If he'd had a choice, Mike Prosser – Sergeant USMC and one of the most recent residents of the Pegasus Galaxy – would've gone offworld to M79-337 with his platoon and spent the day blowing shit up and practicing room clearing. It would have been fun and, well, normal. Even if it was on a different world.
No, he took that back. Given a choice he'd still be on Earth with his unit in Iraq. The concept of going 'offworld' still screwed with his head.
It had been almost four months since he'd reported to the company HQ as ordered and been told he was being reassigned stateside. He had asked, but no one had any answers for why he was being reassed with seven months left in his tour, at least none they were willing to share. He was given two hours to pack his kit and then shoved onto a transport.
Several long plane rides later he arrived at Peterson, groggy with jetlag but his body vibrating from the long hours in the C-135 that had dropped him off. He hadn't been given time for more than a fast wash up before being escorted to a room where a baker's dozen other Marines waited; a couple looked as jetlagged as he and all were just as clueless as to what was going on. But there was coffee and donuts. They soaked up caffeine and sugar and made wild ass guesses on what all the secrecy was about.
Then an Air Force colonel walked into the room.
Mike still wasn't sure what made him sign the non-disclosure agreement. He'd had a vague idea that it was probably some secret Joint Operations deal, maybe for covert raids against Al Qaeda or the Taliban. But then why pull him all the way back from Iraq? And to Colorado of all places? He signed.
An hour later he didn't know if he wanted to believe everything they had just been told or if he needed to take a moment to question his own sanity.
Stargates used to travel to other planets. Aliens, good ones and bad ones. An expedition to another galaxy, where he was going to help defend a floating city and its residents against evil space vampires and other boogeymen. And to top it all off, at some point in the past, one of the "good" aliens had gotten a leg up on one of his ancestors and he had some freakish DNA because of it.
You could have heard a pin drop when the colonel finally left the room. There had been more papers to sign, and then they were all given a weekend pass. Someone had enough sense to ask where the nearest bar was and they all fled there. A half dozen beers later and they were still the quietest group in the bar, and no one had attempted to pick up a waitress.
A few weeks of training, a month of leave and then they were beamed – Beam me up, Scotty! they all made the lame joke at one time or another – aboard the Apollo. Two and half weeks of the most boring cruise ever – at least on a Navy ship they could do their PT on deck in the fresh air – and they were there. In Atlantis. A flying city. A city that insisted on whispering to him.
He'd been told about it. He and the one other guy, Charles Li, with The Gene had received a fair amount of grief over their whacky DNA. They had special classes where all they did was handle Ancient artifacts so that they would get used to the feel of the technology "talking" to them. But Atlantis wasn't an alien footwarmer. It was louder and more persistent. Really persistent.
And that was another reason he'd wanted to go offworld today: to get away from the noise. He'd been in Atlantis a week now and he didn't have to concentrate so hard to ignore it – the first day he'd had to receive frequent reminders of his surroundings, which usually involved the tried-and-true method of a fist to the bicep, applied by a fellow marine; his arm was still sore – but a break would have been nice.
But he didn't get to go do real Marine things today because he had The Freaking Gene and there were certain things that all gene carriers were expected to know how to do. Being able to turn shit on and off was one of them. Flying the puddlejumpers was another, for "just-in-case" scenarios."
So here he was, waiting in the Jumper Bay for Staff Sergeant Stackhouse to arrive and give him his first flying lesson. He'd shown up early, a habit pounded into him by his DI in boot, and was waiting next to the main door. While he waited he watched the maintenance crews – headed by guys with PhD's, which was just hilarious – scurrying around. He hadn't had a chance to meet many of the civilians yet, but most of them seemed to be okay – meaning they met his expectations for geeks. His fellow marines had let him know that most of them appeared not to notice anyone in a military uniform unless it was in their way, and all of them lacked common sense (even some of the ones that had worn a uniform before). But that was why the military was here, to keep them safe.
He glanced at his watch – another thing to get used to, days longer than twenty-four hours – but there was still five minutes before the lesson was due to begin. He'd wanted to walk around the bay and look at things, but a short, fuzzy-haired guy who was dismantling one of the wing-things on a jumper had pointed him to this corner and would look up suspiciously every few seconds to make sure he was still where he'd been put. He knew better than to touch things, especially when he was around anything that his weird gene wanted to interact with, but figured the corner was probably safest. Flexing his knees, he aimed his gaze at the far wall and waited.
