In the end, they all went back to the outpost, a fact John still wasn’t sure was a good thing or a bad one. The argument about who would take Teyla back to the gate and who would go after Rodney ended quickly enough when Teyla, once she returned to herself, insisted she should go with them.
John had turned on her with the same annoyance he had used on Ronon. “You are channeling a goddamn Wraith and that makes you a liability.”
He didn’t have time to sugar coat things, McKay was back in that facility by himself and was on the radar of a Wraith and that meant someone needed to get back there and get him out. And if his team would just follow his fucking orders and do as they were told, he could do just that.
“That is why you need me to accompany you,” the Athosian reasoned. “I was caught unaware before, but now that I know what to expect I can guard against him and maybe provide information into his way of thinking, see what he has planned.”
Running a hand through his hair with a frustrated sigh, Sheppard considered the offer. Teyla had done this before, he knew. But somehow, this was different. Nothing made sense about their current situation. As far as any of the sensors were concerned, they were the only ones alive on this planet and if the Wraith was shielded and Teyla was the only who could see him because of her funky mind-meld mojo, then John needed her to act as his eyes on this mission. But he’d also seen how the Wraith Queen had overtaken her on the geothermal platform without her even knowing it and how this one had done the same a few minutes before.
“Are you sure about this?” Because John sure the hell wasn’t.
But this was McKay they were talking about, and Rodney was… Christ, he didn’t even want to get started on McKay. How, if he let himself remember, he could still feel the pain in his chest that he had felt when Keller had told him Rodney was dead, even though it was just a dream. How much he owed the man for coming back in even after McKay had nearly died in there before. If he hadn’t, John had absolutely no doubt he’d be dead now. But he wasn’t, thanks to the appearance of that smug bastard declaring he was still alive. At that moment, John had realized he had never been so happy to see someone in his life and he might be able to come out that dream alive, too. He had, they both had, they’d lived to fight another day. And regardless of the meaning behind the fact there weren’t scantly-clad women congratulating them with six-packs of beer after the fact… don’t go there, Sheppard, do not go there… John would be damned if he let a Wraith take his best friend out after all they’d been through.
So, as much as he hoped Teyla would say she didn’t want to risk it for her wellbeing, he was also hoping like hell that she would.
Teyla lifted her chin and nodded. “He knows about Rodney,” she stated simply, as if that was all the reason that she needed to try it. “He evidently believes Rodney is the key to his release.”
“Yeah, about that…” Crap. If Teyla was willing to go for it, they might as well go for it. “Do you have any idea where the Wraith is trapped? How he’s trapped?”
“And what about these kids you mentioned?” Ronon added.
Teyla nodded in understanding, sitting back on the ground in her meditative position and taking a cleansing breath. She closed her eyes and concentrated, her brow furrowing after a few seconds. “I see the village. It is a festival for the spring planting. A bonfire in the town square, laughing, dancing… and he is watching the celebration from the trees, dropped by a dart to lead the culling from the ground.” She looked up into the twilight sky above them, a small smile appearing at the corners of her mouth. “The darts have arrived, the culling has begun.”
John started to shake her again when she took on the persona of the Wraith, but Teyla tilted her head with a grimace and he could tell she was wresting control of herself back.
“The villagers are panicked. They scatter. Some are taken in the beams; others take shelter in the common house as the darts fly overhead. Someone suggests the laboratories of the Ancestors. There is the machine, they can leave, they can go to join them. Others argue they cannot, they are not ready. But the man persists and a small group sneaks out the back and into the woods. He follows them, curious to see if there are still Lanteans on this world when all the others have left. The trees are glowing, lighting the path, and he must stay back so they do not see him.”
Teyla swayed were she sat and placed a hand to her head, even as John and Ronon steadied her from either side. “I am sorry. I was having trouble holding him at bay. Give me a moment to rest and I will try again.”
“We don’t have time to try again,” Sheppard told her, his mind already putting the puzzle pieces together. “The villages went to activate a machine at the outpost,” he started to explain, checking over his weaponry.
“The ascension machine McKay found?” Ronon asked as he helped Teyla to her feet.
“That’s my guess. The timing would be about right with what Rodney found in the power logs.” With a quick glance at Teyla, John asked, “Are you okay to head out?”
“I will be fine,” she confirmed before asking. “You believe the ascension machine somehow trapped the Wraith?”
“Well, Anubus back in the Milky Way managed to somehow half ascend,” Sheppard told them as he headed out of the structure. “Maybe something similar happened to the Wraith.”
“An ascended Wraith?” Ronon raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
“What would such a creature be capable of?”
John could only shrug at Teyla’s question. “Aside from being the only thing in the universe more arrogant than an ascended Ancient, I have no idea. All I know is it can’t be good. But, honestly, that’s not my biggest worry right now. It’s something else Teyla said a little earlier… there are kids trapped the same way as the Wraith, and they’ve found McKay.”
When John pulled the life signs detector out to check it when they reached the trees, Ronon moved to take point. “What’s the big deal about a few kids?”
The scan, as it had been before, was clear except for the team, but John kept it out anyway. “If there’s anything Rodney has an irrational fear about more than being eaten by a whale…”
“It is being alone with small children,” Teyla finished with a sigh.
Ronon’s lips twitched at the thought. “I’ll have to remember that.”
