"Potential new medicines." Rodney piped up.
"That." John agreed. "Easy negotiations, and–" he raised his finger as they walked. "No Wraith!" He smiled, decidedly pleased.
The moment they stepped out of the event horizon they were greeted by Samantha Carter, smiling as she stepped forward. "Colonel."
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "I take it negotiations went well." She said, indicating his pleased smile and relaxed stance.
"They are more than willing to trade with us." Teyla said, answering for John. "Their medicines for any help we can give them technologically. Particularly in the area of agriculture."
"Yes." John agreed. "Those beans must be harvested."
Sam's mouth curved slightly in amusement, but she quickly returned to business. "Major Lorne and his team just returned from a reconnaissance mission to planet P8X-450, where they think they may have found a ZPM; there's an Ancient outpost there. I think you should check it out."
John glanced at her sideways. "Any reason why Lorne can't?"
"A member of his team broke their ankle; apparently the terrain is somewhat… treacherous."
"Just checking." He tipped his chin in the direction of the Gate. "When do you want us to leave?"
John looked at her. "That soon, huh?"
"Alright," John announced, waving his hand at his team. "Let's head back out."
"Um, where, exactly, is this ZPM supposed to be located?" Rodney asked, raising one hand.
"About two miles north of the Gate." Nodding at the team, Sam turned and headed out of the Gate room.
The even horizon disappeared behind them with a loud whine and whoosh, and then all was still and silent. Before them stretched a great expanse of jungle-like terrain, with large trees standing tall and silent, draped in robes of moss and vines with soft-petaled white flowers. The air was heavy, and filled with a thick scent of moisture and damp earth and growing things. The sky overhead was overcast and grey with low clouds, and a blanket of mist hung over everything, sticky and impossible to see through.
Rodney pulled some electronic gadget from his pocket and studied it. His brows drew together, and he pushed a few buttons, then finally smacked it with his palm. "Hm."
"What?" John asked.
"My sensor's all screwed up." The scientist pushed a few more buttons. "I can't make heads or tails of these readings– it's like the signal's been scrambled." Looking up, an expression of understanding dawned on Rodney's face, quickly replaced by one of resignation and annoyance. "This planet's a dead zone."
Ronon glanced at him. "A what?"
"A dead zone," Rodney answered, turning and gesturing with his hand. "Basically the magnetic fields of this planet are such that no electronic device will work here."
"So," John squinted his eyes as he glanced around. "No radios?"
"No radios." Rodney confirmed. "And no energy signatures."
"Well, Sam did say the ZPM was two miles north."
"Great. Now which way is north? No compass either."
There was a momentary pause, and then Ronon heaved a sigh and pushed his way forward. Ignoring Rodney's complaints as the scientist rubbed his shoulder, he crouched down in the dirt before John and studied the ground, his gaze dark with concentration. With one finger he reached out and gently traced something. Then he looked up, and his eyes were sparkling with satisfaction. "This way."
John smiled, and started to follow as Ronon stood up and began to walk.
"Oh." Rodney glanced at Teyla as she passed, and she smiled at him. "Of course, I was just about to suggest that."
It was not hard to follow the trail left by Major Lorne and his team, though the ground was dangerously slick with mud and rotting vegetation, and Ronon sometimes had to stop and study the tracks for a moment when they would disappear in the moss covered ground. During one such pause Ronon's head suddenly whipped up, staring into the trees just as a bird rose into the air with an echoing stutter of surprise. John watched it fly away, then glanced down. Ronon was still staring into the trees. Every muscle seemed tense and ready to spring.
"What is it?" John asked, keeping his voice down.
Ronon didn't answer at first, his eyes burning a hole into the understory of ferns and vines veiled in drooping mist. Teyla held her gun to her shoulder in the direction of his gaze, her eyes sliding between him and the trees with trepidation. Rodney stood frozen, hands outstretched, trying not to breathe. Finally Ronon relaxed and stood, though he still gazed into the trees with wariness.
"Everything okay?" John questioned.
"Yeah." The big Satedan looked down at him. "Thought I saw something." He tipped his head, dreadlocks swinging down his back.
Without a word John followed, though the back of his neck was prickling. Behind him he heard Rodney release a heavy breath, and then mutter: "I hate it when he does that."
A few minutes later they arrived at a large structure built under a hill. The immense metal doors were open, evidence of scuffed boot prints in the mud and dirt before them, remains of vines and hanging moss littering the ground where Lorne and his team had cleared the doors of their foliage. There was a particularly large gouge in the mud beside one of the doors, and mud along the bottom edge of the door where Lorne's team member had slipped and caught his foot, snapping his ankle. A look of sympathy crossed Teyla's face as they passed by and into the underground structure.
