Spoilers: S5 casting only
Summary: During a routine flight, the jumper suffers serious damage, stranding an injured Lorne and Zelenka on an uninhabited world.
A/N: Thanks to kristen999 for the beta. All faults mine.
Radek leaned back in his chair, pulling off his glasses with a sigh. The tension headache that had been building throughout the morning had eaten its way down his neck and burrowed behind his shoulder blades. The past week was one he never wanted to repeat – a frantic search for Colonel Sheppard’s team followed by a difficult rescue and a battle to keep them alive. Add to that having to do his regular job plus Rodney’s. Groaning, he dug the heels of his palms into his eyes then slid his glasses back on. The sanitation system picked the worst times to malfunction. What he wouldn’t give for a vacation.
“Dr. Zelenka, this is Falducci. Corporal Windsor reports the blockage has been cleared. I’ve reset the system.”
A quick glance showed green across the board. “Understood. Bringing it back online now.” Radek’s fingers danced across the controls. “Everything appears to be flowing properly. Good work, Tony.”
“I would like for you and Ingmar to take the maintenance system apart as soon as possible. Find out why the automatic cleansers didn’t activate.”
“Will do. Falducci out.”
Zelenka stood, stretched until his spine cracked, and really saw his office for the first time in days. Cups of moldy coffee clumped on every table. Laptops, computer parts, PDAs, tablets, and several Ancient devices were scattered around the room, and at least three different uniform jackets were draped on his chair.
Clutter drove him crazy. Rolling up his sleeves, he tackled the mess and was putting away the last of the mugs when his radio chirped.
“This is Zelenka.”
“Sir, Dr. Coleman is checking in from M3U-874. She’s asked to speak to you.”
“I’ll be right there.”
When Radek reached the control room, Chuck transferred the feed to a nearby monitor.
Coleman nodded. “Radek.”
“How’s the analysis?”
Something flickered in her expression. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I don’t think that it’s a power generation research facility. I’m transmitting the data to you now.”
When the download was complete, Radek scrolled through the information, his jaw slowly dropping. He reran it, headache forgotten in his giddiness. “Nina, do you know what this means?”
She grinned at him, eyes dancing. “That I’ll be here for a while?”
“And you’re going to have company. Lots of company.”
“Are you coming too?”
Radek shook his head wearily. “Not at first. Maybe in a day or two.”
“I’ll see you when you get here. Coleman out.”
He stared at the darkened screen, his mind lost in the possibilities, until a voice calling his name broke the reverie.
Chuck was watching him with a bemused expression. “You okay, Doc?”
“Yes, yes. I’m fine. Please tell Mr. Woolsey I need to see him immediately.”
Radek hovered in the doorway of the critical care area, hesitant to intrude. He, along with the rest of the expedition, tended to think of Sheppard and his team as indestructible. Time and again they had managed narrow escapes with minimal injuries. This was not one of those times.
Ronon had awoken first, screaming. It had taken two orderlies, four marines, and the strongest sedative Dr. Keller had to keep him from tearing the place apart. Even drugged, he’d gotten away from them. They found him in Colonel Sheppard’s room, curled on the floor next to the bed. After Teyla woke in the same panic, the medical staff spent a day and a night trying to calm her and find Ronon before giving up and moving them all into one room.
They now sat back to back between the beds Colonel Sheppard and Rodney occupied. The colonel had suffered the worst injuries, still on lifesupport after three days and two major surgeries. Teyla gently stroked his arm, carefully avoiding the IV lines and broken fingers. The hiss and whoosh of the ventilator and the beep of the heart monitor provided an unusual harmony to the melody she hummed. Ronon had a hand firmly clamped around Rodney’s wrist as he slept curled on his side, facing his team.
“Radek?” Dr. Keller prodded as she stopped beside him.
She smiled tiredly as she massaged her neck. “Some. Rodney has shown signs of waking, and Colonel Sheppard’s vitals have stabilized. You can go in, you know.”
“I don’t want to disturb them.” He handed her a memory stick. “If Rodney wakes up while I’m gone, show him this.”
Dr. Keller took the drive and slipped it in a pocket. “What is it?”
“He won’t be up to working for quite some time.”
“It isn’t work. At least he wouldn’t consider it to be. We’ve been searching for a place like this since we arrived.” Radek grinned at her. “Trust me. It will make him feel better.”
“What kind of-”
She broke off when one of Colonel Sheppard’s monitors shrieked, racing over as Teyla shouted for help and Ronon leapt to his feet, wild-eyed. Rodney whimpered, reaching blindly for the broken contact. Medical personnel gently ushered Ronon and Teyla out of the way. Ronon resisted for a second before relenting and pushing Teyla’s wheelchair to the other side of Rodney’s bed then stationing himself at the foot. When Teyla brushed a hand through his hair, Rodney reacted immediately, rolling toward the touch. She twined her fingers through his, and Ronon squeezed his leg. Rodney shuddered once then dropped deeper into sleep.
