By Beth Green
Rodney's friend Radek the scientist had been very helpful when Grant had first arrived on Atlantis. Grant would have spent days, perhaps weeks, lost in detailed exploration and categorization of the exquisitely ordered crystals found in his new laboratory. Grant had stared in open-mouthed wonder after discovering the glowing crystals concealed beneath the panels in the walls. While Grant would have been more than happy to dedicate himself to the self-appointed task of discovery, he had a more important job to do.
Rodney had explained that Grant's expertise in computer modeling could be put to good use in Atlantis. Therefore, all of his computer equipment had been transferred from Earth to Atlantis; in pieces; in boxes. The unfamiliar setting of his new laboratory required more than a bit of tinkering. In order to work at maximum efficiency, Grant felt it necessary to reconstruct his workstation so that the individual components were set in the same configuration they had back on Earth.
There was one particular problem area that caused a delay in making the computer and its components operational. Grant was unfamiliar with the Atlantis power source. Given time, the well-ordered logical arrangement of the crystals promised that Grant would be able to decipher their structural organization. However, the general atmosphere of Atlantis was a continuous buzz of 'hurry-hurry-hurry.' Grant was not surprised when Rodney sent Radek to help speed up his work.
Radek's mind fit easily into the fast-paced heartbeat of Atlantis. The Czech began with simple instructions, interrupting himself to move on to the more complex, and interrupting himself again when he realized that Grant understood what he was trying to say. Radek's mind jumped from thought to thought, from concept to concept, as he probed the depths of Grant's knowledge. The man's aura glowed with happiness when Grant proved to be a more than adequate student.
Radek reminded Grant of Rodney, the way the synapses in his brain connected faster than he could verbally respond, resulting in an endless stream of words. Grant found the rhythms and the patterns of speech comfortingly familiar.
That is why Grant would have sought out Radek even if Rodney had not been injured. Rodney's prolonged recovery made the action a priority.
Grant knew how much Rodney resented his body's weakness. The past few days, the dark and turbulent air around his cousin was an unhappy reflection of his emotional state, only clearing slightly in Grant's presence. Grant had cared for Rodney when they were young. The memory of that childhood bond made it easy and comforting for Rodney to accept help from Grant.
Solicitous behavior from others was barely tolerated. Occasionally, like today, it was outright rejected. Carson had stopped by to check on Rodney.
Rodney was dressed and sitting in a chair at his desk, but he could not hide his weakness from the doctor. He was pale, with dark circles underneath his eyes emphasizing his unwell appearance. Although the injured man had been released from the infirmary, between his near-drowning and the toll taken on his body from their disastrous trip off-world, Rodney was not physically able to resume his duties on Atlantis. His active mind denied the messages his body was sending, and he insisted that he was fit enough to resume working in the lab.
"Carson, I don't need any more hand-holding. I can be much more useful in the lab."
The doctor shook his head. "There's no need to endanger your recovery by needlessly pushing yourself into a relapse."
Rodney disagreed. His voice a petulant whine rather than the angry shout he'd intended, he declared, "I'm not twelve, and I don't need to be confined to my room for breaking curfew, *Dad*! Lab work is hardly a strenuous activity. There's only so much I can do here. Let me show you …" Rodney paused and stretched to reach for his laptop computer. His body protested the abrupt action as his injured muscles spasmodically twisted in pain. The sharpness of the discomfort caused a surprised intake of breath; that, in turn, set off a series of bone-jarring coughs. Rodney half-turned in his chair, wrapped one hand around his chest as he bent forward, while the other hand molded itself into a fist and began to pound upon the surface of the desk. He angrily shrugged off the hand that Carson placed on his back.
To Grant's terrified mind, the episode seemed endless, but it was only ten minutes long according to the room's clock. Grant took a step forward, but Rodney waved him off. Pale and shaking, he slumped back in his chair. His voice a strained whisper, he declared, "I hate this."
Carson offered words of comfort, but Grant knew that Rodney presently found the doctor's presence an irritating reminder of his disability. "It's going to take time. Give yourself a few more days, at least."
Carson did not seem to realize that he was not helping. Grant wanted to order the man to leave, but instead firmly declared, "I'll take care of him."
The doctor displayed his common sense as well as his confidence in Grant as a caregiver and replied, "Aye, I've no doubt you will. I'll see you tomorrow." Grant was relieved when the man finally left.
Grant assisted Rodney out of his chair and supported him as he shuffled slowly over to the bed. Rodney would have collapsed onto the soft surface in a painfully uncoordinated fall if his cousin had not supported him as he changed position from standing, to sitting, to lying in the bed. Rodney was asleep within five minutes.
Grant was nervous about leaving his cousin alone. He spied Rodney's discarded radio, and smiled as an idea took shape. He modified the communication device he'd been given to wear so that it would send a continuous signal to the earpiece of Rodney's radio. He set the device next to Rodney's bed, and placed the earpiece on his own head, satisfied when he heard Rodney's soft, snuffling snores from both the room and the radio. Now that Grant could monitor Rodney from a distance, he set off to find Radek.
Radek at work in Atlantis was as predictable as Rodney. The result of that fortunate coincidence was that Grant found the scientist in the first place that he looked: the lab. Grant stood uncertainly in the doorway, shuffling nervously from foot to foot. He wasn't sure if their brief acquaintance was such that the man would not take offense if Grant were to ask a favor. However, for Rodney's sake, he had to try.
It might have taken him far longer to work up the courage to speak if Radek had not smiled and greeted him. "Hello. How is Rodney? Do you need anything?"
Grant wasn't sure if Radek was asking for a detailed report of Rodney's condition, or if he was merely seeking an update on current events. He tentatively offered, "Rodney's tired. He's asleep."
Radek nodded. "Yes, yes of course." He paused, then asked, "Is there something you need?"
Grant relaxed, pleased at the implied offer. "Yes. Tools, please."
Rodney slept the rest of the day away as Grant locked himself away in his laboratory and began to work on his new project. It was actually an old project given new inspiration, a project that he'd begun on Earth but had never had the time to finish. Fortunately the Stargate Command staffers who had packed up his belongings included any and everything of possible usefulness.