"Prosser! Sergeant, you with me?"
Startled back into awareness, he felt his ears heating up as he met his commanding officer's wry look.
"Yes, sir," he snapped out, coming to attention.
"As you were, Sergeant," Sheppard said, the amused look deepening. "She can be real distracting at first, don't worry about it too much. In a week or so it'll seem odd when you lose contact with her when you go offworld. Come on."
A casual wave indicated he should follow. He looked at his watch and then the door.
"Sir, I'm waiting for Staff Sergeant – "
"Stackhouse; yes, I know. He and his team got delayed on Dreffin, helping clean up after a fire in town. And then Woolsey postponed a meeting because the IOA wants something ASAP or yesterday, so I've got a couple hours mostly free. I'm going to give you your first lesson. Let's go."
Christ, this was all he needed to make his day complete.
He'd done Joint Ops before; mostly with Navy, a couple times with Army personnel. But everyone knew the Air Force was the candyass service. They were good for transport and air support, but they were soft and unskilled on the ground. Their tours in the sandbox were so short they barely had time to start work on their tan before they were gone again.
The guys who'd been in Atlantis for a while all seemed to think Sheppard was something great. The scuttlebutt was he was a fair guy but could be ruthless when needed, willing to fight for and beside his men and surprisingly good on the ground for a flyboy. But Mike hadn't seen any of that yet; all he knew was that he had a zoomie for a commanding officer and the guy was nothing like a Marine. The haircut was a laugh. The man defined laidback; he slouched everywhere. Sure, Sheppard got up at o-dark-thirty and did PT with the men, but being able to keep up on the running tracks didn't mean shit.
Resigned to an uncomfortable afternoon trapped in a jumper with his CO, he followed. Sheppard had stopped to speak to the fuzzy-haired scientist.
"Well, how long will it take to put One back together, Doc?"
"Too long. And then it must be tested." The little scientist looked up, and then waved vaguely toward the other side of the bay. "You are teaching the sergeant to fly, yes? Take Six."
Sheppard grimaced. "It handles like my grandma's old caddy."
"Exactly. He will not be tempted to race or 'do donuts' in Six."
Sheppard chuffed out a laugh. "Gee, thanks. No drones on board, right?" The scientist merely glanced over the top of his glasses. "Great. Later."
Prosser, working to keep his face carefully blank throughout that odd conversation, trailed along. They headed up to the second level, circling the catwalk until they were almost opposite the main bay doors. Sheppard stopped at the base of the ramp and gestured for Prosser to enter first.
"I want the jumper to register you as the pilot, not me."
He nodded and walked up the ramp. He didn't want to appear reluctant, but since he wasn't sure what to expect he went slowly. As soon as he stepped into the rear compartment the lights came on and a hum of information started flowing into his mind, thankfully quieter than Atlantis but more detailed than any of the smaller pieces of Ancient tech he'd worked with. It seemed to be trying to tell him about the status of the ship, but he didn't know enough Ancient to follow along. It wasn't until his shoulder bounced off the bulkhead opening that he realized that he had zoned out.
"Don't try to understand everything it's telling you; you couldn't even if you were fluent in Ancient. The multiple-PhD-maintenance guys can't follow all of it." Sheppard's voice recalling him to his surroundings caused his ears to heat up in embarrassment. Again. "Go ahead and take the pilot's chair."
He was still getting settled when Sheppard appeared at this side. His CO placed the backpack he'd been carrying and his P-90 in some netting attached to the wall near the deck. Prosser glanced down and noticed a similar rig on the pilot's side, and shed his own pack and rifle.
"Okay. I assume you were given a schematic of the console to study?"
He dutifully pointed to and named the different crystals, buttons and dials that were used for communications, bringing up the HUD or other functions. The next half-hour was spent in practice, both manually and using mental orders. It took concentration to be able to keep the various HUD screens from popping up when he didn't want them ("This is why we don't train with weapons on board, at least during the first couple lessons."); the ship was too eager to help.
"Very impressive, Sergeant. Stackhouse was a much more reluctant student, but then the first time he was part of the flight crew we got stuck in the stargate. I think that sort of soured the whole thing for him."
Prosser, who'd been practicing deploying and retracting the drive pods, waited, hoping for more of the story, but none was forthcoming. He flicked a glance at Sheppard when he heard the man mutter something about bugs under his breath, but got no more clues. Ah, well. He'd ask around the barracks, someone was bound to know something.
