by Domenika Marzione

You Break 'em, You Buy 'em


"Is this the part where I jinx us by saying it seems very quiet and everything is going well?" Yoni asked as they watched Lieutenant Patchok stroll from team to team of his platoon, crouching down and chatting briefly with each group and then standing up and moving on once the orders had been absorbed. The marines not on patrol were having lunch and little bags of crackers and condiments occasionally flew through the air as MRE components were bartered and given away.

Lorne, sitting next to him and neatly separating his own MRE into that which he wanted and that which he didn't, chuckled. "Or you could complain about how you're bored."

The day had been peaceful and pleasant, an auspicious beginning for what was turning out to be an experiment of many levels. As Lorne had explained it, with so many military personnel in Atlantis, Sheppard had opted to try giving routine escort and protection missions to regular platoons and not offworld exploration teams, as had previously been done. It would give the marines something to do, allow the scientists more freedom to leave Atlantis, and keep the offworld teams from being tied to tasks below their experience level. (Yoni had translated this as Sheppard simply being tired of babysitting scientists when he could be off getting into trouble in his own right. Judging from what Lorne didn't say, he suspected the Major agreed with him.)

And so Patchok's platoon was providing security for a group of geologists exploring a mine and quarry on a planet where Atlantis already had trade agreements with the local population, a village some ten kilometers in the other direction from the stargate. Patchok's commander, Captain Polito, was also along. He'd been sent by Sheppard with Lorne, ostensibly to observe and report but also, Yoni suspected, to be observed because everyone in what was now being called Little Tripoli knew that Lorne was filling out his team's roster and that the balance of the team would probably be marines.

Yoni, who was along because Lorne had suggested it as a good way to get his feet wet, swallowed the rubbery meatball he'd been chewing on. "In that case, I'll stick to wondering how Doctor Kischlagger managed to pass the examinations to get vetted for the expedition. I'm sorely tempted to pull up her neurological records when we get back to Atlantis."

Elspeth Kischlagger had spent the morning unintentionally impersonating a vaudeville star, tripping dramatically three times in the course of her explorations around the caves. The last time had garnered her a sprained ankle that Yoni had been requested to attend to, as well as the usual abrasions consistent with pratfalls in rock quarries.

"You can do that?" Lorne asked, surprised.

Yoni shrugged. He'd meant it facetiously, but accepted that it might be hard to tell. "I can, but I won't. She's clumsy and distracted, not actually impaired."

Polito was making his way over to where they were sitting on top of a small outcropping. With Patchok easily in control of the exploration site -- geologists apparently being far more docile than engineers -- the three of them had planned to explore the surrounding area in the afternoon. There was a team stationed at the stargate to monitor incoming traffic and facilitate communication with Atlantis, but they were probably bored stiff; the planet was considered low-risk and safe for civilians and Patchok's entire platoon had only come because they had had nothing else to do.

In a galaxy without satellites from which to get images -- the Wraith being disinterested in Goa'uld-like imperialism -- and a less-than-even chance of finding a populace with an accurate map of their homeworld, cartographic and surveying skills were at a premium and land navigation training a priority. Lorne joked about the SGC griping when Atlantis ordered sextants, prisms, and trundle wheels in bulk after having gotten off easy in their own galaxy with the Goa'uld; he had already scheduled Yoni for several land-nav sessions on the mainland. He'd scheduled himself for a couple as well, which was why Yoni hadn't griped.

"We've got about nine more hours of sunlight left, sir, " Polito said as he approached. "The science team's well-behaved, so I'd be inclined to give them eight, but they're also pretty damned klutzy and Lord knows what Doctor Kischlagger will do to herself on the way back, so I'd probably go with seven."

Lorne looked at his watch and tore open his packet of pound cake. "You want to tell Patchok before we go?"

Polito shook his head. "Rudy's on the ball, sir. He'll have them packing at 2230 Atlantis Standard and ready to roll by 2300."

Yoni, sorting through his own MRE, pocketed his packet of Charms. He didn't especially like them, but he'd forgotten to put anything in his tactical vest before they'd left and he had always carried hard candy with him back during his IDF days.

A half-hour later, they set off. Patchok had dispatched a trio of marines with them to carry equipment and they trundled along behind, P-90s occasionally clacking against tripod legs and equipment cases. Even though the extra weight was hardly onerous -- the marines looked more like armed tourists than camouflaged pack animals -- Yoni felt a little awkward not carrying anything; he felt a little left out overall. Polito and Lorne had fallen into a discussion about surveying tactics, something Yoni knew little about and cared less, and the trio behind him were entertaining each other as if the officers were incidental to their purpose instead of the driving force behind it.

"Hey, Doc!"

Yoni turned and stopped long enough for the trio to catch up a little; the tallest of the three marines was the one who'd spoken. "That was some fight against Ronon Dex."

He smiled wryly. As was the case in the training areas of Little Tripoli, if the marines were going to talk to him about something other than munitions or ask him to identify the most attractive of the civilian scientists, then that was what they would end up talking about. It had been three weeks since the fight, enough time for wounds to heal and stories to turn apocryphal. There had been maybe fifty spectators by the time it was over, but it seemed at times like everyone in Atlantis said that they had been there.

"I got my ass handed to me by him the day before," the marine went on. Yoni couldn't see his nametag. "Guy's fast for someone so big."

"You run from the Wraith for seven years, Ramirez, you better be fast," one of the others pointed out.

Yoni watched Lorne and Polito ahead of them. He didn't think any of the three marines had actually seen a Wraith yet, let alone been chased by one, but it was true enough as a theory.

"Yeah," Ramirez agreed, shifting the tripods to his other arm. "But there's fast and there's 'big man fast'. Toussaint? Toussaint's 'big man fast'. Dex is just fast."

"Where'd you learn to fight like that, Doc?" the third marine asked. "Army?"

"Golani Brigade," he confirmed. It was a too-simple answer, but a fuller explanation wasn't required.

"You used to teach the guys who were here before, right?" Ramirez asked after a minute, not making it sound like a question. 'Before' was the usual shorthand for 'before the Daedalus' and, among the marines, anyone who had been in Atlantis 'before' was given an extra bit of respect. Yoni rather thought they deserved it.

"Still do," Yoni answered, stepping around a muddy hole. The path between the site and the stargate was grassy and a little overgrown; the planet's population trapped and foraged here, but there were no wagon tracks and precious few footpaths. The topography overall was of lush grassy fields broken up by craggy rocks and small forests, which made for a nice view but slow pedestrian progress. "The ones who stayed."

At the last point before which all semblance of normal life had ceased in Atlantis in favor of mobilization for the coming Wraith siege, he'd had five regular students, having shooed away the irregulars and the dilettantes. Eversby had been killed in the siege, Guttierez had gotten wounded and never returned to Atlantis, and Ford... Ford was wherever Ford was. Staumitz and Laganzo still met him every morning at the southeastern pier for the brutal run that started any real krav maga training session.

"You take new students?"

"If they're serious about it," Yoni replied. He'd prefer a few more pupils -- Staumitz and Laganzo were getting too good at anticipating each other's moves -- but he'd been very cautious at accepting anyone in the wake of The Fight. Most of the infantry marines asking were just looking for a quick way to get an edge up on the now-regular sessions against Ronon, a completely unsatisfactory motivation. A few had been genuinely interested and Yoni had tentatively started a beginner's class, Staumitz and Laganzo helping out. "Talk to Staff Sergeant Laganzo if you think you're interested."

"I will," Ramirez promised.

They trudged along in a companionable silence for another ten minutes, Ramirez and his two colleagues a few meters behind and unwilling to close the gap. Lorne and Polito were about ten meters ahead and had paused to wait for them. Polito was talking into his earpiece and looked like he was more amused than annoyed by what he was hearing.

"... unless it shits naquadah, then no," Polito was saying as Yoni came to stand next to Lorne. He gave the Major a cock-eyed look and Lorne smiled.

"One of the geologists found a pet and wants to take it back to Atlantis," he explained wryly. "Apparently it looks like a very cute sheep."

"Sheep are not cute," Yoni objected, remembering with revulsion the summer he worked on a farm. Twenty years later and he still remembered the stink. "In fact, most of the livestock in this galaxy fails at aesthetics."

"Yeah?" Lorne asked.

"The ersatz cows are uglier and the poultry sings off-key," Yoni confirmed. "It's no wonder the Ancients left."

"Ugly cows, life-sucking vampires... yeah, we live in the ritzy part of the universe," Lorne agreed.

Ramirez and his team were still snickering as Polito rejoined the group. "Sheep's been handled."

"Are we having mutton for dinner?" Yoni asked.

"I think he just told them that they could keep it only until the end of the day," Polito replied, smiling to indicate that he knew Yoni had been at least partially joking. "Woulda preferred the mutton myself."

Yoni privately agreed. Whichever platoon had KP duty this month was singularly lacking in qualified chefs. Most of their food came from Earth via the Daedalus, but it was heavily supplemented by local agriculture and Yoni hadn't realized that there were so many ways to ruin perfectly good vegetables.

"Okay, let's get going," Lorne said, clapping his hands and looking around. "I don't want the big discovery of today being someone's quartzite collection and a sheep."


This planet -- alphanumeric designation promptly forgotten -- hadn't had much in the way of surveying done by either the indigenous population (an early-medieval-level society living a Robin Hood-esque existence in a forest clearing) or previous visitors from Atlantis, so they pretty much had an open choice as to where to start. Lorne, however, seemed to have some experience with such projects and had definite ideas about where they should set up and how. Sergeants Ramirez, Gallitan, and Forbes were soon moving tripods around and setting up prisms while Yoni and Polito called off readings from the sextant and Lorne coordinated with what he got from his Ancient PDAs.

The officers made references to and jokes about American frontier history, most of which Yoni didn't get, although they always offered to explain. Polito and Lorne seemed appalled at what Ramirez, Gallitan, and Forbes had (or, more precisely, hadn't) learned about history in school and the conversation eventually wound back to education in general. None of the three sergeants had graduated from university; Gallitan had plans to study engineering once he was done with his enlistment (which seemed to amuse his colleagues and commander) and Forbes thought he might like to study business if he went; Ramirez, the eldest of the three (at a stately twenty-six), had dropped out of school to join the Marines and while he didn't think he'd like to return, he admitted that the longer he was away from it, the less terrible he remembered it as being. All of them -- officers included -- were horrified at how much of Yoni's life had been spent in school and thought a Ph.D on top of a medical degree was just overkill.

They were in the middle of a discussion about the relevance of 'magnetic north' versus 'stargate north' when all of their radios beeped with the sequence that indicated a priority transmission. All chatter ceased as "Hitman One-Two to all points: five Wraith darts just came through the stargate. They're headed away from the exploration site."

Lorne cursed. "The village," he said, looking at his PDA as Yoni unclipped his rifle. "We're too far to do anything for them except pick up survivors."

Yoni thought back to his earlier joking with Lorne about being bored, then thought more seriously about the village. Because of the distance between the quarry and the village, they hadn't bothered to visit with the locals en route to their destination. The villagers didn't know that there was anyone else on the planet with them.

"Should I go, sir?" Polito asked, looking behind him where Ramirez, Gallitan, and Forbes had abandoned their surveying equipment and unslung their P-90's.

"It's at least two klicks to the gate and ten from there," Lorne replied, shaking his head. "All you'll do is run into the scoopy beam on the way there."

Polito didn't look happy, but he nodded and then tapped the transmitter on his vest with his free hand. "Are you set up, Lieutenant?"

A moment passed before the reply. The sergeants, whose radios did not pick up the command channel by default, looked on anxiously. Yoni's earpiece did -- Lorne thought it silly to set a frequency for just the two of them -- and he waited with concern, too. Patchok seemed competent and Polito obviously trusted him, but this was his first encounter with the Wraith and the darts were effective regardless of experience.

"Getting there, sir," Patchok replied, sounding more harried than anything else. "Civilians are going into the caves and we're setting up firing positions. Should we be expecting foot traffic?"

"Sanderson? Anything other than those darts come through?" Polito asked into his earpiece.

"Negative, sir," a voice -- Sanderson, presumably the leader of the team by the gate -- replied. "Should we take down the darts when they return?"

McKay and Cadman were both still recovering from their misadventures with the Wraith dematerialization technology and Cadman, at least, was probably on everyone's mind.

Polito looked at Lorne, who nodded. "Affirmative. Even if we can't get 'em out, it'll probably be a mercy."

Lorne gestured for Yoni to follow him and tapped at his radio. "Lieutenant? We're making our way back to your position. Take down anything airborne; the Wraith can beam down as well as up and we don't want them getting boots on the ground if we can help it."

"Aye aye, sir."

There was no more talking then, just a brisk jog back in the direction they'd come in. The road back to the quarry was no longer picturesque and quaint, but instead a series of hazards and landmarks to negotiate, the only noise the muted, rhythmic collision of equipment against bodies. Ramirez and Gallitan were up front, Forbes in the rear, and Yoni in between Lorne and Polito.

They heard the whine of the darts before they saw them and broke into a run for the nearest copse of trees as the noise grew higher and louder. The trees wouldn't save them -- the beams could filter out humans from other organic or even animal matter -- but it would give them the pretense of being able to hide and that would have to be enough. Nobody knew if the darts had any sort of targeting system, but the Athosians believed that getting out of plain sight helped, so they did.

Yoni pressed himself up against a tree a couple of meters away from where Polito was doing the same; clumping together made for easier targets. It was both a relief and a source of humor that the lessons he'd learned in tironut came back to him when needed. He looked around and saw that the others were safe and spread out before returning his attention to Polito, who gestured for him to move forward five meters and stop again. Yoni nodded and complied, barely hearing the others' staggered progress through the forest. Noise discipline was another instinct retained.

