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Adoremus, CH IV

<<<  Back to Adoremus, Chapter III

Amelia woke to the sounds of banging; she blinked a few times, a heavy, numb feeling in her limbs.  Being struck with a stunner did not feel pleasant, nor did it leave one with much of an ability to exercise a quick and athletic escape.

The banging hadn’t ceased, and she turned her head, her eyes adjusting to the darkness around her.  In the dimness, she could just make out the form of Carson, pounding on the walls with a rock.

“What…what are you doing?” she murmured.

Carson turned, his face breaking into a smile.  “Good.  You’re conscious.”

“Maybe,” she murmured back.  “Partly.  Where are we?”

“I’m not sure.  When I woke up, here we were.  I’m guessing it’s some sort of holding cell within that huge underground structure they use as a Wonderland.”  He resumed his banging.  “I’m trying to find a catch, but proving a mite unsuccessful at the moment.”

“What do you think they’re going to do with us?”

“No idea.”  He paused again.  “But the fact they haven’t killed us is somewhat promising.”

“Right.  Promising.”

He frowned at her pessimism, but didn’t acknowledge it.  She sighed, and deciding it wasn’t worth it to muse on their fate, picked up a rock and began to pound on the wall alongside him.

 

--/--

 

Teyla leaned up against a tree, shrinking her form as much against the rough bark as she was able.  It had taken nearly half an hour, by Atlantis standards, to make their way from the Gate to the village on foot.  A Jumper had already passed over the area, but had returned with nothing to report.  It appeared, from a skyward level, that the village once teeming with adult life was now abandoned.

It was in moments like these that Teyla wished Atlantis were not so cautious.  Not that she objected to the careful methods employed by John and his teams, but it rarely contained the itch crawling beneath her skin to discover what had become of her lost friends.  To disobey orders could mean death, and for that reason she understood the Lantean reticence; but it did not soothe her own feelings of agitation.

Or perhaps she was simply seeking someone to blame.

Despite her own lack of patience, she was surprised Ronon was exercising such caution in his approach.  She had believed, once he passed through the Gate, that he would immediately leave their group for the village, but he had remained with them, following Colonel Sheppard’s orders to the letter.  Though Ronon was a good soldier, it was unlike him to remain cowed, and she believed it would have been doubly so where Amelia Banks was involved, but he had surprised her.  It may have been a mark as to his feelings for Amelia that he was unwilling to risk her safety by taking a less cautious route.

John passed by her stealthily, and she pulled herself from behind the tree, raising her P-90 to firing position and stalking alongside him in a linear format as they neared the village boundary.  They passed through the open space with no disturbance, no firing of weapons nor encounters by locals.  The entire village, as first described by the Jumper pilots, was completely abandoned.

Ronon paused in the middle as they completed a circuit of the tents, sniffing the air.  “They haven’t been gone long.”

The aroma of wood smoke still hung around the huts, and some fires had been extinguished only hours before.  “Was there not mention of a hidden place somewhere beneath the village?”

“Sir,” said one of the team inside the Jumper, “we have something off to the west, a gorge of some kind.  About two-hundred feet from your present location.  Use caution, the land drops sharply.”

“Copy,” John murmured, and began stalking forward.  Rodney raised his hands in slight consternation, but followed behind him.  Teyla reached his side a few moments later, flanked by Ronon.

They reached the edge of a precipice, one that was well concealed.  John mused for a way down, until Rodney tapped him and pointed towards an area south of them.  “Path.”

Just past the last hut, curving back towards the west, there were boulders that concealed a sharp, but visible, path cut through the rocks.  The colonel wasted no time in making his way down; under cover of the Jumper they had less to be concerned about as far as a surprise attack, but she noted the tenseness of his body despite the cover.  He was taking no chances.

They reached the bottom, half concealed by the cliff wall and the opposing gorge face.  There was nothing noticeably obvious in the side of the face, and as the ravine narrowed before them, nothing to mark a door.

John frowned, laying one hand upon the ravine wall to his left.  “This has to be where Carson described them as taking the kids.  But where’s the door?”

Rodney shook his head. 

Ronon was at the far end, scouting near the end of the ravine.  After a few seconds he banged his elbow against the dirt and stone cliff face, scraping the skin enough to bleed, and grunted.

Teyla was about to speak when the Jumper radioed in again.  “Sir, um, we’ve found something else.”