Finally, it was time to actually fly. His palms immediately began to sweat. He followed directions as Sheppard patiently talked him through the pre-flight checks, contacting Control to announce their intensions to make a bay launched flight to the northern continent, and then sending a command to open the sunroof.
"Don't grip the controls so tightly," Sheppard instructed. "In fact, you can let go until the jumper is released from City control."
He nodded nervously and rubbed his palms down his legs.
As soon as the iris in the bay roof was completely open the jumper moved. He felt a slight bump when it released its mooring clamps, and then it glided forward until it was under the roof opening and began to rise. When they emerged into open air the sun glared into their eyes. He reached for his sunglasses, hearing Sheppard do the same, and missed the City relinquishing control to him.
"Okay, Prosser. Light grip on the controls. HUD up to check direction. Good. Give her a little gas."
The inertial dampeners kept his spastic acceleration from being felt inside the jumper, but the way the city landscape jerked around in front of them was a dead giveaway. He waited for Sheppard to correct him.
"Don't worry about the rough start," Sheppard said, sounding amused again. "Everyone's surprised the first time at how quickly they take off. And some of them are smoother than others; Six," and Sheppard patted the console fondly, "is a little rough on take-off but she evens out. A little practice and you'll be fine. Hopefully. Dr. McKay still tends toward the hurry-up-and-wait method of speed control. Okay, pick a point on the horizon and head toward it. You can check the HUD every couple of minutes until you're confident with your navigation."
"Relax, Prosser. This is supposed to be fun. Do you have any questions? About anything? Doesn't have to be about flying a jumper."
Prosser was a bit flummoxed. NCO's didn't normally hold casual conversations with their commanding officers. Obviously they did things different in the Air Force. He tossed about for something to hold up his side of the conversation.
"Uh, hmmm. The City, sir..." he began and then trailed off.
"What about her?"
"Is there anyway to get it to stop talking to me?" he asked, surprised at the plaintive tone.
Sheppard chuckled quietly. "Sorry, Prosser, there's really nothing that can be done. But I was serious earlier, once you become accustomed to it it's just like any other background noise; like the hum of an air conditioner or white noise. You just need to be patient. We've never had to ship anyone home because they couldn't adapt."
"I just wish it would happen sooner rather than later, sir."
"I can understand that; but believe me, your connection to Atlantis and the technology will come in handy sometimes," Sheppard said sympathetically. "How are you adjusting otherwise?"
"Everything's good, sir," he assured automatically, not about to unleash any more fears and complaints on his commanding officer, he'd already said too much. Besides, that's what squad leaders and teammates were for. Although... He glanced over at Sheppard, who was watching him expectantly, and then looked forward again. Nope, not going there. Not to a zoomie officer. He wasn't that soft yet. "I'm fine."
"That's good to hear, Sergeant," Sheppard said a little skeptically, then reached down to retrieve his pack and extracted a laptop. "Well, a battalion commander's paperwork is never done. Ease up on your grip a bit and check your course. You're drifting a little."
Mike called up the HUD and was startled when it showed the jumper was several degrees off course. How the hell had Sheppard known? He corrected his course and concentrated on maintaining direction.
The next quarter hour passed quietly. He practiced pulling up the various HUDs while Sheppard worked on his laptop. An occasional quiet reminder of "grip" or "verify the course" was all the direction he got. And since Sheppard never even looked up from the laptop and since Mike always found that the correction was needed, he wondered if it was Sheppard's years of piloting skills or the connection to the tech or both. For the first time he found himself actively listening to the alien technology; not understanding more than a word or two here and there, but trying to get a 'feel' for what it was telling him.
The mainland was just a smudge on the horizon when he began to think this flying stuff might not be too bad. He was finally relaxing back into his chair when Sheppard suddenly looked up, checked the view through the window and then looked over at Prosser.
"Why are you slowing down? It's still a least ten minutes to our destination."
The HUD popped up; he wasn't sure if he or Sheppard had done it. And it showed that the speed was dropping. How the hell Sheppard had known? There was no physical feeling of movement, only their view of the passage over water indicating that they were traveling.
He tried to bring the speed back up, but the jumper – so eager to help earlier – was slow to respond, and the acceleration lasted only a moment before the indicator began to drop again.
"Okay, Prosser. Keep her on this course, but I want you to start gaining altitude. Bring up a diagnostic screen."
