Entaillen 3

by Domenika Marzione

The first thought as he's shaken awake is that he's going to complete his entire military career without ever being able to wake up alert and on his own. The second is that it's light out, thus it's already morning and he's going to kill whichever of the marines thought it was a good idea to let him sleep through his watch because they've already had this discussion. The third thought comes as he looks around and then at Reletti, who is kneeling next to him with his rifle unslung and a worried look on his face.

"Fuck," Lorne mutters, looking around again, as if the scene would change once he blinked the grogginess from his eyes. "They're not off getting water, are they."

Reletti shakes his head no. The sound of twigs breaking underfoot and Reletti's rifle turns at the noise, but it's just Ronon returning. The big man approaches and crouches down on the other side from Reletti and Lorne swallows to try to get his heart out of his throat at the realization that they've gone from seven to three overnight.

"No signs," he says with a shake of his head. "They weren't dragged."

Lorne reaches over for his canteen, takes a long draught, and runs his fingers through his hair. "What the hell happened?" he asks. "How did they manage this?"

The 'what' is obvious -- an ambush of some kind -- and he doesn't expect an answer there. The 'how' is what worries him, as is the 'who'. Whoever is hunting them didn't just take those on watch; Reletti was left behind and Ortilla, who had been on the second watch and probably asleep when the attack came, is gone. Ortilla is bigger than Ronon, so for someone -- something -- to take him away without anyone noticing, without leaving a trace....

"I don't remember anything," Reletti says, self-disgust evident. "They must've knocked us out, but I don't remember it."

"What do you remember?" Lorne asks carefully. Reletti's not delicate, but he's obviously reeling a little from the guilt and Lorne can afford to worry about him even as they need answers.

Reletti closes his eyes for a long moment, opening them when Ronon stands. "I took Teyla on a pee break," he says with wry embarrassment. "It was a typical overnight in a forest. We were all a little spooked, checking into every fucking noise and it wasn't ever anything. Just squirrels or whatever roams around here at night. Nothing was going on. Nothing. And then I woke up with the sun in my eyes."

Unlike yesterday, the heavy clouds that obscured the sun are gone. From what Lorne can see through the tree canopy, the sky is an uninterrupted blue.

"Could've been those stun weapons from yesterday," Ronon says, not looking down. He's got one hand on the blaster he carries on his hip and Lorne doesn't bother telling him that it's probably pointless.

Reletti snorts and stands up. "Yeah, well, I'm not puking, so it wasn't drugs."

Lorne gets up carefully, the twinges and soreness between his shoulder blades from more than just his pack. "I vote for stun weapons," he says, rolling his neck slowly. He's gotten nailed with those enough times (curiously, never by actual Wraith) to know the aftereffects all too well.

"What's the plan?" Ronon asks.

Lorne doesn't hesitate. "Same as yesterday. We try to get back to the stargate."

"What about Sheppard and the others?"

"We were outmatched with seven and we'd get creamed with three," Lorne says. He isn't sure if Ronon is intentionally trying to loom or just standing too close. Either way, Lorne isn't intimidated and doesn't especially care. Reletti does, however, and Lorne distracts him from any incipient pissing matches by gesturing toward the packs left behind by the missing. "Find which one is Doctor Safir's."

Reletti complies, sparing one last glance at Ronon.

"Look," Lorne sighs. "Our best chance -- and their best chance -- is for us to get back in contact with Atlantis and get reinforcements. Which means finding the stargate."

And figuring out where the hell the marines sent to find them are.

"And if we don't?"

"Then we'll find out the hard way where our people are because we'll be imprisoned right next to them," he replies, shrugging with a casualness that he doesn't feel. Ronon isn't being contrary; Lorne can tell that much. But that doesn't mean he can also tell what Ronon is looking for from him. "Are they running us around in circles? Probably. But everyone makes mistakes and every trap has a back door. I'm willing to bet the safety of our missing on you and Sergeant Reletti finding one for us."

