artisticabandon: futuristic cityscape (atlantis)
[personal profile] artisticabandon
Title: Misdirection
Author: [ profile] artisticabandon
Recipient: [ profile] tepring
Word Count: ~17K
Rating: PG
Warnings: Mild language; some themes; some blood; no more than the usual episode. :)
Summary: Never trust uninhabited planets and natives who have the advantage of home ground. Or, the reason why Rodney never thought John would remember his password. Team fic. Shep whump.
Timing: Set most likely just after Critical Mass (2x13), but definitely before Quarantine (4x13). Aka vague S2 and S3 ish.
Beta: Many thanks to rosalee for being the beta for this story. I didn't always listen, but then I'm stylistically stubborn like that. All mistakes left are mine. :)
More detailed notes and prompt at end.


It was never supposed to be this way. But then, the day actually started out with a first contact mission to an uninhabited planet. So. Yeah. This kind of thing is probably par for the course.


John Sheppard hits the clearing where the gate is at a run. Well, it could've been a run, except he's trying to do it through water up to his knees. So its more like splashing than actual running, wading at high speed than anything, but it's the thought that counts. On the other hand, thoughts count like horseshoes and hand-grenades. Which is to say that none of them get him very far against the Wraith.

He almost wishes that that's what's chasing him and his team. Wraith, he knows how to handle. More importantly, Wraith, he knows how to kill.

Dammit. He should've known that there's a reason the stupid planet's uninhabited.

"Dial the gate!" he yells, knowing what's behind him. And it isn't pretty.

His team need no urging. His team is awesome like that.

Rodney's already splashing his way to the DHD, with Teyla pacing him. Ronon, he knows, isn't too far from John himself. Protecting his six. And at the moment, he's more grateful for that than he usually is. Those things are scary. Like big cats, except that he's never before seen cats that are taller than he is even on all fours.

Yeah. This is definitely one of those missions.

"Where to?!" Rodney hollers back over his shoulder, leaning over the DHD, breathless and winded, but ready to dial anyway. He'll take a breather when they're on the other side of the gate or dead – both seem equally likely at this point.

There's crashing and splashing behind at the right distance for the edge of the pond – flood? – they're all wading through. It is more sound than Ronon could ever make, and so he knows the cats are close. Too close. "Anywhere!" Somewhere not here!

Rodney just nods and hurriedly starts dialing. Not so much an address at random – because, hello!! What are the chances that they'll hit the right one if he does? – but one of the ones he just happens to have in his memory. Its also one of the ones on today's list for redirects, so hey, happy coincidences.

And the truth is that Sheppard doesn't really care right now. They've been running since they landed on this foresaken planet, more through water than on dry ground, and to say they're tired would be saying the Wraith are peckish. They've already had a few encounters with the Big Cats. The first encounter lost them their GDOs. The second one is why they're running hell for leather back for the gate. How was he to know that these Big Cats didn't like to eat beef from MREs? (Not that he'd eat it either, given a choice.)

Besides, his BDU pants are kind of saturated from the splashing, and his boots are a write-off. More to the point, his socks are wet, and he can hear them squishing with every step. He hates wet socks. Next planet, he plans to book some serious dry-off time.

Still, having lost their GDOs, what all that really means is that they can't dial Atlantis direct. And it's Rodney's turn to dial. Which means they'll end up anywhere on today's Random List Of Acceptable Planets To Dial.

The whub-thump-splush of the gate finally engaging is the best sound he's heard all day. Of course, with the way his day is going, the next sound he hears is the whine of Ronon's gun competing with the roar of the Big Cats they're all running from. Right. Behind. Him.

He immediately pivots and starts shooting, but he already knows what's going to happen. it's like the world slows down, just for him, and the next few seconds happen in slow motion.

There's a Big Cat right behind him, and his sight is filled with gaping jaws, twitching ears, and black eyes looking right at him. He's so close that he can smell its breath.

He's still bringing the P90 up, bullets zinging into the water, when he notices movement out of the corner of his eyes. Yeah. He was so fixated on the mouth that he missed the freakin' paw heading right for him.

Of course, now that he's seen it, he can't not see it. He can see the tawny fur on it rippling in the soft breeze. The claws flexing, each of them as big as his fist and sharpened to a point. The muscles rippling up and down the limb.

And then the paw hits him.

Before he knows it he's flying through the air, feeling like he's been hit by a train. Or a paw-sized jumper. He has just enough time to be aware of how much the landing is going to hurt, and then he hits, more on than in the water.