For a moment Mike wondered if this was part of the lesson: try to scare the shit out of the newbie pilot and see how he reacts. But one quick glance at Sheppard's face and he sank that idea. The Colonel appeared calm enough, but the look in his eyes was intense and focused; it was a look Mike had seen often enough in battle.
"Control, this is Jumper Six. We are approximately 500 klicks out from feet dry and are unable to maintain speed." Sheppard's tone was neutral as he went about stowing his laptop; the voice that answered was anything but.
"What the hell have you done to my jumper, Colonel?"
Sheppard chuffed out a quiet laugh. "I believe the jumpers fall under my command, McKay."
"Anything in this city that I or my people keep running is mine. I guess that means all of Atlantis is mine."
"I'll be happy to argue the point some other time, but right now I have a jumper that doesn't want to maintain speed."
"Fine. What else is it doing?"
Mike didn't understand half of what was said during the next few minutes. Sheppard reported information from the HUD interspersed with an occasional "It feels like..." thrown in, which amazed him all over again because he couldn't feel anything, he had to rely on what the HUD was showing and what he could see out the window. He was relieved to hear that the rescue jumper had taken off and was chasing after them.
Sheppard had moved to the rear cabin and was working with the crystals behind an overhead panel.
"No, McKay, I've already tried that config – "
"Not since I had you move the C7 crystal into the A2c slot. Who's the expert here? Change the – "
"They're changed. I'm not seeing any difference."
"Okay. Let's try something different. Switch the – "
Dr. McKay's voice cut off at the same moment that the HUD disappeared. Mike immediately noticed the quiet, a quiet that had been missing since he arrived in Atlantis. It distracted him, but not so much that he didn't also noticed their altitude decreasing.
"Uh, sir? I think we've lost power." A quick glance over his shoulder showed Sheppard trying to get the panel closed.
"I noticed. Keep her nose up and give me – "
The discharge of energy wasn't large or loud, but it tossed Sheppard to the other side of the aisle and popped a dozen crystals out of their slots to shoot across the cabin. Mike wasn't sure if the sudden shaking was caused by the jumper's mechanical issues or by him flinching.
Sheppard appeared at his shoulder and a hand covered his own on the control bar.
"Time to switch out, Prosser."
The trade off was a little awkward, but they managed with him performing a careful limbo under his commanding officer's arm. He settled into the co-pilots place and watched as Sheppard tried various tiles and knobs. At one point he got down on his knees to pop open the panel at Sheppard's feet to see if any of the crystals were lit. None were.
He waited tensely, alternately wondering if he had somehow caused this and thinking that this was what you get when NCO's are required to do officers work, mixed in with a large amount of relief that he had a real pilot who knew what to do.
"Well, Prosser, this has turned out to be one of the more exciting flying lessons I've given over the years. Even tops Dr. Xi's. He's so small he can barely see over the console and plowed us into a sand dune." Sheppard had stopped adjusting the controls on the console and was poking at a thin trickle of blood over his left eye. A cocky grin was visible, but Mike could see that it didn't quite reach his eyes.
"I guess we're about to crash?"
Sheppard nodded, sobering slightly. "It'll be a few minutes, but we're definitely going to hit the ground – or water, it's too close to call at this point – a bit harder than normal."
Mike nodded, a bit queasy at having his suspicions confirmed. "It wasn't anything I did, was it, sir?"
"No, nothing to do with you. It felt like a cascading failure of systems; once the first one went, they all lined up to follow. Probably won't know what caused it until Zelenka and his crew have a chance to go over it."
They were quiet for a few moments. Mike watched as the smudge on the horizon grew and Sheppard fought to keep the ship level.
"You were right about it being quiet when we get cut off from Atlantis," Mike said, surprising himself. He hadn't meant to say anything, but the quiet, which he'd been hoping for for days, was suddenly as distracting as the persistent hum of the City had been.
"Yeah," Sheppard agreed. "Even as quiet as she was the first year, when we were running on just the naquadah generators, it was a bit jarring. It's another thing you'll get used to if you stay here long enough. You doing okay over there?"
"Yes, sir," he said, forcing himself not to fidget, wanting to doing something. "Is there anything I could be doing? Something I can do to help you?"
The ship was increasingly unsteady, shaking as if in turbulence and the course had to be constantly corrected.
"Nope, good for now," Sheppard assured him and then flinched as the POP! of another energy discharge sent more crystals flying. "Damn it. I wish some of that would make its way to ship controls. These things are a dream to fly normally, but with no power they're flying bricks."