The radio in his ear was buzzing with commands and shouted observations; Patchok was ordering his men to fire and shift position, to pull back and get clear to fire again. It was nothing like the siege of Atlantis, more like the battles he'd fought in long ago on Earth. There was no despair, no sense of impending doom, just a matter of getting through this without casualty and with honor. Here, in the forest, his instincts were those of an infantryman and not a doctor; more than a decade disappearing without thought or effort. He'd tend to the wounded if there were any, but the hour he'd spent that morning in his lab felt like another lifetime.

The Wraith beam was impossible to see in bright light and only barely visible in shadow; during the siege Yoni had marveled at its invisibility, a silent threat as it had searched the sun-drenched expanses of Atlantis. Here the tree canopy was not very thick and the sun streamed down in irregular patches and even though they heard the dart approaching overhead, they never saw the beam coming until one minute Forbes was there and the next he wasn't. Yoni hadn’t even noticed until Gallitan had cried out and didn't want to consider how close it had been to him being taken. Forbes had been on the right of their group, the furthest into the trees, and then he was just gone without a sound. Ramirez swung around as if to look for him, but Polito whistled sharply and gestured for them to keep going. There was nothing to do for Forbes now except hope that they could keep the dart from leaving the planet.

The darts were gone by the time they cleared the trees, a pair visible in the near distance, swarming above the quarry like deadly mosquitoes. Yoni looked over at Lorne, who in turn looked a little stricken and a lot pissed off. They still had a couple of kilometers to go to get back to the excavation site and it would be over open ground. In his ear, Yoni could hear Patchok's and his men's terse communication; apparently there were at least some Wraith on the ground already.

Lorne pulled out his Ancient PDA and looked at it intently while Polito turned slowly on his heel, scanning the horizon. Yoni watched Gallitan and Ramirez, both of whom looked to have largely recovered from the shock of losing Forbes. They were alert and ready, P-90's in ready position.

"Nobody on the ground within range of this thing," Lorne said, putting the device back into his vest. "I don't think they'll beam down away from the site."

Polito tapped his radio. "Sanderson? Sit-rep, please."

There was quiet and Yoni knew that they were all thinking the same thing -- Sanderson's team by the gate could have been culled or killed and nobody would be the wiser until they returned there.

"We've taken down one dart and one got through, sir," Sanderson reported finally, distracted and breathless. "Coliaggi's got the symbols for the address they dialed. Gate's shut down now. We don't have visual on the other three darts."

Yoni watched the darts over the quarry turn and fire.

"We've got visual on two," Polito replied grimly.

"Should we dial Atlantis, sir? Let 'em know what's happening and tell 'em to keep the shield up? Keep any of the others from getting through?"

Lorne answered. "We don't know if they can see the address from the dart or read it off the DHD," he said. "We can't risk them learning that we're still in business."

A sudden loud noise over the quarry and smoke where a dart had been. The other wheeled around and came in for another run.

Yoni could hear cheers over the radio, followed by Patchok and his gunnery sergeant telling the men to keep firing at the Wraith on the ground.

"One down, two to go," Polito muttered. "Sanderson, stay out of sight and keep your eyes open for that third dart. Call in if it goes for the gate."

"Let's go," Lorne said, looking around. "We're sitting ducks here."

By Yoni's relatively reliable internal clock, it was a ten minute run back to the periphery of the quarry, close enough that they had to stop before they drew unwanted attention from either the dart overhead or the marines looking for Wraith on the ground. They slowed to a jog, sweating and breathing hard and hyperaware of their surroundings. The grassy fields had started to turn rocky and uneven a couple of hundred meters back; in another half-kilometer they would be gone entirely, replaced by dirt and stony ground and then all rock at the quarry's edge. The gently rolling hills had been exchanged for rocky outcroppings and car-sized boulders, easy for man or Wraith to hide behind.

Polito pulled out his PDA and looked around, gesturing with hand signals that they should go left and circle around the long way, avoiding the path they had taken from the quarry.

They moved from boulder to outcropping, insufficient cover to insufficient cover, leapfrogging in two groups to minimize exposure and maximize the ability to watch each other. At the fifth or sixth one, Yoni and Lorne arrived at the end of their dash to nearly collide with three marines.

"Jesusfuck," the frontmost one muttered, pulling up his rifle so that it wasn't aimed at Lorne's chest. "Sorry about that, sir."

"Way to go, Reletti," one of the others, angled to cover their rear, chided.

Yoni gestured for Polito, Ramirez, and Gallitan to join them instead of running past and they did.

"Where's Forbes?" one of the new trio asked Ramirez.

"Taken," Polito answered tersely, looking around. There were too many of them to be protected from sight by such a small space; they would have to move on quickly. "Ortilla, where's the rest of your squad?"

"Starting a hundred-fifty meters back, behind the big rock with the pink flowers on it, sir," Ortilla, a huge man even by marine standards, answered. He tapped his radio. "Hitman One, we have the wanderers."

Patchok's voice sounded relieved. "Roger that, one-three . We're almost--"

Another explosion and the second dart fell to earth in a cloud of smoke, fire, and debris.

Yoni saw Gallitan and Ramirez exchange a look of hope. As far as the marines knew, getting people out of darts was simple -- they hadn't seen the charred mice and frantic engineering teams.

"--almost done here," Patchok continued on. "Send our returnees on, please. Gustafson wants his team back."

Polito stood up out of his crouch. "Let's go," he said to Gallitan and Ramirez. Turning slightly to face Lorne, he raised an eyebrow in question.

"We'll stay here," Lorne answered. Polito nodded, then tapped Ortilla on the shoulder and pointed toward the quarry.

"Rourke, we got friendlies coming past you," Ortilla said into his radio. "Don't shoot."

Once Polito, Gallitan, and Ramirez were gone, Yoni and Lorne moved into defensive positions against the rock.

"Fifth one's still out there," Lorne said to him once they were settled. "It could still be at the village or doing some sort of planetary sweep or..." he trailed off, hearing the low whine in the distance, "or bearing down right on us."

"Hitman One, fifth dart incoming," Ortilla reported, tapping the sergeant next to him on the shoulder and then gesturing for him to move back a step.

The dart screamed overhead, coming and going so quickly that Yoni didn't have time to consider whether it would have its scoopy beam active or to be relieved when it didn't. He was already facing the quarry and saw the first rocket launched, missing the dart, which had swerved. The second one came much closer, but also missed and the dart fired back, sending up a shower of rock where its blasts impacted. But then it did the unexpected, turning away from the quarry and speeding off in the direction of the stargate.

"What the fuck?" the marine next to Yoni asked as it disappeared out of view, too far away to be of any danger to them.

Yoni realized it wasn't a rhetorical question when the marine looked at him expectantly. "I don't know," he admitted. "The ones I've seen all kamikazed or got blown up."

"Maybe that was the one with all the freight," another of the marines suggested. "Bringing home dinner was more important than a bombing run."

"When the Wraith are pissed off, they're usually more interested in sending a message than dinner," Lorne replied, holding one hand over his earpiece. Yoni could hear the chatter on the command frequency; there were a few Wraith on the ground still and Patchok and Polito were having trouble finding each other in the quarry. "They came with five and are going back with two -- one if the team at the gate has any luck. They are not going to be happy with this, no matter what kind of a snack they return with."

Sergeant Sanderson's voice over the radio -- the last dart had gated out, same address as the previous one.

"They'll come back and raze the planet," Yoni said, realization making his stomach sink. "Salt the earth."

"Because we shot down a couple of their ships?" the marine next to him asked, surprised.

"It's what they do," Yoni answered bleakly. He'd seen it firsthand twice before, getting taken by Sheppard's team to planets that had dared to fight back. Tending to the survivors was usually a matter of palliative care; the Wraith didn't kill from a distance -- no food energy in blaster shots or bullet wounds -- except to send a message and that message was crystal clear. The Wraith had only one response to defiance: swift reprisal ending only in complete and total destruction.

"We'd better get to the village, evacuate the survivors," Lorne said with a sigh, standing up. He walked off a few meters and started talking into his earpiece. Through his own radio, Yoni could hear him coordinating with Polito and Patchok. The marines and Yoni were left to wait, relaxed but not yet dropping their rifles in case there were any Wraith.

"There going to be anyone left, sir?" Sergeant Reletti looked more dubious than hopeful.

Yoni shrugged. "A few, unless they already went back for revenge. The Wraith usually want to leave some behind to repopulate and keep their food supply steady."

That was the theory, but everyone the Atlanteans had ever met had suggested that things were changing, that appetites were winning over restraint. Hunger over planning, a sign of overpopulation if ever there was one.

"Like keeping fucking cattle," Sergeant Suarez muttered with disgust, kicking at a rock on the ground. "Make sure you got breeding stock."

Yoni half-listened to his radio's transmission of the clean-up in the quarry as he took his backpack off and inventoried what medical supplies he had left. He'd put together a field kit as a matter of course, but it hadn't necessarily been the kind of kit he would have brought if he'd known he was going into combat as the only medic. As such, he was prepared for casualties and would be able to handle whatever Patchok's platoon needed done, but the planet was classed as low-risk and his extra supplies had been geared more toward injuries like Kischlagger's ankle because those were the injuries deemed more likely to occur. It was a mistake he wouldn't make twice.

Lorne walked back over to them. "Okay," he began, "Here's the plan: everything's pretty much settled down at the excavation site and they're going to make their way back to the gate on their own. We are going to head over to the village, help with the evac. Lieutenant Salker's team is going to meet us there with a few jumpers to help with the casualties and whatever the folks want to take with them. If this turns out like we think it will, we have a few hours -- they're not going to come back right away. Nightfall at least."

"'We' includes us, sir?" Staff Sergeant Ortilla asked, sounding like he already knew the answer. "Should I get the rest of my squad?"

Lorne looked around and then behind him. "We includes you three, but I think we should keep a team or two out here for security. There could be some more Wraith running around."

Ortilla nodded. "Let me go square things with Sergeant Rourke, sir. Back in a minute."

Yoni watched as Ortilla jogged off in the direction of the quarry, disappearing behind a boulder atop a small hill.

"Doctor Safir?" Lorne gestured with his head that they should move off to the side. Yoni followed him to where he'd stood before, leaving Reletti and Suarez to themselves.

"I told Weir that I didn't think we needed another doctor, just some more supplies," Lorne said once they'd stopped. "They'll have the infirmary set up to accept all the refugees. I figured you could triage on your own, take care of the worst here and send anything non-critical back down the line. Especially since we'll have the jumpers."

Yoni nodded, thinking about the critical cases he wouldn't be able to move and how most of Atlantis's medical staff would be more efficient working in the city instead of in the field, especially considering what they were likely to find in the village. The medical staff were, himself included, researchers moonlighting as practitioners and weren't used to being first responders. "It's reasonable. The marines can handle first aid and we'll either be overwhelmed or just herding them along back to Atlantis."

Ortilla had returned by the time Yoni and Lorne rejoined Reletti and Suarez; he had obviously spent a moment examining his team and the two sergeants were looking a little more regulation than when they'd walked off.

"How long's the walk to the village, sir?" Ortilla asked.

Lorne pulled out his Ancient PDA and held it out in front of him. "Since Pythagoras only works on right angles... about ten klicks if we don't have to veer around any gullies or mountains. Two-dimensional readout, so it's a toss-up."

"Point the way, sir," Ortilla said with a shrug. Lorne did. "Suarez?"

Sergeant Suarez started walking, P-90 up and ready, and they followed. Reletti dropped back to keep an eye on their rear and Ortilla settled in somewhere in a loose orbit between them. Anyone with eyes would be able to tell the officer from the men, but Ortilla presented the largest target, Lorne didn't walk like a king among his subjects, and the Wraith probably didn't care anyway.

They kept quiet, all of them listening with one ear to the platoon's communication channel. Polito and Patchok had rounded up the scientists and were preparing them for the trek back to the stargate. There were three casualties among the platoon, all serious enough to stretcher and Yoni looked at Lorne when he heard them discussing the injuries. It wasn't too late for him to turn back and tend to the wounded, meeting up with them on their egress to the stargate.

"They took stunner blasts," Lorne said with a half-shrug. "None of them got fed upon and the ones who fell from the ridge'll get looked at once they get home. Polito'd have radioed for you if he thought it was necessary. He's careful with his men."

Polito was careful and Patchok had proven composed under fire, but they would still be returning two men down because Forbes hadn't been the only one caught by the Wraith beam. Sergeant Garrotte had pushed another marine out of the way and gotten taken during the fighting in the quarry. There was discussion about whether to try to find and salvage the dart now or wait until a team could be sent later. The priority was to get the wounded and civilians home, however, and Polito was audibly torn, but ultimately decided to come back later.

"McKay's not cleared for offworld travel yet," Lorne said quietly as they climbed up a grassy hill. Ortilla used the opportunity to slow down and fall out of earshot. "If they want to bring someone out here, it'll probably have to be Zelenka and whoever else can be brought up to speed on the whole dematerializing thing."

Left unsaid was that while Zelenka, who was almost as bad as Carson when it came to assignment offworld, had probably picked up almost everything from what McKay had done, anyone else would be inferior to the task.

"They'll clear McKay," Yoni replied, eyes following Suarez's path down the hill, which was steeper and grassier on the far side. "I'll clear McKay. There's nothing physically wrong with him; it's more precautionary at this stage. Lieutenant Cadman's been on active duty for two days."

Lorne grunted agreement. "Let's just hope there's something to rematerialize everyone from -- we got lucky last time that the dart was mostly intact. And... not that we're not happy to liberate some more indigenous types from Wraith captivity, but getting one or both of Forbes and Garrotte back would be a good thing."

