Zelenka and Beckett both arrived from Atlantis with a small army of their own. But after Caldwell conferred with Teyla, they came to the conclusion that the Burdacks would never go for that many people reviewing the data and only Radek and Carson went back to the planet with Caldwell and Teyla accompanying them. Teyla was just as capable of negotiating with Haras as he was, probably more so, but the colonel wanted to be crystal clear that this was still a military operation, and as such, he was still very much in charge. Ronon tagged along, too, mainly to be ready to go if the scientist and physician made any progress in finding a way to help his two teammates. But after two hours, the only people who didn’t seem bored out of their minds were Beckett and Zelenka.
Caldwell checked his watch; Sheppard and McKay had been prisoners for almost eight hours and the two men working on finding a way to remove the tracker were still bickering on the far side of the room as they poured over the information the Burdack scientists had provided.
"If they don’t make some real progress real soon, I’m heading back up to the ship to wait this out," Caldwell told the Satedan who looked as if he was as bored as the colonel was.
"They’ll do it," Ronon told him confidently, or maybe it was defiantly… sometimes it was hard to tell with the man.
Caldwell had run into men like Ronon before, back in the ‘70s when he’d been early in his military career and seen the men who had served in Vietnam returning. Men who had wanted nothing but to come home and then found that home didn’t exist anymore. Sometimes because things had changed while they were gone, and sometimes because they were the ones who had been changed by the war. Lost. They were lost, and even if they finally found somewhere to call home, there was always a part of them that was missing.
"I’m sure they will," Caldwell agreed. "They just seem to be taking their sweet time doing it."
Ronon crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall to watch the scientists work. "McKay would have figured it out by now."
"Yeah, well, McKay made his choice so now it’s up to Zelenka and Beckett."
"I should have stayed back with them when Sheppard was hit," Ronon grumbled with a shake of his head.
"And ended up captured yourself?" Caldwell snorted. "There’s bravery for the good of the mission and then there’s futility disguised as heroism. I’ve seen my fair share of both. Trust me, destroying that facility did the most good in the long run."
"If I’d stayed with Sheppard," Ronon reasoned, "McKay would have left him with me to figure out how to stop the tracking device."
"And hindsight’s 20/20." When Ronon frowned in confusion at the Earth analogy, the colonel went on. "Look, you’ve had enough combat experience to know that figuring out what went wrong is only useful for determining how to go forward. Dwelling on what could have been just takes time and effort away from the work at hand."
"Yeah, but we aren’t doing anything right now," Ronon pointed out.
"True," Caldwell conceded. "But it still doesn’t do anybody any good to think about it. Do you think Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay are wishing you had stayed and Rodney had left?" Ronon raised an eyebrow and Caldwell had to admit, "Okay, after eight hours, McKay has probably had time to reconsider what he did and Sheppard is probably trying to plan an escape from McKay as much as the Burdack insurgents. Maybe the fact that you aren’t there will be enough to motivate them to find a way to turn off the device on their own."
Ronon smirked before he relented, "They’ve been in worse situations than this." And there was that denial masked in surety once again.
"No doubt." Caldwell gave a small laugh at the thought of all the ass-deep alligator pits Sheppard’s team had managed to extricate themselves from over the years.
They should have been dead a dozen times over. Hell, one or all of them would have been dead if not for the direct intervention of the Daedalus. The very first time Caldwell had met then Major John Sheppard, the man had been on the verge of blowing himself up with a nuclear bomb along with a Hive ship. The man had balls, that was for damn sure. He would try anything if he thought it would save Atlantis, and if the plan was conceived by McKay, that just seemed to seal the deal. But it also made him reckless. Reckless had its place, especially given all the expedition had been through since they had stepped through the gate with Colonel Sumner in command of the military, but it also had its drawbacks.
Sumner had been a hard ass. Although, given he was a marine, that was no surprise. It was also exactly what Atlantis needed for their military head with a civilian in charge of the expedition. The last thing they had needed was an untried major who was known to put personal feelings before military protocol. Sheppard had learned his lessons the hard way, as Caldwell knew he would. It was to be expected, with no CO on-site to oversee his day to day activities, no one to act as a mentor to the young officer, he was bound to make mistakes. Some of the mission reports, especially from the earlier days, read like a textbook of how not to command a post. But over time, they had improved. Or maybe Caldwell had just come to understand that life in the Pegasus galaxy brought a whole new set of challenges the SGC had never experienced before, and a little recklessness was called for from time to time.
