Hey, y'know what this series needs? Some cover art! Or maybe an icon. Anybody want to make a nice OTPx2 manip for Team Ellison?
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate: SG-1, The Sentinel
Title: Cross Country, part 1
Rating: borderline R/NC-17
Pairing: John/Rodney, Jim/Blair
Date written: December 2006-February 2008 (whew!)
Length: ~20,000 words (whole story)
Summary: Salvage of equipment, people, and relationships.
Notes: This is the fourth story in my Criss-Cross series (thanks to jya_bd_cp_ttgb for the name suggestion!). Read the other stories first, or continue at your peril. You can also read a summary of the series, which does contain some spoilers for the stories.
The Daedalus was a hulk, drifting derelict and airless in an eccentric orbit. The only light on it as they approached was the greenish-yellow light of the Atlantis sun. There was something eerie about the ship growing slowly larger in their viewscreen.
"It's like that scene from Jaws," John whispered. "You know, when they come up on the fishing boat in the middle of the night -- no lights, no movement . . . and then!"
"Oh man, I do not want to think about half-eaten heads popping out at us!" Blair groaned from behind him.
"Get used to the idea, Chief," said Ellison grimly. "There'll be plenty of bodies on board."
Rodney, sitting in the co-pilot's seat (although he'd refused to take control for more than a few minutes, while they were still in atmosphere), was more intent on the body of the ship itself. "The damage is bad," he said, "but there might still be some shield generators intact on the rear end, there."
"They call that the stern, Rodney," John told him. "Even I know that."
"Right right," Rodney snapped, "avast ye lubbers and keelhaul that . . . oh my god."
The ship had been spinning silently on its lonely path as they flew closer, and now it was coming around to an angle where they could see the real damage. It was more than bad; the Daedalus had been essentially cut in two. Only a few twisted girders still linked the long prow of the ship to the larger body in the stern, and the almost-disconnected portion was folded back in a vee along the belly of the ship. It was as if the ship were a child's toy that some bully had grabbed and squeezed out of shape.
It looked like the bully had applied some matches as well, because there were scorch marks everywhere, and gaping holes. There was no leaking atmosphere, though -- all the air was long gone. And hardly any floating debris was still co-moving with the bulk of the ship. It was just a single quiet corpse of what had once been an intergalactic spaceship, blasted by the Wraith at the end of her maiden voyage.
Lieutenant Hailey came forward from the rear compartment, pointing to various features and murmuring to Rodney about what might be recoverable. John noticed Ellison stiffen a little bit, but he didn't tell her to sit down. After all, it wasn't as if she'd willingly become a spy for the Trust. Ellison and Sandburg were just particularly touchy on the subject, that was all.
Rodney had good reason to be touchy too, but he seemed more ready to consider Hailey a victim rather than a collaborator. Maybe that was because of the way his own body had been taken over for the use of the Trust. But when it came down to it, threatening a person's mother, however nasty, was just not in the same league as implanting someone with a Goa'uld. Some part of John thought a smart gal like Hailey should have been able to come up with a way around the scheme, and he thought maybe Rodney was too quick to forgive.
Rodney had insisted Hailey would be invaluable on this mission, though. She certainly had the right skills and experience, and she seemed to be sincere enough in helping set a trap for the Trust. So she'd been brought along, together with one of the few remaining members of the Daedalus engineering team, a Sergeant Bukich.
Rodney had been pressing for a salvage mission to the Daedalus since the day he set foot on Atlantis. The higher-ups had refused him for a number of good reasons including low expected pay-off and high risks to the people doing the salvaging. The expedition only had one space suit, since they hadn't really expected to need any at all and had room for only the most important supplies when they stepped through the gate. With only one suit, no one would be able to go to the aid of the salvager if trouble came up -- which was only too likely when wandering around a broken-down wreck.
