Entaillen 12

by Domenika Marzione

The room with the transporter isn't very far away, which is good because everyone is thinking that Reletti and Sheppard might be better unconscious than suffering the way they are now. It's beyond simple vertigo, but neither of them can communicate how and it's not as if Yoni can do anything for them anyway. The helplessness is making Yoni frustrated, which in turn will make him sharp-tongued and they don't need that right now because they're all at the ends of their ropes, physically as well as mentally. Lorne keeps wanting to check that his skin is still pink and normal and the headache has started to become audible as well as take up all of the space between his ears.

"You have no idea where they hide the stargate?" Lorne asks as they are directed to a large platform, one big enough to receive the massive rings.

"If it is not here," the man says with a shrug, "then it is there. I have never seen it and if it is as heavy as you say, then moving it from this room would be impractical. It must be on the planet."

"And so are those werewolf things," Suarez points out.

The man turns to a cabinet, tests the door, which does not open, and turns back to McKay. "Your key will open this cabinet. Inside, there are transmitters that will keep the creatures from you."

McKay waits until Suarez is in position under Sheppard's left arm before he digs into his tac vest and retrieves the remote. He types in a sequence, Lorne doesn't know what it is, and there is a click.

"It's the same key as the elevator," McKay explains to no one in particular.

Their hostage (their collaborator) retrieves a handful of amulets on simple metal chains and hands them to Teyla, who distributes the rest before carefully placing one each around Reletti's and Sheppard's bowed heads. Neither stir and she turns back to Lorne, worry on her face.

"They should start getting better once we're away from here," Yoni says. "Neither was symptomatic in the forest."

They're all on the platform, ready to go, and they can hear voices in the distance. It's time to go now.

"Farewell," the man says. "May your people's absolution be at hand."

And then he hits a few keys on the computer-type device next to the cabinet and then there's a flash of bright light. When it fades, they are in a forest -- hopefully, the same forest. It's light out, daytime, and the sun feels better than it should.

"Oh, thank god," McKay sighs.

"Don't thank him yet," Lorne tells him, still looking up. "We still have to get out of here. Ronon, can you tell if it's morning or afternoon?"

Their watches are gone, too.

Ronon looks up awkwardly, Reletti's dead weight a factor. "Afternoon," he says after a minute. "Stargate'll be that way."

They head off in the direction Ronon indicates.

Moving in the forest isn't nearly as easy as running through the halls of the Security Directorate. Reletti and Sheppard both need to be carried and if Ortilla and Ronon can handle Reletti, Yoni and McKay are having a harder time with Sheppard. It would go a little easier if Suarez were helping Yoni; Suarez is taller and stronger than McKay and more used to the physical particulars of the activity. But it wouldn't be so much easier that Lorne wants to ignore the concern McKay has for his teammate and friend.

They stop at the first stream. They are all thirsty, their feet are starting to get cut up, and Ronon and Suarez are bloodied (Suarez was right; it's essentially a long and shallow scratch across his belly). If they can get Reletti and Sheppard alert enough to take some water, then it'll go down as a win.

Ronon wanders a bit as Yoni works on Sheppard and Reletti. Maybe he wanders a little too far considering everything that's happened to them, but Lorne figures that he's looking for any of the signs they left on their first travels, so he doesn't say anything.

"Get up, you lazy fucker," Ortilla barks at Reletti, who opens his eyes and blinks dumbly at his squad leader. "I'm tired of hauling your ass around. Fucking recon rock star. All you've done all day is lie around and puke. You wanna do that, you take leave in TJ like all of the rest of you lazy-ass Hollywood marines."

Reletti musters up a weakly raised middle finger.

"Better." Ortilla nods and stands.

Lorne doesn't bother to hide his amusement and relief when Ortilla looks over at him. Ortilla shrugs back; just doing his job. Except Lorne can see the relief in his expression, too.

Sheppard comes around on his own, with a groan of pain and a barely-voiced question to Teyla, who smiles broadly and assures him that yes, she is fine, they are all fine except for him and Sergeant Reletti. McKay fusses and bitches at him a little and Sheppard takes it for the concern that it is.

Ronon reappears while Reletti and Sheppard are still sipping water (their canteens were apparently not technologically interesting enough to be swiped by the Thadorians).

"Our signs begin two kilometers that way," he says, gesturing behind him. "We're not going to make the stargate before dark."