And when Carson and Radek finally came to give him a recommendation on how they should proceed about twenty minutes later, he realized this was one of those times.
"The device appears to tie into the central nervous system, sending out feeders to access it," Beckett explained.
Zelenka cut in. "This would explain Rodney’s reference to the device apparently burrowing under Colonel Sheppard’s skin."
"Once it attaches itself, it sets up a continuous feedback between the victim’s body and the device," Carson continued. "So that when remotely activated, or it loses the control signal, it knows the precise message to send to the victim’s body to experience the maximum sensation of pain possible."
"What?" Ronon asked when Teyla and Caldwell appeared as confused as he was.
Beckett took a breath and backed up in his explanation. "When you feel pain, the peripheral nerves transmit a signal from the point of origin. For example, a stubbed toe or a burn to your hand."
"Right, the nerve ending tells your brain you hurt yourself," Caldwell stated to try to move things along.
"Actually, Colonel, that’s only partially correct," Carson corrected. "In reality, it transmits to the spinal cord where neurotransmitters send the signal on to the brain. But there are specialized nerve cells in the spinal cord that act as a sort of gatekeepers. These cells can distinguish between a severe life-threatening injury, such as putting your hand in a fire or a less severe injury, such as the stubbed toe. Those that are considered non-threatening are filtered so the pain signal is often less, whereas those that have the risk of causing grave bodily harm are transmitted at maximum capacity. My theory is that this device somehow deciphers the body’s code so that the gatekeeper cells are bypassed and chemicals are released maximizing the pain signals sent to brain."
Radek shook his head in disgust. "Add to that, the signal is being simultaneously transmitted as if from every peripheral nerve ending in the body, and it is easy to understand Colonel Sheppard’s reaction when he was beamed from the planet."
"So how do we stop it?" Ronon asked.
"That will not be easy," Radek admitted.
Carson nodded in agreement. "The Burdacks have tried to remove the devices on several people. There have even been attempts in the field at less than surgical extractions, where a fellow soldier has tried to cut the device out as the victim writhed in pain. Those reports suggest the device can perceive the threat of removal and use the body to somehow induce a heart attack, most likely by interfering with the electrical impulses that regulate the heart beat."
Teyla frowned at the news. "Then we cannot remove the device?"
"Not unless we shut it down, or at least stop its transmission to Colonel Sheppard’s body first," Zelenka amended.
"But I thought you couldn’t do that," Caldwell reminded them.
"There is possibly a way," Zelenka told them with a grimace. "But it will be very risky and may not work."
Carson took up the plan at that point. "If we can intercept the signal within the feedback loop between the body and the device, we could possibly remove it without it triggering death. But in order to do that, we must convince it that there is no threat."
"And how do we do that?"
Radek sighed at Caldwell’s question. "We override the signal it is receiving from the control point by intercepting it and deciphering it before sending our own message back to the device telling it everything is fine, which I believe I can do within a very limited area. The challenge will be how quickly I can complete the task before the device starts to suspect something is wrong."
Teyla considered the information for a moment before suggesting, "Rodney had been reading the signal transmitted between the device in Colonel Sheppard and the control point. Would the readings not still be in his meter that he left on the Daedalus?"
Both Zelenka and Beckett’s faces brightened at the possibility. The Czech nodded, "Yes, it will most definitely give us a head start on what the frequency of the signal will be."
Caldwell gave a nod. "Then I think it’s time we headed back up to the ship and see what you two can come up with."
* * * *
When John opened his eyes again, the room was dark except for a thin sliver of light slipping in under the door, and the temperature felt like it had fallen a good fifty degrees. Even when he breathed in, the air felt as brittle as it had in Antarctica and he had no doubt, if there had been enough light in the room, he would have seen a cloud of white when he exhaled.
"Did the heat go out?" he asked Rodney, but there was no answer. Reaching out a hand, he realized Rodney wasn’t there anymore. "McKay?"
Sheppard managed to push himself up from where he lay on the narrow cot, the room spinning from the effort, and he pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulder. "Rodney?"