Unspoken was how much of a not-good thing having one or both remain missing would be, both from the security and morale standpoint. They had not lost anyone to the Wraith since the siege. There were a dozen marines still listed as MIA/POWs from those day, not counting Aiden Ford, whom Sheppard had lost the fight to not classify as a deserter after encountering -- and losing -- him again. The losses from the cullings during the siege had been dulled by the sheer numbers of the casualties left behind in Atlantis -- more than three dozen dead, twice that wounded, and everyone numb from weeks of anticipation and then days of hopes rising and falling and then the bombardment itself. Yoni remembered not remembering what day it was, what time, how long they'd been at it or how many casualties he'd tended to or how many patrols he'd gone on with the marines.

It took an hour to get to the outskirts of the village; they had run when the open meadows would let them and slowed to mincing steps where the gradient of the ground grew steep and rocky. If at first Suarez had had to slow down every once in a while to make sure they were still headed in the right direction, it soon became evident enough by the smoke rising in the distance and the smell of ash and destruction that wafted in the breeze, first lightly and then more strongly.

"Fuck," Reletti muttered with knowing disgust as they skittered down another sandy, rocky hill. "I hate it when it smells like barbeque."

Yoni, who had seen his share of mass graves and cremation sites in Africa and been called to the scene of a restaurant bombing while in residency, simply breathed through his mouth.


The village -- Yoni didn't remember what the people called themselves -- was a sodden, smoldering mess when they entered it. Lieutenant Salker's platoon had already arrived and set up perimeter security as well as started to organize the evacuation of the village and bury the dead. There were children whimpering, but otherwise it was eerily quiet. The adults moved slowly and wearily, as if the weight of their survival was pressing down upon them. Aided by similarly subdued, if faster paced, marines, they picked through the still-smoking rubble, rescuing pots and boxes and occasionally furs and fabrics; everything was sooty and damp with the water used to put out the fires. The marines were all mudstreaked and wet from the knees down; they had clearly been part of the bucket brigade.

Salker approached them and Lorne stepped away to talk to him. Ortilla snapped his fingers twice quickly and gestured for Suarez and Reletti to follow him, going to help a woman picking through her ruined home, a baby on her hip. Left on his own, Yoni shrugged off his pack as he saw where the wounded and infirm had been collected in a group and were being watched over by a pair of marines.

The first time he'd been in this village, there'd been the usual range of illnesses and injuries, babies to look over and teeth to pull. He had taken histories as he had worked, so while he didn't remember names or faces or specifics of conditions, he did remember that they had long been plagued by an illness that was either rubella or something close enough to it that he'd asked the expedition's pharmacologists about deriving a vaccine. (Darwin being as much a factor in the Pegasus galaxy as the Wraith and the legacy of the Ancients, while disfiguring diseases existed in multitude, disabling diseases -- especially genetic ones -- did not. The sick and the weak weren't tasty meals for the Wraith, but they were easy ones.)

He approached the group carefully and with what he hoped was a friendly manner; the marines standing watch over them were similarly armed and that would either be a boon or a hindrance. It was a different galaxy, but not all that different from trips to Cote D'Ivoire or Somalia or Eritrea or anywhere else where he just looked strange and foreign and a little threatening because of it. (Except that in Africa, while he had often been accompanied by armed men, he hadn't overtly been one.) He didn't remember the words the villagers had used to describe him the first time -- healer, doctor, medic, physician, mystic. He wished he did because he needed to set himself a little apart from the heavily armed young men who had appeared after the Wraith had left. The marines were being solicitous and friendly, especially with the children, but the trauma of the afternoon was still too fresh.

Triage was quick; Sergeant Gantry filled him in on what they'd done and what they'd waited for him to do. The infirm and the traumatized had been herded together for convenience and the rest were mostly burns and scratches (swabbed and treated already) with one open fracture and two closed along with two eye injuries and one case that was going to have Lori Grebner, the expedition maxillofacial surgeon, busy for weeks. He took the last first, doing what little he could to stabilize the wounds, which had been stuffed with some sort of local unguent, and then moving on to the fractures. The open fracture was a little girl's femur and he talked to her throughout in the same voice he had used to soothe his nieces and nephews; he asked her name and how old she was and whether she had a boyfriend and how many stars were in the night sky and she cried out her answers around howls of pain and he felt tears prick his eyes as she cried for a mother he'd already been told had been taken by the Wraith.

Lorne showed up at his side as he was getting ready to set the leg; Yoni had sent Gantry and Viregano off to find splints in the rubble.

"Thirty out of two hundred six," Lorne said in a quiet voice as Gantry returned with a few suitable options. Yoni looked up for a moment from his work. Lorne looked like he'd aged ten years. "The Wraith came back after we fought them off -- that's where the fifth dart went. They know the Wraith are coming back again and they'll come with us."

They finished the girl's leg without another word, Lorne proving surprisingly useful in that he didn't get in the way and intuited where he could be helpful. The girl, Alyena, had spent her energy and lay whimpering in the arms of the pregnant woman who had been holding her down. Yoni bade her sit up and drink from his canteen and he dug out the Charms from his vest and gave her the grape one, which he personally thought was the least offensive of the flavors. The candy was more for distraction and glucose than reward, but Alyena settled back into the arms of her keeper with no more whimpering. The young woman brushed sweaty hair from her brow with one hand and held her own stomach protectively with the other.

The eye injuries could only be flushed and covered and the closed fractures splinted and then Sergeant Viregano took him off to the side, to a makeshift tent where they had put the ones Yoni'd been waiting to see. There were only three, which was a relief as much as it wasn't. Two gut wounds that were well past treatment judging by the smell and a man who had lost most of the right side of his body. Getting the three back to Atlantis right away wasn't a consideration -- even if they survived the trip (highly doubtful), they'd die on the table. So Yoni told Viregano to wait outside and he did what he could, which was next to nothing besides clean the dirt out of the wounds and administer drugs. He'd known medics who would give a quietus, but he'd sworn an oath and kept the doses of morphine low enough to maintain consciousness if sufficient to relieve most of the pain.

When he emerged, the loading of the villagers -- the Hadrapu, he'd overheard -- into the jumpers was getting underway. Salker's platoon had flown out to the village, but they'd be hiking back to the stargate on foot so that the villagers could ride. Getting the Hadrapu and their effects back to Atlantis in one trip with two jumpers would be difficult if not impossible. There was thought about requesting a second pair of ships, but that would require finding an extra pair of pilots and Lorne thought they had enough time for the jumpers to make two trips and the healthy to take a long walk. Lieutenants Paik and Eriksson were piloting the jumpers already on the ground.

Yoni helped supervise the transfer of the injured to the first jumper, Alyena crying piteously as she was placed on a stretcher and carried off. The sergeants bearing her were clearly affected and were trying to talk to her, but she was having none of it. Yoni wondered what her future would be -- the Hadrapu would be offered sanctuary on the mainland, either joining the motley crew of RDRs led by the Athosians or setting up their own village or else they would be helped to resettle on another planet if they chose. Yoni didn't know enough about their culture to know which they'd pick.

They stayed until the last of the dead were buried and the jumpers left for their second trip back to the stargate. Like almost every other society in the Pegasus galaxy, the Hadrapu lacked a formal burial ground -- there was simply no need when the Wraith took more than death ever did. The surviving Hadrapu simply started digging among the ruins of the village, burying the dead along with the life the Hadrapu had known. Everyone took shifts with the shovels and pickaxes and makeshift shrouds; Yoni worked as a team with Ortilla and Lorne. It was unpleasant work and the physical exertion was a release, the damp ground accepting his frustration with being unable to do more to save those who'd done nothing to deserve this punishment.

The walk back to the stargate was quiet, not solemn but reflective. It was also a blessing; to have flown back to Atlantis straightaway, to go from the wretched destruction of the Hadrapu village to the bustling confidence of Atlantis would have been too much.

By the time they did return, Atlantis was already fully in the mode of processing the refugees and their arrival was greeted not with enthusiasm, but instead with subdued relief. Yoni went to the infirmary to write up notes on the patients he'd treated and to talk face-to-face with the doctors who had assumed care. Lorne had gone off to brief Sheppard and Weir and told him that he'd be summoned to add in his own observations and to be prepared to go back out once a plan of action was settled on. Hustling between the conference room, the armory, and the infirmary, he ran -- literally -- into Kate Heightmeyer twice; the Pegasus galaxy didn't have much truck with crisis counseling per se, but Kate was useful in situations like these.

By the time they were ready to go back out, no decisions had been made on what to do with the refugees who weren't being treated in the infirmary. Lorne didn't think one would be made until they returned and they had a better sense of just how many Hadrapu there were.


"You know what they're talking about, Doc?" Staff Sergeant Ortilla asked, gesturing with his chin toward the front of the jumper. Zelenka and McKay were talking over each other at increasingly loud volumes -- after having already been yelled at by Colonel Sheppard for not using 'inside voices'. At the jumper's control console, Sheppard and Lorne were doing their best to simultaneously look for dart debris and pretend that they didn't remember that the two scientists were there.

Yoni shook his head. "My genius does not extend to technology," he replied with as much of a shrug as he was willing to attempt in the cramped rear compartment of the jumper. Sheppard's team plus Zelenka and one minion plus Lorne and Yoni and Ortilla's team and several crates of equipment made for a full house in the small ship. If their mission was successful, it would end up being a far more crowded flight back home. "I understand a little of what happens in the dematerialization process, mostly from the biological perspective, but what they are talking about... no. No clue."

Across from Ortilla, Reletti chuckled. He was leaning forward, elbows on his thighs, because with Suarez on one side of him and Teyla and Zelenka's minion on the other, the bench seat provided no room for him to do anything else and Teyla had forbidden him to sit on the floor next to the crates when he'd offered. On Yoni's side, it was only him between Ronon and Ortilla, but they were all big men and were pressed shoulder to shoulder. Normally the jumper could hold more people easily, but the equipment they'd brought took up considerable space and was less flexible about where it could be stored safely. And so the human occupants cramped together.

The flight thus far had been a quiet one, at least in the rear. The sergeants were subdued, most probably from all that they had seen that day and perhaps as well a little intimidated by the company they were keeping -- their most superior officers, the head of the science division (whatever they thought of Rodney), plus both Teyla and Ronon had the warrior's respect of every marine. Yoni thought he was probably the one they considered most approachable and Zelenka's minion -- he'd forgotten her name -- didn't register hardly at all past 'civilian'.

"-- supportable basis for attempting--"

"The mice died!"

"And yet both you and Lieutenant Cadman are alive and well to tell the tale!"

"Not because of that!"

"McKay..."

"All that I am saying is that we can't afford to rule out the possibility. The dart may not be intact, it may not be fully operat--"

"I know! But why should we bother to reproduce an experiment that failed when--"

"McKay!"

"What?!?"

"How about we shelve the debate until we get to where we're going, all right?"

"This isn't a debate. It's--"

"--giving the nine other people in this jumper a headache. So why don't we wait until we locate the debris, see what we have, and then you and Doctor Zelenka can argue about how many tests to run before you see about getting our people back."

"Fine."

Ronon had his head back against the hull and could have been dozing for all anyone knew, but when Yoni looked over at Teyla, he saw that she was sporting a tiny, knowing smile. He met her eyes and the smile was reflected there and he felt his own lips quirk in response. Next to her, Reletti and Suarez were looking something between scandalized and vastly entertained. Next to Yoni, Ortilla was probably looking much the same.

"And this is them playing nicely," Zelenka's minion said in an accented voice. She looked bored; she'd probably seen this show a dozen times since her arrival on the Daedalus.

The marines, by and large, thought the civilian scientists were partially crazy and completely devoid of anything approaching common sense, survival skills, or respect for anyone who chose to join the military. They were used to being sniped at or ignored by anyone in a blue shirt, but rarely got a chance to see the truly vicious way the Science Division could treat each other. Zelenka and McKay got along -- Yoni suspected that both men would consider the other a friend if asked -- and the argument they were having was purely professional and would have no lasting consequences on their relationship. But to see them bicker -- and to see them get shut down, again, by the commanding military officer -- made all three marines sit a little straighter. Except for Reletti, who was still leaning forward.

They landed at the quarry five minutes later; the jumper touching down on the rocky, uneven terrain with barely a bump. Yoni tjhought that he might be the only one on board who had taken enough trips with other pilots to appreciate Sheppard's skill. Carson still flew like the jumper was an old Chrysler and he was a 90-year-old myopic grandmother and the lieutenants in flight training were all, well, in training. Lorne was learning to fly as well, but Yoni had never been a passenger with him at the controls.

"Scenic, isn't it," McKay said as they exited, the irony dripping from his voice as he pulled out his Ancient PDA. The marines were with Zelenka and his minion as they sorted and unloaded the equipment, the sounds of heavy footfalls on the metal ramp the only noise. Sheppard was with Teyla off to the side, surveying the site. Sheppard seemed to be looking at everything and nothing; Teyla had her head cocked as if she were listening for something. Yoni thought she might be trying to sense any Wraith presence.

Neither he nor Lorne nor Ortilla's team had had a chance to return to the quarry since the Wraith attack and, once the gear was unpacked, they took the opportunity now to look around. For the most part, except for the streak of dart debris, it was same except for the shadows cast by a sun much closer to setting than before.

"Lunch seems like a week ago, doesn't it?" Lorne asked rhetorically as they stood on the ridge looking down. Sheppard joined them as Suarez pointed out the burn marks caused by the darts' strafing runs. While the scars were obvious once detected, they were surprisingly unobtrusive.

Ronon moved past them, stalking silently and with purpose, almost as if he were looking for something in particular.

"Ronon?" Sheppard called after him as he started to climb down the path that led to the quarry floor. "Make sure your radio's on and don't wander too far."

Ronon grunted acknowledgement, then disappeared from sight. Sheppard seemed unbothered.

"Do we know if there's any other population center on the planet?" Yoni asked after they'd stood in silence for a few moments. "They'd have to be pretty far from the stargate, but it wouldn't be the first time that's happened."

