Author: Tipper (tipper_green)
Prompt: The journey of a thousand miles sometimes ends very, very badly.
Word Count: ~27,740
Warnings: None that I know of, unless you’re one of those folks who hates a certain canon relationship, then beware, because I don't ignore it.
Summary: Things go belly up (because they always go belly up) on a rescue mission to save an SGA team stuck deep underground and running out of air. The Team and Keller.
Notes: Thanks to NotTasha for the late night betaing, and for reading this over a long period of time without losing interest. She's a trooper that one!
There are four parts.
CHAPTER ONE: TELDY AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL
“Unscheduled off-world activation!”
Dr. Woolsey’s head snapped up, fear drilling through him from head to toe. He was still getting used to the way his heartbeat skipped a beat every time those words were yelled, the way adrenalin sent his body shooting up out of his chair and into the control room, his fingers shaking with aftershocks as he leaned over Amelia’s chair to see her screen. He really didn’t need to lean over her chair—he could use the main screen—but she had become something of a lodestone: she grounded him, when it felt like his still barely beneath the surface fear would send him screaming and running from the room.
“What have we got?” he asked, hands braced in fists to still the shaking. No sign of quaver in his voice, and that’s all that mattered.
“No IDC,” she answered, frowning as she waited for evidence of where the wormhole was originating. “No radio frequencies.”
“Who is off-world right now?”
“Lieutenant Winthrop’s team, Lieutenant Marks’ team, and Major Teldy’s team with Dr. Beckett.” Amelia looked up as she mentioned the third group, as if she knew already which team was likely to be calling in. It was always the team accompanying Dr. Beckett on his Hoffan virus work. Woolsey sometimes imagined the man’s pompadour secretly emitted some sort of beacon for trouble.
“Open a channel,” Woolsey said, standing up to look in the direction of the open wormhole, grimacing a little at the shield glittering on top of it. Amelia hit a button then nodded up at him. “This is Atlantis. Please identify yourself.”
He waited a few minutes, frowning at the silence.
“I repeat,” he called, “this is the Atlantis expedition. If you can hear me, please respond.”
Rodney McKay took that moment to burst onto the scene from the door leading to the transporters, jogging up to the main consoles. He nodded at Woolsey as he slid into his usual seat next to Amelia, calling information onto the laptop screen in front of him. Almost simultaneously, Colonel Sheppard bounded up the stairs from the gateroom below. He nodded at Woolsey as he stopped near McKay’s station, looking over Rodney’s shoulder in the same way that Woolsey was leaning over Amelia.
“There’s nothing coming in, sir,” Amelia said. “No response.”
“No, there’s something there,” Rodney disagreed, clicking away on his computer. “It’s….” He leaned forward, squinting a little at his screen. “It’s very weak.”
Amelia frowned, checking her own screen again, her fingers flying. Within moments, she was nodding. “Increasing the sensitivity of the comm.,” she informed Woolsey. “It’s a sub-space signal.”
“One of ours?”
“No,” she said.
“It’s not coming from any known ships,” Rodney said, frowning at the screen. “I’m not sure where it’s coming from.”
“Could it be from another kind of ship, one not in the database?” Woolsey asked.
“Either that, or from an Ancient facility.” Rodney’s frown deepened.
“I think I’ve got it,” Amelia said, her finger against the earpiece in her ear. “Yes, I can hear someone.”
“Play it,” Woolsey ordered, and Amelia hit another key on her console.
Abruptly, the control room was filled with a faint static and an echoing voice, as if the speaker were calling out from the bottom of a well.
“…read me-me-me? This is Major Teldy-dy-dy. Atlantis, can you read me-me-me?”
“We can hear you,” Woolsey answered, raising his voice. “Can you hear us?”
“Barely-ly-ly-ly,” came Teldy’s faint reply. “You’re very weak-eak-eak.”
“So are you,” Woolsey replied, raising his voice even more. “Major, can you strengthen your signal?” He looked at McKay, “And can you filter out the echo?” he asked softly.
McKay nodded, rapidly typing away.
“No-o-o.” Teldy replied to Woolsey’s first question. “We’re maxed out-out-out. Sir, we’re in trouble-ble-ble. We need help-elp-elp.”
“I got it,” McKay whispered. “Should be no more echo.”
Woolsey nodded. “What’s the situation, Major?” he called.