"They got this far, why didn't they just grab the ZPM and bring it back with them?" Rodney exclaimed ahead of her, somewhere in the darkened interior.
"Maybe they couldn't find it." John's voice suggested.
"Please. How hard is it to find a ZPM?"
She could not see it, but Teyla could feel Ronon's eyes turning toward Rodney's voice in mild amusement.
"About as hard as it is to find a light switch?" John's voice offered helpfully.
There was a sigh. "Alright. Point taken. Just give me a minute to– ah! Here we go."
A moment later Teyla's sight was returned to her as light flickered throughout the interior. Running horizontally down the center of each wall was a channel of some sort, filled with oil and dancing flame. Rodney, who was standing near the doorway, tossed away a match, pleased with himself. "Well, this does appear to be of Ancient design– but something's not quite right– no, it looks more like someone mimicked Ancient design–"
Ronon, his eyes flickering over the room, turned. "Why would there be a ZPM on a planet like this?"
Rodney looked at him in confusion. "Huh?"
"You said electronic things don't work here."
"Oh! Right. Well, obviously they must have found a way to make something work, or maybe they were in the process of trying to make it work."
John squinted one eye. "Make it work?"
"Yeah, you know," Rodney waved his hand. "Whatever they were working on."
"Uh huh." John eyed him one last time, then glanced around. "Alright, lets check it out, see if we find anything."
There were not many rooms, and each one had the same lighting system of oil and fire running along channels in the walls. The team split up, but not for long. A few minutes later John, Ronon, and Teyla met again in the main room.
"Nothing." John said.
"Same here." Teyla confirmed.
"This whole place is empty." Ronon said. He looked bored. "There's nothing here, Sheppard."
Just then Rodney's voice echoed through the air. "Guys! I found it!"
They found him in the last room, standing in the doorway and proudly holding a ZPM. "This," he declared smugly, pointing over his shoulder. "Was their storage facility. There's not much left but dust and cobwebs, but they did leave behind a small crate, and in the crate are two more ZPMs."
"This is great!" John peered over Rodney's shoulder and down at the ZPM he held. "Let's gather them up and head back to Atlantis."
"Yes, well, there's just– one more thing."
Rodney's face suddenly seemed a little less pleased, and possibly a little nervous. Leading them into the room, he pointed to the corner. There was an SGA bedroll, laid out and obviously slept in, several packs– all but one now empty– and a small pile of burned up matches. "Anyone been going out on any secret camping trips?" Rodney asked flippantly, though his voice was tight.
John glanced around, fingers securing themselves around his gun, though he did not bring it to his shoulder. "Now is everyone sure they did not see anything during the search of the place?"
Teyla and Ronon shook their heads. "As we said before," Teyla answered. "The rooms are empty."
"Alright, then." John pulled in his bottom lip in concentration. "Rodney, gather up the ZPMs. Then let's see what we can find."
"What?" Rodney stared at him in disbelief. "You're not seriously suggesting we go traipsing through that jungle out there searching for who knows who or what?"
"That's exactly what I'm suggesting."
"We don't have radios!"
"Which is why we're staying together as a group." John said, his tone patient as it always was when explaining things to Rodney.
"What if something happens?"
"Rodney, those are Stargate personnel packs. Even the bedroll has the SG insignia. For all we know it could be one of our guys out there."
"You don't know that! Besides, there's no one missing from Atlantis!" Rodney exclaimed. "And even if they were from Atlantis, why wouldn't they have just Gated home?"
"Look, I don't know!" John admitted. "But I think it would be wise to find out, don't you?"
Rodney fell silent, grasping for a logical reason that would soundly contradict John. Teyla glanced between the two men. "Rodney," she said calmly and soothingly. "Would it not be wise to discover how someone came into possession of these items, if they are indeed not one of our own?"
Ronon checked his gun. "Could be a threat."
Rodney glanced around, then groaned in defeat. "Fine." He conceded. "I'll get the ZPMs."
They had been trekking through the mist-shrouded jungle for the better part of thirty minutes, slipping in the mud and moss and clambering over rocks and immense fallen trees. Rodney, pack laden with the three ZPMs, had surprisingly kept silent the first fifteen minutes, but upon his twentieth slip the blessed quiet was disturbed and had been ever since. Ronon scouted ahead of the group, but as yet had found no tracks.
"The ground is terribly wet." Teyla observed finally. "Perhaps it has rained recently and washed the trail away?"
