"Offworld activation!" Chuck announced.
"At least he's punctual," Sheppard said dryly, but Rodney could see he was checking his sidearm.
"Lower the shield." Elizabeth went to stand beside Teyla in the center of the room as they all watched the incoming wormhole whoosh into view.
"I still don't like it," Ronon muttered from behind Sheppard, folding his arms across his chest to cement the protest.
"Look, no one's gonna make you invite him for tea when this is over, all right?" Sheppard replied in a low voice.
Ronon's eyes narrowed, but then he dropped his arms to his sides with a sigh, giving in. Rodney flashed on how close Ronon had been to knocking Ladon Radim's block off for allowing Sheppard to get fed on by a Wraith rather than turning himself over to Kolya in whatever their moronic internal dispute was. And while Rodney wasn't a guy who spent much time worrying about overinflated concepts like honor, even he had to admit dealing with the Genii was an uneasy prospect.
Ladon stepped through the Gate flanked by two other Genii soldiers in their vaguely old-school Soviet uniforms, and Rodney wondered if there was something about authoritarian regimes that led them inexorably to similar art direction. None of the three appeared to be carrying weapons, but at a nod from Sheppard, a team of Marines moved in to pat them down.
"No offense," Sheppard said with a flat smile.
Ladon raised his arms, complying with the search. "None taken," he replied in seeming good humor.
As they walked toward the conference room, Ladon turned to Elizabeth. "My sister, Dahlia, sends her condolences for your Doctor Beckett. She says he was very kind."
Elizabeth gave a sober nod. "He was. I take it she and the others he treated are doing well?"
"They are, and the Genii are extremely grateful to you all, not only for curing them," he turned to acknowledge Rodney, "but also for your assistance in helping us deal with our radioactive contamination issues."
"Uh, you're welcome," Rodney said, clearing his throat. He glanced at Sheppard hoping to catch some hint of his read on Ladon's gratitude—whether it was genuine or a snow-job—but Sheppard had gone into his cool, shuttered, dealing-with-the-enemy mode and Rodney had no clue what he was thinking.
They settled around the conference room table, Ladon sitting directly across from Elizabeth.
"You've been able to check out the information we gave you?" he asked.
Elizabeth turned to Sheppard. "Colonel?"
"We took a jumper over to MV7-449 and did some air surveillance, yeah," Sheppard said. He looked at Ladon. "When did you first suspect something was wrong?"
"The Cerrans and Genii have always alternated visits to one another's homeworlds for trade, but recently we realized the Cerrans hadn't come in quite some time, even though it was their turn," Ladon replied. "I sent a pair of scouts through the Gate four days ago to check on them. After they failed to return or communicate, I sent two more. When we hadn't heard from them in more than a day, I contacted you, hoping your superior technology might provide some answers."
"The Cerran's village appeared to be abandoned and we found no sign of other settlement," Sheppard said.
"There was also none of the chaos you normally see after a Wraith culling," Rodney continued. "So on a hunch we hopped out to check their Stargate's DHD before we left and found the control crystals had been removed to prevent anyone from leaving the planet on foot or opening a communication channel." He blew out a breath. "It looked exactly like what happened to the Taranans."
"The Taranans?" Ladon asked, wrinkling his brow.
"See, there's this Wraith scientist who's pretty pissed at us..." Sheppard started, and Rodney couldn't help shuddering as he listened to the carefully edited description of Michael and the creatures he had created. Rodney remembered the claustrophobia of dark tunnels and explosions and choking smoke, and the sense of unbearable dread that was broken only by the even worse reality of a roomful of rotting human corpses and chitinous monsters as big as Ronon, scrabbling through the shadows.
"We know Michael was establishing colonies of these bug-creatures on other planets," Rodney added, shaking his head and pulling himself together when it was his turn to speak again—omitting that Michael was able to target human-populated worlds with information he'd stolen from Atlantis's own database.