Then just over a week ago, Team Ellison's ongoing exploration of the city had turned up a storeroom full of Ancient-made pressure suits in a variety of sizes and plumbing arrangements. The scientists had studied the suits and eventually concluded what Rodney had guessed at first sight: the suits were designed for use in space, underwater, or in toxic environments. Now they could send a whole team to the Daedalus, so the risks were a lot lower. And Rodney insisted to anyone who would listen that the payoff would be bigger than anticipated, as well.
"All right, boys and girls," came Captain O'Neill's voice over the radio. "You know the drill: we're here for recovery of equipment and bodies. We go in pairs. Everybody has a buddy, and nobody's buddy leaves their buddy alone, got it?"
"Yes, sir," John replied dutifully.
"Sheppard, looks like the starboard fighter bay is caved in, so we'll head on over to the port side."
They found the other fighter bay gaping open, empty of all its flock. There was more than enough room for two Gateships to land side by side. It wasn't really a "landing" since the Daedalus had no power and therefore no gravity. But the scientists had expected this and equipped both Gateships with magnetic docking clamps, which worked well enough. Once they settled, John turned the gravity inside the Gateship down to twenty-five percent so the transition would be easier, then started getting his suit ready.
The Ancient version was less bulky and more comfortable than NASA's space suits, that was certain, but John was thinking maybe he would like a little more bulk in between him and the utterly hostile, alien environment out there. He'd been told the Ancient suits were actually very sophisticated, but it felt like little more than a wetsuit with a fancy collar. There wasn't even a proper helmet, just a shield generated by the collar mechanism. It made for great views, but John felt like he was stepping out into space half-naked.
"I hate this color," he muttered, smoothing the pale-green softer-than-neoprene stretch fabric down his chest.
"Dahling, thea-green ith tho ten thouthand yearth ago," Blair shot back, making John giggle nervously.
"All right," Rodney said, with the officious tone in his voice that told John he was also really nervous. "We're using the rear compartment as an airlock, but we're going to conserve air by having it pumped into reserve tanks instead of just opening the hatch and letting it all spill out. That means we'll have to wait back here a couple of minutes before we open --"
"Fine, get on with it," Ellison growled. Another one feeling the tension, apparently.
The minutes passed with John trying not to be too obvious about checking and re-checking his headshield. He could tell it was okay because his ears didn't even pop as the air in the Gateship got thinner, but his eyes told him there was nothing between him and -- well, nothing. Gradually he stopped hearing the others' conversation directly through the air and could only hear them if he thought his radio on. The suit's controls were intuitive and convenient -- at least for John, O'Neill, Rodney, and Hailey. The other members of the party, who didn't have the Ancient gene, would have to leave their radios on all the time.
Finally Rodney nodded and let down the hatch. One by one they stepped to the back of the Gateship and turned on their magnetic boots. Blair missed a step and nearly went floating away, but Ellison caught him instantly. Rodney wasn't the only one breathing hard and looking wild-eyed by the time they were all assembled in the fighter bay.
O'Neill's team was waiting for them; he gave them a once-over and a quick nod. "All right. We're going to start with the shield generators because they're easiest. During approach, we noticed six of them that might be salvageable -- four on this side of the ship. Sheppard and McKay, you go for number twenty-three. Grodin and Emmagan, twenty-one. Cadman and Bukich, you get nineteen -- it's just forward of the fighter bay. Hailey and I will go all the way forward and try for fifteen. Depending on our success with these, we'll decide whether to go after the ones on the starboard side." He turned to the remaining pair. "Ellison, Sandburg, you know what you're doing?"
Ellison just nodded. It had been worked out in the briefing; Ellison would apply his special senses (which were partly muted by the suit and the lack of air, but not completely) to scouting the ship. The two would check on the status of salvage items that couldn't be seen from outside the ship, and would note the location of bodies for later retrieval.
"Okay," O'Neill continued. "Stay attached to your buddy; stay attached to the ship. Be careful out there, people, and I mean that!"
Thus began a very long and arduous day. John and Rodney picked their way aft to generator twenty-three by leapfrogging around each other; one would stay magnetically attached to the ship while the other pushed himself out and swung around on a tether. For John it was a little like flying; for Rodney it was clearly a culmination of all his phobias, and he was muttering calming phrases to himself the whole time. He was determined not to back down, though, so they made reasonably good time.