Radek shook his head as he backed out silently and headed to the jumper bay. He’d worked closely with people before, had formed friendships, but he’d never experienced that kind of bond. When McKay had announced he was joining Colonel Sheppard’s team, Radek had nodded politely, personally thinking Rodney insane. They could spend a lifetime on Atlantis, studying her, discovering her secrets. What could the man possibly hope to accomplish by running around the galaxy pretending to be a soldier?
The times Radek had been off-world had been enjoyable – except for that time on the planet with the kids – but even though he had done good work and had made a difference, he had no interest in joining an off-world team, declining every offer. But sometimes he glimpsed a strength in Rodney that hadn’t been there before, a confidence that had nothing to do with intelligence, and wondered if he was missing something important.
The ramp to Jumper Four was open when he reached the bay. He tossed his bag on the rear passenger chair and sat down, surprised to find Evan Lorne in the pilot’s seat.
“Hey, Doc. Ready to go?”
“Yes. I apologize for my tardiness. I had a stop to make.”
Lorne began his preflight check. “I stopped by this morning. The colonel and McKay are going to hate missing this.”
“I am certain Rodney will find a thousand things wrong with what I’ve done.”
“Nah. He’ll be too busy arguing with Sheppard about what to name it.” Lorne keyed his comms. “Flight, this is Jumper Four. We are ready to depart.”
“Jumper Four, Flight. You have a go.”
Radek settled back as the engines fired and the jumper lifted. “I wasn’t expecting you today. I thought Dr. Keller had taken you off duty.”
“Off mission rotation. For a week. She thought we needed some downtime after the rescue op. I told her flying across a solar system would be cathartic.” Lorne grinned at him as the ship rotated and began its descent into the gateroom. “Besides, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check this place out.” He shot Radek a hopeful glance. “I don’t suppose we could get a few custom jobs. You know – cloaks and shields, bathroom facilities, seatbelts…”
Radek smiled. Pilots and their aircraft. “We might want to learn how to make the basic model before we start customizing them.”
“Ah, well, didn’t hurt to ask.”
Lorne and his men had taken quite a beating during the rescue of Colonel Sheppard’s team, and Radek took a moment to examine the major’s face as the jumper drifted downward. The shimmering blue highlighted Lorne’s haggard appearance – smudges under his eyes, new lines on his forehead, a not-quite-healed split lip and a bullet graze to his temple.
But he grinned like a kid as he gripped the controls and turned to Radek. “Ready?”
Radek stifled a laugh and nodded. Maybe flying really was cathartic.
They shot into the wormhole…
…and blasted out the other side straight into a meteor shower.
Lorne blanched, his grip turning white-knuckled. “What the hell?” The jumper shuddered as rock peppered it like hail on a tin roof. “Doc?”
“I don’t know. Yet.”
Radek frowned at the HUD display, the information zipping by faster than his eyes could track. The jumper bumped, dropped, rolled to the left. He clawed at the arm of his chair only to be flung against the right hull when the inertial dampeners fluctuated as the jumper dipped and rolled the opposite way.
“I don’t know! There shouldn’t be anything here. No asteroid belts, no nearby comets. The debris from the wrecked hive is on the other side of the moon.”
“Can you convert the cloak to a shield?”
“Not in time. Can you get us out of here?”
“I’m trying.” The veins and tendons in Lorne’s neck bulged as he fought the controls. “I can’t find a clear path, and most of this…stuff is too small for drones to hit.” His eyes widened. “Hang on!”
The jumper spun crazily, the spacegate, a planet, and a nearby moon chasing each other across the viewport as they tumbled.
They listed sideways then flipped again, a drone shattering the large meteor that tumbled toward them.
“Major, that planet is getting very large.”
The jumper somersaulted again then flattened out. Radek caught a glimpse of the moon – rocky, pock-marked, and barren – with a newly-formed crater still spewing rock. Then the planet filled the windshield.
Lorne grimaced as they rolled right then slowly straightened. “Sorry. She’s sluggish.”
The HUD flickered, flashing warnings of imminent hull breaches and system overloads.
“I’ve got to set her down, Doc.”
“This isn’t the right planet. Our people are on the other side of the solar system.”
“I know that, but we aren’t going to make it there. I need to land. Now.”
