"Tell me our options," Elizabeth said.
It was late. With most of her usual command staff incapacitated or missing, she was grouped around the conference table with Lorne and a handful of ranking Marines and medical and scientific staff. One of her hands was locked around a cup of coffee, the fingers trembling slightly from far too much caffeine and not enough sleep.
Lorne cleared his throat. "We can't take a jumper to the planet because of their defensive wall in front of the gate. If we send search teams, they'll have to go on foot."
Elizabeth glanced over at the medical side of the table. "If we send a team through the gate, what are the chances that they'll end up like Sheppard's team?"
Dr. Biro grimaced. "There's no way to know how Sheppard's team was exposed, but I can't say it's impossible. We're still analyzing the compound that we found in their bloodstream, but as I told you before, it's similar to 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate, although not precisely the same."
Lorne whistled. "That's BZ, right?" At Elizabeth's surprised look, the Major explained, "It's a military incapacitating agent. Supposedly used in Bosnia and possibly in Iraq. Messes with your head."
"Technically 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate is an anticholinergic psychomimetic, a very potent one," Biro began, warming to her topic. "It's a muscarinic receptor inhibitor, meaning that the parasympathetic nervous system is --"
Elizabeth held up her hand. "I don't need to know how it works. All I need to know is how it's spread and how dangerous it is."
"If it's like BZ, then it's inhaled or absorbed through the skin," Lorne said.
Elizabeth looked at Biro. The woman lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "We don't have enough of a sample to know for sure, but at this point we're going on the assumption that it's similar to QNB in that it's odorless, colorless, and readily absorbed through the skin. Since we don't know how widespread the environmental contamination on P1R-4P2 is, you'd have to assume that anyone you send is going to be at risk. Enviro suits would protect you, though."
Lorne's mouth twisted. "Have you ever tried to fight in a suit, ma'am?"
"I'm not sending anyone until I can assure their safety," Elizabeth said shortly, making an effort to still her fingers on the coffee cup. She took a drink. It was cold. And every hour Carson and Rodney are on that planet is another hour they're less likely to survive.
Zelenka had been absorbed in his laptop throughout the discussion, but he suddenly burst out with a loud "Aha!" Looking up, he hunched down in his seat when he saw everyone staring at him. "Er, sorry."
Elizabeth set her cup down. "Do you have something?"
"I might." He couldn't contain a grin. "There's another Stargate in the system. It's a spacegate in orbit around one of the planets closer to the sun. It wasn't in the main gate database; it was designed for astronomical observations and the location was stored in one of the other --"
"How far is it from P1R-4P2?"
Zelenka glanced at the laptop again. "At this time of year, considering the relative positions of both gates -- about twelve hours' travel time."
Elizabeth pushed back her chair. "In that case, Major, I want a jumper through that gate as soon as we can scramble a team."
Dalan kept apologizing as she shepherded Rodney down the corridor. "I am so sorry. I didn't know anything like this would happen..."
"How could you not know?" he demanded in a fierce whisper, twisting his head around to see where the Commandant was. She was following them a few steps behind, the gun held loosely at her side. "You work with these people; how can you not know what they're like?"
She responded in the same low voice. "Please, Doctor, don't judge us by what you have seen. We are not a bad people, just desperate."
"You gassed us." His memory was still mostly a blank, but bits and pieces were starting to return. He remembered lots of shooting and screaming -- and, also, being attacked by horrible things, giant insects and white-haired monsters and creatures with glowing red eyes. Those parts, he suspected, were probably drug-induced hallucinations, but it was hard to sort out what had actually happened from what the drug had made him see. He also remembered holding his hands against Carson's chest as blood soaked both his sleeves, and he was pretty sure that actually had happened.
"We did not gas you. We attacked the capital and surrounding towns, and you were caught up in it. We were not affected, having dosed ourselves with the antidote beforehand. But my squad found you and your friend, and I realized immediately from your strange uniforms that one of you must be the doctor we had heard about, the one who was visiting the pretender government to lend them medical aid. I saved you in the hopes that you would help us."
"So that you could force us to help you at gunpoint, you mean."
"I did not expect this to happen."
Back to that, then.
Rodney swallowed as Dalan led him back into the operating room. God, to trust her or not. Considering that they were going to find out the truth in a few minutes anyway, what did he have to lose? "You know," he hissed, "I wasn't lying when I said that I wasn't a doctor, back there. I'm not. The doctor is the man in that bed."
Dalan handed him a semi-clean smock. "I know that you are frightened about operating with your memory still so fragmented. But the Commandant is right, your hands will still know what to do --"
"Aren't you listening?" He seized her by the arms, and leaned close so that he could speak without being overheard. "I'm not a doctor! I mean, not that kind of doctor. You're wrong. What made you think I was a doctor in the first place?"
"Because I asked you if you were the doctor when we found you, and you told me that you were. Several times!"
"I'm a doctor, all right -- of astrophysics! Not the cutting-people-open kind of doctor."
