John tried hard not to cough again. That had moved beyond pain into the agony category.
There was a reason for it. One of the cracked ribs had separated, during the last little interview. It had moved.
And based on the way it felt when he breathed, John was pretty sure it had punctured a lung.
He couldn't really see. He kept blinking, but he couldn't focus. And it was hard to hold his head up. Sleep-deprived and dehydrated, he couldn't think straight enough to really evaluate his own physical condition any more.
But his guards? His attention on them felt laser-sharp.
They were distracted. Something was happening. He wasn't sure what.
"They said all troops in the bunker."
"We're not bloody troops right now, are we? We're guards. We've got an assignment."
"We're guarding a piece of meat. We could lock this guy in and go join the fight. He's not going anywhere."
"Look, you want to buy yourself a demotion, you go right ahead. I'm staying here."
They swapped some more grousing, then the eager guy left.
The conservative guy came and looked at John. "There goes that guy's promotion." He took a closer look at John, saw how his eyes weren't tracking. "Not that you'd notice."
"Thirsty," John rasped out with his dry throat.
"I bet," the guard chuckled.
John's brain felt like it was thumping along in disconnected parts that were nonetheless all moving in the same direction. Pieces of thought wandered through, presented themselves, then wandered out.
He was a pilot.
He should try to take control of this situation if at all possible.
This might be his best chance.
Rodney was waiting for him. He was sure of it.
They said no one was coming for him.
He couldn't believe them, but no one had come.
They never left anyone behind... except when they did.
He wanted to take Rodney flying.
He was dying. Soon, he would be dead.
There were still a lot of things he'd hoped to do before he died.
And Colonel O'Neill would not sit here and wait to be rescued.
"Thirs..." he said, trailing off. He pushed himself to his feet.
"What the... Sit back down."
Swaying on his feet, hands locked in cuffs behind him, John couldn't quite see the guard. But he knew exactly where he was.
So John stood, swaying.
And when the guard got close enough to put out a hand to push John back down in the chair, John kicked up, with one knee, just as hard as he could, harder than he ever could have if he didn't know he was dying and he was a pilot and Rodney was waiting for him and they never left people behind except sometimes they did.
He felt the guard's testicles crush.
The guard dropped, almost without a sound.
And John stomped on his throat.
As the guard's body flailed into John's legs, John fell over too.
And screamed, as the rib worked its way farther into his lung.
The paralyzing pain locked him down for a moment, and when he coughed again there was blood that wasn't from the cuts in his mouth or the lost tooth.
But he rolled over, and struggled first up onto his knees, then one foot, then both.
He staggered, on his own feet, out the door.
Turbulence part 5. 4:10 a.m.
The two airmen were arguing, under their breaths, as Jones approached.
"And I'm telling you, there's no way we would be out here if the Colonel wasn't doing Sheppard too. A straight guy goes gay, and all bets are off. Monogamy isn't really their thing."
"You're nuts. You've seen the way he looks at Jackson. I'm telling YOU we're out here because Jackson sent us out here. It's Jackson wants Sheppard back. O'Neill would let him rot."
"Or," Jones said, making them both jump, "we could be out here for military reasons. In which case," she added, cocking her fingers at them like a gun, "bang, bang, you're both dead. As lookouts, you'd suck. Get in position. It's almost time."
They scampered, and Jones scowled, watching them go. Morons.
She shivered a little. It was chilly in the pre-dawn dark, but there was no way any chill could get through the Kevlar and the BDUs. No, the shiver wasn't from the outside.
She'd seen combat. On an aircraft carrier. And she'd commanded. For a parade review.
This was going to be a lot more personal.
She peered to where the airmen were supposed to be taking their positions. Morons.
She had Claymores wired left, right, and sideways. Grenades and launchers. Even a couple of small cannon. She was going to make this place go boom.
Couldn't those idiots see what was right in front of them? If the strike team failed entirely, didn't rescue Sheppard, didn't blow up the Genii armory, but this force managed to convince the Genii that Atlantis was larger, better armed, and more ruthless than they'd thought, the mission wouldn't be a total loss. It would have at least achieved one of their objectives. Maybe the most important one.