The jumper rocked wildly as they entered the atmosphere. Just before they broke through the cloud cover, the jumper bucked with a roar and a gut-wrenching shriek. Radek braced his hands on the console, his teeth rattling from the bone-jarring vibrations.
“We lost the right drive pod!” Lorne shouted.
They skimmed treetops in a flat spin then rolled.
“God, I can’t… Hang on, Doc!”
The left drive pod hit first, flipping the ship back into the air. Lorne slammed chest first into the control console and went limp, flopping like a ragdoll as the jumper’s belly smashed into the forest, mowing a path through the woods until it reached a clearing. It plowed a sideways furrow in the dry prairie grass then slid into a large lake, jerking to a halt when its nose struck bottom.
Radek smacked into the bulkhead with a dull thud and slumped in his seat, unable to fight off the darkness any longer.
Blinking woozily, Radek frowned as he tried to focus, his vision blurry and strangely beveled. He reached for his face and stifled a cry as the right half of his body screamed in protest. Gasping led to coughing, and he couldn’t hold in a moan at the jagged bolts of pain that shot through his ribcage. Panting shallowly, he waited for the lightheadedness to subside then gritted his teeth and pushed himself upright.
His spectacles slid off his nose, the shattered glass dissolving as the frames hit the console. He chuckled at himself. No wonder he couldn’t see. The warm trickle on his temple stained his fingertips red, and a knot was forming where his head had bounced off the wall repeatedly. The air smelled of sparked electricity and burnt wiring, and when he shifted again, broken glass and crystals crunched around him.
“Major Lorne?” he rasped.
Only the pop of frying circuits and the creak of warped metal answered. Radek cautiously rolled his head to the side. Lorne was splayed across the console, blood pooling beneath his face and dripping from his chin.
“Major? Can you hear me?” Zelenka’s heart began to pound again. “Major!”
Not even a flinch.
“Oh no, please, do not be dead.”
Using the controls for leverage, Radek pushed to his feet, taking a few deep breaths as his legs shook and his body throbbed. He braced a hand on the console for balance while he staggered to Lorne’s side and pressed fingers to his neck, finally finding a weak, thready pulse.
“Do not scare me like that.”
Even without his glasses, Radek could see how awful Lorne looked. His pale skin was almost translucent, and blood dribbled from his nose, mouth, and several gashes on his forehead.
The jumper looked as if a bomb had gone off inside. The panel covers of the wall consoles dangled, revealing broken and blackened crystals. The overhead bin netting had ripped, and the bench seats had jarred open, the contents scattered in disarray on the floor. Radek sorted through the supplies, searching for anything of use. He separated food and water from medical provisions, loaded a handgun and tucked it in his belt, and hauled all the equipment to the front, poking gingerly through it.
“I am sorry to report that we have crashed, Major.” Radek pulled a medical scanner from the pile and pointed it at Lorne, scowling when the screen stayed dark. “Do you know how many medical facilities there are on Atlantis?” He flipped it over. “Forty-seven. It took two of my people three days to go through every facility to find enough of these that functioned for all the jumpers. Dr. Keller insisted.” He poked at a few buttons and finally slapped it. “You’d think I would have learned how to turn it- Ah!”
The scanner lit. He waved it over Lorne’s head and body, groaning in dismay at the incomprehensible displays.
“I cannot make sense of the…”
Ancient text filled the screen. He squinted at it, rapidly translating the diagnosis in his head.
“Oh, not good.” He glanced up, wondering if Lorne could hear him. “That is to say, you’ve been better. You have head trauma, probably a severe concussion, and several broken ribs plus some internal bleeding. No spinal injuries. That’s good. You shouldn’t move, though. There’s a nasty piece of metal embedded in your right shoulder, but then I guess you don’t need me to tell you that.”
On a whim, Radek turned the scanner on himself and waited for the diagnosis.
“Hmmm… A concussion and a couple of cracked ribs. I guess wrenched shoulders and bruises are not important enough to appear on here.”
Radek set the scanner and handgun in the chair behind Lorne and located a blister pack of Tylenol and a bottle of water, swallowing a lot of both. He shrugged out of his jacket, folding it, and carefully lifted the major until he could slide the soft material between Lorne’s head and the console. He found a few antiseptic wipes and cleaned off as much of the blood as he could then gently bandaged the man’s shoulder, careful to not jar the shrapnel.
“What to do next?” Radek spotted his tablet underneath the co-pilot’s chair. “Of course. Communications.”
He eased into his chair with a wince.
“I believe what we experienced was a meteor shower resulting from an impact to the moon. You were probably too busy flying to notice. From the brief glimpse I had, it looked like it had been hit many times in the past, most likely by hive debris.” He frowned at his tablet when it wouldn’t power up, prying off the cover to inspect the circuitry then glancing at the pile of equipment in the floor. “I know I saw a laptop somewhere.”