"I didn't know there were different kinds of doctors," Dalan said uncertainly.
"Well, maybe not here on Planet Mudhole, but where I come from, yes, there are lots of different kinds. Carson's one kind, the kind you're thinking of. I'm a whole different kind. I've never cut up anybody in my life."
"Is there a problem?" the Commandant inquired.
"No ma'am. He is still doubtful about his ability to operate without his memory." Dalan pushed Rodney back. "You are lying," she whispered.
"Am I? Get me in that room and see what happens. If I don't pass out or throw up on the patient, I'll butcher him in some horrible way. Dalan, this isn't amnesia talking. I still don't remember much, but I do know this -- I am not a doctor. The doctor that you want, the famous Carson Beckett, just had his IV pulled out of his arm by your gentle ministering hands."
Her wide, frightened eyes searched his face. "If you are telling the truth, the Commandant will kill you."
"Yeah, me and probably Carson as well." When Dalan started to shake her head, he grabbed her by the arms again. "You think she won't shoot a sick man if he's no use to her? Are you really that naive?"
"Brigadier --" the Commandant said impatiently.
"Faint," Dalan whispered.
Rodney looked at her in shock. "What?"
"Faint. Just faint. I'll handle it from there."
"Pass out, you mean," he whispered back, but he dutifully let himself go limp, folding up into her arms. She made an oomph sound and staggered under his weight. Oh, for God's sake, I'm not that heavy.
As Dalan lowered him to the floor, he heard boots clomping towards his head. "Now what's happening?" the Commandant demanded.
"I told you that he should not be out of bed yet," Dalan's voice said from somewhere above him. "His fear and agitation has been too much for him. As you can see, he's unconscious."
A boot prodded at him; Rodney forced himself to remain limp. "Should the drug be affecting him this severely? Shouldn't the antidote be working by now? Perhaps there is something else wrong with him." Rodney heard a subtextual Just give me a reason to shoot him, and had to struggle to keep himself from reacting. Luckily Dalan had put him down with his face towards the wall.
"He's from another world," Dalan said. "Who knows how our drugs will affect him? I would like to keep him in the hospital until he wakes up. There may be other unexpected side effects."
"So far, Brigadier, this doctor of yours is not turning out to be very useful."
"You've heard the rumors as well as I have, Commandant. Once he recovers, he will be more than useful. We just need to invest a few days in helping him heal."
"He doesn't have a few days." The Commandant's voice, along with her boot steps, retreated towards the door. "He has until morning. Don't forget, Brigadier, this man was helping the enemy. He's a POW, not a guest, and we can barely feed our own people with winter coming. If he is not capable of carrying out his duties in the morning, I will have him and his friend shot."
As the Commandant's footsteps faded from hearing, Rodney felt Dalan's long hair brush against his head. "Do not move," she whispered, and then there were some footsteps and voices before he felt himself being rolled onto a stretcher. Hey, this is really uncomfortable when you're not unconscious.
He was rolled off onto a bed, and made himself keep his eyes, and mouth, shut through the process of having his boots removed -- though not, thank goodness, his pants -- and a blanket thrown over him. Eventually Dalan leaned over him and murmured, "It's safe now."
Rodney blinked and looked up at a low wooden ceiling. Turning his head to the side, he squinted and saw ...
He sat upright, shoving off the blanket, and threw his legs over the edge of the bed. Carson still looked the same as he had before: mostly dead, except for the shallow rise and fall of his chest.
"It's true, then." Dalan came around to the other side of the bed, and looked down at Carson with wonder and sorrow in her eyes. "He is the doctor we've heard so much about, not you."
"I'm a doctor," Rodney protested. As annoying as her hero-worship had been, it was even more annoying having it transferred elsewhere. "Just not that kind."
Dalan raised her hand and lightly brushed Carson's forehead. She didn't even seem to have heard him. Rodney rolled his eyes. "Okay, playtime's over, now put his IV back in."
Dalan looked up at him sadly, and shook her head. "I cannot. If the Commandant saw --"
"Dalan, come on. He needs it. He's dying! Or so you claim!"
"He will be all right for a while." She sounded defensive, like a child making excuses. "You don't understand, I cannot."
Rodney threw his hands up in the air. "Fine. If you won't help, I'll find someone who will."
He started towards the door; Dalan seized his arm, pulling him back towards the bed. "Are you insane? You'll get yourself shot! And keep your voice down; the guard will hear you."
"Not a prisoner, of course not," he growled, sitting down on the bed sulkily. "You're in a world of denial, aren't you, kid?" When she opened her mouth, he kept going, not giving her a chance to get a word in. "Oh yeah, I can hear what's coming. 'Don't judge my people' and 'We're all so desperate, blah blah.' Whatever." He flopped back on the bed and put his arm over his eyes. When she didn't say anything after a moment, he took his arm away from his eyes and looked over to see her taking Carson's pulse. Worry overcame his frustration. "How is he?"
