Chapter fourteen: Traitor
The coward wasn't used to running. Ronon closed on him within a few dozen steps, and caught him a dozen steps later, wrestling him to the ground. "Why did you do it?" He ripped out his weapon, aiming it at the vile creature's throat. "Talk, or I'll kill you. Maybe I just will."
"No. No." The traitor was on his back, struggling. "No. Please."
Ronon was dimly aware of someone else stopping, of people watching, of people shouting. None of it mattered. The only thing that existed for him was his enemy, and the weapon that could end it all. "Please." The traitor had seen them too, his eyes flickering desperately towards them. "Help me. He's trying to kill me."
Because he deserves it. He sold us all to the enemy. He almost said it out loud, but snatched it back at the last moment. Lying didn't come easily to him, but silence did. He hauled the traitor up, and dragged him away with an arm around his body, the weapon pressed to his side.
"Please!" the coward screamed.
He saw their faces then; saw the uncertainty and the fear and the distrust. He had seen looks like these for days. Sheppard had gone crazy, then had left; that's what these people thought. They'd heard Ronon shouting at Sheppard and betraying everything his team leader had ever done for him. Not any more, he thought. Not any more. They had their traitor, and things had gone far past the point of concealment now. Weapons were unsheathed, and the enemy was someone he could meet face to face.
"McKay caught him setting a bomb in the communications suite," he told them. "Explosion in the Control Room, too. Radios down."
It would have to be enough, because it was all he was giving them. His enemy was in his grip, and that was all that mattered. A door opened, and he dragged the man down the corridor, then into a room. He threw him down, letting him strike the wall, watching him slide down, watching him try to scrabble backwards with his feet, but getting the direction wrong and getting himself pinned in the corner.
Pathetic! He wanted to kill him there and then. A coward like this! A sorry excuse for a man! And yet he had caused them all to spend days distrusting each other, and had forced Sheppard into this dangerous game. He had brought Atlantis to its knees. A worthy enemy would have been better. This was just… was just…
"Don't hurt me," the traitor pleaded.
Ronon stood over him. "Why not?"
The traitor looked wretched, but at times like this Ronon knew how to be deaf to pity. "Because… Please…"
"No threats?" He started to pace, never letting his weapon waver from the traitor's chest. He remembered how adamant Sheppard had been that the traitor was allowed to get on with his work. If his messages to Carrick stopped, Sheppard would be in danger. But too late for that now. He'd shown his hand, and he'd overheard too much back in the lab. "Not threatening me with your friend's vengeance?"
"My friend?" The traitor's mouth opened and shut. "I don't know what you mean."
"We know you're a traitor." Ronon stopped closer. "I know."
He wasn’t good at interrogation. Sheppard was better at it, and Ronon had usually limited himself to standing in silent menace at Sheppard's side. It was easier just to hurt people. It was easier just to kill. But that isn't our way, he imagined Sheppard saying. It wasn't Ronon's way, either, or at least it hadn't been once, before the fall of Sateda. He was learning how to work with words again. They needed answers, not anger.
"Just tell me why." Just the question. Maybe not words at all, but just the threat of the weapon.
The traitor stilled. Except with his team, Ronon still wasn't as good as he could have been at reading people, but he thought the man looked almost relieved. "I had no choice," he began.
"There's always a choice," Ronon snarled.
"I didn't–" The traitor tried to move his hand, but Ronon jerked his weapon towards it, finger tightening on the trigger. "You have to listen. I… I was off-world, studying an Ancient facility when… when they… they took me."
"You did this to save your skin?" Ronon was flooded with disgust. He was back on the Wraith base, learning what his old friends had done. Best to kill him now, to hurt him, to smash his face, to… He snarled, a sound of pure wordless anger. They needed answers. Sheppard would need answers, and McKay, and Teyla, and everyone else damaged by this.
"No!" The traitor was crying now. "Not mine. They… they showed me pictures. Recordings. It was horrible. He was screaming. It was… I could hardly recognise him. It was Sergeant Manning. Nick. He flew me on a few missions over the last year, and we… I liked him. We were friends, and they were hurting him."
Ronon remembered watching Sheppard tortured on that screen. He remembered standing there, all of them, all watching, all doing nothing. He made his face cold, made his voice as icy as he had heard Sheppard's on a few awful occasions. "Go on."
"Carrick said… He said that if I came back to Atlantis and helped him, he wouldn't hurt Nick any more. He said Nick's life was in my hands."
"Bet he was lying. Bet he's already dead."