There was something in his tone that caused a chill within Teyla’s heart.  John must have felt the same, for his eyes widened, somewhat sadly.  “Go ahead.”

“Sir, it appears to be…it looks like a pile of bodies.”

 

--/--

 

The sound of an incoming Wormhole pulled Richard from his desk.   He had a moment’s anticipation before Chuck glanced over at him, shaking his head.  “It’s Commander Serrana’s Genii IDC.”

He frowned as the shield lowered and Mayel Serrana waltzed through the gate, her arms crossed.  She paused as the gate diminished, glancing around the Gateroom and then up into the control area. 

She looked pale, and disturbed.  Whatever she had learned on her homeworld regarding the new potential allies had apparently not been pleasant.

He descended the stairs as she remained where she stood, her attention only focusing on him when his footsteps marked his approach. 

“Mr. Woolsey,” she whispered.  Her face was an unreadable mask.

“Welcome back to Atlantis.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m afraid I have some news for you and the Coalition,” he began, as calmly as possible.  Her eyebrow rose, but she registered no other emotion.  “There has been a development with that potential threat I mentioned earlier.”

“Is that so?”

“It appears now that the tribe we originally spoke with may be the threat.  We’ve received information that they may be Wraith Worshippers.”

The mask dissolved in concern.  “The tribe?  Our first contact?  Are Wraith Worshippers?”

“Colonel Sheppard and his team have gone in search of more information.  But you should know that there is a significant measure of danger in the operation with which they’re currently engaged.”

At the mention of Sheppard’s name, the stone-faced expression returned.  “I am certain Colonel Sheppard and his team can take care of themselves.”

He smiled awkwardly.  “Yes.  But there are extenuating circumstances here.”

She tilted her head at him, and he coughed.   “Why don’t I update you fully as to what has been discovered?  We’ve had to move unilaterally here because of the situation, but I would like for the Coalition to know the reasons why.  Come up to my office and we’ll discuss it more in detail.”

“Of course,” she said softly.  “And thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he returned, as cordially as he could. 

 

--/--

 

Ninety percent of the time, despite the danger, and the uncertainty, and the harshness of reality, John enjoyed what he did.  Knowing that every day he worked on Atlantis brought about promise for the future, for the people of Earth and many others, made doing the job easier.

But days like this, tasks like this, were the ten percent he hated most.

Teyla was beside him, hanging near his elbow, as they made their way towards the still unidentifiable pile of corpses which had been thrown haphazardly at the edge of the village.  Rodney, obviously, had no interest in seeing faces which once might have been friends, and Ronon had elected to hang back as well.  No need to question why on that one, though the big guy would never admit it.  Teyla was a true support in times like these.

They neared the group and his heart sank as the still-boyish looking face of Evan Lorne was one of the first he could identify, his P-90 still clutched in his hands.  The others of his team, Davidson, Alous and Rinson, were alongside him.  Tossed atop the group of Artho victims from earlier, like slabs of beef.

It made him madder than hell.

There was a grunt, and John flashed a quick glance at Teyla as Lorne suddenly inched his head to the side.  John didn’t know how he covered the ten feet or so between them, but he was alongside Lorne within a matter of seconds, his fingertips on the major’s throat, where there was a strong, and steady, pulse.

Teyla smiled as she raised her hand from Davidson’s carotid.  They checked the other two with the same results—for some reason, the Worshippers had only stunned them and had left them completely—miraculously—alive.

“Major,” John said, slapping his hand on Lorne’s shoulder.  “Time to get up.”

The young man’s face scrunched in pain and disorientation, moving slowly up from the Artho he’d been lying on. 

As he blinked in recognition, John held a hand to his arm.  “Thought we lost you there for a moment.”

“Sir?”  Lorne’s eyes adjusted to the light and he studied John’s face, realization slowly dawning on him.  “Me, too.”  His expression dissolved into surprise—and disgust—as he realized what he was laying on.  “Sir…”

“Yep.”  John clasped his arm, helping to inch him off the corpse pile and onto bare ground.  Teyla was working with Rinson, and Rodney and Ronon had made their way in to assist the other two.

“What the hell happened, Major?”  John asked, as Lorne lay back and let the effects of what must have been a Wraith stunner try and wear down. 

“Don’t really remember, sir,” Lorne replied quietly.  “We saw…Banks and the Doc were in the center of the village.  We saw them go down, and then…the village leader.  With her gun.  That’s all I remember, sir.”

Ronon had moved over alongside him, his face a surprising mix of patience and concern.  Really surprising mix.  “You see what happened to them?”