Their suits were just as effective as promised, but it still got pretty warm when the port side of the ship rotated into the sunlight, and cold and dark when it turned the other way. John's headshield changed opacity automatically, but he squinted anyway in the sharp-edged glare.
They found the generator had some damage that wasn't visible from a distance, but still too serious to repair. So they worked their way forward again to help Teyla and Grodin with generator twenty-one. That was successful, and the extra hands turned out to be useful in hauling the bulky generator back to the fighter bay. The object -- a little larger than a car engine -- had no weight, but it still had mass and inertia. The first time John tried to tug it to a stop, he was pulled right off his magnetic feet and was only saved by Rodney's quick thinking in grabbing a handhold to supplement the grip of his own boots.
Cadman and Bukich were less lucky and ended up floating off into emptiness, both of them sounding pretty panicky over the radio. The suits had no jet-packs on them. John, since he was nearly back at the fighter bay anyway, was the one to fly a Gateship out and pick up first the two gone overboard, then their wayward shield generator.
John and Rodney, O'Neill and Hailey traveled to the starboard side and retrieved generator twenty-four, since twenty-two turned out to have what looked like a meteor-hole in it. Then O'Neill flew a load of four generators and eight filled body bags back to Atlantis, along with Bukich (who was getting close to a nervous breakdown). Hailey and Cadman were tethered to each other, and everyone went looking for more bodies according to Ellison's directions. With the gravity turned off, the dead had drifted into corners, tangled in overhead cables, piled against the outer walls of the ship as it spun slowly.
Most of them had died before decompression; there were burns, shrapnel wounds, crushed skulls, body parts separated by explosions. John had expected frost on the bodies, like in the movies, but they all looked still and perfectly preserved. They had been kept in a cold, airless environment and shaded from the sunlight for over a year, and they looked as if they had died just minutes before, except that the colors were a little off. They were pale and greyish, almost purple in certain lights. And they were stiff, but not bloated. One woman, who Ellison said had a broken neck, looked perfect and untouched, and it seemed profoundly wrong to zip her into a body bag.
Cadman, who was technically in command, bullied everyone into taking a break about four hours after their arrival. They sat in the forward compartment of the second Gateship; Blair and Teyla chose the floor, since there were only four seats. They ate MREs, and John gave his dessert to Rodney, and no one talked much except for Rodney, who was still hoping they would find something more that could be salvaged. Gradually, he got Hailey and Grodin interested in the possibilities as well, and the rest of them started to think beyond the grim business of body recovery.
They progressed to the forward compartments, moving very carefully around the twisted masses of wreckage where the ship had nearly broken in two. These had been the last sections to decompress, and they had to stop often to pry open hatches that had remained sealed even without power. Here they found other causes of death: a few who had suffocated, a pair with bullet wounds (friendly fire or suicide pact? John wondered), then a string of withered husks that Teyla confirmed were Wraith victims. After the ship was disabled, the Wraith had boarded to look for survivors. John, helping to bag one of the shriveled bodies, thought he was beginning to understand why Colonel Sheppard had shot his commanding officer. They were starting to run out of body bags, so some of the Wraith-fed bodies got doubled up.
In the next corridor, they found a Wraith riddled with bullet holes and snarling defiance even in death. Half the corridor was smeared with its black blood.
Teyla frowned at the corpse. "I believe this is the one that attacked Captain O'Neill," she said darkly. She caught the Wraith by one ankle, hauled it back to the nearest gaping hole in the side of the ship, and tossed it out into space.
Every few minutes, someone reported finding another corpse over the radio. There were two more Wraith, but John didn't see them.
While they were exploring one reasonably-intact room, John found one very odd-looking body in a corner. "Is this, um, a baby Wraith or something? I mean, it's not human . . ."
Rodney tugged on the tether between them, pulling himself closer while John braced himself on a handful of cables. "Oh! It's Hermiod."