The traitor flinched, then let out a breath. He looked as if he was fading, sinking into defeat. "I couldn't… I had to take the chance. If I'd said no, it would have been murder. I couldn't do that; I couldn't."
"And you wanted to save your own skin." Ronon had to be cold.
"I had to do it!" the traitor moaned. "I didn't think it would matter."
He came close to dying at that moment.
"I thought Colonel Sheppard would start asking questions. I thought someone would notice and force me to say something. I thought they'd find Nick. I thought they'd go after Carrick and put him down. I thought they'd do it before any harm was done, because they always do, don't they? You found Colonel Sheppard when he disappeared, and I thought… And even if Carrick did make it to Atlantis, there's no way he'd take it. I mean, he's just a… a thug, and we've got all the techonology of the Ancients and of Earth. I didn't think it would come to anything. I didn't think it'd do any harm."
If he had been ranting hatred for everything Atlantis stood for, it would have been easier. "You planted bombs."
"Only small ones. Controlled ones. I was careful."
Ronon hit him, smashing him across the face with his empty hand.
"I didn't want anyone to get hurt."
"Ten men dead." Ronon hit him again. "Another still missing. You gave their positions to Carrick. You murdered them." He struck him again. What would I have done? No, no, he couldn't think it – couldn't imagine Sheppard or Teyla or McKay being tortured, and Carrick promising to stop it if only he… No. No. There was only one choice. Friendship and loyalty meant everything, but there were some places where you could not go.
But friendship and loyalty meant everything… And so he struck the traitor again, blood flying from his lying lips, and again and again, until he snatched his hand back, but he was not exhausted, and the anger was worse than ever.
"I never expected it to happen," the traitor. "I thought someone would stop it. People always do - Colonel Sheppard, Doctor McKay… They can do anything. It's… it's incredible. And then people started dying, but each time I thought… I thought it would be the last one, but if I said anything, they'd kill Nick." He let out a breath. "I knew it was my fault, but I was in too deep already. I didn't know how to make it stop."
"There's always a way to stop." He struck him again.
"I know. I was coming to tell you," the traitor said through broken lips. "That's why I came to McKay's lab. I can't communicate with him any more, so it doesn't matter. The attack's coming any minute."
"When?" Ronon demanded. "How many men? What's their plan?"
The traitor shook his head. "I don't know. I don't know any of that. I just know… He told me to take out communications and sensors. I said no – that I wouldn't go this far, even if he killed Nick – but he said… He said that if I made it easy for him to take the city, no-one would get hurt. He'd use stunners. He'd take prisoners and everyone could go home. But if I didn't do it… He said he had ways to get in anyway, but it would be far messier. He said he had drones. He said someone else from Atlantis was helping him, anyway. He said everyone would die unless I helped him with this."
"When are they coming?" Ronon had to ignore the pathetic justifications, and focus on what mattered.
"I don't know, but it must be soon. But I… I only damaged the interface. It won't take long to fix. McKay… he's better than I am. Zelenka, too. They'll fix things in time. And Colonel Sheppard defeated the Genii when they came, and Major Lorne and the soldiers…" He licked his lips, smearing the blood. "I was going to confess. That's why I came, but I… I lost my nerve when you…" Another breath. "It's been killing me. I haven't slept–"
Ronon turned his back. He could kill him, of course. Perhaps the man was lying and still had a way to help Carrick. If he was dead…
Then he thought of Carrick on his way to Atlantis. They'd have to prepare a defence, and radios were down. Sheppard had gone through all this – had put them through all this – in order to save Atlantis. We're not in it for revenge, buddy. He could almost hear his team leader's voice in his head.
The last time he had seen Sheppard, he had told him he had no respect for him. He had betrayed him.
Not any more, he thought, as he changed the settings on his weapon, and fired.
It would have been better, he thought, to have killed him at the start, and not bothered to talk. Questions were not his way, and the answers had offered no help at all, and had only made things worse.
It was best to have an enemy you could hate.
They were barely an hour in hyperspace. Sheppard was edgy when they emerged. It was better than a long trip, he supposed – less chance of giving himself away – but it didn't feel good to think of the enemy base being not much more than an hour away from Atlantis. They hadn't fully explored all their neighbouring planets yet. Of course, with the Stargates, any planet was effectively just next door, but they had a shield to take care of that.
"You're really doing this." Manning had been quiet for the whole time they were in hyperspace. Sometimes Sheppard had feared that he had died, but whenever he looked his way, the sergeant's eyes had been burning in his flushed face.