Its like landing on concrete, at speed, and he actually skids along the surface, giving him just enough to think oh sh— before the water gives way and he slides under. He doesn't go under far, because the water's not really that deep, but it is enough to make him fully wet instead of only partially, enough for a startling glimpse of the underneath of the water's surface. And he touches the ground with his whole body before he manages to get his hands under him and push himself up.

He comes up spluttering, gasping, not quite sure if he's breathing air or water. He's stinging and aching all over, and he can already tell that tomorrow, he's going to be one all-over bruise.

He has a moment of panic when something grabs onto his vest and pulls him up and out of the water. Probably because he has mental visions of being skewered on one of those giant claws, and he can't hear or see anything through the water clogging his ears and eyes.

He brings up a hand and feels leather. Warm leather. Flesh warmed leather. Ronon. Only then does he relax his grip on the P90, the grip that he's somehow managed to retain even with his impromtu dip.

He lets Ronon yank him to his feet, rather than make the struggle up on his own. This is, after all, what a team is about, filling up the empty spaces in each other so that together they make a whole.

Even though he's upright, his ears are still blocked and water is streaming into his eyes from his hair. He needs to clear his ears and brush his hair out of his eyes, but that would mean letting go of either Ronon or his P90, and he's not quite sure yet that the tactical advantage is worth it.

But even with his blocked senses, he can hear the whine of Ronon's gun going off. And feel it, standing this close to Ronon. Its a bright flash of red-white-black in his smeary vision, streaking out and eveloping something huge – and disturbingly close.

The sound of the gun dies away.

There's silence.

Only then does Sheppard dare to let go and swipe at his hair, at the water still streaming down his face. Seriously, for only being dunked for a second, if that, he's as wet as if he's stood under a waterfall for a few minutes. He sniffs and stares at the body of the giant cat...thing...that tried to take a swipe at him. Its floating rather disturbingly close to the DHD. And now that he's slowly coming down from the adrenaline rush, he can appreciate exactly how close he came to being mincemeat.

Said appreciation isn't helped when Rodney comes up and pokes at his vest, and it's only then that he realises how very close the claws came to him. "Fascinating," Rodney grins at him, poking at one of the slashes in his vest. "The felis grandia must have pulled its claws at the last second. I imagine it saw you as little more than a toy. Or like a cat playing with its food."

John stares. He's a toy? Instead, what he says is, "Felis grandia, Rodney? Really?" Teasing Rodney is a good way to get his mind off his vest. He has slashes running across his vest in a diagonal furrows. Shallow, thank goodness, otherwise he'd have lost everything he's carrying, and some flesh too boot. Still, he looks like he'd argued with a heavy-duty shredder and lost. And the back of his head is aching where he hit the water at rather impressive speed. But it's not like he's bleeding or anything, so overall, he counts it as a win in the Sheppard vs Pegasus stakes.

Rodney bobs his head. "Mmm, yes. A rather appropriate name, given its a cousin, if distant one I'll give you, to the felis catus, also known as our domestic cat. Actually, I'm rather impressed that this galaxy has such a familiar lifeform, even if the size could do with a little work. No doubt it's something for the soft sciences to ponder."

"Yeah. Actually, no," John shakes his head even as he starts trying to wring out his clothes, "I was just wondering why you named it. I thought that was a job for Botany." Not to mention that they have Rules for this sort of thing.

"What? I speak Latin just as well as any other scientist. Even if it is a dead language."

Ronon interrupts and points behind him. "Gate's waiting." Because he'd really rather not to have to redial. He's pretty sure he stunned the animal, but then he hadn't paused to check what his gun was set to. In any case, he doesn't want to hang around and find out the answer if he doesn't have to.

"I suggest we hurry, in case its mate is nearby," Teyla prompts gently.

"Yeah, yeah," John sighs and gives up on his clothes. They were pretty wet even before his dunking. Now, they're verging on hopeless. At least most of the gear in his vest is waterproof or in waterproof containers. He trudges after his team through the gate, trying to ignore the way his shoes squeak with every step.

He's so far from stealthy right now that he can't even see the goalpost. All he can do is hope that they're not walking into a situation where they'll need to be quiet.


They stumble out of the gate, a disorganized mess of people instead of the highly organized team they pretend to be. The new planet is hot, just on this side of humid. Grassy. Jungle in the distance. Single sun. Also, distinctly lacking in a knee-high pool of water surrounding the gate and six-foot high cats.

Sounds perfect.