They were only a few hundred meters above the water now, rapidly approaching what looked like a large natural harbor with a wide sandy beach backed by forest. Mike watched Sheppard who kept his eyes locked on the looming landscape.
"Well, it looks like we're going to just make it to land before we touch down. You've been a great passenger, Prosser. You wouldn't believe some of the bitching I've heard during approach on previous hard landings." Sheppard's attempt at humor fell a bit flat, but Mike appreciated the attempt all the same. "As you've probably noticed, there are no seatbelts. You're going to want to try to brace yourself. I'd suggest the deck between your chair and the console."
Mike eyed the space, not sure he would fit. "Uh, sir..."
"Move it, Sergeant."
He was still trying to find a position that would get his shoulders below the edge of the console when he heard Sheppard announce calmly:
"Here we go."
"Prosser! You with me, Sergeant?"
He tried to ignore the voice, didn't want to fight the current of lethargy trying to suck him back into comforting, pain-free darkness.
"Wake up, Marine!"
The sharp tap on his cheek was as hard to ignore as the commanding voice. His eyes popped open and he saw, not a scowling DI pissed at him for falling out during formation, but the face of his commanding officer. The light was dim, but he could see the blood-streaked features relax slightly and the mouth quirk up on one side.
"How're you feeling, Prosser?"
"Good to go, sir," Mike answered automatically. He looked around, noticing that he was lying on the deck in the rear of the jumper now. He couldn't remember the landing, but it must have been something if he had ended up back here. But he and Sheppard were alive, that was the important thing.
"You sure about that, Sergeant?" Sheppard asked, sounding amused. "I only ask 'cause, legendary as the Marines are for their stoicism, I'm pretty sure a broken leg counts as a debilitating injury."
"Wha - ?"
As soon as the words were spoken the pain he'd felt at first waking came roaring back, settling in to a burning ball below his left knee and radiating up toward his hip. Ignoring his pounding head, he pushed himself up, wincing at all the places that promised colorful bruising. His boot was missing and the pant-leg had been slit to the knee, revealing a red, swollen lump a few inches below his knee. He flexed his foot slightly and grunted at the feel of bones rubbing against each other. Shit.
"Sorry," Sheppard said ruefully. "The landing was going pretty smoothly until we hit that log and did a three-sixty."
"Not your fault, sir. I'm sure we wouldn't be in this good a shape if I'd been the one flying."
"Thank you." The Colonel gestured to some supplies spread on the deck between them. "I was going to splint the leg while you were unconscious, but you decided to knock me across the cabin when I touched your leg."
Mike paled and then flushed scarlet. "Oh, shit. I'm sorry, sir. I swear I would never – "
Sheppard chuffed out a quiet laugh, ending with a gasp and pressing a hand to the middle of his chest. "I was kidding, Prosser. You cursed like a good Marine and kept pushing me away, but that was about it. I just figured your cooperation would make it easier. Now hold still."
The next few minutes were hard on both of them. When Sheppard sat back on his heels, the splint was in place and they were both pale and sweaty. Mike worried about the way Sheppard kept rubbing at his chest.
"You okay, sir?"
Sheppard started to speak, but was interrupted by a cough. "Sorry. Think I cracked a rib or two. Those consoles are pretty hard. I need to remember to talk to engineering again about adding seat restraints; you'd think they'd have gotten to it in the last four years." A chuckle, quickly replaced by harsh coughing and Sheppard ended up leaning against the bench seat, gasping and paler than before.
Alarmed, Mike struggled to sit up. "Sir, are you sure you're okay?" He inched along the deck using his arms and good leg, gritting his teeth against the flair of pain.
"Maybe more than one rib," Sheppard admitted on a rasping breath and indicated Mike should stay where he was.
A long, mournful howl halted any reply he would have made. Both men looked toward the front of the jumper, trying to see out of the window, but the only thing visible was foliage.
"What was that, sir? Sounded kinda like a wolf or something." Mike looked around for his pack and rifle, but they were still in the cockpit where he had stowed them. He was about to start scooting his way forward when Sheppard began the process of pulling himself to his feet.
"Give me a minute and I'll go get your gear, Prosser. Should have checked on this before," the Colonel muttered, sounding out of breath and ending each sentence with a small gasping cough. When he was finally upright he fumbled open a small panel and looked inside. "Huh. The beacon is working. Good. Rescue jumper won't have any trouble finding us."