The name echoed through the room, a room that seemed at least twice the size of the one he had been in, and John had a moment of panic that he had been moved without even knowing it. And if they had moved him, what had they done with McKay? John did his best to focus and let his eyes adjust to the small amount of light seeping into the room and that’s when he made out a dark shape in the middle of the floor… a dark, man-sized shape.
"Rodney?" he tried to call again, the dread of knowing, somehow knowing in his gut, he wasn’t going to get an answer had his voice cracking.
If possible, John started shaking harder, and this time it wasn’t from the cold. Pushing himself up, Sheppard took the few steps between him and the body. Body. It was a fucking body. It was Rodney’s fucking body lying in the middle of the goddamn room and he dropped heavily to his knees beside it. Blue eyes stared blankly up at him and he knew he shouldn’t be able to see they were blue, shouldn’t be able to see them in the dark, but they were Rodney’s eyes and John had looked into them enough times that he didn’t need light to know the shade. He also didn’t need to reach out a trembling hand and touch Rodney to know he was cold and lifeless and…
"John, wake up."
McKay’s hands caught him to keep him from tumbling off the cot when he jerked awake with a gasp. Rolling back, he looked up into Rodney’s face; those same dead eyes he’d just been looking into were staring back at him, only now they were alive, framed by crinkles of worry, but alive. Rodney was alive.
"Sheppard, are you okay?"
John sucked in a few rough breathes, trying to get his bearings. The room was lit like it had been before he fell asleep and it was the same dreary gray cell from before. From the looks of it, John was using Rodney’s lap as a pillow. Exactly how that had happened, he wasn’t sure, but he sure as shit wasn’t going to complain, especially since Rodney’s jacket was draped over John’s shoulder, as well. McKay, however, was another story; the longer John remained silent, staring at him with wide, panicked eyes, the deeper Rodney’s frown grew.
Jesus, it had been a dream. Just a fucking dream.
"Fine," he managed to say. "I’m fine. It’s…" John shook his head and started to sit up. "I’m fine."
"You sure the hell don’t look fine. I’ve seen nervous Chihuahuas shake less than you are right now."
"It’s nothing," Sheppard tried again, rubbing at his face and regretting it thanks to the aching, burning sensation he still felt across his skin. "I just can’t seem to get warm."
McKay exhaled heavily, as if frustrated by John’s answer, before waving Sheppard out of the way so he could swing his legs up on the bed. "Come on," Rodney ordered, pressing his back against the wall and patting the small space beside him.
"Come on and what?" John asked hesitantly.
"Come on and lay down and see if I can warm you up."
Sheppard just stared, wondering if this was another dream, or maybe the other hadn’t been a dream and he’d had a psychotic episode and escaped reality into a place where McKay offered to wrap his arms around John for warmth and things went from there like they did in all good pornos. Because, there was no fucking way this was happening for real.
Rodney patted again, this time a little more impatiently. "Seriously, Sheppard, close your eyes and think of England if you have to. You sound like one of those damn chattering teeth toys you wind up and watch jump around the room. Good times when you get drunk and let your cat chase them all over the apartment, not so much when your teammate is impersonating one in a prison cell."
Doing as he was told, John slowly lay back down and Rodney wrapped his arms firmly around him, easing off when Sheppard hissed at the pressure.
"Sorry," McKay mumbled a bit defensively, warm breath blowing across John’s ear.
Christ, he really was going to have to think of England, but not for the reasons Rodney had insinuated. "No, it’s okay. It actually feels good..." It felt fucking amazing. "… to be warming up, I mean."
"Oh… well… okay then."
They fell into an awkward silence at that point, John slowly coming down from the fear of the nightmare and becoming more and more convinced that this was real and McKay was not only really okay but really holding John in his arms. Sheppard wanted nothing more than to snuggle back closer into Rodney but resisted for two reasons. One, he knew with his body aching like it was, it would hurt to have that much close contact. And two, he was afraid of what he might feel pressing into his back… or actually what might not be pressing into his back. The thought of not only being nearly killed on an alien planet but also having it confirmed that your best friend wasn’t interested in doing toe-curling things to your naked body really was more than one man should have to endure in a twenty-four hour period. So, the best thing, John decided, was not to think about it. And the best way to do that was to make small talk… with the best friend whose naked body John would love to do toe-curling thing with as said friend held John in his arms and breathed against his neck.
