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To Build a Fire, CH III

<<< Back to To Build a Fire, CH II

Richard Woolsey squinted at his watch, peered closely at the displayed time on his computer tablet and glanced toward the dark Stargate for perhaps the hundredth time that day. Sometimes the burden of command was downright staggering, and this was proving to be one of those times. If it was possible for anything to go wrong, you could count on it happening to Sheppard's team, no matter how benign the mission or how friendly the inhabitants of whatever planet they were visiting. 

Woolsey sighed and rose from his desk to walk the few feet between his office and the command console, behind which sat the Sergeant on duty. 

As soon as Woolsey approached, Sergeant Campbell tapped on a few keys and turned his monitor so the other man could see what he had been studying. 

“The MALP we sent earlier shows that the storm has turned out to be worse than we expected,” Campbell reported. “I've tried to contact them several times but can't get a response.” 

“Very well, Sergeant, bring the MALP back. We'll try again later.” 

“Yes, Sir.” The Sergeant turned back to his console. 

“So, at this point, it doesn't look like there's much of a chance that Colonel Sheppard's team will make it back tonight,” Woolsey said. 

“Probably not, unless we hear something from them, there's not much we can do.” 

“Thank you, Sergeant.” 

Tapping his earpiece, Woolsey said, “Major Lorne, please report to my office.” 

“On my way, Sir,” Lorne's voice replied. 

Woolsey returned to his former task of reading the unending stream of mission reports, and in a short while, the Major had appeared and paused for a moment in the door to the office. “You wanted to see me?” 

Woolsey looked up at the officer with a frown. “Yes, Major. I'm a bit concerned about Colonel Sheppard's team.” 

“Late again, huh?” Lorne came inside and stood waiting with a slight smile. 

Acknowledging the fact that this was anything but an uncommon occurrence, Woolsey tilted his head on one side before replying. “They escorted Doctor Beckett to help one of our Tuskian friends with a difficult birth but are several hours overdue. Ordinarily, I wouldn't be overly worried, but MALP telemetry shows that the weather has turned nasty. And when we tried to contact them, we got no response.” 

Lorne adopted a more serious look. “Nasty in what way?” 

“A large snowstorm, blizzard conditions, subfreezing temperatures. All we could see on the MALP camera was a whiteout.” 

“Not good,” the Major agreed, “but if all that is true, we wouldn't be very successful flying a jumper in, considering the probability of zero visibility, and certainly couldn't risk sending a team on foot and just adding to the problem.” 

“Agreed. I was just hoping you could come up with a different conclusion.” 

“I'm afraid not.” Lorne winced. “Besides, those guys are pretty resourceful. They'll likely just shelter with the locals until this thing is over.” 

Woolsey pulled out a clean white handkerchief and began cleaning his glasses, a sure sign that he was nervous. “I sure hope so, Major. We'll check the weather conditions again in a few hours and reassess at that time.” 

Lorne nodded agreement, cleared his throat and said, “Doctor Weir always found that times like this called for a distraction.” 

Woolsey put away his handkerchief and smiled, letting Lorne know that he appreciated his consideration. “A distraction? Like what for example?” 

Lorne shrugged. “On several occasions I came in and found her playing solitaire.” 

“Solitaire, huh? Did that work?” 

“I'm thinking not, no Sir.” 

The smile came and went briefly. “Thank you, Major. I'll keep that in mind.” 

 

--/--

 

John wasn't sure if it was the combination of smoke and heat from the fire or the excruciating pain in his shoulders that woke him. While he had been unconscious, his body had sagged forward, putting all his weight on his arms, which nearly dislocated both shoulders and made it hard for him to breathe. With a groan, he stretched out his toes and made contact with the dirt floor, relieving some of the tension in his back. He found he could alternate between balancing this way and pulling himself back up by the ropes that held his hands secured to the iron rings in the wall. Neither position was comfortable for very long, but he wanted to use the time he had to take inventory of his surroundings, since the creature who must have brought him here was, for the moment, nowhere around. 

He appeared to be in a cave. Rock walls stretched all around and high above him. The floor was dirt and covered with an assortment of objects that looked like primitive tools and household items. The only piece of furniture was a crude table pushed against one wall. A pile of furs lay in one corner, and John paused for a moment to wonder just what kind of animals they had come from. In the center of the floor was a sizable fire over which had been placed a large iron pot. Steam rose from the pot, and an odor redolent with herbs and something indefinable tickled John's nose and the back of his throat. 