The jumper’s spare laptop was in worse condition than his tablet. Radek spent a few minutes harvesting parts, squinting and holding the computer at arm’s length. “My glasses are broken. Did I mention that? Repairs don’t normally take me so long, but I can’t...” He slapped his forehead, muttering a curse at the throb it produced. “Forgive me. My concussion seems to have scrambled my brains more than I thought. I have another pair in my bag.”
Radek rummaged through his pack and pulled out the glasses, now splintered and bent. He twisted them until they would at least half sit on his nose and huffed in frustration. The cracks were directly in his line of sight. Adjusting them again, he peered at the tablet, cautiously testing the damaged circuits and replacing them. He was focused, so focused that he almost missed the breathy whisper.
Lorne was staring at him, his eyes glassy and unfocused. Radek gaped for a moment then leapt to his feet, grunting as pain rippled down his side.
“What…” Lorne struggled weakly for a second then slumped. “Doc?”
“What do you remember?”
Lorne’s forehead scrunched. “Going to the infirmary to see the colonel.” His eyes squeezed shut as a shudder ran through him then he squinted at Radek. “Are we in a jumper?”
“Yes, we were on our way to the manufacturing facility. We crashed, well, had a very hard landing anyway. Try not to move. You’ve been injured.”
“Really?” Lorne gasped when he tried to raise his head. “Maybe I shouldn’t move. Any help on the way?”
“Not yet. I’m working on sending a signal.” Radek gestured toward his tablet. “But keep in mind that even after the facility figures out we aren’t coming, they are several hours away. They’ll need to fly at least halfway across the solar system before they can dial Atlantis.”
“So, in for a long wait, huh.”
“Unfortunately. How do you feel?”
“Like I’ve gone ten rounds with Ronon. No wait, worse. Ten rounds with Teyla, a very pissed Teyla. What happened to me? Was I in an accident?”
Alarm shot through Radek. “We crashed, remember?”
Lorne frowned. “I crashed a jumper? No wonder I feel awful.” His eyes drooped to half-mast. “You okay?”
“Yes, I will be fine.” Radek wracked his brain, trying to remember his first aid training. “Am I supposed to keep you awake?”
“Hope not,” Lorne mumbled. “Sleepy.” His eyes shut then bounced open. “Where are we?”
“On the planet near the gate.”
“Can we walk to the gate?”
Radek kept an eye on Lorne while returning to his repair work. “No. It’s a spacegate.”
“Well, that sucks.” Lorne frowned at him. “What happened to you?”
Radek sighed. “You are dreaming, Major. Go back to sleep.”
“Oh.” Lorne’s eyes slid closed again, and he was asleep in seconds.
Radek tweaked and tested and tweaked some more until his tablet slowly booted to life. He peeled off the console cover by his seat, clamped on the connectors, and patiently coaxed the emergency transmitter to life. Power levels were almost depleted – only three hours worth. Most of the systems were completely beyond repair. He spent a little time on the DHD, hoping to be able to dial Atlantis, but only succeeded in shocking himself with a shorted-out circuit. Yelping, he cursed it thoroughly in Czech, adding in a few choice words he’d learned from Ronon.
Chuckling pulled his attention back to Lorne. The major’s eyes were still glassy, but a little color had returned to his face.
“Those Satedans are quite inventive, aren’t they?”
Radek grinned at him. “And apparently very flexible. How do you feel?”
“My head hurts.” Lorne touched fingertips to his forehead with a grimace. “What happened?”
“We have been over this.”
“We have? Where are we?”
Radek explained again, adding a report on his repair work. Lorne frowned and nodded, the confusion evident on his face. He slowly lifted his head then braced his hands against the console and pushed upright.
“Oh, God,” he panted, wrapping his left arm around his middle. “Gonna be sick.”
Radek shot up and turned Lorne’s chair quickly then held the man’s shoulders as he heaved. The major trembled with the effort, slumping weakly in Radek’s grip. Cognizant of the shrapnel, Radek helped Lorne to sit back then brought him a bottle of water and some Tylenol. Lorne swished the water but spit it out and refused the medication.
“Not a good idea right now,” Lorne muttered, clutching his stomach with a moan.
Radek found a clean piece of gauze, wet it, and handed it to Lorne. “Just sit still, Major. Help will be here soon.”
Lorne wiped his mouth with the gauze then dabbed at his forehead. “Evan.”
“After that,” Lorne waved a hand at the vomit in the floor, “I think you can skip the formalities. My name is Evan.”
“Then you must call me Radek.”