Ronon nods curtly and Lorne thinks -- hopes -- that Ronon got his answer. He turns away and goes over to the furthest of the packs on the ground.

Reletti walks over to them carrying what must be Yoni's pack. "This is Doc's. We taking all of the medical stuff or just what we know how to use?"

"How much of a difference is there?" Lorne asks him. The folks back on Earth won't give them enough Corpsmen, so everyone has to take the combat lifesaver course and its refreshers. But while Yoni carries the same first aid supplies as everyone else who steps through the stargate, he also carries a whole host of other tools and gear.

Reletti kneels down and opens up the pack, pulling out the medical bag. He rifles through it, pulling out bandages and some small bottles and what Lorne knows is Yoni's field surgery kit before pulling out an oddly shaped box and holding it up.

"That's the new portable defibrillator," Lorne tells him. "If we're dealing with stun weapons, we may need it."

Behind him, he can see Ronon collecting the other packs and opening them up, pulling out MREs and other food items and collecting canteens.

"I know Doc'll kill us for leaving his toys behind, sir," Reletti says as he looks over the items spread before him, "but I don't see us doing any kind of surgery where we'd be picking out a scalpel instead of just using our ka-bars."

Reletti's right on both accounts.

Pulling together what they can use out of the four packs left behind doesn't take long. It feels odd and disrespectful to just abandon the rest, but they have no choice. They can't get weighed down. That doesn't mean that Lorne doesn't notice Reletti digging out Suarez's St. Michael's medal or the laminated picture of Ortilla's son and he's quite sure that not everything that made its way from Yoni's pack into the pile of essential medical equipment would qualify as such. He doesn't ask Ronon if anything personal should be taken out of Teyla's pack; if there is, then it already has been.

They eat MREs out of necessity and not any real desire for food, take two canteens a piece, and split the extra gear between their packs -- Ronon taking Ortilla's, since he didn't bring one of his own. They don't talk.

Now that they can compare the direction the sun is traveling in with the direction in which they've been walking, navigating becomes less hopeful guesswork and more steady progress. The sun was behind them, more or less, when they came through the stargate and it was morning local time, so there's a half-decent chance that they are heading in the right direction. Unless their hunters are messing with the sun as well and Lorne isn't yet ready to either allow or discount the possibility of that.

They walk for hours, taking brief breaks to rest legs that are just growing heavier, and the scenery never changes until suddenly it does and they pass from the endless stands of trees into a small clearing.

"The stargate was in a place like this," Reletti says as he looks around. "There were silver dollar trees there, too."

He's gesturing across the clearing from where they're standing, but Lorne's attention is drawn to Ronon, who is crouching off to their right, his back to them. "What is it, Ronon?"

Ronon stands up. "Cranberry muffin," he says, coming toward them with something in his hand.

Lorne feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. "Like McKay's Poisonous Muffin of Doom?"

The commissary kitchens are working their way through a hundred bushels of cranberries, the sole export of a planet eager to express their gratitude for Lieutenant Salker's platoon rescuing them from flash floods and rebuilding their broken dam four months ago. Most of the berries were frozen so it's not a use-it-or-lose-it kind of urgency, but there's been a steady supply of muffins and preserves and the occasional experiment as each platoon cycles through KP duty.

"Fuck," Reletti sighs, looking at the mass of destroyed muffin in Ronon's hand.

As they had been coming through the stargate two days ago, Suarez had accidentally (maybe) set McKay off by regaling a tale of woe involving a grater and orange zest from when he'd helped his mother make cranberry muffins as a child. McKay, who'd been inhaling the muffins for months without ill effect, had spit out what had been in his mouth and dumped the rest on the ground as if it had suddenly turned to dog shit. Sheppard had teasingly chided McKay on his manners, McKay had launched into a diatribe about the marines trying to kill the most valuable member of the expedition, and he'd still been pissy enough later on that nobody had thought twice when he didn't respond to his radio right away.

"If that's McKay's," Lorne says, looking around, "then where the hell is the stargate?"

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26 December, 2006