Dalan pressed her lips together. "Unlike the other people in this room, I am not a doctor," she said tartly. "As I told you earlier, he has internal injuries that no one here knows how to repair. The medical care that the Commandant has ordered withdrawn ... it was only capable of supporting him while his body healed itself. Unless you can do anything, it is simply up to whatever gods you pray to, now."
Rodney locked his hands between his knees. It was insane ... for the first time in his life, he actually wished he had medical skills. If only there were a medical degree hiding somewhere in the fog of his absent memories. But he could tell from his reaction to the hospital that it wasn't something he had any experience with.
"We've got to get him back to my people. They've got the technology to deal with this." He just couldn't remember the name of the place, or where it was. But get him in front of a Stargate ... "Hey, wait!"
Dalan looked up in surprise as Rodney slapped the side of his own head. "What is the matter with you?"
"I had a ... a radio, and a gun. And other stuff. Where's my stuff? The stuff I had when you captured me, Dalan --"
"Rescued you," she protested.
"Whatever! What happened to my -- to our stuff?"
"It was confiscated."
He clapped his hands together. "Great! Get it for me."
Dalan stared at him. "I can't do that!"
"What is the matter with you? Look at him, Dalan!" He pointed at Carson, limp and pale under the sheets. "He's dying, and you and I both know the Commandant's gonna have me shot in the morning when I turn out to know nothing more about medicine than I do now. Don't tell me you're just going to stand there --"
Dalan rose in a quick motion. "I have helped you far more than I should have. I cannot, don't you understand? They will have me shot for aiding you."
She strode past him towards the door. Rodney grabbed her arm. "Hey! Don't you dare leave! I'll -- I'll turn you in!"
Dalan stared in disbelief. "And now you blackmail me? Who do you think they will believe, you or me?" She drew her gun, and he reluctantly released her.
"I hate all of you people."
Dalan's lips twisted in a humorless smile. She vanished out the door, and there was a clunk as it was bolted from the outside.
Rodney stared at it, and then looked around the little room. There were no windows; the only light came from an oil lamp on a table by Carson's bed. He had a brief, wild thought of trying to use the lamp to burn a hole through the wooden walls, but came to his senses when he realized that it was bad enough being trapped in a space the size of a large closet without also setting it on fire.
Wide open spaces...
After seeing Lorne's team through the second gate in a jumper, Elizabeth checked in with the science team again -- they were still working on a strategy for safely traveling through the gate on foot without being contaminated or shot. Nothing seemed likely anytime soon, though; Lorne's team was their best bet at this point, and they were still half a day out from the planet.
"You should get a little sleep," Zelenka told her. He looked like death warmed over himself, with his hair even wilder than usual, and dark rings under his eyes.
Elizabeth nodded. A fatigue headache had been pounding at her temples for hours. But rather than her quarters, she headed back to the control room, to see if any luck had been made at contacting the planetary government. Instead, the news was worse.
"We lost the MALP," one of the gate techs told her. "We're not sure exactly when; it was during one of the times when we weren't dialed into the planet."
"What happened to it?"
"As far as we can tell, it either hit a mine, or someone shot it."
Elizabeth sighed, and pinched the bridge of her nose. "So it looks as if the planet's definitely back in the grip of active civil war."
"Apparently, ma'am. Before the MALP went down, though, we found out why we're not reaching anyone over the the local radio frequencies." The gate tech pointed at some blurry patches on a grainy photo. "See? The main transmitters were located here and here, on a hill overlooking the capital. Looks like the rebels took them out when they attacked. It's possible that the rebels are in control now, but even if the government that we originally contracted to trade with still stands, they can't get in touch with us."
Elizabeth couldn't pick out a thing on the photo, so she decided to take his word for it. "Are we still broadcasting on the team's frequency?"
"Yes, ma'am. But without the local radio towers' ability to relay a signal, they won't be able to answer us unless they're fairly close to the gate."
Better and better. Elizabeth wondered if her smile looked as forced as it felt. "Thank you, Sergeant."
The only piece of good news so far came as she headed up to her office. The infirmary wanted her to know that Colonel Sheppard was lucid and wanted to see her.
She arrived at the infirmary, breathless, to find that Sheppard was out of the isolation chamber and sitting on a bed with a nurse checking him over. A Marine hovered nearby.
"Good to see you up and about, John, but ..." She glanced at the Marine, who looked back impassively. "Should you be up and about?"
"They tell me the drug's mostly out of my system. I'm me again." Sheppard gave her a shaky smile. He was very pale, and she could see tremors in his hand when he pushed down the sleeve of his scrubs after the nurse took off the blood pressure cuff. "That is, I remember enough that I know you're on my side."
Elizabeth sat down on the edge of the bed across from his. "How much do you remember?"
"Frustratingly little." He licked his lips, looked around, and smiled gratefully at the nurse when she handed him a paper cup of water. "Bits and pieces. I know who I am, I know where I am, and I know that something went badly wrong on a mission." When he gave her a level look, she saw that his eyes appeared to be back to normal. "Now I need to get back out there."
