Pairing: Gen; Mckay/Sheppard, if you squint
Rating: PG just to be safe
Series: The Others
Summary: Rescuing the other Runners was something they just needed to do. Someone needed to tell that to the Runners.
Author's Note: I really, really wasn't going to write these follow up stories. Yes, stories. As in plural. There are a couple of more to come. Geez.
Thanks to the ever-lovely Fenchurch for the beta, and the encouragement.
"Okay, tell me how you want to do this," Elizabeth Weir commanded.
Sheppard looked around the room at those assembled. "We've decided it best if we go in a cloaked Jumper. Two teams, my team and a team of Marines for backup. The doc comes along to remove the device but she stays with the Marines and the jumper. Pretty much standard re-con on a known hostile planet. We're hoping the planet itself will be relatively benign, but the tracking device could draw Wraith at any point so we have to be ready for that," Sheppard outlined.
"If we can't get to the Runner in two days, we abort. Anyone of our people gets hurt, we abort. Any sign of Wraith, we abort," he added firmly.
Weir debated. She knew how much they wanted to rescue the runners that were out there, but she had to balance the safety of Atlantis against rescuing a single person. Well, as many as five single persons. Just one at a time.
Looking at Ronon, she said, "Anything goes wrong, you'll abort?"
She heard Sheppard agree but she trusted the acceptance in the Satedan's eyes. For she knew this was Ronon's idea. He knew if Weir turned them down, Sheppard won't do this and that made Ronon willing to agree to that limitation. Ronon understood that he owed them too much to go against Weir's decision. He also understood the thin line that kept Atlantis safe and he didn't want to be the one who crossed it.
"You have a go then," Weir told them. "Be careful."
"Yes, ma'am," Sheppard replied.
Two days later, the Jumper went through the Gate to P3R-947. Teyla had no knowledge of any of the planets they were considering so Sheppard, Ronon and Rodney looked over the options and decided that this was the best choice for their first attempt. The planet was in the Ancient database, not that there was much information there, but any information was better than none. The planet was listed as uninhabited which made it ideal for a Runner and less likely to attract more than one or two Wraith. Without a population to cull, they had to hope that a Wraith cruiser wouldn't have any interest in the planet.
They set up what little camp they were going to set up a short distance from the Gate. Once they had the Runner, they didn't want any Wraith who came looking later to associate anything back to Atlantis, so the goal was to disturb as little as possible. John set the Jumper down on rocky soil at the edge of an open field not too far from where Rodney told him the Runner's signal was. The Jumper stayed cloaked and the Marines set up a security perimeter.
Rodney had devised a hand-held signal tracker based on the long range tracking system he had used in Atlantis to originally track Ronon. Since they only need to track the signal on the planet, they didn't need the power of the city system. "Not too far in that direction," Rodney pointed.
The direction Rodney was pointing toward was deeper into a forested area that was similar to Rodney's image of the Florida Everglades. Tall trees, dark spaces and very wet.
"Come on," Ronon waved once they had the perimeter set up.
"Oh, sure," Rodney complained, "drag the poor scientist into a swamp."
"Swamps are good hiding places," Ronon informed them. "The water seems to dampen the signal. Just wet living there, is all. Gets old fast."
Sheppard and Rodney followed Ronon into the swamp on a relatively direct path to the signal. The ground was wet but the trees were relatively far apart and there were no obvious bodies of water. Rodney couldn't help but think of quicksand and snakes. He didn't see any snakes and he had to trust that Ronon would find the quicksand before he fell into it.
"Good thing you didn't make us walk half way across this planet," Rodney ranted. "Bad enough that you're dragging me into a swamp. Who knows what kinds of creatures live in it. This detector isn't meant to pick up smaller life forms and if I get bit by anything, I'm not going to be happy."
"McKay!" Sheppard growled, rolling his eyes. "Focus."
"Just saying," Rodney huffed. "Wait. This way..." He pointed slightly to the left of their current path.
Teyla and two of the Marines worked their way around to their left, hoping to limit the movement of the runner. Ronon went first, looking for traps in the path they were taking. John and Rodney took turns following next allowing John to scout either side of the path they were taking. He didn't let Rodney get too far behind, but with only three of them he had to let Rodney bring up the rear on occasion. The thought was that too many people would alert the Runner to their presence and they didn't want to spook him into hiding or moving away from them.
Rodney looked up from his tracking device. Ronon was a short distance ahead and John was on one side of the path Ronon was following. "Very close," he warned Sheppard and Ronon. He took another step forward and then stopped. "Uh, guys..."
Sheppard heard the tone of Rodney's voice and looked back to see Rodney standing still with his hands slightly away from his body. Ronon turned around to take in the tableau.
"Rodney?" Sheppard asked warily.
"Something that feels remarkably like a gun in my back," Rodney replied with only a slight wobble in his voice.