“Wraith, sir,” Teldy’s voice was clearer, but still very faint. “An hour after we arrived, the Stargate activated and several Wraith darts came through. A few minutes later, Dr. Porter registered a Hive ship orbiting the planet on the scanner. We couldn’t Gate out, so we escaped using a route that the Durangese have apparently used for centuries: in the bottom of the town hall is Ancient transporter platform capable of transporting up to forty people at a time to an underground facility. We got as many people down here as we could before using it ourselves. We then proceeded to wait a few hours before attempting to return, but something has happened to the transporter. We can’t get back.”
“What kind of underground facility?” McKay called. “The database said there was nothing Ancient remaining on that planet, and no references to anything underground.”
“Dr. Porter thinks it was a mining facility of some kind. It’s pretty stripped of equipment, but they left a few things behind, including a hard-wired DHD and communications console. We’re using that to contact you.”
“Are you safe?” Sheppard asked.
“I believe so, sir. It’s been about six hours, and there’s no sign of the Wraith. Problem is, our equipment can’t penetrate the walls of the facility to confirm that. We also have another problem: we’re almost out of power. Even if the transporter were working, Porter says there wouldn’t be enough to transport everyone back.”
“There’s no other way out?” Woolsey asked.
“Not that we’ve found. The walls appear to be solid. In addition, sirs, we’ve used much of the facility’s remaining power to activate the Stargate remotely in order to send this message. Porter says we’ll be out of power within an hour. Even holding the wormhole open this long to relay this information is cutting into that.”
“Understood,” Sheppard replied. “What’s your status?”
“None of our people are hurt, sir, at least not badly. There are, however, some injuries among the Durangese, and Dr. Beckett is seeing to them with what supplies we have, but he could use some help. All in all, I believe we can last some time without being rescued, but not too long. There are about 350 people down here, and Porter calculates we only have about fifteen hours before we’re out of air.”
“There’s no ventilation?” McKay asked, his surprise clear.
“Yes, but, without power, there will be nothing to draw oxygen down the vents. And the air down here is already toxic. Once the power is gone completely, it’ll get stuffy very fast, sirs. We need help.”
“Where is the facility located on the planet?” Sheppard asked.
“The Durangese don’t know. To be honest, sir, I don’t even know if we’re still on the planet. We just appeared in this place. It’s dark, cold, half-flooded with freezing water, and stripped of anything of use or information other than a few main consoles. It’s like being in a dungeon, sir.”
“Okay,” Sheppard said, frowning down at McKay, who had glanced up at him at the word “dungeon.” Sheppard shook his head. “We’re on our way, Major.”
“Keep power use to an absolute minimum,” McKay ordered. “Tell Porter to direct all power to the air vents. Also tell her to try to reserve some power; we may need a flare. If you don’t hear from us six hours from now, tell her to flash an energy signal and to keep doing so once every hour. You got that?”
“I’ve got that,” another woman’s voice answered, even more faintly than Teldy’s. Porter had obviously been listening in.
“Is there anything else we need to know, Major?” Woolsey asked.
“Not at this time, sir.”
“Well, but…” Porter’s voice was tentative. “What about what that woman saw?” She was clearly talking to Teldy.
“It’s just paranoia, Porter,” Teldy answered. “Too much time in the dark.”
Woolsey frowned, not liking the sound of that. “What is Porter talking about, Major?”
“No such thing as nothing in Pegasus, Major,” Sheppard said sharply. “What is it?”
“Yes, sir.” Teldy sighed, her voice growing fainter now. “There’s a remote possibility that there may be….” She paused and sighed again. “It’s like something out of Red Dwarf, sir.”
Sheppard’s frown deepened. “What?”
“We may not be alone down here, sir.”
Sheppard’s eyebrows lifted. “What do you mean?”
“I…Oh crap.” She sounded angry, and something banged audibly in the background. “Hey!”
“Dusty! Stop her! Close that—“
Screaming filled the room, exploding over the radio, ear-splitting in volume and pitch with the sensitivity jacked up to maximum. Everyone in the control jumped, and both McKay and Woolsey covered their ears.
And then the wormhole cut out.
CHAPTER TWO: WRAITH AT THE GATE
Sheppard cloaked the Jumper the moment they were through the event horizon, the wormhole shutting down behind them. Until they were certain the planet was clear of Wraith, Woolsey wasn’t ready to risk more Jumpers. It meant Sheppard’s Team, with Dr. Keller tagging along, was alone until Sheppard called Atlantis and gave the all clear.