“Yeah, but we have to get him and us off this planet before you can use it against him,” Sheppard reminded as he flicked on the flashlight on his P90.
The light ended up being pretty much unnecessary in the trees, because just as Teyla had observed in her vision, the silver lichen growing on the trunks was actually phosphorescent, or something similar, and gave off a faint glow that lit the way in the growing twilight. John felt the need to keep the flashlight on anyway, and he had a memory of his own childhood and camping out in the backyard with a few boys from base. A tent and a couple of sleeping bags to protect against the elements, flashlights for when the ghost stories got a little too intense, and Doritos and Mt. Dew to keep you awake until dawn anyway; it was always a great way to make friends… at least the kind of friends you made moving every year or so. He suddenly realized that, with the exception of college, Atlantis was the longest he’d ever lived in one place, and the people he’d met since walking through the gate over three years ago were the closest he’d been to anyone in his life.
He’d lost some of them recently, like he had so many others over time, but these were somehow different. These had been civilians, or at least they should have been. But Carson and Elizabeth had been as brave as any member of the military with whom he had ever served, soldiers in their own right, and that thought filled him with a certain amount of pride in their accomplishments and regret that they had found it necessary to go against their nature and become that. They weren’t the only ones. Hell, they’d shot their way through an asteroid belt with more scientist than marines, Radek had geared up and gone on a goddamn space walk with him, and Rodney had… shit, Rodney had done it all. Bitching and moaning, griping and complaining, the self-appointed voice of doom and despair in any situation, and yet he did it. Time and time again, against his better judgment, against his fears and insecurities, he did it. And John owed his life several times over to whatever it was that brought out that spark of heroism in McKay.
The thought of losing McKay, or Teyla who he’d known for almost as long, or Ronon for that matter, the thought of losing his team, hell, any more of his family, was more than enough reason to flick on the beam on his P90, if only to hold back the shadows of doubt at his ability to keep it from happening.
“McKay, do you copy?” Sheppard tried yet again, hoping against hope that there had just been a problem with the com links in the outpost and Rodney had somehow managed to fix it, but once again there was no answer. With a certain amount of dread, he asked Teyla, “Can the Wraith feed in his current state?”
“I do not believe so,” she told him. “I could feel his hunger; it is almost overwhelming. If he could feed, I believe he would have attempted it by now.”
“And you’re sure he hasn’t, maybe, already had a snack?” Even with the glowing trees and the P90, the dim lighting made the uneven path over the roots even more treacherous than it had been before and they couldn’t run like they had when he and Ronon had been in pursuit of Teyla.
“We will reach him in time,” she promised, but by the sound of her voice, John could tell she was denying her own fears that they wouldn’t.
“Yeah,” Sheppard agreed in the same tone before keying his radio once again. “Rodney, this is Sheppard, do you read me?” Still no response, and after a quick exchange of worried looks between his teammates, they picked up their pace as much as they dared and continued on in silence.
It had been a little over an hour since he’d left the Ancient facility when John and the others emerged from the trees and came out behind the barn once more. Across the field, the outpost stood out in the darkness, well lit throughout. Power, it had power. And that thought made Sheppard’s stomach clench a little tighter, because if there was power, why weren’t there coms? Which came back to the fear he’d had in the first place, if there were coms, why wasn’t McKay answering him on the radio?
He was just about to try to call one more time when his radio crackled to life. “The door’s open, you three can come and go as you please.”
The words were spoken in the typical McKay voice of annoyance and John was just about to call back and tell the scientist he had a lot of nerve being pissed at them for being AWOL. But before he could say anything, Rodney continued speaking. “But if you want me to get the device running again, you need to stay quiet.” The stress on the last work had John biting his tongue. “I can’t concentrate with all the ruckus.”
“Is he talking to us?” Ronon asked and Sheppard furrowed his brow.
“Yes and no.”
Evidently Teyla caught on to Rodney’s code, as well. “He is speaking to the children and does not want them to know we are listening.”
Ronon frowned in confusion. “Why would they care if he talked to us as long as he helps them?”
“No, don’t touch that!” Rodney ordered to his unknown companions. “I need that to…”
The link went dead and John grumbled, “I don’t know, but McKay obviously doesn’t agree with them and wants us in the outpost, and I tend to side with Rodney on this one.”
John started across the field with Ronon and Teyla close on his heels. Given the thick grass they were moving through, a slow jog was about as fast as he could move, but it wasn’t the vegetation that became their greatest hindrance.
Teyla stopped abruptly, her eyes wide in alarm in the beam of light John pointed at her. “He is trying…” She grabbed her head and gritted her teeth. “I do not think I can stop him.”
“Teyla, fight it,” Sheppard encouraged as he took a step toward her. “You can control him.”
But she dropped to her knees, hands frantically working to unclip her P90. “He is too strong… he needs the Lantean… Rodney.” Her sidearm quickly followed the larger gun on the grass in front of her and she stood once again, stepping back out of reach of the weapons. “And he will stop…anyone…”
Her eyes rolled back and Teyla let out a low moan, and John knew what was coming next. She’d lost. The Wraith had taken control and given the way she had disarmed herself, and in effect disarmed him, Sheppard knew the creature wasn’t exactly looking to sit and chat about the happenings in the Pegasus Galaxy over the last ten thousand years.