Another howl almost drowned out the encouraging pronouncement and the harsh round of coughing that came at the end. Mike watched as Sheppard slumped against the bulkhead, one arm propping him up and the other wrapped protectively across his chest as he coughed. Red specks appeared on his lips and Sheppard quickly swiped at them with a sleeve. Blood. Oh, Christ.
"Sir, I think you need to sit down. I can get our packs and - ." Mike reached behind him and gripped the edge of the bench seat, levering himself back and up onto the seat. Blowing out hard to ignore the pain, he grabbed one of the overhead storage nets for leverage as he surged to his feet, well, foot.
Sheppard ignored him, opening another small panel near the ceiling and yanking the handle inside. The ramp began lowering and light and the smell of the ocean flooded the jumper.
"Sit back down, Prosser," Sheppard wheezed as he shambled past. "I'll join you as soon as I get our packs. Then we can... can just wait to be picked up."
The next roar was closer than before. And to Mike's untrained ear it sounded a bit mad.
"Sounds like our lizard friend is coming to investigate," Sheppard said, coming back from the cockpit, dragging their packs and rifles. Leaving Mike's on the deck by his feet, Sheppard continued to the end of the aisle, next to the open hatch, and eased himself gently onto the bench. He left his own pack on the deck, too, but cradled the P-90 against his chest. "Sorry, the packs were a bit heavy. Don't worry about the lizard. They can get pretty big, but the zoologists say they're usually shy and run away from humans."
The colonel's voice had been reduced to a raspy whisper, interspersed with frequent gasps. Even when he wasn't speaking he was breathing with quick shallow inhalations. Mike was concerned, but he had already figured out that Sheppard didn't want to discuss his injuries. He unclipped his canteen and offered it. While the colonel was taking a couple of sips Mike ripped open the ibuprofen packets Sheppard had given him earlier, popping four pills into his mouth and chewing to get them to activate quicker. When the canteen was passed back he took a big gulp.
"Do we have any idea how long before the jumper gets here, sir?"
"They're probably flying a bit faster than you were," Sheppard smiled wryly, "so they should be here any minute."
Great. He flew like a Sunday driver and crashed on his first flying lesson. He was definitely making a lasting impression on his commanding officer.
Rustling leaves and cracking branches announced the approach of something, probably their lizard. It was moving up Sheppard's side of the jumper. For a few moments they heard it snuffling around the outside and then a mournful whine began, low at first but rapidly gaining in volume.
"You said the lizards can get big. How big is - ?"
Something hit the side of the jumper, rocking it. Mike had propped the foot of his injured leg on the opposite bench; it slipped off and hit the floor. His pained yelp was drowned out by the howl that erupted outside.
Sheppard tried to stand, but the next impact rocked the jumper even harder and he ended up on his knees in the aisle.
"Damned big. Hold on."
There wasn't much else he could do. He braced himself as well as he could, gritting his teeth against the pain every time his leg was jostled and made sure he could reach his P-90 – although he had serious doubts about how much impact it would have against something big enough to shake a jumper. He wished for a SAW, at the very least.
Sheppard was still on his knees, leaning over the benchseat with his head turned toward the opening. From the way his shoulders were shaking Mike suspected he was coughing again, but the continual howling outside drowned it out.
The assault on the jumper moved from the sides to the roof as if it had given up on rolling it over and was just trying to smash it flat.
Finally, after what felt like hours but was probably only a couple minutes, a last thump sent a shudder through the craft. The snuffling and whining resumed.
Mike pulled himself to his feet, moved slowly and carefully down the aisle until he reached Sheppard, who hadn't moved. He leaned down and touched the colonel's shoulder.
"Colonel, I don't know if it's going away or not, but – since we can't close the ramp – it might be prudent to move into the cockpit. The chairs will be more comfortable. And there's a way to manually close the door to it, right?" He knew there was, but he wanted to get Sheppard to respond.
There was a wet cough and Sheppard lifted his head, one shaking hand coming up to wipe at his mouth, leaving a red streak on his cheek. He tried to push away from the bench, but gave it up with a groan.
"I'm sorry, Sergeant," he rasped, "but you're going to have to help me up."
"Not a problem, sir," Mike lied easily. He had to sit down to lift his broken leg over the colonel, so that he could get to the other side. It wasn't graceful, but he got there and assessed the situation. Okay. This was going to be awkward and painful.