Sheppard shook his head. "I did a scan once we got through the gate; that's part of the reason it took us so long to get here. Didn't get anything large enough to be a village. Planetary designation M82-X4P, population of zero." He sighed quietly, then turned to walk away, following the path Ronon had taken to go down into the bowl.

Zelenka and McKay were arguing again, but it was more of a bicker than actual disagreement. McKay summoned Ortilla and his team by snapping his fingers and whistling and Suarez muttered about dogs as he followed Reletti over to where the three scientists were putting together a network of laptop computers and Ancient technology, all balanced on black transport boxes. Lorne turned to go as well, saying he should protect the marines from McKay.

Yoni went to the edge of the ridge and looked down. He could see Ronon below, moving erratically but obviously with an agenda; he stopped and started suddenly, picking things up and looking them over, occasionally bringing them to his face as if he were sniffing them. Ronon had tracking skills, that much he knew, but why he would be tracking anything through an area where they already knew who had gone where... Yoni had no ideas. Maybe he was bored or maybe he wanted to get away from the bickering scientists. Yoni wanted to get away from the bickering scientists, too, but didn't think he could pull off the cavalier swagger required to simply walk away like Ronon -- and Sheppard -- had. As far as he could tell, Ronon largely did what he wanted to around Atlantis. Maybe that was why he and Sheppard got along as well as they did.

Sheppard appeared on the quarry bed after a couple of minutes, his own path less directed than Ronon's. He sauntered in the same general direction as Ronon but kept his distance, occasionally stopping to kick at something or to look up, as if he were measuring angles of trajectory. Ronon came over to him holding something Yoni couldn't see and they discussed it.

Behind Yoni, McKay was making exultant noises and he turned. Nothing seemed to have changed -- there were no rematerialized people -- but things were obviously going well and, largely lacking anything else to do, he went over to get a closer look.

Despite the weapons he carried, he wasn't quite military and he wasn't really a civilian and he thought the lack of clarity in his position was both tiresome and telling. He understood that he was there as part of Lorne's team, but being as Lorne's team consisted of only himself and Lorne and Lorne had a second role as Sheppard's direct subordinate, Yoni felt like an extra weight or a spare tire, carried from place to place and put to whatever purpose was needed until they found one that actually suited, which in his case would be when there were casualties to treat. It was making him cranky. He had enough people in the medical unit who forgot he was around until they needed something from him.

The remains of the dart, propped up at the far end of the ridge, were surprisingly intact. At least the seemingly relevant parts; the front was destroyed completely, broken off and crumpled from impact. The cockpit was mangled, although there was a seat still mostly recognizable as such, although no body of a Wraith pilot. Yoni didn't know if darts were for one or two occupants or whether they could fly on auto-pilot and let the Wraith in the cockpit beam down and there was nothing in good enough shape to say for certain. He suspected one pilot -- they had only found the one Wraith in the bowels of the city before the siege, the one who had nearly killed Sergeant Bates -- but wasn't going to open himself up to insult by asking. Patchok's marines had been through before they'd left, making sure the pilot, if he'd existed, had been dealt with one way or another.

"Switch it up another five centihertz," McKay called from where he was crouched underneath part of the fuselage, which had been hoisted until it was suspended a meter in the air. Yoni could see the marines' boots and camouflage-covered legs behind McKay. Lorne was standing next to Teyla on the other side of the dart. None of them had very much to do but watch, either, and that made Yoni feel a little better to have company in his idle boredom.

"Wait... wait... okay, up another five.... No... Try ten, see if that gets us any closer... Was that ten? It sounded more like thirty."

"That was ten, Rodney," Zelenka confirmed, squinting over a laptop. The sun was getting low -- lower -- on the horizon, but it was shining directly into Zelenka's face. Yoni didn't understand why Zelenka didn't move until he got closer and saw that the tangled mess of cables wouldn't permit even a small rotation to avoid the sun. "Should we go back to five?"

"No, then we'll be here all night instead of half of it," McKay replied, sounding preoccupied. "How far are we from where we got a reading last time?"

"Sixty centihertz," Zelenka answered, typing furiously. He paused, looked up, and said something in Czech to the minion, who replied in the same language and then started removing Ancient crystals from the device they had been inserted into, then putting them back. Yoni rather missed having a minion of his very own; he sort-of shared a minion with Mike Abelard now, but Gretchen was less a minion than a colleague too meek and naive to avoid getting scutwork dumped on her. "We're going to switch the leads back to the original set-up. I'm getting feedback."

"Christ, my knees," McKay grunted. "Okay. Tell me when you're done."

The minion said something. "We're done," Zelenka announced. "I'm increasing by ten centihertz."

Yoni completed his slow circuit around the dart, bringing himself closer to Ortilla, Suarez, and Reletti, who were poking around by the wrecked front. They looked as bored as Lorne and Teyla, but they weren't actually idle; eyes on the horizon far more than they were on the crumpled nose, they hadn't been asked to set up security but they were mindful just the same. Yoni suspected it was because they, like most of the other marines in Little Tripoli, were a little suspicious of their Air Force commanders' abilities to keep themselves out of trouble on the ground and were a little protective because of it. Lorne was still a largely unknown quantity and while everyone knew Sheppard could get out of trouble, they also knew that, at least away from Atlantis, he got into it with even more skill.

"--some kind of telepathy, right? Some kind of group mind?" Reletti was asking the other two as he approached.

"Hive mind," Ortilla confirmed, not looking back at where Reletti was kicking at a loose part. "Like the Borg."

"Fucking Wraith are the fucking Borg," Suarez muttered, watching Zelenka for a moment and then scanning the horizon. "Except without the motor parts."

"Do you think they know it was us who fought them off, Doc?" Reletti crouched down to pick up whatever he'd been kicking, then looked up at Yoni.

"'Us' as in 'from Atlantis' or 'us' as in 'not the Hadrapu'?" Yoni asked.

"It's probably pretty obvious that it wasn't the Hadrapu, sir, " Reletti replied wryly, standing up. "They had really nice pikes and swords, but they were still pikes and swords."

Yoni rolled his eyes and Reletti grinned.

"We're not the only people in the galaxy with projectile weapons," Yoni said with a shrug. "Hell, we're not even the only ones with C-4 anymore."

Behind Reletti, Suarez and Ortilla stilled suddenly, as if they saw something. Reletti turned, one hand on his rifle, but Ortilla waved him off. Whatever it was didn't merit full attention, apparently.

"The SMAWs could have been anything," Reletti agreed, turning back to face Yoni. "But the ones our guys killed on the ground? Could they recognize our uniforms? Would they know a P-90 from whatever the hell the Genii or anyone else would use?"

"And did they tell the Wraith on the dart that got away?" Suarez added, still looking away from them, out into the valley on the other side of the ridge from the quarry. "Or will it not matter if they get their hands on Forbes or Garrotte?"

These were questions that had come up in the command briefings, questions that nobody had been able to answer with any degree of certainty or comfort. Even if the Wraith had been able to identify the marines who'd fought as being from Earth, that didn't necessarily mean that Atlantis itself had survived -- it was perfectly reasonable to have blown up the city without committing suicide in the process. But if the Wraith could interrogate Forbes or Garrotte -- the way they'd apparently tried with the gone-but-not-forgotten Colonel Sumner -- then they'd know that not only did the city survive, but also that it was in contact with Earth through means other than the stargate. Another way to their new 'feeding ground'.

"Think the Colonel's worried?" Reletti asked no one in particular.

"It's probably why he's out here," Ortilla said. "Doctor McKay's important and all, but they could have just sent a platoon out here to watch his back."

It wasn't that straightforward -- the marines didn't know their CO well enough to know that Sheppard could just as easily have taken the mission himself because of boredom or because, as usual, he didn't trust anyone else to do it -- but Yoni suspected that they were right.

"Ah! Aha! That's it! We've got it... up five millihertz, Radek, just to tune it in..." McKay called and they all turned around. "Do you have anything?"

Zelenka looked up, his expression brighter than the sun illuminating it. "Twenty-eight life signs."

Cheers all around and Teyla used her radio to inform Sheppard. Yoni's radio was tuned to the same channel and he heard Sheppard tell McKay to wait for him and Ronon to return before they did anything else.

Ronon and Sheppard appeared a few minutes later, having obviously run all the way back up to the ridge. "Do you want to rematerialize them over here or down below?" Sheppard asked, a little winded but not out of breath.

McKay, still walking jerkily around to stretch his legs after being crouched under the dart, gave him an annoyed look. "How are we going to get twenty-eight more people into the jumper? We barely fit on the way over."

Sheppard shook his head. "We'll call for a taxi," he replied, looking around as if to find a suitable spot on the ridge. "We're not doing it in Atlantis."

"Why not?!?"

"Because we don't know how many of those twenty-eight are Wraith," Sheppard said pointedly. "I'd rather not set up a shooting gallery in one of the tech labs."

"Oh." McKay looked a little abashed, but recovered quickly. "Well, then contact Elizabeth and tell her we'll need a couple of jumpers and whatever else you'll need in case they are Wraith. Like many marines and lots of guns."

Sheppard looked like he was going to say something sarcastic to McKay, but instead turned to Lorne. "Wanna go phone home?"

"Love to, sir ," Lorne agreed, trotting off in the direction of the jumper.


The ridge wasn't terribly wide, but there were stretches on both sides that were deemed more than ample for the safe rematerialization of so many bodies. McKay and Zelenka assured Sheppard that they could strictly control how wide the beam was and that nobody would be rematerialized over open air.

Lorne returned, a wry smile on his face. "Eriksson and Paik are en route; ETA five minutes. They're bringing Gillick and some of his boys just in case it really is twenty-eight Wraith."

"We can take 'em," Ronon muttered. Behind Yoni, Suarez made a vague noise of either agreement or doubt.

"But the point is that we don't have to," Sheppard replied patiently. "I'm going to go move the jumper; I took the best parking spot."

Sheppard strolled toward the ship, leaving McKay starting to protest having to make a longer walk.

"You're not carrying anything, Doctor McKay, what do you care?" Lorne asked without any real rancor.

"I've just spent an hour crouched under a dart," McKay replied, as if the answer were obvious. It had been closer to two, but Yoni wasn't going to say anything because McKay's martyr complex didn't need the feeding. "I'm going to need a chiropractic adjustment as it is."

"Walking's good for the back," Ronon offered helpfully.

"Thank you, Richard Simmons," McKay snarked as he stalked back to where Zelenka and his minion were fiddling with the tripods. Reletti snickered and Ronon glared at him.

The two jumpers appeared on schedule, backlit against the setting sun. Sheppard was still in the air and apparently directing traffic; the jumpers approached the ridge, but one flew to wait by Sheppard's ship while the other sank slowly to the ground and hovered a foot or so above it, lowering the ramp so that Lieutenant Gillick, six marines, and what looked like one of the Hadrapu could exit. It then rose slowly, following the other two away from the quarry and toward a forest with a clearing on the other side from the stargate. Lorne went to talk to Gillick and the new arrivals, but the rest of them went to the edge to watch the puddle jumpers land.

"They cloak, right, sir?" Suarez asked. "Why don't they just park in the quarry? One'll fit easy, probably two."

"The jumpers can either cloak or they can shield," Zelenka explained as the first of the jumpers landed close to the edge of the forest. It moved achingly slowly and Yoni thought it was probably Eriksson, who had the lesser experience piloting of the two; Paik had come over with Colonel Everett and had flown his first mission before the siege. "We can hide them in open ground with the cloak, but if the Wraith come, they're easy -- albeit invisible -- targets. Since there is a chance that the Wraith could come and there may be firing, it is better to hide them with camouflage and then protect them with the shield."

Yoni thought Zelenka sounded remarkably placid about the possibility of Wraith considering how nervous he usually was. Yoni classified him with Carson -- nice guys who ended up in the Pegasus galaxy not out of any spirit of adventure, but instead because their intellectual curiosity won out (barely, just barely) over their fear.

The second jumper rose and then sank slowly a hundred meters or so away, tucking itself rear-end first into the copse of trees. Sheppard's jumper sank down and waited for the two lieutenants to board before rising up and moving off and out of view, behind a rocky outcropping.

The show over, they moved as a group back to where Lorne, Gillick, and his marines were waiting. Ortilla, Reletti, and Suarez nodded acknowledgement to their comrades. Yoni hung out in the rear of the group, not sure of where his place was with Lorne clearly operating as officer and not team leader.

"This is Lankas," Lorne announced, gesturing to the Hadrapu woman. She was tall, broad, and dressed in what had seemed from a distance to be men's clothing, her hair covered in a close-fitting cap. Yoni didn't remember seeing her in the village, but he hadn't really been looking at the healthy. "Doctor Weir thought it might be best if the Hadrapu were welcomed back by a friendly face."

"The rescue of my people will be complicated and dangerous," Lankas said soberly, looking behind her at the tripods and computers and Ancient devices. "Instructions coming from a familiar voice will be sooner obeyed."

"We are grateful for your presence," Teyla said quickly and warmly; Yoni figured she realized that she was mostly surrounded by men whose diplomacy skills could only be described as minimal. "Your courage speaks most highly for your people."

Yoni hadn't quite forgotten Teyla was with them, but she'd been very quiet since they'd arrived. He didn't know if it was because she was naturally reticent in these situations -- too much time around McKay tended to make everyone reticent -- or if she was contemplating the similarity between the Athosians' plight and the Hadrapu's. Both nations had been removed from everything they knew because the Atlanteans had fought back against the Wraith regardless of consequences.

Lankas shook her head mournfully. "My people are but few today. I would gladly risk my life to assure that no more are lost."