"I would say that is a distinct possibility." John agreed, grimacing as his boots made horrible squelching noises with every step.
A twig broke, and in the silence of the woods it seemed to crack like a gunshot and echo around them. Four guns whipped up, one decidedly less steady than the others. "What was that?" Rodney whispered, his eyes wide as he held his handgun before him with trembling hands.
No one answered, scanning the woods with their eyes. For what seemed like forever there was nothing, and then suddenly Ronon saw movement between two trees, and without any warning he rushed forward.
"Ronon!" John yelled, but the Satedan ignored him, weaving around trees as a figure darted out from its place of cover. Grunting, John took off after both, and heard Teyla just behind and Rodney's "Oh, come on!" as the scientist tried to keep up.
Though the mist made it hard to see anything clearly Ronon could make out the figure of someone, a human, running away from him. The human was about Teyla's size, and was running for all they were worth. He could hear their gasps for breath as they stumbled in the mud and continued, somehow managing to stay ahead of him, if only for a short while, darting around trees and over roots, using the landscape to their advantage. Sometimes he lost them in the mist, but he always found them again, and he was gaining. Their legs strained as he drew closer, trying to stay ahead of him, but his legs were longer. He could see more clearly who it was he chased: a woman, in military pants and a dark tank top– damp with sweat from her flight. With a yell he dove forward, catching her around the waist, and there was a cry as they sailed through the air and landed, sliding in the mud in a tangle of arms and legs. The woman beneath him yelled and struggled to break free, and a fist suddenly swung down and crashed into the side of his head. Ronon's grip loosened, and she pulled out and turned to her hands and knees, slipping and sliding as she moved away, trying to gain her feet. Shaking his head, Ronon growled and grabbed her ankle, twisting as a foot aimed for his face and narrowly missed. Keeping his grip he rose to his knees, only to have a handful of cold, slimy, gritty mud hit him in the eyes, making them sting and water. Refusing to let go he shook his head angrily, wiping at the mud with his free hand till he could see, only to find a body directly before him and two hands, in black fingerless gloves, fisted together and swinging in at his head. His head exploded as he fell to one side, and the foot wrenched itself from his grasp. Growling, Ronon once more pushed himself to his knees as the woman scrambled away, and as she made it to her feet and started to run he leapt forward and crashed into her, throwing them face first into the mud once more. There was shouting in two distinct languages, fingers pulling at his dreadlocks and clawing at his face, knees attempting to drive into him, but this time Ronon laid fully upon her with all of his weight, and managing to catch the clawing hands he pushed them to the ground and held them there, on either side, slowly grinding them into the mud. The body strained under him, but could not move.
There was enraged shouting– cursing at him, he presumed– and then, energy spent, the woman fell silent, her rib cage heaving as she fought for breath, adrenaline making the pulse pound in her neck and her skin grow hot and flushed. She glared at him with narrowed, dark eyes, full lips baring white teeth as she pulled in breath.
Ronon glared down at her, blinking away grit and tasting blood and foul mud on his tongue. "You done?" he growled.
She stared at him, then her face twisted and she bucked. "Get off me!" she demanded.
Ronon tightened his hold on her, gritting his teeth. Glaring at him again she jerked her head, attempting to fling a muddy tendril of black hair from her face.
There was the sound of fast, heavy footsteps, and the sound of Rodney gasping.
"Everything okay?" John asked somewhere behind him.
Still glaring down at the equally unhappy woman, Ronon gritted. "Yeah."
John tipped his head, eyeing his almost unrecognizable teammate, covered from head to toe in brown mud and moss– smeared across his face and dripping from the ends of his dreadlocks. Ronon did not look happy.
Beneath him, trapped and secure, was an equally befouled young woman, full lips pressed together and dark eyes narrowed and trying to burn twin holes into the Satedan's face despite the lock of dark hair lying over her face. "Do you promise not to run?" John asked her.
"Only if he lets go of me." She snapped, bucking to emphasize the word 'go.'
For a moment there was nothing as Ronon and the woman glared at each other, then Ronon let go of her wrists and pushed himself to his feet. The woman gave him a withering look as she stiffly pushed herself into a sitting position, and then she slowly stood, stretching her back and shoulders and grabbing the offending tendril of hair and throwing it off.
John studied her, noting her military pants. "So," he said. "I take it it's your camp back at the underground structure."
She glanced at him.
"You– care to tell us who you are?"
Her dark eyes flickered over each member of the team. "You are part of– SGA? Like the badges on the packs?" she asked.