Woolsey wasn’t going to be happy.
“Christ, did it see us?” McKay asked, staring wide eyed at the massive ship now filling the Jumper’s windscreen. A Hive was parked about a mile away from the Stargate, as big as a mountain in the foreground. It looked to be just sitting there.
“I’m sure it saw something,” Sheppard answered miserably, banking the Jumper away from the ship at a quick rate of speed, cutting through the heavy fog and cloud. Rain splattered down the glass, but not enough to be a problem. The HUD popped up as he pointed them straight up in the leaden sky.
“What’s it doing?” Ronon asked, standing next to the bulkhead door. He had one hand on his blaster.
“It’s…,” Sheppard began, and then paused as he studied the HUD. He slowed the Jumper to hover. “Actually, it’s not doing anything. It’s not even powering up.”
“It’s not?” McKay said, scanning the same information as Sheppard. His eyebrows lifted. “It’s not,” he agreed. “That’s weird.”
“Why aren’t they powering up?” Teyla asked, leaning forward in her chair behind Sheppard.
“And why are they still here?” Keller asked, standing against McKay’s chair, her hands gripping the leather. “If there was no one left to cull, why would they stay?”
“Both good questions,” Sheppard said, staring at McKay. The scientist was already calling up information on the console in front of him.
“Maybe they overheard Teldy’s call to Atlantis,” Ronon suggested. “They’re waiting for us.”
“If that were true,” Sheppard said, “they would have started firing the moment the wormhole engaged. They would have known it was us.”
“They couldn’t have intercepted that call to Atlantis,” McKay said, frowning slightly, still working away at the console.
“But they would have seen the wormhole engage when Teldy called us,” Ronon said. “It wouldn’t be hard to guess who was being called.”
“And yet again, we’re still here,” Sheppard said.
“It’s because they can’t see us,” McKay stated definitively.
Sheppard arched an eyebrow. “Yes,” he said slowly, “because we’re cloaked.”
“No,” McKay said testily, “I mean, they wouldn’t be able to see us even if we weren’t cloaked. They can’t see anything, especially in this heavy cloud.” He gestured to the whispy clouds outside the windscreen.
“Fly up over them.”
Sheppard frowned, but banked the Jumper back around, heading back to the Hive, dipping low in order to break through the gray.
“Oh my,” Teyla said quietly as the far side of the Hive came into view.
Over half the massive ship was a black, charred mess, expelling smoke and steam that blended into the heavy, dark gray clouds enshrouding this planet. Flashes of light sparkled inside the darkness, where repairs were obviously underway. The rain made the exposed metal appear almost liquid in the white light of the atmosphere, glittering and alive.
McKay hummed. “From the readings, all their power is being directed to repairing the ship. They’re not paying attention to anything except getting back up into the air.”
“How long?” asked Sheppard.
“A while. I don’t know where they started from, but I can’t see them taking off for a few days.”
Sheppard gave McKay a sharp glance. “That’s a problem,” he said.
“What brought them down?” Keller asked, still gripping McKay’s chair.
“Um…” McKay was tapping away again. After a moment, he snorted. “There’s debris from another Hive in orbit. They must have attacked each other.” He glanced at the Hive filling the windscreen. “Guess this one’s the victor.”
“Some victory,” Ronon muttered.
Sheppard grimaced. “Phyrric.” He glanced at McKay again. “Speaking of, how many--?”
“About seventy five life signs on board. It’s not clear how many are Wraith.”
“The Durangese numbered almost 450,” Teyla informed quietly. “If only 350 made it underground with the major, some of those life signs might be the Durang.”
“Or others,” Keller noted. “From other planets.”
Ronon growled softly at the information.
“Stay focused, Chewie,” Sheppard warned. The colonel looked at McKay, who was tapping away on the console again. “What about—?”
“Still a couple dozen darts in the hold, and….” Rodney’s gaze narrowed. “There’s a handful in orbit. Why—?”
“They’re acting as sentinels, since the ship’s sensors are down,” Teyla said, her gaze slightly unfocused. “I can sense some of their chatter.”
“So why aren’t any watching the Stargate?” Keller asked.
“That’s easy,” Ronon snarled. “They don’t think there’s anyone left on the planet capable of using it.”