Teyla bowed her head deeply. There was nothing really to be said for that, not unless they wanted to start apologizing for causing the ruination of the Hadrapu's planet. And that, for better or for worse, would be Elizabeth's job.

There was a somewhat awkward silence until Sheppard, with the two lieutenants trailing along behind, appeared at the far side of the ridge. They trudged over as everyone waited. Lorne introduced Lankas, Sheppard looked embarrassed as he expressed condolences and vaguely apologized for the Hadrapu's circumstances, and then they got to work.

"Let's see if we can do this without casualty," Sheppard mused aloud as he looked over the rematerialization point. "Gillick, take Ronon and one of your teams and set up on the other side, out of the way. If there's Wraith, we'll draw most of their fire here, but you can pick up any runners and make sure the Hadrapu are safe. Ronon, whatever Lieutenant Gillick tells you to do, you do. Okay?"

Ronon grunted and Sheppard seemed to take that as affirmation.

"Teyla, you and Sergeant... Suarez will be with McKay and Zelenka by the equipment," Sheppard went on, gesturing toward the makeshift console set up on the side. Yoni had seen Rodney once or twice at the firing range, but he doubted that Suarez and Teyla were protecting only Zelenka and the minion. "Don't shoot until I tell you to; we've got a few angles going here and we don't want any friendly fire accidents."

Teyla nodded and Suarez walked over to stand next to her. McKay patted his sidearm nervously, but nodded as well. Behind him, Zelenka looked distinctly unhappy and the minion outright concerned.

"Everyone else, two ranks, firing squad style. They may show up shooting and we don't want to get everyone stunned at once."

There was a little sniggering among the marines, but it made sense. Yoni had seen the stunners in action and treated the resulting paralysis, but didn't think the marines had ever seen a stunner fired beyond the half-powered blasts they'd been training with. With body armor, you could get shot by a conventional bullet and still be in the fight; one stunner blast and you were useless and prey.

"Everyone clear? Any questions?" Sheppard looked around. "Your radios are on, we're all on channel three, and if things go to hell in a handbasket, then our first objective rally point is between Jumpers Two and Three, which in case you weren't watching is five hundred meters that way--" he gestured "-- and if you can't get there, then you go to the stargate and you let someone know. Nobody gets left behind, nobody gets hurt. Understood?"

A chorus of "yes, sir"s. Yoni looked over to find Lorne watching him. He gave a half-smile and Lorne nodded. Yoni wasn't quite sure what Lorne had been looking for, but apparently he'd found it.

"Let's do this thing, then. McKay?"

"Right," Rodney said after a moment, shaking his head as if to free it from cobwebs and starting toward the bank of equipment. Zelenka and the minion followed, Teyla and Suarez behind them. Gillick and his men started the long walk to the other side, Ronon stalking behind him and before the marines.

The rest of them followed Sheppard to a spot about twenty meters from the rematerialization point. The marines automatically moved shoulder to shoulder to form a first rank, leaving the officers -- Paik, Eriksson, Lorne, Sheppard -- and Yoni to stand in the rear with Lankas.

"I'm not sure whether to be offended or flattered," Sheppard drawled as he stood and watched, "but why don't we alternate to get some shooters in the second row?"

A chuff of laughter from the marines and Ortilla and one of Gillick's marines exchanged places with Sheppard and Eriksson, leaving Reletti and two other sergeants in front. Yoni stood behind Sheppard, between Paik and Lorne; Ortilla and the other marine stood at the end of the row, in front of Lankas.

"Let us know when you're ready, Lieutenant Gillick," Sheppard said into his radio. "Rodney, you good?"

"No, I'm not good," McKay replied with a little heat. "But we're ready."

"From our admittedly limited experience," Sheppard began easily, "Rematerialized people either fall unconscious right away or at least fall down. It's not quite the same as taking a transporter. The Wraith, however, beam down ready to go. Don't make any blanket assumptions, but remember that any Wraith who show up think they're beaming into a lunch buffet -- they probably won't be the ones lying down."

"We're set up, sir," Gillick's voice came over the radio. "Out of your line of fire and we've got the rear exit cut off."

"Good to hear," Sheppard replied almost casually, like it was a weather report. "Safeties off, everyone is cleared hot. McKay? Your move."

The clack of P-90s put in ready position came next. The marines weren't fond of the weapons, hating the bullpup design and high-maintenance cartridges and weak stopping power, but the P-90 was very easy to fire and light to carry and Yoni suspected much of the grumbling was just about having to change, not what they had to change to.

"Moving," Rodney said, sounding busy. "Rematerialization in five... four... three... two... one... go, Radek."

A flash of light and the empty space was suddenly full. Hunched over his own rifle, Yoni could see only imperfectly over Sheppard's right shoulder. There were Wraith, but not two dozen of them. To his left, Lankas shouted for the Hadrapu to drop to the ground. A loud, extended burst of gunfire from the first rank, the sound of a Wraith stunner being discharged somewhere in the middle, and then Sheppard shouting "Hold your fire!" and then silence.

"Reletti and Bisniak, let's go take a look," Sheppard said. In the wake of gunfire and the adrenaline rush of facing -- and killing -- the enemy, Sheppard's calm, easy tone was a reminder to everyone else to keep their heads. "Everyone else, watch our backs."

The three walked forward slowly and everyone else spread out behind them. Lorne indicated that Lankas should stay back until it was safe and she agreed reluctantly. As he moved forward, Yoni could finally see the full field of action; maybe half a dozen Wraith, looking dead but you could never tell with them, and the rest human. The humans were sprawled haphazardly on the rocky ground, all unconscious or nearly so, and it was impossible to tell from the tangled limbs if any of them were Sergeants Forbes or Garrotte.

The silence was shattered by a pair of gunshots and everyone turned, weapons up and ready, but it was only Sheppard making sure that the Wraith at his feet was actually dead. Six more double-taps and Reletti and Bisniak were kicking away stunners and weapons from the corpses as they moved carefully among the rescued.

"Sir!" Reletti called, excited. "We got ourselves a Marine! It's Garrotte."

The others approached, Lankas pushing past to see to her people, and Eriksson told Ortilla and one of Gillick's marines to keep watch just in case. Yoni flicked the safety on his rifle back on and clipped it to his chest; he needed to be a doctor right now.

When McKay and Cadman had rematerialized -- or, at least when Cadman had rematerialized and McKay had been purged of the extra consciousness -- there had been a few reasons for concern. Tachycardia in both cases had been difficult to regulate and McKay's WBC count had been higher than they'd have liked. How much of that had been because of the shared body and how much of it had been from the means by which they'd been extricated from their situation was unable to be determined; Teyla was their best case study for 'normal' de- and re-materialization by Wraith beam and she had reported nothing more than unconsciousness and lassitude, both of which could have been symptoms of many things.

The pulses of the unconscious Hadrapu he reached first were all too rapid for what he'd consider normal, but nothing he was prepared to either worry about or deal with here and now. There didn't seem to be any obvious injuries, but it was also hard to tell with the spray of Wraith gore covering everything. He made his way to Sergeant Garrotte while the others continued to look around and rouse the ones they could and untangle the ones they couldn't. It became clear soon enough that Sergeant Forbes was not among those rescued.

"Is he okay, sir?" Eriksson asked cautiously, crouching down on the other side of Garrotte, who had been rolled over on to his back after being found prone.

"He's breathing, he's got a pulse, he's got no visible injuries, and he's responsive to light," Yoni answered. "If he's not okay, he's close enough for our purposes. See if you can rouse him. I'm going to move on."

Gillick, Ronon, and the three marines who'd been at the far end returned, Sheppard getting the last to help move the Wraith bodies away from the scene. With the corpses gone, Yoni had an easier time moving from person to person. He skipped over those who were beginning to wake, which was thankfully more than not. Those who did not rouse on their own would have to be carried aboard the jumpers.

"How's it looking?" Sheppard asked as Yoni rose from another quick exam. He looked over the horizon instead of at Yoni, scanning for threats.

"It's safe to start moving everyone into the jumpers," Yoni replied. "I can break out the smelling salts, but I don't have enough to get everyone up and walking."

Sheppard nodded. "Under the circumstances, we'll make do. Thanks."

With a quick pat on the shoulder, he walked off toward McKay, already telling him and Zelenka to start packing up their gear so they could move to the next site.


"It's almost a little anticlimactic," Lorne said as they watched Zelenka and his minion set up the rematerialization field again. "Not that I mind that we'll have essentially doubled the population of the Hadrapu from this afternoon. Which is still less than half of what they had this morning, so it's not exactly a victory, but..."

"But it's nice when the day doesn't completely roll downhill," Yoni finished. Because it had felt like a year since lunch.

Forty life signs this time, which had sparked a discussion about the maximum storage capacity of a dart when the passengers were stored as memory, which in turn bifurcated into a suggestion about the future of airline travel on Earth and the possibility of wedging entire platoons into transporters in Atlantis, which in turn forced McKay to threaten everyone with dire consequences if they didn't move the hell away from where he was actually doing work because it was already dark and oh, yes, the Wraith were coming.

"Yeah," Lorne agreed, eyes on Teyla and Lankas in quiet discussion. "Because, you know what? It's been a helluva day. How are you holding up? Regretting signing on for offworld missions yet?"

Yoni snorted and looked around. Ronon was standing with Ortilla, Reletti, and Suarez; they weren't talking, but it looked like a companionable quiet. Sheppard was standing by himself, backlit by the lanterns they'd set up to work in the dusk-turned-nightfall, looking out into the growing darkness. "Running from Wraith darts I can do without, but no, I am not regretting anything yet."

And the funny part was that he meant it.

Lorne grinned. "Good."

Sheppard turned suddenly, looked at his watch, and came over to Lorne and Yoni. "Did I count wrong or was the ETA of ten minutes more than ten minutes ago?"

They both looked at their watches. "We dialed Atlantis a half-hour ago," Lorne replied, frowning. "We should have had the jumpers here at least fifteen minutes ago. Want me to dial in and see what the hold-up is?"

"I'll do it," Sheppard replied, shaking his head. "It's probably nothing, just a matter of who's flying the third jumper and how many marines are coming along for the ride."

He walked off again, not quite casually. The jumper was parked some distance away and out of sight, well beyond the reach of the lanterns' light.

"It's probably nothing," Lorne agreed, watching Sheppard go until he faded into the darkness. "But it's not good if it's a fuck-up with the mobilization. We knew the jumpers were going to be coming right back out and even with shift change, it's just a matter of bringing Murray instead of Gillick."

Yoni didn't know enough about how Sheppard and Lorne and the marines had set anything up to have anything useful to add. "Finding a third pilot?" he suggested anyway.

Lorne shook his head. "If that's what's holding it up, then we need to do some serious work on the batting order. Paik and Eriksson are both on call today and two pilots plus Colonel Sheppard are normally more than sufficient, but a half-hour is enough time to find another pilot in Little Tripoli and, failing that by some inexplicable reason, it's enough time to get Doctor Beckett into a jumper."

Yoni coughed. "You've never seen Carson faced with night-flying and the possibility of Wraith," he cracked, but he also understood Lorne's point. Carson would put up a fuss, but he could be bullied into a cockpit in less time than it was taking and there were a few other civilians who could fly a jumper if it had been activated by a gene-carrier. "Something's about to hit the fan, isn't it."

"I don't want to be a doomsayer," Lorne replied, "We had a trade mission out today -- picking up flour and produce off... Garigos? Gathigos? Whatever it's called. M93-R21. It could be as simple as the Atlantis stargate being tied up with the goods coming in."

Yoni didn't think that Lorne actually believed the hold-up stemmed from the trade mission returning, but he didn't say anything.

"Hey, Major?" Ortilla called out. "Can you come here for a second, sir? I think I see movement out there."

Ortilla was gesturing out into the valley below; they were on another ridge, more of a plateau than the last one, after having dragged the dart carcass off of a steep incline. "It looks like torchlight, sir. Ronon thinks so, too."

Lorne jogged over and Yoni followed. Reletti and Suarez were still oriented in their own vectors for providing watch, but Ortilla and Ronon were both looking out at a specific point in the distance.

The growing night was not going to be moonless, but perhaps close enough. A small quarter-moon was rising in the black sky and there weren't many stars. It was a lonely planet tonight.

"You see that, sir?" Ortilla asked, gesturing to a spot that could be a kilometer away. A pinprick of light that shone like a beacon in the darkness. "It's been moving slowly left to right. Could be villagers returning, maybe? Out all day, either don't know about the Wraith or think they missed them..."

Sheppard had been looking for a village, but a small group of people in motion might not register any differently than a herd of animals. Yoni didn't know much about how the sensors on the jumpers worked.

"Could be," Lorne agreed, turning around. "Lankas? Could you come here for a moment, please?"

Lankas and Teyla both half-ran. Yoni stood back so that they could have room.

Lorne gestured to the point of light. "Do you know of any hunting parties or foragers or anyone from your people who would have been far away from the village today? Could those be Hadrapu? Are there any other settlements on this world that you know of?"

Lankas shook her head. "There are no other permanent settlements that my people are aware of," she replied. "We keep shelters throughout our territories so that we may hide from both storm and Wraith, however. Our foragers sometimes travel quite far."

"So those could be your people," Lorne pressed.

"They must be," Lankas replied, a sad smile on her plain face. "We had several factions out when the Wraith struck. Some were nearby, but some were expected back tomorrow. I had hoped that they would have seen the Wraith and stayed hidden in the shelters -- the Wraith don't usually venture so far from a village that they have culled, but they usually don't take so many, either and I had feared all of our missing factions gone. Those travelers are most likely hurrying back to help the survivors."

Lorne nodded and then stepped a few meters away from the group, tapping his radio. "Colonel Sheppard?"

"What's up, Major?"