Ronon moved toward the scientist but Rodney put up a hand. "Don't think you should do that," Rodney warned. The gun -- or whatever it was, but Rodney was falling on the side of it being dangerous -- had poked sharply into his back as Ronon moved.
Rodney took a deep breath. "Listen. We're here to help you," he informed the unseen person behind him. "If you're running from the Wraith, we can protect you." Rodney shifted. "Ow. You don't need to poke that thing into me so hard."
Ronon added, "I was a runner. These people helped me. They can help you."
"We can take the device out of you," Sheppard put in.
A slight figure stepped out from behind Rodney. The runner continued to hold a weapon on Rodney and looked over the other two carefully. The figure was shorter than Rodney, which was why the others couldn't see him initially. He wore baggy clothes and had a hood over his head, and they couldn't tell anything about the Runner. "Device?" asked a soft voice.
"It's how the Wraith track you," Ronon explained patiently. He was surprised the runner didn't know that. The Wraith had been very careful in spelling out to him how they would track him. "How did you think they follow you?"
"They can hear my heartbeat," the figure said.
Ronon shook his head. "No. There is a device implanted in your back. The signal from the device brings them to you. These people can remove it."
The figure shook his head slowly. "No."
"Listen," Rodney asked carefully. "Can you aim that somewhere else?" He indicated the weapon still in his side.
Rodney sighed. "Thought so." He looked to Sheppard. "Any ideas?"
Sheppard shrugged, careful to not move more than his shoulders. "Fresh out."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Thanks. For nothing."
"You're welcome. Any time."
The figure watched as Rodney and Sheppard bantered back and forth. There was a sense of... confusion...
Just then a stunner blast hit the Runner. Teyla and the Marines stepped into the small clearing.
"You certainly took your time," Rodney complained, moving away from the still figure.
"I wanted to be sure we did not harm you, Rodney," Teyla explained patiently.
Sheppard squatted down to examine the fallen runner. He moved the weapon out of reach and pulled back the head gear to carefully loosen the fastenings around the Runners neck -- searching for additional weapons. He looked up in amazement, "It's a girl!"
Ronon came up on the other side and looked down. "I didn't think there were any female runners. The stories always speak of male runners," he said softly. John can hear the distress in Ronon's voice.
John stood and directed, "No time to dissect that here, let's get her back to the jumper so Keller can do her thing."
Ronon leaned down and carefully picked up the slight form to carry her back to the camp.
The Marines with Teyla had already called ahead to warn Dr. Keller they were coming in. She was waiting for them. After their experience with the paranoid Ronon, they knew they would have to work quickly. "Doc," Sheppard warned her, "Teyla had to stun her."
"Her?" Keller looked startled.
John nodded. "We'll figure it out later," he told the doctor. Ronon laid the unconscious figure on the flat space in the Jumper that Keller would use as a field operating table.
Keller shifted into professional mode. "Okay, clear out. This won't take long." She and her assistant moved in concert to work on the runner. Less than 20 minutes later, she brought a small device out of the Jumper. "Here it is," she said, dropping the device in Rodney's outstretched hand.
"Did we find a place to put this?" Rodney asks.
"Ruins about a half an hour's walk from here," John told him. "We should find what we need there."
"We?" Rodney complained.
"Wouldn't want to let you feel left out," Sheppard grinned. "Not that far."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Sure we can't take the Jumper?" Seeing that Sheppard wasn't going to back down from the walk he sighed. "Oh, all right. Let's get going so we can get back."
"Before any Wraith come," Ronon pointed out.
"Right. Remind me," Rodney complained, but he was ready to go quickly. Leaving Keller and the Marines with the Runner, Sheppard, Rodney, Ronon and Teyla set out for the ruins they had picked out. Since the ruins weren't too far from the edge of the swamp, the walk was flat and only the relatively high humidity kept the hike from being easy. They all were sweating lightly by the time they reached their target.
Rodney and Ronon discussed their options while Sheppard and Teyla kept watch. Just because the planet was supposed to be uninhabited and there were no readings on the life signs detector was no reason to let down their guard.
"Colonel?" came Rodney's voice over the radio. "Think we can set off a teeny bit of C-4?"
"Let me see what you want to do," Sheppard replied. He signaled Teyla to come in with him.
Sheppard found Ronon and Rodney standing next to a pile of rubble. "If we set off a teeny bit of C-4 about here," Rodney pointed, "I think it should look like the Runner got buried under an accidental slide. The stack looks precarious at a glance, although it's really relatively stable, but unless the Wraith do some forensics, it should look like an accident. And unless they dig up the rubble, they shouldn't know there isn't a body under there."
Sheppard looked carefully at the pile and tilted his head, figuring the least amount of C-4 he could use to accomplish what Rodney was suggesting. "Okay, this should work," he agreed. "Put the device in the hole and then get back." John took a chunk from the C-4 he had in his vest and put a blasting cap in it. He moved back with the others and warned, "Big boom." He set off the charge.