Lorne didn’t need any more clarification.  “No.  They went down first.  Stunners, though.”

The Satedan glanced over at John.  “They’re not here.”

“No.”

“Why?”  Rodney was at John’s shoulder now.  “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m more than thrilled that the crazy Wraith Worshippers decided not to kill everyone.  But why didn’t they?”

“Wraith Worshippers?”  Lorne frowned.  “These guys are the Worshippers?  What about…” he nodded towards the pile of the real dead.

“It was a set-up,” John said. 

Lorne lowered his head to the ground, blinking.  “God…”

John clapped him on the shoulder softly.  “We were all duped,” he said.  “They’re good and it’s not like they’re new at it.  No one has suspected them for years.”

“The kids?”

John couldn’t help the shadow that flickered across his face.

Lorne closed his eyes.  “Jeez.”

As the Major took in the news, Ronon looked up at John.  “So why Amelia and the Doc?”

“Yeah, and why didn’t they kill them?”  Rodney asked.  John frowned at him.

“What?  It’s a legitimate question.”

“Perhaps a gesture of good will?” Teyla said, coming to join them.  Behind her, the other members of Lorne’s team were recovering slowly.

“Good will?” Rodney scoffed.  “They kidnap children, more than likely to offer as sacrifices for the Wraith.  Why in the world would they be concerned with good will?”

“They weren’t your kids,” Ronon said.  “They may be hoping you’ll leave them alone.”

“Except they took Banks and Carson,” John said.  “So we’re involved whether they want us to be or not.”

“Carson is a doctor,” Teyla said.  “He may be useful to them.”

“And Amelia?” asked Rodney.

“Collateral,” John replied automatically, with a quick glance at Ronon.  He understood well enough.  “Don’t screw with us.  They offered us a peace offering with this.  Banks is insurance to make sure we do as told.”

“You don’t have proof of that,” Rodney returned.  “For all we know it would have taken them too long to kill Lorne’s team and shuttle all those kids away.  They got lucky.  No offense,” he directed towards Lorne.

“None taken,” the Major returned derisively.

“The kids,” John repeated.  “Lorne, do you know where that secret cave was the Doc mentioned?”

“Ravine to the west of the village,” Lorne said. 

“We checked there.  Didn’t see anything.”

“It has a weird kind of door—an illusion, or something,” Lorne said.  “Amelia mentioned it.”

“Think you can recognize what she was talking about?”  John inquired.

“I can try,” Lorne said, lifting a hand towards Ronon.  The big guys pulled him to his feet swiftly, and steadied him.  John nodded to Rodney and Teyla to remain with the others, and he and Ronon helped Lorne totter towards the ravine.

“Sorry about this, Sir,” Lorne said softly, after a moment.

John didn’t bother to look to him, just threw the guy’s arm around his neck.  “Don’t have anything to be sorry for, Major.  Not figuring out a group who can fool the entire Pegasus for years—including the Genii—isn’t a mistake you need to apologize for.  Just focus on making the bastards pay for doing it.”

“That won’t be a problem, sir.”

 

--/--

 

Carson slid to the ground next to Amelia, tossing the rock in his hand to the side.  Their prison had no weaknesses either could discern.  “Well, it was worth the shot.”

Amelia worked up a small smile.  “It was a valiant effort.”

He grasped for her left hand, studying the cuts across the palm.  “I can’t be a knight in shining armor but at least I can help with this.  It’s the most I can do, anyway, having sort of been the cause of it.”

“Sort of been?”

He smiled as he reached into his pocket, pulling out a strip of cloth bandage.  “Okay, well, the sole cause of it.”

“That’s better.”  She winced as he wrapped it tightly.  “Not gonna lose my hand, am I?”

“I think we have to be more concerned for our heads.”  He tied it off and patted her arm.  “What do you think they did with the Major and his team?”

She offered him a cynical look and he nodded.  “Well, they kept us alive.  I’m not going to give up hope just yet.”

“You do that.”  She sighed.  “How did we miss this?”

“What?  Amidst the kindly village persona, the open access to their culture, or the sweet, older people who seemed to be completely innocuous?”

“They had an entire cave of children beneath their village.  Wouldn’t others see that as suspicious?”

“We live in a galaxy where a race evolved from bugs go around draining the life out of humans.  I don’t think anything anyone does is going to be off the hand suspicious to anyone at first, dear.”