She couldn't believe they'd actually met Colonel O'Neill and couldn't see the man's burning determination not to leave anyone behind.
But she hadn't realized how blind they could be to all the side implications.
And suddenly, she realized. That was why the Colonel had put her in command. Not because of rank. But because he could tell she got it. He didn't have to explain.
He thought she was on his wavelength.
And he was right.
She grinned into the dark. "Thanks, Colonel," she said under her breath.
Her chill was gone. She felt solid as a rock now. She checked her watch. 4:10 a.m.
She wouldn't let him down.
Markham checked his watch for the fiftieth time. He had no copilot and they were supposed to be maintaining radio silence. The past couple of hours had been the longest of his life.
He wasn't a combat pilot. Back home, he flew transport helicopters. He had joined the Air Force because they gave him a job, a good job. He had no desire to kill anyone.
But then the Atlantis mission had come along, and Markham had some residual trace of the Ancient gene that let him work their equipment. And the Atlantis mission had requested his reassignment. And he'd been reassigned.
Dr. Weir had talked to him when he came on board. Let him know it wasn't a mission for people who didn't want to go.
He'd thought, hey, this was his chance at adventure. Not shooting Iraqi pilots out of the sky, but going to another galaxy. No matter what his buddies in the Air Force thought, that was a hell of a bigger buzz.
And now here he was. Flying an alien craft that was never intended to be a warship, as a warship. Doing exactly what he'd never been interested in doing.
But Colonel O'Neill had explained it to him, in that way he had. Explained about the three little words that had made generals come in their pants ever since World War I.
Total. Air. Superiority.
One thing the Genii did not have, was aircraft like this. Even if they did have aircraft - and intelligence indicated they might - they would not be so maneuverable and so well-armed. They couldn't even engage these craft. Markham would not be fighting aircraft to aircraft.
He would be annihilating whatever was on the ground.
And if there was a chance that they would come through this without casualties, it was in his hands. He had to keep the Genii so pinned down that they didn't have a prayer of landing a blow on the ground troops.
He could do this. He would do this.
He looked out. Visually confirmed the location of his wing pilots. They were on the same timetable. Everyone was on the same timetable.
He looked at his watch. 4:10.
Markham began his dive.
Elizabeth had been sitting alone in the briefing room. Just for a few minutes. She wanted the time to gather herself.
Her hands were flat on the table as Daniel entered.
"Hi," he said. "Sorry to bother you, but..."
"No problem," she smiled. "I was just about to go to control. Aren't you supposed to be with the guard?"
He patted the handgun strapped to his side. "Oh, I wasn't, wasn't reminding you of the time or anything. I just wanted to see if there was anything you needed. Anything I could do. Before I went down."
None of the military people had come in to bother her.
But Daniel wasn't military.
She looked at the way his lips were folded together, the clenching and unclenching of his hands.
It was good to think about something other than what was in her own head for a moment.
"I can't imagine what you're going through," she said.
And she couldn't. War brides she was familiar with. She'd met dozens of them, in dozens of countries. There was a sameness to the resigned tension with which a person waited at home while their reason for being went out to fight. It wasn't girly of Daniel. It was human.
But he had not one, but three lovers in the line of fire today. And she really couldn't imagine the pressure.
"How are you holding up?" she asked him.
"It's fucking killing me," he replied.
But he skied right past it. "Look, are you hungry at all? Thirsty?"
"I'm fine, Doctor. Thank you." She smiled again. It was automatic, but she meant it. Feeling bad for Daniel was actually a relief. She stood. "Shall we head on out?" she asked him, pleased that she sounded like her usual self.
Bates had his little mix of armed scientists and actual Marines stationed well back from the gate. If the Genii came through they'd have enough warning to muster.
No one would blame Sheppard if he'd given up the gate address, or even his IDC. Even Bates wouldn't blame him. People who thought that there was no way to break a determined man just didn't know much about torture. Bates knew that it might not be easy, but it could be done.
No security was perfect. His job wasn't to make it perfect. His job was to asymptotically approach perfect, though.
So you planned for the possibility that your defenses could be breached.
That was what he did.
He wouldn't blame Sheppard either. He might curse him, if possible with his last dying breath. But he wouldn't blame him.
