Chapter 11


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Thank you to Emergency70 for the beta!

Chapter XI

            The next hour and a half was hectic to the point of chaotic, and wore what little patience John and Gibbs had very thin.

            The teams geared up together, when John and Gibbs had beamed down to locate the source of the SOS transmission.  They’d found it hidden in some bushes next to the building at a side entrance – Rodney’s LSD scanner.  John’s heart had skipped a few beats, knowing how much Rodney would have hated to leave behind such a valuable piece of Ancient tech – and his own equipment – where anyone could have stumbled across it.  On the other hand, he wouldn’t have wanted Baal to have it, either, so this was obviously the better option.

            He and Gibbs had beamed back up to Odyssey and John used his super gene (because the little device was set to only work for a gene carrier, despite that normally it could be used by anyone once initiated by an ATA gene) to command the little device to show them what McKay had done and found before he’d set the SOS transmission.  With help from Thor’s hologram, he compared Rodney’s data from the LSD to the scans from Odyssey’s sensors and saw immediately what his scientist had.

            “See that?  It’s probably a hidden room.  Maybe shielded somehow.”  John pointed out the spot to the others and Mitchell.

            “Huh.  You know, it kind of reminds me of Glastonbury Tor.”  Mitchell mused.  At everyone’s stares, he elaborated, “When Daniel first suggested looking there for…well, we were looking for something, and we were sceptical because so many tests had already been done there over the years by treasure seekers and archaeologists alike.  Turned out he was right, of course, when we used Odyssey’s sensors and found the hidden caves and tunnel system – but even then, it was extremely sketchy.  The shielding or whatever it was Merlin had in place prevented communication to an extent, and the sensors could barely get a clear reading.  Even the Asgard beams didn’t work.  If we hadn’t had a Ring transport system on board, we couldn’t have gone down there.”

            “You think this is something similar?”  Tony reasoned, doing his very best not to get side-tracked by words like Merlin and treasure.  “And Merlin?  Really?”  Well, he tried.

            “Later, DiNozzo.”  Gibbs warned.  “Okay, so what does it mean?”

            “We’ll have to get everyone out of the building and search it, and we’ll have to do something about that part of the building that’s made of naqahdah, too.”  Dr. Bill Lee, who had been recruited by Mitchell from the SGC to help them out, spoke up.  “Even just that little bit could potentially take out several city blocks if it were to explode.”

            “I guess it’s a good thing it’s situated on the edge of the industrial section of town.”  Mitchell sighed.  “Easier to come up with a cover story.  Gas leak, maybe?”

            “Seriously?  Is that the best you can come up with for a big government cover up?”  Tony snarked.  Ziva beat Gibbs to the smack upside his head.

            “A complicated conspiracy would only make people more suspicious, Tony.  You know this.  Do not be stupid.”  She admonished.  He rubbed the back of his head and glowered moodily at the floor.

            Gibbs ignored them and turned to Sheppard.  “You people are the ones who need to do this completely covertly so how we do it is up to you.  But we can’t waste any more time.”

            John nodded grimly, grip tightening on his P90.  “Mitchell, we need to clear that building. Can we send someone down posing as an inspector from the gas company and have the building shut down, then send everyone home?”

            Mitchell nodded.  “Easily.  But who do we send?”

            “We don’t have to.  Why not just call them and send them a phony fax from the company?  Something official looking, then the PR people for the programme can do their thing with the real gas company so that it’s all legit if someone looks into it too closely.”  Bill suggested, in that almost absent way he had, still working on the sensor readings and Rodney’s LSD scans as he spoke.  He didn’t even notice everyone staring at him.

            “Simple is better.  I like it.”  Mitchell nodded enthusiastically.  “I’ll go get the General to make the necessary calls.  As soon as he lets us, we’ll move in.”  He practically ran out of the core room for the bridge.

            After a few moments of tense silence, Tony spoke up again.

            “I know that none of us wants to hear it, but just so someone’s said it…they’re probably not still in the same place.”  He looked around at the group, not flinching away from the unhappy expressions on their faces or the hardness in their eyes.