McKay’s eyes narrowed, and he typed a different set of search parameters. He nodded after a second. “He’s right. No life signs registering anywhere outside of the Hive.”
Teyla sighed softly, and Sheppard frowned, lifting the Jumper back up into the air and turning it around, heading it towards the village.
“Well,” Keller said anxiously, “that’s because the Durangese are shielded, right? Wherever Major Teldy is, they’re shielded from detection.”
Sheppard grimaced. McKay glanced at him sideways, his expression awash with uncertainty. Keller’s gaze switched back and forth between the two as she waited for an answer.
“Right?” she prompted.
“Right,” the colonel sighed finally. “So let’s go find them.”
McKay frowned, waving a hand at the Hive disappearing from view as he asked Sheppard, “But what about…?”
“One step at a time, McKay. One step at a time.”
“Well, that answers why the transporter isn’t working,” McKay said miserably. John frowned as he settled the Jumper next to the smoldering remains of what had been the town hall. The entire settlement had been wiped out, a charcoaled blight on the landscape, the spitting rain putting out whatever fires still smoked. A few bodies were visible beneath chunks of burning wood and collapsed stone, like something out of an apocalypse film. The Wraith hadn’t come here just to cull the Durangese—they’d come here to eradicate them. They must have found out that the population had been infected with the Hoffan virus.
Keller’s lips pressed into a thin line as she stared at the wreckage, while both the Athosian and the Satedan gazed stonily out the window, clearly reliving memories that neither wanted to relive. McKay stood up, quite deliberately choosing to not look outside anymore, and moved to change places with Teyla so he could work on his laptop. John forced himself to look away as well, to focus on trying to help McKay source out what had happened here. And where the people might have gone.
After a few minutes of negative results from scans for life signs and energy signatures, he turned in the chair to look back at McKay.
Rodney shook his head. “This planet was mined by the Ancients for different building materials, but they tapped it dry long before they left Pegasus. The database back on Atlantis spoke only in historical terms, relating numerous locations where they had once based operations, but, by all descriptions, those locations had all been temporary. There was no indication that they had actually left anything behind. Certainly nothing about a still working transporter, or a console capable of dialing the DHD remotely.”
“Could it have been someone else?”
McKay just shrugged, shaking his head. “Not likely.” He sighed. “It’s more likely that the Ancients just didn’t put any value into what they left behind, so didn’t bother to mention it in the database. To them, leaving a working DHD was probably the equivalent of us leaving a calculator behind in math class.”
Sheppard’s eyebrows lifted, smiling slightly. “You were allowed to use a calculator in math class?”
McKay shrugged. “Well, no, but if I were allowed to use a calculator and I had left it behind one day, I probably wouldn’t have cared too much.”
“I was allowed to use a calculator,” Keller said distractedly, her gaze still locked on the devastated world outside. “I never left it behind.”
“So, now what?” Ronon asked, turning away from the window, his voice even gruffer than normal.
“Now…” McKay said, leaning back, “we go to each of the locations where the Ancients had a base of operations, and hope we find something.” He hit a key on his keyboard, and the HUD popped up, showing a map of the area. Six different locations flashed in red, all within a forty mile radius of the settlement. “These are the locations closest to here. Transporters, especially ones as large as Teldy described, don’t typically have much range. It should be one of these.”
John blew the air out of his cheeks, but said nothing as he lifted the Jumper back up into the solid, gray sky. He pointed the Jumper towards the closest flashing red dot on the map and prayed they were lucky for once.
Teyla examined the ground from the front passenger seat, her gaze on the empty, grass covered plain, looking for something, anything, that explained where the people of this planet had gone. In the background, Rodney quietly tapped commands into his laptop, seeking to find what she couldn’t see with her eyes. John, too, was bringing up the HUD every few moments, to supplement their search. At Teyla’s shoulder, standing over her chair, she sensed Ronon, guessing that his gaze, like hers, was locked on the planet below.
“What about that?” Jennifer’s soft voice whispered, probably to Rodney. Teyla turned, glancing to where her friend was leaning over Rodney’s shoulder, pointing at something on the laptop screen. “Is that something?”
“A heat signature,” Rodney confirmed. “But very faint. Too faint to be anything more than a small creature.”
Jennifer sighed softly, disappointed. They all were.