His fear was confirmed when brown eyes narrowed on him and Teyla launched herself, tackling John to the ground and pressing her knife to his throat before he even saw her hand wrap around the hilt. So, evidently, she hadn’t been able to finish disarming completely, he decided as the pressure of cold metal bit into his skin. “You will take me into the Lantean facility.” Her eyes flicked to the detector he still held in his hand, confirming for the Wraith inhabiting Teyla that John did have the ATA gene. “You can override the security lockout.”
“Everyone’s locked out,” John reasoned with the creature, trying to talk and pull air back into his lungs that had been emptied by the force of the fall. “The gene doesn’t do anybody any good.”
The Wraith seemed to consider for a second and Sheppard realized it was accessing Teyla’s thoughts. She snarled then, leaning so close that tendrils of brown hair that had come free from Teyla’s ponytail brushed along John’s jaw. “You are lying!”
For a split second, John thought the Wraith was going to use Teyla to kill him, just slit his throat for pissing him off. But then she stiffened and cried out, enveloped in the red field of Ronon’s stunner. Sheppard could feel the effects of it himself, the brush of the burning energy passing over his chest and abdomen, but he was able to hold on to consciousness unlike the other times he had been hit with the gun.
Teyla tumbled to the ground beside him and John rolled stiffly away from her with a groan of pain. “Thanks,” he told the Satedan who was standing above him with the gun still pointed at their teammate.
Ronon nodded in response. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” he assured, sitting up with a wince. Even a glancing blow from that damn gun hurt like hell. “What about Teyla?”
Ronon carefully moved a little closer to the woman where she lay in the grass. “Teyla?”
John lifted his gun to shine the light in her direction when she answered back with a frightened, “Ronon.” But the clumps of grass still obscured her from sight. All he could make out was a dark shape, then her hand raising to point the nine millimeter she had obviously fallen beside on the ground to point at the large man approaching her. “Run!” she ordered, her voice saying she was struggling to maintain the control she had momentarily gained from the Wraith.
She fired at almost the same time she warned Ronon, but he had already seen the gun and dove to the side. Still, the grunt Sheppard heard made him think Ronon probably took a hit. But the return fire from the stunner let John know the Satedan wasn’t hurt so badly he couldn’t shoot back. John started crawling through the grass himself when Teyla fired off a few shots in his direction, then the slide locked and the shooting stopped. Daring to glance up, John could see Teyla staring dumbfounded at the gun in her hand for a split second before she started running back toward the woods. Ronon fired again and she easily sidestepped the blast, disappearing into the shadows of the barn and surrounding structures.
“Ronon, are you hit?” John asked as he stood.
“It’s nothing,” he dismissed, gaining his feet and giving little more than a glance to the dark stain on his shoulder. “You go help McKay, I’ll go after Teyla.” He was already starting toward the buildings where she had vanished.
“Are you sure? At least bandage that up.”
“After I have Teyla,” Ronon deferred, not even looking back.
John spared a second to make sure Ronon hadn’t underestimated his wound and he didn’t just collapse, but he seemed to be moving fine and, besides, Ronon was a big boy and was more than capable of taking care of himself… against a teammate possessed by a partially ascended Wraith.
As Sheppard turned and started jogging toward the outpost, he kind of wished Carter was there so he could ask his new C.O. what she did the last time something similar happened to her team. And the truly pathetic thought was, the way things were going, it was going to take a whole hell of lot less than ten years for Sheppard to be able to one up her on the weird-ass-experience-on-a-mission meter.
Not exactly the gold star accomplishment he had been gunning for when he signed on for this assignment. Then again, he just hoped Rodney wasn’t on his way to being able to one up him.
* * * *
They were just kids, Rodney reminded himself.
Sure they could control the power with their thoughts but, hey, his niece could shed a few tears and manipulate Jeannie, a woman who, by the grace of genetics alone, was nearly as brilliant as Rodney. So, really, when you got right down to it, there wasn’t that much difference. Right?
Dear God, he was so totally screwed.
But best not to let them know that. They could smell fear… or was that wild animals? No use wallowing in semantics, Rodney decided, he just needed to take charge of the situation. Because, in the grand scheme of things, they were still just kids and he was still an adult and, therefore, he outranked them. That was just the way of the universe, age equaled rank. And if they didn’t like it, then tough. End of story. After all, that’s why Sheppard was the team leader and you didn’t hear McKay bitching about that fact of life.
So, here it went. Dr. Rodney McKay taking charge.
With an indrawn breath, he stiffened his spine. “Look, I don’t know who you are or what you’re doing in here, but you can’t just go around touching things that grown ups are working on. Didn’t your parents teach you that?”
“Mama says you shouldn’t touch other people’s things without permission,” the girl, the middle child by the looks of it, informed him.
“Well, there. See? Your mother was right.”
“You didn’t ask,” the girl told him. Her green eyes a shade darker than her dress narrowed in accusation as she stepped in front of the console and stubbornly crossed her arms before Rodney could reactivate it.
Rodney blinked, taking a second to let the child’s words settle in so he was sure he had heard her correctly. “You want me to ask you if I can use the facility?”
“It’s not yours, is it?” The younger boy, eyes the same green but hair a shade of brown lighter, poked his head around the girl’s shoulder, evidently emboldened by her words.