"Captain's pet?" John guessed. "Ship's mascot?"
The Ancient headshield made it entirely too easy for Rodney to stare at John like he was crazy. "He was the Asgard liaison. He ran and maintained the equipment that we weren't supposed to know about."
"Oh. An Asgard, huh?" John had heard about them, but he hadn't seen any pictures. Somehow, this wasn't what he'd expected. "Is it supposed to be, um, naked?"
Rodney huffed. "They don't have sex -- in fact, they don't have genitalia -- so they don't care about clothes."
The alien's crotch had been in shadow, but John moved his flashlight without thinking when Rodney mentioned genitalia. "That . . . is really disturbing, Rodney."
"I don't know anything about their funeral practices. Well, I know they don't normally let themselves just die; they move on to another body. Maybe O'Neill will know -- he has some Asgard friends."
"Wait. He's friends with these guys? Didn't one of them, like, do illegal genetic experiments on him?"
"Yes, but since Captain O'Neill is an illegal genetic experiment, I don't suppose he's entirely opposed to Asgard methods. We'd better put Hermiod in a bag, anyway."
"He'll have to share with someone, then." John shivered at the thought that, if he stayed in this line of work, his own corpse might one day be zipped into a bag with a naked alien.
At the opposite end of the same room, Rodney began purring over a console of really bizarre-looking stuff. John had thought the Ancient crystal technology was weird enough, but this console, as he floated upside-down near the ceiling, looked more like an interrupted game of Chinese checkers or a zen rock garden in psychedelic colors. Rodney called Hailey on the radio, and pretty soon the two of them were digging into the guts of the Asgard control console, trying to dismantle it in one only-slightly-damaged piece for return to Atlantis.
John wasn't sure exactly how it happened, but somehow he ended up tethered to Cadman and a hauling a long row of double-packed body bags back to the fighter bay. He tried to ask Rodney if he was sure it would be okay, but Rodney wasn't getting the hint. Hailey just gave him a disgusted look and said, "No, I'm not going to kill, maim, hurt, or suborn him. Go on. We'll be here when you get back."
They reached the fighter bay with their grisly cargo just as O'Neill's Gateship touched down again. Ellison and Sandburg appeared while they were loading the ship and reported the aft section had been cleared of all the human remains they could find.
"The hyperdrive is in pieces," Ellison added. "No hope there. Some of the normal-space thrusters look intact, but I gather those aren't as valuable?"
O'Neill shook his head. "The propulsion isn't as good as the Gateships, and they need fuel we don't have."
"Isn't that true for the 302 as well?" John asked. During the briefing, he'd followed the discussion of a possible recoverable spacegoing fighter jet with interest.
O'Neill shrugged at this. "Actually, the boffins say they can make jet fuel using some of the Ancient chemistry sets lying around. But the thrusters use naquadria, and that will not be easy to come by."
"I don't think we can get to the 302 anyway," said Ellison. "The whole starboard side fighter bay is caved in. If the fighter's still there, it must have been cr--" Ellison stiffened.
"Jim? What's up?" Blair laid a hand on Ellison's back.
"What was that?" Ellison looked at the rest of them quickly. "You didn't feel that?"
"We didn't feel anything," Blair said. "What was it?"
"It felt like . . ." Ellison twisted his head slowly as if he could retrace the sensation by smell. "Like an explosion. Or a collision. Or maybe both. In the forward section."
John felt ice spreading through his veins as he told his radio to link with Rodney's. "Rodney, what's going on? Rodney? Answer me, Rodney!" He headed for the nearest exit from the bay, his magnetic boots clomping unbearably slowly across the floor.
"Sheppard, wait!" O'Neill called.
John pretended his radio wasn't working on that channel. "Rodney! Talk to me, dammit!"
"John . . ." Rodney's voice was husky and shaking. He made a weak cough, then groaned. "Need help . . . Hailey's--"
"I will kill her!" John growled, and broke into the best run he could manage.