Elizabeth laughed; it wasn't funny, but she couldn't help it, because it was so John. "You're still recovering from a powerful hallucinogen, and you can barely stand up. I'd say you'll be a guest of the infirmary for a while yet."
The green eyes darkened, and John pushed himself off the bed. "I knew you'd say that, but I'm --"
"Fine? No, John, you aren't."
"Elizabeth, from what they tell me, Rodney and Carson went missing in a war zone. I can't just sit here--"
"If you go out there in your present condition, you'll be a security risk and you know it." Elizabeth leaned forward. "Besides, we can't easily reach the planet at the moment. I'm told that there's a good chance that whatever took out your team is absorbed through the skin, which makes it likely that the area around the gate is at least somewhat contaminated. Lorne's taken a team through another gate in the system, but they're still a number of hours out from the planet."
"Take a jumper to the planet, straight through the gate," Sheppard said immediately.
Elizabeth shook her head. "They have a blockade in the way."
"Blow it up."
"John, we can't just --"
"See, this is why I need to be out there. You're still thinking diplomatically, Elizabeth. This is war. I still don't remember the particulars, but I do know that they attacked us. We were minding our own business on that world, when everyone around us started going crazy and then the shooting began. We have every right to defend ourselves, and we have the right and responsibility to do what it takes to get our people back."
Elizabeth stared him down, but he wouldn't look away. Finally she sat back with a sigh. "All right, how about this. We do this my way ... until the medical staff releases you. Then, if we're still hitting brick walls, you can take what measures you feel are necessary. But, John -- you stay here until they tell you to leave, all right?"
"Elizabeth, every hour that we wait --"
"I know that! I'm not sitting on my hands; I'm doing everything I can to get them back -- without casualties. You've heard what I'm offering you, John, and believe me: it's a lot."
Sheppard sank down onto the edge of the bed, his strength ebbing as anger gave way to worry.
"How are Ronon and Teyla, by the way?" Elizabeth asked.
"Teyla's asleep," Biro said, joining them. "With her smaller body mass, she seems to have taken a bigger dose of the drug than anyone else, so we got her settled down and we're hoping she stays that way. Ronon had to be sedated when he was brought in, and he's still sleeping it off. Basically, though, they're going to be fine."
"And so am I; tell her."
"You're mainly feeling the effects of no sleep and no food." Biro gave his chart a cursory glance. "Any psychological effects, headaches, hallucinations?"
"Nope." At Elizabeth's glower: "All right, yes I have a headache, and I still can't remember much, but that'll go away, right?"
"Good question," Biro said, sounding interested but not very sympathetic.
"So, I can leave, right?"
"Yes, yes, you can leave." She was studying her clipboard, already on to another project. "Light duty, get some sleep, get something to eat, and contact us if you have any strange symptoms."
"Wait ..." Elizabeth said weakly. Carson would never have let him leave. But Carson wasn't here.
John gave her a smug grin and then ruined the effect by almost falling over as he went in search of his pants.
Sheppard could probably break out of here in five seconds flat.
The thought came to Rodney as he was examining the walls of his wooden prison. He went still for a moment, trying to grasp at the elusive thought. Sheppard. Finally, he had a name for the man in his memories with the spiky hair and deceptively lazy grin.
Sheppard. Pilot. Soldier. Pain-in-the-ass.
And there were two other people as well, whose names he could almost remember ... but at a soft moan from Carson, Rodney forgot about them -- again -- and lunged to the side of the bed.
Carson's eyelashes fluttered; Rodney caught a glimpse of blue.
"Oh come on, I know you're awake in there. Come on out. I could use someone to bounce ideas on. You're not Zelenka, you're not even Sheppard, but --"
Carson tried to rasp something out, faintly, and then began coughing. Rodney floundered in mid-ramble, and all he could manage was a "Hey, hey" that came out a lot softer than he intended. Carson was struggling for breath, and each coughing spasm sounded as if it was ripping him apart. Rodney got an arm under his shoulders, going on pure instinct, and lifted him partway.
As the spasms began to calm, Carson's head lolled back against Rodney's shoulder. Rodney could feel the heat in the body leaning against him, but Carson was shivering nonetheless.
"Hey," Rodney said into Carson's hair. How did he get himself in these positions? "Hey, are you in there? Because holding half-naked guys is not really my thing, you know."
There was a soft laugh, then a momentary hitch in Carson's breathing that made Rodney hold his breath, too, afraid that the coughing would start up again. It didn't; Carson swallowed noisily and then whispered, "Don't suppose you have some water about you, do you?"
"Uh..." He looked around the room. Empty. "Just a second. Uh ... need to put you down, sorry."
He eased Carson back down, and took a couple of quick steps to the door, and pounded on it. After a few rounds of pounding, he head a heavy object -- a rifle butt, maybe -- thump back a couple of times. "Shut up in there!"
"Sick man here!" Rodney hollered through the door, undaunted. "We could use some water! Hey! Water! Guard!"