"And on your visit to Cerra, there was no indication of survivors?" Ladon asked tightly.
"Well, it was just an aerial sweep, but...no." Sheppard shook his head. "The Taranans were killed over time, though. Michael was using them as test subjects, harvesting their DNA to mix with the iratus bugs'. There might still be Cerrans being held somewhere, and your guys too, provided it's really Michael's critters at work here—we can't know for sure until we do a little digging."
Ladon looked down at his hands. "The Cerrans have been trading partners of the Genii for many generations. They've never known us to be anything other than simple farmers, like themselves. They are good, hard-working people."
"The Athosians have known and traded with the Cerrans as well," Teyla said softly, bowing her head. "We share your concern."
"Which is why we're not gonna just nuke the whole place from the air and call it a day," Sheppard said pointedly.
A tense, uneasy silence settled over the room. It was impossible not to feel suspicious of Ladon after all the double-crosses and misadventures they'd had with the Genii. And while it didn't seem likely that Ladon could have found out about Michael's creatures independently and set this whole thing up as some kind of trap, stranger things had happened in Pegasus, and it would seem stupid to rule anything out.
Finally, Ronon leaned in across the table. "So, you've given us this information. What do you want?"
Ladon met Ronon's challenging stare before turning to Elizabeth to reply. "We want to go with you on your return to Cerra, to be part of the mission," he said, indicating himself and the two Genii soldiers who sat silently by his side.
"Why?" Sheppard asked, slouching in his chair and leaning so his shoulder brushed against Rodney's. Rodney felt a weird tingle go through him at the contact, knowing the more casual Sheppard looked, the more dangerous he was.
"Because there are four of our men on that planet," Ladon said, looking at Sheppard. "And because we want to learn from the best."
Sheppard's expression remained unchanged.
"John?" Elizabeth asked, and Sheppard shrugged impassively, throwing the decision back to her. She looked at Ladon again. "You understand this is Colonel Sheppard's operation."
"Absolutely." Ladon nodded. "The Genii know how to follow orders."
"Except when you're staging a coup," Rodney muttered, and Sheppard slipped out of military commander mode just long enough to bump his shoulder, flashing a sly, private smile that made Rodney's cheeks grow warm.
"I can assure you of our full cooperation on this mission, Colonel," Ladon said, and Rodney couldn't help but be impressed with how well he kept his equanimity in the face of their open, even hostile, skepticism. Ladon's spiel might still be total bullshit, but he delivered it damned well. "The Genii want nothing more than to put past difficulties behind us, and to make this alliance into a strong one, built on mutual trust."
"Well," Elizabeth said, folding her hands together on top of the table. "Why don't we just take things one step at a time?"
Rodney worked even later than usual in the lab, trying to burn off his pre-mission jitters. "Yeah, yeah, 'night," he waved away the more conscientious underlings who hesitated to leave while the boss was still at it, until at last he was alone with the familiar low hum of machinery.
Losing himself in here was the closest he got to 'clear blue skies', the intricacies of balancing the power grid providing its own kind of meditation. So, when sometime later a voice behind him asked, "How's it going?" Rodney jumped a little in his seat.
"Colonel," Rodney said in what he hoped was an even voice to hide his surprise (how the hell did Sheppard move so quietly?) and a sudden, annoying, flush of pleasure. He took a deep breath; this was getting downright childish. But being sought out by Sheppard, in the middle of the night, was...well, Rodney didn't know what it was, but he liked it. A lot.
Rodney felt Sheppard leaning in over his shoulder to peer at the laptop screen, and he swiveled around in time to catch the gratifyingly baffled expression on Sheppard's face as he pulled back, stuffing his hands into his pockets.
"Something I can do for you?" Rodney asked, trying to focus on the why of Sheppard's visit, rather than the distracting proximity of him.
Sheppard leaned against the console, expression thoughtful. "You've worked with Ladon Radim some, scientist to scientist. How smart is he?"
Rodney folded his arms across his chest as he considered the question. "Well, he's no me."