He'd asked Dr. Weir not to come down to control. She shouldn't be in the line of fire. She should be with the civilians.
She'd smiled and asked him, what civilians?
Bates had tried to explain that if the base was lost, she should take Carson with her and get to the jumper bay. If she could reach the Athosians on the mainland, she'd at least have a chance to survive until she found some way to get a message through to Earth. Or until Earth reached the Pegasus galaxy. Someone had to brief them.
In fact, he'd recommended that she evacuate now.
"I'm sure you're right, Sergeant," she'd said. "Let's send the Athosians a message. They can be our message in a bottle."
But she didn't get his point.
If Sheppard had given up the codes, Bates wouldn't blame him. If Atlantis fell, Bates would blame himself.
But if Dr. Weir died, Bates would blame God.
She appeared at the command console, cool, straight as a blade of grass. Unarmed. Jackson was with her. Armed, fortunately.
He checked his watch. It was 4:10 a.m.
If God knew what was good for him he would straighten up and fly right today.
"All we have to do is get to the rendezvous point," Ford whispered.
"Should we not try to assist the Colonel and Dr. McKay?" Teyla whispered back.
"Unh uh." Ford's shake of the head was emphatic. "The way people get hurt is if they're not where they're supposed to be, when they're supposed to be. The Colonel doesn't need to trip over us on his way to do whatever the hell. He needs to know we're following orders."
"But if they encounter unanticipated resistance --"
"The Colonel will resist them right back. Seriously. You gotta stick with me, don't separate from me, not for a second, no matter what happens."
Teyla's eyes narrowed, but in the dark he couldn't see them. "You do not have to protect me, Lieutenant."
Ford sighed his irritation. Yes, I do, dammit, thought Ford. You ARE a civilian. I don't care how badass you are with stickfighting.
He hadn't wanted to have a civilian on his hands inside an enemy base. But Teyla was good company. And good at stripping wires. And very quiet at sneaking.
But she didn't follow orders. And that was just a disaster waiting to happen.
Her hand came out of the dark and settled on his arm, and it was the first time he realized how very, very small it was.
"Do not worry, Lieutenant," she whispered in the dark. "I will not leave you behind."
The only glow in the tiny crawlspace came from the dial of his watch. It read 4:10.
"McKay. You ready? It's four ten."
"Oh thank god."
In the distance, both O'Neill and McKay heard a deep, rumbling explosion. They felt it, through the floor they were sitting on. Vibrations traveling underground.
"Good morning, campers," O'Neill said under his breath.
Turbulence part 6
The next row of claymores went off perfectly, and Jones felt the explosion hotwired to her hand. It lit up the night sky, and it lit up the space behind her eyes just the same way. She'd been waiting for it so long, the release of tension was so perfect, it was very like an orgasm.
She suddenly realized why so many babies were born in wartime.
The radio in her head was crackling. Too many voices. No more radio silence.
"Everyone shut up!" she shouted into the microphone. "Has the enemy advanced?"
"That's a negative," one voice said. "Affirmative," said another. "I got a big squad coming up."
"Where?" asked Jones.
"Four o'clock, four o'clock."
"Markham? Now would be a good time."
"I'm here! I can't see anything!"
"Apparently someone down here can. I'm gonna blow the --"
But she was interrupted. By a rocking explosion.
"What the FUCK?" she screamed out loud. The two airmen nearest her held hands up, indicated they had no clue. "Markham! Do we have troops behind us?"
"Negative, negative," said another voice. Another one of the pilots. She couldn't remember his name. Something Swedish, it was escaping her. "No enemy troops, no enemy weapons."
"Well then, what the FUCK?" she shouted again, this time into the mic.
No one answered her.
"Stackhouse. Klein. Peel off and check it out. ASAP. I'm gonna blow the left line of claymores."
"Negative, negative. Advance on the right."
Shit. She'd forgot. Four o'clock. "Thanks," she said, and squeezed the trigger.
There was an extremely satisfying, extremely large explosion in front of her and to her right.
And there was another explosion, a much smaller explosion, behind her.
"Okay, seriously. What the hell? I need info NOW!"
