
The tree trunks they worked their way between were a silver-grey with an almost metallic sheen. Looking closer, she could see that it was a lichen-like plant growing in a thin layer over the smooth bark. The trees themselves were tall, rising high above their heads and even if she were to stand on Ronon’s shoulders she doubted she could reach the first set of branches that splayed out overhead creating a roof of red, orange, and yellow star-shaped foliage that was similar to the leaf on the Canadian flag Rodney typically wore on his shoulder except with three more points. The roots bulged below their feet, erupting from the leaf-strewn floor of the forest to snake between the trees, and Teyla noticed they actually connected tree to tree as if the trunks themselves were branches of a much larger organism.
Rodney tripped and nearly fell twice before John took the energy monitor from him so the scientist could pay more attention to his footing than the readings. Teyla even caught her toe once, grabbing onto Ronon’s arm to steady herself in a way that had the large man looking at her anxiously.
John and Rodney stopped, too, and she felt her face warm under their scrutiny. “No, I simple misstepped.”
“See?” Rodney justified triumphantly, yanking the detector back. “It’s not just me. Teyla can practically levitate when she walks and even she tripped.”
That observation seemed to concern John more than the visions and he frowned even as he studied her closer. She opened her mouth to assure him that everything was fine, but a thud in the distance had her looking through the trees in the direction of the sound.
The others on her team followed her gaze and she asked hopefully, “Did you hear it, as well?”
Ronon was already moving across the uneven ground before John confirmed with an unsettled, “Yeah. McKay?”
Rodney rechecked the monitor. “I’m telling you, there’s nothing alive besides us.” Another thud had John trailing quickly after Ronon and Rodney looking to Teyla. “I guess we’re going to find out what it is.”
Teyla started in the direction of their other teammates. “That seems to be the most prudent course of action.”
“Yeah, easy for you to say.” Rodney caught up with her, teetering from root to root to do so. “You obviously haven’t watched enough horror movies in your life.”
Another thud, this one louder, greeted them when they emerged from the trees a few minutes later and they saw that they had come up behind the remains of what appeared to have been a barn. A waterwheel that had broken free of its rotted axel was leaning against the side of the building and a simple pulley system with metal cabling dangled from what was left of the framework of the waterwheel and swung unhampered, slamming into the wheel itself whenever the wind was strong enough to move it that far.
John walked cautiously around the remains, his P-90 raised before him. “You picking up any bad vibes?”
Teyla concentrated then shook her head. “No. I am beginning to think you were correct and it was simply my imagination.”
“If anything was going to set off the old freaky senses, I would think it would be this place.” Moving to where Rodney was looking into the barn itself, Teyla could make out the myriad of blades and tools that littered the floor. “Christ, it’s like a Benihana nightmare in here.”
Teyla did not understand the Earth reference, but she assumed it must have something to do with the blades. “They are nothing more than farm tools, Rodney. This is probably where they were stored.”
John looked over her shoulder and drawled, “You know, this is the part of the movie where the audience is usually thinking, what sort of idiots would stick around someplace like that?”
“Okay,” Rodney commanded, “whatever you do, nobody have sex or you’re dead meat.”
“Thanks for the advice, Rodney, but I don’t think we really have any fear of that happening, especially you.”
Teyla grinned at the way Rodney raised his chin in indignation at John’s comment and opened his mouth to respond. He was cut off, however, when Ronon called to them from the opposite side of the building.
“Hey, Sheppard, you should probably come see this.”
Ronon was standing at the edge of what had been a corral; all that was left was the rotted stubs of fenceposts standing in a roughly oval shape. Beyond that was an open field of tall grass and beyond that was a large building with a series of arches and tower rising several stories out of the center.
“Now that,” John observed of what was obviously the outpost for which they had been searching, “is Ancienty.”
Rodney grinned happily at the thought of exploring another facility of the Ancestors. But Teyla couldn’t shake the dread she felt from the moment she laid eyes on it.
* * * *
When Rodney entered the outpost and the lights came on, he smugly turned to Sheppard with a self-satisfied waggle of eyebrows. “That means there’s probably a ZedPM in here.”
“All right, fine, you were right, I admit it,” the Colonel told him with a disgruntled roll of his eyes. “Happy now?’