"Wh—Where did you send us?" Sheppard coughs and rubs his chest over his TAC vest. Maybe it's the gate travel, but he's feeling it more on this side than he was before. Damn, but those cats could pack a powerful blow. He starting to know exactly how lucky he was that he was wearing his vest. Otherwise, he's pretty sure he'd be feeling like pounded steak right now, instead of just wrung out.

Rodney's leaning over, panting hard and coming down from his own adrenaline rush. "Uninhabited Planet mark 2." He pauses. "MP8-391. I think."

Ronon just nods. "Has to be better than Big Cat Planet."

Sheppard glares. "You're not allowed to name things...until after the debrief." It's one of the unwritten team rules, actually. Rule 38: No naming 'things' until they can discuss the mission over a meal in the mess. Not that anyone really follows Rule 38 anymore, but its one they like to have around. If only so they can point to it and say 'see?' when the paperwork starts getting threatening.

"Doesn't change what it was," Ronon shrugs, a smirk hovering around his lips.

Sheppard just grunts. He'd make more of a fuss about it, but then he'd have to admit that he's been calling those things "Big Cats" in his own head too and some things aren't worth the fight.

Teyla moves forward a little, standing alert and looking around. "Are you sure this is uninhabited, Rodney?"

"Fairly sure. I mean, its down in the database as uninhabited, although we all know how up to date and relevant that is. For all I know there might be five-star resorts and a booming space-capable civ—"

"Rodney!" Teyla interrupts.

Strangely enough, Teyla's pose reminds Sheppard of a startled meerkat. It's at this point that he realizes that 1) he might be more injured (concussed, maybe?) than he originally thought, and 2) they're not alone.

His day being what it is, it's number two that causes them the most trouble.

It all starts when one of the natives tries to speak to them. Emphasis on the try, because the moment there's sound, everyone crashes to their knees in pain. All that registers is a blur of syllables, a mish-mash of sounds that make no sense at all to John's brain. Trying to listen to it is like trying to fire the P90 one-handed while blindfolded and doing the tango while trying to get dressed...and he's doing it all backwards. Its breaking his brain and he can't imagine that anyone else feels any better.

This. Is. Worse than migraine inducing, worse than Wraith-Queen-headache. Its like a hand is squeezing the center of his brain. He has black spots and gray at the edges of his vision. Passing out would be a kindness, but something makes him hang on to consciousness anyway.

He's glad for that, because when he finally manages to look up through tear-smeared vision he sees the spear pointed at his forehead.


Elizabeth Weir stares at the gate through the windows in her office.

It's not often that she gets her infamous hunches, but she's been in Pegasus long enough to learn to listen to them. She's learned that the hard way. Their first year here was a very steep learning curves, and she was an apt pupil. They all were.

They survived it.

What she feels now is a stirring in her stomach, a kind of leaden weight. It's not fear, nerves, or anything else that she can easily pin down. But it is instinctual, and she has learned to listen.

The gate, however, is not. It stays silent, down the gateroom floor, immune to her mental orders for it to start lighting up. Today, of all days, its not listening.

Her gut chooses that moment to worsen. It reminds her of how she felt just before Ford radioed in with the news the then Major was down with a bug on his neck. Which is what decides her. Obviously something is going on...going wrong.

A quick tap of her radio switches it from general to the command channel. "Weir to Lorne."

"This is Lorne." As ever, Sheppard's XO sounds unflappable on the radio. It's an asset, on a base as diverse as this.

And once again, she finds herself giving orders she'd given a year ago, when John's team had been facing down a Super Wraith – but that had been to a different XO. "Major. I want you to put a team on standby for a rescue mission."

There's a moments silence on the other end. She imagines Lorne flipping through the mental list of teams out and their locations, and coming to the logical conclusion. It doesn't take long. Only one team had been down for today's high risk mission, after all. "He's not overdue yet, ma'am."

"I know. Call it a hunch. Call it a drill. Just get ready."

"Yes ma'am."


They've found, over time – okay, through trial and error – that the Pegasus gate's translation-thing works really really well, to the point of almost instantaneous kind of well. But it kind of needs both parties to travel through the gate at least once, preferably more. Otherwise, listening to other languages feels rather akin to breaking your brain.

At least, that's the reason they use to explain why some first contact missions go to hell so quickly.

It also explains why, right this moment, they're being held at spear-point and have no real idea why.

