It was a really, really lovely planet and for once, it wasn’t some primitive backwards world that didn’t even know what the word toilet meant. Yes, they had indoor plumbing, and even their own form of indoor heat. It wasn’t quite 20th century Earth, but at least they had houses that kept the outdoors out. Rodney McKay tried not to think of what the Wraith would do this world, well, what they did to every world, but the Orthrons at least were aware of the threat, and were doing their best to find and trade technologies that could benefit them.
It was one of the few planets they’d visited that knew of the concept of parks. Rodney had been surprised when they’d stepped through the gate not to find just wild bushes growing everywhere, and old rundown barns, but to actually come across a well-manicured path which lead several miles to the village, which in turn lead to a series of paths that led to more villages. The parks were dotted about everywhere on the landscape. Small ones and large ones, where the more unkempt and wild nature blended in on the fringes that bled out toward large rolling hills of trees for as far as the eye could see.
Minister Alethra, a tall and skinny man with deep grey eyes to match the strands of silver in his long brown hair, welcomed Sheppard’s team warmly, and was even happier to find out that the weapons they carried were merely for defense against the Wraith. Rodney hadn’t noticed much in the way of protection against the Wraith, but Alethra assured them that they had an ‘early warning system’ for any ground assaults. From the sky, they were as defenseless as any other world.
The initial negotiations went well, and in fact, they went so well that over the next week, even Elizabeth came to visit. She was starting to enjoy the off-world visits and Rodney got the idea that Sheppard liked to show her that, see, yes, he could visit a planet and not start World War III.
The technology they offered, alas, paled in comparison to what they had on Atlantis. They were somewhere on the level of Hoff, and were experimenting to some degree with biochemical research, but nothing like what the Hoffans had been doing, which, Rodney felt had probably doomed the entire planet to total annihilation at the hand of the Wraith, one way or another, which was totally ironic.
Fortunately, despite the pleasantries, it was Sheppard’s team’s last visit for a while, which was fine by Rodney. No ZedPMs, no high tech, and as much as he liked the parks, it looked like the flowers were going to bloom soon and he did not want to be here for allergy season.
The only problem with the Orthron society was their complicated greeting ceremonies, whether you were coming or going. If you bartered with them, you got stuck with the dinners, the speeches, the long, long-winded speeches. And they had to bid farewell to each member of the team, one at a time. Sheppard went first, and since he was military, he got the short speech, which sat fine with him as he sat there with a grin as he was ‘released’ from the dinner. He said that since he knew McKay’s farewell speech was going to last as long as a bad miniseries, he was going to head to the gate and let Elizabeth know they were coming home. Rodney resisted the urge to stick his tongue at him, or throw a spitball, or anything equally as immature because, as a ‘valued’ representative, his speech was being left for last.
He thought that Teyla might escape as soon as her farewell ceremony was enacted, but no, she was as unlucky as him because she was also considered Rodney’s ‘interpreter.’ She’d broken down his ‘technobabble’ once or twice and got stuck with him like a fly to flypaper. And in turn, Ronon got stuck to Teyla because the Minister’s wife thought they were a couple, and Teyla was too polite to correct the woman, who doted incessantly on the Satedan.
Rodney’s counterpart was wrapping up his speech now. It was dull. It was duller than a spoon used to chip ice for the last century and seem to last as long. Dull, Dull, DULL! Sheppard had sat through the first minute, then tapped Rodney on the shoulder, smiled that infuriatingly irksome smirk and said, “Well, I’m done. See ya!”, and left. Just left him! Abandoned him! Whatever happened to ‘no man left behind’?! Bastard….
“Rodney,” Teyla said reproachfully under her breath.
”What?” He hadn’t said that out loud, had he?
“It is not the colonel’s fault he was released first,” she sighed. Even Teyla envied him, Rodney could tell. “But you should not think ill of him for that.” She arched one eyebrow. “It is very evident on your face what you were thinking.”
Crap. He’d have to practice gritting his teeth more or something. At least none of the Orthrons could read minds, or faces.
A round of applause broke out and then the boring scientist ended his speech and came over, bowing in front of Rodney.
Rodney almost said ‘about time!’ but a hard nudge in his ankle under the table silenced him. “Thank you,” he smiled at the boring scientist who was so boring that Rodney couldn’t even recall the man’s name.
Minister Alethra and his wife, equally thin with flinty blue eyes that always seemed to end up taking in the delights of Ronon’s chest, came over to make the final, but thankfully, short farewells.
“Will the colonel not be joining you for the trip back?” asked Iale, the minister’s wife, who seemed to finally pry her vision off the Satedan. No, he’s fled, skipped the country, left us high and dry and in the lurch, Rodney wanted to scream, but instead, Teyla spoke up, which honestly did save them from the terrible embarrassment of him speaking his mind.
“Yes, the colonel did say he would be back,” she said, frowning slightly as she looked at her watch. “He went to the gate and said he would return after he checked in with Dr. Weir.”
“He’s probably found some young lass who’s taken a fancy to him,” suggested Iale.
God forbid, thought McKay. These Pegasus Galaxy women. Why couldn’t they keep their paws off Sheppard? Better yet, why couldn’t they put their paws on him? Rodney shrugged off the thoughts – who needed an ulcer? – and instead tapped hard on his radio. “Colonel Sheppard. Hello, are you on the way back yet? Hello??”
Silence, then a horrible scream - so unearthly that if Rodney hadn’t had the radio secured to his vest he would have dropped it – emitted loudly from the radio.
“Oh my god,” McKay uttered in shock.
“That wasn’t—“ Ronon stopped dead in his words. No, that couldn’t have been Sheppard. That’s what the man meant to say, that Sheppard couldn’t scream like that.
“Oh dear,” said the wife, her eyebrows drawn down in a sharp point.
“Oh dear?” parroted Rodney in anger. None of the Orthrons looked horrified like the team did – that Sheppard might have just been murdered or that this was all a terrible ruse and the man wasn’t being tortured for gate codes or something while the rest of them were eating dessert.
“Colonel Sheppard would not walk off the path, would he?” Minister Alethra asked very seriously.
Rodney shook his head in shock. What? They were asking if Sheppard would do what? “Stay on what path?” The path to the straight and narrow??
“The stone path back to the gate.” Alethra turned to one of his aides, whispered something and the young man ran off. “The one that you came to our village upon, of course.”
“How should I know? Sheppard’s got a lousy sense of direction,” muttered Rodney under his breath. “But I’m sure he’d stay on the path.”
Teyla tried her radio, but to no avail. Ronon was getting angrier as each second passed his radio call also went unanswered.
“He would not try to take a short cut?” Alethra sounded mortified at the idea.
My god, these people were going to nitpick them to death with the same question! Rodney was beginning to think that shortcut might be Sheppard’s middle name. John Shortcut Sheppard. We’ll just cut through here, get lost, and stumble on the Genii’s hidden nuclear hideout.
Ronon withdrew his gun from the holster in one slick, violent motion.
“No!” shrieked Iale, physically grabbing the gun. Considering how small she was and how big Ronon was, it was a suicidal move, but the Satedan actually had the smarts not to send her flying and start an interplanetary war.
“If the colonel strayed off the path, then it is too late,” said the Minister, his face masked with worry. “There has not been an attack in many, many months.”
“Attack?” The team’s voices collided in worry.
To be continued