"Big boom?" Rodney said incredulously.
"Tired of 'fire in the hole,'" Sheppard shrugged. "How does it look?"
Rodney and Ronon walked carefully around the new pile of rubble. Ronon kicked a couple of rocks around. "You go to the edge of the trees, let me cover our tracks," he directed. He joined the others a few minutes later, "All set."
The walk back was silent, each lost in their own thoughts. They got back to the Jumper to find minor chaos.
"I have her lightly sedated, but she's fighting pretty hard," Keller warned John. Her 'this is your fault' went unsaid.
"Did you get anything sensible from her?" Ronon asked.
"Her name is Pehn, but other than that, pretty much nothing that makes any sense," Keller told them.
"She didn't seem to know, or understand, about the device," Rodney mused.
"Can we talk to her?" Teyla asked.
"Be my guest," Keller replied. "I've done everything I'm going to without taking her back to Atlantis. It was a small incision and the stitches will absorb in a few days. She's all yours."
Teyla moved to sit close enough to Pehn to talk but far enough away to not intimidate the Runner. Still slightly under the influence of the stun and the anesthetics, she looked even younger than she had before. The Runner panted slightly, obviously fighting the sedation, and looked around warily.
"Do you have any family we can take you to?" Teyla asked softly.
Pehn shook her head and wrapped her arms about herself. "They're all gone," she said sadly in a sing-song voice. "All gone." She tilted her head. "The Wraith listen for my heartbeat. Can't go home."
Patiently, Teyla asked, "Is there somewhere we can take you?" They didn't want to leave her here -- she'd be alone and the tracking device would still be on the planet.
"They'll hear me wherever I go," Pehn replied resignedly. She moved restlessly. As the anesthetic started to wear off, she edged further away from Teyla. Only the obvious presence of the Marines around the perimeter seemed to stop her from bolting.
Teyla turned to the others. "I suspect she cannot tell us much more," she decided. "Where can we take her?"
"Someplace warm," Pehn sighed, unexpectedly. "To be warm would be so nice." Her face looked hopeful and not for the first time Sheppard wondered how old she was. On Earth he would have labeled her a teen-ager, but he knew that was probably misleading.
John considered for a moment but took the chance. "Proculus?" he floated to the group. He saw Rodney's eyes narrow, but Rodney seemed to be thinking about it.
"Maybe they can help her there," Teyla added.
Ronon looked between them having heard some of the story about Chaya, but now was even more curious. He'd get the full story from Teyla later.
John waited for Rodney to decide. Rodney sighed, "It's as good an option as any, I guess." He looked John in the eye, "But we only drop and run. We don't stay any longer than we have to."
John relaxed slightly and promised, "Not a moment longer."
"Do we know why the Wraith made her a Runner?" Weir asked at the debriefing.
John shrugged. "No idea," John told her. "We've talked about it and there's no telling what attracted the Wraith to Pehn. She had no idea of what she really was doing and really believed the Wraith were tracking her heartbeat. Leaving Pehn on Proculus was the only option that made sense in the end since she's incapable of taking care of herself."
"Agreed," Weir told them.
"We didn't get to really see it, but I suspect she was fast," Ronon put in. "Maybe the Wraith figured what she lacked in strength she made up in speed." He shrugged. It was all guesswork and there was no telling what the Wraith were thinking. "Maybe she was just convenient."
"How did she end up where you found her?" Weir asked, looking at Ronon.
"Once the Wraith send you through the first gate, you're pretty much on your own," Ronon informed them. "You get gate addresses from others as you go along and have to hope they're good. Many are eager to send you to uninhabited planets to make sure you don't attract the Wraith to them."
"What prevents you from going through to an orbital gate?" Rodney asked in dawning realization.
"Nothing," Ronon replied flatly. "That's the risk you take." He was silent for a minute. "Sometimes you hoped for an orbital gate," he said grimly. The look on his face stopped them from asking any questions.
Breaking the silence, Weir asked, "Anything else?" Seeing nothing, she said, "Dismissed."
Later that night in the lab, John stopped to talk to Rodney. "Missed you at dinner," he offered.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Busy. Do you know what they almost did while I was gone?" he started. He stopped himself and waited.
Into the silence John offered, "Sorry. It was the only reasonable thing I could think of." He held something out. "They had chocolate pudding. Saved you one." He placed the pudding cup and a spoon on Rodney's workbench.
Rodney looked long and hard at John. "Think one measly pudding cup is going to do it?" he asked, reaching for the dessert.
"I know where there's more," John suggested.
"You better," Rodney said through a mouthful of pudding. "And the next Runner we rescue? We have a better plan before we start. None of this inventing at the last minute." Rodney pointed the spoon at John, "You got lucky this time."
John hid the grin and agreed, "Yes, Rodney.