“Oh, you don’t know the half of it.” They continued down the hallway and McKay’s smile just grew when they entered a large room and he saw the rows of control consoles glow to life in what he assumed was the command center of the base. “God, there’s nothing like some good old fashioned technology to lower the creep factor of a long dead civilization.”
“Teyla, you feeling anything?” When Sheppard asked the question, Rodney paused in his unpacking of his electronic tablet to see what his Athosian teammate had to say. He’d learned long ago that when Teyla sensed something, it usually didn’t bode well and he really wasn’t in the mood for bad boding at the moment, not when there was a ZedPM within reach.
“No, there is nothing here that I can discern.”
“Good,” McKay told the room in general with a brisk rub of his hands. Pulling the tablet and beginning the connection with the Ancient system, he added, “Let’s see what we’ve got for Uncle Rodney today.”
“So how much power does it have left?” Ronon asked as he surveyed the high ceilings of the room.
“Patience,” Rodney murmured, watching the data scroll across his pad. “It takes a minute for me to find the right subdirectory.”
While he continued to work, the other three walked the open space, taking in the sights that looked remarkably like the control room back on Atlantis. “This facility was used for anthropological research?”
Rodney didn’t look up from where he was working when Teyla asked the question. “That’s what the database said, although with the Ancients, that could mean any number of things.”
“It could explain why there is a human village so close to the outpost,” Teyla observed.
For some reason, McKay found that thought a little disturbing. “What? They were studying the humans like Jane Goodall and her chimps?”
“I’m just hoping that’s all they were doing,” Sheppard noted as he came up to look over Rodney’s shoulder. “Find anything yet?”
Turning his attention back to the pad, Rodney frowned. “Yeah, the ZedPM is pretty much dead. Less than five percent power remaining.”
“Well, it has been sitting around for ten thousand years,” Sheppard pointed out.
“Yes, but even the one when we first arrived on Atlantis had more than this and it had been powering the city shields for over three thousand by the time we showed up. It’s just weird, like something drained a massive amount of power at some point.”
Ronon glanced back from the doorway leading out into the rest of the facility. “Does it really matter?”
“It could,” McKay justified. “If it’s a self-defense system that activated when someone else tried to enter in the past.”
Ronon simply raised an eyebrow at the warning but Sheppard took it a little more seriously. “Is there any way you can tell what caused it?”
“I can go back through the power logs and see if I can find what happened, but no guarantees I’ll be able to pinpoint the cause.”
“All right, do it. Until then we just hang tight and leave the rest of the facility until we know it’s not going to open fire on us.”
Behind him, Rodney could hear Ronon growl in frustration. Sitting and waiting were paramount to corporal punishment in the eyes of the Satedan. Evidently Sheppard heard it, too, since he amended his previous order. “Ronon, why don’t you and Teyla go check out the outside of the facility? I’ll give you a call when Rodney gives the all clear.”
When the two started back outside, Rodney called to them, “If you find another entrance, don’t go in.”
“We are well aware of the protocol, Rodney,” Teyla reminded him without a look back.
After a few minutes of checking out the other consoles while Rodney worked, Sheppard finally asked, “So, McKay, what do you make of Teyla’s reaction to the town?”
“Seriously? You seriously want to know what I think of her Hailey Joel impersonation?”
“Well, given your reaction to the question, I have a pretty good idea what you think, but I’m bored and I’m trying to make conversation here, so just humor me.” Sheppard shrugged and leaned against the counter next to Rodney. “So, do you believe in ghosts?”
“Ghosts?” With an annoyed shake of his head that the colonel would choose now to make small talk while he was working, Rodney sighed. “A few years ago I would have said no. But that was before we went to war with a species that can hibernate for thousands of years and suck you dry with their hands, not to mention the race of killer robots who want to eradicate us. Or fought giant mutated bugs that want to tear us limb from limb created by a madman. Or had psychopathic entities living in crystals that wanted to kill us in our dreams. Now that I’ve actually experienced Nosferatu, West World, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Nightmare on Elm Street first hand, I’m pretty much open to anything the universe can throw at us.”
“Is that a yes or a no?”
Sighing once more that the man insisted on continuing this discussion, Rodney told him, “It’s neither. I’m not saying she’s not sensing something; I’m just not breaking out a potter’s wheel just yet.”
“If they aren’t ghosts, then what kind of something is it?”