Taking in the children, McKay decided they were related and probably siblings. The boys were almost identical in appearance except for their sizes seeing as they were three or fours years apart in age. Their hair, their eyes, the smattering of freckles across their noses, was all the same. The girl, however, had a nose that was a little more delicate and lacked the freckles, but her eyes and mouth were same as the boys. All three wore clothes of a similar cut, the boys in knee-length pants and in the same shade as their sister’s skirts, all of them with white shirts embroidered around the collar and short sleeves with bright spring flowers in yellow and scarlet. He was reminded of the Von Trapp family, but, fortunately, there were only three of them and they didn’t seem on the verge of breaking out in song.
Crossing his arms in return, Rodney justified with a lift of his chin, “Well, technically, it was abandoned, so it’s up for grabs.”
“When the Lanteans left, Papa said our village was supposed to take care of it until they came back.” The older boy’s brow creased, the expression dropping his already long bangs further over his eyes. He brushed them back without thought as he asked suspiciously, “Are you a Lantean?”
With a bobble of his head, McKay evaded, “Sort of. At least as close as you’re ever going to get to meeting one.”
“We’ve met them,” the boy told him; obviously still not believing Rodney was one of the Ancients. “They used to lead us in meditation before they left.”
Now it was Rodney’s turn to narrow his eyes in disbelief. “You’ve met the people who ran this outpost? What did your mother have to say about lying?”
“What did yours say?” The boy accused as he knelt and started peering into Rodney’s pack.
Rodney yanked it away. “Hey, give me that. Now who’s trying to touch things that aren’t theirs?”
“If you’re a Lantean, McKay, you’d have met them, too.”
Ignoring the girl’s accusation as he zipped his bag, Rodney demanded, “How do you know my name?”
She rolled her eyes that he would ask such an obvious question. “That’s what Sheppard called you when you were talking to him before he left.”
“Oh. Well, it’s Doctor McKay.”
“Sheppard didn’t call you doctor,” she challenged.
“Sheppard’s never called me doctor.” Out of the corner of his eye, Rodney could see the boy who had been looking at his backpack now craning his neck to study his electronic tablet.
“What does this do?” he asked curiously.
Taking that out of reach, as well, Rodney snapped, “Important stuff that you’re going to screw up if you touch it.”
The girl ignored his rebuff to the boy and kept pressing, “Then why should we call you doctor?”
“It’s a sign of respect,” he insisted, pulling the tablet to his chest when the child stood on tiptoes trying for a better look.
“So, Sheppard doesn’t respect you?” The girl tilted her head with a condescending smirk.
“What? Of course he respects me… he just shows it in what is actually a rather disrespectful way. But he still respects me… a lot.”
“Farras, leave him alone,” the older boy insisted with a push to her shoulder.
“You’re not the boss, Mallen,” she challenged with a shove of her own.
“Papa said you and Rian were to listen to me. That makes me the boss.”
At the mention of the youngest child, Rodney looked around for him. “Where did the little guy go?”
“Under there.” Mallen hitched a thumb to the control panel. “He likes to hide.”
Rodney bent down to see the boy hunched under the bench with his knees pulled up tight under his chin. When McKay met his eyes, the child waved at him, and Rodney awkwardly waved back. Behind him, the little boy’s brother and sister continued to argue.
“Papa said we were to follow you and find Mama. That’s all.” Farras glowered at her brother.
Rodney suddenly had a flashback to his own childhood and having similar arguments with his own sister. “If he’s older, then he should be in charge when your parents aren’t around.”
The glare turned from sibling to scientist and Rodney started wondering if the girl planned to use her powers on him and if she was possibly capable of shutting him down with the same ease as the coms. “Regardless of who your father did or did not leave in charge, I really need to turn the communication link back on so I can talk to my friends. I don’t want to scare you, but there are Wraith out there and my friends are trying to bring back help so we can get out of here.”
Activating the console, Rodney growled when the girl once again shut it down. “Okay, maybe I do want to scare you. There are Wraith out there… you know what Wraith are, don’t you? Big, tall, scary monsters who kill you with their hands.”
“We’ve seen Wraith,” Mallen snorted. “One lives here, too.”
“One lives here? In here here?” When all three children nodded, he asked them in shock, “And you don’t care?”
“He can’t hurt us,” Farras explained. “He used to try, but he can’t, so he finally gave up.”
“Why can’t he hurt you?” Because if these people had a way to keep the Wraith from feeding on them, he may have just discovered something even more valuable than a ZedPM.
“I don’t know,” Mallen admitted with a slightly bored shrug as he once again went for the backpack. “He’s stuck in between like we are.”
“In between?” Rodney’s stomach did a flip-flop and he completely ignored the child who would no doubt break everything he touched as he rooted through his stuff and he started thinking about what the facility had been used for all those thousands of years before and what the kid had said about knowing Ancients. “How long have you lived here?”
Mallen shrugged again and tilted his head looking at the zipper as if baffled by how it worked, “Forever. Since the Wraith culled our village and Rowlan’s father turned on the machine.”
Holy crap, McKay thought, this wasn’t possible. “Where are your parents?”
“Mama left,” the littlest one, Rian, informed him from his hiding spot. “She went with the others when the Wraith came.”
“She was taken by the Wraith?”
“No, she escaped and left,” the boy continued in his attempt at an explanation. “But we were with Papa and then we couldn’t go.”
“And your father?”
“Oh, he’s still here,” Farras told McKay with a wicked grin.