“Still…”

“I’ve found that there are any number of measures people use to protect their people from the Wraith.  In most cases, that’s all they have to say to prove those actions aren’t suspicious.  And in most cases, it’s honestly the truth.”

“But in the one case it’s not…”

“We can’t be expected to save the world.  Or the galaxy, in this case,” Carson murmured.  “And there’s no use in dwelling on it now.  Let’s just focus on surviving it, all right?  Besides, isn’t it enough to know that there’s a big, scary, nearly impossible-to-kill alien absolutely intent on finding you?”

“Reminding me that these guys are possibly allied with the Wraith isn’t exactly the best way to cheer me up.”

“The Wraith?  I was referring to Ronon,” he chuckled.

She smiled, despite herself. 

There was a grinding sound, and she stiffened as the wall across from them began to slide apart. 

“Here we go,” Carson breathed.

Amelia swallowed and hoped the doctor’s words rang true, that any big, scary alien at the other side was the one she wanted to see and not the one she was expecting.

A stunner blast answered her question.

 

--/--

 

Teyla was amazed at the swiftness with which Major Lorne discovered the entranceway to the cave chamber.  They assisted him into the ravine, and within moments his trained eye had discovered what was almost an optical illusion, a large rock that appeared to be part of the wall but that actually stood out a foot from the wall.  Once John had moved around it, it became quite clear that it was merely a barrier, and not part of the cliff.

“That’s so Labyrinth,” Rodney had exclaimed a few moments later, which drew a critical expression from the Colonel.  Apparently, this was another movie reference with which Teyla was unfamiliar.

“I’d say Magic Eye,” John returned.  “Good job, Major.” 

Lorne had shrugged, but Teyla suspected his reticence stemmed from his desire not to discuss his talent for detail.  Teyla had seen many of his wonderful paintings and believed that only an artist’s eye could have discerned the disguise without being told or going over the surface minutely.

They entered the cave, leaving Lorne’s team, still lethargic from the stunning, to guard the ravine entrance, supported by their team in the Jumper above.  It became clear from their first few moments in that their hopes of finding their teammates were to be bitterly disappointed.

The entire area, strongly lit by what appeared to be luminous plant life upon the ceiling, was empty; the only sound a thin breeze, which apparently came from other openings into the cavern.  No children played in this area now, though various toys, tools, and other imaginative elements led no one to doubt this was the area where the youth had been held.

John shook his head after a quick but thorough sweep, pausing in the middle of a field that occupied the center of the cave.  Behind them, a thin but steady waterfall from the far back corner provided fresh water, which ran down a shallow streambed and disappeared near the front of the cavern, beneath what would be the narrowest point of the ravine outside.  Everything was clean and well in order, without any traces as to where the children might have gone.

“They can’t possibly have evacuated them out through the ravine,” Rodney said.  “That would have taken hours, based on the number of kids we’re estimating were in here.  I mean, I’ve seen how long it takes my niece to get her stuff together and there’s no way dozens of them could do it quickly.”

“Not to mention the foot traffic.”  At Rodney’s confused expression, John motioned to the field.  “See the prints?  The surface is damp and covered in this dirt-like stuff everywhere.  There are dozens of footprints here, all trampled together.  A mass exodus from the cave?  We would have seen the signs.”

“Wraith beam?”  Rodney asked.  Teyla shook her head.

“I have never heard of the Wraith being able to take so many with a simple dart.”

“And there’s the question of getting down here,” John said.  “Maybe through wherever that comes from,” he gestured towards the massive opening at the top of the waterfall, “but that still makes for unwieldy flight inside this place, despite its size.”

“So then what?  They can’t have just magically poofed into thin air,” Rodney said.  “They had to have gone somewhere.”

“They did,” said Ronon.  He was kneeling by the stream, looking into the shallow rivulet.  As they approached him, he indicated with his gun the flow.  Small footprints could be seen heading into the stream, disappearing into the shallow current.  At first glance, it could appear that the footprints were the everyday ones left behind by a thirsty child, but further down the stream, they were all leading into the tributary, with none leading out.

“They used the water as cover,” John said, stepping into the stream and following it down the length of the cavern.  It barely covered the tops of his feet, encased in their thick boots.

When he reached the wall he studied it intently, his eyes searching along the tops and sides where the river ran below the wall.  The stream disappeared into a thin, long hole in the ground. 

Rodney bent down in the water, leaning over to tap on the wall.  His fist met nothing, and as he threw the force of his weight behind the motion, tipped forward and disappeared with a cry. 