The people of this planet, the Durangese, were warm and kind…and very tough traders. Teyla had been a visitor here a few times, and had always enjoyed herself.
Her hatred for the Wraith was so profound right now, it was almost consuming.
“We’re nearly on top of the third location,” John informed the group. “We’re only a couple of miles from—“
“Hey,” Rodney said suddenly, “I think…there’s something here.”
John glanced at the reflection he could see of Rodney in the windscreen. “Define something.”
“I’m not sure. The readings are very odd. For one,” he turned his gaze to the view outside the window, “according to the sensors, there’s no land down there.”
Teyla’s eyebrows lifted as she leaned forward, studying the grassy plain more carefully. The wind was fairly strong outside the small craft, swirling the long grass in ever-expanding ripples. It certainly looked real.
“Are you saying that plain is some sort of cloak?” she asked.
“I would,” Rodney said, “but it doesn’t appear to be powered by anything. There’s no evidence of any energy usage.” He continued to type away. “And that also rules out a hologram and a computer generated illusion.” He stopped typing. “Damned if I know why the sensors don’t think anything is there. I…hang on….” He leaned forward, eyes skimming the screen. “Hey. I just caught another faint heat signature.”
“How large?” John asked.
“Large enough. It’s gone, but I’m sure I saw something. And…” He leaned back in order to see John. “It originated from somewhere underground, in the approximate location of the old mining base.”
“That works for me,” John said. “How do we get down to where the heat signature is?”
Rodney shook his head. “No idea. There’s no evidence of any entrance, which seems odd. They couldn’t have relied on that transporter alone. No one intelligent builds just one entrance and exit.”
“Maybe it’s hidden,” Ronon suggested. “To prevent others from getting in, like the Wraith.”
“Something the sensors aren’t picking up?” Teyla asked, not hiding her doubt. The Ancestors typically did not hide things from their own ships.
She watched John’s jaw tense, and then release. A glance over her shoulder saw Rodney watching the back of the colonel’s head, also waiting to hear the answer. She disliked it when Rodney was out of answers.
“I’m landing,” John announced finally. Rodney sighed and pointed to a likely spot to set down, only because, as he said to Sheppard, the sensors picked up some actual landmass there.
Teyla braced herself as the colonel gently, almost delicately, settled the ship down on top of the plain, sensing a slight sinking sensation as the Jumper powered down. For a moment, no one moved, as if afraid they suddenly start falling into nothingness.
Then John stood up, frowning deeply. Hitting a button on the console as he did so, he strode past the rest of the group to the back, where the back hatch was opening. Rodney and Ronon followed, while Teyla stayed in the front of the ship with Jennifer.
The hatch finished lowering, and a soft breeze blew through the Jumper, soft and pungent with the smell of grass. Wind continued to ripple the long stalks, creating a sound not unlike the sound of waves on Atlantis. It was almost soothing.
The three men stepped down to the edge of the hatch, and Rodney did a quick scan with the life signs detector. John, meanwhile, crouched down and reached out, running his hand over the long, sweeping grass.
“Certainly feels real,” he said.
“The grass is real,” Rodney confirmed. “It’s alive.” He looked up, frowning. “So why didn’t the sensors pick up any landmass? The grass has to be growing on something.”
“Looks like regular dirt to me,” Ronon stated simply, looking down at the ground he could see at the edge of the hatch.
Rodney just shook his head. “This makes no sense.”
“Well,” John said, hitching up the P90 in his arms, “don’t see as we have much choice. We have to find a way to get to our people, if they’re down there, and if technology isn’t going to help us find it….” He waved a hand outwards towards the large plain. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and all that.”
Ronon rested his hand on his blaster, Rodney didn’t lift his eyes from the scanner, and John drew in a deep breath. Almost as one, they stepped off the hatch onto the grassy plain.
“Rodney!” Jennifer screamed, running to the front of the hatch, Teyla at her heels.
The ground had simply disintegrated, crackling like dried paper beneath the weight of the three men, swallowing them whole. Teyla grabbed Jennifer’s arm at the hatch edge to prevent her from falling in after them, pulling her back a few steps. The two women peered down into the rapidly expanding hole as their teammates vanished in a puff of dirt, grass and pebbles.
And then the Jumper began to tilt, slipping forward into the hole as more of the ground disintegrated, and Jennifer screamed.
Continue to Part 2