On the other hand, they've been a team long enough that they really don't need words to communicate. Which helps, because they're being driven through the forest by the isolationist-spear-weilding natives, and every attempt to speak not only results in a headache for everyone, but also a not-so-gentle tap with the spear.

Rodney hunches his shoulders. This is so not my fault.

Teyla's eyebrow rises. No one is blaming you, Rodney.

Ronon glowers. I am.

Sheppard sighs. Ronon! And darts a look at Rodney, then the natives. And its not Rodney's fault the natives are socially challenged.

Teyla winces. Or lacking in self control. Do they have to keep talking to each other?

Rodney smirks a little and. waggles his fingers. Okay then. Next time Sheppard, you dial when we're coming in hot.

Sheppard shrugs and rolls his shoulders. Hell with it. Next time, I'm dialing the Alpha Site. He's also resolutely not looking at his wrist, where his GDO used to be.

The natives had been...very stripping them of most of their weapons. Which is probably why Ronon is so...sulky. They'd even found most of his knives. The only real consolation is that they'd been confounded by pockets and Velcro, and had left most of their personal equipment alone – although their packs had disappeared to who knew where.

Having their hands tied – by vines, no less – and being forced on this march is just the icing on a very lousy cake.

They've been walking for about an hour, by John's estimate, by the time they finally come to a stop. He knows it must be at least that long, because his socks are now only damp, not wet. And he's also pretty sure his feet will register as a lethal weapon if he could manage to get them out of his boots. Which have finally stopped squeaking.

Did he mention he hates wet feet?

Just for the record, he also hates being forced to kneel. The only reason he lets Wraith get away with it is, you know, the whole mind-control thing they have going. The fact that he's going to have to let it happen here is not exactly a precedent he's comfortable setting, but one he's reconciled to nonetheless.

Especially when he's the only one pulled away from the safety of his team and made to kneel in the center of the clearing. The only satisfaction he has is that he makes them work for his submission.

A few bruises, after all, are a small price to pay for keeping his sense of honor and dignity intact.

When he's finally down, he looks around to take his mind off things. The natives have found a clearing in the forest. There's some kind of hut or hovel at the edge of the clearing, built out of mud and leaves and whatever comes to hand. Maybe its the height of luxury for the planet, or maybe its the latest standard in lean-tos. They don't know, because its the first dwelling they've seen.

The team exchanges covert looks when yet another native comes out of the hut-thing. Gangleader goes right up to him and exchanges words in the native tongue, which for the team, just leads to more wincing and hiding how much it hurts. Falling to their knees once a day is about their limit, especially if there's no Wraith around to facilitate it.

Seriously, when Ancient technology fails, it really fails.

There's more mental bracing when the new native steps closer to them and goes to speak. John doesn't even have to look to know that his team are locking knees just in case.

The new guy points to himself. "I am 'Jemac Gev Ca'."

The expected pain doesn't come. It's such a relief that they almost fall over in gratitude...except for, you know, still being held at spear-point or already kneeling. That tends to put a damper on things.

Sheppard can tell, by the feeling in his head, that the native is speaking a shortened form of the trade language, and the gate is (finally) doing the translating between his ears and his brain. More to the point, this is similar enough to so many first contacts rituals that this part is kind of instinctual. In Pegasus, the first thing to do is let people know your name – that way, if the Wraith take you, at least there is someone to remember who you are and where you were.

He lets himself relax. Finally, something that doesn't break his brain and is also vaguely familiar. He lifts his tied hands and manages to point to himself well enough. To make things easier, he speaks the trade language himself. "I am 'John Sheppard'." He shoots a pointed look at the rest of his team and a raised eyebrow, and gets vague shrugs in return. Obviously, they're perfectly willing to let him take the lead and will only introduce themselves if they have to. He gives them a mild glare and turns back. Cowards.

Jemac looks behind him. "And them?"

It's all Sheppard can do to restrain his smirk. Told you.

Rodney does the little bob of his head and hand wave. "Rodney McKay."

Ronon just stares. "Ronon Dex."

Teyla does a dignified nod that looks, to John's eye, like a shortened version of the Athosian head-touch. "Teyla Emmagan."

Jemac nods solemnly, then gestures to his people. "We are 'Dylos' people."

Sheppard does a similar gesture to his team. "We are 'Lantean' people." He's learned, over the years, both from his own experience and from watching diplomats, that it's best to mimic other peoples' way of talking and acting as much as possible. Besides, he has a feeling that trying to explain the difference between Earth, Athos, and Sateda would be a bit too much at this stage in the conversation.