 “Damn Wraith holographic wall,” John muttered as he quickly followed Rodney.  Teyla covered Ronon, taking one last glance around the empty cavern. 

She entered a narrow tunnel just tall enough for them to walk through, about eight feet wide.  The stream had carved a deep sort of trough for itself across two feet or so, with the rest of the path slightly elevated from the water.  The slippery surface was covered with the bioluminescent lichen which illuminated the central cave, making travelling the path much less difficult than a true cavern.

“Rodgers, you copy?” John said.

“Go ahead, sir,” replied the Jumper pilot.

“Pick up Lorne and his team at the edge of the ravine.  We’ve found something here, we’re going to take a closer look.”

“Of course we are,” Rodney said.  “Do you really think that’s smart?  We don’t know what could be lurking around the corner from here.”

“What, you afraid of giant blind crayfish or something?”

“Bioluminescence means they probably wouldn’t be blind,” Rodney retorted.  “And I was thinking more of the buggy kind—like Wraith.”

“Wraith aren’t going to meet their Worshippers hiding in caves,” Ronon said.  “This thing leads somewhere.  Probably someplace big enough to land a Hive nearby.”

“Well that makes me feel better.  My point is we don’t know where and when that somewhere might appear,” Rodney said.  “Maybe we should call in backup.”

“We meet up with a Hive of Wraith it’s not really going to matter how much backup we bring,” John said.  “They’ll have the upper hand.  If we want to find the Doc and Banks we’re going to have to take our chances now.”

Rodney looked over at her and Teyla nodded her assent.  He raised a finger and opened his mouth, when Ronon glared at him.  “We’re wasting time.”

McKay shrugged as John eyed Ronon for a second, then continued his conversation with the Jumper.  “Looks like this path heads South.  Do a sweep of the Southern area, see if you can find where this river lets out.  You got our trackers?”

“At the moment, sir.  The signal appears kinda shaky.”

“If we lose contact, wait ten minutes, then contact Woolsey and let him know what we found.  And keep an eye on the sky, let us know if there’s any Wraith activity.”

“Got it, Sir.” 

John nodded forward, and the group started walking down the path.

 

--/--

 

Jennifer tapped her hands on the cold railing of the Atlantis balcony, taking a long look across the ocean.  It had been hours since Colonel Sheppard’s last contact with the city and she could tell that Mister Woolsey was getting worried, though he wouldn’t tell her that.

The everyday occurrences of her life had led her to realize that these were the kinds of days she was going to have to learn to live with, the ones where the safety of her loved ones were in question and all she could do was stay at home and wait.  What they were doing, the good that was being done—this was the price they paid for it.  She had the greatest faith in Colonel Sheppard for doing what he could to keep Rodney, Teyla and everyone else safe, but no one was invincible.  She had to learn to accept that there was a real possibility that one day they might not come back.  And she had, for the most part.

But it didn’t make the waiting any easier.

The balcony doors slid open and she felt her heart beat quicken, just for a moment, though her mind told her there was absolutely no chance of expecting Rodney.

The slender form of Mayel Serrana drew into her periphery, pausing to lean alongside her upon the rail.  There was silence for a few moments, before Jennifer spoke.

“No word from John’s team, still, huh?” 

As Mayel turned to look at her she dropped her gaze.  “Of course there’s no word; if there’d been word then we’d both know, right?  You’ll have to forgive me, I’m sort of prone to stupid statements when I’m worried.”

She glanced over at Mayel, a sort of silly smile on her face, as though expecting a reaction.  Mayel smiled awkwardly and then directed her gaze back to the ocean view.

“You know,” Jennifer said after a minute.  “I don’t know how in the world you guys do it.”

Mayel seemed puzzled by the statement.  “Do ‘it’?”

“The calm.  I mean, it seems like every soldier I meet is so dedicated that things just roll off you until…how do you do it?  Deal with the worry?”

“I…”  Mayel looked a little off balance with the simple question.  “I…am not sure.  It’s just the way I have been, since I was a young soldier.”

“Maybe it’s a soldier thing,” Keller said.  “Maybe that’s why you can be soldiers.  I certainly couldn’t do it.”

“You maintain courage when others are hurt, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah, because I have to. It’s my job.  But I’m not under the gun 24-7.  It doesn’t seem the same as to keeping calm after losing people you care about, or men under your command.  You have to do that all the time.”