Rodney felt a bit better next day, which was good, but also bad, as it gave Grant less time than he would have liked to complete his project. He was relieved when Rodney finally decided to take a nap. Using the same radio setup from the previous day, Grant hurried to his laboratory.
Rodney slept until dinnertime, which gave Grant all the time he needed. He took one of the boxes he'd saved after his computer had been set up, and carefully placed his completed project within the box. He returned to his sleeping cousin, being careful not to wake him as he quietly took a seat at the side of the bed. The box was balanced carefully upon his lap, as he sat and watched Rodney sleep.
Rodney woke to the realization that he was not alone. He felt eyes staring at him, and was not surprised to find Grant seated at his bedside. He was surprised to see that Grant was holding a box as carefully as if it contained a ZedPM. Rodney stretched carefully, trying to work some of the stiffness out of injured muscles aching with inactivity. Rodney wiped a hand across his face to remove trace amounts of sleep grit and sweat, and pushed himself up to sit sideways on the bed.
Grant's smile was so enthusiastic that Rodney could not help but smile in return. He greeted his cousin: "Hey, Grant," and pointed an index finger at the new addition to his room. "What's in the box?"
Rodney didn't think it was possible, but Grant's smile grew even wider. "It's a present." He held out the box and added, "For you."
Rodney took the box carefully from his cousin and placed it next to him on the bed. He stated, "Thank you, but it's not even my birthday …" He forgot what he was going to say as he opened the flaps of the box and beheld its contents.
Grant's good hand nervously twisted and massaged his injured hand as he watched Rodney reverently remove his present from the box. Rodney's eyes widened in disbelief, his voice a combination of awe and elation as he whispered, "Oh. My. God!"
Rodney was holding a foot-high metallic object that looked like a nubby salt shaker with a stick for a nose. He held it at arms-length as he twisted and turned the object to admire and observe Grant's handiwork from every possible angle.
His pain and injuries forgotten, Rodney exclaimed, "This is exquisite! Dr. Who is one of the few recorded television programs that we brought along when we first came to Atlantis, so I've seen the episodes so many times that I have all of the dialogue memorized, and I know for a fact that this is an exact replica of a Dalek. Where did you get this?"
Grant looked away, suddenly feeling embarrassed and humbled. He knew that the replica was not exact; for one thing, it was considerably smaller than it should have been. Grant confessed, "I made it, but I would have made it life-sized if I had more time and materials."
Rodney placed a gentle hand on Grant's shoulder. Grant looked up into an expression of love and approval. Rodney declared, "It's perfect just the way it is."
Grant could see that Rodney spoke the exact truth. He relaxed, and pointed toward the box. "There's a controller."
Rodney reached for the box and removed something that bore more than a passing resemblance to a game control box. He set the Dalek on the floor and began to manipulate the buttons and levers. The Dalek rolled forward, backward, and spun around as it repeated in a robotic voice, "Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!"
Between smiles and laughs, Rodney declared, "This is the best present *ever*!"
Grant had thought that it would be; hoped that it would be; but he was beyond relieved at Rodney's joyful acceptance. He would make a hundred Daleks if it meant that he would see the current expression on Rodney's face make a return appearance. For now, he said the only words he could think of: "Thank you."
If you'd like to see a rather strange Dalek with an equally odd Hewlett, go here:
Title: The Hunting of the Snark
Part 1 of 2
Author: Beth Green
Author's Notes: This started out as a ficlet response to Tipper's poem challenge. My muses had other ideas. The hundreds of words became thousands. About the only thing remaining from Lewis Carroll's poem is the title. Thanks to Sarah for her quick response to my request for a beta. All remaining mistakes belong to me.
After a series of stressful, hazard-ridden missions, Sheppard's team was extremely grateful for the peaceful surroundings of PX6-486. The settlement referred to by the locals as Tovaria was an eclectic mix of the simple and the complex. Most of the residents made their living off of the land. Their wants and needs were simple. Their homes were made of rough-hewn logs, and each dwelling had a small plot of land set aside for the purpose of farming to provide for the basic needs of those who lived within the home. Their knowledge of agriculture was such that they could have farmed on a much larger, planet-wide basis had they chosen to do so. What made them interesting and trade-worthy was the fact that they chose to supplement their rather primitive existence with various hi-tech devices salvaged from abandoned vessels.
"It's like some Bizarro World version of a used car lot!" Rodney's exclamation was a combination of scorn and a grudging respect.
The skeletal remains of hundreds of transportation conveyances were scattered at seemingly random sites upon the planet. The Tovarians' historians stated that their ancestors had gated to the planet generations ago. Their records indicated that the wreckage had been present when their forebears had first arrived.
The leader of the Tovarians, Minister Kelene, was a woman whose baggy clothing and close-cropped hair led Sheppard to initially believe that she was in fact a 'he.' Trade relations got off to a rough start when the Minister took offense at John's misuse of the pronoun 'he' in reference to herself. Fortunately, Teyla was able to smooth things over. Minister Kelene was further appeased when Sheppard shared the fact that the leader of his people was a woman. The final act of forgiveness was granted when Ronon spoke with the woman in such a friendly tone of voice that she actually began to flirt with the Satedan. Amazingly, Ronon flirted back.
When John had a moment to speak privately with Ronon, he commented, "I appreciate you taking one for the team like that." When Ronon responded with a blank look and a shrug, Sheppard clarified, "You know, being all nice and flattering to the Minister and everything."
Ronon returned John's comment with a look straight out of the Rodney McKay school of human relations, the sideways head toss and eye roll that said without words, 'Boy, are you stupid!' Rather than denigrate John for complimenting what was in fact a personal preference, Ronon simply replied, "I like her."
John had been about to complain that Ronon had obviously been spending too much time with McKay, but Ronon's admission surprised Sheppard to the point that he momentarily found himself at a loss for words.
He finally replied, "Well, okay, that's. . ." His next words could have used a bit more sincerity behind them, but John was at a loss in trying to figure out the attraction. "Great. I mean, really. . ."
He was saved from further embarrassment by McKay's interruption. "While you two have been busy occupying space, I've secured permission to explore some of the less decrepit wrecks on the prairie parkade."