Lorne laid his head back and closed his eyes. “Radek it is.” His brows drew together, and he opened one eye. “Where are we?”
Radek gave an exasperated chuckle as he explained again. Mollified, Lorne relaxed and drifted off to sleep. Radek settled back with his tablet, connecting to each crystal in the control panel in hopes he could find one system that worked. He jerked when electricity arced near his head. A cold splash on his knee had him scrambling from under the console. Lorne was out cold.
Radek climbed to his feet and looked at the windshield. He ripped off his glasses and looked again. The cracks weren’t in his glasses, not all of them. The windshield, the fully submerged windshield, was splintering. Visions of Rodney in a flooded jumper leapt to mind. Water was leaking in, sluicing across the consoles, dripping to the floor at an alarming rate.
“Major!” Radek grabbed his bag and began stuffing in equipment and rations. “Major!”
Lorne jerked, frowned. “What? What’s wrong?”
“We’re taking on water. We need to get out of here.”
“We’re what?” Lorne tried to stand, sinking back down as his knees buckled. “What happened?”
“I will explain later.” Radek pulled the hatch release, jammed the handgun in his belt, and slung the pack on his shoulder. “We must go now. Can you walk?”
“Yes.” Lorne pushed against the chair arms then slumped with a gasp and hunched toward his injured shoulder. “But I might need a little help standing.”
Radek grabbed Lorne’s left arm and pulled the man up then wrapped an arm around his waist. They stumbled up the back of the jumper, wavering as it shifted beneath their feet. The rear hatch hung about two meters over the bank.
“I’ll go first,” Lorne said.
“No, no.” Radek tossed the pack to land and peered over the edge again. “I should.”
The jumper quivered again.
“How about we both jump?”
Radek nodded. And jumped.
His knee twisted when he hit the ground, and he fell, hard. Lorne landed beside him with a pained cry, pressing his forehead to the ground as he pulled in agonizing breaths. Metal creaked, and after the windshield gave way with a loud fwhoomp, the jumper disappeared into the lake with a gurgle.
“I’m…all right.” Radek dragged himself to the major’s side. “What did you hurt this time?”
“Aw, hell, I don’t know. What about you?”
“Something is wrong with my knee.” Radek sat up and prodded it gingerly. “Just a slight sprain, I think.”
Lorne wobbled a bit as he rolled to his knees and looked around. “Where are we?”
Radek searched through his bag for more Tylenol and water, handing some to Lorne and swallowing a few himself as he repeated the story.
“So, after ten thousand years, that hive picks today to bump into the moon?” Lorne drawled.
“Not ten thousand. I believe it was destroyed about one year ago.”
Radek nodded. “That was our assessment.”
“What were they doing here?”
“Who? The Wraith?”
Lorne pinched the bridge of his nose, blinking furiously. “Yeah, the Wraith. Why were they here?”
“I- I have no idea.”
The major squinted at Radek then at the landscape. “What’s on this planet?”
“Nothing. The database had a vague reference about a research lab in this system. We scanned this planet first but didn’t find anything. We searched five planets in total before we located the facility on the far side of the system.”
“Why is the spacegate here?”
“I asked the same question. Our scans showed nothing – no life signs, no unusual power readings, no evidence that anyone has ever lived here.”
“What about now?”
Radek frowned at him. “What do you mean?”
“Are you still getting the same readings?”
“I hate concussions,” Radek mumbled, rummaging through his pack. “I have a scanner. Do you have a life signs detector?”
Lorne patted his pockets. “No, it’s in- it was in the jumper.”
Radek set the scanner controls to search for Ancient power signatures and expanded its range to maximum. “I do not understand. I saw the data myself. There was nothing here.”
“Don’t worry about it, Doc.” Lorne pushed unsteadily to his feet. “We see it all the time. It’s a proximity thing. I’m guessing the readings are somewhere inside a five kilometer radius.”
“Just under four.”
“That way.” Radek waved a hand in the direction of wrecked trees and jumper-plowed ground.
Lorne grinned. “At least there’s a clear path. Can you walk?”
“If I have to.”
“You have to. We might not be alone.”
Radek looked at Lorne in alarm as he slowly got up. “Wraith?”
“Maybe. They don’t show up as life signs when they are hibernating.” Lorne pulled his handgun and checked the ammo. “Could be Replicators. Could be anything. Could be nothing. I don’t like being out in the open.”
“And there may be a way to signal Atlantis from wherever that energy reading is.”
Radek stepped carefully, testing how much weight his knee could bear. When it didn’t crumple under him, he followed Lorne into the prairie grass. When the major began to weave, Radek pulled out the medical scanner and pointed it at him. The internal bleeding had not stopped.