"Enemy has cannon. 500 meters ahead. Twelve o'clock, twelve o'clock. Two and ten also, two and ten. Cannon emplacements. I see two, three, four -- four placements. Not sure how many weapons in each." It was the Swedish pilot. Ringholm. That was his name.
"Well, blow them up, would you?" Jones said as reasonably as she could while she ran toward the left flank.
They'd had time to bring out cannon. That was what the Colonel had been worried about. They needed the time to do the booby-trapping and there had been no way of keeping the Genii from seeing them come through the gate.
But the Genii shouldn't have been so accurate about their location.
Jesus, they were straight fucking ahead.
But if they were landing shots behind, that meant they either thought the force was bigger than it was, or farther back. Maybe they'd been surprised before they could confirm target location. They hadn't got the range.
"Right flank, left flank, peel back, repeat, peel back. Clear an aisle. Clear an aisle. Let them come through." They were going to walk their shots forward till they got the range. At least, that's what Jones would do.
And unfortunately, they might be just as smart as she was.
"Open the channel, Peter."
Cowen sounded enraged. "You have troops outside our home!"
"You don't say."
"How dare you attack us?"
"How dare you attack US?" Elizabeth took a deep breath. "I am contacting you to tell you that if the Genii offer their complete and unconditional surrender right now, the attack will stop. If you return Major Sheppard *right now*, our troops will withdraw. This is the only offer to break off hostilities that you will receive. Do you understand me?"
"Unacceptable. Insane. If anything, you've demonstrated that Atlantis canNOT be trusted. We were right not to trust you from the start."
"Don't try to lecture me about insane. This was your last chance. End transmission."
Grodin stabbed at the button, stared over his shoulder at Elizabeth.
But she wasn't looking at him.
She was glowering at the gate.
"What the HELL?"
Rodney had never heard O'Neill sound surprised. He didn't like it now.
"Where the hell IS he?"
There was a dead body in the room, and a chair. "He was here?"
"Yes he was here." O'Neill waved at the floor. It was wet in spots. The liquid was red. "Why isn't he here now?"
"They moved him?"
"And left a dead guard?"
Jack checked his watch. His goatfuck alarm was going off wildly. This was about to turn into the biggest fucking mess. "Get the tooth," he said absently.
"You gonna say 'What?' to everything I say? Stay alert, McKay. We've got problems. Pick up that tooth. Carson can probably set it back in." He pointed with his toe, then spun around, taking in the room.
Rodney hadn't even seen the little sliver of bone-white on the floor. He bent down and picked it up, tucked in into his breast pocket without changing expression.
"All right. Help me. Somehow Sheppard gets up out of here --" Jack waved at the bloodstained floor "--and leaves under his own power. Where does he go? Where?"
"I-I-I don't know, I suppose he would... Well, he might..."
"You and he have been here before." Jack spun around again, hoping he'd see a closet, a hatch, somewhere John could be hiding and not wandering around the base Jack was about to blow up. "Were there aircraft he could be heading for? Weapons?"
"I don't KNOW! I don't know what he's thinking about! If he's trying to get himself out, he'd just head for the door, wouldn't he?" Rodney's eyes were wide. They hadn't passed him in the hall. "Oh god. He's dead, isn't he?"
Right. Jack knew he was right. "Hopefully, not yet." He could be working his way toward an exit. If he were trying to get himself out.
And if John was trying to bring the Genii down with him, he'd be headed for the armory.
Which was currently wired to blow sky-high. In thirty-eight minutes.
Markham finally realized that he couldn't aim for the enemy placements; he couldn't see them. He had to track back from the trajectories of projectiles that he COULD see, the orange rocket-trails of shells that led straight back to where the cannon were placed.
So simple. Why hadn't it occurred to him before?
One. Two. Three. He couldn't see any bodies from up here. Could only see the explosions when he hit, could see no more orange rocket-trails launched.
He could see why fighter pilots talked so casually about casualties.
"Ringholm, did you say there was a fourth one?" Markham asked, just as he felt his little craft buck, spin to the left.
Something had hit him.
Kasyanov screamed in out of nowhere, took out the fourth cannon perfectly. Russian pilots. Always clean. Always late.