"Yeah." He gave a wry smile, perhaps of apology. Soon, he thought. Maybe only minutes.
Manning subsided. The worst thing to remember was not the pleading, but the time he had begged Sheppard to let him join him.
"Are we hidden?" Carrick asked.
"Yeah. Safely cloaked," Sheppard answered, then realised that Carrick had been talking to the scientists. "What? You don't trust me? I'm hurt."
Carrick ignored him. Because Sheppard had no choice – because he was doing exactly what he had chosen to do – he took the ship ever closer to Atlantis. It would take about twenty minutes, he thought. Twenty minutes. Plenty of time.
Atlantis would know they were here, of course. As well as the transmitter, there were the standard sensors; Ancient sensors could, of course, see through an Ancient cloak, although Carrick apparently thought they could not. It was a simple case of transmitting that location to Daedalus, and then it would all be over. Sheppard and Manning beamed out, the ship disabled, and there they'd have themselves a nice little prison ship floating in space. There'd be time afterwards to decide what to do with them. Despite everything Carrick had done, blowing the ship up in cold blood didn't feel right. Perhaps some savage wilderness planet without a Stargate…
Time for that later, he told himself, knowing that missions could go south right at the very end if you started to relax and tell yourself it was almost over. He still had to be alert. This was the most dangerous time of all.
Twenty minutes, he thought. No. Nineteen now. Eighteen.
Where was the Daedalus? Where was that ship?
It felt a little like waking up. Those shocked moments of defeat had passed. There was no deception and no lies when Rodney was doing what he did best, doing what he knew best. He was working with a deadline, trying to save Atlantis from a terrible fate. All that was missing was Sheppard goading him with inane comments, urging him to hurry up, as if Rodney didn't already know that they were doomed within minutes unless he could pull off another miracle, and I don't need you to tell me, thank you very much, colonel, because: working!
Nothing yet, though. Perhaps the attack had already come, and he wouldn't know – wouldn't know a thing until Carrick and his goons burst through the door and dragged him away to foul torture. Or maybe they'd just kill him on the spot. No, he had an incomparable mind. They'd need him. They'd try to get him to serve them.
No. No. Concentrate. Still nothing. "Although I am concentrating," he said. "I'm perfectly capable of panicking and concentrating at the same time. Call it a gift."
One by one, his scientists had reported to him, drawn by the discovery that their radios didn't work, or sometimes by the sound of distant explosions. "Why are you doing wasting your time here?" he had snapped. "Go fix the city. You. You…" He had snapped his fingers, failing to come up with a name. "Shield. You, sensors. Hurry now. Chop chop."
They were back to being irritating again – slow and half a step behind him when it mattered - but, if he was honest, they had their uses. It was almost as if they had shrunk. As potential traitors, they had loomed tall. Now they were humans again, and he was himself. If a ridiculous, crazy way, everything was all right again.
And he was at the centre of it, working away. It was quiet without Sheppard, though, and without people making demands over the radio. But everything was fixable; it was only a matter of time. The only question was whether they'd fix it before the attack…
No, there was another question, too. Carrick was one step ahead of them, and had shown his hand in a way they had never expected. What if he was on to Sheppard, too? Their sensors were down, but maybe there wasn't even a transmission to hear. Maybe Sheppard was dead. Maybe they'd gone through all this for nothing.
Then he thought of the shield going back online, and thought of them raising it, while Sheppard was just outside in a ship full of enemies – of them slamming the door in his face and shutting him out.
"Fearing the worst," he said. "Panic. Despair. Yes. Yes."
It was like coming back to life.
They were five minutes out, and the Daedalus still hadn't come.
Switch to Plan B, then, Sheppard told himself. Nothing was certain in the Pegasus Galaxy, and there were many things that could delay the Daedalus. If it didn't show, Sheppard was to take the ship to Atlantis, and land it there. Atlantis would know they were coming, and would know exactly where they were at all times. The section would be safely sealed off – just a tiny pre-planned escape route for Sheppard to take – and ambushes would be laid. Jumpers would be massing, ready to take up positions. If the worse came to the worse, they would simply raise the shield.
Still going according to plan, he thought. Stay positive, now.
Teyla was in position. She had tracked down Major Lorne, and together they assembled as many of his men as they could find. When the attack came, they were ready to fight it.
Assuming that it came where they expected it to come. Assuming that it was not already underway, stealthy figures creeping through the hallways elsewhere, slitting throats as they went.
Movement behind her made her turn round. Ronon slipped in beside her without a word.