More pounding and yelling got him no results, except for a sore fist. Muttering, he stomped back to Carson's bed, in the process grabbing the pillows off the bed they'd put him on. "Idiots," he muttered. "Asinine ... military ... pigheaded ... make Caldwell look like Mother Teresa ..."
Carson watched him warily from half-lidded eyes as Rodney, still muttering, lifted him up and used the pillows to prop him up. "There. Sitting up ought to help keep you from coughing. See, I do know something about medicine, no matter what Little Miss Perfect thinks."
Carson cleared his throat. "Thanks," he mumbled. "Do I know you?"
"Oh hell." He'd momentarily forgotten -- ha ha -- about the amnesia. "Yeah, you're Carson, I'm Rodney, and we're being held prisoner by crazy people. Oh, and we got our memories wiped out with some sort of drug. Now you know as much I know."
Carson blinked at him, and then at the room, with eyes that were slightly unfocused. "Oh," he murmured.
"Also -- almost forgot the best part -- they're going to kill us in the morning because they think I'm a doctor, but I'm actually not; you're the doctor, except you're in no condition to help fix their voodoo issues. Hence the killing." Rodney gnawed on a fingernail as he studied the walls again.
Carson's head twisted against the pillows, focusing slowly on Rodney. "You forgot that part?" There was a little more animation in his hoarse voice.
"Yes ... I get the idea it's hardly an unusual state of affairs for us. I wish I had my ..." Rodney paused. There was something he always had. Useful thing. Had a screen on it. Couldn't remember the name of it, though. "My stuff," he finished lamely. "And yours. And some guns too, while we're at it."
Carson looked down at his hands, raised one a few inches off the bed and then let it fall back. "Couldn't fire a bloody gun at the moment if my life depended on it."
Rodney frowned at him. "What is wrong with the way you talk?"
"What?" Carson looked blearily baffled.
"If me life depended oon it," Rodney mimicked. "There's something wrong with how you're talking. Oh God, what if it's another side effect of the drug? Do I sound funny?"
Now the look was not only baffled, but irritated. "Aye," Carson said, and Rodney momentarily panicked, because he certainly didn't sound any different to himself. His panic rose another couple of notches when Carson went on, "It's only you, though. Some kind of accent. I sound normal."
"Ohmygod, me too!" Rodney scrubbed his hands through his thinning hair, and then froze as another fragment of memory made itself known. "Wait a minute. You always sound like that."
"Normal? Aye, I should hope so."
"No, like an extra in Braveheart." Rodney frowned. "Braveheart. Mel Gibson in a kilt. Huh. What kind of lives did we lead?"
"I don't know," Carson sighed. "All I know is you have an accent -- American, is it? -- and I'm getting a headache listening to you."
Rodney bristled. "American? What? No! It's Canadian!"
"I don't know!"
There was a brief pause as they calmed down and realized how ridiculous they sounded.
"Anyway." Rodney fidgeted from foot to foot. "Escape plans. I'm, frankly, drawing a blank. Not my area of expertise. I can't exactly remember what my area of expertise is, but I do know it isn't escaping from prison cells. That's Sheppard's thing."
"Would you shut up and let me concentrate?"
A sudden clunk came from the direction of the door. Rodney jumped halfway across the room, ending up positioned between Carson and the door. He wasn't even sure why; it wasn't as if he'd be able to fight off armed soldiers with his bare hands. Still, he stood there, and relaxed only slightly when Dalan came in, alone, carrying a tray.
"I brought some food for you," she said, putting the tray down on Rodney's unused bed.
"That's not what I asked for."
"I'm sorry. It's what I can give." Starting to turn away, she saw that Carson was awake, and froze. He gave her a little smile; she didn't return it.
"Where's your Carson worship when we could use it, huh?" Rodney demanded, reaching cautiously across the tray for the pitcher of water. His hand froze when he saw what was under the folded hand towel beside the pitcher. A loop of black cord was just visible.
Dropping her voice, Dalan said, "It is all I could find of your things. The rest has been scavenged for what we can use."
"No, no ... if our people are looking for us, this is all we will need." Rodney picked up one of the radio headsets and its base unit, and stared at it for a moment, until the proper method of operation came back to him. Hooking it over his ear, he paused. "Where are we? Relative to the Stargate, I mean."
"We are on a hill, overlooking the valley."
Rodney sighed. "Could you be less helpful? Is the Stargate in the valley?"
Dalan frowned slightly at his insult, but let it pass. "Yes."
"Good. As long as we have line of sight on the Stargate, we should be able to call home if they've dialed in to look for us." He paused for a moment, then decided not to waste time figuring out what he knew or how he knew it.
"If you mean what I think you mean by 'line of sight', then you do not have that here. Mount Winterhead conceals our town from the capital below, and the Ring is near the capital."
Rodney paused with his finger on the "talk" button. "Wait. So you can't actually see the gate from here?"
"You can if you climb the mountain. Or go around it."
He let out a long, exasperated sigh. "Then why did you say overlooking when you meant overlooking except for that a big damn mountain in the way?"