Cadman either wasn't following or just wasn't moving fast enough, so when John reached the end of his tether he just unhooked it from his belt. Ellison and O'Neill both yelled something, but John wasn't listening. Halfway to the door he came to a piece of heavy machinery bolted to the deck. He grabbed it, turned off the magnets in his boots, and pushed off the object as if he were diving. His aim wasn't perfect; he hit the wall just above and left of the door, but it was close enough that he could grab the frame and swing himself around.
The corridors were easier; he just kept pushing himself along, bouncing from wall to wall and using whatever handholds came his way. And of course stairwells were ridiculously simple to fly up or down in microgravity, with railings everywhere to grab onto or push off from. Over the radio, he heard O'Neill talking to Teyla and Grodin, who were in the forward section near the bridge. They had felt the jar also and were on their way to Hermiod's lab to find out what was going on.
Rodney didn't call in again, nor did Hailey.
When he got to the wrecked area where the ship had nearly split apart, John barely paused until he bounced off a twisted section of hull and forced himself to slow down. It wouldn't do him any good to arrive in pieces, or to get into worse trouble and distract the others from helping Rodney. It seemed agonizing to slow down so much, but he must still have been moving pretty fast, because he arrived at the lab at the same time as Teyla and Grodin.
The pervasive eeriness of the dead ship was made worse here by a flashlight floating lazily across the room, spinning like a beacon and casting weird moving shadows everywhere. The console Rodney and Hailey had been working on was half-detached from the deck -- or maybe from a continuation of itself that went right through the deck. John caught the flash of a pale-green suit and aimed himself at it before he really understood what he was seeing: Rodney's legs disappearing into a gap that seemed much too small to hold him.
After his hasty push off the doorframe, John had to catch himself by grabbing on to the console. It shifted, and Rodney groaned into the radio. John pulled himself around and down the far side of the console and found Rodney trapped in a tiny space, his eyes fluttering as he tried to stay conscious. Still alive.
"Where are you hurt?" John demanded at once.
Rodney stuttered, gasping. "Can't -- breathe --"
The half-detached equipment was squeezing Rodney's torso like a spring-loaded trap, John realized. Immediately he braced his feet on the deck and pulled up on the bottom edge of the console as hard as he could.
Rodney gulped for air. "Hailey. Where is --"
"She's over here!" Grodin said over the radio. "She's breathing, but I think she's unconscious."
"What happened, Rodney?" John asked, shifting his feet for better leverage. He looked around for anything he could wedge into the gap, but he couldn't see anything within reach.
"Electrical discharge," Rodney gasped. "We were disconnecting -- didn't know there was residual charge. Hailey realized, last minute . . . tried to push me away, but . . . I got stuck."
"No kidding, buddy," John said, able to pretend calm now that he had Rodney, alive and talking, right in front of him.
"She saved me."
"Fine, fine, I won't kill her," John promised. "I'll even bring her Jell-o in the infirmary, or whatever. Are you okay aside from this thing trying to eat you?"
Rodney moved a little and winced. "Not sure. Think maybe . . . broken ribs?"
"But your suit is intact?" John asked urgently.
Rodney's eyes went glassy for a moment as he queried the suit's internal controls. "Yes. Air supply limited, but I still have over an hour."
"Good." John's breath whooshed out with relief.
"Sheppard," called Grodin over the radio, "we can't tell how badly Hailey is hurt, because we can't feel for a pulse. Will your gene let you interface with her suit?"
"I think so," John replied, "but I can't move away just now. Is there something we can use to wedge this gap open?"
A pause, then Teyla answered, "I believe this might work."
She was there a moment later with what John realized was a section of twisted and scorched deck grille. After a little fumbling, they got it to brace the two pieces of machinery apart enough for Rodney to breathe. Teyla hunted for something else to lever the gap open further while John pushed across the room to where Grodin hovered over Hailey.