“Honestly, I have no idea,” McKay confessed.
“Me either, which doesn’t exactly fill me with warm fuzzies,” Sheppard mumbled then changed the subject. “Have you found anything yet?”
“Actually, yes, I have. At least I’ve narrowed it down to a room.” Bringing up the facility diagram, Rodney pointed to a wing that went off to the left of their current location. “It looks like the outpost was put in a shutdown mode about ten thousand years ago.”
“Makes sense. Locking up before they abandoned Pegasus.”
Rodney nodded his agreement with Sheppard’s conclusion. “But, a few years after that, it powered up again and there was a huge energy spike that originated in that room. The facility eventually went into a standby, energy conservation mode when whatever it was wasn’t shut down, but it’s been slowly draining power ever since then.”
“Is whatever it was that was left on dangerous?”
Rodney simply blinked at the question. “There is nothing in here telling me what it even was. Why would you think it would tell me if it was dangerous when they never tell us that even when the database does tell us what it is?”
“Do you think it’s dangerous?” Sheppard asked impatiently.
“Given our track record, in all likelihood, yes. But there’s only one way to know for sure.”
“Well, if we’re going to go exploring, we should call Ronon and Teyla back. You know how they hate to miss a good near-death experience.” Keying his radio, Sheppard called, “Teyla, Ronon, Rodney’s found something. Report back to the facility.”
Waiting for a response, all they heard was broken static. Rodney looked around the room. “Maybe it’s shielded in here. Could be why I was barely picking up an energy reading when we were outside.”
Sheppard tried once again. “Ronon, Teyla, do you copy?”
When they still received no response, McKay offered, “I could try to bring up communications in here. It probably has a stronger signal than our radios.”
“Go ahead and try it. I’m going to head out and see if I can reach them from outside the main entrance.” Moving toward the door, the colonel stopped and warned, “Don’t go anywhere else.”
Rodney snorted at the advice. “Helllooo, have we just met? Like I would go check out a potentially deadly Ancient device by myself when I have you to run interference for me.”
Sheppard gave a condescending smirk. “Then I’ll try not to keep you waiting.”
He watched Sheppard go before turning his attention back to the controls and set up a search of the outpost’s database for what exactly was being done in the room that was the origin of the power drain. It was then that he realized how… quiet… it was and how… alone… he was. Shaking his head to clear it of those thoughts, he tried to concentrate on the search results, because, really, Sheppard was about a five minute walk away… half that if he jogged. But a lot of things could move even faster than that. A lot of big, scary, multi-fanged things with claws.
Checking the facility-wide scanners, he confirmed he was the only life sign in the building. He wasn’t exactly sure how that could be so reassuring and disturbing all at the same time.
“Communications,” he said aloud just to have something to hear. “I’ll bring communications on line then if anything happens… which it won’t… but just in case something does happen… I’ll be able to reach the others… and let them know where to find my remains.” His hands moved a little faster over the controls and within a few minutes he had the system up and running.
“Sheppard, this is McKay. Do you copy?”
“Yeah, Rodney, I copy. We have a bit of a situation out here.”
Situations were never good. No one ever said they had a situation when friendly villagers showed up led by a parade of topless women strewing flowers and offering cake and coffee with a ZedPM on a velvet pillow. No, situations usually involved guns and arrows and other projectiles that could kill, or, at the very least, maim, and they typically ended with one or more people in the infirmary.
“What kind of situation?” Might as well have the specifics of how they were going to meet their demise. Best to face these things with eyes wide open so you knew when it was appropriate to squeeze them shut in mortal fear.
“Teyla’s missing. She evidently had another episode and took off into the woods. Ronon’s been trying to call her and us by radio but she’s not answering and we…”
“Couldn’t hear because of the shielding,” Rodney finished even as he started gathering his things. “I’m on my way.”
“Negative. You stay were you are. That’s probably the safest place right now and the last thing we need is all four of us roaming through the forest when there might or might not be anything out here.”
“Do you see anything on your life signs detector?”
“Not a goddamn thing except Teyla and Ronon,” Sheppard told him in frustration then took the time to inform Ronon, “She’s moving south now, back toward the village.”
“I’m on her trail,” Ronon told him succinctly.
“I’ll call you as soon as we have Teyla,” Sheppard promised, then was gone again.