"Rodney," Carson said. "The lass is trying to help us."
"No, she's not. She's doing the absolute minimum to assuage her guilty conscience. Isn't that right, Dalan?"
Dalan scowled at him, and didn't answer.
Rodney tried it anyway. "This is McKay calling -- oh, damn it, what is the name of that place? Carson? You don't remember, do you?"
"Never mind. I'm sure it'll come to me. This is McKay. Anybody read me?"
There was no answer but static.
"Damn mountain. Maybe if I could boost the signal ..." He already had the cover off the base unit before he thought to wonder what he was doing, then gave a mental shrug and started unhooking wires.
A sudden pounding on the door made them all jump. Rodney hastily slid the radio under the sheets on Carson's bed, while Dalan ran to the door just as it opened a crack. "Brigadier?" The soldier on the other side gave the two prisoners a wary glance. "You're needed outside."
"Thank you, Armsman." Without a backward glance at the two Atlanteans, Dalan vanished out the door.
After a moment passed without the door opening again, Rodney reached under the sheet for the radio, studiously averting his eyes as he did so. Carson noticed, and started to laugh, but ended up in another coughing fit instead. "Water?" he croaked pitifully, when he could breath.
"Oh. Sorry. Yes." Rodney poured a cup, and then found himself in the uncomfortable position of supporting Carson's head while he drank.
"Oh, that's heaven, that is," Carson murmured, as Rodney let his head back down against the pillows. He opened his eyes and looked up at his companion. "That young lass ... is she on our side, or not?"
"Very good question. I'll let you know if I figure it out." He spread the radio's guts out on the bed. "She's the head of the local chapter of the Carson Beckett fan club, which you'd think would make her a lot more helpful than she has been so far."
"Carson Beckett ... that's me, is it?"
Rodney didn't bother dignifying that with a response. He had cannibalized the other base unit for its battery, leaving them with only one working radio -- but all they had to do was get out a message for help. He twisted together the last of the wires and hooked the headset over his ear once again. "Hey, anybody out there? This is McKay. We could really use a --"
He broke off as the door burst open and two soldiers charged in. The radio was torn from his head; one of them stomped it underfoot.
"Hey, what are you doing?" Rodney demanded as his arms were twisted behind his back. Then he saw to his horror that the other soldier was dragging Carson out of bed. Carson's legs couldn't support his weight; he crumpled and was held up by his arms. He gave a soft cry of pain.
"Let go of him, you bastards!"
"Shut up!" They were both dragged from the room. Rodney struggled, and the soldier slammed his face into the wall. He spun off into a gray haze, and when he started coming back to himself, he found that he was stumbling out the door, still propelled along by his painfully twisted arms. His bare feet sank into the mud; the sharp shock of cold helped clear his head.
It was night. Two moons lit the street with a washed-out white light; streaks of softer yellow light marked the locations of some of the houses around them. Rodney's tormenter let go of him and gave him a hard shove; he fell to his hands and knees in the icy, sucking mud. Carson fell next to him with a wet plop. The doctor was coughing again, a horrible hacking sound; looking over at him, Rodney was horrified to see dark spatters of blood on his lips.
"Sons of bitches ..." He crawled to Carson, tried to lift him out of the mud. Memory slapped at him -- he'd lifted Carson just like this, with blood soaking both his sleeves and running down his legs. "Don't die, don't die," he'd chanted as he'd curled himself over his injured friend, trying to shield him from a deluge of nightmare monsters conjured from the depths of his own mind.
Now here they were again, and Carson was a heavy weight in his lap, and rather than hallucinatory Wraith and demons surrounding him, there were hard-faced men and women with guns. The Commandant strode to the front of the group, pointing a rifle at his head.
"How long have you been in contact with your people?" she demanded.
"What are you talking about?"
She held up a fistful of shattered black plastic and trailing wires. He recognized the broken radio. Looking past the Commandant, he saw that one of the soldiers holding guns on them was Dalan. Her face was pale, but as stern as the others.
He was desperately tempted to shout out her duplicity, to tell her people that she'd helped him. But the words choked him. As she'd told him, she was only trying to survive. They had needed a doctor, and she had done what she'd had to do. If she hadn't taken them prisoner, Carson would probably have bled to death after they'd been gassed and caught up in the fighting in the city.
Instead, he was bleeding to death here, in Rodney's lap. Through the coldness of the mud, Rodney could feel the heat of blood trickling down his legs, soaking through the bandages. Carson's body contorted against him with another spasm of coughing. Rodney cross his arms over Carson's torso, trying to support the doctor's body against the convulsive movement that was doing untold damage to his injuries. Carson seemed to have passed out. His head was tucked against Rodney's arm; his ragged breathing made a small warm patch against Rodney's clammy skin.
"Tell me," the Commandant snarled. "We know that your people have attacked the Stargate. There are reports of explosions there. What do they know? Have you given away our position? Talk!"
Explosions? Frowning, he looked up at her, past her -- and there, against the moons, he saw what could only be another hallucination.