John's spine straightened and his demeanor brightened not unlike a condemned man granted a sudden reprieve. "I'll go with you!"
Rodney's reply of, "That's not neces-" was cut off when John grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the town square. Rodney gave a half-wave over his shoulder and offered a friendly, "Bye!"
Ronon laughed and hollered at John's retreating back, "I'll check in with you in an hour."
Rodney offered no protest at John's actions. After all, the team leader was heading where the scientist wanted to go. Rodney took advantage of the opportunity to tease his friend while they walked. "What a refreshing change of pace. Usually I'm the one who's forced to take the blame for an unfortunate word choice that happens to offend someone on the all-too-frequent occasions when I can't help but speak the truth. This time, it's the team's alleged liaison expert in matters pertaining to the opposite sex who managed to offend a woman with his verbal blunder."
John defended himself. "I never claimed to be an expert on women."
Rodney tossed his head to the side and rolled his eyes as he replied, "Maybe not so much by your words, but certainly by your actions."
John was tempted to inflict physical violence on Rodney like he'd wanted to with Ronon after the Satedan had mimicked that very familiar mannerism earlier in the day. However, even with the implied insult, John did not want to exercise his only other option: a trade of escort duty with Ronon in favor of more interaction with the Tovarians. He chose not to respond to Rodney's gibe.
Encouraged by John's silence, Rodney continued, "If you're not careful, Ronon will walk off with your harem."
John had noticed that the other Tovarian women he met all seemed to emulate Minister Kelene. He stated, "If you're referring to a harem made up of Tovarian women, Ronon can have 'em."
Rodney gave an exaggerated shudder. "I know what you mean. In my not so humble opinion, those were some of the most physically unattractive women. . ." Rather than complete the sentence, he stated, "They reminded me of the Russian women that I worked with back in Siberia. Not to say that Russian women are unattractive, it's just that I really wish that they would shave -" he paused for effect, then added, "Their mustaches."
John shook his head. "That might be true of the Russian women you've met, but I remember this Russian gymnast, Svetlana. . ."
Rodney interrupted John's reminiscence, "Well -" but his response was never uttered. Like a child distracted by a bright shiny object, Rodney abruptly shifted gears both mentally and physically and stepped off of the debris-scattered road that they had been traveling upon. "Ooh, look over there! Is that part of a shield generator?" He walked into a field of knee-high grass and headed toward the unidentifiable object.
John followed, wishing that the grass were a little shorter. He called out to Rodney. "Hey, McKay, slow down a minute."
Out of habit, Rodney responded to the commanding sound of Sheppard's voice. He stopped abruptly. "What? Why?"
John waved a hand at the surrounding gold and green vegetation. "In case you haven't noticed, the weeds around here are a little tall."
Rodney circled a hand in the air, motioning for John to get to the point as he prompted, "And, so?"
"So, who knows what might be hiding in the weeds. Besides the hi-tech toys, there might be something low-tech like a tiger trap."
Rodney's eyes widened. His voice changed in pace and pitch, reflecting his increasing concern as he asked for clarification. "Tigers? Did someone say they had *tigers*?"
John shrugged and smiled. "Well, no."
Rodney turned to resume his trek.
John cautioned, "Which is not to say that they don't have something equally dangerous hiding in the grass." He added, "Maybe you should be looking out for something on a bit smaller scale, like snakes."
Rodney took a quick step back to where he'd previously been standing. "Snakes?" His eyes rolled right and left as he completed a survey of the immediate area. He detected nothing living crawling through the knee-high grass, and calmed himself. "Yes, well, I'm dressed properly for off-world exploration. My boots are high enough and tough enough to stop anything as small as a snake. My pants are tucked into my boots so that nothing can get under my clothing." Reassured, he continued, "Yes well, Sheppard, if you'd care to lead the way, I wouldn't object."
John countered Rodney's suggestion with one of his own. "I think we should just stick to the road. There's more than enough wreckage nearby that we don't have to run through the fields looking for more."
Rodney stabbed his index finger toward the road in an emphatic gesture. "Okay, fine. If you want to take the slothful road, and go and look over the easy pickings that the Tovarians have no doubt already scavenged for any possible useful items, please feel free. I'm going to do something productive, and head over there." Rodney turned and walked away from the road while John watched his retreating back.
The scientist did not manage to take more than a dozen steps before he abruptly fell flat on his face, uttering an inarticulate, "Umph!" John was surprised when Rodney did not immediately get up despite the fact that he was obviously trying to do so. Sheppard shifted to the balls of his feet, responding to the panicked words and actions as Rodney's struggles increased. "Ugh! Ah! Help!" John ran to assist his friend.
Ronon and Teyla were enjoying the Tovarian's hospitality when they realized that an hour had passed, and their teammates had failed to contact them. They exchanged concerned looks, and with a nod to Teyla, Ronon politely excused himself to perform what should have been a routine check in.
He keyed the mic on his radio. "Sheppard. McKay. Come in." He waited for a reply that did not occur as expected. His concern mounting, he repeated, "McKay. Sheppard. Come in."
He heard a click, as if someone had activated their mic. A faint hiss came through his earpiece, as if the mic were open but no one was talking. He asked, "McKay? Sheppard?"
He was about to repeat his inquiry when Sheppard's voice came over his headset. "He-e-y."
Ronon raised his eyebrows at the drawled, drawn-out reply. His voice questioning more than just the identity of the speaker, he asked, "Sheppard?"
John responded brightly, "Hey, Ronon!"
Ronon was by no means reassured by John's carefree tone of voice. He requested additional information. "You okay?" His worry increased when John repeated his previous comment.
"Hey, yourself. You want to tell me what's going on?"
"Wow. You gotta see this."
Ronon ground his teeth in frustration. "See what?"
"Wow. This is. . . Wow."
"You said that. Now, you wanna tell me where you are?"
John echoed, "What?"
Ronon walked toward Teyla, waving her to his side as he spoke into his mic. "Where are you?"
"I wanted to stay on the road, and Rodney wanted to stay off the road. So, we're off-roading."
Teyla keyed her radio so that she was listening in on the conversation.
Ronon decided to try a different question. "Is Dr. McKay there?"
There was a long pause before John answered, "Huh. I guess not."
