Word count: 2100
Rating/Warning: PG -- and it's an apocalypse, that's the warning...
For apocalypse_kree Prompt: 37. Any. "For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return." - Leonardo Da Vinci
They never looked up anymore…
It took John a couple of months – at least he thought they were months, it was hard to tell – to realize that he and Rodney never looked up. That looking at the sky – especially the night sky – reminded them too much of what they had lost.
Today, they were watching their footing… the ground was rocky and it would be too easy to twist an ankle. John's mind skittered away from anything more serious than a twisted ankle. John had at least been in his combat boots when they escaped through the Gate, but Rodney had only had sneakers. They had traded the sneakers for leather boots… hmmm…. about six planets ago. But the leather boots didn't have the same support that the combat boots did.
"Ready for a break?" John asked. He wasn't really tired or anything, but since they really weren't on a schedule, it didn't matter.
"Sure," Rodney agreed. Rodney's stamina had increased the longer they had been away from Atlantis. John never really had babied him, but now Rodney could keep up with no problem.
Rodney found a clear area with some boulders to rest against. They took off their backpacks and sat on the warm rock.
"At least it's a nice day," John observed.
"This would be hell in the rain," Rodney agreed.
"Or the snow," John had to add.
Rodney looked around. "Not sure they would get a lot of snow around there. It seems to be a… temperate climate. So, rain, yes, snow, rarely."
"I guess that's good," John replied.
"Gonna piss," Rodney said, standing up.
"Probably a good idea," John agreed. "Not sure how much further we have to go. You go first."
They had learned the hard way not to piss at the same time. Even if they only opened their flies to urinate, someone really needed to be on watch at all times. If it wasn't other travelers – or bandits – it was animals. Although there was that one really odd bush that John refused to think about.
The next village was their current destination. It was something Rodney had remembered Teyla talking about at one time and they had a faint hope of at least leaving a message… if anyone else even escaped.
The Pegasus version of the Asgard had come back to Atlantis – with a vengeance. They had laid low long enough, and the Lanteans were busy enough fighting the last of the Wraith, that they had dropped off John's radar. It wasn't until they had – again – punched through the city in several places that the Lanteans were aware of them.
Rodney had been fussing with the Gate that morning, looking to see if he could speed up the dialing sequence. In case of an emergency. The irony of that wasn't lost on them, when they had a chance to think about it.
John had been hanging around, since watching Rodney work had always trumped doing paperwork, when the Asgard hit. Calls came streaming in from all over the city, reporting severe damage and numerous Asgard in their protective suits.
Woolsey had stood on the balcony that looked over the Gate room and called over the communicator to John, "Colonel, I think this is a Blue Bird. Do what you can. Good luck and Godspeed."
They had laughed at one point, coming up with silly names for various disaster plans. Blue Bird was the ultimate evacuation plan… don't stop for anything, get to the Gate and get to wherever you could dial out to.
"Rodney! Blue bird!" John had shouted across the gate room. Rodney's wide eyes told John he understood as he started dialing the gate. He waited two heartbeats for the gate to connect and stabilize before reaching into the console for the control crystal.
John had grabbed four of the pre-packed backpacks they had stashed near the gate for such an emergency, and shouted at Chuck to grab what he could carry. They got twenty people through the gate before it shut down. John hoped no one was in transit when it did.
Rodney immediately started dialing another address and John ushered everyone through to the new address. It was their 'delta' site – suitable for short term stays but not really habitable for long periods. The level of radiation was marginally high and there was limited drinkable water. What it did have was a cache of weapons and supplies.
They waited there for three days before deciding no one else would be showing up. John knew that Zelenka, who hadn't made it out with them, knew where Rodney had stashed the secondary gate control crystal for the city. It would dial a Pegasus gate, just not Earth. They had to consider that Zelenka had died in the invasion or he couldn't get to the gate. Either way, it wasn't safe to stay here any longer.
John had taken the eleven scientists in the group, plus Chuck Campbell, to live with Keras and his people. He knew the adults would stand out among the children but they'd have the best chance of survival there. Keras invited him to stay but John needed to look for other options.
Besides the scientists, there was John and Rodney, Chuck, four Marines and two Air Force pilots.
Fortunately, the six soldiers all had SERE training before coming to Atlantis and the Marines had significant Gate experience. He let them break themselves up into two groups of three.
"The goal is to find the Travelers," John briefed them. "We know they have some planet side communities but we don't know where. Rodney's going to give each of you a series of gate coordinates you can start with."
"What about you, sir?" Captain Matias asked.
"I'm going to do the same thing with McKay," John answered. "I know traveling in pairs isn't necessarily a good idea but we'll manage."
"Sergeant Campbell would be a good third for you," Matias pushed.
"I'm leaving him in charge here," John said. "I need someone who can work with Keras as well as the scientists. He's also going to protect the gate crystal. We can't leave that just laying around anywhere."
