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To Build a Fire, CH IV

<<< Back to To Build a Fire, CH III

 

Rodney stared open-mouthed at the now dark fire pit, gaping like a fish, while Teyla first blew on the dead coals and then scrambled to find her lighter. Several attempts to restart the fire proved futile. 

“Rodney, you must help me.” Teyla glanced at him briefly before returning to her efforts. 

“What do I do? What do I do?” Rodney made his own effort at blowing the flames back into existence. 

“I fear we must start over. Quickly, find some dry kindling and help me remake the fire.” 

Rodney searched around the area and managed to collect a small bundle of needles and little twigs, which he tossed into the center of the circle of stones. “There, that's all I can find. I think we used it all up before. And it's wet now from the snow.” Rodney pointed at the smoke coming from the coals and coughed. 

Teyla rearranged the tiny pile and added a few more twigs. “Nevertheless, we must do what we can to restart the fire.” She flicked her lighter and a flame appeared for a few seconds, eating up the dry needles and almost catching a few of the twigs on fire before succumbing to the dampness. 

Rodney crawled as far away as he could and still stay within the confines of their shelter under the large tree and started gathering up all the pieces of kindling he could find. “Here,” he said, tossing some of the pieces back in Teyla's direction, “start with these. I'll find more and we can add them all back into the fire, and once we get it relit, we'll be all warm and cozy again.” 

“I'm afraid it is no use, Rodney. The remaining twigs and branches are too wet from the snow and will only produce smoke, which will make it impossible for us to breathe.” 

“You mean we...” Rodney paused and sat back on his heels, dropping a handful of damp vegetation. 

“We cannot rebuild the fire.” 

“Then we'll die. We'll freeze and die and they'll never find us. Maybe in the Spring they'll bring a search party and find what's left of us after we've been picked clean by coyotes or...” 

“Rodney!” 

Rodney's lips clamped together and he swallowed convulsively. 

Teyla took a deep breath and reached out a hand in Rodney's direction. “Come,” she said, “we will get as far out of the wind as possible and cover ourselves with the mylar blankets. They are a wonderful invention and will protect us. We will not freeze.” 

Rodney stared at the offered hand for a moment before scooting on his knees back toward her and clasping her fingers so tightly he almost cracked the tiny bones. 

At Teyla's direction, they once again opened up the thin blankets, and sitting side by side with their shoulders together against the large tree trunk, spread both blankets over them and prepared to wait out the night. 

Once they had gotten as comfortable as possible, Rodney glanced sideways at Teyla's face, which was displaying its usual unruffled calm. “I want to be cremated and my urn placed in my lab on Atlantis,” he suddenly blurted out. 

“Excuse me?” Teyla's head whipped around toward him. 

“When I'm, you know, gone.” Rodney refused to meet her eyes. “That way, Zelenka and those other idiots will have me watching them, and maybe they won't screw things up so badly the galaxy never recovers.” 

“Rodney.” 

“And Sheppard already promised, one of the other times I thought I was going to die, that he would read my eulogy. You make him honor that promise. Write it for him if you have to . Or better yet, get Carson to write it. He never says anything mean about anybody. He'll think of something nice to say. And then...” 

“Rodney, please stop.” Teyla raised her voice a bit and reached over the best she could to clasp Rodney's arm. “You are not thinking clearly. If you freeze, I most likely will also. And in addition, we do not know if Carson or Colonel Sheppard will survive.” Teyla stopped talking, as if she suddenly realized the implications of what she was saying. In her attempts to steer Rodney on a more logical path of thinking, she had managed to emphasize the frightening reality of their situation. 

“I get it,” Rodney said quietly. “We're all gonna die.” 

 

--/--

 

Richard Woolsey set down his blueberry muffin and tried not to sigh. Putting what he hoped was a professional expression on his face, he looked up at Commander Serrana and nodded. “Commander,” Woolsey said, indicating with his hand that the Genii woman should take a seat across from him. Serrana had been in the city for the last few days acting as a representative of the Pegasus Coalition. There was nothing unusual about her presence in his office, but he had a feeling, this time, her reason for being there was of a more personal nature. 

“I am sorry to interrupt your breakfast, Mr. Woolsey.” The Commander pulled out the chair and sat stiffly on the edge of the seat. “But I was wondering if you have had any news this morning from Tuskia.” 

Woolsey wiped his fingers carefully on his napkin and frowned. “No, I'm sorry, but there has been no news. We sent another MALP before dawn, and it seems the storm is not quite over. It is still dark on the planet, so maybe we can tell more in a few hours. Ordinarily we could rely on the Daedalus for a rescue, but they are headed back to Earth for further repairs.” 