            “Agent DiNozzo is correct,” Teyla agreed slowly, “but this is the only lead we have.  I believe we will find what we need to follow our enemy at this location.”  She turned slightly and gestured at all the reams of data on the view screens.  “It is obvious that Dr. McKay and Agent McGee were able to find something significant in their scans.  If Baal has other properties nearby or within the city, perhaps it is possible to use this data to find these properties.”

            Bill Lee made a thoughtful, excited noise, and began moving back and forth among the control consoles with purpose.  “You just might be on to something, Ms. Emmagen!  Let me just see here…”

            “Work on it.”  Sheppard ordered, motioning to everyone else.  “We’re going to go down and tear that place apart as soon as I have a go from O’Neill.”

            “Yes, of course, Colonel Sheppard.  I hope you find something.”  Bill wished them luck as they left him and followed John to the Ring room where there were three teams of Marines and a couple of engineers and techs waiting.

            Sheppard paced the small area in front of the entryway the entire time they waited for their green light.  Well, it was more like a panther or jaguar prowling in agitation to Gibbs – who, despite his own impatience and anger, was leaning against a wall and remaining silent and watchful.  All things considered, he thought the kid was doing remarkably well at keeping his cool, though he very likely had a lot of experience with it.  Unfortunately.  Glancing around at the others who were coming down with them, Gibbs noted that the Marines were, oddly (in his experience, at least, among fellow Marines) silent and alert – and coiled like springs.  Certainly they were eager for a fight, as a good Marine should be in this instance, but they watched Sheppard with a mixture of wariness and pure admiration.  It made Gibbs wonder exactly what kind of reputation John Sheppard had earned in the programme as a soldier and commander.  The man interested Gibbs a great deal, and he could see bits of Jenny in him, too, which made Gibbs instinctively want to trust and respect him.

            The big guy, Ronon Dex, was holding up the wall next to the entryway and playing with a vicious-looking knife, looking about as calm and cuddly as a grizzly bear – or a lion, what with that mane of dreads he had going on.  His eyes were sharp, missed nothing, and were trained on Sheppard unwaveringly.  They tracked his every movement, and Gibbs was under the impression that this man was never, ever someone who could be described as tame.  Gibbs also speculated that Ronon would take orders from no one else but Sheppard without question or hesitation.  There was trust there, the kind that was very, very rare.  It said a lot about both men’s characters to Gibbs – and he didn’t even know their story.

            Compared to her teammate, Teyla Emmagen appeared to be the most calm and controlled.  In fact, she looked down right serene – until Gibbs got a good look at her eyes.  There he saw the same hardness, resolve, and wildness that her two male counterparts were displaying so much more blatantly.  She, like Ronon, was watching Sheppard prowl, but there was a faint air of concern about her that was due to Sheppard and not by worry for McKay and McGee.  Teyla would watch for a moment, then seem to want to say something to him, but a glance at the other people crowded into the room made her change her mind.  Instead, her mouth flattened into a grim, worried line and she stayed silent but vigilant.  Gibbs raised an eyebrow when she shot Ronon a questioning look and the big men nodded once sharply then shook his head minutely, before gluing his eyes back on Sheppard.  The exchange more than anything told Gibbs there was something going on with Sheppard he was unaware of, and though he was sure he disliked being in the dark, he could only trust that Sheppard’s teammates had a handle on it – on him.

            Mitchell’s voice came over the ship’s comms just as Dr. Lee rushed into the room, slightly breathless.

            “Sheppard, you have a go.  There’s a team of NID agents on the ground waiting for you.  They’re reporting directly to General O’Neill on this and will handle all the pesky details.”  Mitchell paused, then said fiercely, “Go get our boys, John.  And don’t bother being nice about it.  A dead Baal is just as useful as a live one to the geeks at Area 51.”

            Ronon’s grin was delightfully feral and eager.  Sheppard’s smirk wasn’t much better.  Teyla’s expression wasn’t as scary but she obviously was pleased with Mitchell’s words.

            “Roger that, Mitchell.  Standby for transport.”  Sheppard responded tightly.  He stared at Bill Lee.  “What?”