While Ronon continued his frustrating conversation with John, Teyla went to inform the Tovarians that she and Ronon needed to seek out their absent team members.
Teyla asked the Minister, "Is there anything dangerous in the area that might have caused my friends to be delayed?"
Minister Kelene hastened to allay any concerns. "Please be assured. My people have traveled the road countless times. I know of nothing there that would cause any harm to befall your friends."
Teyla smiled to let the Minister know that she accepted her statement at face value. "I am sure that my friends have only been temporarily delayed. Nevertheless, Ronon and I would like to make certain that they are all right."
"Of course. Please let me know if you require our assistance."
"Thank you. We shall."
Teyla had been able to overhear Ronon's conversation. She knew that the Satedan had not been able to obtain any concrete information from Sheppard. Teyla nodded toward Ronon and gestured toward the door to illustrate her statement: "It is time to go."
Ronon was already on the move before Teyla finished speaking. She hurried her pace in order to catch up with the Satedan's longer strides.
They had been walking for perhaps fifteen minutes when Ronon's excellent peripheral vision enabled him to pick up on something that glittered in the sunlight of a field near the main road. He turned to the side of the road, and could see by the trampled grass that someone else had also been attracted by the shiny object. He informed Teyla, "They went this way."
She nodded. Instead of immediately heading into the field, she paused to search among the detritus on the road. A moment later she picked up a five foot length of metal tubing. She tapped it against the ground and declared, "This will make a good staff."
Ronon agreed. "Good idea." He reached for the object, but Teyla refused to give it up. Her chin raised in defiance as she turned down his unspoken offer to lead the way into the field. As much as Ronon wanted to take point, he did not intend to forcibly remove the makeshift staff from Teyla's hands. His frustration showing, he gestured for her to walk ahead of him. "You first." He took a moment to draw his weapon before he followed his teammate into the sea of vegetation.
Teyla carefully swept the staff through the grass ahead of her as they followed the obvious trail left by their friends. Teyla stopped when she came to an area where the grass had been flattened, as if someone had rolled upon it. She used her staff to poke at the vegetation.
Ronon crouched down to take a closer look at the area. He used the barrel of his weapon to lift up a long, trailing section of vine. "This has been cut. Recently." He added, "With a knife."
He frowned when he noticed that the plant had left a sticky residue on his gun. He wiped the weapon against the leg of his pants, and managed to remove most of the offending material.
John and Rodney were making no attempt to hide their trail. Although it was unnecessary, Teyla gestured toward a forested area off to their right. "They went this way." The trail was well marked, but there was nothing to indicate that any serious harm had befallen their missing teammates.
Teyla and Ronon had been walking in the forested area for not more than ten minutes before Teyla noticed something, or rather someone, leaning against a tree. She quickened her pace when she realized that she had found one of the missing men. She called out as she ran: "John!"
She reached John at the same time that Ronon did. They looked down at Sheppard, who seemed to be intact physically. He smiled up at them. "Hey! You came!"
Slightly out of breath, Teyla waved a hand over her shoulder, indicating events past. "When you could not answer Ronon's questions, you left us no choice."
John nodded, still smiling. "Well, alright then."
Ronon asked, "What happened? Where's McKay?"
Instead of answering, John used the tree at his back to support himself as he clumsily made his way to his feet. Ronon stuck out a hand in a silent offer of assistance, but John waved him off. "Hey, no. I don’t need your hand." John gave a childish giggle and flapped his own hands in Ronon's face as he stated, "I've already got two of my own."
Now standing instead of sitting, John slouched back against the sheltering tree. His voice sounding more like the familiar Colonel John Sheppard, he made a motion with his right hand to illustrate an order to both Ronon and Teyla. "Step aside." After they had repositioned themselves to John's satisfaction, the team leader declared, "That's better. You were blocking my view." John was no longer looking at his teammates, but at something off in the distance.
Ronon and Teyla turned to see what had drawn John's attention. They saw nothing more than the rotting stump of a long-dead tree. Concerned, they watched as John stared contentedly in the same direction.
Sheppard continued to stare. "Isn't that the coolest thing you've ever seen?"
Ronon pointed toward the tree stump. "You mean *that*?"
John nodded. "Well, yeah."
Teyla decided that a change of subject was in order. She stated, "We found some vines that had been cut. Did you do that?"
John returned her question with one of his own. "Do what?"
Teyla shook her head. "Never mind."
John began humming to himself, and resumed his blissful contemplation of the tree stump.
Ronon stated, "I'll go look for McKay. You get him," he hiked a thumb toward Sheppard while he continued speaking, "back to Atlantis."
Teyla interlinked her left arm with John's right, stating, "It's time to go."
John smiled and brightly replied, "Okey-dokey." He obediently began to follow where Teyla led. She reassured Ronon, "If you have not found Rodney by the time we get to the Stargate, I will have them send a search and rescue team."
After his encounter with Sheppard, Ronon was expecting to find an equally docile and confused McKay. Her shook his head as he followed the easily read signs of his teammates' passage through the forested area. "McKay, if you're trying to hide your trail, you're doing a pretty crappy job." That was the last thought that Ronon had for quite some time, as the sky proceeded to fall upon him and he crashed to the ground, unconscious before he landed.
Rodney had carefully hidden himself in a cave-like depression he'd discovered in a nearby rock formation. He cursed when he heard the evidence that the trap he'd set had been sprung. "Damn it! They've found me! Or, with any luck, there was only one of them, and he's discovered that I am fully capable of defending myself when the need arises." He squeezed his hand tightly around the gun in his right hand, comforted by the false sense of security offered by the weight and feel and knowledge of the deadliness of the weapon. Emboldened, he decided to inspect his trap.
He cautiously approached the area and found a somewhat familiar stranger lying face down upon on the ground. A large metallic object rested partially across the man's upper back. Rodney smiled, pleased at the evidence of his simple yet effective plan. The trap required someone to stupidly follow in his footsteps. Once the person stepped under a certain tree, their presence would set off a trigger that would cause the object to fall. This fellow had apparently made the fatal mistake of underestimating his opponent. Rodney's pleasure increased when he noticed the blood on the man's head, evidence that Rodney had precisely gauged the release mechanism so that it would stop a man in his tracks. Rodney jumped when he heard a pained breath issue from the man's throat.
