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Fic: The Alternative (Gen, PG13)

Title: The Alternative
Author: x_varda_x
Recipient: linziday
Pairing: Gen
Rating: PG13
Summary: A seemingly idyllic town is under attack by an unknown force. Team fic with Rodney h/c.

Rodney stepped through the gate behind John, Teyla and Ronon. He shivered when the temperature plummeted from the climate controlled gate room to the offworld wilderness they had entered. Rodney already has his scanner out and was checking for energy readings. He made a small happy sound in his throat when something registered a little over a mile ahead.

It was bright and sunny, but the breeze was chilled. Teyla took a deep breath next to him and sighed. "It is very beautiful."

Ronon grunted an affirmative, while John stayed silent.

"If you like freezing gales," Rodney said.

"Looks like a good resort in the summer," John said as he gazed at the few bare trees on the hill, although none of them blocked the view of the town from the gate.

Rodney sniffed and winced as he finally tore his eyes away from the energy reading to glance around. The gate was positioned on top of a hill that rolled gently downwards towards a town. The buildings were built of brick or stone with an air of permanence about them that was missing from so many Pegasus worlds where the settlements comprised of tents and mud huts. The buildings curved around to nestle in the bay and beyond them there was a smooth blue sea that stretched unbroken to the horizon.

"Huh," Rodney said in response to it. He quickly recovered and waved his scanner at the others, "But not as interesting as this energy reading."

"Where's it coming from?" John asked.

"Down there somewhere," Rodney indicated the town.

"Gee, that's really specific, McKay," John said as he led the way down the hill.

"Yes, it's on the first floor in the third house from the right!" Rodney said sarcastically.

"Which row?" Ronon asked with a grin.

Rodney sighed and rolled his eyes, then followed John and Teyla with Ronon behind him.

About halfway down the hill, Teyla stopped and frowned.

"What is it?" John asked in concern.

"I am unsure. It felt like a Wraith presence." She gave the others a less than reassuring smile and said, "It has gone now. All is well."

As they continued to walk, John asked, "Have you been here before, Teyla?"

"I do not believe so."

Rodney frowned as he looked up from his scanner again. "I thought you'd been everywhere."

Teyla gave him a patient and very small smile. "You know as well as I that there are hundreds of worlds in the Pegasus Galaxy, I would never say that I had seen them all."

"Me neither," Ronon said as they continued to walk down the hill and the tops of the houses soon obscured the sea beyond.

The houses were neat and orderly and clean cobbled streets ran between them in a spoke-like formation. There was a gentle sigh and swish sound from the shore and gulls circled overhead although they were quiet.

"This is creepy," John said as they left one deserted street and moved to the next.

"Has this world been culled?" Teyla asked.

Rodney switched his scanner as Ronon pointed at the houses. Ronon said, "There are people here, but they're hiding."

Rodney frowned down at the scanner. "He's right, there are lots of people here, but everyone is inside. Strange."

John shrugged and gave Rodney a pointed look, "Maybe they don't like the light."

"Hey, I like the light if it's not going to burn me to a crisp. Besides I spend most of the day in a windowless lab until I get dragged offworld at all hours of the day and night."

"No wonder you're so pale," Ronon said.

"So, is there a town hall or something here?" John asked with a hand resting casually on the P90 clipped to his vest. "Where's that energy reading, McKay?"

"I can't localise it," Rodney said as he turned in a circle. "It's not particularly strong so probably not a ZedPM, or if it is, it's nearly depleted."

A man came towards them when they entered the next street. His eyes were wide and he glanced around nervously. "Leave," he said. "Oh, you have to leave right now!"

"What's wrong?" John asked as his hand tightened against the gun and Ronon's hand twitched near his blaster. Rodney gulped and darted his eyes around at the houses which had now become menacing and potentially dangerous.

"It doesn't like offworlders!" The man said, wringing his hands over and over.

"We are here to trade," Teyla said.

"Speak for yourself," Rodney muttered as he tapped the buttons on his scanner. He wished it had a 'find the scary thing' setting.

"Got any good beaches?" John asked in a friendly voice, but his frame was tense like a coiled spring.

"You'll have to go to the hall in the middle of town, but the longer you remain the more displeased It will be." The man looked between the four of them, then ran away.

John frowned, "Well, that was... odd."