John grabbed the lieutenant's suit by the collar and concentrated a moment. "The suit's fine; she's got plenty of air." It was a little trickier to access the past records, but then they scrolled through his mind so clearly he thought Grodin must be able to see them. "Okay yeah, I think it was an electrical shock. Her heartbeat was erratic for a couple minutes afterward, but it's steady now."
"She's still unconscious, though," Grodin pointed out. "We should get her back to Atlantis right away."
"Rodney too; he might have some broken ribs." John aimed his light back at the console. Instead of trying to lever the gap, Teyla seemed to be continuing the work of disconnecting the console entirely, with Rodney directing her between gasps. "Hey -- Rodney, you're sure that thing isn't going to shock you again?"
Rodney's disembodied legs twitched. "It won't. It was just a coincidence that the charge buffer was full, and we happened to short the connection. The buffer's empty now."
"What is that?" said Grodin, sounding alarmed.
John turned to see what the scientist was looking at and followed his gaze down to his own leg. The green fabric of his suit was darkly stained and torn across the outside of his thigh.
"Uh," said John. "I bumped into something, but I didn't think . . . I don't feel dead."
Grodin was peering at the tear in the suit. "It looks like there's an underlayer which is intact," he said slowly, bringing his light closer. "But if you bled that much, surely it must have torn all the way through."
John accessed the suit diagnostics. "It says there was some pressure loss, but it managed to block off the area." He'd been dimly aware of the suit feeling too tight around his hip and crotch, but it hadn't really penetrated his worry over Rodney.
"This is incredible," Grodin gushed. "There are fibers stretched across the opening -- they seem to be growing." He looked up at John in astonishment. "I think it's healing itself."
"Oh, is that what that means." John caught the puzzled look and shrugged. "There was a part of the diagnostics that I didn't understand, but yeah, I guess the suit is self-repairing. Did we know it could do that?"
"I certainly didn't." Grodin braced himself on John's shoulders and straightened. "And we don't know how effective or reliable it is. We'd better get you into a pressurized environment in case that patch gives way."
"Sheppard, what's going on?" came O'Neill's voice over the radio. John realized belatedly that he'd been using a restricted channel to talk to the Rodney and Grodin, so the others back in the fighter bay didn't know what was happening. "Teyla, Peter -- report!"
"We're all right," said Grodin quickly. "At least, everyone's alive. Leftenant Hailey is unconscious from a severe electric shock. Dr. McKay was pinned by a piece of machinery and may have broken ribs, but he's conscious." He glanced across the room to where Teyla was working. "We've nearly got him free now. And Mr. Sheppard's suit is torn, but it seems to be maintaining pressure. I think all of them should get back to Atlantis as soon as possible."
"I can fly," John insisted at once, not wanting his favorite Gateship abandoned on this hulk. "I'll be fine once I get out of this vacuum."
O'Neill snorted. "You'll be lucky if we let you off the ground again. What did I say about staying with your buddy?" he growled.
John winced. "Sorry, sir, I was in a hurry," he muttered.
"Fine, Ellison can deal with you. Meantime, here's what I'm gonna do. I'm bringing a Gateship around to the broken section, and I'll look for a clear area where I can bring it in close to a corridor. That way you don't have to take wounded people through the obstacle course in the middle, got that?"
"Sounds good," said Grodin.
"Wait," Rodney gasped, pushing on the console which had pinned him. It was fully disconnected now and floated slowly up and away.
"What's wrong?" John asked, itching to get to Rodney's side but not wanting to push the console right back into him. There was no other good place to land just yet.
Rodney twisted around so that his head was facing them, peeking out from the edge of the floating console. Despite a sheen of sweat and occasional grimaces of pain, his face was alight with excitement. "If O'Neill can line a Gateship up with this corridor --" he stabbed a finger toward the nearest door "-- then you can float the console right down the hallway and into his hatch!"
John blinked. "Rodney, we don't care about salvage right now. We're just trying to get everyone home alive."
"But this is important!" Rodney insisted. "There are two Gateships. One can take the wounded -- us -- back to Atlantis, while the console gets loaded onto the other. Peter can do it. Peter, you realize how important this could be, don't you? To have the Asgard beaming technology at our disposal --"
"Is it functional?" Grodin asked, eying the heavy equipment which was now drifting into the middle of the room.