“It is a soldier’s job to be strong enough to fight any battle.  I do not think our jobs are so dissimilar.   Not every patient who enters into your infirmary will be someone you do not know.  And not everyone will be someone you can save.  If you must, you can save the life of a friend, or a loved one, in the face of losing others, and I have seen you do so without allowing your personal feelings to affect you.   And we both must seize control of the most critical element in any battle—time.  You fight time to save lives, soldiers fight time to do the same.  The only difference is that you fight it directly, while a soldier must often bear it patiently.  Of the two positions, I see yours as the most difficult.  Maintaining control while waiting is much easier than maintaining control while…’doing’.”

Jennifer blinked at her, then shook her head.  “I guess we’re on two sides of the same battle.”

“That’s often the case on a battlefield,” Mayel returned, this time with a genuine smile.  She leaned towards the young woman.  “Don’t worry.  We both know enough of those we care about to understand they have an uncanny ability to survive.”

“That’s true.”

“Then half the battle is won.  We have hope.”

“If you say so.”  Jennifer said.  “Thanks.”

She directed her gaze back to the ocean, closing her eyes and letting the breeze soothe her face.  When she opened them again, she was surprised to find Mayel doing the same thing, only her cheeks were streaked with tears.

Jennifer placed a soft hand on the woman’s shoulder.  Mayel jumped, her eyes flickering open.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes,” she said quickly.  “I’m sorry.  It’s just…I love this place.  I have many good memories here.”

“He’ll be fine,” Jennifer said, leaning in a bit and squeezing her arm.

Mayel frowned.  “What?”

“Colonel Sheppard.  He always manages to find a way through even the toughest situations.  If Rodney was with anyone else, I would probably be way more concerned than I am—if that were possible—but I have faith in Colonel Sheppard…in John.”

Mayel shrugged out of her grasp.  “Yes, he is…he’s very…”

Her voice broke and she raised her hands to her lips, turning away from Jennifer as her expression crumpled and her eyes filled with tears.  It nearly broke Jennifer’s heart.  She reached over and placed a hand on the taller woman’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” the Genii whispered, after a moment.

“It’s fine,” Jennifer said.  “You don’t have to be a hero all the time, you know.  It’s fine to be concerned.  Someone you love is in danger.”

Mayel’s shook her head, looking out towards the ocean.  “I’m no hero.  I’m just…a Genii.”

There was a bitter emphasis on the last word.  Jennifer had a feeling the Genii were not particularly prone to showing emotion.  “Well, I disagree.  You’ve shown time and again just how devoted you are to the Genii, and others, and anyone who risks her life—risks everything—for her people is a hero in my book.  Just like Colonel Sheppard is.”

The Genii studied her, her pale face ruddy from the tears.  “Atlantis is very important to him.”

“More important than anything,” Jennifer said proudly.

Mayel nodded, looking to the floor, then sighed and straightened her uniform.  “I think I finally understand.”

“Good.  And listen—Genii or not, you are entitled to act like a human from time to time.  Like finding ways to distract yourself when you don’t want to think about something else.  My favorite is a combo of chocolate and popcorn.”

Mayel made a skeptical face.

“Or we could find something to do that would interest you….”

“Can I hear more on the Wraith Drug?”

Jennifer frowned.  “You want me to drone on about science some more?”

“It gives me hope, I suppose,” Mayel said quietly.  “It allows me to imagine a brighter future for my people.  So the children, such as those Jo—your people are trying to save—can have one free of the Wraith.”

“Good enough for me, I guess.  It’d be easier done in my lab.  Plus, I have a hidden stash of chocolate popcorn there.”  She grinned. 

Mayel just barely managed a smile back.  Jennifer made a face.  “Unless you’d prefer to stay up here?”

“No,” the woman said, after one or two long seconds.  “I have enough memories here.”

Her expression was serious, eyes shining, as she turned to walk past Jennifer.  “And I have no further need of them now.”

The air suddenly felt chilly.  Jennifer shivered, wrapped her arms around her self, and followed Mayel to the door, glad she wasn’t quite as cynical as the Genii.

 

--/--

 

John felt like he was in the middle of the Pied Piper story.  He didn’t know how this group of villagers had done it, but they’d managed to wrangle every single child down this long tunnel without a straggler, whiner, or grumbler among them.  There was nary a kid to be seen.

They’d been walking—at a good pace—for nearly an hour, and nothing was echoing back to them.  The kids had been shuttled down to their destination quickly, quietly and efficiently.