Mayel looked uncomfortable, seemingly unsure of how to continue. 

“Trust me,” Woolsey said, “we are doing all we can, but until it's safe to send another team, I'm afraid there is nothing more we are able to do.” 

“I understand that, but it's just that...” 

“You are worried about...” Now it was Woolsey's turn to look uncomfortable. 

“My friends,” she added for him. “I'm worried about all of my friends.” 

“Yes, of course.” Woolsey smiled. “I just said much the same thing to Dr. Keller, who is also worried about her...friends. We're all worried.” 

Mayel twisted her hands together and looked like she wanted to say more but was reluctant to speak further. “Thank you, Mr. Woolsey,” she said, starting to rise. 

“Commander, why don't you meet me in the control tower in a few moments? We'll double check those scans. Maybe the weather has changed.” 

“Thank you again.” Mayel rose and turned to leave. “I will go down to the infirmary and also tell Dr. Keller.” 

“That's a good idea. Ask her if she would like to join us.” 

The Commander nodded and made a hasty departure. Woolsey took a sip of his now cold coffee and stared at his muffin with little appetite. 

In a short time a small crowd had gathered around the control console, and Chuck rearranged his screen so they could all see the recording of what the MALP had shown them. 

“So, as soon as the snow stops, we can go get them, right?” Dr. Keller stood on tiptoe and raised her voice. 

“It is not that simple, I'm afraid.” Radek Zelenka had been called in to help with the assessment of the information obtained from the MALP scans of the planet, and Woolsey had asked him to try to explain the situation to the group of family and friends, who had assembled to hear the latest news concerning Sheppard's team. 

“Why not?” Mayel demanded. “You've got the puddle jumpers, and I understand, Major Lorne is ready to lead a team.” 

Radek pushed his glasses up on his nose and shook his head briskly. “We can see that the snowfall has been quite deep and there has been a lot of drifting, but we can't determine if it is firmly packed or powdery. Landing a jumper might be difficult if the snow has piled up and is very fluffy.” 

“Can we at least communicate with them?” The usually mild-mannered Kanaan had stood quietly at the edge of the crowd but now raised his voice, causing everyone to glance in his direction. 

Standing beside him, Jennifer touched his arm briefly and gave Torren a pat on his chubby leg. Torren, unaware of the seriousness of the situation, wiggled in his father's arms and reached out a tiny hand toward the woman who always gave him lollipops. 

“Not at this time.” Radek answered Kanaan's question and went on to explain. “Either they are out of range or communications are not working.” 

Richard Woolsey gave Kanaan a sympathetic look. “I'm sorry we can't give you any more information at this time, and I know you and Teyla have been through a lot recently.” Woolsey paused and shuffled a bit uncomfortably. “Just trust Colonel Sheppard's team to use their collective skills to do what has to be done. They have quite a bit of experience with...difficult situations.” 

Woolsey saw Radek and Jennifer exchange a knowing grimace, while Mayel and Kanaan just seemed to look puzzled and even more worried. 

“So, what's the plan?” Mayel turned toward Richard. 

Feeling every eye now focused on his face, Richard resisted the urge to flee. “Keep trying to establish contact and reassess in a few hours,” he said, hoping that his voice didn't betray his uncertainty. 

He knew the others reluctantly accepted his decision, but felt a bit relieved when they went their separate ways to continue the interminable waiting. 

 

--/--

 

Carson woke abruptly when Ronon gave him a hard shove, dislodging the musky smelling skin from his hands. 

“Wha...” Carson sputtered and looked around in alarm. 

“Get off me.” Ronon rearranged his limbs and moved as far as possible away from Carson in the small space. 

Realizing that he must have been partly using Ronon as a pillow, Carson winced and pulled his covering back over his shoulders. Ronon had been right in his claims that the skin of their unfortunate victim would keep them alive through the night. It was evident from the thin light coming in through the small opening to the outside that dawn had almost broken and that the storm might be over. 

“Do you think the storm has passed then?” Carson wondered aloud. 

Ronon shrugged and peered up at the light. “Maybe. It's lighter.” 

“Well then, do you think we'd better go outside and see?” Carson felt like he was pulling teeth trying to get the Satedan to get moving. The cramped space was not the most comfortable place he had ever slept, and between having to answer the call of nature and the increasingly foul smell of their makeshift covering, Carson was ready to get back out in the elements, no matter whether the storm was over or not. 

In answer, Ronon shrugged off the skin and began pulling on his pants. Hastily, Carson did the same, glad to be completely covered once again. It took some doing in the small space, but eventually both men were clad as before, Carson in his layers of cold weather gear and Ronon in his shirt and long coat. 