"Well . . . mostly. I'm sure we can repair it. Hailey thinks so, too. Thought so." Rodney frowned at the limp figure floating in the corner. "Peter, you have to bring this back with you!"
"I'll talk to Jack about it," Grodin said grudgingly. "That thing won't fit in a stairwell, though. If we can't take it straight out, it'll have to stay behind."
"Yes, whatever, I'm sure you can work it out. Thank you!" Rodney gasped. He grabbed the edge of the console and started to push himself up past it, then froze with a little half-grunt, half-whimper. "Okay, maybe I could use a little help getting to the Gateship myself."
Grodin sighed. "Teyla, help me get the three of them tethered to each other --"
"I can make it around on my own," John protested.
Grodin gave him an impatient look. "You're not to use those leg muscles at all while the suit is trying to repair itself. Just . . . hang there and let us do the work."
It turned out to be fairly quick and straightforward to get them all back to the Gateship. The broad corridor right outside the lab curved left and then right, then Grodin persuaded one last doorseal to give way and they were looking out into space -- with a Gateship hovering right outside.
"It's almost a straight shot. You can get the console out, easy!" Rodney insisted.
"We'll try," was all Grodin would promise.
Once they were in the Gateship, O'Neill took them back to the fighter bay for some discussion and adjustment of plans. John declined to take his suit off to have the cut in his leg examined and bandaged, insisting he was fine and the bleeding had stopped. Ellison confirmed that the suit was essentially regrowing over the damaged area. Hailey regained consciousness briefly, which seemed like a good sign even though she didn't remember what had happened and dropped back to sleep a few minutes later. Rodney still complained of pain in his ribs, but he was breathing well enough. Ellison felt Rodney's chest briefly and said with confidence that the ribs were only cracked, not broken.
O'Neill decided it was best if all of Team Ellison, plus Hailey, headed back to Atlantis now. The rear compartment of their Gateship was full of body bags, but there was room enough for one person to strap down in the back. O'Neill's team would remain to pick up the few remaining bodies and possible salvage -- Rodney reminded them of the important console just waiting to be loaded onto a Gateship, and O'Neill made a sour face but nodded.
Ellison himself ended up being the one to sit back with the bodies, since John had the pilot's seat, both Rodney and Hailey were wounded, and Blair was apparently more squeamish than one would expect for an ex-cop. Blair did try to argue his husband out of it, but Ellison was firm.
They were clear of the Daedalus, done with all the maneuvering and on a course for Atlantis -- already noticeably farther away as the ship swung out on its long, eccentric orbit -- when Ellison came into the front compartment. For such a tall, muscular man, he moved very quietly, and John didn't notice his approach until Ellison rested a hand on the back of the pilot's seat.
"Jim? What do you see, man?" Blair asked.
Ellison raised a hand slowly and pointed at the planet -- where exactly, John couldn't tell. The ocean where Atlantis floated was around the curve of the planet in the late afternoon sunlight, and the island where the Genii had been exiled was still in darkness. All John could see right now was a lot of water and the western half of the planet's largest continent, where the Athosians had settled.
"That scar," Ellison murmured. "Where did that come from?"
John looked at the continent and had no idea what he was talking about, since they were still pretty far away from the planet. He could pick out the path of a large river. There were some mountain ranges that looked almost like scars, and one deep inlet or bay that penetrated hundreds of miles into the coastline. None of those were likely to have formed in the recent past, so John was baffled.
"We can't see it, Jim," said Blair. "Is it important?"
Ellison shook his head, but more in puzzlement than negation. "It might be. I don't know. It might be."
"Come on back and sit down, Jim," Blair encouraged gently. "Do you want my seat?"
The two of them degenerated into married-couple squabbles, and John ignored them as he pushed the little ship toward Atlantis. He was tired, and his leg hurt, and he would be very glad to be home again.
Link to Part Two