"The Able One tells me you take talk away, make it hurt. Even to each other, we hurt."

Sheppard nods slowly. If he was understanding that right, the failure in the gate's tech had affected even the natives' ability to communicate with each other in their own language. Which is a problem, because usually this kind of failure only affected those listening, not speaking, and particularly those listening who hadn't learned the language. But how he's going to explain that, he has no idea.

"You cause this?"

Rule 9: Never admit direct fault if at all possible while off-world. "Not really."

Jemac growled softly, a look of frustration crossing his face. "Explain."

Sheppard breathes deep and goes for it. "Yes, we came through the gate. But no, we didn't cause the problem you're having with communicating. We—"

"Stop. No know what mean."

Right. Make it more simple, John. He takes a breath, holds it, lets it go. And wonders when exactly he got stuck with the job of being chief negotiator and translator. That's Teyla's job for a reason. "Which words?"

"What is 'gate'?" Jemac waves his hand. "Is it a...feeling, like hate? And what is this come-thing?"

Sheppard blinks. Its like talking in simple English to kids – or trying to teach someone English. At least now he has his benchmark for what words to use. What does it say about his life that he's done this before? In another planet, another galaxy, another life, but he's done this before. "The...come-thing is big word for talking, like we do now. A 'gate' is a...thing to walk through, like a door but outside."

Jemac nods wisely. "Ah, we learn from each other. This is good. Maybe we not choose you for gods."

Internally Sheppard feels very alarmed, but he's been at this diplomacy game long enough to know the value of a poker face. "Gods?" he queries, hoping its not what he thinks it is. In his experience, religion plus malfunctioning Ancient tech plus his team is not a good mix.

"We ask gods for help as talk has gone."

Seriously, is he the only one with a bad feeling about this? "Sorry for my not knowing, Jemac, but how does one ask the, uh, gods this?"

Jemac shrugs. "Usual way. As you are ones who take talk, one of you must go to gods for us to get talk back."

Sheppard licks his lips. Obviously, this is going to go down as one of the more interesting negotiations he's ever conducted. "Can me learn more?"

Jemac nods, as serene as ever. "You go to gods. Gods will thank us for offer and give us talk again."

Giddy. What he's feeling is giddiness. Either that or the desire to hit his head against something. Sacrifice. He means a sacrifice. Kill us all off until they can talk again. There are seriously not enough words to explain how this is going to fail. Especially not with such a limited volcubulary. The gate could not have picked a better time to fail on them if it tried.

But he has to try anyway. Elizabeth's going to kill him for breaking Rule 7, the one about not mentioning superior tech off-world, but he'd rather be alive to break it. And since the word for 'gate' is out, he has to think of another way to say this... "Do you...know of the ring?"


Oh. God. How to say it simply? "You walk it to other places, and has...push-thing beside it." Also? He's so ignoring Rodney right now.

"Ring of Old Ones. Yes. I walk it many times. Is how I learn...ring talk."

Sheppard nods. 'Ring talk' is a close enough synonym for the Pegasus trade language. But he's working on a hypothesis here, and he has just one more question to prove it. "Are you the only one here who has?"

"Yes. What does my walking the ring have to do with gods taking talk?"

Yeah. It was what he thought. "The ring of old ones helps you know our talk, as we come from other side of ring. But, um, it can only help those who walk it." He bites his lip. This will sound stupid, but it has to be said and he can't think of any other way to say it with the words he's heard Jemac use so far. "It is why you no hurt and others do."

Jemac is silent for a long moment before he finally nods slowly. "Wait. I say words to Able One, see what say."

With that, he stands and goes back into the hovel – hut? – and is immediately followed by the one Sheppard had designated as Gangleader. Maybe the Gangleader is actually this Able One, or there is communication equipment in the hut to talk to this...person. Right now, the day's been strange enough that John wouldn't bet on anything.

There is one benefit, though. Once the two of them are gone, he's quite unceremoniously prodded to his feet and back to his team. He's not exactly complaining. He could do with the company and the conversation.

"Fantastic explanation, Sheppard," Rodney gripes in a low voice. "Really. Absolutely stunning. My neice could probably even explain it just as well."

Okay, maybe not so much the conversation. Sheppard just rolls his eyes, and then purposely uses the big words because, hey, now he can. "Hmm. Okay. Next time we do first contact with another civilization with limited language skills, you can try explaining the problem with the gate translation teledecoder switch."

Teyla sighs. "I happen to think John explained it very well. Considering."