"Like everything then," Rodney said. "The streets are configured around a central point. I suppose that's where the hall will be."

Under Rodney's direction, the team soon reached the middle of the settlement. The silence was really starting to unnerve Rodney, not that he hadn't been worried before the cryptic warning messenger had found them. Curtains twitched as they walked past and sometimes he caught a glimpse of a pair of frightened eyes peering out through the dark panes of glass.

The streets opened out into a circular open space. Bare trees stood like ghostly figures and shrubs lined a path leading towards a three storey building in the middle. It was built from the same material as the others, but there were several fish and bird carvings adorning the walls.

"Any sign of that energy reading?" John asked Rodney as they approached the building.

"Oh there are signs alright, but I can't see exactly where it is."

John tried the door and it swung open easily. They all stepped inside and were greeted by a man walking towards them with his arms open in stark contrast to the fearful man they had met earlier. Rodney narrowed his eyes at the seemingly forced smile of the man wore. "Welcome! Welcome, friends!"

John baulked. "Hello?"

"We saw your coming from the ring on the hill. Please, follow me, we have laid on a meagre feast in preparation for your arrival." He led them down the corridor and into a large hall. There were several other people in there and they all looked at the team in great interest.

"Offworlders are so uncommon in Pareethia." The man took his place with the others facing the team.

"I can't imagine why," Rodney uttered.

John gave Rodney a quick glare then stepped forwards and introduced his team.

"I am Haylen," the man that had welcomed them said.

"What's with the ghost town thing you've got going here?" Rodney asked.

Haylen looked bewildered for a moment and then sighed. "I must apologise, but our internal affairs are not really something we should discuss at a time of rejoicing like this."

"Maybe we could help," Ronon said.

"Let us eat first and then we can discuss other matters," Haylen said pointedly.

"This place is giving me the creeps," Rodney said quietly to John as they followed the leader and the other strangely silent people from the first room into a larger hall.

"You're not the only one," John said as he refused to relinquish the hand he had constantly in contact with his gun.

"Oh, now this makes me feel slightly better!" Rodney said as they took in the table before them that was laden with food. Fish seemed to be the order of the day and many types were laid out along with fruit and small yellow objects that may have been cheese or cakes.

They took their places and Rodney frowned at a bowl of small orange fruits right in front of him. John saw his expression and smiled. "They look like kumquats."

"I hope not!" Rodney looked horrified as he spoke in a high voice, "Evil citrus apricots of death!"

Ronon had already tucked into the yellow mystery objects and proclaimed them citrus free through a mouthful.

Rodney grimaced and pushed the offensive fruit bowl away using the napkin wrapped around his hand. John wordlessly grabbed it and moved it, swapping it with a bowl of yellow things that had been in front of him. Rodney took one and nibbled the edge. It was a savoury pastry filled with a fish sauce of some kind and as he gnawed a bit more off, he was pleasantly surprised. "We should definitely trade for some of these!"

Haylen smiled at him.

After they had finished eating, Teyla asked, "We were approached by a man in the street who warned us about something. He seemed very afraid."

Haylen frowned and shared a glance with one of the other Pareethians at the table. The other man narrowed his eyes at the Lanteans before he spoke in a confident voice, "The people fear the Wraith above all things. Why do you think our town is within view of the ring? But there have been several unexplained deaths recently that have made the people as fearful as they are towards the Wraith."

"What happened?" John asked.

"Witnesses have reported a dark mist moving through the town. People that were unable to gain shelter within a building have been killed." He trailed off at the end and looked away.

Haylen's face now wore the same look of fear as the man that had come to them earlier. "They were violent deaths, the victims bled dry and their skin pulled taut like the Wraith themselves had fed on them!"

"Haylen, please," the second man said. "Let us not upset our esteemed guests."

"The energy reading..." Rodney said under his breath.

"Do you think it may be related?" Teyla asked.

"The reason why I haven't been able to localise it is because it's moving around all the time."

"It fits," Ronon said. "I say we go get it."

Haylen held up his hands, "No! It's too dangerous! We have already tried to stop it, but only lost more people."

"It'll continue to kill unless someone stops it," John said. "We have devices that may be able to help."

Rodney looked up as they others all looked at him while he fiddled with the scanner. "Oh, when you say 'devices' you really mean me."

"The scanner," John said.