The jumper bucked, shivered as if the air was made out of rocks.
Was this puppy going down?
"Ringholm. Kasyanov. Cover the ground troops. I'm hit."
Markham turned his attention to the alien craft controls exclusively. What happened outside could no longer be his problem.
They were almost to the surface when they hit the first patrol.
"Dammit!" shouted Ford as he emptied a clip into them.
They dropped like stones but now there were others, people running, footsteps of boots, barking orders, and they knew they were there, were coming after them.
He dropped back while Teyla covered him, spraying them with bullets.
Not such a big force as he'd feared. Four, maybe five guys. But armed. Between him and the exit.
"Fall back!" shouted Ford, and Teyla went out and around him while he covered her, just as if they'd done it a million times. She was good at this.
They couldn't do this forever.
Behind him Ford spotted an open door. From what he recalled of the drawing Teyla had made, it looked like it was in the right direction. Not for the rendezvous exit, but for the main exit.
And any exit was going to be better than no exit. In about thirty minutes.
"That head out?" he shouted to Teyla, jerking his head back toward the door.
"I do not know!" she shouted back, helplessly furious at her lack of knowledge.
He pointed her to it, followed her there, covering both of them as they went.
He knew the second he stepped through that it was a mistake.
It was a room, not a hallway. And it only had one door.
"GodDAMNit," shouted Ford, head whipping around three hundred sixty degrees, hoping something would materialize. Nope, a room. Big heavy Genii tables, pipes, and nothing else.
From the corner of his eye he saw something small travel through the door after them.
He threw Teyla under one of the tables, dove after her as the grenade went off.
"Can't we radio in for a report?" asked Daniel.
She whirled. She'd forgotten he was there.
"No, Doctor, I'm sorry," she told him. "We're going to dial their gate again, in..." she looked at her watch. "... twelve minutes. But we can't dial except at the prearranged times. We don't want to prevent our teams from dialing out if they have to."
His voice was calm, normal, just like hers.
His right hand was locked around his weapon.
He loosened his grip when he noticed her looking.
They both heard the fingers crack.
"Kasyanov, we are sitting pretty, repeat, sitting pretty. Does that translate to a Russian?"
The sky was starting to lighten, a thin, thin streak of lighter dark blue against the horizon. Teresa checked her watch. Four thirty eight.
"It does when it comes from a tall beautiful blond," Kasyanov said, and she could hear him chuckle into his mic. Well. She was sure battlefield flirting wasn't appropriate.
The cannon had stopped firing. The Genii had apparently fallen back. Which was fine with her.
Run, you bastards, run, she chanted to herself as she ran along the left flank.
She tapped each airman in turn as she passed. Got their attention. Made sure they moved. She could see, now, why people locked in battle failed to move, failed to fall back or attack on command. It was gripping, riveting, you couldn't tear your attention away for a second or they might come through.
"Kasyanov, you form up on the right flank, 400 meters. Ringholm, left flank. You get me?"
What she meant was, pick up. If the Genii were overhearing her, she didn't want them to know that. But in twenty-two minutes, they were out of here. In twenty-two minutes, that base was going to blow as high as Colonel O'Neill's strike team could get it to blow. She bet that was high.
She pulled a switch out of her pocket, squeezed it closed. Just for fun.
The setup she'd rigged was on the far right flank, designed to give the enemy the impression that they had an even wider line, that was closing in.
She deserved an awfully big box of chocolate.
When the shell hit behind her, she never heard the blast. The shockwave picked her up, all six feet of blond beautiful airman, and carried her through the air. Flying after all.
Turbulence part 7
"It's four forty." Elizabeth squeezed Peter's arm again.
Grodin felt shellshocked. The tension spread throughout Atlantis like fog, like smoke. No one could breathe, no one could leave, and no one knew what was happening out there.
It was the worst day of his life. And that was scaring him.
And then Dr. Weir just upped and touched his arm, like she often did, and he was supposed to dial the gate just like normal? How was THAT going to happen?
But he was. Dialing the gate. Just like normal.
"This is Dr. Elizabeth Weir of Atlantis," she said, her voice always so clear, carrying like music, giving away nothing, and yet personal and honest too. He didn't know how she did that.