John eyes her. Considering what? But that's one of those questions he's learned not to ask for the sake of the team, so he lets it drop. Especially not when there's more pressing things to talk about. "Speaking of which," he turns to Teyla, and asks the question that's been on his mind pretty much since the beginning, "why didn't you take over? You're better at this sort of thing then I am."

Teyla bites her lip. "True." And then she makes a face. "But I have heard rumours of these sorts of tribes. They are insular in nature, and the representatives they send out in trade rarely do well, for various reasons. One thing I am sure of is that they would not take well to a female negotiating while there are men present."

Ronon snorts his opinion of that. He's seen Teyla negotiate, and knows exactly how tough she can be across the table.

She smiles. "Thank-you for the vote of confidence, Ronon. But I am afraid it is not a matter of recognition of skill, as it is gender and leadership."

"So you're saying that they accepted Sheppard as negotiator because he is both male and our team leader," Rodney says, looking a little put out.

"Don't worry, Rodney, next time, we'll introduce you first," Sheppard says easily, knowing that he'll do that over his own dead body. In Pegasus, its always the leader – the one held responsible for the actions of the others – who's introduced first.

"In this case, it also likely means," Teyla continues quietly, "that either John or I will be held responsible for what happens with the negotiations."

It is at this auspicious moment that Jemac and the leader walk out of the hovel-hut thing. And Sheppard is once again prodded away from his team and back towards the center of the clearing, although this time he's not made to kneel. Small mercies, and all that.

The leader person is silent, but stares at them balefully. He either doesn't like them, or doesn't like the decision that was made within the hut.

At this point, Sheppard's fairly sure the feelings going to be mutual, but is still willing to wait it out. (Elizabeth, he has the irreverent thought, would be so proud of how patient he's being.)

Jemac has a regretful look for a moment, then his face clears and he speaks. "Only one way to know if you lie. We send one to gods. If talking still gone, we know you not lie."

Yeah, okay. So it is mutual. And what he really wants to do at this point is scream and shout about how unreasonable they're being. But he knows better than most that he can't change the world, can't change the galaxy, let alone a tribe's worldview in under five minutes. The best he can do is plan for how they're going to survive the next five minutes themselves. And what does it say about him that part of him is already planning which of his team would best survive this 'go to gods' thing?

Not that he's given much of a choice.

Gangleader – the Able One? – makes a gesture, and suddenly there's more spears then ever pointed at the team. Another gesture, and they're specifically pointing at, it looks like, Sheppard and Teyla. He says something, that makes pretty much everyone cringe and wince, and Jemac translates, "The talker."

The spear shifts. "You." This time its definite who its pointing to.

Still, Sheppard figures he can try for a little wriggle room. Maybe just a little. He raises his eyebrows and points to himself exaggeratedly – because body language is universal, and he figures he's not the only one with a pounding head and teary vision right now. "Me?" As if it was a surprise. Which it isn't. Not really.

This time the spear is thrust, not shifted to the side. "You."

"Okay, okay, I'm going."

He has absolutely no illusions about why he's the one pulled out from his team, gets his hands re-tied behind his back, and told to move. Its happened often enough, both here in Pegasus and back on Earth, that he has the basic reasons down pat. He's been in Pegasus long enough to know that being the leader and having the ATA gene can be like having a target painted on your back. Of course, his luck being what it is, sometimes its something else entirely. One memorable time it was because of how he looked – which he still wouldn't have lived down, if not for the fact that most of the people present then are dead or in another galaxy.

The thing is though, up to a certain point, Sheppard's entirely willing to go along with this "go to gods" thing. He's done both more and worse in the name of diplomatic relations since coming to this galaxy. He can only hope it isn't as...drastic as it sounds. And that if he shows a willingness to go along with this thing, he can still salvage something out of this later – or maybe one of the others can. At this point, he's not picky.

That meager hope is the only reason why he lets the natives – Dylosians – prod him, once again at spear-point, through the jungle on yet another forced march. The consolation prize is that his team get to come along – although he hopes they're coming strictly as observers, not participants.

Without his watch – or rather, access to his watch – it's hard to estimate exactly how long they walk, or for how far. But he estimates that its about half an hour, judging by how long it takes his calves to complain. He's fit, but not for walking through a jungle without a trail.

His rather determined focus on his feet and keeping his balance – who knew his hands were so vital? – is why he doesn't notice they've stopped halfway through yet another clearing until he literally bumps into the guy in front. He stumbles back and bites his lip to avoid muttering an apology, having learned the hard way that that way a migraine lies. A glance back shows his team fare no better, and Rodney...looks properly apoplectic trying and mainly succeeding in not speaking.