He squatted down on only his good leg, his broken one out to the side with just the heel touching the ground. One hand latched onto one of the multitude of protuberances on the jumper wall, for balance and leverage when they stood up; the other arm went around Sheppard's back and grabbed hold of his belt.
"You ready, sir?" he asked and got a shaky nod in return. "Okay, on three. One, two - ."
The enraged howl took him by surprise, coming from directly behind him. Before he could turn to confront the lizard – and he cursed himself for having left his P-90 on the other side of Sheppard – the howling stopped, his leg was seized and he was jerked out of the jumper. His scream rivaled the lizards.
It was huge; easily as big as the jumper, not including the tail. It sort of reminded Mike of a komodo dragon, with a longer neck and rounder head. It clamped onto his leg just above the ankle. The plastic splint provided some protection, but the pressure on the injured leg was immense.
Mike clawed at his holster as he was dragged down the ramp. Maybe he could sting it enough to get it to let go; he didn't think he'd be able to inflict serious damage with the 9mm.
Before he could get the pistol free, the lizard lifted its head and pulled him into the air. He dangled by the one leg, his head and shoulders brushing the ground. Pain flared up the leg and into his torso. He chewed his lip to keep from crying out.
The lizard shook its head.
Mike couldn't hold back the scream that ripped out of his throat. His body jerked from side to side and his head bounced off the jumper ramp at least once. He was sure he heard another bone snap in his leg.
The sound of a P-90 firing on full-auto ripped through the cove. The lizard bellowed and Mike flopped to the ground when the clamp on his leg released. He managed to open his eyes and saw the lizard pawing at its head.
"Get back in the jumper, Prosser!"
Rolling over he saw Sheppard standing at the bottom of the ramp, slapping a new clip into the P-90. Another fusillade pounded the lizard.
Mike didn't wait to see the result. He tried to get to his feet, but his left leg folded under him. Crawling it was. He reached the top of the ramp by the time the rifle fire stopped. He heard clips being exchanged, but before the firing resumed there was a loud thump and a drawn out sigh. He turned in time to see the lizard finish collapsing to the ground. Its head was a bloody mess.
Sheppard watched it for a few moments and then walked unsteadily over the churned up sand to its head, rifle at the ready. Kneeling down, he used his k-bar to cut its throat.
Mike shook his head. He couldn't believe that only a couple hours ago he had thought this man was soft. He watched as Sheppard struggled back to his feet, arm once again wrapped across his chest, as if he suddenly remembered he had injured ribs. Maybe he had. It must have been some adrenalin rush to get him off his knees and down that ramp.
Sheppard made it up the ramp, gingerly lowered himself onto the benchseat, then leaned back and closed his eyes. Mike watched the maneuvers closely and hoped the rescue jumper showed up soon. Sheppard looked like shit and Mike didn't think he'd be able to get up and help if the colonel took a turn for the worse. Any place on his body that hadn't felt bruised and battered before, did now, and his leg was just one screaming lump of pain. He finally worked up the courage to look at the abused limb was surprised to find it looked virtually the same as before – except for the viscous coating from mid-calf to toe of lizard spit, liberally mixed with sand and other beach detritus.
"I've been slimed, sir." Mike was surprised to feel a laugh bubbling up.
Sheppard opened one eye to look at him and smiled slightly. "'Non-dangerous' my ass." His voice was barely above a whisper now as he gasped for breath.
Now Mike laughed. "Yeah, I think so, too."
Before he could think of something else to say he saw Sheppard look out toward the cove. The next moment he heard it: the high-pitched hum of a puddlejumper. It appeared over the water a few seconds later and it was about the prettiest thing he'd seen in ages.
Two Days Later...
Mike fumbled with the crutches he'd been issued that morning, swung his leg cautiously over the side of the bed and stood up. He'd only used them to get back and forth to the head and still had a problem coordinating his arm and leg movements. With almost every 'step' he took he banged his casted leg with a crutch, causing pain to zing up and down the limb and bringing involuntary tears to his eyes. Some of the guys from his squad had been around to witness the maiden voyage and had given him a ration of shit about his clumsiness. It eventually led to them being ejected from the infirmary when the laughter and name calling had gotten too loud.
But he had been lying in bed for two days now and, pain and embarrassment or not, he needed to move around. And he had something of a mission to take care of.