"Any news from Atlantis?" Lorne was walking in a small circle and didn't see that everyone else's attention had fallen on him, although he had to know that everyone would be listening to his half of the conversation. Yoni was able to follow both parts, but, like Teyla and Ronon, he watched anyway.

"You're gonna love this," Sheppard replied, sounding wryly amused. "Power fluctuation in the jumper bay. Jumpers weren't able to undock and the bay door wouldn't open."

"I told you we should have re-wired the connection to the generator there first," Zelenka's voice came over the radio; he'd probably not realized he'd set it to transmit automatically. "The master-slave connector probably failed. We need a redundancy there and keep putting it off."

McKay's response to Zelenka was inaudible except as a sharp tone from across the plateau. "Colonel?" he then said into his radio. "Is it fixed? Do we need to go back there and--"

"The tech team on call is handling it," Sheppard replied. "They're almost done and think the jumpers should be leaving in fifteen minutes."

"But the tech team on call is currently led by... what time is it... Wechsler, who is a genius when it comes to hotwiring Ancient technology, but is shockingly inept when it comes to interfacing any of it with Earth technology."

"Yes," Zelenka agreed. "He has nearly sent the naquadah generators into overload more than once and--"

"And I'm not flying you back there. Was there anything else, Major?"

"Yes, sir," Lorne answered, grin barely suppressed. "We think we've got a bead on some Hadrapu villagers who may have missed the culling by hiding out in a shelter. They seem to be returning to the village. I'd like to take Doctor Safir and Staff Sergeant Ortilla's team out to intercept them and bring them back here."

Yoni was surprised, but not really. It would make more sense to take one of the jumpers, but ships flying low and fast toward them after a Wraith attack would probably not be interpreted as friendly and they'd have a hard time herding anyone in.

"You sure it's villagers?" Sheppard asked.

"Wraith don't travel by torchlight," Ronon said. "They're easy prey for anyone looking."

"It's getting dark out there," Sheppard warned, but Yoni thought he sounded like he was agreeing. "You bring your NODs?"

Lorne had made sure all of them had packed their night vision goggles when they'd returned to Atlantis to resupply after bringing in the first of the refugees.

"Yes, sir."

Yoni looked behind him. Reletti was already pulling goggles out.

"Then be careful and check in every fifteen. We'll be fine until the jumpers show up and Murray is bringing men, so I don't think we'll miss you for the rematerializing. But we will want to get out of here as soon as that's done, so..."

"So we'll be quick and get back as soon as we can so we can go home, sir, " Lorne finished.

"Right," Sheppard agreed. "Have fun."

Lorne turned back to Yoni and cocked an eyebrow. Yoni shrugged and began digging out his own goggles.

"I would like to come with you," Lankas said.

"It wouldn't be safe, ma'am," Ortilla replied as he walked over to where Yoni was standing, Reletti and Suarez behind him. "I'm sure you know the terrain, but it's dark as sin out there and the Wraith are coming."

"They are my people," Lankas insisted.

"And they will be brought to you." Teyla moved so that she was standing in front of Lankas. "Our ships will be arriving very shortly and then we will need your aid here, with those we have rescued from the dart."

Lankas looked unhappy, but nodded acquiescence. Taking her with them would be supremely impractical for many reasons, time and safety being only the most important.

They geared up and made ready; Ronon borrowed Suarez's goggles for a minute, then returned them. "You should go down over here," he said, gesturing at a point to his right, near where one of the lanterns was raised on a tripod. "It's not as steep and you'll be closer to cutting them off."

Ortilla came over and followed Ronon's outstretched hand. He had his goggles on and adjusted them to magnify. The lanterns illuminating the plateau were all behind him. "We'll probably have to cut through that forest; going around will waste too much time and space."

"Joy," Reletti muttered.

"Big joy," Suarez agreed, shifting the pack on his shoulders and turning to Lorne. "Ready, sir?"

"Let's go," Lorne replied, adjusting his goggles. "Set your radios to channel four. Doc?"

"Right behind you," Yoni replied.


Ortilla led them down the side of the plateau, a mostly bare rock face that wasn't as steep as the incline off of which they'd pulled the dart's remains. It was still at such a gradient that keeping quiet by holding the P-90 to the chest had to be foregone in favor of extending the arms for balance; under-the-breath curses as boots slipped and the rolling sound of rock broken loose and sliding downhill were constant accompaniment until they ran down the last few meters to the ground.

Re-collected at the base, Ortilla gave bearings and instructions with hand signals and they set off again. Yoni found himself in the second position, behind Ortilla and ahead of Reletti, as they pushed forward. The first hundred meters or so were flat, the dirt feeling especially soft after the rocky decline and the tall grass rustling against their knees as they moved. Then there were rocks, big ones that they tripped over despite the goggles and little ones that they just felt under the soles of their boots, but they covered ground quickly until the terrain started to grow more irregular, a hill that grew seemingly out of nowhere and dropped sharply on the other side or a creek that barely registered as more than a rivulet of water but had a muddy bank of disproportionate size on both sides.

Lorne halted them after they climbed out of a shallow gully. Suarez took the opportunity to shake some pebbles out of his equipment as Lorne checked in with Sheppard, who reported nothing happening at the site, but no word from the jumpers either, which meant that they hadn't cleared the stargate yet.

"Do you want to check your Ancient thingie, sir?" Ortilla asked quietly. "Make sure we're still on the right track before we hit the trees?"

Lorne smirked at the less-than-technical name for the Ancient PDA, but raises his goggles and pulled it out. "We're headed in the right direction," he confirmed. "But we should vector right a bit; they're moving pretty quickly."

"How many, sir?" Reletti asked.

"A dozen, I'd guess," Lorne replied. "Hard to tell; the dots are pretty much on top of each other."

"Let's get through this forest, then," Ortilla replied. "Reletti's got the gene, sir. Do you want him to track our indigs?"

"You ever use one of these before?" Yoni asked.

"Yes, sir," Reletti replied. "They made everyone with the gene learn how to do basic stuff with 'em. Life signs, energy readings, and how to find the stargate."

"Can you actually do any of that?" Suarez asked skeptically.

"Yes," Reletti answered with a little asperity as he accepted the PDA that Lorne handed to him. "Can't tell you what the energy readings mean, but I can get them."

"Well, get your ass in gear now," Ortilla ordered without heat, gesturing toward the direction in which they had to go. "You lead. Don't drop the Major's toy."

All throughout the afternoon, Yoni had watched the trio of marines interact with each other and react to their surroundings, usually from a lack of any other form of entertainment. For all that Reletti seemed to be the designated baby brother of the team and the butt of most of the jokes, Ortilla and Suarez genuinely trusted him. Here and now, it wasn't hard to see why; Reletti led them carefully but quickly into the woods, steering them clear of impasses and occasionally muttering warnings of fallen trees or low-hanging tangles of branches. Without seeing the moon or a compass, there was no way to get a real sense of what direction they were going in, but it felt like a direct route, like they were pushing to get out of the forest as quickly as possible and back into open ground to make up time.

Yoni surprised himself by wondering if he would still have to take the land-nav courses on the mainland.

There was a bit of a breeze and the forest's natural fauna was stirred by the presence of interlopers, plus there were the usual sounds of breaking twigs underfoot and the occasional grunt or curse as they lost the fight to balance safety and speed. So when Suarez asked "Did you hear that?", nobody did.

"What did you hear, Suarez?" Lorne asked over the radio.

"It sounded like... fireworks going off, sir. Or grenades getting fired -- you know that 'whoosh'?"

"Hunh," was Lorne's reply. "Reletti, you see anything?"

"Nothing, sir."

"Lorne?" Sheppard's voice over all their radios, calm but cautious. "How far out are you guys?"

"Everyone halt," Lorne ordered. "We're in the middle of a forest, sir. Ronon can point it out. Is there a problem?"

"That's an affirmative," Sheppard replied. "We've just spotted three Wraith cruisers. Looks like they dropped out of hyperspace in upper atmo."

"Fuck," Suarez muttered. "That musta been what I heard."

Yoni remembered the cruisers used during the bombardment of Atlantis, the endless noise of their blasts hitting the shield. They were elegant in a so-ugly-they're-beautiful-(when-they're-not-trying-to-kill-us) way. But there was no shield here and one of those blasts could probably take out a crater the size of a truck.

"We're getting everyone into the jumper and then we'll swing by and scoop you guys up," Sheppard said, his voice sounding like he was running. "We're going to have to wait it out and hide where we can; I tried dialing the stargate and it's no-go. The Wraith are blocking it."

"Fuck," Suarez muttered again.

"Reletti? Can you tell which end of the forest we're closest to?" Lorne asked, not quite conversationally but close enough. "We're not safe in open ground, but we're even less safe standing in a couple of acres of kindling."

Reletti appeared from behind a large tree, ducking a low branch. "Closer to the way out than the way in, sir, " he replied, holding out the PDA. Lorne gestured that he should hold on to it. "Our indigs are still moving toward the village. With that torch, they're pretty much going to draw everyone's attention."

"Maybe they'll go back to the shelter if they see the cruisers," Ortilla suggested.

"Or maybe they're too far away," Lorne answered. "How close are we to them? Can we still intercept?"

"If they're on the scanner, then we can get to them," Reletti said. "That's what Captain Radner taught us."

"Then let's get going." Lorne gestured in the direction they had been traveling. "The Wraith aren't going to sit up there and enjoy the view for too much longer."

They started moving again, more quickly than before. Lorne updated Sheppard -- who questioned Lorne's choice to go after the Hadrapu, but didn't order him not to -- and Sheppard in turn told them that they had gotten everyone into the jumper and would meet them on the far side of the forest. Left unspoken was that they'd had to abandon the rematerialization and that there was very little chance that the forty life signs would ever have a chance of being returned to whole flesh, be it Wraith or human or the missing Sergeant Forbes.

"The cruisers are splitting up," Sheppard warned as they slid down a hill made slippery by twigs. Yoni grabbed a little wildly at a branch as he lost his balance and it hit him it the face, pressing the goggles awkwardly against his orbital bones. He shook it off and skidded down a little more, hearing Ortilla behind him cursing quietly as he fought to stay upright. "One's coming this way and one's heading toward the village. I'm going to have to re-plot a course to you. The most direct route is directly into that cruiser's flight path."

"Which means we should maybe get the hell out of the way," Lorne commented dryly as he clambered over a massive fallen tree that Reletti had warned them about.

"Yeah, they're starting to unload," Sheppard said, a mournful tone in his voice. "I hate this part."

They heard the noise of distant explosions as they climbed around what was probably storm damage -- fallen trees and pitted earth when the rest of the terrain was largely intact. The forest was beginning to thin; it became easier to navigate and their single-file line collapsed a bit and then the woods ended and just as it did, the world lit up like someone had flipped a light switch on the sun.

"Aaaugh!" Reletti exclaimed and Yoni heard him trip and fall hard. Heard because he could see no more than Reletti could, than any of them probably could. The flash of light had probably been blinding without night vision goggles, but with them, their eyes were tearing and they were temporarily sightless. He raised his goggles to his forehead and wiped the tears from his cheeks, fighting the urge to open his eyes.

Ortilla cursed in Spanish, stumbling into Yoni and nearly knocking them both over. Ortilla patted him on the shoulder once they were steady. "Sorry, sir."

"Fuck."

"That's a roger," Lorne muttered. "Everyone okay?"

"Apart from the not seeing thing, sir, " Reletti grumbled from somewhere to Yoni's right.

"Lorne?" Sheppard's voice, concerned. "That last blast was close to your position."

"Noticed that, sir," Lorne replied with a sour chuckle. "We just got our retinas seared a bit. We should be fine in a minute."

"I don't know that you've got much more than that," Sheppard replied. "The third cruiser's moving in to position. It looks like they're just going to firebomb the place, go scorched-earth. Can you see yet?"

Yoni opened his eyes experimentally, blinking back more tears. He could see nothing in the dark forest, not even a hand in front of his face. He knew he hadn't been permanently blinded, but he needed to get past the temporary loss. He squinted and focused and thought he could see the outlines of shapes, but how much was his imagination was hard to tell.

"That a fire over there?" Suarez asked.

Yoni turned toward the voice, careful not to bump into Ortilla. He could see orange-red blur and focused his eyes so that it was in his peripheral vision and not straight ahead. "I hope that's not as close as it looks. Because I can barely see it."

Another minute of blinking and closing his eyes and Yoni could see his hands and then start to make out everything else. Suarez was nursing some kind of hand injury and Lorne was looking around.

"Okay, we good to move?" Lorne asked as the smell of smoke started to grow stronger. "Reletti, do we have a bearing?"

Reletti held up the PDA, angling it so that he could see it with his goggles on. "Six hundred meters that way," he replied, pointing in a direction that was at a right angle to the fire.

"At least we don't have to go through the flames," Suarez grunted, kneeling down to re-knot his boot laces. "Grass'll catch, but not that quick."

"Let's go before we're getting a hotfoot," Lorne said. "Reletti, get moving."

They ran, a dead run over open ground punctuated by shouts to scramble left or right or to hit the deck as the air above them shrieked with fiery blasts from above. Yoni's chest hurt from the diving, his knees hurt from the sharp changes in direction, and his lungs felt choked from the ozone stink of Wraith weapons and the smoke of the fires they caused. They ran shouting and fell laughing because, really, what the hell else could they do as they made their way across an open field with alien spaceships flying over them, disgorging fiery ruin.


The cruisers patrolled the sky, laying down regular fire that was not directed at any particular target, instead meant to cause blanket destruction. It hadn't made the run any easier knowing that they were not being targeted -- the old joke about not worrying about the bullet with your name on it, but instead the one labeled 'to whom it may concern' certainly applied -- but the patterns the ships were tracing in the sky had given them more of a chance. Would continue to give them more of a chance if they'd only get the Hadrapu moving toward safety and off the straight line they'd been walking in since Suarez had spotted them.