He looks up to find Jemac holding a hand. "They come no far. This part is for one who goes to gods."

Yeah. Showtime.

All he can do is stand there and watch as his team are led away...without him, and surrounded by natives.

He's left with his own posse, led by two natives that he's mentally calling Tweedledee and Tweedledum – so obviously the Dylosian's "heavys" – that he doubts his ability to defeat them on his own. Maybe with help (with his team), he'd have a fighting chance, but by himself? Already a little bit battered and with his hands tied?

All that's left to do, really, is wait to see is which of them moves first.

Or, really, who blinks first. And its not going to be him.


The jumper bursts through the gate and quickly cloaks. But it doesn't take Lorne long to realize the futility of that action. There's nothing here.

Well, okay. There is. There's just nothing alive. At least now he knows what happened to their wayward team.

"Is that...?" someone asks from behind him. One of the Marines, maybe.

Lorne stares at the body of the giant cat, floating and bobbing gently in the water near the DHD. "Well," he drawls, "guess that answers why they're late."

"Yes, yes," answers Zalenka, absently shoving his glasses back up his nose with a finger. "But where is team?"

That, Lorne decides, is the question of the hour. Or maybe the day. "Doc, how long will it take to get the addresses?"

He can hear the shrug from here. "Mmm. Depends. Did cat hit DHD? Is console damaged? Many factors to consider."

"Docccc..." he drawls.

"Hour. Maybe less." Which is better than the answer he gave when Ford had captured the team. That had been days. better. At least now they have practice at this.

Although, getting the addresses is the easy part. Then they only have to correlate the DHD's addresses with today's Random List. Yeah. With a sigh, Lorne looks for a place to park. Might as well get this show on the road.


Turns out that "going to gods" is an euphemism for being tossed over a cliff. Emphasis on the tossed part.

Sheppard promptly decides that Elizabeth will agree with him that diplomacy goes only so far and will forgive him for wanting to survive to be diplomatic. He settles into the Athosian stance of open unarmed combat and waits, doing his best to ignore the fact that his arms are tied behind him. Right now, that's the least of his worries.

He ducks under the first native who gets too far into his personal space, which at the moment, he figures he's allowed to extend to about half the size of the clearing. He's already too close to the cliff, and they'll need half an army to get him any closer.

Note to self, don't kick with hands tied. On one hand, there's one less Dylosian. On the other hand, he overbalances. Thankfully, he has just enough time before the next native approaches to recover. Maybe they're used to fighting one-on-one? For someone used to fighting Wraith or Marines-ala-melee, this is frightfully boring.

And then one of the natives gets tired of his ducking and weaving and unsheathes a knife. He almost grins, but doesn't, because now he actually has a plan and he's not stupid enough to telegraph it. He's done enough unarmed practicing against Ronon that it should almost be like taking candy from a baby. Except where its not, because he'd never thought to practice with his arms tied. Yeah. Okay. Definitely something to add to the roster.

Keeping an eye on Knife Guy, he works his way through the next two Dylosians to try to approach him, backing slowly and giving ground in Knife Guy's direction as if it's all accidental. Which it's not. When he judges he's close enough, he suddenly goes low and swings out in a leg sweep.

It works. Knife Guy goes down in a heap, dropping the knife on the way down.

He rolls for it, catching it awkwardly underneath him, more on the blade than the handle.

On the one hand, he has a knife. On the other, he's on the ground with his hands tied. He's at more of a disadvantage than ever right now, and he figures they all know it. That much is clear, going by the way the remaining Dylosians eye him and then finally decide its time to try out group attacks.

It's like being at the bottom of a puppy pile.

Or really, it's like playing Twister, except he's the mat and there's no timer.

He squirms as best he can, kicking out as much as possible while frantically working the blade on the vines around his wrists. It's slower than he likes, not only because he can't see what the hell he's doing, but also because the vines have tightened. He's pretty sure his wrists will resemble raw meat by the time he's done.

Finally, he feels the ropes—vines—part under the knife. Jerking his hands apart separates what remains of the vines around his wrists, and at long last his hands are free and he can fight.

Just in time to defend himself against a haymaker coming right for his jaw. He grabs the punch and twists to the side, barely managing to deflect the fist. It thuds down to the earth beside his ear, and he swears to himself that he can feel the reverberation throughout his whole body. Or maybe it just feels that way.