Fuck, England just wasn’t going to cut it.
"So, McKay," Sheppard started while mentally reciting the conference champions of the Pac 10 from the last decade. "You’re not going to mention this to anyone back on Atlantis are you?"
"Oh, hell no," Rodney snorted. "That’s all I’d need is for you to get booted from Atlantis and next thing I know I have Lorne as a team leader. And me having to go back to square one and train another major? I don’t think so."
"What do you mean ‘train another major’?"
"Well, seeing as you’ve taken all the good suicide missions over the years, I don’t think Lorne’s going to have much chance to be promoted to lieutenant colonel as quickly as you were."
"I wasn’t talking about his rank," John pointed out irritably. "I was talking about the training part."
"Well… that is," Rodney stated less than confidently. "It takes some time to learn my idiosyncrasies and the rhythms of how I operate. I mean, it’s not like we instantly fell into the easy simpatico we have now." He gave a small nervous laugh. "I wouldn’t be doing this with Lorne, that’s for damn sure."
"Would you do it with Teyla or Ronon?" John asked, already feeling warmer.
"Hmmm, in the name of team love and all, I suppose I would, if the circumstances called for it."
John’s lips quirked at the reluctance he heard. "How about Radek or Carson?"
"That would take some really, really extraordinary circumstances, like me being on the verge of freezing to death."
"And Keller?" John asked with some trepidation.
John could feel Rodney shift in a shrug. "Sure. I guess I would. If she would let me."
"Why wouldn’t she let you?" She was a goddamn idiot if she turned this down, he thought.
"I don’t know, I think I may have said some things to her when my brain was being eaten by a parasite that may have frightened her off." Rodney snorted softly against John head. "I mean, I was a total freak; you saw that."
"You may have been freaking out, but you weren’t a freak," Sheppard dismissed. "Given what was happening, anyone would have been scared shitless to go through that."
"Still, I never should have banged on your door in the middle of the night to wake you like I did."
"I told you then I didn’t mind and I really didn’t. I’m glad you did it, actually. I’m glad you trusted me enough to do that."
"Of course, I trust you." Rodney seemed genuinely baffled John would have questioned such a thing. "If I can’t trust you of all people, then who can I trust? Hell, you piloted a Jumper to the bottom of the ocean to find me. You taught me to meditate so I could ascend. You even went into one of my dreams to try to save me. If that’s not trustworthy, I don’t know what the hell is."
Sure Sheppard had done all those things, but McKay had returned the favor just as many times.
"You came back for me," John stated softly.
"What?" Rodney propped himself up to look down on John and Sheppard instantly missed the heat of McKay’s body.
Rolling onto his back, Sheppard looked up at Rodney and tried to explain. "In the dreams. You were safe, home free, and you came back into my dream for me. You did the same damn thing today. You could have stayed on the Daedalus and had them send me back down by myself just as easily, but you came back with me."
Rodney was staring at him with this baffled expression on his face and John suddenly felt like a complete moron. "You know, never mind," John dismissed, closing his eyes and turning so that he was facing Rodney and could warm his hands between their two chests. "I’ve been short circuited by a goddamn alien bug zapper and I feel like shit and I’m not making any sense."
There were always rules of engagement when it came to this sort of thing. With some it was easy… a flirty smile, a few drinks, then back to a room for some hot and sweaty action followed by a promise to call that neither intended to keep. Others were a little more complicated, played hard to get, and the pursuit was as exciting as the eventual sexual escapades that followed. And then there were the ones that scared the shit out of him, the ones where meaningless sex just wasn’t an option. The ones where the thought of a one night stand didn’t seem like fun and games because the person was so much more than a plaything. The ones where he was the one at risk of being tied in knots forever if he gave in and gave it his all, not because the other wanted him to, but because he wanted it. The ones where he would lose so much more than a night’s fuck if they said no.
The ones like Rodney.
And after all he had been through today, John was way off his A game, and it would probably be best if he just shut the hell up while he could. But when Sheppard shivered once more, Rodney settle back down and wrapped his arms around John again and pulled him in closer so that John’s forehead pressed against McKay’s shoulder. "It’s not like I even think about these things. It’s just second nature when it comes to you."
This time, John didn’t complain about the tightening of Rodney’s arms. Sure his aching muscles and burning skin protested, but the feel of Rodney so close was worth it. Instead, John splayed his hand to rest on McKay’s chest and felt Rodney’s heart beating against his palm.