They scared the Hadrapu badly when they came upon them, with good reason. Out of breath with exertion and laughter and hoarse from smoke and shouting, their first action upon approaching the Hadrapu had been to grab their torch and douse it, throwing the group into total darkness. It took a long few minutes for Reletti -- who got to them first -- and then Lorne to convince the Hadrapu that they were friendly, that they had been sent by Lankas to bring them to safety, and that they needed to come with the strange-looking men if they wanted to escape the Armageddon that their world had become.

Five men, six women, and four babies. Yoni didn't think any of the infants were older than six months. They were not couples except for one pair and they had left spouses and older children and relatives behind and it took far longer than it should have to convince them that none of the survivors were in the village, that they had all been evacuated. Yoni, helping re-do the babies' slings to keep them secure during a hard run, wondered how they'd be able to evacuate them efficiently if this is how they reacted to time constraints.

"They're coming around again, sir," Reletti warned, gesturing to the sky. The cruisers' circuit took them on a wide loop that circumscribed both the quarry and the village and thus the stargate. "ETA three minutes."

Lorne had been alternating between talking to Sheppard and trying to organize the Hadrapu into a more efficient traveling party -- there was no longer a need for the fruits of the foraging expedition and the tanned hides would have to be sacrificed for speed -- but now he stopped. "All right," he said, tapping Ortilla on the forearm. "Get ready to bring up the rear. No stragglers, no stopping."

"Aye, aye, sir," Ortilla replied, jogging off.

Lorne then whistled twice, sharp and loud, and clapped his hands. In the dark it was the only way to focus attention. They had been using their flashlights to ease the initial greeting, but those had long since been put away.

"Okay," he began in a loud voice, "We're going to start heading for the shelter now. Here are the rules: Everyone. Follows. Directions. No arguments, no discussions. If we tell you to stop, you stop. If we tell you to run faster, you run faster. If we say 'hit the deck', that means you drop to the ground immediately. Sergeant Reletti will be in front and he will stay in front. You listen for his voice; we know it's dark and that you can't see very well. If you get hurt, we will help you. Nobody is getting left behind and nobody is getting left for the Wraith."

Lorne turned on his flashlight, pointing it toward the ground. "We are going in that direction," he continued, gesturing with the flashlight. "Sergeant Reletti?"

He turned off the light and Reletti barked out an "aye aye, sir" and then a "Let's go!" directed at the Hadrapu and then he started running. It was more of a jog at first, to better judge how quickly they could move without spreading out, but as the cruisers came closer, Reletti urged everyone faster and the jog became a run.

They were quiet at first except for a few screams as the cruisers passed noisily overhead, everyone too focused on staying together and moving quickly in the near-complete darkness. There was a lot of initial pushing and shoving, both by the Atlantean guides as well as among the Hadrapu, who were tripping over each other and the ground. Yoni wanted to be gentle -- the civilians were too frightened and fragile, but those were the same reasons that they needed to be herded and not reasoned with. The Hadrapu were not hunters the way the Athosians were, instead they were a small population on a largely untamed planet and their scattered resources left them in physical condition to handle some exertion, if not this all-out race -- there were fat people in the Pegasus galaxy, but not very many.

They were running transverse to the long side of the cruisers' circuit, much nearer to one turning point than the other. It meant that they had two passes close together and then a short respite. The cruisers hadn't fired near them on the first fly-by, but the return was already illuminated by blue and white blasts in the distance and Yoni couldn't tell whether the closer ones would hit ahead or behind them.

"Down, down, down! Everyone down!" Reletti shouted and everyone dropped. The cruisers passed again, low enough to hear the smaller mechanical noises beyond the whine of the engines, and then they fired. The Wraith were making sure every field was burning, Yoni realized, every forest destroyed. They were doing a pretty good job of it; the horizon was half in flames and the possibility that they would end up being trapped in a ring of fire before they got to the puddle jumper was starting to seem less than ironic and more like something they should be prepared to deal with.

Once, twice, three more times they passed, each time making the Hadrapu more terrified, more convinced that this time would be the one where they met their fate. Yoni refused to believe that this was anyone's fate, to be slaughtered indiscriminately in a burning field, and he felt his already-thin patience run out with each sign of resignation, each proof that the Pegasus galaxy really didn't believe in heroes. He didn't want to die simply because the Pegasus galaxy had taught people to give up, so he pulled at the ones who were slow to rise and shoved harder at the ones who were quicker to stop. His voice was starting to get hoarse and between that and his accent, which made it harder for him to be understood when he shouted, he had to rely more on physical reinforcement of instructions. It got him resentful looks from the braver of the Hadrapu, but he ignored them.

The fires weren't close enough to be more than smoky specters in the distance; the air was thicker but still breathable and they didn't have to worry about being illuminated by the flames, let alone being burned. But the Hadrapu were anxious nonetheless; they were a people of forest and plains and fire was their worst enemy apart from the Wraith. They were pointing out the flames to each other, to their rescuers, begging and then demanding to change directions, to go further from where the fires were greatest. Yoni had to grab a woman by the elbow as she tried to run from the flames and drag her along with the group as she screamed at him and beat at his arm with her free hand and cursed him as a servant of the Wraith.

Yoni tried to remember that the Hadrapu were terrified, that they had been plunged into a darkness broken only by fire and then led away by impatient, dangerous-looking, shouting men who pushed and shoved them toward an unknown destination and an uncertain future and they had every right and justification to be scared and demand succor and answers. But there was no time to be kind, to be gentle, to be sympathetic. Instead, he had to navigate for many instead of one, to listen for the telltale whine of incoming fire so that he could close his goggled eyes against the flash and still push those around him out of harm's way.

The smoke was getting thicker on the ground and also rising into the air, obscuring the already weak moonlight. The Hadrapu wanted them to use their flashlights, to use the lights on their rifles, to do something to change the fact that only the five of them were able to see when the cruisers weren't firing overhead. Light discipline wasn't a hard concept to understand and Yoni knew that, in different circumstances, the Hadrapu would appreciate the reasoning. But the Hadrapu, like most others in the Pegasus galaxy, ascribed to the Wraith many occult powers and advanced technologies to explain that which they did not understand and, right now, that meant that they thought light would be acceptable because the Wraith were tracking them by some unknown, unseen power and didn't need the light to know where they were. It was a valid enough theory, but not one Lorne or anyone else was willing to test.

Over the radio, he could hear Lorne and Sheppard trying to navigate a course to some sort of shelter; all they were doing now was running in the general direction of the quarry. The jumper was hidden and while Sheppard was willing to attempt to fly it out to them still cloaked so that maybe the Wraith wouldn't see it, there was the simple fact that there were already seven people on board and jettisoning all of the equipment wouldn't make room for sixteen more adults and four infants.

"Down, down!" Ortilla shouted and everyone dropped, the Hadrapu too tired and scared to question anymore, the rest of them simply operating on instinct. Yoni closed his eyes, knowing he'd see the flash against his eyelids, and waited. He didn't have to wait long, feeling the hot blast of air as the blasts blew past them and smelling the burning ozone. He scrambled to his feet again, half-dragging the woman next to him up with him and looking around to make sure that everyone else got up, grabbing and even kicking at the ones who didn't. It took longer to get started each time they had to pause.

"--dematerialize us?" Yoni heard Lorne asking as his ears re-tuned to their surroundings. "Use the scoopy beam for good and not evil?"

"It's not that simple!" McKay's voice wasn't panicky, but it was edged with distress and annoyance that people were again asking him to do the impossible. It was a tone Yoni had grown familiar with in the previous year. "We don't have all the dart components with us and we aren't even really sure how the beam works."

The smoke was starting to make people cough; mostly it was just an irritated hacking to clear the throat, but a few were starting to choke and Yoni had had to break out his canteen twice already. He was worried about the babies, pressed against their mothers' chests, and their delicate lungs. The cloth papooses would help a little, but not much and not for long. He had started trying to check one baby at each halt, but he didn't always have time to reach them, let alone do more than a cursory look.

"We're running out of time, sir," Lorne said, appealing directly to Sheppard. "We're out in the open, the fires are spreading, and the smoke is getting worse. The Hadrapu are terrified and exhausted and we're going to start losing people soon. I can't get us all back to where you are and you can't come out to get us. I'm willing to take a few risks."

"Left, left! Everyone left!" Ortilla shouted from his side. They were loosely surrounding the Hadrapu, but the inevitable stretching and pulling of their group had left the marines with a lot of extra running to keep the Hadrapu contained within their circle. Yoni herded those closest to him toward the left, one eye closed as he took a quick look at the sky.

"Come on! Come on! Keep going!" Suarez was shouting as he brought up the rear of their troupe. "We stop, we die."

"Can you do it, Rodney?" Sheppard, all seriousness.

"Given enough time..."

"We don't have time."

"Given enough time," McKay repeated, annoyance finally winning out, "I could reconstruct the Wraith beam technology and integrate it with rematerialization scheme we've set up and guarantee that we could dematerialize everyone, store them in the jumper's system memory -- which is far more stable and secure than anything the Wraith have, and then spit them back out once we're safely back in Atlantis. But being as we don't have time, about all I can guarantee is that we can dematerialize Lorne's traveling circus and then hope we can undo it later."

"Stop! Everyone freeze!" The group stumbled to a halt at Reletti's order. Yoni gasped for air as he pushed himself to keep moving. There was one baby he hadn't had a chance to look at since they'd started running. He got to the mother just as Reletti spoke again. "Crater. Everyone circle around to the right. Don't walk too close to the edge."

"So you can do it?" Sheppard's voice in his ear once again.

He didn't ask or explain as he reached for the papoose's opening. The mother, a young woman in her early twenties, if that old, just stood, exhaustion radiating from every pore and gesture. The baby, a boy not three months old, was fretful but breathing easily enough. "Go," he urged. "We're almost there."

The woman -- the girl -- looked at him wearily, too tired to express either hope or disbelief. She stumbled into a jog and followed the group.

"I can make them disappear, Colonel, but I am not promising that I can make them come back."

"Lorne?"

Yoni looked over to where Lorne was directing traffic near what was presumably the crater's edge. Both of them were wearing goggles, so it was impossible to make eye contact, but Yoni knew that Lorne was looking at him. It was Lorne's decision, but it was all of their lives. They could spare themselves and suggest that McKay only dematerialize the Hadrapu, but Yoni couldn't see any way that decision could be made and then lived with. He nodded his head slowly. Lorne nodded back.

"Do it," Lorne said quietly. "And we'll all hope Doctor McKay is as much a genius as he always tells us he is."

The flight from the Wraith had become ragged and clumsy, emptying reserves of energy and courage and patience making everyone hurt body and soul. The Hadrapu couldn't run anymore, mustering only a brisk walk occasionally stumbling into a jog, and their keepers had no more voices left to shout either encouragement or direction. Yoni felt drained on all accounts and marched along, pushing and grabbing only the most recalcitrant.

At the next halt, Lorne had explained the plan -- such as it was -- and the resulting protest had been muted in its vehemence. The Hadrapu, convinced that they were not meant to survive the night, had seemed more upset about having been run around for an hour like it was simply delaying the inevitable and protracting their agony. The mothers feared for their babies, one wanting to leave her child in the burning fields rather than be taken by the Wraith (the Hadrapu refused to believe that being taken up by the scoopy beam would not eventually lead them into the hands of the Wraith).

Finally, Sheppard's voice was on their radios, telling them that the jumper was on approach. Reletti called a last halt and everyone sat down. The Atlanteans did so anticipating -- perhaps hopefully -- that they'd be saving an ungainly collapse upon rematerialization; the Hadrapu were simply giving up.

"Helluva first mission," Lorne said as the cloaked jumper became audible. He had a wry look -- part amusement, part frown.

"It can only go uphill from here," Yoni replied. He took off his goggles, clipped his P-90 to his vest, lay back, and whispered the Shema.


"Jonathan, let go!"

He opened his eyes, disoriented and nauseated, to see Nancy Clayton wincing in pain.

"Welcome back," she gritted out. "Now let go of my wrist."

He let go -- she would have bruises from where his left hand had grabbed her right wrist and twisted -- and muttered an apology as he raised himself to his elbows. Or at least tried to.

"Stay where you are," Clayton ordered gently, pressing gently on his chest until he fell back. His legs were still folded and he straightened them with not a little bit of effort and some muttering.

"Should I be concerned or relieved that you haven't spoken a word of English?" Clayton asked, shining her penlight in his eyes. He blinked and forced himself not to turn his head away. She held his chin anyway.

"Probably relieved," he replied, his voice rough and low to his own ears. "Did everyone--"

"Everyone's back in three dimensions," Clayton assured, her blue eyes twinkling. Clayton was the medical unit's resident sci-fi geek and it stood to reason that she'd be finding all of this entertaining and exciting once the danger had passed. Her amusement eased his concerns more than her words could have.

"The babies..."

Clayton looked around. "Four, right? We got 'em covered. Hell, we got everyone covered. Carson's got everyone not post-call here."

Yoni nodded, taking a deep breath and letting Nancy do her exam, which was mercifully brief and did not extend much past unzipping his tac vest so that she could get her stethoscope to his chest.

"Heart rate's a little fast, but that seems to be par for the course," she said as she patted his shoulder and sat back on her haunches. "Get up slowly, drink lots of fluids, go eat, and shower. Maybe shower first."

He narrowed his eyes at her and she winked as she stood up so that she could move on to the next patient. Once she was gone, he carefully raised himself up to a sitting position and looked around.

They were in Atlantis, obviously. One of the myriad of large, open rooms that were used for storage when they were in the command and control tower and for recreation when in the residential areas.