It's not good news and not just because their night vision gear is gone. It can't possibly take that long for the Thadorians to realize that they're back in the forest and then all they have to do is take the stargate away again and they'll be right back where they were almost two weeks ago.

"Let's see how far we can get before we have to test these amulets," Lorne says with a sigh.

The answer, obviously, is "not nearly far enough." They hear noises as dusk falls, sounds from the trees although there is no breeze, but nothing very close and nothing attacks them. It's not a lot of comfort, not when their progress is so slow. Reletti and Sheppard are improving, but slowly and not so much that they are able to stop relying on others to get them from place to place.

They are following Ronon's sigils, which he had numbered so as to give directionality to the marks, but it is getting too dark to see and far too dark to be carrying two large men.

Lorne calls a halt after Yoni and McKay stumble once too often with Sheppard, who is probably making things worse by trying to help. They half-collapse on to the ground, propping Sheppard and Reletti against convenient logs. Everyone's feet are bloodied and raw; Ronon guides Yoni by sound to a nearby stream so that he can wet down some more towel strips. Everyone takes care of their own feet; Yoni offers sharp object removal at dawn.

The dark scares all of them a little. They've been too-recently conditioned to bad things happening and while Lorne sets watches so that half of the group can rest at a time, he doubts that anyone other than Sheppard and Reletti actually do sleep. He certainly doesn't.

The night passes as they listen to noises that they can't ignore. Forest noises, noises that are probably the werewolf creatures, noises that could be anything else and only remind them that they are so very far from home. Bone-weary, sore, hungry, and tired in a way he hasn't been in a long time, Lorne greets the first lightening of the sky with relief.

Ronon goes to find more of those awful mulberries and Teyla and Suarez take the canteens for water while Yoni wakes Reletti and Sheppard. Both are vastly improved, alert and able to sit up on their own, if still very uncoordinated and clearly still in pain. When the group gets underway, they are both too clumsy to walk on their own, but Ortilla can handle Reletti without help from Ronon and Yoni and Sheppard manage without McKay.

Judging by the sun's position, it's close to midday by the time they get to where the stargate should be. If it were there.

"Like we didn't know this was going to happen," McKay sighs, rolling his neck.

They did, of course; they've been commenting on the likelihood all along. But their escape from the city went so well that they were all hoping for it to continue. Lorne even decided which planet to gate to, since going directly back to Atlantis would be either impossible (without their GDOs) or simply ill-advised in case the Thadorians could tell which address they used. Nonetheless, the reality of the situation hit them all hard and Lorne can almost see everyone deflate.

"What now, sir?" Suarez asks, disappointment evident.

"Now we follow our trail back to the cave," he replies. He'd been thinking about this, too, along with his dreams of gating to the gamma site and then calling Atlantis. "It's the best defensible position we've found on this mudball, it's shelter, and it won't keep us from being found by the good guys."

He's not sure about any of that, but it sounded like a plan in the haziness of his thoughts overnight.

"It was the only place we stopped where nobody was taken," Teyla says, nodding.

That's as good reasoning as any. Ronon heads into the trees, looking for the first marker that will lead them back to the cave. He returns shortly, gesturing over his shoulder. "That way."

They pick up again, weary and sluggish in a way they weren't earlier, and Lorne knows that they're hitting a dangerous point. Hope has been sustaining them more than sour mulberries or snatches of sleep, and he can feel that slipping away slowly and inexorably. And he doesn't know what to do when it's gone. Sheppard will be able to take back command soon -- tomorrow, probably -- but it won't stop being a problem even with Sheppard's indefatigable optimism as the driving force.

They're most of the way across the clearing when Reletti calls out.

Wait!"

It comes out more of a croak than anything, but the effect is the same. Everyone turns to him as he tries to free himself from Ortilla's grip enough to point. Ortilla's not letting go -- because Reletti can't really walk on his own -- but together they get to where Reletti wants to go. Which turns out to be a tree across from where the stargate would be.

"Holy fuck!" Ortilla laughs, one hand reaching out to grab the listing Reletti as the other touches the bark. "It's Joker One's logo."

Suarez jogs over to them and Lorne follows; he can hear everyone else behind him.

The carving in the tree is crude and small, but it's clearly the emblem of First Platoon, Bravo Company. Higher up on the tree is a Satedan sigil; Lorne remembers Reletti painting something in chem light fluid, too.