"There's only one you, Rodney," Sheppard said with what sounded like a fond laugh, and Rodney found himself fighting a flush all over again.
"Considering that he's had to reinvent the wheel with little or no intellectual community backing him up, I'd say he's pretty bright," Rodney said, finally. "Why? You think he's up to something?"
"Hard to know," Sheppard said with a sigh. "The Genii have been behaving themselves recently, but..."
"Not exactly a great track record," Rodney concluded.
Sheppard nodded. "I guess we'll find out tomorrow." He hesitated. "Listen, about that, it's gonna be a pretty strictly military thing, so, you know, if you wanted to beg off this one..." Sheppard scuffed at the floor with his boot.
"You don't want me to go?" Rodney tried to keep the hurt out of his voice, even as he puzzled over why he felt disappointed at being offered an out on a hopelessly dangerous mission.
"No, it's not that—hell, your big brain is like our secret weapon." Sheppard shrugged. "Just, the last time we went up against these creatures was pretty bad, and...you were turning kinda green during parts of the briefing this afternoon."
"Well, excuse me for feeling concerned about the nest of giant, vicious, genetically engineered bugs who are going to try to kill me tomorrow," Rodney huffed, tilting his chin up defiantly. Sheppard arched an eyebrow, and Rodney rushed to continue. "But you're right, you never know when you might need me. I'm part of the team. I've trained for this. I want to go."
And it was kind of a lie, but also, weirdly, kind of...not. Thankfully, he managed keep from blurting: I'd rather be with you, you idiot, no matter how crazy and stupid it seems. His heart thumped in his chest as he watched Sheppard expectantly. Finally, Sheppard nodded.
"All right. Well...good. You have trained for this, Rodney, you've worked hard." He patted Rodney's shoulder and gave him a small smile before turning to go. "It's gonna be okay."
"Your so-called motivational techniques grow increasingly transparent!" Rodney yelled after Sheppard's retreating back, but it was small armor against the ridiculous warmth swelling in his chest.
He tried to return to the power grid equations, but then his mind couldn't stop reliving the few horrible moments when one of Michael's creatures had cornered him, slime dripping from huge mandibles as long, black pincers reached and slashed toward his head...
Oh God. Rodney scrubbed a hand across his face. At least his thing for Samantha Carter had just made him act like a complete fool. This crush on Sheppard was going to get him killed.
The next morning, Lieutenant Cooper's team of armed-to-the-teeth Marines came into the ready room to join the mission to Cerra, and Rodney felt lost and vulnerable among them. He'd never been suited up more heavily himself—double the normal number of clips, armor piercing rounds, extra C4—but he wasn't sure any of it made him feel safer.
Teyla escorted Ladon and his two men in'Rodney had been introduced to the other Genii soldiers at some point, promptly forgot their names, and now just thought of the blond as 'Bull-neck' and the dark-haired one as 'Skinny Guy'. Ronon outfitted them reluctantly, growling "That's a loan," as he shoved a P90 against Bull-neck's chest.
Aerial photos of the Cerran village were projected on a screen. It looked like the usual scatter of sturdy farmhouses and outbuildings with one or two larger structures Rodney figured served some community purpose. Sheppard stood in front of the screen and gestured at the photo before turning toward Ladon.
"I don't suppose the Cerrans also have some vast network of underground bunker-type things perfect for harboring giant, killer bugs—do they?"
"No, they live out in the open on their farms," Ladon replied. But a moment later, he glanced at Teyla. "Unless you count the..." Rodney saw comprehension dawn on Teyla's face.
"Root cellars," they said in unison.
"Root cellars," Sheppard repeated slowly.
"Their staple crop is not unlike your turnip," Teyla explained. "Most homes have a chamber beneath them for year-round storage."
"Perfect," Rodney sighed, shrinking miserably lower into his chair.
"Well, at least we'll have a good idea of where to look," Sheppard said.