Rodney found himself once again in the silence of the facility and torn between doing as Sheppard had instructed and going after them anyway. But, honestly, what could he do? At this point it was best to leave it up to them to find Teyla, let Ronon take her back to the gate if necessary, and wait for the colonel to show back up and they could go back to Atlantis together. In the meantime, he would see what he could find out about the device.
Several files popped up regarding the research that had taken place in there and Rodney ran them through the interpretation program on his electronic tablet, taking the time for the transfer to study the schematics of the device that he found next.
Within seconds he recognized the machine, the realization making his blood run cold. “Oh, shit.” He keyed his radio again. “Sheppard, it’s an ascension device.”
“What?” came the disbelieving response. “Like the one that nearly killed you?”
“More or less. This one seems to be slightly different.”
“Different how?” Sheppard’s wary tone was replaced instantly by an accusatory one. “You’re not looking at the actual unit, are you?”
“No, of course not. It’s a schematic from the database…”
But Rodney was cut off by the sound of gunfire he could hear through the radio.
“Teyla, you better respond, dammit!” Ronon ordered through his own radio and Rodney had to assume the Athosian was the one who had been shooting.
She did as she was told. “Wraith! There are Wraith! Coming my way!” Her breathing suggested she was running. “Bullets seem to have no effect on them.”
“Teyla, get to the gate!” Sheppard ordered, his own voice stuttering as he, too, ran
Fuck. Rodney was probably safe, but the rest of his team… “Sheppard?”
“There’s nothing on the life signs detector, Rodney. Could they be shielding themselves?”
“I don’t… maybe. Maybe they have some knew personal shielding. That would explain why the guns aren’t stopping them.”
“Lock down the outpost, McKay.”
He frowned at Sheppard’s orders. “What?”
“Lock it down and don’t come out until I tell you it’s safe. If we get cut off, we’ll go through the gate and bring back help.”
“Colonel, you can’t just leave me here…”
“They can’t get into an Ancient facility; you’ll be safe in there until we bring back reinforcements. Don’t worry; we’ll take you back to Atlantis.”
“And what if you can’t make it to the gate?”
“Way to be positive, Rodney.” Sheppard gulped air before telling him, “I’m approaching Teyla’s position. Go to radio silence.”
Rodney wanted to argue but instead he nodded quietly and did as he was told, because now was not the time to bicker, not when a noise could give away any of his teammates to the Wraith. Still, he felt a little foolish nodding since no one could see him. Because he was alone in the outpost. Totally alone. He looked to the display that showed the entire facility, wondering absently if his lone life sign wasn’t really alone after all. That maybe the Wraith were already in the facility. But Sheppard was right; the Wraith, of all people, wouldn’t be able to access the building. He was safe. He was safe and alone. His friends were out there battling Wraith they couldn’t detect and he was perfectly safe here in the facility. Yep, completely safe and totally alone. And if he kept repeating that mentally, Rodney decided he might eventually start to believe it and stop feeling like someone was standing behind him staring at his back.
It was ridiculous, really, and all he had to do was look behind and prove once and for all that no one was there. So, that’s exactly what he did… and nearly jumped out of his skin.
He stumbled backwards, moving away and nearly climbing up on the console to get out of reach of the small hand reaching toward him and the round face still plump with baby fat that was behind it. The two children behind the boy who had first caught his attention, and nearly caused a coronary in the process, simply tilted their heads curiously at his reaction.
Kids, they were just kids– two boys and a girl between the ages of maybe four and eight.
Clutching at his chest, McKay fought to bring his heart rate and breathing under control. “Christ, where the hell did you come from?”
They didn’t answer, the girl, her hair a multitude of braids and ribbons that matched her brightly colored dress, simply reached for the panel instead.
“Hey, don’t touch that!”
But she ignored him. Of course she ignored him. Children who mysteriously appear without life signs rarely do as they’re told. And when the panel went dead with nothing more than the pass of her diminutive hand, Rodney quickly decided he was neither safe nor alone after all.
* * * *
When Teyla had first started walking back toward the woods, Ronon hadn’t really thought much of it. It was a nice day, the air was crisp, the sun was lowering but still warm on his face, and they really didn’t have much to do until McKay found out more about the facility. So why not spend the time outdoors instead of cooped up inside?