“Where? I need to talk to him.” Because maybe he could explain what happened with the ascension machine and why they were trapped ‘in between’. Rodney assumed that meant somewhere between ascension and mortality, but if there was a Wraith trapped with them…
Oh, there was no way that could be good.
“You don’t want to see him,” Mallen told him.
“Sure he does,” Farras countered.
“I don’t want to go see Papa.” Rian’s despondent mumble had Farras turning on him.
“You’re such a baby. Papa likes it when we go visit him. I think he gets lonely when we’re not around.”
Her older brother spoke threateningly under his breath. “Farras, we need him to help us. He won’t like meeting Papa.”
“Yes, I will,” Rodney promised. “I would love to meet your Papa, so just take me to see him.”
But when they led him down the corridor to show him the mummified remains of their father, who had obviously been fed upon by a Wraith centuries before, McKay understood why the littlest one didn’t really like visiting their father.
“He’s dead,” the scientist observed to the three children.
Rian hid behind Mallen, both of whom stayed back several feet. But Farras knelt down beside the remains. “Shhhhhh. He’s just resting. He was tired after the run from the Community House.”
Rodney simply stared at the girl… what the fuck? He’d somehow found himself in the company of a female, prepubescent Norman Bates… before turning to Mallen who seemed to at least have most of his faculties about him.
“The Wraith attacked your village and you ran here to get away from them?” When the boy nodded, McKay continued on with the scenario he had started to put together based on what he had learned from the kids and the database. “And when you got here, someone activated the ascension device, your mother and some others ascended, but you three didn’t and are now trapped in some sort of limbo with the Wraith that fed on your father.”
“But you can make the machines work again and fix it so we can go find Mama,” Mallen told him hopefully.
“Well, I can look at the system… that is, I can try to fix it…” Christ, they barely had a cursory understanding of the ascension device that he had been exposed to back on Atlantis. And this one was different. It apparently acted almost instantaneously on the villagers instead of having to wait until the genetic changes were complete like his experience on Atlantis. “But I need to contact my team and let them know what’s going on.”
“No!” Farras insisted. “They’ll take you away, Sheppard said so. As soon as he comes back he’s going to take you back to Atlantis. And then you won’t help us.”
“What? No, I’ll stay and help. They just need to know what’s going on. And they need to know about the Wraith that’s trapped with you. They could be in danger and I need to warn them.” McKay looked to Mallen, hoping he would be able to reason with the boy.
Behind him, Farras argued, “He can’t call them. If he does he won’t help us and we’ll be stuck like this forever.”
Turning irritably toward the girl, Rodney reasserted, “I will stay and help you. Just let me talk to my friends.”
Mallen seemed to waver, but Farras persisted. “Papa wouldn’t let him.”
“Your father is dead,” McKay growled. “It’s not his decision.”
“He’s not dead, he’s sleeping!”
Rodney rolled his eyes as the girl’s assertion. “That,” he told her with a finger jabbed toward the body, “is dead. I’m sorry, but there is no way around it. Your father is dead and has been for thousands of years. Believe me, if anyone understands living in denial, it’s me. But you’ve made an art form of it if you believe for one second longer that he is still alive.”
But when the skeleton sat up and demanded, “Are you calling my daughter a liar, McKay?” Rodney had finally had enough. As his eyes rolled back and the world went black, he could have sworn he heard the sound of the corpse giggling.
Eventually he became aware of voices in the darkness.
“How long is he going to sleep?”
I’m not asleep, I’m dead, Rodney thought hazily as he floated contentedly in the void.
“I don’t know,” another voice answered before accusing, “Farras may have scared him to death.”
“Well, I thought it was funny. He’s a bigger baby than Rian if he thought that was scary.”
“I am not a baby!” the voice whined.
Rodney just lay there, reluctant to open his eyes again once he realized he wasn’t dead but stuck with three partially ascended children who could not only control the power in the facility but could use their dad’s corpse for a puppet show. No, Rodney couldn’t be as fortunate as their father, who was probably lucky to have been killed by a Wraith if the alternative was being trapped for ten thousand years with three squabbling kids. It was like the family vacation from hell… a never-ending car trip with children insisting one sibling had crossed onto their side of the seat while the other hovered a hand about a millimeter away claiming, ‘I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you.’
“He needs to wake up,” Mallen stated in worry. “He’s the only one who can fix the machine.”
He must be talking about the ascension device and McKay wondered if the unit was really broken or these three hadn’t been able to ascend for the same reasons he hadn’t. They were kids after all. Were kids even capable of reaching an enlightened state?
“Then wake him up,” Rian suggested.
Mallen didn’t like that idea. “I’m not doing it. He’s going to be mad when he wakes up.”
“Poke him with something,” Rian tried again.
Farras decided to join the discussion then. “Oh, I know! We can use Papa’s leg!”
That had Rodney’s eyes flying open. “Don’t you dare,” he gritted out in warning.
“See? I told you he was faking,” Farras gloated from where she looked down on him, multicolored ribbons and braids swaying lazily around her face.
If only, Rodney thought as he realized he must have… passed out from manly hunger once again. Turning his head, McKay could make out the boys on his opposite side and he pointed to where his pack lay as he sat up. “Hand me that.” When the three just stared at him, McKay crawled the short distance and dug out a powerbar and started eating.
Mallen tilted his head in curiosity. “What’s that?”