"Most of the cellars do connect with one another," piped up Bull-neck. "The Cerrans farm as a cooperative; they feel having open access to each other's cellars maintains the integrity of the harvest."
"You mean keeps them from stealing from each other," said Ronon.
"Perhaps you have already been living in the city of the Ancestors too long to remember, Ronon," Skinny Guy cut in, "but for those of us who don't get regular shipments of supplies from elsewhere, the margin between success and failure is often thin."
"You don't tell me what I remember," Ronon shot back, pointing threateningly.
"Knock it off!" Sheppard said, barely raising his voice, and Ronon and Skinny Guy both shut up, looking chastened but no less angry. "How about we all just pretend to get along for the duration of this little adventure, all right?"
"I apologize for Tillem, he means no offense," Ladon cut in, shooting Skinny Guy a quelling glare. "His wife hails from Cerra. Her kin may be among the missing."
"Forget it," Sheppard said, waving off the apology. "Let's just get out there and see if anyone's alive."
Abandoned villages always gave Rodney the creeps, his overactive imagination supplying a seemingly never-ending selection of doomsday scenarios half-remembered from Last Days of Pompeii exhibits and cheap science-fiction novels. But after cloaking the jumper in a nearby field, they were able to reach the silent town square without incident.
"All right everybody," Sheppard said before they entered the first humble but solid-looking house. "Teyla's not sensing any Wraith at the moment, but if Michael shows up? Shoot to kill. As for the creatures, remember that exoskeleton is tough—hit 'em in the underside. Stay alert and keep close, we don't want to lose anyone down there."
They found more than a dozen dead Cerrans in the very first cellar. Even forewarned, Rodney felt sick when he reached the bottom of the stepladder and saw the bodies carelessly heaped on the floor near bins of brown and yellow root vegetables, tell-tale wounds marking each mottled throat. Skinny Guy, face drawn, said he recognized at least half of the victims. Still, it wasn't the scene of utter carnage they'd found among the Taranans—at least not yet—and Rodney tried to concentrate on remaining calm. He pulled out the life-signs detector.
"Oh boy," he said, calm fleeing swiftly at what appeared on the screen.
"What?" asked Sheppard, leaning in.
"This group of dots is us," Rodney said, pointing first to their cluster, then moving his finger to tap the much larger group across the screen. "This one is..."
"Either a whole lot of prisoners, or a whole lot of bugs," Sheppard concluded. "Which means we'd better look carefully."
"Two doors out of here," Ronon noted. "Which one you want?"
"Whichever one moves us closer to the life-signs," Sheppard replied. "Rodney?"
Rodney swallowed hard and pointed to the door against the back wall. "Should be straight on that way, about 50 meters."
The doors were thick-hewn from heavy looking wood, and didn't seem to have any knobs or other fixtures. Ronon shrugged and pushed, and the door opened slowly but smoothly on free-swinging hinges. Teyla propped the door open with her hand and leaned cautiously through the opening.
"There is nothing here," she reported, waving them through. Rodney glanced at the door as he passed, guessing it swung both ways to make it easier for the Cerrans to move their vegetable bins back and forth.
Rodney looked around the empty cellar, a simple rectangular chamber like the first, with walls of whitewashed hard-packed dirt and neat wooden bins for storing the Cerrans' harvest.
"Must be the next one down," he said, consulting the detector screen once again and nodding toward the door at the far end.
"Wait, do you hear something?" Ladon asked as they approached the door as a group, weapons raised.
Ronon inclined his head toward the door, listening. "There's people back there," he said after a moment. Everyone looked hopeful'if Ronon was right, the life-signs detector was showing dozens of survivors.
"These dirt walls are so thick they're practically soundproof," Sheppard said, moving in to stand beside Ronon. "Here goes." He pushed on the door, but it didn't budge. He tried again. "Locked somehow," he said, stepping back.
"I guess Michael doesn't want his little pets overeating while he's away," Rodney said.