"Will find it and the source if there is one, but it won't battle murderous mist clouds!"

Ronon fiddled with his blaster, "This might."

"When did this start?" Teyla asked Haylen.

"A few weeks ago, but nothing triggered it as far as we are aware."

"Very well, we shall do all we can."

<<< ('vvv') >>>

When they exited the building there were a few locals now walking around the streets, although they moved quickly with their heads down and eyes averted from each other as they scurried to and fro.

"Where is it now?" Ronon asked with his blaster already drawn.

"This way," Rodney pointed towards a street leading down to the sea.

As they approached the area, people ran past them going the other way with looks of fear and horror on their faces. Rodney sighed, "So tell me again, why are we, as usual, going towards the very thing that everyone is running away from?!"

"Because we're big damn heroes," John said with a smirk.

"And if we can't get rid of it, no-one can? Oh, please..."

Ronon took point as they got closer.

Rodney frowned at his scanner. "Hmm, that's odd. There's the reading I've been tracking right ahead of us, but there's another one now - a much larger one that isn't moving, just outside of the town."

The reading had moved again when they came across the body in the street. Rodney glanced at it briefly then looked away with a pained grimace.

"Not a good way to go," Ronon said.

"It does look very similar to Wraith feeding," Teyla said as she crouched down. John joined her and used the barrel of his P90 to lift away the rags on the person who was so desiccated it was difficult to tell if they had been male or female. The skin was leathery, but clearly cut in several places.

They stood up. John looked at Rodney, "So the second reading isn't moving?"

"When I could see it, it wasn't, but it's gone now."

"You remember where it was?"

"Of course."

John nodded. "Okay, two teams. Ronon you're with me, we'll track this thing and see if we can get more readings and maybe a glimpse of it. Teyla, McKay, check out the second reading."

John passed his scanner to Rodney and the scientist configured it to the mist creature's frequency and handed it back.

"Do not engage if you see it."

Ronon frowned as he fingered his blaster, "Can't I shoot it?"

"Not until we know what we're dealing with. Okay, move out."

<<< ('vvv') >>>

Teyla followed Rodney as he made his way through the streets led onwards by his scanner. Curtains moved as they passed by the houses and other than their footsteps and the distant crash of waves on the shore, there were no sounds.

"It's not come back," Rodney said. "But the other one is moving around more than ever."

They reached the edge of the town and the streets and houses opened out to a steep slope. To the left was the sea and the slope became a cliff where it now met the sea. Rodney frowned at the scanner and then looked around.

Teyla followed his gaze and took a deep breath of the ocean breeze that blew across the grass where they stood. "I do not see anything that might be out of place or emitting an energy reading."

"It must be cloaked or underground. Possibly both."

Rodney turned to the left and headed towards the base of the cliff where it started to rise from the beach. The tide was out so they could walk along the sand. "It better not be too far along here before the sand paper grates my feet to shreds and gets in between my toes."

Teyla pursed her lips as she followed him. The sea lapped the shore, but it was otherwise very calm.

The radio activated, "Teyla, McKay!" It was John and he seemed breathless.

"Go ahead," Teyla said.

"We found it, but it moved away really fast. It's heading straight for you. Ronon shot at it, but he missed."

Rodney baulked and straightened up. "He missed?"

Ronon grunted back over the channel. "It's really fast."

Rodney's eyes widened in fright. "Must be." He glanced along the base of the cliff and frowned. "What's that?"

He walked over and angled his scanner at the face. Teyla could not see anything there, but then Rodney pressed his hand through the surface. "It's a hologram."

"Careful," Teyla warned, but Rodney shut his eyes and then seemed to step right through the rock.

She quickly followed him, raising her P90 as she did so. They were standing in a tunnel and Rodney was staring intently at his scanner. "The energy reading is back and bigger than before! It must be shielded as well as cloaked! This way." He walked down the corridor to a door and it slid open when he got there.

Teyla pushed past him before he could enter the room and cleared it with a sweep of her eyes and P90 light before Rodney entered.

"It's fine," Rodney said with a smile and a wave of his scanner. "No life signs other than us."

"I would rather trust my eyes and other senses," Teyla replied.

Rodney sighed and went over to the panel in the middle of the room. He pulled the tablet from his back and plugged it into the console. His eyes widened as he scanned the text appearing on the screen. A dark mist suddenly entered the corridor behind them.