John shifted. "Maybe." He hedged.
"I found them here and there on different planets. Usually where there seemed to have been a fight." Wiping a hand across her face she smeared the mud. "Sorry if I took your things."
"Do not be." Teyla assured her.
"Yeah, sometimes we kinda have to abandon our packs and things when we're being chased." John agreed, and was rewarded with a hint of amusement in the dark eyes.
"Yes, yes, yes, this is all fine and dandy," Rodney announced in annoyance, bent over and still trying to catch his breath. "But you didn't actually answer our question."
Running a gloved hand up and down her right arm, she glanced at the SG team, and shifted her weight. "Are you from Earth?" she asked.
No one answered. John looked unsure, Ronon dark and menacing. Teyla simply waited, patiently.
"I'm Alex." She finally said. Her eyes darted among them. "Alexandra Maria Hinata."
John tipped his chin. "That's an Earth name." He observed.
"But how?" Rodney asked. "She's not from personnel! She couldn't have come here from Atlantis. So how– did– she– get– here?"
"She could be lying." Ronon said, pulling out his gun and holding it in both hands; but he kept it pointed at the ground.
Teyla held up her hand. "Perhaps– we should let her explain, first."
"I would appreciate that. Thank you." The woman crossed her arms and stood with her feet slightly spread, settling into a comfortable stance.
"Okay." John eyed her. "Explain."
She stared at him for a moment, and then laughed as though in disbelief. "You got a few hours?"
John pressed his lips together, and glanced up at the sky as a low, gentle roll of thunder filled the air in warning. "Maybe we should head back." He said. "Take her with us. That way, she'll only have to explain once." He tilted his head towards her by way of indicating his thoughtfulness.
A hint of nervousness entered her eyes, though her expression never changed. "You sure?"
"Well, you did take our packs without asking." John said, shrugging his shoulders. Then he glanced at her. "Shall we return to the base and gather your belongings?"
She nodded. "Just one pack. That one is mine."
He nodded. "Then lets head back, and then we'll go on to the Gate."
"Oh, finally." Rodney groaned in relief.
Ronon waited until Alex, giving him a glance from the corner of her eye, walked past him, following the rest of the team. Then he fell into step behind her.
"Mono estúpido grande." she muttered. Big, stupid ape.
A snort burst from Rodney before he could catch it, and John glanced back at her with a bemused look on his face.
Sam stepped up behind John, blond hair pulled back into a ponytail. She glanced into the interrogation room and watched the young woman, who had been sitting, heave a sigh and stand up to wander. She had been allowed to shower, with an escort, of course, and she now wore a loose, blue SGA uniform, her dark hair hanging wet down her back. She still wore her gloves, having washed them in the sink.
John glanced at Sam, then returned his gaze to the room. "She says she's from Earth." He stated.
"So I heard." Sam watched as the dark haired woman walked slowly around the table, staring up at the ceiling and swinging her arms. "She tell you anything else?"
John shook his head. "Nah. It was starting to rain, so we packed up and came back here. Figured that way she can tell everybody at once."
Sam nodded, then took a deep breath. "Ready?"
He turned and smiled. "We were just waiting on you."
Alex turned as Sam opened the door and John followed with his team. Being suddenly confronted with so many grave faces she took a step back, watching them warily. Sam offered her a smile, and held out her hand. "Please," she said. "Sit."
Alex sat down, her eyes never leaving them, and she rested her arms on the table.
As everyone else sat down as well around the table, Sam folded her hands on its surface. "Colonel Sheppard tells me you're from Earth."
"Can you prove it?"
For a moment she didn't answer, then her eyes fell on Ronon who watched her with an expression somewhere between amused unbelief and distrust. Dark eyes narrowing, some extra measure of confidence entered her gaze, and Alex turned to direct her answer to Sam and John. "In 1997 the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, 35-21. George W. Bush was the President last I heard, and in 2005 Brad Pitt broke up with Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lache broke up, and the U.S. was hit with Hurricane Katrina."
Sam nodded, her face neutral. "Okay." she conceded. "But all of that is public knowledge."
"To who in this galaxy?" John asked in subdued surprise.
"Also in 2005 a Goa'uld by the name of Baal hid himself on Earth in Seattle to escape the Jaffa, and when you guys found him he planted a bomb and threatened to set it off if anyone went after him."
The room grew silent. Sam straightened, her lips pressing together. John shared a look with his teammates. "How do you know this?" Sam asked, her expression closed.
"Because," Alex said, and her voice grew tight. "That's where I was when he took me for a host."