"They're looking for us," Suarez says with amazement as he pushes past Reletti to trace the symbol with his own fingertip. He turns to Lorne, a broad smile on his face. "They were here."

Nobody needs to ask who the 'they' are; Bravo's first platoon used to belong to Brian Maguire, so while the emblem now means 'Lieutenant Mark Osgeny was here', everyone still recognizes the symbol.

"There's no way to tell how old that is," McKay points out as he peers around Ronon. Ortilla gives him a baleful look and McKay makes a defensive face back. "I'm just saying, that's all."

McKay's logic can't dampen the mood.

"It can't be that old," Sheppard says from behind them all, where he's still standing with Yoni. "If they came here while we were still captives, I'm sure we would have heard about it. They thought we were scouts for an invading force; they would have reacted if marines came through the gate."

The security would have been a helluva lot tighter, to start with.

"If the gate was even in place," Lorne adds. "If they thought we were a vanguard, they would have hidden the stargate to keep the main force from coming through."

"Or let them through to end up like the Genii," Ronon says.

Lorne shakes his head, but it's Sheppard who speaks. "They're a lot more scared of the Ancients than they would've been of the Genii. You heard the guy. They wouldn't have taken the chance."

"So Joker One came when, sir?" Suarez asks. "Between when we busted out and when they realized we were out of the city?"

"Maybe," Sheppard replies. "Or maybe we've got the Odyssey or the Daedalus in orbit above us."

If there's no radio contact with the planet -- which makes sense considering that their own radios didn't worn on the planet -- then there would have to be short, regular patrols to search for the missing and fixed locations for beaming in and out.

"Would that work when our own technology didn't?" Yoni asked.

"Asgard technology is sufficiently different from Ancient that the Thadorian shields might not be effective against it," McKay answers. He has that half-wired, half-zoned look he gets when he's working something through. "The locator beacons probably won't work, but the point-to-point transfer itself would be unaffected. The major advantage Asgard beaming technology has over Goa'uld transporters is that--"

"Yes," Sheppard cuts him off. "The answer is yes."

McKay glares at him and, for a moment, everything is so normal it hurts.

"So we wait for someone to come back down and look for us?" Ortilla asks.

Lorne nods. "Yeah, but not here. We'll leave a trail, but the cave is still the safest place."

He's unsurprised when they make far better time to the cave than they did to the stargate clearing, even stopping every hundred meters so that Suarez can carve the marines' platoon emblem into trees at eye level. The renewed sense of purpose carries them through the tasks of setting up a camp in the cave, refilling canteens, and a search for something to eat besides those berries. Reletti and Sheppard sleep even though both insist that they are recovered enough to do simple tasks and everyone is safely inside by the time dusk falls.

The cave has only one entrance, so they're not worried about a rear attack. They've heard the werewolf-creatures on and off during the day, mostly from a distance but occasionally right on top of them. Lorne is worried that their rescuers will have to fight their way to the cave, but they haven't seen any sign of combat so far -- no blood, no spent casings, no detritus of war.

With nothing to do but wait, Lorne allows himself to reflect on the events of the last day. Their hostage-slash-rescuer remains an enigma -- who he is, what his job was, whether he could have been a test for them or was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Will he tell anyone? Will he be punished? Will the Thadorians come after them again?

"Here, sir," Ortilla crouches next to him, a cup in his outstretched hand. "Be careful, it's hot."

Lorne looks inside, but the shade of the cave makes it hard to see. "What is it?"

"Doc suggested we boil those mulberries in water. See if we can't dilute the sour somehow." A wry look from Ortilla because he's just as used to Yoni's finicky ways as Lorne is.

Lorne takes a careful sip. "It's sweet," he says, surprised. It tastes like the syrup in a can of fruit, although thankfully not as overpowering. Yoni, somewhere in the recesses of the cave, is probably annoyed as hell -- he hates anything very sweet.

"Gonna have to keep Suarez away from it with a stick," Ortilla says by way of confirmation. He and Reletti have debates about just what Suarez would eat if it came covered in sugar and apparently there have been experiments.

When he doesn't stand up again, Lorne knows it's because he wants to ask a question and is thinking of how to do it.

"Take a load off, Staff Sergeant," Lorne says, gesturing next to him with his free hand. "You're looming."