            “Here.”  Lee thrust Rodney’s LSD at him.  “I calibrated it to scan for similar readings like what Dr. McKay found, and I added a kind of mapping program.  It’ll use the data to create a kind of schematic you can use to keep track of where you are so you don’t get lost.”

            “Lost?”  Sheppard repeated, sliding the device into his vest.

            “Oh, ah, yes.  I’ve determined with that data and the ship’s sensors that there seems to be a network of possible tunnels and caves underground in the area of that building.  However, the sensors just can’t seem to get clear readings on it, not from up here.  I suspect that you’ll have better luck from down on the surface, and if so – and you find the entrance – then you will want something to navigate inside.”  Bill explained.  Sheppard nodded.

            “Right.  Good work, Dr. Lee.”  John gave him a tense, grateful smile, and turned away, opening his mouth to address his Marines, but the scientist spoke up again, handing over a small case.  It contained several tiny locator beacons.

            “Colonel, don’t forget that the Asgard beams will probably not work in those tunnels, and that communications likely won’t work so well, either.”  Bill warned, backing out the door.  “If you find them, you’ll have to get out of the tunnels and caves before you can be beamed out or if you need to request a medical evac.  Use those to mark your way.”

            Sheppard stared at him, slightly disturbed by the information, but after a moment nodded again and stated softly, “Understood.  Thanks, Doc.  Warn Mitchell of the same, please.”  He tucked the case into his vest with the LSD.

            “Yes, sir.  Good luck!”  Lee hurried away.

            Reaching for his ear, Sheppard’s eyes met Gibbs’ and held as he said, “Sheppard to the bridge; we’re ready for transport.”

            “Copy that, Colonel.  Thirty seconds.  Happy hunting!”

            “Thanks.”  Sheppard returned dryly.  He turned to Ronon and flicked a glance downward toward the vicinity of the weapon the large warrior wore holstered at his hip.  “Setting?”

            Ronon’s grin was all teeth.

            “Not stun.”  Was the reply, full of eager satisfaction.

            Gibbs wasn’t sure he wanted to know what other setting there was, though he could probably guess.  And then they were beaming away before he could ask.

~*~*~*~*~*~

            The minute they were on the ground again, Sheppard stepped forward and glanced around at the scene they’d beamed into.  There were armed men in suits everywhere.  Some were on their cell phones or radios, others were directing a steady, orderly stream of civilian traffic from the building’s main entrance to the large employee parking lot, others were acting as security – standing in various places all over the place looking watchful and suspicious – while a large group of men and women were gathered together before someone in charge who was pointing out places on a large floor plan and issuing orders.  Sheppard started in that direction, and as soon as he (and the entourage of Marines, NCIS agents, and his teammates) came into full view of the front of the pack of suits, the man issuing orders barked out a “Move it people!” before turning toward Sheppard and jogging the distance between them to greet them all.

            “Colonel Sheppard, sir!  We never seem to meet on a good day.”  The man held out his hand in welcome, and his smile, though tight and grim, was genuine.

            “Bates.  Well, at least the NID didn’t send me someone stupid.”  Sheppard returned, equally genuine.  “Just try not to get shot or anything this time, okay?”

            “Don’t worry, sir.  I don’t plan on it.”

            “Well, we never plan on any of the crap that happens to us.”

            “Ha!  Too true.”  Bates turned his attention on Sheppard’s team as Teyla and Ronon stepped forward, one on either side of their friend.  “Ronon, Teyla.  It’s good to see you both.”

            Ronon slapped the man on the back shoulder as he moved past, saying only, “Bates,” in reply.  He was heading for the floor plans.  Teyla offered a somewhat tense smile, but gave him a small head bow in greeting when Sheppard glanced back and forth between them warily.

            “Sergeant, I am pleased to see you are well.  Ronon and John have told me how helpful you were the last time you worked together.”  She said to him.

            “It’s just Dean Bates now, ma’am.  I’m a civilian again.  Or Agent Bates, if you prefer.”  Bates met her gaze but surprised her when he held out a hand to her.  “I hope we can work together again, Teyla, and that you can forgive me for my past transgressions against yourself and your people.”

            “That is of no consequence any longer.  I cannot say I would not have made the same conclusions, or had the same suspicions had I been in your place.”  Teyla smiled, and the tension in the air between them seemed to disappear like so much smoke.  Bates smiled back, obviously relieved.