He brings up his knee in retaliation, catching one of the Dylosians where it hurts the most. A quick glance around tells him he has one more native and the two heavies, Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

The third-last native is, relatively, easily dispatched. Or maybe its all those sparring matches with Ronon and Teyla finally paying off.

And then its just him and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Joy.

These two, despite his mental nicknames for them, are no slouches in the upstairs department. At least, they know enough to attack him en masse and use their size to their advantage. Dammit, its like fighting two brick walls.

Brick walls that fight back and know all his weak spots.

He knows now why the others were so easy to put down. They were just the entrees and these are the main course, softening him up and wearing him down for these two. Still, anyone who knows him also knows that surrender isn't a part of his vocabulary. He's committed to this course and he'll see it through, and not just because he has no desire to see the bottom of a cliff up close and personal. He has his team to get back to, Atlantis to get back to, and really, that's all the motivation he ever needs.

The only advantage on his side is the knife he still, somehow, holds. He holds it the way the Air Force never taught him but a lifetime of dirty fights did. By the handle with the blade back against his arm, edge out, and his other arm further forward to block and prevent easy access to his only weapon.

Some skills, you never quite forget.

He keeps himself to light slashes with the knife, blocking and defending more than attacking. It's a sign of his skill that he doubts the other two would appreciate. Even at this point, he'd like not to have to kill if he doesn't have to. Soon, his two Tweedle's are more cut than he is, and he's almost out of the clearing and back on the semi-trail out of here.

He's backing up, almost out of the stupid clearing, when something somewhere shifts and all of a sudden he's staring directly into the sun. Its off-putting enough that he squints, half raises his unarmed hand before he catches himself, but its enough that he loses the flow of the fight.

When he refocuses, he realizes he's lost one of the Tweedles.

He's starting to turn to find him, when he finds out the hard way by a knee to the kidney. One of them must circled around me, he thinks fleetingly, even as he's gasping in pain and dropping to his knees. It's not normally so much of a show-stopper, but today's a day when he's already hit things with his back at high speed, and his back is like one big bruise already. The knee to the back is like a spike driving right into his brain, and it kind of blacks him out. A little. Or maybe a lot. Or maybe there's no maybe about it.

By the time he's back online and processing again – and yeah, he's been hanging around Rodney too long if he's thinking like a computer – he knows he was out too long. He's lost the advantage. He's held down, by too many hands, and its all he can do to just breathe against the ground. His heart is pounding and he's gasping in what breaths he can, all too aware he's on this side of hyperventilation but not too inclined to stop. He has far too many memories of what comes next from being in this kind of position and its never pleasant.

This time doesn't disappoint.

The hands shift a little, his body tingles before it goes numb, and he mentally curses. They've found all his pressure points, and now he can't fight back even if they let him go. They pick him up, tightening their grip enough to leave yet more bruises. He's going to look like a roadmap by the time this stupid's missions over.

And then he goes over the cliff. Tossed. Literally.

It seems like he falls for forever.

All he can do is watch. His body's still numb. But in the end he closes his eyes. Some things, he doesn't want to see.

When he finally lands, all he can hear is the snap of his own bones breaking. The pain of that is so great that it pushes him into the darkness.


Radek hums to himself, pleased with how easy it is to capture the dialed addresses from this DHD. With the dead body helpfully pushed aside and now floating away now that its not jammed against the DHD, this isn't a bad work-space. And the DHD is almost helpful, eager to give him the information he requests. Maybe it is...lonely? Is that the word?


It's not the first time Radek's heard the drawn out word this mission, and he suspects it won't be last. He keeps working anyway. Long exposure to McKay makes him immune to verbal volleys. On the scale of McKay insults, 'Doc' ranks about negative one-oh-five.


Okay, maybe not in that tone. He looks up sharply, his hands freezing on the laptop. And gulps.

There. Is. A. Big. Cat. Staring. At. Him. The mate of the dead one that was at the DHD, maybe?

"Don't. Move," he hears someone order, terse with command.

Hloupý blázen. Jaký druh idiot je ten? he thinks to himself derisively. Of course he's not going to move. Moving is by far the last thing on his mind.

Although...if this is anything like earth felines, maybe he could just reach the crystal he was working on and flash a beam of light into the creature's eyes... It might be a sufficient rozptýlení – distraction? – for the Marines to do something...

He eyes the distance critically. He gathers a breath. His fingers twitch. And he leaps.




Continued in Part 2

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