Sheppard had never been much for touching. It was the way he was raised. A handshake was high praise from his father, a pat on his back the most affection he’d known as a child. And it was just natural that would carry over into his adult life. Nancy had bitched about it during their marriage, even brought it up during the counseling they had attempted at the end that the only time John touched her was when it was a means to an end. Hell, maybe she was right. Maybe that’s what attracted him to most of the men he’d been with over the years, too. They were easy; rarely confusing sex with intimacy. But the thing he’d realized with McKay was that, somehow, they’d become intimate over the years without the sex. Rodney didn’t seek out physical contact anymore than John did. In fact, both of them seemed to avoid it whenever possible. But then Rodney had reverted to a childlike state, seeming to crave touch all the more as his verbal and mental capabilities steadily diminished, and John found that he was more than willing to give Rodney what he seemed to need most. More than that, John realized he needed it just as much as McKay, so that since Rodney’s recovery Sheppard had found himself fighting the urge to wrap an arm around Rodney’s shoulder or rest a hand on Rodney’s leg or go and bang on McKay’s door in the middle of the night and curl up in bed with him exactly like this.
The problem was, John was growing increasingly more worried that if he did show up on Rodney’s doorstep in the middle of the night, McKay wouldn’t be alone.
"So tell me; what is it that you see in Keller?"
Rodney stiffened slightly, and John could feel his heartbeat increase at the question. "Well, she’s… extremely bright, persistent, dedicated, has a nice smile with dimples that make her look incredibly innocent when she really isn’t…"
Sheppard exhaled at the praise and forced a small laugh, his voice echoing faintly in the hollow space created between their two bodies. "That’s a dangerous combination."
Rodney moved one of his hands down to rest in John’s lower back. "Almost as dangerous as seeming kind of dense when you’re really MENSA material."
John blinked in surprise, raising his head so that he and Rodney were face to face. "I’ve never thought Jennifer came across as that dense."
When Rodney shook his head where it rested, the slight motion let his nose run along John’s. "She doesn’t," he confirmed in little more than a whisper.
John felt a new current of electricity flow through him at the touch, this one warm and enticing his head to tip back, lifting his mouth closer to Rodney’s
"That’s the main difference between you two," Rodney murmured, his words vibrating across John’s lips, so close John wasn’t sure if they actually brushed together as he spoke. "That and the fact I thought I might actually have a chance with her that I never thought I would have with you."
This time there was no uncertainty, Rodney’s lips grazed against John’s and John responded in kind, his hand fisting the fabric of McKay’s t-shirt when Rodney’s tongue skimmed across John’s lower lip. Then Rodney moved in closer and his mouth tugged at that same lower lip and John didn’t know if he wanted to groan in ecstasy or pain. Apparently Rodney took it as the former, reacting by sliding his tongue along John’s, moving his hands along Sheppard’s back, shifting his hips and John had his answer about the bulge in Rodney’s crotch. Yeah, it was there, most definitely there, and it was pressing against John’s own and fuck, yes, making out with McKay was as incredible as John had always imagined it would be.
That was until Sheppard’s nerve endings had had enough for one day. The hypersensitivity to cold wasn’t the only lingering remnant of the tracking device, soon every touch felt like sandpaper on his skin and those amazing kisses were on par with being punched in the face.
"Rodney…" he managed to say as McKay’s mouth wandered along his jaw and neck and back to his lips.
"John…" McKay responded against his skin.
The breathless tone had Sheppard wanting to press his body in closer but knowing if he kept this up his brain would probably short out and his body might literally explode. "Rodney…" he tried again, even though he was kissing McKay almost as desperately. "Stop…you have to stop."
McKay pulled back in confusion and John attempted to explain as he breathed heavily. "I can’t… I can’t do this."
"Oh," was all Rodney said, the disappointment evident. But when he pulled the blanket up to Sheppard’s neck and looked anywhere but into John’s eyes, it was obvious McKay thought John meant something more than he had. "You’re right, of course. I mean with your position on Atlantis and antiquated code of military conduct…"
John stopped him by pulling him back down and cupping McKay’s jaw, ignoring the way Rodney’s stubble felt like broken glass against his palm, and kissed him warmly. "It’s the thing with the device. Things aren’t firing right in my body. Everything that should feel good hurts. It has nothing to do with you." Sheppard gave a small, pained grin. "Well, maybe a little to do with you sending me into a sensory overload."