Rodney's eyes grew large, and he pulled back in his chair in undisguised horror. "What?" he gasped.
Alex dropped her head with a sigh, and then she sat back, making herself comfortable. "I was a student at the University of Washington-Seattle. I majored in Biology, with an emphasis on Botany, and was going for my Graduate's. To pay for college I modeled part-time. There was this fashion show, a big one, and they put my face on all of the advertisements. After the show I went out the back way to go to my car, and– I was grabbed." she smiled, but it was tight. "Apparently Baal had seen my picture and liked what he saw."
There was silence as she paused, glancing around, trying to read the faces staring back at her. She sighed.
"What Baal didn't know was that the Goa'uld he stuck me with had plans of her own; she wanted to rule, and over the next year carefully planned a take-over with a few others, with the understanding that she was the one in charge." Her smooth face never changed its expression, but her dark eyes grew black with memory, the muscles tightening around them. "She failed. She had too little support, and had to run– somehow she brought us to this galaxy. It was the only place Baal wouldn't find her." She shook her head, and a small laugh escaped her. "That Goa'uld was as stupid as she was arrogant." She muttered.
Sam frowned. "Explain."
"We went straight from the frying pan into the fire." Alex answered. "The first planet she took us to was occupied by Wraith. We were caught before we'd even realized the danger– she jumped out of me, trying to save her own skin, but the second command of the Hive ship parked there shot her before she got very far." Her eyes tightened again, more noticeably this time. "When I woke up I was in some kind of room. They tried to feed on me but– they stopped. They put a tracking device in my back and let me go."
Rodney's face paled as the possible consequences jumped into his mind.
"It's gone." She reassured him. "I managed to find a doctor in a small village who was able to take it out. I moved around after that; the Wraith still wanted me. Apparently the second in command who had let me go fell into– disfavor– because he'd given up a valuable source of information. Then I discovered the planet you found me on; I discovered nothing electrical worked there, which meant that if they scanned the planet for life signs they couldn't find me. So I stayed." Her story finished, Alex waited, her fingers subconsciously playing with themselves as she tried to read their reactions.
Sam and John glanced at each other, and everyone else glanced at everyone else. Their expressions were pensive, and grave, thoughts racing in every set of eyes but one– and his green eyes held her dark ones with a steady, solid gaze that was both unnerving and puzzling at the same time.
"That is– some story." John finally commented.
Sam nodded, and stood. "We should check it out immediately." Turning, she addressed Alex. "If your story is true, we should be able to verify it."
"That's it?" Rodney exclaimed. "We're just going to check some Earth records and be done with it? She was a host, or am I the only one who heard that?"
"We'll do an MRI scan." Sam said. Her tone was firm, with just enough of a warning in it to make Rodney silence his complaints. "Until then you'll be kept under guard and in a holding cell. You understand."
Alex nodded, though she did look crestfallen. "I do. I understand."
Sam nodded. "Alright. Dismissed."
As everyone left and the two guards standing at the door moved to escort Alex, John hurried after Sam, skipping slightly in his haste. "You don't really think she's still a host, do you?" he asked under his breath.
"No." Sam said, also keeping her voice low. "I didn't sense anything, but we'll still do an MRI to be safe."
Dr. Jennifer Keller put the scans on the light board, her back to the gathered SG team and Sam. "She's clean." She announced, turning to face them. "No Goa'uld."
"What about her other tests?" Sam asked.
"All clean." Jennifer confirmed. "There's absolutely nothing abnormal about her, although she does carry the same protein marker as you, Colonel Carter."
Ronon frowned, his expression matching Teyla's. "Protein marker?" he questioned.
"When a Goa'uld leaves its host, it leaves behind a protein marker." Jennifer explained, moving her hands as she talked. "Probably why the Wraith made her a runner instead of feeding on her."
Teyla's eyes lit with understanding. "Because they couldn't."
Jennifer pointed her finger at Teyla. "Exactly."
John, leaning back in his plastic chair with one leg crossing the other and his arms folded, tipped his head. "So she was telling the truth."
"About being a host and a runner, at least." Rodney interjected, his expression thoughtful.
"Yeah, about that," John looked up at Sam standing beside him. "Any word?"
Sam nodded. "There was an Alexandra Maria Hinata enrolled as a Biology student at the University in Seattle, who disappeared four years ago after modeling in a fashion show."
"Were you able to find her family?" Teyla asked, clearly relieved that the woman's story was true.
There was a pause, Sam's expression falling. "Her father died of a heart attack last year."
The group fell silent.
"That sucks." Rodney whispered.