“Move back,” Ronon ordered, barely giving Carson time to scoot as far away as possible before he started pushing the piled up snow away from the opening of the enclosure. It fell forward in great chunks, and they crawled out into a frozen landscape. 

The storm was over, and a weak sun was trying to shine through the remaining clouds. The trees and bushes were heavy with snow and bent into interesting shapes. Piles of the white stuff had blown against anything that offered resistance and mounded up into valleys and hills. Ronon thrust his sword down into a flat patch of snow, and it disappeared almost up to the hilt. He stood, hands on hips, studying their surroundings, while Carson moved as best he could a distance away and took care of nature's call. 

“Well,” Carson said, as he walked back up to where Ronon was standing and surveyed the landscape. “if we only knew in which direction we might find the gate, we could start making our way off this planet.” 

Carson pulled out his radio and tried to contact first Sheppard, then Rodney and finally Teyla with no success. “The radio's not working or they can't receive the transmission. I wonder if the blasted cold has affected it?” 

Getting no response, Carson waited while Ronon turned in first one direction and then the other. Such a deep snowfall had completely changed the topography of the area, and nothing looked familiar. They couldn't even see the remains of the beast they had skinned and tossed to one side. Carson waited patiently while Ronon looked first at the snow cave mounded against the hillside and then at the edge of the forest perpendicular to where he was standing. 

“That way,” he said finally and sheathed his sword before pointing toward the rising sun. 

Carson had never been terribly good at directions and seeing nothing different about the mounds of drifted snow in that direction, started poking around in the nearby area looking for his case of medical supplies. “I suppose you know something I don't.” He stopped and glared at Ronon, who had dragged the huge skin out of the small cave and was attempting to fold it into a manageable size. 

Ronon shrugged. “Seems as good a place to start as any. Besides, yesterday the sun set over there.” He stopped what he was doing and pointed. “When we left the village, we went away from the sun.”

“So, the gate is that way.” Carson pointed to the East. 

“Probably.” Ronon had found a strip of leather somewhere in the pockets of his coat and was tying the skin up like a huge bedroll. 

“Well, if you're certain.” Carson's sarcasm earned him a scowl but no comment from his friend. 

Walking through the deep snow was extremely difficult; even Ronon was taking high steps with his long legs. Carson found himself breathing heavily in a short distance and knew he wouldn't be able to keep up the pace for any length of time. They tried to follow what they imagined to be a path but were frequently hindered by drifts of snow and were hesitant to wander too far in one direction or another for fear of falling into a hole. Wet to the knees and beginning to shiver and sweat at the same time, Carson stopped walking when he realized Ronon had done the same. 

“What was that?” Ronon asked, swiveling his head in all directions. 

“What was what? I can't hear a blessed thing but my own heart beating in my ears.” 

“Shut up and listen.” 

“Still nothing.” Carson turned in his tracks and pushed his knit hat off his ears, hoping it would help him hear better. 

“Voices?” Ronon sounded uncertain. 

Beginning to get excited, Carson started looking frantically around him, squinting into the bright sun, which had now risen and was glittering off the snow. A bare whisper of sound seemed to be coming from beyond the nearest group of trees, growing in volume and then fading away. 

“Over here!” Carson shouted, causing Ronon to make a slashing motion in his direction and hissing for him to shut up. 

“What's the worst that it could be? We've already slain the big hairy monster, and I don't recall him being so chatty. It could be the rest of our team.” 

“It's not,” Ronon said, “Sheppard's not that stupid.” 

Feeling affronted and properly chastised, Carson remained silent and waited to see who or what would emerge from the trees. Ronon pulled his blaster and braced himself in a battle-ready stance.

 

--/--

 

John awoke shivering in the cold. For a split second, he thought he might be back in his bed on Atlantis and had just left the window open and kicked off the covers. But as his alarming situation became clear, he realized his quarters on Atlantis was a place he was likely not to see for quite some time. If ever. 

His muscles and joints were stiff and sore, which made stretching an exercise in agony. The various cuts and bruises that crisscrossed his torso and face pulled and stung as he moved, and the lump on the back of his head throbbed when he inadvertently ran his hand over it. 

John hissed with pain and pulled himself to a sitting position. His eyes were sticky and dry, and the low light in the cave didn't allow for much detail to be distinguished, but he was able to determine that the fire had died down sometime during the night. Wondering what had become of his captor, John rotated his neck to relieve some of the stiffness. Just at that moment the pile of furs next to him shifted and moved, giving him the unwelcome answer to his question. 