"I still don't like it," Matias had said.
"I don't like it either," John admitted. "But it's what we have to work with."
Rodney had sighed but otherwise remained silent.
"We're looking for a ride and a way to send a message back to Earth," John said. "If we can get to a planet that had an Ancient DHD, then we can see about using the crystal to at least send a message. If we can get a ride, we can see about getting a team sent back to Earth. Either way, the Travelers are the only ones with enough technology to be helpful."
Rodney had figured out a long time ago that the crystal from Atlantis wasn't interchangeable with every other gate crystal. It would work in any gate but only dial Earth in specially built DHDs. And, of course, the only known compatible DHDs were on the Genii home world and a Wraith held planet. Rodney was convinced there were more out there, he just had no idea where they might be.
Rodney briefed the two teams on what to look for and, when they found the correct configuration, how to conduct a basic test to see if the DHD would be viable for a call to Earth.
They had worked out a plan that John knew was sketchy at best. They'd check out the planets they could and check back in to the delta site every six to eight weeks. They worked out basic message codes for a variety of good and bad situations. If anyone found an Earth capable DHD, they were to immediately come back to the delta site and leave a message. If there was no response to a message in three visits to the delta site, the team with the information could then go to Chuck and Keras, and try to dial Earth on their own. But they wanted to stay away from M7G-677 unless it was an emergency; they didn't want to direct any attention to that location.
The first couple of months, John had been optimistic that they would find a lead of some sort to the Travelers. He and Rodney had struck out on the planets they had explored so far. They were going through the extensive list of gate addresses Rodney had remembered, trying to see what other options they might have.
They had checked back at the delta site twice. They found no messages left at all. John had to hope that the other teams had simply been delayed, but deep down he was worried. No messages at all was not good news.
"What next?" Rodney asked after he and John had both pissed.
John rubbed his forehead. "I don't know," he admitted. "I'm out of suggestions."
"Do we go back to Chuck and Keras?" Rodney asked. "Just to see if we've missed the others somehow."
"Is that giving up?" John was forced to ask.
Rodney's silence told him there was no good answer to that.
"Should we try to dial Atlantis?" Rodney asked. "Just once?"
"Is it worth the risk?" John asked.
Rodney shrugged. "Are there any other options?"
"Where else can we leave messages, in case the Daedalus comes looking for us?" John asked.
"Assuming they don't get taken over by the Asgard if they show up over Atlantis," Rodney grumped.
"Way to think positive," John grinned.
It was worth it to see Rodney give a small smile.
"We've left messages at all the sites the Daedalus would check," John said. "If they're going to find us, we've done what we can."
They sat in silence.
"Let's give this village another hour and if we don't see anything, we'll go back to the delta site one more time," John suggested.
"Okay," Rodney agreed.
The village was long empty when they finally found it. It didn't look like it was the result of a Wraith culling, so they were leery of spending any time there. They trudged back to the gate.
The delta site was still empty when they arrived there. They set up camp a small distance from the site, settling in.
"We should try Atlantis," Rodney said.
"Okay," John agreed. "From… P47-3YT."
"That works," Rodney replied sleepily.
John knew they should set a guard but didn't have the strength to do it. He rolled next to Rodney and fell asleep.
They went to P47-3YT and set up for multiple contingencies.
Rodney dialed the gate and, as the connection was established, ducked down behind the pile of rocks they had set up.
"Atlantis? This is Sheppard," John called over the communicator.
They waited. Nothing.
They waited for the Gate to close on its own.
"Now what?" John asked after the Gate shut down.
"I think I can work around the shield," Rodney said. "My backdoor should still be there."
"Think? Or are you sure?" John asked.
"Damn it, John!" Rodney was suddenly furious. "We have to try."
"Walk me through it, then we'll see," John compromised.
"Okay," Rodney agreed, mollified. But John could see he was grateful for something that would feel productive.
They went back to the delta site, for lack of better ideas. Rodney used the solar charger at the site to run his laptop, which limited his working time. John didn't push, glad for the respite from searching.
"I'm ready," Rodney announced a week later. John was glad to hear it, since they were pushing their luck on the radiation limits at this point.
"How do you want to do this?" John asked.
"Let's go back to P47-3YT and try it from there," Rodney suggested.
"Show me what you got," John said.
John made Rodney walk him through every step of the code, making him defend every line. They took three days to examine it before John decided it should work.
They took a couple more days to leave additional messages at all of the agreed-upon drops in case one of the other teams came back or the Daedalus showed up.
That night, John sat up with Rodney and they looked up at the stars together.
They went to P47-3YT and set up. Rodney dialed Atlantis and John called, "Atlantis, this is Sheppard. Come in."
They waited 20 minutes with the Gate open before John ordered, "Send the signal to open the shield."
Rodney pressed the key on the computer. "Sent."
John came up and stood next to Rodney. "Ready?"
They stepped into the event horizon together.