Technology– unless he could use it to kill a wraith or a replicator, Ronon didn’t have much use for it. He’d managed just fine without it for years, relying as much on his blades and cunning as he had his gun during his time as a Runner. Granted, it was nice having the lights and heat and regular hot meals and transportation that came as part of being a resident in Atlantis, but when you got right down to it, he’d had all those things before if only a little cruder and requiring a little more work. A fire in a cave gave him the same results as a nice room and chow hall in the city, and even though the Jumper got him to where he was going a whole lot faster, his legs would have taken him there eventually.
No, the only thing Atlantis had given him that he hadn’t had for a long time before had been his team, his friends, and technology hadn’t exactly helped him hang on to them over the past couple of years. Beckett and Weir were gone because of it; Ancient devices and creations had been their eventual demise. McKay had almost fallen prey to the ascension machine, Teyla had been taken hostage in the storage unit on that moon, and Sheppard had been stuck in that time field where he would have turned to an old man in a matter of days if they hadn’t found a way to get him out.
So, given a choice between waiting for McKay to find the next piece of equipment that was going to threaten the people he cared about most and getting a little fresh air on a beautiful fall day under the guise of recon, Ronon, of course, chose the latter. Besides, he usually didn’t understood what was going to kill them or turn around and save them at any minute, and, honestly, he really didn’t give a damn about understanding it. He left the whys and hows of the contraptions to Rodney and Radek and the other scientists. All he cared about was how to stop it, kill it, or destroy it before it did the same to his friends. If he could see it, chances were he could shoot it, which is what was making him so uneasy about the way Teyla was acting, because so far he hadn’t seen a damn thing.
When Teyla had made it back halfway across the field, he’d called to her and she had raised a hand to silence him before she told him quietly through her radio, “I saw something in the trees.”
He had surveyed the woods himself, eyes skimming over the narrow trunks with their silver coating that caused them to blur and meld into an amorphous form from a distance. “An animal, maybe?” he’d asked just as quietly.
“I do not believe so.”
Ronon started toward Teyla’s position, not wanting to move too quickly and alert whatever it was by rushing it, but he picked up his pace when he saw his teammate sway and place a hand to her head. “Teyla, are you all right?”
She didn’t answer, seemed to recover from whatever spell had overtaken her, and darted into the trees. “Son of a bitch,” he grumbled, mimicking the phrase Sheppard used often enough and took off after her. “Teyla, what is it?”
When he received no answer, he was surprised Sheppard hadn’t come across the radio to find out what was wrong. “Sheppard, we have a problem,” he called, even as he entered the tree line himself. When his only response to that was more silence, he tried again. “Sheppard, McKay, do you read me?”
It could be his radio, he reasoned. It could be interference from the outpost. It could be the enemy, whoever they were, jamming their communications. It could be that Sheppard and McKay had already had a run in with this unknown assailant and been subdued, or killed, or… Fuck. He was out of contact with his entire team, had one who was in pursuit of something he couldn’t see and two others who may or may not be dead, and, of course, they were in opposite directions.
A flash of black in the distance caught his eye. Teyla. She was in sight, she was chasing one of whatever it was that might have Sheppard and McKay, and she was going to have to be the one he tried to catch at this point. He tried once more over the radio, “Can anyone hear me?” then gave up and tried to pick up his pace, which given the uneven terrain wasn’t exactly easy to do.
Teyla wasn’t heading directly back toward the settlement. Her path was veering wildly, weaving among the trees, as she followed whatever it was that she had seen. The problem was, Ronon was starting to doubt there was anything to follow, at least anything with legs. Teyla was fleet footed, there was no denying that, and Ronon had once again lost sight of her, but her trail was easy enough to follow in the leaves that littered the ground and tangled roots. And the fact that, from everything he was seeing, there was only her set of footprints to follow, made him suspicious of whether or not there really was something out there or this was just another of the strange episodes and visions she had had earlier. Either way, she was in trouble and she needed his help.
Within a few minutes, Sheppard’s voice came across the radio. “Teyla, Ronon, where are you guys?”
“Sheppard, are you and McKay okay?” Ronon had barely slowed to ask the question.
“We’re fine. The building is evidently interfering with the radio signals, but Rodney’s found something.”
“Apparently, so has Teyla.”
“What are you talking about? What’s going on?”