            Gibbs had no idea what was going on – or what apparently had in the past – but at the moment he really didn’t care.  He cleared his throat and Sheppard took the hint.

            “Dean Bates, meet Special Agents Leroy Jethro Gibbs and Tony DiNozzo, and Officer Ziva David, NCIS.  They’re with us on this mission.”  John introduced them.  “Guys, this is Dean Bates, former Marine, once one of my command staff, good friend, and currently NID flunkie.”  John flashed a grin at Bates to show he was kidding, but it didn’t really reach his eyes.  He was too worried about Rodney.

            Fortunately, Bates seemed to get it because he rolled his eyes good-naturedly and agreed wryly, “True, sir.  Hello, Agents, Officer David.”  He shook each of their hands then motioned for them all to follow him.  “Come with me.  I’ll fill you in.”

            He led them to where Ronon was checking out the floor plans.  “I’ll be honest, sir.  We weren’t really told much of anything.  All I know is that General O’Neill rather suddenly appeared in NID headquarters with a whole posse of JAG lawyers and even a few armed soldiers, Colonel Davis, and Dr. Jackson, and not five minutes later he’s putting me in charge and ordering me to come out here to Vegas to conduct a raid on this building.  All he said was that it was operating under one of the Baal clones – or the real one, whatever – and that one of our people and at least one civilian LEO had been captured and were possibly being held here.  So, we were beamed in and started clearing the building.  He said someone would be coming down to lead the SAR team, but he didn’t tell me who.”  Bates grimaced and actually looked faintly…alarmed, which – for a soldier of his experience – was a little worrisome.  “I’ve never seen him so mad, sir.  He was livid.”

            Sheppard smiled at that.  It was nice to know that his CO really did care about Rodney, even as a civilian and a once pain-in-the-ass.  It was nice to have a CO who cared at all.  Not that John thought that O’Neill was a bastard or anything, but his past experiences with COs hadn’t been good ones.  “It was probably a result of your superiors giving him the run-around, Bates.  They’re even more stingy with information than the CIA or NSA…” Sheppard made a face.  Bates frowned at that, but nodded.

            “That would explain some things, yes.  But sir, why is SGA-1 involved in this?  We’ve heard nothing of the Trust or Baal showing any interest in Atlantis again – not since they failed with snaking Colonel Caldwell.”  Bates’ frown deepened, then he looked around as if just realizing something.  “And hey, where’s Dr. McKay?  Isn’t he still on your team?”

            John flinched and looked away, and Teyla laid a steadying hand on his arm.  “He is.  Rodney is the one we’re going to rescue, Bates, along with Agent Timothy McGee.  He’s one of Gibbs’.”  John informed the former Marine.  Bates paled considerably, and all of a sudden he became just as pissed off and hard as his former Atlantis Expedition members.

            “What’s say we go find a snake to skin, sir?”

            “What’s say we?”

            “Alright then.”  Bates gestured at the building.  “We’re clearing the building of people.  We’re taking names, asking for ID, and scanning everyone who walks out of there to weed out any Trust members – known or otherwise – and any who might be snaked.  Just to be on the safe side.”  He looked at the floor plans and pointed out entrances and exits.  “My people are on every point of egress we could find, preventing anyone from sneaking out the back door or something, so…”

            Sheppard shook his head.  “That’s fine Bates, but we already know they’re likely not here.  We have data that shows there’s some kind of tunnel and cave network underground that goes for several miles in several directions.  That’s where we’re starting our search.”

            Bates snapped his mouth shut.  “Okay then.  General O’Neill needs to work on his communication skills.  That would have been good to know.”  He shook it off and continued on, “We’re dropping rumours that it’s either an IRS raid for some sort of tax offence, or something to do with terrorism to keep the public happy and oblivious.  Anyone suspicious will be held and taken to Area 51 for further questioning – they won’t know that, of course.”

            “Sounds like you’ve got everything covered up here.”  Tony commented, looking vaguely disturbed at how they were all so willing to feed a conspiracy theory to the public.  Bates frowned at him, not quite certain if that was praise or a sarcastic insult.