Sheppard nodded to Lieutenant Cooper. "Blow the door."
They all huddled together at the other end of the cellar as Cooper yelled in warning and a charge of C4 rocked the room. The splintered door fell forward onto the floor with a heavy thud.
"Grenades ready, just in case we're wrong," Sheppard whispered hoarsely through the smoke, but then they could hear the first cries for help and a dazed looking woman staggered out to meet them.
"Kala!" Skinny Guy cried, rushing forward to catch her.
"Michael cannot have been running his experiment here for very long," Teyla said as the Marines ushered out more than 60 survivors who looked weak from hunger, but mostly okay. The four Genii scouts were among the living, and it was a little strange watching Ladon, Bull-neck, and Skinny Guy joyfully reunited with their comrades; Rodney felt kind of happy for them.
"All right, Cooper, you and your team get these people to the surface," Sheppard said. "Use the DHD in the jumper to dial the Alpha Site and have a med team meet you there. We'll finish looking around down here."
After seeing the last of the shaky survivors up the stepladder to the surface, they pushed through another thick wooden door into the adjoining cellar, which also turned out to be empty.
"No sign of bugs yet," Ronon said curiously, peeking over at the life-signs detector in Rodney's hands.
"Well this thing only has a range of 100 meters, and if they're still incubating, they'll be dormant and won't show up on a life-signs detector. But if Michael hasn't been at work here very long, maybe there aren't even any adult bugs hatched yet," Rodney mused hopefully, looking around. "If we can find another one of Michael's labs down here, we might be able to get some updated information on what he's up to."
Ladon pushed open the next door and they passed through yet another cellar that contained only bins of the Cerrans' ubiquitous root vegetables. Rodney glanced at the life-signs detector again—and this time a chill raced up his spine.
"Uh oh, maybe I spoke too soon," he said, thrusting the screen out toward Sheppard, "We just got three new dots in range, very fast moving, above us."
"Above ground..." Sheppard tapped his radio. "Cooper, your group all present and accounted for?"
"Yes, sir. We've got the jumper in sight now. Change of orders?" came Cooper's reply.
"No, just get those people the hell out of there fast, and be on the lookout for unwanted company—McKay just picked up three new life signs on the surface." Sheppard signed off and turned to Rodney. "Think the shock-wave from blowing that door alerted our creepy friends we were here?"
Rodney met Sheppard's eyes and nodded grimly; that was exactly what he had been about to suggest. And he realized suddenly that he really kind of loved it when Sheppard was on his wavelength like that, and it was a pity they were probably going to die before he ever got the chance to let him know. Rodney sighed and blinked, then noticed Sheppard was looking back at him with an odd, unreadable expression and...Oh God, he'd been staring at Sheppard like some kind of wistful idiot—now he had to die feeling like a moron.
Rodney averted his gaze back down to the life-signs detector and immediately lost his embarrassment to a renewed sense of terror.
"Dots are down here now, coming in fast at twelve o'clock!" he cried pointing to the door directly in front of them. Everyone's weapons came up, and Rodney raised his own P90 with shaking hands.
The door creaked ominously, then stopped. Rodney could feel the tension squeezing down on his chest like a physical thing. He glanced quickly at the three Genii standing in their own clustered formation and saw a bead of sweat running down Ladon's temple as he squinted to sight an unfamiliar weapon.
The door crashed open and a horrible high squealing sounded as three of Michael's full-grown bugs charged into the room. They moved impossibly fast, dark blurs darting and lunging and Rodney felt rooted to the spot with fear. Ronon's blaster went off, then a chorus of P90 rounds, and Rodney cringed as one of the creatures fell less than a meter from his feet. Then it was all chaos and shooting and that godawful bug squeal. Rodney winced as he saw Bull-neck take a pincer slash across the face, blood dripping down from a long, angry gash. Rodney fired and fired at one of the creatures, trying desperately to hit the target zone, but it kept moving and it was so damned fast.