“I hope that's not for me,” he whispered and turned his attention to the cave entrance. 

Some sort of rough fabric resembling burlap covered the opening to the outside. It swayed slightly with the force of the blizzard that must have still been raging. The cold did not come inside, however, for which, considering his state of undress, John was grateful. 

The effort to hold himself upright and twist his body so he could take a survey of his surroundings soon proved to be too much, and John began having trouble breathing. He was able to balance his weight on his toes to such an extent as to temporarily take the weight off his arms and make his breathing easier. The heat from the fire, combined with his physical exertion, had caused rivulets of sweat to run down his chest and into his eyes, causing them to sting and burn. His head was pounding, and the area where he had been struck was throbbing in time with his heartbeat. Clear vision and no dizziness told him that he probably didn't have a concussion, but John knew that continuing in his present filthy state would eventually lead to an infection if his various cuts and scrapes were not treated. He was just beginning to wonder if his captor had deserted him and he would have to continue alternating his position forever, when the curtain was pulled back and cold air rushed in. 

John raised his head with some effort and looked hopefully toward the entrance to the cave. A timely rescue would be great right about now, but it appeared he was going to have to get used to disappointment. Instead of his team or a rescue party from Atlantis coming through the opening, his previous companion had returned home. 

If possible, the beast seemed even bigger and more scruffy looking than earlier, nearly filling the cave entrance with its bulk. John could see that the storm was still raging before the curtain was lowered back into place, blocking his view of the outside. In the creature's absence, the fire had died down a bit. Quickly, it dropped the load of firewood it was carrying, grabbed what looked to be an iron poker and began stirring the embers into life. 

“Don't go to a lot of trouble on my account,” John said, which resulted in a spasm of coughing. His throat was dry and sore, and this small attempt at conversation made him swallow convulsively and brought tears to his eyes. 

The giant threw one last log on the fire and turned its massive head in John's direction. “Greenk,” it said and stepped closer. 

John sagged against his bonds and tried to resist the urge to cringe away from his captor, who stepped closer still and peered into his face. It studied him for a moment, and John, afraid to move, stared back. Its features were vaguely apelike, but there was something subtly human in the eyes and in the way it moved. Long white hair, curly and hopelessly tangled, covered its head and flowed down over its shoulders where it merged with what looked to be hair or fur of some sort that completely covered its body. The eyes were mesmerizing and seemed to look right through John, which made him very uncomfortable and wanting to get as far away as possible, yet knowing that even if he had not been restrained, he would probably have been powerless to do so. When the eyes left his and the beast turned away, John let his gaze travel down the huge body, and what he saw brought a gasp from his lips before he could stop himself. It was female. Very female, with huge pendulous breasts that reached nearly to its knees. Thankfully, the rest of the body was completely covered with hair. 

“I think I'm in trouble,” John mumbled to himself. 

“Greenk.” His companion had returned and was holding a wooden dipper of some sort of liquid to his lips. 

Startled, John squinted at the container. Not willing to accept his cautious reaction, the creature repeated its one word and pressed the dipper more firmly against his lips. The little bit that splashed on his chin felt like water, so he took a chance and opened his mouth. Water, cool refreshing water. He was allowed a few swallows, and then the dipper was removed and returned to a bucket sitting on the nearby table. 

“Thanks,” John said. 

“Greenk,” she replied and gifted her captive with a huge grin that displayed two impressive rows of very sharp looking, yellow teeth. 

“Oh yeah, a lot of trouble,” John said.

 

--/--

 

Rodney licked the last of the chocolate from the PowerBar wrapper and tucked the bit of paper into a pocket. Beside him, Teyla gathered up the bits of trash from their meager meal and wadded it up into a tight ball before shoving it into her backpack in case they would need it later to help restart the fire. 

“That is all we should eat for now, Rodney,” she said, before she set the pack aside and pulled her gloves back on. “We must make our food last as long as possible.” 

Rodney nodded and tried to move closer to the small fire. “Do you think they'll send a rescue party for us?” 

“I am afraid the weather will prevent any attempts at rescue.” 

“That's what I was thinking. I was just hoping you were a bit more optimistic.” 

“The storm is sure to stop soon.” Teyla glanced through a small opening in the drooping branches. “Meanwhile, we are safe here.” 