“Food,” Rodney told him around a mouthful of chocolate peanut butter. “I don’t suppose you three need to eat in your state.”
“I remember food,” Rian admitted quietly. “Mama made dandin cakes for the festival.”
Rodney crammed another bite into his mouth. “Dandin cakes, huh? Sound delicious.” His distracted answer allowed him to remove the wrapper completely. It was then that he noticed how the three were watching him longingly. With a sigh, he offered, “Do you want one? You can share one. Although, you, young lady, don’t deserve anything after the stunt you pulled.” He was tempted to tell her she needed a time out, but seeing as she had basically spent the last ten thousand years standing in the cosmic corner, he decided that might be the cause behind her attitude.
“You were saying mean things about Papa,” Farras challenged in a pout.
“Yeah, well, sometimes the truth hurts,” he grumbled slightly ashamed of what he’d said… slightly, but he handed over the power bar only to have the three stare at it. That’s when he realized they couldn’t take it and that they hadn’t actually touched anything since he’d met them. Hesitantly, he reached out a hand to Mallen, only to have it pass completely through the boy’s shoulder.
Yanking it back as if he’d been burned, although it didn’t feel like anything at all, Rodney pulled in a shaky breath, trying to keep at bay the total freak out something like that deserved. “Okay, that was a little weird.” Looking awkwardly at the powerbar he still held, he stuffed it back in the pack. “Guess you won’t be needing this.”
“Will you fix the machine now?” Mallen asked with a brush of bangs.
“Will you let me call my friends?” Rodney asked with the same hopefulness.
“When you fix the machine.”
Frowning at what the boy evidently considered a compromise, Rodney waved a hand. “Then let’s get to it. The sooner we start, the sooner we’ll be done and I can get the hell out of here.”
Once in the room, McKay convinced the kids that he had to activate several of the systems in order to research the device. Until he understood how it was supposed to work, he wouldn’t be able to figure out why it hadn’t worked for the three children. And until he knew that, he couldn’t repair the unit. They relented, reluctantly, and Rodney took full advantage of the reprieve to not only access the database, but unlock the front door and turn on the phones, so to speak.
The kids had started bickering again, apparently bored with waiting while Rodney worked, and that’s when he activated the coms.
“The door’s open, you three can come and go as you please. But if you want me to get the device running again, you need to stay quiet.” Although the request was meant for his teammates, it definitely applied to the children, as well. “I can’t concentrate with all the ruckus.”
He was willing to help them, more than willing considering the fact that they were practically holding him hostage. But seriously, cut him a little slack.
Farras quieted and studied him carefully. Christ, he sucked at keeping secrets and as much as he fought to maintain a neutrally innocent expression, he thought, maybe, he’d overdone it. When the girl stormed angrily over to the control panel and once again shut down the communications link, McKay tried to stop her.
“No, don’t touch that! I need that to check the frequency…” But the unit went dead. “Great, now I have to start over.”
His accusation didn’t seem to impress the child. “You’re a cheater, McKay.”
“And you’re a know-it-all brat,” he snapped right back. “You think you can do this any better, then help yourself. Oh! Wait! You can’t.”
“Farras, leave him alone so he can fix it.” Mallen’s order had the girl clamping her mouth shut and turning with a huff and swing of braids.
Rodney watched her move to pout in the corner with a bit of self-satisfaction. But the real satisfaction came when he checked the system and found that even though the coms were down, the lockdown of the facility was no longer in place.
Now, if only Sheppard and others were still alive and had received his message, things might start going his way.
* * * *
Teyla felt her legs propelling her through the darkness, felt her heat racing as she dodged the stunner blasts, felt her fingers tighten on the textured grip of the gun she still held in her hand. But more than that, she felt the helplessness of not being able to control any of it.
He had her. The Wraith had her and he was not going to let her go anytime soon, no matter how hard she fought him. What was almost worse, he would not consume her consciousness completely. When the Wraith queen had overtaken her before, she remembered none of it. It was as if the creature had simply put Teyla to sleep, only allowing her to wake when she was finished with her body. But now, this Wraith was holding her prisoner in her own body so that he could use her memories, her knowledge of her team, against them... against the one who remained in pursuit.
John had gone back to the outpost to aid Rodney, and that left Ronon to try to free her from the confines of her own body. Although how he would do that, she had no idea. Teyla had felt the way the stunner blast had burned through her body, and, while it had been enough to daze the Wraith, he had not left her entirely. His presence had been enough to stave off the usual unconsciousness that accompanied the blast. But she had seized the opportunity to warn the others before he pushed her back into the corners of her own mind.
She tried again, pushing against the icy cold consciousness that had taken her over, only to have him push back harder. Strong. He was so strong and ravenously hungry. She could feel his frustration, his yearning, the anger that it fueled. He despised the children, how they had eluded him. She could see it in his memories, their father coaxing them further down the hall to find their mother even as the Wraith fed on him, the last meal he had eaten. He had then followed after the young ones, entered the room where they huddled with the other humans, screaming when they saw him. The reaction piqued his appetite and Teyla felt her lips curl in remembered anticipation. Then the field had appeared, twining around the villagers until they changed into tendrils of energy. The light was so bright he raised his hands to block it, then it dimmed and he was alone in the room… with the three children.