"Get down!" Sheppard yelled, yanking Rodney back, and the creature was advancing on them, forcing them to shove back through the door to the next cellar over. After what seemed like an endless number of P90 rounds to its abdomen, the creature finally went down, pincers still snapping in the air.
"Sheppard, you copy?" came Ronon's voice over the radio a moment later.
"Yeah, we're okay. Where are you guys?" Sheppard asked, as Rodney pulled up the life-signs detector and noted their dots—the correct number of dots, thank God—had moved off some distance away.
"Not sure, we were chasing one of those things," Ronon said. "These cellars all look the same."
"All right, those last critters came from above ground, so don't go back up there yet. We've got the life-signs detector—you guys just stay put and we'll come to you," Sheppard said. Then he turned to Rodney. "What the hell are the hatched ones doing up on the surface?"
"I don't know. Foraging?" Rodney suggested, pointing in the direction they needed to walk.
"Foraging?" Sheppard frowned. "Do bugs forage?"
"I don't know. Do I look like an entomologist?" Rodney glanced back down at the life-signs detector to check their direction and noticed a new fast-moving blip appear at the edge of the screen. "New dot just appeared behind us!" he yelled, grabbing at Sheppard's arm and they ran, pushing through enough doors that Rodney lost track of where they'd been.
"Oh God, the dot's gone out of range, but I don't know where to," Rodney puffed, checking the detector again when they finally stopped to rest in an empty chamber. "And now we've gotten out of range of Teyla and Ronon too—this is bad." He could feel his panic rising. "This is really bad." He bent double, hands on his knees, trying to breathe.
"Pull it together, Rodney. I need you here with me," Sheppard said, lowering his P90 to place a hand on Rodney's shoulder.
And after a moment of what he felt was perfectly justified distress, Rodney willed himself to calm down. He straightened and closed his eyes, drawing a long, shaky breath.
"I'm here," he said, nodding. But then he thought some more about how screwed they were and his eyes flew open. "I just don't want to die a horrible death, rended limb from limb and left among vegetables!"
Sheppard's hand tightened on Rodney's shoulder. "Damn it, we are not going to die," he said staring fiercely into Rodney's eyes. And then before Rodney knew what was happening, Sheppard hauled him closer and pressed a rough kiss to his mouth.
"What the hell was that?" Rodney gasped, stumbling as Sheppard released him.
"Come on!" Sheppard called back over his shoulder; he was already moving toward the door, P90 raised and ready.
Rodney hustled after him, lips still tingling. "If this turns out to be just another one of your 'motivational techniques', I'm going to kill you!"
"Ssh!" Sheppard whispered. "Consider it a down payment." Then he tapped his radio as they pushed into the next chamber. "Teyla, Ronon, you read me?"
"John!" Teyla's voice came back in their ears. "We are still here. Is Rodney with you?"
"Yeah, I've got Rodney." Sheppard glanced at Rodney with the ghost of a smirk and Rodney was glad it was probably too dark for his blush to be visible—a blush he was sure intensified as Sheppard put his hand over Rodney's to tilt the life-signs detector screen closer. Thankfully, the five dots they were hoping to see were visible again now, at the far edge of the detector's 100 meter range. "We got a little sidetracked but are headed back to you now," Sheppard said. He signed off and looked at Rodney. "Let's go."
"Down payment?" Rodney blurted.
"Is that a problem?" Sheppard asked, maddeningly inflection-free, as they headed across the cellar at a jog.
"Oh, well no," Rodney said. Then he thought about the mysterious dot that had vanished from the detector screen, imagining it had probably gone off to alert untold numbers of other dots up on the surface, which would all doubtless return to descend upon them at any moment. "No problem at all. But...do you think the next installment might be soon?"
They explained about the disappearing dot when they caught back up with the others.
"No way to know for sure how many are up there, and we haven't even found the nest yet. I think we'd better clear out, pronto, and come back later with another plan," Sheppard said.