“How are you feeling, Major?”
“Not too good,” Lorne admitted. “And it’s Evan. What about you, Doc?”
“Radek. I have had better days. I have also had worse. My brother burned the house down when I was a child. The flames, the heat, the falling timbers… I have never been so scared.”
Lorne winced. “Fire. That’s nasty.” He staggered left, pressing a hand to his temple before moving on. “Got any other family?” he slurred.
“Yes, a sister.”
“I have a sister, too. Erika has two boys. I miss them.”
“Really?” Radek shook his head. “Karel’s son… He is everywhere, in everything.”
“How old is he?”
“Um, four, no five. Six maybe?”
“Dylan and Robbie are about that age.” Evan smiled wistfully. “Little guys get into things. They’re curious. You must have been like that as a kid. Isn’t that why you became a scientist?”
“Yes, but I didn’t break-” Radek paused as a vivid memory of a cookstove in pieces popped in his head.
“See.” Evan shot him a knowing look. “Never met a scientist who wasn’t curious about everything.”
“And you? Were you a curious child?”
“About anything that had to do with flying. Engine mechanics, airspeed and velocity, history of flight. When I was a kid, I convinced my mom to drive across the country during spring break so I could watch the first space shuttle launch.” Evan closed his eyes, weaving slightly. “I can still see it, the smoke billowing as the rockets fired. It was unbelievable.” He chuckled softly as he methodically set one foot in front of the other. “My poor mom had no idea what kind of beast she was feeding. I tried to join the Air Force as soon as we got home.”
“How old were you?”
“Ten.” Evan blinked at him. “I wish she could have seen me fly. Just so she would’ve known the sacrifices were worth it. I dreamed of being an astronaut, and now look at me.” He frowned, looking around. “What happened?”
Radek shook his head and explained again.
“Wow. Guess it’s good thing she doesn’t know about that. She’d be really pissed,” Evan mumbled. “Sheppard’s going to be pissed. He takes it personally when we wreck jumpers.”
“I will build him a new one.”
“You can do that?”
“Maybe. Once we bring the jumper facility online, I’ll know.”
They stumbled on in silence, soaked in sweat by the time they reached the woods. The forest floor was littered with broken treetops. Radek and Evan skimmed the destroyed area, shuffling through thick underbrush in the shade of the sky-high canopy. Only the snap of twigs and ragged breathing broke the hush.
Evan stumbled to a stop, a hand raised in warning as he turned slowly, head tilted. Radek held his breath, listening. Nothing – no birdsong, no insect chirping, no animal rustling.
“Why is it so quiet?” Radek whispered.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Evan pulled his gun and eased off the safety. “Where are we going?”
Radek checked the scanner. “About another kilometer or so deeper in the forest.”
Evan glanced around, his face filled with questions. “What… Never mind. Let’s go. Quietly.”
They limped through the forest as quickly as they could, Radek keeping them pointed in the right direction. The terrain steepened, became rockier. Radek’s knee folded when he slipped on a stone, and he hit the ground with a grunt.
“You okay?” Evan asked.
Radek leaned against a tree, trying to catch his breath. “I hate this planet.”
“You and me both.” Evan squinted into the distance. “Hey, I think I can see it.”
“On the other side of that clump of purple…fern-like things.”
Silver glinted in the midst of the trees, and when Radek pointed his scanner towards it, the energy readings spiked. “I think you are right.”
Evan grinned tiredly and offered a hand. “Then get off your ass and let’s go.”
Radek accepted the hand up and had just found his balance when he heard it – a chittering sound that was somehow both a rumble and a screech. His spine prickled as his eyes met Evan’s.
The undergrowth behind him exploded.
“Move, Radek!” Evan shouted.
A bitter taste filled Radek’s mouth as he staggered forward, flinching away from the bullets blasting past his ear. The creature shrieked while Evan pumped round after round into it. Radek stumbled, fell, scrabbled away. Evan ejected the clip then tucked the gun under his useless right arm and slammed in another clip with his left, planting himself between Radek and the creature and taking aim.
The creature jerked but didn’t go down as the bullets hit home. About the size of a lion, it had an inky black hide with a ridged spine, an elongated snout, and bony fingers ending in razor-sharp claws. Radek scrambled to his feet and hobbled toward the purple ferns and safety. The creature roared and hissed as shot after shot rang out. Then the click of an empty chamber. Radek wheeled in horror.
Evan hurled the gun aside and pulled his knife. “Radek, get out of here!”