Cowen was on the other end. "We would like to discuss the terms for a cease fire," he said brusquely.
She just bet he did.
"Too late. I'm calling to warn you. You have nineteen minutes to evacuate your underground base."
"Are you serious?"
And the musical lilt in her tone disappeared as she said, "Completely."
There was shuffling, words, barked orders on the other end. "You're bluffing."
"You're wrong. It's a courtesy, Cowen. I don't want any unnecessary deaths on my conscience. Unlike you, we believe in the value of all human lives."
"You can't... You... What have you done?" He sounded terrified. And she knew it wasn't because he couldn't get out. He could. "When the Wraith come, we will have nothing left with which to defend ourselves. How could you?"
"How could I? How could *I*?" For the first time Elizabeth let her anger show. "You *abducted* one of my officers while he was engaged in a peaceful mission not on your world. You have given me no assurances that he is still alive and you have attempted to ransom him for all the resources *we* have to protect ourselves. You started a fight between us that didn't have to be. You *don't get* to act surprised if we fight back!"
Her fists landed on the console and she spit her fury at the microphone. "You forced me to choose between your people and mine. One of us was going to be helpless when the Wraith come to feed. One of us was still going to be able to fight. Guess what? I choose us over you.
Now warn your people to get out of that base. You have seventeen minutes. And if you'll take my advice you'll hurry, and not stop to waste any more time trying to KILL ANY OF MY PEOPLE!"
She shoved back. "Cut it, Peter," she snapped.
That bastard. She would never forgive him. Never.
And she sighed.
"Any other messages come through while the gate was open?"
"Yes ma'am." Next to Grodin the other communications specialist, a young black woman, raised her head. "Preliminary reports from Kasyanov and Ringholm indicate that they've picked up their assigned troops and will rendezvous at the staging area as planned."
"Good. Nothing from the strike team?"
"What about Markham?"
"He didn't check in, ma'am, and did not respond to the hail I had time to send."
It was better news than she might have expected.
She wanted to throw up.
"Sergeant Bates, looks like it's your lucky day," she called down to him.
He hurried up the stairs. "Ma'am. Recommend we remove Colonel O'Neill's IDC code from the database."
"What the hell for?" Elizabeth was genuinely astonished.
"He has not been located or secured. We must assume his code has been compromised at this point."
Open-mouthed, Elizabeth stared at him. Looked down the steps to the gateroom floor.
Daniel was standing there, arms crossed over his chest. Looking at her.
"Fine," she said, talking to Bates but watching Daniel. She saw when Daniel winced and looked away. She looked back at Bates. "Don't accept Major Sheppard's IDC or the IDCs of any of the strike team, if they originate from the Genii homeworld, without voice confirmation." They weren't supposed to gate directly to Atlantis anyway. They were supposed to go through the staging area, to maintain security.
"Ma'am, I --"
"That's as far as I'm willing to go, Sergeant. I'm still expecting to hear from the strike team."
She could tell by Bates' face that he wasn't.
The Genii soldiers approached. The Atlantis soldier lay unmoving, half his back protected from the blast by the heavy table, the other half raw and burned.
"Weren't there two?" one of them said as he and a buddy approached. Behind him the other three examined the room.
If he had been there, Colonel O'Neill could have warned them that it was always worth it to put a few extra bullets into a body you assumed was dead. They apparently didn't know that.
When the small hand with the P90 emerged from underneath the singed motionless body, they barely had time to register surprise.
The bullets swept across the room devastatingly fast. They jerked and fell before they had time to aim their own weapons.
Crawling out from under Lieutenant Ford's body Teyla surveyed them coolly. She didn't need Colonel O'Neill's advice. She knew from hunting. And didn't mind wasting the bullets.
"At close range accuracy is really not necessary," she said to herself as she regarded the P90 in her hands.
"Lieutenant. Can you walk."
Ford groaned. "No."
"Don't be ridiculous. Get up."
She put down her arm and braced herself to help him.
"It is four forty three, Lieutenant," she said.
"Okay. We can't go any farther in that direction. This hallway has to be it." Jack had retraced their steps, desperately aware that time was ticking and that all they had done for the last twenty-two minutes was look for John Sheppard.