"Damn! He's not dead!" Rodney debated whether or not he should put a bullet in the man's head to finish the job, but decided that, as the man was not currently a threat, it made more sense to conserve his ammunition. Besides, he'd already seen more than enough blood for one day.
Rodney hurried back into the rocks, knowing that their solid surface would make it difficult for anyone to pick up his trail. After a few minutes of making his way carefully through the rocky terrain, he heard a voice call over his radio. "Ronon. Ronon, Dr. McKay, please respond." Although he was well aware that the 'Dr. McKay' the voice referred to was he himself, Rodney had no idea who Ronon was, or the identity of the caller. He continued to listen as the voice repeatedly requested a response from Ronon or Dr. McKay. Rodney muttered to himself. "It's some kind of code, I know it is. I could figure it out if I could just *think*." He smacked a hand against his head, then frowned in pain. "Ow!"
He paused in his travels when the voice finally changed the message that it was sending. "If you can hear me, I have reached the gate. Help will soon be on the way."
Rodney ripped the radio from his head and crushed it into the rocks with the heel of his booted foot. He had finally figured out the meaning behind the coded message. "Shit! The radio! I should've known! They're using it to track me." He rubbed a hand along his forehead and tried to ease the ache that had been steadily building since he'd first been attacked by the vine-thing. "For all I know, they could've used something in the radio to damage my brain." He began to panic at the thought. "That would explain my headache! And why I can't remember anything! Oh, God, I've been brain damaged!"
Rodney did the only thing he could think to do: he ran. Overwhelmed with terror, he was unable to process anything other than the need to flee. Relying on his lower brain functions and fueled by adrenaline, he became a creature of pure instinct. He ran, heedless of the rocks that tripped him at every turn, at the numerous skin tears and bruises he collected with every fall. He continued to pick himself up and run on. He forced air into tortured lungs, his hand digging into his side where abused muscles ached in protest of his headlong flight. He might have continued on for miles, if he had not stumbled into a patch of dense vegetation. The vines did not deter him; they merely slowed his progress. He fought his way through the tangled vegetation that towered over his head and tried to keep him captive. The dark density of the vines began to decrease, and Rodney struggled to reach the promised daylight. It was the last thing he did.
His mouth formed an 'O' of surprise when he stepped through the vegetation and onto - nothing. He clutched at the vines behind him but they were unable to support his weight. The ground disappeared from beneath his feet. Stealth forgotten, he screamed as the vines were pulled from the earth, and he fell. The screaming stopped as abruptly as it began.
The forest grew quiet when the echo of the scream faded. Sound slowly returned as the local wildlife ventured out of dens and burrows now that the interlopers had been silenced. A whiskered nose sniffed curiously at a recumbent form, tongue licking out to taste, hoping to find something edible.
Hm, this seems as good a place as any to take a break. Ho, hum, nothing much going on, guess I'll toddle off for a wee nap.
(For the non-Canadians reading this, a parkade is the Canadian counterpart of the Americans' parking garage.)
Title: The Hunting of the Snark
Part 2 of 2
Author: Beth Green
Fortunately for Rodney, the creature that had been contemplating eating him for dinner tasted something that disagreed with its digestion. After a few tentative licks of the begrimed scientist, the animal wandered off, no longer able to walk in a straight line.
Dr. Beckett performed a rapid assessment of Sheppard after the confused man arrived through the gate. Although he was coated in several places with an unknown residue, his vital signs were stable, and he appeared to be in no immediate danger. Therefore, the doctor rearranged his priorities and decided to go off-world with Major Lorne and the search and rescue team.
Thanks to Teyla's assistance as a guide, the team quickly and easily reached the wooded area where Sheppard had been found. They proceeded to follow the same path taken earlier by Ronon. It did not take them long to locate Ronon's unconscious body.
Carson hurried to assist the downed man. A careful assessment allowed the doctor to offer a tentative diagnosis. "It looks like he's suffering from a head injury. I won't know how bad it is until I get him back to the infirmary. If you boys will just bring the stretcher over, we'll get him on his way."
Ronon groaned and flinched as they moved him onto the stretcher. The doctor was encouraged that his patient was showing signs of a return to consciousness. He leaned over the stretcher and tapped his right hand lightly against Ronon's face.
Ronon responded by snapping up a hand and wrapping his fingers around the doctor's neck, choking off the man's precious supply of air. The Satedan rapidly reoriented himself to his surroundings as he looked around in confusion. All the while the marines were trying to get him to release his grip. Once Ronon realized that he was squeezing the doctor's neck, he let his hand fall open.
Carson stepped away and curled in on himself while he took comfort in the fact that he could breathe again. He coughed and rubbed a hand against his sore neck muscles. Once he was able to speak, he straightened up and again approached his patient. His bedside manner was nonexistent in the aftermath of his near-asphyxiation. He scolded, "Are y' daft, man? There was no call t' be doin' that!"
Ronon offered an apology. "Sorry."
The doctor continued, "Do you know who I am?"
"Beckett." The Satedan continued to supply the appropriate one-word answers as Carson completed his assessment. The physician was reassured that his patient was oriented to time, person, and place.
After Carson completed his examination, Lorne took over the questioning. "What happened?"
Ronon's eyes narrowed, whether in pain or anger or a combination of both, no one could tell for certain. "I was following a trail. Something hit me."
Lorne had done a survey of the area while Carson had been tending to Ronon. He shared his findings. "Looks like you walked into a trap. Do you know who set it? Was it meant for you, or for someone else?"
Ronon began to remove himself from the stretcher, despite Carson's protests that he was not well enough to do so. He ignored the doctor and stood up while he answered Lorne's questions: "It was McKay, and he meant it for whoever walked under that tree."
Deciding that no further conversation was necessary, Ronon began scouting the area for signs of his missing teammate. Although he wouldn't confess his weakness to the doctor, his search was hampered by the fact that his vision kept blurring and doubling when he focused on anything for too long. He wanted to rub a hand against his aching head, but did not do so. He knew that it would be unwise to display even that small weakness in front of any members of the team.