Stretched out beside him, covered to the chin with the furs that had earlier been covering him, was the female creature who had placed him there. 

John scrambled to his feet, ignoring the pain in his knees, and stumbled away from the bed of furs. In doing so, he knocked into the rickety table that had been leaning precariously against the wall and set up an almighty racket of clanging metal pots. His bedmate pushed off the covers and sat up. 

“Greenk.” She smacked her lips and blinked at him. 

“Good morning to you too.” John edged toward the door, looking around at the same time for his discarded clothing. 

“Greenk!” 

“Okay, not a morning person.” John continued his frantic search for his shirt and shoes. “So, look, it's been fun and all, but I gotta go.” 

Ignoring him, the female rose to her full height and gestured for John to return to the furs. He was still busy looking about for his clothes and ignored her in turn. 

With what sounded like a huff of frustration, not unlike a sound that might come from a human female, she grabbed his arm and made her instruction a reality. 

John looked up at her from where he had landed back on the bed of furs. “Well, since you ask so nicely.” 

Watching as she built up the fire and began stirring something into the simmering pot of water that was still suspended over it, John puzzled out his next move. He knew he couldn't go back outside clothed as he was. He also knew that even if he did make it outside, he had no idea where he was or in which direction he might find help. But at this point, rescue seemed unlikely unless he could come up with a way to signal his presence in the creature's lair. 

“So, ah...you need a name.” John began talking to gauge the level of understanding of the beast. “What shall I call you? How about Sue? You look like a Sue.” 

“Hawnk.” 

“Okay, a new word. You must like the name.” John grinned at her as best he could with his chapped lips, and she grimaced back at him, giving him a good look at her sharp discolored teeth. “So, Sue, tell me, do you live alone or is there a Mr. Sue?” 

“Hawnk!” The female turned back to her task and began stirring the pot with a long-handled wooden spoon. 

John tried harder. “What's for breakfast there, Sue? I'm starving, and even though that smells like something I'd scrape off my shoe, I might be convinced to give it a try.” 

Sue reached for a wooden bowl and used the big spoon to fill it with a generous portion of whatever was now boiling in the pot. It landed with a splat, and John's stomach growled. 

Grimacing, he rubbed his midsection and eyed the big cauldron dubiously. Sue took a few steps in his direction and thrust the bowl under his nose. John inhaled the steam coming off the bowl of food before he could stop himself. It wasn't as bad as expected. 

Sue thrust it at him again, and he took it from her. It appeared to be some kind of porridge, grey in color and of a texture similar to oatmeal. John nodded his thanks, and realizing she wasn't going to provide him with any kind of eating utensil, tilted the bowl to his lips and took a tentative mouthful. It tasted like wallpaper paste, but it was warm and probably nourishing, so John swallowed. 

Sue, meanwhile, had served herself a large portion of the gruel and sat on some sort of skin beside the fire, wasting no time in devouring her breakfast. 

Once he had choked down all the porridge he could manage, John set the bowl aside and began gathering his legs under him, planning to make a grab for the familiar looking pile of clothing he had spotted in a corner. His sudden movement drew Sue's attention, but instead of trying to stop him, she watched closely as he grabbed his garments and began pulling them on. Once dressed, John felt much better and was now able to think about something other than how cold and vulnerable he was. Like, where was his coat and his weapons? There was no sign of them anywhere, and Sue wasn't likely to tell him, having gone back to slurping the last of her breakfast from the bowl. 

“So, er, it's been nice. Thanks for the hospitality and all, but I've got places to be and people to see, so...” John had been inching toward the cave opening and had almost reached a point where he felt safe in making a break for it. But Sue had other ideas. 

“Greenk!” she shouted and tossed her bowl aside. 

“Oh crap!” John plunged through the door opening and finding a short passage to the outside, made a run for it, with Sue hot on his heels. 

His brain barely had time to register that the snow had stopped and it was beginning to look like the sky might clear up, when he found himself planted face first into a snowbank with Sue on his back. No amount of wiggling and struggling could dislodge the huge creature, so John gave up and went limp. Sue struggled to stand in the deep pile of snow and hold John at the same time. Finally, she gained her feet, reached down and grabbed him by an arm, causing him to wince in pain, before tossing him over one shoulder like a sack of grain and heading back inside. 

Head down and staring at the female's hairy back, John lifted his head as far as he could, trying to get some idea of where he might be. He could make out the woods a short distance away and believed he recognized the outcropping of large rocks in the other direction. 

Back in the cave, Sue once again tossed him onto the furs and stood looking down at him with what could only be a disgusted expression on her face. 

“I'm more trouble than I'm worth, wouldn't you say?” 