He'd heard the nurses talking last night: Sheppard had been taken off of the ventilator and allowed to wake up. This morning, right after his buddies had been booted, there was a major commotion as the colonel was moved from critical care into the regular ward. There'd been a couple nurses and that petite doctor with the long blond hair moving the bed and several pieces of equipment. An odd collection of non-medical people followed them. The marine in the bed next to his – who was covered in a rash he didn't want to talk about – had explained that they were all on Sheppard's off-world team.
He recognized the Satedan, Ronon, because he'd already been to a hand-to-hand class led by him. The other guy was Dr. McKay, the scientist who'd been so abrasive with the colonel on the radio. Mike figured McKay must be like that all the time, as he listened to the guy bitching about Sheppard getting his 'usual spot' and 'they should just put up a plaque reserving the corner.' The tiny woman was Teyla and she seemed to have a soothing effect on the other two, a quiet murmur having the other two settling down out of the way of the medical personnel.
The colonel had been set up at the far end of the ward with a moveable screen erected between him and 'the hoi-polloi,' as Dr. McKay had named them. His team members had hung around for a couple hours, but first Ronon and then Teyla had departed. McKay had stuck like a burr and his voice would ring out occasionally, usually complaining about someone or something. But the little doctor had showed up about half an hour ago and coaxed him away.
So Mike was going to seize the opportunity. He'd been told to exercise with the crutches. A fifty-foot stroll down to the other end of the ward and back seemed like a good start. If the colonel was a wake, and didn't mind a visitor, he could rest for a minute before heading back to his bed.
The fifty-feet turned out to be much further than he had thought. He was in excellent shape, but he was sweating, his armpits were chaffing and his leg was beginning to throb by the time he reached the dividing curtain. He stopped and caught his breath before poking his head around the barrier.
Sheppard was propped up in bed, still hooked up to an IV and heart monitor, with an oxygen mask covering his nose and mouth. The hair was even wilder than normal. A laptop was open on the tray in front of him, but he was looking up expectantly when Mike's head cleared the curtain. A welcoming smile flashed under the mask and he waved Mike into the enclosure.
Mike clomped his way in. There were chairs, but he stayed on his feet, figuring that was the safest course.
He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. All the practice he'd put into this and he froze up anyway. He could feel his ears turning red. Great.
Sheppard, an amused glint in his eyes, pulled the oxygen mask away from his face. "They told me your leg should heal up fine." The mask snapped back into place.
Grateful for the opening, Mike nodded. "Yes, sir. Six weeks or so and they'll take out the pins. A little rehab and I'll be good to go."
"Good, good. They treating you all right, otherwise?"
"Well, you know, breakfast in bed and all. But I'm getting pretty antsy, just laying around. I'm supposed to get released tomorrow after they put on the permanent cast."
"I know how you feel, Sergeant, believe me." Sheppard poked at the laptop. "There's only so much Tetris a guy can play before your eyes cross. I'll be a few more days."
"I'm glad you're doing so well, Colonel. I was pretty worried about you, back at the jumper." Mike shifted uncomfortably. "I wanted to say 'thank you'."
Sheppard looked confused.
"For saving me from the lizard and all. I just - ."
Sheppard shook his head. "Nothing to thank me for, Prosser. I was just doing my job, just like I'm sure you would have done if our places had been reversed."
Mike stared intently at his feet. Finally he cleared his throat and looked up. "Before the other day, I was kinda pissed about being here and having an Air Force officer as battalion commander." His voice deserted him again. God, this was embarrassing. Thankfully, Sheppard didn't look pissed, just patient. He cleared his throat and blurted it out. "I think you'd make a good marine, sir."
A number of expressions flashed across Sheppard's face. Amusement. Surprise. Embarrassment. Mike was startled when the colonel's face reddened and he turned his head away for a moment. When he looked up, there was a strange expression in his eyes that Mike couldn't put a name to.
A hand came up and moved the oxygen mask. "Thank you, Mike," Sheppard said quietly. "I don't think I've ever had such a high compliment."
Mike bobbed his head. Before the silence could get any more uncomfortable he pointed over his shoulder. "I should get back to my bunk."
"Thanks for coming by. Could you do me a favor before you go? Get rid of the curtain. I'm getting claustrophobic."
Mike chuckled in understanding and folded the panels back to the wall before taking his leave. "Hope you get out of here soon, sir."
"Me, too. And Sergeant?"
Mike looked back, noticing the smile was back on the colonel's face.
"Welcome to Atlantis."
"Glad to be here, sir."