There had been signs of a number of adults among the tiny footprints—there were enough to perhaps corral, or even carry, anyone who caused trouble.  And on more than one occasion, there had been deeper footprints of those burdened with a heavy object—it could be anything, but Ronon seemed to know what John was thinking the first time they ran across a deeply set print.

Carson and Amelia, being carried.

The whole system was so methodically efficient, John didn’t doubt it had been in place a long time.  And had it not been for the coincidental arrival of the Artho, John very much believed they would have fallen right into the duped category as so many of the other groups who knew of this world.

Teyla, now at the head of their group, murmured something, and he focused his attention on the path up ahead.  The luminescent plants made for good light, but what was approaching them was most definitely different, of a more outdoors kind.

The tunnel entrance.

The group instinctively slowed their pace, Rodney apparently more than happy to sandwich himself between John and Ronon, who kept an eye on the path from which they’d come.  There hadn’t been so much as a crevice through which anyone could pass—or hide—so John was fairly certain this thing was a perfectly accurate throughway, but better safe than sorry.

They approached the entrance cautiously, Teyla edging near the mouth of the opening and peering slowly around the side.  She flicked her hand towards John a few seconds later, indicating the path was clear.

He blink a few times to allow his eyes to adjust to the natural light and glanced outside.

The opening led to a path that sloped down into a forested area. Rising in front of them about a thousand yards away was a huge stone formation made of natural rock, which rose up above the thick trees.  There was a vague fortress feel about it, and John was reminded of the stone temples from the ancient civilizations of Central and South America.

“Rodgers,” he whispered, tapping his headset.  Static answered him.  “Rodgers.”

He glanced warily at Teyla and Ronon.  Seems like they’d lost contact with the Jumper.

“Rodgers,” he tried once more.  No answer.

Rodney gestured towards the cave, but John shook his head.  Whatever was going on, they needed more intel.  And no amount of backtracking was going to get them all the resources they needed. 

“Come on,” he whispered to his team and followed the footprints down the path.

 

--/--

 

Richard raised his head at the Gate activation, shut his folder, and moved to the control room.  Chuck was monitoring the incoming transmission.

“Rodgers IDC,” he said for Richard’s benefit.   “Checking in.  We’ve got him on radio.”

“Go ahead, Captain Rodgers.”

“Sir, we haven’t heard from Colonel Sheppard and his team in the last twenty minutes.  Seems like we’ve lost radio contact.  We can’t even pick up their trackers any more.”

“Have you been able to do a fly-by of the area he was headed?”

“Yes sir, but it’s impossible to tell the direction they may have gone.  About five miles beyond the village the plateau it’s on drops down into low-lying forest.  The cave could have come out anywhere along the cliff edge.”

“Anything you can notice unusual?”

“No sir—couple rock formations, and the trees are really tall.  But otherwise, it’s impossible to tell where the groups were headed.  We didn’t see any movement among the trees.”

“Okay.”  Richard sighed.  “I’ve got two Jumpers prepped and ready to go.  Major Lorne?”

“Yes, sir?”

“When they arrive have one of the teams follow Colonel Sheppard into the cave.  Then you and Rodgers cloak your Jumper and start scanning that forest for any sign of them or the natives of that planet.”

“Yes sir.”

“Atlantis out.”  Richard glanced at Chuck.  “Why would they not show up?  Are they that far underground?”

“You believe these are Wraith worshipping peoples, correct?” asked Doctor Zelenka, from behind them.  The small man moved over to Chuck’s console.  “We have seen the Wraith use jamming technology before.  And cloaking devices.  It is not too much to presume that to protect their most loyal followers they will equip them quite well.”

Richard frowned at the still shimmering gate.  “Let’s hope not too well.”

A beeping behind them caused all to turn, where one of the techs, standing in for Amelia Banks, frowned.  “Mr. Woolsey?”

“What is that?”

“It’s the sensor—the trigger that Amelia was working on before she was…” the girl trailed off.  “It’s been activated.”

“Activated by what?”

“Something just flew in near the planet,” Zelenka answered for her.  “Something very big.”

“I’m guessing that’s a Hive ship,” Richard said, his heartbeat quickening.  “Contact the Daedalus.  Last I spoke with Colonel Caldwell they were only a few hours out.  Let them know they may have company when they arrive.  And tell them to hurry.”

