Entaillen 4

by Domenika Marzione

If he'd paused to think about it, Lorne is sure that it would have been obvious that Ronon would be the most disturbed by the missing stargate. Reletti didn't grow up with them as either concept or means of transportation, had instead come to learn about them at the same time he'd learned about spaceships and aliens and he'd been beamed to and from the Daedalus before he'd ever been through a wormhole. A missing stargate doesn't equate to "trapped" for Reletti the way it does for Ronon. Even if, in this case, Ronon is right.

Nonetheless, Ronon doesn't freak out per se; he has simply been though too much. Instead, Lorne could almost see the recalibration, the way the change in the rules of the game got reflected in his bearing. They already knew that they were being hunted, but this... Lorne remembers when Ronon first came to Atlantis, when he was still in Runner mode. This is like that.

For his own part, Lorne is willing to roll with the punches. This isn't the first time in the annals of the Stargate Program that a gate had gone AWOL; hell, this isn't the first time this year. They'll simply have to hold out long enough to get rescued by the Daedalus, which will take less time than the last because at least Atlantis knows which planet they are on.

"I guess this explains why we never ran into the SAR team," Reletti says as crosses the small clearing, turning around as if to try and remember where the stargate had been.

"Yeah," Lorne agrees, turning back to Ronon. "Where do you want to start looking?"

There's no point in doing anything else, not when the alternative is sitting around and waiting, either to be caught or to be rescued. Assuming the stargate here has been inaccessible since the first time they missed a check-in, then that's enough time for Polito, who will have become interim commander, and Weir to have established some sort of plan of action. Lorne doesn't remember if there are any planets with stargates in puddle jumper range; otherwise, the Daedalus left Atlantis ten days ago and getting it to turn around will require opening a wormhole to Earth and, even then, they may choose to resupply before returning. Because it's not like his team or Sheppard's haven't gone missing before and the novelty has probably worn off by now.

Ronon tilts his head, either in thought or to listen to something Lorne certainly can't hear. "That way," he says, gesturing in the opposite direction from which they came. "There's been nothing so far where we've been."

There's a chance that they just missed something, but Lorne doubts it.

"We should look for another clearing," Reletti says, looking up. "If they came from the trees, then we should get out from under them."

In case the stargate re-appears and their rescuers show up, they mark the clearing (Ronon with Satedan script and Reletti with 'semper fi' painted in chem light fluid) and then head off. It feels different this time, Lorne realizes as they disappear into the trees once more. There is no hiding the fact that they are prey this time, no pretending that they are hunting something while being hunted themselves. Because, yeah, they're looking for some clue as to who has their missing teammates and where they're being held (the alternative not worth considering), but Lorne doesn't like their odds of finding anything before they are found. He doesn't say as much out loud, but he knows both Ronon and Reletti are thinking the same thing. Reletti wasn't wrong with the comparison to SERE school, except here they don't know that they'll be set free, pass or fail, in a fixed amount of time.

Lorne mostly expects Ronon to withdraw into himself as the day progresses, retreating to whatever mindset he needed to adopt to survive as a Runner, but he doesn't. Quite the opposite -- he makes a point of interacting with both Lorne and Reletti, pointing out an edible plant ("you can eat it; didn't say it tasted good") to supplement their dwindling supplies and volunteering the odd bit of tactical experience. Whether it's out of comfort (to himself or to them) or some weird sense of obligation to Sheppard to protect his men or for some other purpose, Lorne doesn't begin to guess. Instead, he takes care to encourage Ronon without being too obvious. He's less worried about Reletti, who for all of his youth can compartmentalize like a pro, skilled warrior one minute and Reletti the next. But he worries a little bit about Ronon because Sheppard worries a little bit about Ronon and he's sure, wherever they are, that Sheppard is looking after his men for him, too.

It was already afternoon by the time they found where the stargate should have been and while the days are long here, dusk comes sooner than they'd like. They haven't found another clearing, although the trees are becoming less densely packed and they're all hoping that that's a sign that the endless forest could be, in fact, ending.

"Fuck," Reletti mutters as he rolls smoothly out of a tumble. It's not really dark enough to use the goggles and not quite bright enough to clearly see the dark, uneven ground. Ronon's been grumbling to himself about the terrain and Lorne has already been unceremoniously yanked out of a stumble or three by Ronon's hand on the collar of his jacket, but while his right ankle may be a little stiff tomorrow morning, that's about it.

"You okay?" he asks as he follows Ronon to where Reletti is picking himself up off of the ground.

"Yes, sir," Reletti replies, adjusting the hanging canteens and checking that none of the pockets on his tac vest opened.

"Sergeant," he warns, because this is Reletti, who does not self-report injury. "Doctor Safir isn't here to coerce you into a confession, but I'm sure Ronon will pinch-hit if asked."

Next to him, Ronon looks both appraising and a little eager for the opportunity. It was a moment of almost-levity in a situation that has pretty much been devoid of such. If he wasn't worried that Reletti might actually be hurt, he'd smile.

"I'm fine, sir," Reletti sighs. "Really. If I start bitching about a skinned knee, when we get out of here, I'll have to quit the Marines and join the Army."

They both know he would've said Air Force in almost any other circumstance, so Lorne gives him a glare for good measure and Reletti suddenly realizes that his boot could use re-tying.

As they did yesterday, they go a few hours after full dark, mostly for the chance that they'll come across a defensible position. They find a large rock, a bus-sized boulder that sticks out as much for its size as for the fact that it has no mates anywhere nearby and is surrounded by large trees.

"Must've been here a long time," Reletti says as they sit down heavily. "The trees here are pretty old."

They eat some of the berries they found earlier (Ronon has a name for them, but they are so close to unripe mulberries that that's what Lorne and Reletti call them) and a handful each of Ortilla's pistachios. Reletti describes pistachio ice cream for Ronon, who in turn seems more interested in the fact that pistachios are apparently prone to spontaneous combustion ("no, really, sir. You can check when we get back.") than in whether it is important for the ice cream to be dyed bright green.

Lorne is tempted to not bother setting watches -- it did them no good last night and they can all use the rest -- but not to the point where he voices the idea aloud because it's still tantamount to giving up. Reletti asks for the first watch and Lorne lets him take it. Ronon'll take middle watch and he'll pick up the last until first light.

They don't make it until daybreak. Halfway though Ronon's watch, he's shaken awake by Reletti, who tells him through hand signals that they are being surveilled from almost head-on. Ronon is maybe a yard in front of them, pistol drawn and coiled for action. Reletti gestures that he's going to the top of boulder and Lorne nods. If they're surrounded in the trees, then he's just making himself a bigger target, but if it's an attack from the ground, then Reletti will maybe gain enough advantage from the height of the boulder to make a difference.

Lorne shuffles forward to Ronon, tapping him lightly on the shoulder with one hand and unclipping his P-90 with the other. When he has Ronon's attention, he indicates that he'll take the 0-90 degree arc, leaving Ronon to watch the 91-180 degree side. They have the boulder behind them and Reletti above and it'll have to do.

It doesn't, of course.
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26 December, 2006