"Rodney!" Teyla cried as she fired her P90 at the creature. The sound was deafening in the enclosed space. Ronon was right - either the creature was fast or it was impossible to harm it with bullets as it bypassed Teyla and headed straight for Rodney.

Rodney had his gun out, but couldn't shoot as Teyla was in his line of fire. Teyla heard a loud cry of pain as the mist enveloped Rodney and there was nothing she could do. A thump signified that he had fallen to the floor, but she couldn't see through the mist.

A red streak of light flew past Teyla's head and went into the mist. The creature shivered and moved towards where the beam had come from, leaving Rodney moaning where he lay on the floor in a growing pool of blood.

Teyla glanced behind her at Ronon and John who stood in the corridor. She ran past the creature towards Rodney as he painfully lifted himself up to press a couple of buttons on the console. The door slammed shut behind the creature, trapping them in the room.

"Rodney!"

He slithered down to the floor again and curled up on his side with his eyes tightly closed and his teeth gritted. Teyla ran to him and tried to locate the source of the alarming amount of blood he was losing. He had numerous cuts all over his exposed skin, but none that could have been the source of all the blood on the floor. His breath hitched when she undid his tac vest and found a nasty looking stab wound in his left side, his upper arm was also badly cut and bleeding. She grabbed pressure bandages from her vest pockets and tied one around his arm, before pressing one to his abdomen.

Even through it all, he retrieved his scanner and showed Teyla. She could not help but notice how much his hand was shaking. He spoke in a low voice, "It's Wraith technology. It's programmed to stop anyone who gets too close to this room. It knows it's in danger."

Teyla saw two dots on the screen. Rodney trembled under her hands as he spoke, "It only wants to stop me shutting it down. It won't go after the others again until it does."

Teyla tapped her radio with a bloody hand. "Teyla to Sheppard and Ronon! What is happening?"

"It stopped by the door," Sheppard replied. "It's trying to get through the door, but it can't."

"Rodney is badly injured," Teyla said in a calm voice. "He is losing a lot of blood."

"Is there anything in there you can use?" John asked.

Teyla gripped Rodney's hand in hers while she concentrated on keeping up the pressure on the stab wound. "Can you shut it down, Dr. McKay?"

"I'm bleeding," he said in a dazed voice as he looked down at the blood soaked bandage against the wound. "It hurts."

"I know and I am sorry. It is all the more reason why you must shut it down quickly."

He glared at her briefly and then sucked a breath through his teeth. "Help me up."

She did so and he leant against her heavily, nearly sending them both crashing to the floor.

Rodney smeared blood all over the console as he tapped the buttons and then his computer screen. A glob of blood dripped from one of the cuts on his face and he blinked sleepily. "It sucks life from people and siphons the energy to a collection device in this room," Rodney said with a grimace caused by more than his pain. "It's on some kind of timer that recently set it off."

"Can you shut it down?" Teyla asked as she tied the first bandage tightly around his middle. She retrieved another from his vest and held it over the other one, not that it seemed to be doing much. His blood was leaking out at an alarming rate and if it did not slow soon, he could die.

"I sent Ronon back to the gate to get help," John said over the radio. "How's Rodney doing?"

"Rodney has had better days," Rodney said from beside Teyla. "But is still able to achieve the impossible while bleeding to death after being stabbed in the stomach!"

"Ronon said he could run faster and I believe him. He'll be back in no time with a Jumper and Beckett."

"Which will be no use if I can't stop this thing," Rodney said. He blinked and slumped towards the console, his face very pale beneath all the blood. He was only saved from face planting against it by Teyla's strong hands around his chest.

"You must hurry, Rodney," she said as she helped him to straighten, then resumed the pressure on his abdomen. He curled away from the touch with a shudder and a sharp intake of breath.

"I don't feel so good," he said quietly.

"Once you have shut down the device we will be able to get you to help," Teyla said in a reassuring voice.

Rodney pressed a few more controls and there was a low hum before the door slid open and the lights went out. Teyla could no longer support Rodney's weight as he went down, but she made sure he landed gently on the floor.

John kicked the small round contraption out of the way from the door - it still had blood stained blades extended from the purple organic-looking casing and the 'mist' turned out to be the blood of its victims and now coloured the floor around it a gory red. He shared a worried look with Teyla as he knelt down by Rodney opposite her.