 

--/--

 

Carson blinked a few time, the smell of cold dirt somewhere close to his cheek, and looked up.  The world swam into view slowly.

He was on the ground, his hands bound.  Amelia was next to him, awake and alert, but silent.  She nodded her head to her left, and he raised his own, just a few inches off the ground.

The kids were seated in large groups, quiet.  A few looked nervous, but most just sat placidly, as though this were something they’d done a number of times before.

A massive rock structure rose up behind them, the entrance marked by a rough stone ramp that led into a cave near the top.  The adults were patrolling around the group, stunners in hand, their eyes turned towards the sky.

What are they waiting for?

Carson’s eyes dropped to the crowd of children.  He scanned randomly through the group until a face caught his gaze, a face staring directly towards him, looking frightened and uncertain.

The boy he’d examined earlier. 

He nodded reassuringly at the little one, trying to soothe the fear he could sense coming from the youth, but it seemed impossible, bound and trussed like a holiday roast.  Still the boy smiled a small smile and sank further into the group, closing his eyes.

A shadow passed over them.  Amelia, her mouth open to whisper something, whimpered instead. 

“Uh oh,” Carson replied, in response.

It seemed they were out of time.

 

--/--

 

 

Walking.  Walking.  Walking forever.

Rodney knew better than to complain at moments like these, but he was often reminded of how not cut out for this type of stuff he was.  Not that he couldn’t get out of it—and not that he wanted to get out of it—but that didn’t mean he couldn’t envy Ronon and his apparently blister-proof feet.

The Satedan was a number of paces ahead of them, moving cautiously from tree to tree.  The steep downward slope had given way to a relatively level land thick with massive trees.  The path twisted and turned through them, their tall tops and fat trunks obscuring what was ahead from view.  The only thing clearly visible was the top of the rock formation they’d seen when they left the cave.

Ronon paused, then turned back to John, and nodded his head towards the path up ahead.  Sheppard stalked quietly up next to him, his jaw locking down as he caught sight of what Ronon had been nodding at.

Teyla urged Rodney forward and he complied, as quietly as he could, though he drew a frown from Sheppard as a few branches broke under his feet.  He made a face back.  Sheppard could deal with the fact that he’d been on his feet for nearly two days with very little rest.

When he finally made it, he immediately understood John’s expression.  Ahead, probably a hundred and fifty meters in front of them, the group of children they’d been trailing was sitting in a clearing at the base of a ramp that apparently led up the rock.  They were surprisingly calm and quiet for kids; none of them were talking or crying.

Teyla nudged him and gestured to the right. 

There was some kind of small grunt from Ronon.  Carson, lying next to Amelia Banks, both bound and near some trees, almost at the edge of the clearing.  Close enough to call to, but with the fifteen or so adults Rodney could make out prowling among the crowd, impossible to reach.

He shrugged at John.  What do we do now?

Sheppard backed away from their observation spot, seeking refuge a number of yards away, and shook his head.  Rodney interpreted that to mean ‘I have no idea.’

“I can get to them,” Ronon whispered.  John nixed that one with a shake of his head.  The Satedan frowned.  “I can…”

Whatever he could or couldn’t do was cut short by the sound of something massive—quiet, but massive—approaching from above.  Rodney glanced skyward, as a huge black object emerged slowly across the high treetops, the wide span of it blocking out the sun.

Of course.  Right at the right moment, too.  He couldn’t have picked a better cue. 

The Wraith Cruiser slid past them, making a slow turn as it circled towards the rock formation, and the group of Wraith Worshippers.  The landing elements kicked on as it hovered over the apex, perching gracefully atop the thing as though it had been built for it.  It was eerily reminiscent of the pyramid landing bases for the Goa’uld ships.

Sound began to bubble up from the clearing ahead, and Ronon darted quickly back to their hiding spot, followed more slowly and cautiously by the rest of them.

The Worshippers were pulling the kids to their feet, and ushering them towards the ramp.  Two of them moved over to where Amelia and Carson were lying and yanked them to a standing position. 

As they pushed them forward, Teyla squeezed her eyes shut, her expression folding into a frown.  Rodney swallowed, more than certain he knew what that look was all about.

“There is a Queen here,” she whispered, after a moment, as the group began to move en mass up the ramp, including Banks and Carson.

Sheppard frowned in frustration.  “Well, Crap.”

Yeah, crap, Rodney thought.  Because he pretty much knew what was coming next.

 

>>> Continue on to Adoremus, Chapter V

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