"The traitor?" she asked. She had wanted to go after him when he had left Rodney's lab, but had felt that preparing for the future was a higher priority than revenge. "You killed him?"
"Still alive." She felt nothing at that, neither relief nor disappointment. The damage that this man had done…! "Locked away." She could only see the back of Ronon's head. "Said he did it to save a comrade from torture."
She said nothing. She thought of John, and of what he might be suffering if Carrick found out the truth about him. She remembered the terrified faces of the newest scientists – men and women who had never been raised as warriors, and many of whom had never seen violent death before. She thought of Carrick's men in Atlantis, making offers – let us through that door or I kill your friend.
"Doesn't matter now," Ronon said. "Does it." He did not phrase it like a question.
Teyla let out a breath, and thought of the long days of lying and deception. She thought of Jessica, tormented because of what they had done, and Rodney raging against everybody, and Ronon overflowing with fury because he had no enemy to fight. She was fully armed now, P90 in her hands, and a pistol at her side. With her comrades at her side, she was preparing to fight for her adopted home.
No, she thought, a moment later. With her comrades at her side, she was preparing to fight for her home. It felt good, like a dose of pure water after weeks in the stinking fog.
He could see Atlantis below them. Beside him, Manning was silent.
"Where would you recommend landing, Colonel Sheppard?" There was tension beneath Carrick's smile.
He thought about it for a while, weighing his answers, wondering how much to bluff. He knew Carrick didn't trust him, but… He felt the sweat on his palm, sticky against the controls. "East and west piers are the best options," he said. If something goes wrong and the Daedalus doesn't show up, he had told them, this is where I'll land. Would Carrick go with whatever he suggested, or choose the opposite? He remembered chess games with Rodney – bluff and double bluff. "Let's go with the west pier," he said.
Carrick consulted the scientists, asking for direction. One of them indicated on the viewscreen. West. Then he indicated again. East.
"Set a course for the west pier, then."
Sheppard tried not to react to the sly triumph in Carrick's eyes. He was aware of his breathing, aware of his heartbeat, aware of Manning at his side, and his city below him, beautiful on the ocean.
It looked almost close enough to touch, if only he reached out.
"And he won't know." Rodney jabbed at his tablet, then raced from it to the screen on the wall. "He won't know anything wrong. He won't…"
"Radek!" He shouted it, then he screamed it again, running into the hallway, hand on the edge of the door. "Radek! Somebody! Anybody! Are you all deaf? Radek!"
What if something had gone wrong, and they didn't know he was coming? He could lower the cloak for a moment, and hope they saw him. He could fire a drone somewhere harmless, perhaps skimming the very top of the control tower, like a beacon shouting, 'Here I am.' The Ancient technology responded to him, like a cat leaning into his touch. This was stronger, far stronger, than the controls in the puddlejumper. He just had to give it the thought…
Close enough to see the towers now, with blank windows that showed nothing of what lay behind them. Everything looked normal, but yet… but yet…
Carrick said other things, issuing orders to his men. Sheppard knew they were gathering in the rest of the ship, ready to begin the assault.
How many times had he flown home like this in a puddlejumper, his team at his side, heading back at the end of the day? He knew this sight, but somehow it had never seemed so intense and shining. He saw every tower, every spike, every balcony, illuminated in the darkness… And then they were going down, moving slowly and silent through the pale towers, heading for the pier. He saw the water below, close enough to see the white-topped waves. He brought the ship around, and saw the core of the city, full of the only people alive that he cared about, although he had spent days pretending that he did not.
The ground drew closer. Almost there, and then it would be real. Almost there…
The lights across the city went out. The ship very gently came to rest, and he felt the faint vibration that was the doors opening, men already spilling out.
The lights went on again. On, and off. On, and off. Three short flashes; three long…
And when it came to it, there was no thought at all, just instinct. He fired two drones, sending one into the very top of the main tower, and another into the tower above the west pier. A third he sent to impact just outside the door of the ship, where the enemy was thronging.
He reached for a fourth, but Carrick was already moving. He tried to take the ship back into the air, but Carrick was already acting. Sheppard was more tired than he would have liked, and still sluggish from the effects of the stunners. The Ancient technology slipped away from him like water, and although he tried to react to what was coming, he was far too late.
Carrick had already pulled the trigger. Sheppard heard the bullet strike the chair at his back. That was the first thing he noticed, really, before the pain.
end of chapter fourteen
Note: See? I told you I hadn't forgotten the Shep whump!
On to chapter fifteen