As much as he wanted Ronon in the infirmary where he could undergo a complete brain scan, Carson bowed to exigent circumstances and allowed the stubborn man to join the search and rescue team.
For once, Ronon was more than happy to let someone else lead the way. If there were any more traps, he'd just as soon not be the one to find them.
This time, there was no obvious trail to follow. The marines did a spiral search of the area, widening the territory covered until one of them discovered McKay's crushed radio. From that point on, it was once again easy to follow Rodney's trail. Ronon was the first to notice the blood on the rocks. He announced his finding simply, although the word was heavy with meaning: "Blood."
Carson bent down in order to more closely inspect the reddish-brown stain. "Aye, and it hasn't been here very long." The doctor's concern grew with each new stain that they discovered. He couldn't help but say what they all knew: "We've got to find him, and soon."
When they reached the thicket of vegetation, Lorne began to cut his way through. Carson stopped him after the first slice caused the plant to ooze a viscous sap. "Stop! If that's the same sap that was on Colonel Sheppard's clothing, y' dinna want to do that."
Lorne frowned. "Why not?"
Carson stared at the Major's hands, then reached for his medical kit. He ran his scanner quickly over the soldier, then stated, "Son, you need to get that residue off your hands."
Lorne stared at his hands, suddenly confused. "Huh? What did you say?"
Carson repeated, "You need to wash your hands immediately!"
Lorne remained confused. "What? I'm sorry. Did you need something?"
Carson's, "Oh dear," summed up the situation succinctly. He snapped on a pair of latex gloves and began to clean off the Major's hands.
Lorne looked on in confusion. Instead of the expected anger, he simply kept asking, "What's going on?" as Carson patiently and repeatedly explained. "If what I suspect is true, your body is having some sort of reaction to that plant residue. I've not seen anything similar, except on Colonel Sheppard and his clothing not an hour ago."
With that comment, the doctor began to strip Lorne of his clothing. He spoke of returning to Atlantis for hazmat suits while he worked.
Ronon ignored the doctor and stepped into the thicket. One of the marines noticed, and asked, "Where are you going?"
Ronon called over his shoulder, "Gonna go get McKay." He ignored Beckett's cry of, "Wait!" as he pushed his way through the tangled vines. Unlike Rodney, Ronon was slow and patient. Not only did he not know what lay beyond the dense curtain of vines, but he had no desire to risk breaking one of the vines and getting any of that crap on himself. When he came to the end of the vine wall, he looked down and saw that McKay had managed to walk off of a cliff. The scientist had landed on a rocky outcropping about a dozen feet down the slope. However, it wouldn't take much to send him plummeting the remaining hundred or so feet down the incline. From his current vantage point, Ronon could not tell if McKay was alive or dead. Assuming that it was the former, he called out, "McKay! Don't move! I'll be back!"
He cautiously turned and retraced his steps. The men waiting had heard him shout.
Carson contacted him by radio and asked, "Have you found him? Is he all right?"
Ronon made a brief report. "Fell off a cliff. He's maybe twelve feet down. Between the rocks and the vines, quickest and safest way to get him outta there is by jumper. The thing is, he's on a ledge about six by six. If he moves, it just might be the last move he makes."
Ronon returned to the rescue party as his last words were spoken. He asked, "Anyone got a rope?" Fortunately, they had more than one. After a brief conference, it was decided that two of the marines would head back to the Stargate and arrange for a jumper. One of the other marines would accompany Ronon. The Satedan planned to join Rodney in order to assess his condition and keep him safe until help arrived.
Carson had protested the decision. "You've got a head injury! The last thing I'd be advising you to do would be to climb down a cliff!"
Ronon argued back. "I know exactly where he is, so I can get there the fastest. I'll have my radio with me, so I can direct the jumper to McKay's location. The longer we stand here arguing, the more likely it is that McKay's gonna fall the rest of the way down." With that parting comment, Ronon headed back into the thicket, the marine with the rope following closely behind.
Carson wished him "Good luck," while Lorne helplessly asked, "What's going on?"
It did not take long for Ronon and his marine escort to reach the place where Rodney had made his near-fatal misstep.
The marine was an experienced climber. Much to his disgust, he found that the rock was too brittle to hold an anchor. He cursed. "It's no good. The rock keeps giving way."
Ronon shrugged. "That's okay. Don't need a rope."
The marine ignored Ronon's declaration, and insisted on using his body as an anchor to support the rope tied to the Satedan while he climbed down to Rodney. Both men knew that if Ronon fell and the marine did not let go of the rope, the weight of Ronon's body would cause the marine to fall as well. Fortunately, Ronon made his way safely to Rodney's side.
Ronon was relieved to see that Rodney was still breathing. He reported over his radio: "He's alive." Ronon continued, "He's covered in that crap that Lorne got on his hands."
Carson cursed. "I should ha' thought a' that. If I had, you'd at least have a pair of gloves with you." He added, "It's best for all concerned if you don't touch him."
Rodney woke up to the sound of a voice rumbling in the distance. His mind registered nothing other than the fact that the voice belonged to one of the men who were trying to kill him. He couldn't let that happen. Rodney's next thought was that he hurt everywhere, but especially his left arm. It took him a minute to figure out that his arm was twisted awkwardly beneath his body. He pushed himself off of his side and onto his back, groaning with the effort.
Ronon moved closer when he saw Rodney begin to stir. He was not in time to prevent Rodney's abrupt change of position. However, he was able to push Rodney's leg back onto the ledge after the injured man's movement caused it to dangle freely in the open air. For one terrifying moment Ronon feared that Rodney's entire body would follow after.
Rodney showed no gratitude for Ronon's timely intervention. Instead, he increased his efforts to escape from the security of Ronon's grip, threatening to send them both plummeting over the edge.
Ronon had no choice. He used the weight of his entire body to keep Rodney from moving.
Rodney screamed when his attacker covered his body with his own. The action caused every injury Rodney had to announce itself by sending pain signals racing along his nerve endings. The injured man felt his consciousness blessedly fading with the awareness that his left arm was well and truly broken. He could feel the misplaced bones grating against each other. The pain was excruciating. He did not mind leaving it behind, any way that he could.