Rodney didn’t look entirely convinced. "You’re sure?"
Sheppard answered with a soft press of lips then rested his forehead against McKay’s. "When we’re out of this mess, back on Atlantis, in a real bed, and I’m healed up, I swear you won’t be asking that question." John desperately wanted to kiss Rodney again. He desperately wanted to do a hell of a lot more to Rodney, but he settle for closing his eyes and letting his lips flicker against McKay’s as he spoke. "Think you can wait for me that long?"
"I’ve been waiting for years for this, Sheppard. What’s a few more hours?"
Rodney stayed in close, taking John’s lead that the feather light touches of lips and fingertips along his back were okay. The truth was, they were fucking incredible, achingly slow and sinfully sweet, and the longer they went on, the more John wanted to reach down and unzip Rodney and touch him with a similarly teasing and leisurely play of fingers.
The one time he tried, McKay stopped him. "Can I…?" he practically panted. "To you?"
"Doesn’t matter," John tried to reason, because the thought of Rodney’s face when John touched him, the feel of him pulsing in John’s hand, the sound of Rodney calling John’s name, would be almost as satisfying as McKay doing the same to him.
"Yes it does," Rodney insisted pulling John’s hand away and blowing gently on his palm. "You and me…together…"
Christ, that right there was almost enough to have Sheppard giving in and agonizing pain be damned, except Rodney suddenly sat up.
"Someone’s coming," Rodney announced, climbing over John to stand between him and the door.
Sheppard didn’t have time to protest before the door opened and the guards grabbed Rodney by the arms and started for the door.
"John?" McKay was looking back at Sheppard in worry, and there wasn’t shit John could do about it.
"Where are you taking him?" Sheppard demanded, ignoring the pain as he pushed himself up, trying to make it to his feet.
The men ignored him, simply dragged Rodney away with no word as to what they had planned for Rodney or if they ever planned to bring him back.
* * * *
Once they were back on the Daedalus, Caldwell left the scientists with their teams to continue their work on how to break the code of the signals being transmitted by the tracking devices. It didn’t take long for them to discover the secondary signal that they believed to be the device communicating with Sheppard’s nervous system that was underlying the primary transmitter signal between the device and the controls. He reported in to Atlantis about the progress, checked over some diagnostics that were being run on the ship while it sat in orbit around the planet, and finally went to the chow hall to grab something to eat.
Teyla and Ronon sat at a table, their food sitting mostly untouched in front of them, suggesting they were there as more of a way to occupy their wait time than out of hunger. Apparently, it wasn’t working as well as they had hoped.
"This is taking too long," Ronon grumped, pushing his tray back and starting to stand.
Teyla reached out a hand to stop him. "Carson and Radek are working as fast as they can, but they must take the time necessary to ensure everything is done correctly."
"We shouldn’t be sitting here," Ronon argued with a shake of his head.
"What would you have us do?"
Ronon leaned back in his seat in a funk. "We take Lorne’s men and go down there and bust them out."
Teyla sighed in frustration. "And then what? Until the science and medical teams find a way to remove the tracking device, John cannot leave the planet."
"We could hide. Take cover in the woods and hole up somewhere until they figure out what to do."
"You heard what Rodney said regarding John’s condition, it is possible he cannot even walk, much less outrun a pursuing force."
"He doesn’t have to walk," Ronon countered. "I could carry him if I had to."
"Ronon, in all likelihood they can activate the device remotely," Teyla tried to reason. "We could be condemning him to death with a rescue attempt."
"McKay probably has one in him by now, too," Ronon pointed out.
"I am well aware of that possibility, which just makes it even more imperative that Drs. Beckett and Zelenka find a safe way to remove the devices."
Ronon crossed his arms. "We don’t know what they’re doing to them down there."
"I know," Teyla admitted quietly, her mind no doubt having considered many of the possibilities of what could be happening. "I also know how difficult waiting can be. But for now, that is all we can do."
Ronon didn’t seem too happy with Teyla’s logic, given the way he stood abruptly and headed for the door.
"Ronon," Teyla called after him, standing to follow him when he didn’t stop. "Ronon, wait."