Rodney felt the small currents of wind coming into their shelter from all directions. They blew the flames first one way and then another before swirling around the two of them and making him shiver. 

“That thing back there that attacked us. Have you ever run across one of those before?” he asked. 

Teyla shook her head and drew her knees up more tightly to clasp her arms around them. “I have heard of such a creature, but I have never seen one until now.” 

“And I don't want to ever see one again.” Rodney shuddered. 

“The old ones among my people used to speak of such as these, but I always thought it was just a story to keep the young from wandering away from the village.” 

“Like what? You mean horror stories?” 

“I guess you would call them that. If I am not mistaken, the creature we saw was something my people call an almasty. They live apart from men and are usually only seen at night. It is believed that they only attack when they feel threatened, and the stories say that they have been known to hold men captive.” 

Rodney straightened and looked at her in disgust. “Captive? You mean like forever? As slaves or...” 

Teyla shrugged and continued, “That is uncertain. Some men in the old days claimed to have been held for a time and then released. It is said that the female of the species can cause illusions, much like the Wraith, and sometimes the captive thinks he is in the presence of someone familiar.” 

“Huh? Well, let's hope that one we killed doesn't have a wife around somewhere holding dinner for him.” 

“Yes, indeed,” Teyla said. “I am sure, if she exists, she has taken shelter from the storm.” 

“Too bad nobody thought to warn us that, oh by the way, Bigfoot is out there, so you might want to keep an eye out on the way back to the gate,” Rodney said. 

“Bigfoot?” 

“Yep, or if you prefer, Yeti. We have a similar creature back on Earth. It lives in the high mountain areas, and, as of yet, nobody has even proven that it really exists. People have been searching for it for years, and some claim to have pictures, but they always turn out to be fake. Wouldn't it be funny if we have to go all the way to another galaxy to find one for real? I wish I'd thought to take a picture.” 

Teyla smiled. “I think we had more important considerations at the time than taking a photograph.” 

“Maybe, but if we survive this, it might still be there, and I can take a picture tomorrow.” 

Teyla had been rubbing at her shoulder while they talked, and finally, Rodney thought to ask her how she was doing. 

“I am fine. It is just that the cold bothers my arm.” 

“Where you were shot?” 

She nodded and rotated her shoulder gently. “It has healed well, but all the activity of today has caused it to feel a bit tender.” 

“Well, I guess you probably think it was worth it. I mean, since they let you back into the tribe and all.” 

“Indeed, it is a relief to be able to be back among my people again, even though I am no longer their leader.” 

Rodney thought for a moment. “Sometimes on Earth,” he explained, “when countries depose a leader, at least back in the olden days, they cut their heads off.” 

Teyla stared for a moment and swallowed before she spoke. “Most barbaric. Yours is a very strange and violent planet.” 

“Some parts of it are, but you gotta admit, we can't hold a candle to this galaxy.” 

Teyla's look told Rodney that she was skeptical, but he decided not to pursue that particular line of conversation. Instead, he watched silently as Teyla rose to her knees to poke another branch into the fire, and just at that moment, the wind changed directions, causing the large branches over their heads to whip from side to side. 

“Whoa!” Rodney cried, as he frantically stared at the dwindling flames. 

“We must not let the flames die,” Teyla said, but her words were lost as the branches parted and a pile of snow fell directly into the fire, dousing it completely. 

 

--/--

 

Once Ronon and Carson had hollowed out the snow into a sort of cave, they stood back and admired their handiwork. The storm was still blowing fiercely, and Ronon had hurried Carson along, telling him repeatedly that they had no time to waste getting out of it. 

“Now we can crawl inside,” Ronon said. 

Carson was not entirely convinced that this was a good idea. “Do you think this is going to protect us from the elements? As soon as we are inside, the whole business is likely to fall on top of us.” He gestured first at the sky and then at their small creation. 

“It's frozen, Doc. It's not going to collapse. Besides, we're not done,” Ronon said. He grabbed the large bundle of animal skin and started to crawl inside the cave. 

The area was large enough for the big man to sit comfortably but would be quite snug with the two of them. 

“Come on. Hurry up.” Ronon gestured for Carson to join him. 

Reluctantly, Carson shrugged off his backpack and shoved it inside before beginning to crawl after it. Abruptly, he stopped halfway inside the opening. 

“What now?” Ronon grumbled. 

“My supplies. I can't just leave them out here in the open.” Carson gestured at the nearby container of medical equipment. 