Rodney kept his eyes closed and winced. "Did it work?"

Teyla smiled, "Yes, the device is inactive."

Rodney's breaths were coming in shallow gasps and then he coughed and blood appeared on his lips. John furrowed his brow at Teyla and she looked back at him intensely before returning her attention to Rodney.

Rodney was unconscious by the time the medical team arrived led by Ronon. John gave them the all clear over the radio that worked now that the facility and shield was inactive.

"Holograms, you say?" Carson asked with a thick accent as he opened his eyes when he was in the corridor. "Rodney!" he said as he took in all the blood on the floor in the room and the bandages ineffectually trying to stop the bleeding. "What happened here?"

A couple of other medical staff followed him, and Teyla and John were soon moved aside as the team triaged him.

"He's in hypovolemic shock!" Carson said. "We'll need to intubate." Teyla saw tubing coming from a bag then Rodney was surrounded. The next thing she saw was that Rodney had a tube coming from his mouth attached to a bag and IV lines were inserted into both of his arms.

Ronon and John carried Rodney on a stretcher back to the Jumper parked right outside on the beach. Once they were all onboard, Lorne sped it back to Atlantis.

Teyla looked down at Rodney's slack, blood streaked face with the tubing taped down and she could not help the deep knot of fear that formed in her chest. Rodney could die if the miracles of the humans from Earth failed him now.

She glanced at John and Ronon, and although they tried to hide it, she knew them well enough to see the same fear reflected in their faces.

<<< ('vvv') >>>

"Carson says I used up all the compatible replacement blood stocks we have." Rodney's voice was rough as he lay in the infirmary bed a few days after his ordeal.

John offered him a straw and he sipped a little water. "Thanks," he said with a clearer voice.

"I am not surprised," Teyla said. "I did not think the human body could hold so much."

Ronon shrugged. "There's a lot and it takes a lot to kill."

Rodney looked upset. "Thanks for that! Belittling my near exsanguination! I'd like to see you lose that much blood and deactivate an evil Wraith device at the same time!"

John looked at Ronon, then down at Rodney, "We're all very impressed."

"And grateful," Teyla added.

"And I can't believe you missed it!" Rodney jabbed at Ronon.

Ronon narrowed his eyes and fingered his blaster. He advanced on Rodney with a low growl in his throat – questioning his firing prowess was akin to questioning his manhood and he didn't like it. He stopped when Rodney shrunk into the bed, then clenched his teeth with a huff and soft cry of pain on his lips. Ronon stopped when he realised that Rodney's suffering was punishment enough for any verbal transgressions. Ronon patted Rodney's leg with a feral grin and promised, "Just this once. But next time…"

Rodney blinked slowly and gulped.

John saw a fight brewing, so changed the subject. "While you were out of it, I had another team go back to make sure the device really was inactive."

"Rather them than me," Rodney said with a wince as he rested his hand over the thick bandages around his middle. His injured arm was also well wrapped and lying immobile on the bed next to him.

"Looks like some Wraith were experimenting with remote feeding. They use the device to suck the life force out and store it up for a feast when they get there."

Rodney frowned and then stopped as it pulled the cuts on his face. "But they didn't reckon with us shutting it down."

"Haylen is most pleased," Teyla said with a smile.

"Guess what we have for dinner today," Ronon said.

"Blue jello?" Rodney suggested with a hopeful face.

"Fish jello," Teyla said with a smile.

Rodney pulled a face.

"Fish pie, fish fingers," John continued. "Fish purée, fishcakes," John counted off on his fingers with a solemn face. "Followed by fishy ice cream and liquefied fish to drink."

Rodney's face fell, "Sounds... lovely. Just leave the lemon juice of the Pegasus not-salmon if they have any of that."

John added, "We can also use their beaches and facilities whenever we like."

Rodney asked, "All for deactivating that device?"

"We will offer them more for their services," Teyla said with a warning look at John and Ronon. "Elizabeth is going to visit them soon."

Rodney's team sat with him for a while longer, then Rodney yawned and his eyes started to drift shut. Carson came over and ushered them out of the infirmary to give his patient time to rest with a call of, "Save some fish pâté for me!"

He did not see when John slipped a laptop into the drawer beside Rodney's bed just before he left.
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