"Well, McKay should probably see this before we go," Ronon said, pushing open the door behind him to reveal a rudimentary version of Michael's experiment lab. "We found it while we were waiting for you."
They went in and looked around, Teyla skirting the table Michael strapped his victims to, one hand creeping protectively toward her throat. Sheppard glanced warily at a large vessel containing a half-mutated iratus bug suspended in some kind of liquid before pointing his P90 at Michael's workstation. He looked at Rodney.
"Think you can get anything from that?"
"Oh please," Rodney scoffed, retrieving his laptop from the pack on his back. He was only showing off for Sheppard a little'Michael was a creature of habit and it really was just a matter of moments before the data yielded to Rodney's skills. "Bingo! Looks like the last time Michael was here was three days ago. That matches up with the time the second pair of Genii scouts went missing, doesn't it?"
"Yes," Ladon agreed, hovering close by Rodney's shoulder. Rodney shifted to obscure the screen. Ladon had spent years studying Wraith systems, and could probably figure out more about what Michael was up to than any scientist outside Atlantis. They weren't ready to be quite that friendly with him yet.
"Okay, I'm downloading all this to analyze later," Rodney said, shifting again to thwart Ladon's prying gaze.
"Fantastic," Sheppard said, shooting Rodney a quick smile. "Now let's get the hell out of here."
Rodney slipped his laptop back into the pack and checked the life-signs detector again. "Still clear," he said, and Ronon led the way up the stepladder to the surface.
They emerged from the cellar into a house not far from the field where the jumper was parked and set off toward it at a brisk trot.
"I need a lighter laptop," Rodney puffed as the jumper came within view.
"What was that?" Ronon asked, spinning alertly to scan the brush edging the field.
Knowing how good Ronon's hearing was, Rodney glanced down at the life-signs detector and his bad feeling was rewarded with the sight of several dots sweeping across the screen toward them.
"Bugs!" Rodney yelled, barely catching himself from tripping on his own wild momentum. "Run!"
They all pressed harder toward the jumper, but then Rodney could hear that awful squealing sound and he knew the creatures had caught up with them.
"Open the hatch!" Sheppard shouted ahead to Teyla, turning to shoot as he ran. Ronon and Bull-neck—sliced cheek swollen hugely now—joined him.
Rodney kept running as hard as he could, but he could feel himself beginning to labor, slowing down, even as Teyla reached the jumper and the hatch started to lower, tantalizingly close. Ladon got to the jumper next, then Skinny Guy.
"McKay, behind you!" Ronon called and Rodney spun in confusion just as Bull-neck opened fire on a creature lunging inches from Rodney's back. The shots rang deafeningly loud in Rodney's ears as the creature exploded in a shower of chitinous shrapnel.
"Rodney!" Sheppard roared, charging up beside Rodney and yanking him bodily the last few yards to the jumper. Bull-neck and Ronon leapt in just before the hatch thunked shut.
"Oh my God!" Rodney breathed, and he and Sheppard looked at each other for a moment, panting and listening to the creatures' pincers still scratching against the hull. "When we get back, I could seriously use another installment."
"Balance, with interest," Sheppard agreed, and Rodney decided the killer bugs had been worth it.
While Sheppard fired up the jumper, Rodney twisted around to find Bull-neck, sprawled in the back with Ladon and Skinny Guy in a heap of drab Genii green.
"Hey, uh, you," Rodney said, hoping he managed to make that sound grateful. "Thanks—that was one hell of a shot."
"His name's Marduk," rumbled Ronon's gruff voice, and Rodney blinked in surprise.
"Marduk," Rodney repeated. "Right. I'll try to remember that."
Then the wormhole engaged, and they all went home.
The Request: b) The Lantians test the limits of their truce with the Genii when they team up to take out a Wraith outpost or Hive; could go well, horribly wrong, or anything inbetween; can be gen or include any level of Teyla/Sora, Elizabeth/Ronon, or John/Rodney