Ronon had been ignoring the frantic cries of, "What happened? What's going on?" coming over his radio while he struggled with McKay. Once Rodney passed out again, Ronon rested his aching head in his hands. It was then that he realized that Rodney was not the only one now covered in vine sap. Ronon had enough time to mutter, "Shit!" before he ceased to care about the little voice chirping in his ear. Tired of the noise, he replied, "Shut up!" and turned off the radio.
He frowned at the man sharing his perch. McKay was a smart guy. He should be able to figure out some way to get them off of this ledge. He poked his finger at his companion's nearest shoulder. "Hey, McKay!" poke, poke, "Wake up!"
Rodney groaned as Ronon continued to poke and prod. He reluctantly came to the realization that he would be allowed no peace in the presence of his tormentor, so forced his eyes open. They widened at the sight of the man looming over him.
Ronon smiled. There was nothing pleasant about the smile. That was fine, as Ronon was not feeling particularly sociable at the moment. "That's better."
Rodney disagreed. "There is nothing 'better' about this. In fact, I can't think of anything worse."
Ronon nodded sagely. "I can."
Rodney's paranoia was well in force as he responded, "Of course you can! You're trying to kill me."
Ronon snorted in derision. "If I was trying to kill you, you'd be dead."
The more Rodney observed his companion, the more he came to believe in the absolute certainty of his words. "Yes, well I'd appreciate it very much if you'd do something else, like go away."
"Can't do anything else."
"Oh, come on, how hard would it be for you to simply leave?"
Ronon decided it'd be easier to show Rodney than to tell him. He ignored the man's moans and the litany of painful sounds he made as his injured body was forced into a seated position. He twisted a hand securely into McKay's shirt, then forced the man's head to bend until he was looking over the edge of their small ledge.
Rodney chanted "No-no-no-no-no" as he got a good look at the very long way he would fall if the man beside him decided to force him off of their precarious perch.
Ronon was really getting tired of listening to Rodney's objections. He debated whether or not to simply shove Rodney off of the ledge. His hand loosened on McKay's shirt before he remembered: "Damn it, I'm supposed to be rescuing you!" He pulled Rodney back to a more secure spot on the ledge, and keyed on his radio. "That jumper better get here sooner rather than later, or we might not be here."
Ronon did not want to listen to the frantic replies that greeted his statement. He again turned off the radio.
Rodney continued to complain, declaring, "You tried to kill me!"
Knowing that it was the truth did not stop the words from bothering Ronon. He leaned toward McKay and yelled in his face, "Shut the fuck up!"
Rodney decided that his best course of action under the current circumstances was to do nothing to antagonize the crazy man. He shut up.
Fortunately for all concerned, less than fifteen minutes later the jumper arrived.
Rodney was too tired and in too much pain to fight with his rescuers, despite the fact that he was pretty sure they wanted to kill him.
Ronon decided that once Rodney was off the ledge, there was no reason not to stay and enjoy the peace and quiet. It took one man distracting him while another injected him with a quick-acting sedative to convince Ronon otherwise.
Rodney applauded the action when Ronon collapsed, then passed out when the man was hauled into the jumper beside him.
Sheppard woke up to the familiar sights and sounds of the infirmary.
Carson hurried over, exclaiming, "Ah, you're awake. Do you remember what happened?"
John's eyes wanted to close so that he could return to the rest his body was telling him that it desperately needed. However, he had the feeling that this was not the first time Carson had asked him the question. His thoughts were sluggish as he searched his memory for the required information. "We were in a field. Me and Rodney. He fell, and was having a little trouble getting up. I went over to help."
His thoughts a bit clearer, he remembered hurrying up to his teammate:"McKay!" He attempted to pull Rodney to his feet, but something green and rope-like appeared to be holding his friend down.
Rodney's struggles seemed to cause the odd-looking strands of a vine to wrap more tightly around his body. John put a hand on his friend's chest, trying to still the frantic movements. "Rodney! Rodney, hold still!"
Rodney panted, the grip of the vine impeding his efforts to draw a deep breath. He argued, "And let this thing squeeze me to death? I don't think so!"
John pulled out his knife with his free hand and held it out for McKay to see.
Rodney's eyes widened in understanding. "Oh, okay, yes yes yes, try to avoid stabbing me while you slice and dice the man-eating plant."
John cautioned, "I won't stab you if you can lie still for a minute." John grunted with the effort of cutting through the tough, sinewy vine. He paused repeatedly to wipe his knife against the material of his BDUs, as every cut caused the plant to ooze a sticky, odorous sap. Most of the sap ended up coating McKay, but John couldn't help but get a little on himself as well.
He concluded sharing his recalled memories with the doctor. "I really don't remember anything after that."
Carson nodded. "I'm not surprised. I am impressed that you remember as much as you do, as well as how you and Rodney came to be affected."
"I do? We became what?" John frowned at the headache that made itself known with his return to lucidity. He admitted, "I think I need you to explain it to me."
The doctor sighed. "Actually, I've told you already, and more than once. Maybe this time you'll be able to retain the information. When Teyla brought you back through the Stargate, you were covered in sap. My analysis showed that the substance contains a mind-altering chemical that acts on the synapses of the brain. I'm still trying, but I haven't been able to come up with an effective counteragent. Fortunately, your latest blood sample shows that your body seems to have purged itself of the chemical. I expect the fact that you had a bath and a change of clothing to limit your physical contact, plus the fact that you were given a significant amount of IV fluids to flush the chemicals out of your body, contributed to your recovery. I don't believe that there will be any lingering aftereffects."
After listening to the doctor's explanation, John wasn't surprised that he hadn't bothered to remember most of the medical details previously. Trying to absorb the information now resulted in an increase in his headache, so he stopped trying to figure out what had just been said in favor of finding out the answer to the question uppermost in his mind. "What happened to Rodney?"
"Well, I'm afraid his case is a bit more complex. In addition to his prolonged chemical exposure, he managed to fall down a cliff. Not only did he break his arm and a couple of ribs, but he sustained a concussion as well. I've no way t' tell if his odd behavior is from the head injury or from the hallucinogen. More than likely, it's a combination of the two."
Carson sighed. "I'm hoping when the effects wear off, he'll be back to his old self."