Radek knew two things for certain – Evan would fight that creature, and Evan would die. The creature chittered again, advancing slowly. Evan slashed at it awkwardly. Muscles bunched in the creature’s shoulder and back. Radek dropped the pack and pulled the gun from his belt. The creature hissed again then swiped at Evan, batting the man down like a toy, claws slicing through his tac vest. Evan screamed as he landed on his injured shoulder, his body going limp. Radek squinted through his broken glasses and pointed the gun, willing his arm to stop shaking.
He pulled the trigger.
The creature’s head snapped up. It sniffed the air and growled as it stalked toward him. Radek fired again and again, backing up until he collided with a tree. The creature had him trapped, its chittering changing to a trill. Green reptilian eyes were focused completely on him. It reared on its hind legs, preparing for the killing blow.
Radek froze. He was going to die.
A bloody hand reached from behind the creature and silver flashed at its throat. It jerked, staggered sideways, sank to the ground with a gurgle. Evan crashed to his knees then collapsed face down, knife in hand. Radek dropped to his hands and knees, drawing in deep, ragged breaths. Then he crawled to Evan and rolled him over. Claws had ripped through Evan’s vest and uniform to shred the skin underneath. Blood welled, soaking his tattered clothing and pooling beneath him. The bandage on his shoulder was turning crimson, the metal it had been securing now completely buried.
“Do not give up on me now, Evan,” Radek panted, checking the major’s pulse. “Good. Just keep breathing.”
He slung his pack on his back, wrapped his arms around Evan’s chest, and pulled, ignoring the warm fluid staining his hands and clothes. Twenty minutes later, they reached the building. It was barely visible beneath the foliage, but Radek spotted door controls, grasping Evan’s wrist and waving his hand over them. A door slid open with a sigh and a gust of stale air.
Lights flickered on as he staggered in and lowered Evan to the floor. A swipe with the med scanner showed more internal bleeding and the first stages of shock. Radek raked his gaze over the room. Dusty consoles and dead panels. Any other day and Radek would have been salivating at his find, but today he would trade it all for a medical doctor.
“You must hang on a little longer. Help will be here soon. I will find a way.”
Radek emptied the pack. Water, a couple of MREs, a screwdriver, Tylenol, scanners, his tablet. Absolutely nothing that would keep Evan alive. The bag slipped from Radek’s shaking hands as his vision swam. He scanned the room again then stepped closer to inspect the consoles. Most of them appeared to be for data storage and analysis, but one made his heart stutter.
The door had opened and lights had flickered on when they entered so the power source was not fully depleted. Radek pressed on a few keys, but nothing happened. Not having the ATA gene was rarely an issue for him, and he wasn’t going to let it be the cause of Evan’s death.
Radek knelt next to Evan to check his pulse. Still alive. “Evan, can you hear me?”
“There is a DHD. I believe I can call for help, but I need you to activate the console. I know this is going to hurt, but I don’t have any other options.”
Radek dragged Evan to the console, hefting him high enough to flop one arm on it. The panel hummed and lit. He eased Evan to the floor then dialed.
“Radio…where is the radio?”
His earpiece was gone as was Evan’s, and the handheld in Evan’s vest was destroyed. Radek patted down his own vest and pulled out his radio, sagging in relief when static burst from the speaker.
“Atlantis, this is Zelenka. Please respond.”
“This is Atlantis. Good to hear from you, Doc. We were getting worried.”
“Chuck, we have crashed on the planet next to the spacegate. Major Lorne is badly injured. We need a jumper and a medical team.”
“Dr. Zelenka, this is Woolsey. Help is on its way. What happened?”
Radek slid to the floor, his fingers resting on the pulse point on Evan’s wrist, as he explained. Adrenaline vanished, and exhaustion overwhelmed him. His head bobbed toward his chest. Pain ripped through his side and his knee when he jerked awake.
His lids were so heavy.
He would rest, just for a little while.
“Are you there?”
The radio slipped from his fingers.
The touch of gentle hands on his arm woke him. Radek cracked his lids. Soft light silhouetted the form by his bed.
“Oh, you’re awake,” a feminine voice murmured. “Let me get the doctor. I’ll be right back.”
The form flitted away. Clean, cool linens wrapped him in a snug cocoon, and something stiff kept his leg immobile. A cart squeaked in the distance, and the sterile smell of antiseptic permeated the air. The infirmary. The privacy curtain parted, and Dr. Keller entered.
“How are you feeling, Radek?” she asked as she fitted her stethoscope to her ears.
“I have been better. What happened?”
“Your jumper crashed. Do you remember anything?”
The scope’s bell was cold against his chest. “We were on our way to the jumper facility. We-” He sat up in panic, gasping as his ribs screamed their displeasure. “Where is Ev- Major Lorne?”