Ronon stopped long enough to study the markings on the ground. It looked as if Teyla had skidded here, maybe lost her footing, but had recovered and kept going. This time back toward the village. “Teyla took off. She said she saw something and ran after it. She won’t answer me on the radio.”
Ronon wasn’t surprised by John’s attempt to contact her, just as he wasn’t surprised by the silence that followed. “Can you see her on your detector?”
“I’m way ahead of you,” Sheppard informed him. “I’ve got two life signs that I’m assuming are yours and hers.”
“Nothing else?” Ronon asked, but given what he’d seen, or hadn’t seen, he wasn’t too shocked.
“Nothing,” John confirmed with his own frustration. “I’m starting to think we should have taken her visions a little more seriously to begin with.”
“Even she said it wasn’t a big deal,” Ronon tried to justify but he couldn’t deny he was feeling a little guilty about blowing off the visions, too.
“Well, it’s one now. I need you to stand still for a second so I can figure out which sign is her.”
Doing as he was told, Ronon bounced anxiously on his toes, take the opportunity to catch his breath and check his weapon. He set it to stun, just in case he was too late and the thing already had her, or just in case she really was imagining it and he needed to take her down for her own good.
“I’ve got her; she’s heading east of your position.”
Ronon started running again. Not that he needed the information about her location, seeing as he could follow her trail pretty easily, but Sheppard’s report just confirmed that she hadn’t changed direction again. “On it.”
“I’ll see if I can cut her off at the pass. Any idea what she’s after?”
“She didn’t say, just that there was something in the trees.”
It was then that McKay cut in, letting them know he had communications up and running and Sheppard filled him in about Teyla. A few minutes after that, Rodney informed them that the power drain was a result of another ascension machine and that news had Ronon growling unconsciously under his breath. Gaining a scar-free back hadn’t been worth what they’d almost lost… McKay. And the fact that the scientist had removed the marks as a sort of goodbye gesture had had Ronon realizing that his loss would have left an even bigger scar on him than those that had criss-crossed his flesh for all those years. And now they had found another one? Ronon was quickly coming to the conclusion that this world sucked; an opinion that was solidified when he heard Teyla’s P90 firing in the distance.
“Teyla, you better respond, dammit!” Ronon ordered through his radio.
“Wraith! There are Wraith! Coming my way!” Wraith? Sheppard would have seen them on his detector if they were really there. But Teyla’s voice said there was no doubt that’s what she was up against. “Bullets seem to have no effect on them.”
“Teyla, get to the gate!” Sheppard told her and then he was talking to McKay, telling him to lock down the outpost, and of course, Rodney was arguing and saying something about a shield.
Ronon blocked them out, concentrating instead on reaching his teammate, flicking his gun from stun to kill before vaulting over a fallen log and catching his tenuous balance as he staggered over the roots and slid in the leaves on the other side. More gunfire, this time closer, and he could see Teyla just on the edge of the village, gun raised and firing before stopping and running again.
“Teyla, I’m coming up on your left flank,” he told her, hoping she could hear him and wouldn’t turn her weapon on him in the heat of battle.
She ignored him, ducking into the remains of the large central building they had seen when they passed through the town, and disappearing from sight. He approached the building cautiously, listening for any sign of the Wraith and hearing nothing but the sound of Teyla breathing heavily. Peeking around the remnants of a doorframe, Ronon could just make out his teammate sitting in a corner, almost lost in the elongated shadows of the setting sun. She had her knees pulled up and her hands over her ears as if trying to block out a noise as she rocked in agitation where she sat.
Taking a second to radio his team leader to let him know where they were, Ronon then approached the terrified Athosian and squatted before her. “Teyla?” Seeing her like this was making his own heart race. He’d seen Teyla face down much worse without breaking a sweat and now there was nothing in sight and she was on the verge of a collapse. “Teyla, it’s me, Ronon.”
His tentative touch to her shoulder had her head popping up, eyes wide in fear. “He is coming. He is coming and he is angry and he is hungry. So very hungry.” Her eyes narrowed, terror giving way to something more sinister as her lips curled into a satisfied smile. “There are humans. I shall feast upon their essence like I did in the past, before I was trapped.”
Sheppard’s voice behind him caught Ronon completely off-guard, a sign of how off-balance Teyla’s behavior had him. “She’s in contact with a Wraith.”