It was not until Ronon spoke up from the next bed that John realized that he and Rodney were not the only ones in the infirmary. "I dunno. I'm hoping he'll be a little nicer."
John turned and waved to his teammate. "Ronon. How'd you end up here?"
Ronon pointed toward the bed occupied by their unconscious teammate. "McKay." He seemed to think that no further explanation was required.
John leaned back into the comfort of his pillows. He decided that he wasn't up for further debriefing, and allowed his eyes to close as he drifted off to sleep.
Some time later, his rest was disturbed by the intrusion of a familiar voice.
"Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow! Injured man here! Whatever happened to comforting the sick?"
John opened his eyes and saw Carson leaning over Rodney. The doctor explained, "Rodney, it's not possible to perform a complete physical examination unless I actually touch you."
Rodney whined, "How about a little pain medication first?"
Carson continued his examination. "I've told you already, you've been clear off your head for better than twenty-four hours. I'll not risk giving you something that could cause your condition to deteriorate."
Rodney was not pacified. "I don't see how leaving someone to suffer in excruciating pain is in any way part of the Hippocratic Oath."
Carson stepped back, declaring, "I've found nothing to indicate any neurological damage. I just need to do a brain scan, and if you pass that test, I'll give you something stronger for pain."
Rodney's eyes widened at Carson's words. "Brain damage? You think that I might have brain damage?" He raised a hand tentatively and tapped two fingers against the the right side of his aching head. His memories were a mix of fact and fantasy, but somewhere within them he recalled a device that may have been a source of the neurological damage that Carson mentioned.
Rodney waited and suffered in silence until Carson performed the brain scan. The doctor reassured his patient, "I don't see anything out of the ordinary." Carson was concerned when Rodney remained atypically silent. He told Rodney, "I'll get you that pain medication now."
Rather than say what Carson expected, something along the lines of, 'It's about time,' Rodney turned to the doctor with an expression of gratitude. His gentle, "Thank you, Carson," concerned the doctor more than any scornful or mocking comment would have. He vowed to continue to closely monitor Rodney's neurological status, as he followed through on his promise to provide better pain relief.
Rodney's pain had begun to ease the moment that Carson reported the results of the brain scan. When Rodney was able to let go of the tension that had gripped him with the words 'brain damage', half of his pain disappeared. The pain medication allowed him to ignore the lingering ache in favor of sleep.
The next day Rodney and his teammates were discharged from the infirmary. None of them showed any lingering adverse physical effects from their inadvertent chemical exposure. Their emotional recovery was not as uncomplicated.
The first few times it happened, John shrugged it off as coincidence. Rodney or Ronon would be in a room, and the other would enter and quickly exit upon finding his teammate already present. It soon became apparent that Rodney and Ronon were actively avoiding each other. When John subsequently confronted each man separately, they both denied that any problem existed. John knew better. As team leader, he decided that he needed to do something about it.
John enlisted Teyla's help. While she kept Ronon occupied in the mess hall, John went to drag Rodney away from his latest lab experiment. "Hey, McKay, guess what?"
Rodney did not look away from his computer terminal. His typing was hampered by the fact that he had to do it one-handed. His broken left arm was casted and supported by a sling. "I'm a busy man. Take your guessing games elsewhere."
John chose not to obey the directive. He continued, "Today's special is meatloaf."
Rodney looked up, work abruptly forgotten in favor of his desire for food. John was cheered by his friend's look of enthusiasm. To push Rodney into taking action, John offered an additional tidbit of information. "I think I might've heard something about chocolate cake for dessert."
Rodney made quick work of shutting down his workstation. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt to take a well-deserved break."
John patted Rodney on the back as he hurried past, with a few encouraging words to speed him on his way. "That's the spirit!" John followed behind, assuring that McKay reached his destination.
Rodney arrived at the mess hall and headed for the self-serve cafeteria line. He immediately stopped when he saw Ronon and Teyla seated at a nearby table. He attempted to leave, but John was right behind him. He insisted, "McKay, you've got to eat."
Rodney argued, "No, no, there's something I forgot to do."
John ignored Rodney's protest and led him toward the table. "I'll even get your tray for you." He used his hands on Rodney's shoulders to emphasize his order: "Sit."
Rodney gave a sickly smile in Ronon's direction. "Hello."
Ronon grunted but did not bother to look up.
Teyla stood and stepped away from the table, stating, "I believe you two have something that you need to discuss."
Rodney replied, "I don't think so."
John confronted his friends with the evidence of his observations. "You two have been avoiding each other ever since you got out of the infirmary. It stops, now."
John walked away from the table, but remained standing close enough that he could prevent either man from leaving, if the need arose.
Ronon and Rodney sat, neither man saying a word.
Predictably, Rodney was the first to break the uncomfortable silence. "I'm sorry."
For the first time in days, Ronon looked up to stare at Rodney face-to-face. He asked, "For what?"
Rodney fumbled for words as he confessed, "Back on the planet, when I was . . . under the influence, so to speak, I . . . Well, I . . . for a brief moment, I actually thought that I might shoot you."
Ronon gave a huff of breath that might have been laughter, and replied, "Glad you didn't."
Rodney relaxed for the first time in days. "I'm glad I didn't, too."
Ronon decided to make his own confession. "McKay, just so there's no hard feelings, I thought about killing you, too."
Rodney's eyes widened in surprise. "You did?"
Ronon nodded. "Just for a minute, when we were both stuck on that cliff, and you wouldn't shut up."
Rodney snapped his fingers. "Yes, yes, yes! I thought it was just my drug-tainted memories, but I swear I remember dangling from the ledge after having been forced into that painful position by you!"
Ronon responded with less sincerity than Rodney may have wished. "Sorry about that."
Rodney repeated, "Sorry? You're sorry? I'd think you would be." He voice rose to an indignant squawk as he stated, "You tried to kill me!"
Ronon turned a hand palm upward and replied, "So? You tried to kill me."
"Well yes, but I didn't!"
"And I didn't kill you!"
John smiled as his teammates continued to bicker, happy that things were finally back to normal. His smile brightened as he recalled the appropriate military analogy: SNAFU. Situation Normal: All Fucked Up.