Dr. Keller pressed a firm hand to his shoulder. “You need to lie down. Your ribs took quite a beating. So did your head.” She pulled a penlight and attacked his eyes. “Major Lorne sustained some serious internal injuries. He is in the critical care area.”
“How is he?”
“He is recovering from surgery.”
“That isn’t what I asked.”
She shook her head ruefully. “I should have known.” She notated his chart then gave him a frank look. “He’s tough, Radek, but he was hurt really bad. One kidney is bruised, and I had to remove his spleen. He lost a lot of blood, and that metal in his shoulder tore up several tendons. It barely missed an artery.”
“Will he live?” Radek whispered.
Dr. Keller squeezed his hand. “Like I said, he’s tough. He should pull through.”
“But you aren’t certain.”
“Nothing in life is certain. But he’s woken up a couple of times already. That’s a good sign.”
“May I see him?”
“Later. You need your rest. Do you need something for the pain?”
Radek hadn’t even noticed the headache or the dull throb in his knee. “Not right now.”
“Okay. I’ll check on you later. Call if you need anything.”
She tugged the curtain closed behind her. Radek waited until her footsteps faded before tossing the blanket back and carefully lifting his leg over the edge of the bed. He held onto the rail as he stood, gripping it tightly until his equilibrium stabilized. A nearby IV pole provided support as he peeked around the edge of the curtain then hobbled through the main ward and ducked down the hall to critical care.
The first room was empty, but he heard talking coming from the second. Rodney sat next to Colonel Sheppard’s bed, one hand clasping the man’s arm.
“…sical therapy, and Teyla’s getting another x-ray. We’re fine, you know. At least we will be. We aren’t dead. Do you hear me? We’re not. I know you think we are. Hell, I thought we were, but we’re not. So it’s okay to wake up now. It’s almost Christmas, and Teyla wants to decorate. Seriously, you have to get me out of stringing garland with Ronon. He thinks it’s funny to hang it higher than I can reach.” Rodney’s head dropped. “Please, John,” he whispered, “please wake up.”
Radek shuffled on, understanding for the first time a little of what Rodney was going through. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe Dr. Keller. He knew she wouldn’t lie to him. But he needed to see for himself, to see Evan’s chest rise and fall, to feel warm skin and a steady pulse. Radek was invested. He and Evan had been through something together, and he wasn’t ready to let it go yet.
Evan was in the next room, surrounded by beeping machines and guarded by a very tall soldier. The man stood when Radek entered.
“Oh, hello,” Radek said. “I did not mean to intrude.”
“You aren’t intruding, Doc.”
“Yes, well, um…” Radek recognized him as a member of Evan’s team. His black eye had faded to a mottled yellow-green, and one arm was still in a sling. Radek wondered when the man had last slept. “Lieutenant…”
“Lieutenant Rivers. I wanted to see how he was doing.”
Rivers’ chin lifted. “The doc says he’s fighting. The major isn’t a quitter.”
“Yes, I know,” Radek murmured.
“I hear you saved his life.”
“Oh, oh, no. He saved mine. I- I didn’t…”
“You got him to safety and got help. That’s good enough for me.” Rivers studied Radek for a moment. “Could you sit with him for a few minutes? I need to hit the head, but I don’t like for him to be alone.”
“Of course. I would be happy to.”
Rivers slipped quietly from the room, and Radek dropped into the vacant chair. Evan had stitches in his forehead, and his shoulder was heavily bandaged. Wires, tubes, and leads poked out from several different spots, and the monitors behind him beeped steadily.
Radek leaned forward and patted his arm gently. “We made it, Evan. We are back on Atlantis in the infirmary. Many people are concerned about you so you must not give up.”
“You are awake!”
The corner of Evan’s mouth quirked upward as his lids cracked. “Is that what…you call this?”
“How do you feel?”
“Like the good drugs…are flowing. You?”
“Much better now.”
Radek shook his head as he repeated the story, adding, “I believe I know why the Wraith were there. That beast you killed. It would make a nice leather coat, yes?”
Evan huffed a laugh then grimaced. “Oh, ow. Don’t make…me laugh.”
“Sorry.” Radek grinned. “You need to rest. Get better so your team can get some sleep.”
“Bunch of…old ladies.” Evan’s eyes fluttered. “Gonna sleep now.”
“We will be here when you wake,” Radek promised.
Evan’s breathing evened into sleep, and Radek settled back in the chair. Rivers returned with a tray of food and the rest of his team. He offered Radek a bottle of water as the group joked quietly with each other. Radek sipped the water, enjoying the easy camaraderie between the men, smiling as they included him in the conversation. Perhaps the next time he was invited to join a team, he wouldn’t be so quick to decline.