“I shall eat as I did before,” she snarled, her eyes never leaving Sheppard’s as he joined them on the floor. “They will not escape, unlike the young who mock me, who imprisoned me here.”
“Teyla, snap out of it!”
John’s rough shake had her eyes rolling back with a gasp before she grabbed his arm in desperation. “Children. There are children. He wants them but he cannot reach them. He almost had them. They were here. They were here and they ran with the others, through the woods, among the trees, the glowing trees, to the facility of the Lanteans. They tried to escape, they tried to leave, and he almost had them, almost. But they went and left the children behind.” Teyla choked out a sob, her eyes focused far in the distance, her hand clawing unconsciously into Sheppard’s arm. “By the Ancestors, they left the children! And they’re trapped, all four of them, trapped!”
The panic in Teyla’s voice had Ronon standing and scanning the building for any sign of the children or Wraith she was talking about. Where would they be trapped? No one had lived in the settlement for centuries, at least. The flagstone floor beneath his feet had patches of grass and weeds that had taken root between the tiles. They were the first people to have walked into the building in ages. There was no way there were kids living here somewhere. And yet, there was absolutely no denying Teyla believed that there were.
“Teyla!” John barked again, shaking the Athosian so hard her head actually snapped back and impacted the crumbling wall behind her.
This time her eyes cleared, as though she was waking from a dream, and she blinked in confusion at the two men beside her. “What… what has happened?”
“That’s what I was going to ask you,” Sheppard told her, releasing his hold on her shoulder when she slowly let go of his arm.
When she looked up at Ronon in confusion, he shrugged. “You took off into the woods saying you saw something. Next thing we know, you’re shooting at invisible Wraith.”
“Wraith? But I do not remember any of this.”
The confession had both Ronon and Sheppard frowning. “Look, whatever is going on here, I think we need to get you back to Atlantis and in the infirmary so Keller can check you out.”
Teyla nodded in agreement and the two men helped her to her feet. Once she was standing, Sheppard told her, “Ronon and I will take you back to the gate then go back and get Rodney. Until we know what’s going on here, I think we should play it safe and leave exploring the outpost until later.” He keyed his radio to let McKay know their plan but received no answer.
“Rodney, come in.”
When Sheppard looked to the others when he still had no response, Ronon just spread his arms. “Hey, don’t take it personally; nobody’s been answering me on that thing all day.”
“McKay, do you copy?” Sheppard tried again, the impatience obvious in his voice.
“Would the lock down of the outpost cause the communications to shut down?” Ronon wondered aloud.
“I guess it could,” Sheppard relented, looking back in the direction of the facility where McKay had stayed behind. Grimacing, he turned back to Ronon. “Why don’t you take Teyla back to Atlantis and I’ll head on back to the outpost…”
Ronon cut him off with a shake of his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. We don’t know for sure what’s causing this thing with Teyla.”
“Which is why I can’t just leave McKay trapped out there and out of communication.”
Ronon crossed his arms and hitched his chin toward the direction of the gate. “Then you take Teyla and I’ll go get McKay.” Something was wrong here, he could feel it. Not in the way that Teyla could sense things, but he’d been in enough tough spots to know when things just weren’t right, and this was one of them. “No offense, but if there’s a Wraith out there, I stand a better chance against him on my own than you.”
Sheppard’s back straightened defensively. “Hey, you had to have stitches because of me.”
“And you had a black eye and walked with a limp for almost two weeks once I got you back into the gym,” Ronon reminded with a quirk of lips.
“It was a week… ten days at the most.” John crossed his own arms, shifted his weight, and Ronon simply rolled his eyes and snorted at his correction. “Besides, I’m the one who…”
Whatever Sheppard was going to use to argue he should be the one to go after McKay was never said, because Teyla spoke up then.
“He knows,” she told them, her gaze as distant as her voice. “He knows. The children think they have found a way… they have found someone at the base…”
“The base?” Ronon was pretty sure that had to be the outpost and by the worried expression on John’s face, he was thinking the same thing.
Teyla’s head flew back with an indrawn breath, and when she opened her eyes again, the malice had returned along with the cloying smile. “They have found a Lantean.”
Sheppard spoke before Ronon could, but their thoughts were identical.
“Oh, shit. She’s talking about McKay.”