Ortilla sits carefully. They don't say anything as Lorne blows gently in the cup to cool the contents. Behind him, he can hear Teyla and Ronon talking quietly; McKay and Suarez are at the mouth of the cave on guard duty, McKay having insisted that he was just as capable as anyone else of doing so.

"Sir?" Ortilla begins, waiting for Lorne to turn to him. "They hate the Ancients for creating the Wraith, right? So why do they let these werewolf things run around getting anyone who comes through the stargate? Isn't that the same thing?"

The thought has crossed his mind. He shakes his head. "I don't know," he sighs. "Whether they found these creatures or, god forbid, made them..."

The werewolves are definitely somehow related to homo sapiens, that much is clear the minute you see one. Whether they came about the way the Wraith did or whether they are some ancient race that existed contemporaneously with the Ancients, it's impossible to know without shooting one and taking it back for Beckett to dissect. Which wouldn't be such a bad idea, but it's not on his to-do list.

"How can they justify keeping the gate there?" Ortilla asks quietly. "They probably don't even use it except like a roach motel. They have the tech to move it and don't. And then they call the Ancients murderers?"

Lorne takes a sip. "You're not used to hypocritical bullshit like that by now?"

A sour smile from Ortilla. "I keep hoping that this galaxy will be better somehow, sir. And it keeps letting me down."

They sit in companionable silence until there's a commotion when Reletti wakes up and decides he's going to go about his business and ends up flat on his behind even before Yoni can put him there.

Ortilla sighs and stands up. "Let me know if you want more of that stuff, sir."

With the growing dark comes a change in the guard at the cave mouth; McKay and Suarez come in (both ridiculously delighted at the sweet brew) and Ronon and Yoni go out. Lorne gets up, checks on the still-sleeping Sheppard and Reletti, who has gone back to sleep after losing successive arguments to Yoni and Ortilla, and makes sure that the marines have been their usual thorough selves with the placement of their stash of weapons. He finds himself a place to lean against the wall and, counter to all of his expectations, he falls asleep.

He's woken up by Suarez's hand on his foot and a silent gesture toward the mouth of the cave. Suarez already has his P-90 and he's holding out one for Lorne. They make their way to the mouth of the cave, past the strung-up poncho they're using to hid the firelight, and join the others except for Sheppard and Reletti. It's not quite pitch black, but it's only by relative size that Lorne can tell that Ortilla and Teyla are up front. He presses up against the wall next to Ronon, takes a deep breath, closes his eyes to adjust his night vision, and waits.

He can hear noises, very faint and barely audible above the usual snap-crackle-pop of a forest at night. Footsteps, many of them. It could be the marines, it could be the werewolf creatures, it could be the Thadorian army.

The noises draw closer, but don't get any louder. All of a sudden, Ortilla flips on the light on his rifle.

"Motherfucker!" They hear from outside. "Turn that fucking thing off, Staff Sergeant!"

The red-tinted lights of P-90s equipped for night use appear once Ortilla does. "Sorry, Gunny," Ortilla says, half-laughing with relief.

Lorne laughs as well because he recognizes the voice, too. He can feel more than see Ronon look at him.

A brighter red light, coming from a covered flashlight, and Gunnery Sergeant Haumann appears, night vision goggles raised and surrounded by half of Charlie's first platoon. Of course Polito would send Patchok's unit out to search for their lost marines. Ortilla steps forward, a little carefully.

"You stupid fuck, you could blind a guy," Haumann grouses with annoyance, then grabs Ortilla into a brief, fierce hug that manages to not look at all odd even though Haumann is Lorne's height. "What's the situation?"

"We're all here," Lorne calls over, moving past Yoni, who is going toward the back to keep Sheppard and Reletti from doing something stupid like try to come forward on their own. "A little worse for wear, but we're good to go."

"Just what we wanted to hear, sir," Haumann says with a nod. "Lieutenant Patchok's got the other half of our guys by the clearing. I guess you guys know that the radios aren't working."

It takes a few minutes for them to get ready to leave. Sheppard and Reletti accept help from marines to walk, although both can stumble respectably under their own power.

Once they are back in the clearing, Lorne doesn't say a word, using the privilege of his rank to ensure that nobody prompts him for details even though everyone wants to know everything. Suarez is happy enough to answer questions and that, plus some semblance of noise discipline, is enough. He feels drained and hyper both, relief mixed with the aching feeling that something else is going to happen and they won't get home, as close to rescue as they are. He's not sure if he wants to throw up, pee, or sleep.