"Getting anything?" Sheppard asked.
Zelenka shook his head, dividing his attention between the jumper's HUD and the pale, shaky pilot. "There are a lot of life sign readings, but I am not picking up Rodney or Dr. Beckett's subcutaneous transmitters among any of them."
"Wider search pattern, then," Sheppard decided, swinging the jumper around.
In the seat behind him, Elizabeth was silent. She'd argued against this, but Sheppard had stood firm, and she had told him in the infirmary that they'd do it his way. So she'd switched sides, and insisted on coming along, in the hopes of keeping him from doing something suicidally stupid. She had started regretting her decision almost immediately, when he'd lowered the jumper in front of the gate and then started firing drones through the event horizon, shattering the barrier on the other side. A few minutes later, they were aloft in the nighttime skies of P1R-4P2.
"There are some life sign clusters up there, in the foothills of the mountains," Zelenka reported. "I need you to rotate the view on the HUD. Scroll left."
The readout on the screen obligingly changed, and Sheppard rubbed at his temple, wincing. "This is easier with a scientist who's got the gene. Just sayin'..."
"Well, excuse me for my deficient genetics," Zelenka grumbled.
"What are we looking at?" Elizabeth asked, hoping to head off an argument. She stared up at the blurry blue patches on the HUD.
"Towns, I think."
"There are a lot of them."
Zelenka nodded. "This planet had a large population before their war. They are very scattered now, but there are still quite a lot of population centers."
"So you're saying we might be searching for a while," Sheppard said.
"Unless you can widen the field of the HUD without losing signal resolution."
"Hey -- I'm trying--!"
Just then, the radio came to life. The voice was static-blurred but instantly recognizable. "Hey, anybody out there? This is McKay. We could really use a --" Then there was a sudden crash and the voice cut off.
Elizabeth felt her heart leap into her throat.
"McKay?" Sheppard demanded into the radio. "Rodney? Are you reading us? What's your position?"
There was no response. Zelenka pointed up at the HUD. "Colonel, switch to radio frequencies. It should have recorded that signal. I can trace it back to -- yes!" A broad grin broke across his face. "I have their signals! At your nine o'clock."
Elizabeth let out a long sigh, gripping the back of Sheppard's seat as the pilot banked the jumper and brought them down through a thin wisp of cloud. The dark landscape rose up beneath them, starkly laid out in the moonlight, and Elizabeth squinted at the small cluster of lights that was suddenly visible from the front view port.
"There!" Elizabeth stood up, leaning over the back of the pilot's seat. In the moonlight, they could clearly see the armed crowd in the village street, clustered around a huddled figure on the ground. No -- two people.
"Damn it!" Sheppard swore, as several of the people below them swung around and began shooting at the jumper. He banked sharply, taking them up out of range.
Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder, meeting the eyes of the two Marines behind her. They'd come prepared to fight if necessary, but not to fight a small army.
"Aren't we cloaked?" Zelenka asked, leaning towards Sheppard.
"We were," Sheppard snapped, rubbing at his forehead, and Elizabeth realized that the lingering effects of the drug were interfering with his ability to adequately control the jumper's systems. I should have ordered him to stand down. I shouldn't have let him come out here; he's not well enough.
But here they were, and Sheppard was bringing the jumper around for another pass. This time, Elizabeth could tell that they couldn't be seen from below; the soldiers were aiming in random directions, looking wildly up at all corners of the sky.
With exquisite care, Sheppard lowered the jumper directly on top of the group of people in the street. Elizabeth gave a soft gasp when she saw one of them, a woman, stride over to the huddled forms of Rodney and Carson. The woman gripped Rodney by the collar, and, leaning past him, jammed a gun against Carson's neck. Her mouth moved emphatically, but silently. Sheppard flicked a control on his dashboard, and suddenly the strange woman's voice flooded the jumper.
"--watching us? I will kill this man!"
"Can she hear us?" Elizabeth asked softly.
Sheppard's hand hovered over another control. "When I hit this, she can."
Elizabeth nodded to him, and his finger made a quick movement. "This is Dr. Elizabeth Weir of Atlantis. Who am I addressing?"
There was general panic beneath them; to the people in the street, the voice must have come from thin air. Rodney's body sagged in relief or maybe resignation. The woman holding the gun did not flinch. "I am Commandant Farin, leader of the People's Mountain Army. If you can hear me, then know that I will shoot this man if your people do not retreat and return to your world. You may not use your technology to aid our enemies."
Elizabeth's grip tightened on the back of John's seat. "Commandant, we care nothing for your enemies, or for you. Your conflict is of no concern to us. All we want are the two men that you have taken prisoner. Return our people, and I swear to you, we will leave your world. If you do not, we will use whatever force necessary to take them back."
"And if you kill them, we'll kill all of you and burn your village to the ground," Sheppard added.
Elizabeth couldn't say Shut up with all of them listening, so she gave the skin on the back of his neck a quick, hard pinch and hoped he took the hint.