He had tried to feed on them, the young female’s screams sharp and piercing in the open room as he clamped down on her arm to hold her in place, the boys cowering in the corner, and then his own screams of frustration as he realized nothing was happening and it felt as though there was no life force left in the girl. Practically tossing her aside, he moved to the older of the males, then the other, and still nothing.
Over the years he had tried many times. At first the children tried to hide from him, but he always seemed to know exactly where they were and, after a time, he realized they could tell the same about him. But no matter what he did and how many times he attempted to feed, it always ended in failure. After a while he gave up trying, roaming the strange plane that was not quite in line with the physical world. He could call to his Hive, but they could not release him. The Lantean equipment would not allow them to control it, and after several attempts and rescue parties arriving then leaving empty handed, he once again admitted defeat. He could see the wind blowing the leaves but could not feel it, could see the trees but could not touch them. He watched as the town slowly fell victim to the ravages of the ages, the forest expanded and overtook what had been crop fields, the remainders of their civilization gradually turn to dust, while he and the children remained timeless.
He could not leave, could not dial the gate, could not die. He was trapped, confined by the device of the Lanteans and his only consolation was that the wretched children were condemned to this prison between worlds the same as him.
A blast skimmed over her shoulder and Teyla’s body veered away, even as she felt the Wraith accessing her memories. The weapon– how do you reload the weapon?
She tried to keep it from him, but he melded into her thoughts seamlessly and took what he needed. Her hand reached into the pocket of her vest and the Wraith decided to take advantage of the darkness of the barn to pause and reload the gun. Kneeling in a corner that was shaded from the faint moonlight, she pressed the button to release the empty magazine and slammed the new one into place. She could feel the Wraith wince at the metallic click that seemed all the louder in the silence of the dilapidated ruins of the structure.
Teyla listened as intently as the Wraith possessing her body for the sound of Ronon. He was out there… somewhere. And if anyone could stop a Wraith, even the spirit of one, is would be the Satedan. But he was injured. She had seen the way he was thrown backward by the shot, seen his hand going to his shoulder, but she honestly had no idea how serious the wound was. He could be weakening, bleeding, not that it would stop him, but it would put him at a severe disadvantage. Maybe even enough for the Wraith to finish the job he had started with that bullet which had already hit him.
Ronon had had plenty of time to reach them by now. But there was no sound of him moving toward them, no elongated shadows stretching out across the moonlit floor, and Teyla could feel the wariness in the Wraith battling with a gloat that maybe he had lost the human. A cooing sound had the Wraith tilting her head back to look above them. The pale grey outline of birds stood out against the silver light of the moons, and the animals tilted their own heads to look down quizzically at the unfamiliar creature that had come to their roost that night before primping their feathers.
Satisfied they were no risk, the Wraith turned his attention back to the partially concealed area outside the barn. Teyla felt her hope turning to worry that Ronon was nowhere to be seen. He would not have given up, she knew that as well as she knew his bearded face, his loyalty to those he cared for defined him more than his appearance ever could. And that meant he was either executing a plan or had fallen victim to his injuries.
Apparently the Wraith had sensed her unease, and he tried to access her thoughts once more. What would he do? How would he approach an enemy?
So, she gave him what he was looking for. She pictured Ronon entering the barn, gun firing, ignoring the return barrage of bullets, intent on nothing besides taking down his opponent. It worked. The Wraith had her standing, pointing her gun toward the entrance, anticipating the frontal assault, so that when Ronon fired on them from above, a flurry of wings fluttering around his head as the energy field singed her body, she knew she had been successful in covering his approach. The stunner had her body crumpling to the ground, and she would have laughed out loud when she regained momentary control from the Wraith… if her body had been capable of it.
Ronon climbed down from his perch, rolling her body over and pinning her arms behind her back to secure them with a zip tie. “Sorry,” he told her as he checked the bindings. “I just can’t trust your new roommate.”
She did not complain, in fact, she approved of the plan whole-heartedly. The Wraith was already starting to rouse enough to exert control over her once again, but she managed to ask. “Are you okay? Your shoulder…”
Ronon cut her off, taking the extra tie for his hair from his pocket to use to secure her ankles. “It’s fine. We just need to figure out how to keep that thing out of you.”
“He is here,” she struggled to warn him. “He is coming back.”
“Yeah, well, there’s not much he can really do tied up.”
“Ronon…” It was somewhere between a plea for help and a warning to run, because the Wraith was coming back and she could feel… power. Raw and electrical and coursing through him and it was like nothing Teyla had ever felt before.
She kicked her feet sharply, rolling away when Ronon lost his hold on her. He dove, pinning her body once more. “Give it up,” he growled, fighting to hold her in place. “You aren’t going anywhere.”
“That is where you are wrong.” Teyla felt the words tear at her throat and she felt the energy tear through her mind, causing her own consciousness to cringe away.
And that was when the blade on the ground nearest her, one of the ones Rodney had seen lying on the floor, the ones she had dismissed as nothing more than farm tools, rose and hovered in the air before flying toward Ronon. It happened too quickly for the large man to react with more than a widening of his eyes at the projectile hurling his way. Teyla screamed a denial in her head when the curved scythe hit Ronon in the chest and threw him back to land in the black shadows of the barn.
The Wraith struggled to stand, seeing as her hands were still secured behind her back, it was not the simplest of feats. Three more blades rose to float weightlessly in the air around Teyla as she moved to the dark corner where Ronon had been thrown. She squinted to make out where he landed, and, truth be told, she was not sure if it was her or the Wraith who caused the act since neither of them could see more than an amorphous form shrouded by the gloom.