The room was full of people, a quiet murmur of talk rolling like waves, punctuated by exclamations of surprise as the Hadrapu came to in their new surroundings. Clayton had been right -- Carson really had mustered almost every free hand. There were half a dozen doctors crouching over those on the ground and more personnel waiting along the far wall with gurneys and emergency equipment. Yoni could see McKay and Zelenka and their flock by the rematerialization equipment, McKay looking smug as Weir congratulated him and Sheppard looked on. Polito and Patchok were in the background, waiting tensely and talking to another marine.

Remembering suddenly, Yoni turned to his left. Lorne was lying there, eyes open, hands folded across his chest. His P-90 was gone -- so was Yoni's for that matter.

"You okay?" Yoni asked. He'd obviously already been looked over -- his vest was undone and it would have been odd to leave the mission commander until last.

"Yeah. Just enjoying being whole again," Lorne answered with a smile, his voice a little hoarse as well. "Also Doctor Beckett told me that my blood pressure was very low and that if I stood up, I'd fall over."

"Do it in stages," Yoni advised. "See if you can handle sitting up."

Lorne moved gingerly into a sitting position, his legs straight out in front of him. "Hunh," he murmured, looking around at the organized bustle. "One second we're sitting in the middle of a horror movie and the next we're somewhere in Atlantis and... it's probably been hours, maybe even days. But all it feels like is one second."

"Yeah," Yoni agreed. Because Lorne was right. There was no way of knowing how long ago it had been since they'd been dematerialized and it felt like no time had passed. There was a dissonance to it all -- his eyes seeing one thing, his body telling him something else. The adrenaline he'd been running on (literally) was still in his system and the hyperawareness necessary for survival had not quite faded even though all of his senses told him that he was safe and he could lay that responsibility down. The aches and fatigue and hunger and thirst that he'd not had the time to deal with during the day were still present and immediate and close to the surface, but the situations that had brought them about were not. Using the transporters in Atlantis had not prepared him for this -- they took you between places that you understood intellectually were kilometers apart, but there was very little physical evidence to remind you of the fact. Not like closing your eyes in a world full of fire and opening them in a city on the sea.

"I hope it hasn't been too long," he added, looking around to see if anyone had brought food or water. Carson usually thought of things like that when nobody else did and there was indeed a sergeant standing by a rolling cart laden with bottled water. He whistled sharply and snapped his fingers to draw the marine's attention.

"You and me both," Lorne sighed, turning slowly to see as much of the room as he could, then turning back to thank the marine for the water. "Colonel Caldwell's not here, so I'd guess it's been less than four weeks."

The idea that they'd missed a month was enough to make Yoni shiver involuntarily. "Seems we made it back in one piece, though," he said instead.

The water was bottled Earth water, an invariable part of every delivery from the Daedalus despite the sheer ludicrousness of intergalactic importation of potable water to an aqueous planet. Yoni thought it tasted flat and stale when compared to what ran from Atlantis's taps, but drained the bottle quickly. "If it's been less than a day, then McKay's going to be insufferable."

"He's already ins-- Hello, sir," Lorne said as Sheppard stopped in front of them, holding out two more water bottles. Yoni accepted his with a nod and opened it.

"Major, Doctor," Sheppard drawled by way of greeting. "How're you both feeling?"

"We've been reconstituted like orange juice, sir," Lorne replied, holding up his bottle. "Just add water. How long were we... uh..."

"Frozen concentrate?" Sheppard asked, a wicked gleam in his eyes. "All totaled, about three days. It took another nineteen hours to get back to Atlantis and then McKay and Zelenka wanted to run a few tests before trying to get you guys out."

That he'd missed three days disturbed him, but Yoni didn't say out loud that he was rather relieved to have spent those nineteen hours reduced to bits and bytes rather than trapped in a crowded jumper under fire. Judging from Sheppard's expression as he spoke, however, Yoni suspected that Sheppard may have felt the same.

"But you're back now," Sheppard went on, crouching down so that he didn't loom. Yoni debated whether to edge back. Nancy was right -- covered in dirt and soot and dried sweat, he desperately needed to shower. "Early word from Beckett is that nobody's in too bad a shape, so I think we can put this down in the 'one helluva good job' column."

"Thank you, sir," Lorne replied, wry grin flashing for a moment, then disappearing. "Any chance we can go back and see if we can't get that dart we were working on?"

Sheppard's own smile faded and he shook his head. "We checked it out before we returned. It got hit."

"Damn," Lorne muttered.

Yoni closed his eyes for a long moment. It was a peculiar feeling of loss -- forty life signs gone, even if not all of them had been human. Forty life signs that had represented innocent Hadrapu villagers and one of which may have been Sergeant Forbes. It was unsettling to consider that it was better for Atlantis -- for Earth -- if Forbes had been one of the forty instead of in one of the two darts that escaped. He opened his eyes and saw Lankas moving amongst her people, unalloyed relief on her face. The Hadrapu were a quarter of what they had been three days ago and they were grateful and that, in a nutshell, was the difference between Atlantis and the rest of the galaxy.

"Matt and I took care of the paperwork for Forbes," Sheppard said and Yoni looked away because it suddenly felt like he was eavesdropping. He focused his attention on Clayton, who was currently engaged in conversation with Carson, and drank his water. "If you want to add anything... well, you know where the files are."

"I'll write my letter ASAP," Lorne promised.

"Take your time," Sheppard replied with surprising gentleness. "We've got six days until the next databurst. There's going to be a... I don't know what we're calling it. A wall ceremony? For Forbes."

In Little Tripoli, there was a wall with photographs of all of the marines who had died protecting Atlantis and, across from it, those who were missing. The KIA wall began with Colonel Sumner and now the MIA wall would end with Sergeant Forbes. (Aiden Ford's photograph had been removed on Colonel Caldwell's orders; Sheppard had fought but Yoni suspected that the marines were less resentful than their commander.)

"When?"

Sheppard sighed. "We haven't scheduled it yet. We wanted to get everyone back first."

"May I come?" Yoni asked, giving up the pretense that he wasn't listening.

Sheppard gave him a half-smile that was nothing about happiness. "Was expecting you to."

Sheppard was about to say something else when his attention got drawn to something over Yoni's shoulder. Yoni turned around to see two marines rolling a gurney and he followed their progress over to where Clayton and Carson were standing.

"Colonel Sheppard?" Carson called. "Could you come here, please, and tell Sergeant Reletti that he is going to go to the infirmary like a good boy?"

"What happened to Reletti?" Lorne asked with surprise as Sheppard stood up.

"Can't be that bad if he's arguing about it," Sheppard said with a shrug as he walked over to Beckett. "Sergeant, I believe there is a standing order to listen to the doctors here."

Yoni sat up as far as he could, but was unable to see past the legs of everyone gathered around Reletti. The stretching made his back hurt.

"I'm fine, sir." Reletti's voice sounded impatient, which was indeed a good sign. "Just sore."

"Aye," Carson scoffed. "And your ankle swelling to the size of a grapefruit passes for 'fine' in what galaxy, son? Not this one."

Lorne chuffed a laugh and moved to stand up. Yoni followed suit, feeling it in every muscle. From a standing position, the room looked both more and less chaotic. The Hadrapu were still mostly spread around the floor, some having been taken away by gurney and most still sitting as they had on the field three days before. The babies had already been removed to the infirmary. Although they had no pediatrician on staff, Carson had requisitioned equipment for a tiny PICU and NICU; between the RDRs on the mainland and the humanitarian missions to other worlds, the expense had been justified to the SGC.

Across the room, Ortilla was sitting on the floor, bottle of water in hand, talking to a crouching Patchok and the other marine who'd been waiting with him; he looked vaguely familiar and Yoni assumed he was the platoon sergeant. Suarez had been at the rear of their troupe and Yoni tried to orient himself to find him, but didn't. He hoped that the sergeant hadn't been one of the few taken off for more urgent care; he hadn't seemed hurt before they'd stopped but, then again, neither had Reletti. Speaking of...

Under the watchful eye of both Polito and Sheppard, Reletti was now lying on the gurney. He was grimacing in either embarrassment or pain, probably both, as he was wheeled away. As Sheppard and Polito walked off, Suarez appeared; he'd been standing behind his teammate. He met Yoni's glance and smiled, moving past Clayton to join him and Lorne.

"What happened to him?" Lorne asked as Suarez stopped in front of them.

"That last crater, sir," Suarez explained, shaking his head with fond amusement. "Idiot found it the hard way."

They had traveled for at least a half a kilometer after the crater; Reletti hadn't even slowed.

"Is there anything I'm supposed to be doing, sir?" Suarez asked Lorne as they watched the bustle continue. "Doctor Yee said I was free to go, but..."

"But Doctor Yee isn't in your chain of command," Lorne finished wryly. "Get Captain Polito to punt you out of here."

Suarez smile broadened. "Thank you, sir." He turned to Yoni. "I'll see you later, Doc."

With what Yoni assumed was the proper protocol -- formalities never really being a strong point of the IDF -- Suarez took his leave.

"What do you think?" Lorne asked after Suarez left.

"About?" Yoni looked at Lorne, who was wearing the kind of speculative look that he was learning to be wary of.

"Staff Sergeant Ortilla's team."

Yoni cocked an eyebrow, but Lorne didn't elaborate, so he shrugged. "They're competent," he said, still not sure what Lorne was seeking from him. He was hardly in a position, officially or experience-wise, to pass judgment on the capabilities of the marine trio.

"Think you could work with them on a regular basis?" Lorne asked, losing the fight to keep the grin off his face. He gestured for Yoni to head toward the door, then waved at Sheppard, who waved back. Yoni looked around; there was nothing for them to do other than go shower, eat, and sleep. Sheppard didn't seem to want Lorne for anything and Weir was busy with the Hadrapu. Carson certainly wasn't going to let him help tend to the Hadrapu and, in his current filthy state, Yoni was running the chance of getting himself admitted just by drawing his friend's attention. He'd check in on the other Hadrapu later -- the ones that were still there, he belatedly reminded himself; it had been three days, after all. He wondered where the villagers were being housed; Atlantis had the space, but they might have already moved out to the mainlaind if they were staying.

There were a pair of marines guarding the open doorway; they wished Yoni and Lorne welcome back, showed them where to hand over everything that needed to go back to the armory, and gave directions to the nearest transporter. Apparently, they were in one of the newly opened buildings close to Little Tripoli; there was wrangling about whether it should be allocated to the marines or turned over to the social scientists, who were clamoring for their own workspace.

"You want them on your team," Yoni accused as they walked toward the transporter; he'd suspected that was the purpose of Lorne's question, but he hadn't wanted to presume. "Why are you asking me what I think? It's your decision."

Lorne rolled his eyes. "Because I have to work with you," he replied, as if the answer were obvious. "And I don't plan on my team being a fascist dictatorship. This is supposed to be fun."

"It's supposed to be useful to Atlantis," Yoni retorted primly. For all that Lorne was supposed to be the steadying influence on Sheppard, the two men were not completely dissimilar.

"That, too," Lorne agreed mildly, waving his hand over the crystals to open the transporter doors. "So, what do you think?"

"I think I could work with them," Yoni allowed, following Lorne into the transporter. And he thought he spoke the truth -- Ortilla, Reletti, and Suarez were good men, good marines, and they'd already come through one hell of an experience together. "But I also think that this is maybe not a decision you make after the kind of day -- days -- we have just had."

Lorne had brought them to the residential section where many of the original expedition members had relocated to after the advent of transporters and where the newly arrived senior officers had been quartered. Yoni's quarters were two floors up and Lorne's, he thought, were a few floors down.

"I've been thinking on it for a while," Lorne said as the transporter doors swooshed closed behind them. Yoni looked at his watch; it was mid-afternoon and the halls were understandably empty. "Since we got back from the village the first time. They were really good there and it was a bad scene. Also... You break 'em, you buy 'em, you know?"

"I think Reletti will heal just fine."

"I know he will," Lorne said. "But it's the right thing to do. It's not like I could justify picking some other fire team after what I dragged them through."

Yoni smiled. It was a good answer as far as he was concerned, especially if he was going to be following this man through a wormhole on a regular basis.

"Will it cause a problem?" he asked. "To have enlisted men instead of officers? Were you not supposed to be auditioning Captain Polito?"

"Sheppard and Weir won't mind," Lorne answered after considering it for a moment. "And that's really all that matters. The SGC will be a little pissy, but that's more because Atlantis set so many precedents for enlisted men doing officers' work last year and they're worried about the erosion of the chain of command here. It's not like there haven’t been enlisted men on SG teams before."

Lorne made an expressive face and Yoni knew that there was far more to that story than the insider information he was currently getting.

"Matt Polito could have his own offworld team if he really wanted it," Lorne went on. "I don't think he does. I think he'd rather go out with his marines and do regular Marine-type things. Stuff like today... like three days ago. I'll talk to him about it and then one of us will talk to Rudy Patchok because it's going to be weird for him to have some of his men seconded to an offworld team commanded by the battalion XO."

Yoni's stomach grumbled loudly and he coughed out a laugh in embarrassment.

"I think that's our cue to call it a day," Lorne said wryly. "You going to be in your lab tomorrow?"

"Of course." He would probably not be there first thing, but he would be there.

"I'll find you, then," Lorne said. "We'll check on Reletti and then go see if we can't debrief to Colonel Sheppard and get that out of the way."

Yoni cocked an eyebrow. "Will Doctor Weir not mind?"

"It's better to seek forgiveness than ask permission, Doctor Safir," Lorne said, looking unrepentant. "Besides, there's no way we get out of this without at least three meetings and that's if we're lucky. She'll have ample time to ask all of her questions then."

Yoni smiled weakly, both at the realization that bureaucracy came with this post, too, and that Lorne was obviously a seasoned professional at negotiating it.

"I'll catch you tomorrow, Doctor," Lorne said with a wave as he headed down the stairs. "You did good out there."


Next: Business As Usual

27 April, 2008