The Commandant got a firm grip on Rodney's shirt and began dragging him backwards through the mud, away from Carson. Elizabeth frowned at the crumpled form of the doctor; she could see, even from here, that he was naked to the waist and the bandages on his chest were stained with blood. If she could have, she would have clawed her way through the windshield to get to him. Instead, all she could do was stand there, holding to the back of Sheppard's seat like a lifeline.
"You can have him back," Commandant Farin called to them. "He is useless to us. But we are keeping the doctor!"
"I told you!" Rodney protested in a voice that was high-pitched and cracking with fear and anger. "I'm not a doctor, you stupid bi--" He cut off with a strangled sound when she pressed the gun into the soft skin under his chin.
"If you will not let us have your doctor, I will make sure no one on your world can, either!"
Elizabeth pointed emphatically to the button on the dashboard until Sheppard hit it, turning off the audio they were broadcasting. "We need a plan," she said.
"Why do they think Rodney is a doctor?" Zelenka mused aloud.
"Who cares?" Sheppard retorted. "Okay. I got a plan."
Elizabeth didn't like the wild look in his eyes, any more than she liked the fine tremors in his hands on the jumper's controls. Still weak and shaky from the drugs, he was straining himself to the utmost. "Let me hear it."
"We stay cloaked, turn the jumper nose-up and lower it on top of her. I'll have to open the hatch at the last minute, or she'll see inside the ship."
Elizabeth stared. "What -- you don't mean crush her? But Rodney's --"
"No," Sheppard said impatiently. "Open the hatch and enclose her in the cloaked jumper. That'll cut her off from her people, and isolate her so that we can attack."
"And then we have crazy woman with hostage inside the jumper," Zelenka said.
"No ... no ... then we drop Bradshaw and Aymes on her." Sheppard's eyes were bright as he looked back at the two Marines.
"What about Carson?" Elizabeth asked.
Sheppard was already maneuvering the jumper; the view panned crazily across the mountains to the sky. "As soon as the hatch opens, Bradshaw, you jump out and go for Carson. Aymes, you need to take out the target. Damn it, why didn't we bring more people!"
This is crazy, Elizabeth thought. I could stop him. But she didn't have anything better, and time was running out for both Carson and Rodney. Still, she was surprised to hear her own voice say to Sgt. Bradshaw, "I'll go with you. Help you get Carson. You might need extra hands."
John looked as if he wanted to argue, but it was taking all his concentration to do the difficult maneuver with the jumper and maintain the cloak. A light sheen of sweat had broken out on his face. With the inertial dampeners and artificial gravity, Elizabeth couldn't even tell that they were vertically oriented, except for the view of stars and moon out the front viewport.
"Aymes, Bradshaw ... Elizabeth," he added reluctantly. "Get to the hatch. You won't feel the planet's gravity 'till you leave the jumper -- I think. As soon as the hatch opens, jump out and go for Carson. Don't look back no matter what; just grab him before they know what's happening and get back here. We have to be very fast; if they all open fire on the jumper, it'll be taking damage." He didn't need to point out what would happen if they opened fire on Elizabeth and Bradshaw.
Elizabeth nodded and scrambled to follow the Marines. She still had the weird feeling that she should be climbing down the jumper, but instead, the floor was perfectly level under her feet. Taking a cue from the Marines, she grabbed hold of the cargo harness beside the hatch.
"Go!" John yelled, and the hatch opened in front of them.
Elizabeth had an instant of extreme disorientation: she was standing on level decking, but the ground rose up vertically in front of her, with Rodney and his captor projecting sideways from it like a tree growing from the side of a cliff. Then Bradshaw jumped, and she followed him, and suddenly the "cliff" smacked her in the face with ice-cold mud, and she gasped, dizzily staggering to her feet as the world rotated around her. Looking to the side -- no, up -- she saw the jumper continuing to descend, blocking off the Commandant from the rest of her people.
Don't look back no matter what.
Bradshaw was already off and running. Elizabeth sprinted after him. The cold mud sucked at her feet, slowing her down. No one was shooting at them; everyone just backed off, staring in shock at the two strangers who had appeared from thin air. Bradshaw grabbed Beckett under the arms, Elizabeth caught hold of a double handful of his pants, and they skidded him along the ground. He was unresisting and limp as a sack of damp laundry, but she didn't dare stop to check for a pulse. From the corner of her eye, Elizabeth saw several people bringing guns to bear on them, but a dark-haired woman barked out, "No! Don't fire! I think they're serious about retaliation!" -- and the guns stopped in midair. Elizabeth thought she caught a hint of a smile on the other woman's lips.
Then Bradshaw gasped, and Elizabeth looked up just in time to see the jumper -- decloaked -- crash into the street end-first with a tremendous, ground-shaking thud, sending a wave of mud cascading over the nearby, astounded onlookers. As the mud pattered to the ground, the splattered jumper was left sticking upright, its nose in the air, like a child's toy dropped by a careless, giant hand.
Its running lights were dark.
Continued in Part Three.