“You have to. No room.” 

“But...” 

“But nothing. Leave it or freeze to death.” Ronon didn't waste words. 

Carson quickly pushed his backpack inside so Ronon could grab it and pull it the rest of the way in. Then he finished crawling inside himself and sat on the skin that Ronon had spread over the floor of their snow cave. 

As soon as Carson was settled, Ronon raised himself to his knees and began grabbing armfuls of snow from outside and using them to close up the cave opening. 

Carson stared for a moment before moving to do what he could to help. “I hope you're planning on leaving a wee air hole so we can breathe,” he muttered. 

“Got it covered.” Ronon packed the snow down tightly until the opening was almost completely sealed, leaving but a small area open at one corner of the top so air could enter. 

Carson pulled out a couple of glow sticks from his vest and activated them so that they wouldn't be in complete darkness. Breathing a sigh of relief, he settled back, already beginning to feel better from just being out of the blowing snow. 

“Now we need to strip.” Ronon struggled to remove his weapons without knocking into Carson. 

“The bloody hell we do!” Carson choked. 

“These clothes are wet. They will freeze and we will die.” Ronon had discarded his long coat and was now pulling his shirt over his head. “You're a doctor. You should know that.” 

“Well, I suppose I do, but...bloody hell.” Carson stripped off his gloves and began working on the wet laces of his boots. 

“We can cover up with the skin.” Ronon had worked his way down to his leather pants, which seemed to be difficult to strip off his nearly frozen legs. 

“At least tell me we can leave our undergarments on.” Carson's voice was muffled by his shirt. 

“If they're not wet.” 

It was finally decided that Carson's thermal underwear was still dry and would not need to be removed. Ronon had chosen to don just the bottom half of the long underwear he had been offered, so Carson pulled the packet containing his mylar thermal blanket out of his vest and handed it over to Ronon. 

“Open this up and spread it over your shoulders. It should prevent you from getting too chilled,” he ordered. 

“I don't want to take your blanket, Doc,” Ronon said. 

“Well maybe, big man, this will teach you to wear a fully equipped tac vest like the rest of us. Then you would have your own blanket.” 

Ronon turned and bared his teeth at Carson. “They don't come in my size.” 

Carson rolled his eyes, ripped the small packet open and handed the silver blanket to Ronon. 

“Besides,” Ronon continued, “what do you think I am, some kind of pansy?” 

Carson snorted. 

“Or, what's that other word Sheppard uses? P...” 

“I know that word,” Carson interrupted. “You shouldn't go repeating everything the Colonel says. That word in particular, if spoken to one of the ladies, might get you in big trouble.” 

Ronon grunted and carefully shook out the blanket . “Found that out when I was kickboxing with Banks.” 

“Our Amelia is certainly a feisty one, I'll give her that.” Carson chuckled as he pulled the skin of the unfortunate creature more tightly around him. 

“Knocked me on my ass.” Ronon's grin was wide and his eyes sparkled for a moment. 

“You don't seem to be any the worse for it,” Carson teased. 

Ronon shot him one of his patented glares, which Carson interpreted as a warning to both stop the teasing and the fidgeting, as he tried to find a more comfortable position. 

It was nearly dark in their little shelter, even with the glow sticks, due to the effect of the freezing temperature on the chemicals, but as their eyes adjusted to the low level of light, they could make out shapes and see each other pretty well. Ronon filled most of the space with his bulk, and Carson had no recourse but to lean against his shoulder or their covering would leave one side of him exposed to the cold. They sat silently for a while listening to the howling of the wind, which didn't show any immediate sign of letting up. 

“We didn't have storms nearly this fierce in Scotland, where I'm from on Earth, when I was a lad,” Carson said. 

“Sateda got pretty snowy in the winter.” Ronon looked a bit wistful. 

“So you said earlier. You had a lot of young lads to play with, I gather.” 

Ronon shrugged, partly dislodging his blanket. “Some. And girls too. We all played war together. It sometimes got pretty brutal.” 

“I can imagine, if they were all as fierce a warrior as you.” 

“We used to cover rocks with snow and have battles. I still have a scar here on my neck where this girl named Zana hit me with one.” Ronon pointed to an area just under his left ear. 

“Sounds like fun.” Ronon, who Carson surmised had completely missed the sarcasm, continued to grin while they talked about their younger days. 