            “Yes, Agent DiNozzo.  It’s my job.”

            “We’ll start from the top of the building and work our way down.”  Sheppard began indicating places on the floor plan.  “That way we can flush out anyone hiding anywhere in the sweep.  Then we’ll enter the tunnels and start searching for wherever Baal took our people.”   He glanced at Gibbs.  “Maybe we’ll come across Franks, too.  They might not have had a chance to move him again.”

            “How many entrances are there to the basement?”  Gibbs asked, leaning over to squint at the plans.

            “Two elevators, two staircases, and the big loading bay doors.  Here.”  Bates pointed them out.  “I’ve assigned people to all these to keep anyone from leaving or entering.”

            “Good.  Some of my people here will go reinforce your numbers.”  Sheppard straightened and barked orders to that effect at his heavily armed Marines.  In twos, ten of the twenty men and women jogged off to their posts, while Bates radioed his own people to warn them of the assistance coming their way so as not to accidently shoot someone friendly.

            “Agent Bates!”  One of the NID ‘flunkies’ came running over to them.  “Sir, the last of the people in the building have been scanned and ID’d.  The questionable ones are being loaded for transport to the, ah,” the agent’s eyes flicked over everyone else, “Nevada facility.”

            “Very well.  Oversee that, then make sure this area is secured.  The media is sure to get wind of this and be crawling all over us anytime now.”  Bates made a face as the Agent nodded and hurried away again.  Then he looked at his former CO questioningly.  “I don’t suppose there’s a spare set of gear anywhere, Colonel?”

            Sheppard smiled and reached for his ear to contact Odyssey to make the request.  “You can take the man out of the Marines…”

            “But not the Marine from the man.”  Both Gibbs and Bates finished in one voice.  They looked at each other and grinned fiercely.  Sheppard just rolled his eyes at them – being firmly entrenched as a flyboy.

            They watched the transport leave while Bates quickly donned the TAC vest, holsters, and weapons Mitchell beamed down to them.  In a mere three minutes he was checking his P90 and looking at Sheppard eagerly with the sort of respect Gibbs knew only came from fighting together in the toughest of circumstances.  It startled Gibbs how quickly and how much John Sheppard was impressing him – and he still hardly knew the man.  Very few people had earned the depth and amount of Gibbs’ respect that Sheppard was rapidly gaining.

            “Ready, sir!”  Bates announced, and Sheppard jerked his head in the direction of the building.

            “Let’s go.”  John loped toward the front doors where NID agents were removing the scanning equipment.  There were elevators on either side of the building – one near the front, in the main lobby, and the other in the rear not far from the loading bay.  He pulled out Rodney’s LSD and studied the screen.

            “Anything?”  Ronon boomed in question.

            “No.  I’m not reading any life signs in the building but us and that group of NID folk over there.”  John pointed at the front doors.

            “So no point in sweeping the building, then.”  Tony said flatly.  “Let’s just go after the freaky alien clone and quit wasting time.”

            “DiNozzo.”  Gibbs snapped out the cool warning, and Tony pressed his lips together in a firm, hard line, impatient, worried, and really wanting something to shoot at.

            “It’s fine, Gibbs.  He’s right.  NID can turn this place upside down for us.  We’ll go after our people.”  Sheppard turned away and began stalking toward the elevator in the lobby.  “Ronon, take the Marines.  You’ve got the stairs at the back.  We’ll meet up in the northwest corner of the building.  That’s where those anomalous readings I’m getting are the strongest.”

            Ronon grunted and started moving, the Marines obediently falling in behind him.

            “DiNozzo, go with him.”  Gibbs ordered.

            “Yes, boss.”  Tony didn’t even argue, though he’d rather have been with Gibbs.  He did, however, give Ziva a long, significant stare before he hurried down the hall after Ronon.  She nodded sharply and flicked her eyes toward Gibbs meaningfully to answer just before they lost eye contact.  Tony, satisfied that she would be looking out for their intrepid leader, put it from his mind and focused on keeping up with the Marines and Ronon.