Another two tools joined the ones already hovering as she stepped past them and crossed from moonlight into shadow. Ronon’s gun had been thrown clear when the scythe struck him, and the Wraith would have taken it if not for the fact that Teyla’s hands were still tied. But the warrior carried a blade of his own, and, while the Wraith was fairly confident that the human would not harm the body he had inhabited, he could not be entirely sure, which was why he was approaching Ronon with a bit of trepidation.
It ended up the Wraith was correct to be wary.
Ronon lunged for her as soon as they were within arm’s reach, his hand wrapping around Teyla’s throat as he pushed her forcefully back against the wall of the barn, his angry growl once again upsetting the night birds that had resettled in the stillness. The blades that had been filling the air around her dropped with a metallic clank when Ronon squeezed her windpipe… not enough to kill, but enough to slow the flow of air considerably.
With a sigh of relief, Teyla realized that the farm tool, dulled and rusted by centuries of disuse, had not penetrated through the leather of Ronon’s coat. But the force of the blow had been enough to knock the wind from her teammate and she could hear the laboring of his breathing when he ordered, “Give her back!”
“And what will you do if I do not?” the Wraith asked. The sneer wavered when Ronon tightened his grip in response and the Wraith could only gasp out, “Kill this body?”
The pressure eased at the taunt and Teyla tried to call out to him, to tell him not to let up, because the Wraith was already acting against him. The blades may not have worked to take Ronon down, but a stone from the wall would. The levitated rock impacted with the side of Ronon’s head, and the man’s legs folded under him to deposit him in a heap on the floor.
“Ronon?” she cried in futility, the words never being allowed to pass her lips. “Ronon!” Her lips curled with the Wraith’s satisfaction and she demanded desperately of the being sharing her body, “Does he live?”
Her lungs were gulping air of their own accord as the Wraith tilted her head to study the all too still form she could barely see on the ground. “It would be a shame if he does not. I look forward to feeding on him once I am restored to myself. But there are plenty more to feast upon if he is dead.”
She could read his thoughts… the Lantean was in the base, and, if the children were correct, the Lantean would be able to fix this and bring him back to his caporal self. But what to do until then? Teyla could sense the options as he weighed each one. He could go to the Lantean base now, use this human body he inhabited to enter and wait for the proper time. But the other human who had gone to assist the one in the base knew he had taken the body as his own and would be just as resistant as the one laying unmoving on the ground. He could dial the gate, call to his Hive, let them know his release was imminent. But he should not go too far. When the time came he needed to be near the base, near the machine, so that the effects could be reversed.
So he decided to wait in the trees, near enough to return to the base but concealed by the forest should the other human decide to come looking for his companions.
“No! We must stay! We must care for Ronon!”
But her argument was pointless. The Wraith simply turned her away from the darkness of the barn so that she could no longer even see where her teammate lay and headed back out into the soft glow of the trees. They waited at the edge o f the woods, both of them looking longingly toward the outpost in the distance. John and Rodney were there, and as best she could tell from what she had seen of the Wraith’s memories, there was no threat beyond the children. And as long as they didn’t start levitating objects to try to kill them, chances were her teammates were safe. She could not say the same for Ronon, and while she may not be able to help him trapped as she was, Sheppard and McKay could. If only there was some way for her to let them know, and showing up alone in the facility would be a very good clue to the two men that something was not right.
The Wraith, however, had no desire to cooperate. He simply held her there in the trees and seemed to be listening for something in the distance, something she could not hear, and it dawned on her that he was somehow in contact with the children and he was simply waiting until the time was right and Rodney had figured out a way to reverse the process. As the time dragged on, he became more impatient, his anger causing Teyla’s consciousness to flinch away and her physical body to shake. Her arms were aching from being restrained for so long, and the chill had grown with the deepening of the night so that she could see hazy clouds of condensation when she exhaled. But still the Wraith kept them sitting among the trees.
Ronon was hurt, possibly dead… no, no, he was simply injured. She would not give the Wraith the satisfaction of knowing she feared the worst. John and Rodney were working to help the children, but what they did not understand was that they were helping the Wraith, as well. And when they did… oh, by the Ancestors, he would have them. She could tell his plan now. He planned to catch them unaware and feed on them, regain his full strength, then feed on them all. What was worse, he had accessed Teyla’s memories on her home world, he had accessed her memories of Atlantis, and he planned to call his Hive and gate there, as well. He knew the address, knew about her IDC. The city would simply open the gate and allow them to walk in and he would be welcomed home with open arms for delivering such a gift to his Queen.
She had to stop him, she had to find a way to keep it from happening, she had to…
The impatience suddenly vanished, replaced by an eager excitement. The Lantean had found a way, Rodney had, as usual, solved the problem and found a way to fix the machine. And with a dizzying rush that left Teyla gasping and swaying, the Wraith’s consciousness was gone. She tumbled forward, turning her head to keep from falling face first into the leaves and roots on the ground and gulped air, finally, completely in control of her own body. Fighting her way to her feet, she stumbled across the uneven path until she left the confines of the trees and could run, across the open grass, past the water wheel leaning lifeless against the side of the barn, and in to where she hoped Ronon would not be in the same condition.
* * * *Part 3