“Greenk,” Sue replied. 

 

--/--

 

Rodney awoke to gloved hands on his face. 

“Rodney, you must wake up now. It is morning and we are alive.” Teyla gave Rodney's face another couple of not so gentle pats, and he began to mumble and stir. 

“Wha, what? Teyla, we're alive.” Rodney sat up and looked around, throwing off his metallic blanket in the process. 

“Yes, I know,” Teyla said, “stiff and cold but very much alive. And look, the snow has stopped.” She gestured beyond the low hanging branches and pushing off her own blanket, rose and went outside. 

“Indeed it has. I knew we were going to make it. It would take more than a little blizzard to get the best of Rodney McKay.” 

Rising to his feet with some difficulty, McKay made his way out of the dry area under the trees and went to join Teyla. 

The branches of the big trees were bent with their heavy burden of snow and in places frozen to the ground, which, in effect, had sealed them in and stopped the deadly wind and snow from blowing inside. The sun had risen slightly above the horizon, and in a few hours it would be reflecting back blindingly off the white landscape. Turning in first one direction and then another, Teyla said, “I am unable to recognize anything familiar. All the landmarks we used yesterday to follow the road from the Stargate to the village have been obliterated by the storm.” 

“It looks like a totally different place.” Rodney stood beside her trying to stamp his feet, with little success, hoping to get some of the feeling back but only succeeding in getting snow inside his boots. 

“Yes, but the sun will tell us in which direction we should head.” 

Rodney squinted over at the lighter area of sky. “I wish I had paid more attention in that orienteering class Sheppard made me take. I just figured I'd always have the life signs detector and my other scanners to tell me where I was.” 

“Those are no good in a situation like this, and I have found that the radio is also not working.” 

“Or there's nobody left to hear it.” 

“Don't talk like that. It is probably just the cold.” Teyla held her hand to her eyes, turning in first one direction and then another. Knowing that she was trying to gauge the distance to a distant ridge that he suspected might just be one of the hills they had stopped on to admire the scenery the day before, Rodney stood quietly waiting. 

Rodney adjusted his knit hat and scarf to cover more of his face and hugged himself as if attempting to generate some warmth. Even though the storm was over, it was still bitterly cold, and the crisp air was chafing and stung any exposed skin. 

“Come,” Teyla said, “we will have a bite of breakfast, and then we will attempt to find the Stargate.” 

Some time later, from where they stood at the top of a small hill, Rodney pulled his scarf loose from his face and took a moment to even out his breathing. “Well, I'll say one thing,” he finally said, “trudging around through the deep snow certainly warms you up, but I'm not sure we have accomplished anything significant.” 

Teyla stood silently, studying the landscape once again and trying to decide in which direction to head next. They had left the trees behind and alternately taking high steps and shuffling to break up the snow, had reached the top of the small ridge Teyla had identified earlier. Before them stretched a wide field of snow with trees on either side and a few large bushes poking up out of the snow. 

“Does this not look like the place where we stopped before descending toward the village?” Teyla asked. 

Glancing back, Teyla saw Rodney squinting against the now bright sun and looking around hopefully. “Maybe. I'm thinking that road we followed could be down there along the edge of the field.” He pointed and Teyla nodded. 

“I was thinking the same. Then if that is true, we need to go in the opposite direction.” Teyla turned in her tracks to face the other side of the ridge and pointed toward a barely detectable dip in the level of the snow, that could be accounted for by the presence of a road bed. 

Rodney turned also and looked where Teyla was indicating. “It can't be much further from here. What are we waiting for?” He shifted his backpack a bit higher and stepped off into the deep snow. 

“Rodney, wait!” Teyla's call came just a split second too late to stop Rodney's tumble down the hill. His rapid descent left a deep furrow on the side of the hill and turned him into a human snowball that finally came to rest against a snow-covered boulder at the bottom. 

Rodney lay prone for a moment, uncharacteristically quiet, until Teyla made her way to him and knelt in the snow by his feet. 

“Rodney, are you injured?” She grabbed his arm and attempted to help him sit up. 

“Just my pride.” Rodney tugged off his hat and used it to beat some of the accumulated snow from his clothing before trying to get to his feet. 

“Here, let me help you.” With Teyla's assistance, he made it to his feet and readjusted his pack. “But look, Rodney, we are much further along, and this appears to be a trail of some sort.” Teyla used her boot to scrape away some of the snow underfoot. 

“Well at least nearly falling to my death wasn't in vain,” Rodney said as he started off again in Teyla's wake. 

 

>>> On to the conclusion of To Build a Fire, CH V

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