But the Satedan just ignored her pleas and soon both of them disappeared out into the corridors of the ship.
Caldwell watched them go, not really all that worried, seeing as Ronon couldn’t exactly reach the surface without him giving the okay to beam them down. So, as long as the large man didn’t punch a vital piece of equipment or crewman to blow off some steam, they should be fine.
Glancing around the mess hall, Caldwell spotted Dr. Novak sitting alone at one of the table. Normally, she wasn’t someone he would seek out to share a meal with, but today was an exception.
"Doctor, mind if I join you?"
She glanced up, her spoonful of soup came to a halt midair as her eyes widening in surprise. "No." As if deciding Caldwell might take that as a refusal, she backtracked with a frantic shake of her head. "I mean, yes… or no, of course I don’t mind, Colonel." Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she indicated the seat across from her. "Please, have a seat."
The nervous hiccupping had thankful stopped years ago, at least unless they were in the direst of situations, but there was always a certain fidgetiness that could set Caldwell’s teeth on edge if he spent too much time with the woman.
"Thank you." He took his seat, forcing his jaw to relax.
Novak dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. "Has the Atlantis staff made any progress on the device?"
"Not much," Caldwell informed her. "Which is why I wanted to talk to you."
"Me?" she asked in shock. "Why me?"
"I’ve been thinking about our predicament and I was wondering if there was any way we could take advantage of the Asgard beam to extract the device like we have other… things in the past." Caldwell didn’t like discussing the particular situation where he had been personally involved in an extraction, but if it could help Sheppard and McKay, it was at least worth investigating the possibilities.
Novak’s brow furrowed in confusion before she finally understood what he was talking about. "Oh, you mean the whole…" Her hand fluttered to the back of her neck to indicate where the Goa’uld had taken up residence at the base of Caldwell’s brain a few years prior.
"Exactly," Caldwell confirmed. "Hermiod was able to remove it with the beam technology. Do you think you could do something similar with the trackers?"
"Actually, I’ve already discussed the possibility with Dr. Zelenka. Being able to pinpoint the beam that precisely if very delicate work. If Hermiod were here, he could possibly perform the procedure," the scientist admitted. "But seeing as he’s no longer…" Novak let the statement as to the Asgard’s state fade on her tongue. She’d worked closely with Hermiod for years and, as exasperating as that assignment had been for her at times, the decision the Asgards had made as a whole to destroy their line had not been an easy one for her to accept. "I’m sorry, Colonel, I just don’t think I have the ability to control the beam to the precision necessary to remove the device."
Caldwell nodded in resignation.
Seeing his disappointment, Novak quickly volunteered. "But I can continue to look into the possibility, if you want."
If nothing else, Novak was eager to please. Caldwell gave her an approving smile. "Thanks, Doctor. I think we can use any help you can give right now."
But it ended up Beckett and Zelenka came through within the hour. The decision was made to keep the team going to the planet small. Lorne and his uninjured man along with Teyla and Ronon beamed down first into the spot where Sheppard and McKay had been captured. Sheppard had obviously chosen it because it had seemed like a defendable position and apparently hadn’t been manned when he and McKay had taken cover there. The hope was that would still hold true. It was also known to be within range of the control signal to the device.
Caldwell took his seat on deck when the team was ready to go. "Major Lorne, you have a go. If you encounter any resistance, we’ll beam you back out immediately."
The major tipped his head in understanding as he and the rest of the team readied their weapons. "Yes, Sir."
A few seconds later, Lorne reported in from the surface. "The room appears to be a supply depot, Colonel, and the life signs detector indicates the surrounding area is clear. We’re going to perform a quick confirmatory sweep of the building."
"Copy that, Major." So far so good, Caldwell thought. "Doctors, are you ready?"
Zelenka, Beckett and one of his medics took their positions in preparation to join the others on the planet surface. "Aye, Colonel, we’re ready," Beckett confirmed.
It only took a few minutes before Lorne informed them that the rest of the building was clear, and the science team was beamed down, as well, to begin their preparations.
Finally, Dr. Beckett radioed back, "Daedalus, we’re ready for you to beam Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay to our position."
"Stand by, Doctor." Caldwell gave the order to transport the two captured men and sat back in his seat, waiting for the next report from the planet.
* * * *Part 3.