“My brothers and I used to build snowmen and have snowball fights, without the rocks of course, until our dad made us start shoveling,” Carson went on. “Then, when all the paths were clear, we had to go next door and help shovel out Mrs. McPherson. She was a nice widow, who made the best shortbread. That's a dessert in Scotland. Divinely crunchy and sweet. Wonderful with a bit of tea.” 

Carson's reminiscing went on for quite some time, and pretty soon, Ronon's steady breathing turned into a gentle snore. Carson sighed and closed his own eyes. 

 

--/--

 

Soft music was playing from some unknown source, one of those instrumentals popular in overpriced restaurants on Earth with swelling violins and tinkling piano solos. John smiled and blinked to focus on the face of the beautiful woman who was leaning over to whisper in his ear. Her hair tickled his face, and the smile grew wider before he licked his lips and tried to think of something clever to say back to her. 

Mayel was looking particularly lovely this evening, all soft auburn curls and twinkling blue eyes with that special intelligent gleam that set her apart from any other woman he had met in this galaxy. Things had progressed pretty rapidly between them in recent weeks, but he was still getting to know her and in no hurry to rush their relationship. No woman had fascinated him to this level in a very long time, and for once, John was determined not to mess it up. 

John relaxed into the moment and blinked at his companion, who smiled back tenderly and lifted a long finger to brush the back of a knuckle along his jawline. Usually, the touch of Mayel's hand made his stomach flutter in a very pleasant way, but something wasn't quite right. Her skin, instead of being soft and smooth, felt rough, and hair seemed to have grown on the back of her hand. Confused, John drew back and attempted to focus more clearly. The lights seemed to have gotten brighter, and the temperature in the room seemed to have risen because he could feel sweat pouring down his body, and his eyes were having trouble staying open against the glare. 

If he could just stay focused, John felt it would all sort itself out in his head, but instead, he felt himself rapidly losing his grasp on the moment, and Mayel faded away to be replaced with a vision from his most recent nightmare. Not the Genii woman, but a giant fur-covered monster peered into his face, making John rear back away from her and bang his head on the stone wall so hard he saw stars. 

The pain in his arms brought him to full consciousness and alerted his captor to his distress. He had suffered a dislocated shoulder once while undergoing intense survival training, and he would do almost anything not to go through that pain again. Luckily, the shoulder had not been damaged, but he knew if he continued having to support his whole weight on his arms, he was in for more serious tearing of tendons and ligaments this time. 

The female giant frowned at him and adopted what appeared to be a sympathetic look as she seemed to sense that he was suffering. John tried not to cringe when her rough palms caressed his bare shoulder, and she put her large hands under his arms and lifted his body up for a moment to relieve some of the pressure. Barely able to stop himself from sighing with relief, John studied her warily as he wondered what she was going to do next. 

That soon became apparent, because as soon as she released him and saw the pained expression on his face when he settled back down and his body sagged against the ropes that held him, she grunted and turned away. Rummaging around on the nearby rickety table, she soon found what she was looking for and turned back in John's direction. 

John didn't have much time to show alarm at the long knife in her hand before she sliced through his bonds, and he crumbled in a heap at her feet. 

“Bahnt,” she declared and tossed the knife back on the table. 

John curled into a fetal position for a moment and wrapped his arms around himself until the pain became bearable. The relief of no longer having to balance his weight and try to breathe without pulling his arms out of their sockets was overwhelming. At the moment, he didn't really care what his companion was up to. He was just glad to be free. 

When finally he straightened and was able to sit up, John saw that she had moved away a few feet and was studying him. He studied her right back, waiting for her to make the first move. It was unlikely, in his present diminished capacity, that John would be able to defend himself, and it was equally unlikely that she would respond to reason, so he decided that it was best to let her think he was helpless until he could figure out how to handle the situation. 

He didn't have long to wait. 

In one long stride, she crossed the small room and bent over him, large breasts dangling in front of his face. John shuddered and closed his eyes. The creature bent her knees, and with one long hairy arm around his back and the other under his legs, lifted him like a small child and carried him to the pile of furs in the corner, where she unceremoniously dropped him. 

“Bahnt,” she repeated, as she tossed a spare fur over him and turned away. 

It was cold in the far corner away from the fire, and not even caring what happened next, John gratefully pulled the fur up over himself and fell into a deep sleep. 

 

>>> On to To Build a Fire, CH IV

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