It's almost two hours until he feels the prickle on his skin of imminent dematerialization. A bright light later and he's sitting on the floor of one of the large rooms used for who-knows-what aboard the Odyssey.

There's a bustle then, medics and doctors and wheelchairs and stretchers ("no, sir, you don't have to lie down") because none of them are going to be allowed to walk anywhere with bloody feet and Lorne is in the ship's infirmary before he even processes that he's safe.

Bloodwork and vitals and oh, geez, sir how did you walk on those feet and he lets it all wash over him like it's someone else's arm being squeezed by the blood pressure cuff and someone else's eyes getting lights flashed in them. He watches Sheppard rail at getting fussed over and McKay detail everything that bothers him and Ortilla insist that it's just his feet and they should look at Suarez's stomach and Reletti's everything and Yoni prove that doctors really do make the worst patients. It doesn't take long before they realize the ATA component of the story and Lorne kisses his chance to sleep in his own bed tonight goodbye with a sigh.

In the three hours it takes to get back to Atlantis, Lorne has his feet bound, accepts Emerson's welcome back handshake, and dozes. Mostly the last.

They are beamed directly into Atlantis's infirmary, where the process begins again because Beckett doesn't trust anyone else with his people. Doctor Weir is there, as is Matt Polito and more doctors than he's seen in a while. Weir does the rounds briefly, staying longest with Sheppard and McKay, and Polito is sharp enough to just make sure his superior officers are in one piece before checking in on his marines and getting the hell out of the way.

"You know," a voice to his left begins and he turns to see Nancy Clayton, stethoscope around her neck. "I'm a big fan of the strong, silent type. But I think five words in as many hours is maybe pushing stoicism a little far."

"I'm all right," he says and his voice is rusty from lack of use and he smiles ruefully that he's proving her point . "Just... decompressing."

This is the Do I Have to Call Heightmeyer check. Lorne wishes he were less familiar with the circumstances when it's required than he is.

"It was a long couple of weeks," he continues, because talking to Clayton now is what's going to get him out of talking to Heightmeyer later. Or, at least, more than he strictly has to because avoiding her completely isn't an option.

"So I've been hearing," Clayton agrees. "But Yoni's worried about you, so I'm here to sound you out. If only because it'll make him stop bitching for thirty seconds."

Yoni is across the room waving his arms at a nurse as if she were a fly.

"He only hurts the ones he loves," Lorne says blandly. Because they both know Nancy's not here talking to him so she can stop Yoni's verbal assault on any medical personnel who come within a yard of him. At least that's not entirely why she's here.

"That's just what we tell ourselves," she replies, leaning in a little as if to share a confidence. "But he's a nasty bastard to everyone and I think we're just fooling ourselves."

"You may have something there," he says. Neither of them believe it, of course.

"I may," she agrees. "But does he?"

Lorne looks up at Clayton and she's giving him that look that doctors used to triage can pull off, the one that says 'speak now or catch hell for it later'.

"It sucked more than usual," he says, focusing on her stethoscope. "I was in a room by myself for a week convinced I was deaf. And then there was the ATA crap. It wasn't that they were very good jailers or adept interrogators. They weren't. But they completely fucked with us anyway and I think that's what's going to stick in my craw."

It was more than he wanted to say, as if all those hours of internalizing sprang forth on their own. Clayton seems to recognize that because she gives him a small smile of understanding.

"Yoni's going give you hell about the deafness," she says.

Reletti and Sheppard are the first ones into the Ancient scanner bed, but it's his turn after McKay and then back to the infirmary because everything's still not quite right. At least he doesn't have IV drips like Sheppard and Reletti. They let him shower (an adventure with his plastic-bag-covered feet that necessitates a shower chair) and shave (finally). Everyone but those with the ATA gene have been discharged, but the others have either returned or never left. Lorne eats dinner with Yoni and then the two of them go across the room to where Ortilla and Suarez are sitting with Reletti, who has an entirely liquid meal and is unhappy about it.

The research into Thador takes months. The Ancients, surprisingly, have not much to say about their rivals and none of it is pleasant. McKay, on the other hand, reverse-engineers their rifles and the remote and is sufficiently impressed with their technology. Six months later, he also suggests that their stargate be among the first taken to be used in the bridge back to Earth. Lorne can't bring himself to object.

feed me on LJ?


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26 December, 2006