"That way goes to the surface. This way goes to the armory. I think." Jack winced as he surveyed the hallway. Never again. Not without better intel. Or a better hostage. John was proving startlingly hard to rescue.
"I'll check this way, you go that way. DO NOT turn off this hallway. If we get separated, we'll lose time we don't have."
Rodney didn't argue.
"Markham? You there?"
Goatfuck, goatfuck, goatfuck.
"Jones? What's up?"
"This is Stackhouse, sir. The ground troops are on their way to the rendezvous point."
There was a pause. Then, "You'll see her at the rendezvous, Colonel."
Damn it. DAMN it.
Jack fought the tightening sensation in his chest. He knew what that meant. He'd see her. But she wouldn't see him.
Why didn't the guy answer?
"Ford? Where are you?"
"Right here, Colonel," said Teyla. At his elbow.
She had Ford leaning over her. He looked grey where he didn't look burnt. But he was walking and his eyes were open.
"We are not moving very quickly," said Teyla.
The Colonel let his radio click off. "What happened?"
She shrugged. "Genii."
"Take this hallway up as fast as you can. Move. Don't stop."
She did not wait. She and Ford moved.
Son of a BITCH.
His radio crackled. "Colonel!"
It was McKay's voice. Distinctive.
Spinning around, he grabbed Ford's other arm, and made them run.
Rodney had gone much more slowly along the corridor. There must be something. Something to indicate where John had gone.
Why hadn't John left them a trail or something?
He had a feeling this was right. John would head toward the surface. John had a reason to live. He wouldn't purposefully go and leave Rodney.
So why wasn't he in this corridor?
His brain wanted to spin in eighty different directions but Rodney insisted that it focus.
All that blood. He thought back to the room where they were supposed to have found John. Why couldn't that have worked? Why couldn't they have rescued John while he was still in that cell? If John had managed to get out, was he at the surface? That's why there was no blood trail. He was at the surface. He had already met up with Markham. He was probably fine. He just didn't have a radio. John would be --
Hypersensitive to all his surroundings, McKay suddenly felt, not the presence of something, but the absence.
The corridor was full of it. But not right here.
Something had swept this clean. Something as wide as his body. Starting right here and leading around the corner to --
Ignoring utterly O'Neill's order not to leave the hallway, Rodney turned into the shadowed side corridor.
And almost tripped over John's body.
"Oh god. Oh no." Clicking his radio, Rodney only said "Colonel!" before he let go to run his hands around John's neck.
Yes. A pulse. There was a pulse. That had to be good.
"Thank you, John. Thank you. Thank you."
He pushed John over.
The shirt, that had dragged through the floor dirt when John had fallen and started crawling, hadn't been closed all the way. Small rocks and pebbles that had been lying on the floor had dug and cut all over John's chest.
And those were absolutely the least of John's injuries.
Rodney'd seen broken ribs before. The blooming blue bruises. He'd seen black eyes and broken bones and all kinds of injuries before. Hell, he'd had a few.
He looked right past them.
John's color wasn't good, he looked flushed, and his skin tone was a bit blue.
That wasn't right at all.
"Oh god," O'Neill said, skidding to a halt in the main hallway behind him, catching sight of them, unaware that he had echoed McKay perfectly. "Is he conscious?"
Rodney slapped him. No time for subtlety. "John! Wake up!"
"Rodney?" John's eyes, those beautiful hazel eyes, blinked and looked up sleepily at Rodney and suddenly Rodney too was somewhere else, somewhen else. He smiled at John.
"Where's Daniel?" John said hazily. "Why am I so cold?"
Behind Rodney Jack's P90 rattled against his vest. "Up and at 'em, Major," Jack said a little frostily.
John blinked some more, looked around, seemed to jerk slightly as he realized where he was. He looked at McKay disbelievingly, then over McKay's shoulder at Jack.
And Jack could have sworn he saw a flash of stone cold anger in John's eyes.
"Gotta go," Jack said, reaching around McKay to give John a hand. "Can you walk?"
"Out of here?"
"Yes, since here is going to blow to kingdom come in nine minutes."
"You betcha," said John.
Next: Turbulence Part 3