~*~*~*~*~*~

            When they came across each other again not far from the corner of the building where John suspected the tunnels began, the group had swept the basement thoroughly – just in case something else was cleverly hidden where their fancy technology wouldn’t find it.  John figured it didn’t hurt to be extra careful.

            They entered the building’s broiler room last, and spread out a bit as they moved through the area.  John kept an eye on the LSD’s readings, and finally they finally converged on a door that appeared to be an emergency exit – except for the security measures.  There was a box next to the door with a palm scanner waiting for them.  John scowled at it.

            “I don’t suppose anyone knows how we might bypass that thing without alerting Baal?”  He queried, glancing back over his shoulder at everyone.  He was kicking himself for not bringing a geek with them for just such occasions.  John sort of wished he could call up Atlantis and request Radek Zelenka, Rodney’s second-in-command in the sciences.

            Gibbs shook his head, since the only tech-savvy people on his team were McGee and Abby.  Then again…  “Do our cells still work down here?”  He asked, pulling his out from his pants’ pocket.

            “Barely.”  Tony frowned down at his cell.  “I’m barely catching service, boss.”

            “Ziva, call Abby.  Maybe she can walk you through disarming that thing.”  Gibbs suggested.  Ziva brightened a little and quickly called their absent lab-tech.  Gibbs moved closer to the wall, were Sheppard was taking a closer look at it.  “It isn’t alien, is it?”

            “I can’t see anything that says ‘alien’, no.  It’s got a company name and serial number, so it’s definitely human made.”  John leaned back and shrugged, though he did seem faintly concerned.  “Whether or not Baal tweaked it or not, however…”

            “Right.”  Gibbs nodded.  “Still, we’ll have to risk it.”

            “We could just blow the whole door.”  Ronon suggested, impatiently.

            “We could, but then we’d risk setting off any secondary alarms.”  Bates disagreed, frowning back at Ronon when the big man glared at him.  “We can’t do it, Ronon, not unless we want Baal to have enough notice to move our people again – this time to who knows where.”

            “Yes, Abby, it is.  You know the company?  Ah.  Very well, but hurry, please.”  Ziva turned away from the box and relayed the situation.  “Abby is attempting to pull up the schematics for this security system so that she may guide us in bypassing it.”  Her attention returned to the phone.  “Oh?  Yes, I do.  One moment while I pry off the casing.”  Ziva reached for her knife and went to work.  John stayed close enough to inspect the innards of the scanner for anything alien, even going so far as to scan for naqahdah and other non-earth materials, but stepped back to allow Ziva room to work when he found nothing suspicious.

            It took a few moments, but when Ziva finally finished and the box went dead, John felt a small rush of relief and hope that things were finally going their way as the distinct clicking of the door locks disengaging was heard.

            “There.”  Ziva closed her phone after thanking Abby and pushed open the door.

            “Good job, Ziva.”  Gibbs clapped her shoulder gratefully in praise as he and Sheppard moved past.

            “I wonder why Baal didn’t use any of his own scary alien security systems?”  Tony muttered as he and Ziva followed Ronon and Teyla through the door behind their leaders.

            Bates answered from behind them, the Marines on his six.  “Several possible reasons, Agent.  For one, he’s hiding amongst normal humans – he wouldn’t leave alien tech out in plain sight where one of those humans might come across it.  For another, he’s a Goa’uld – which means he’s also extremely arrogant and wouldn’t believe any of us annoying humans would discover the place to begin with.”

            “Are they truly that self-assured?”  Ziva asked disbelievingly.

            “Yep.”

            “Be quiet back there!”  Sheppard hissed over the radios.  “Loud discussions are not conducive to sneaking up on bad guys!”

            “Shutting up, sir.”  Bates clamped his mouth shut, and Tony and Ziva both made zipping motions across their lips when Gibbs shot them a glare of his own over his shoulder (though he had to look around Teyla and Ronon to do it).

            John looked around himself as they moved, threat-assessing as he went.  They were in what looked like a utility tunnel and it was cool, damp, musty, and dark.  There were some few small, not very bright lights every so many feet on the tunnel walls, but it was only just enough light to see where one was going.  A look at the LSD told John they were getting closer to the anomalous readings.  “Up ahead.”  He warned everyone.  “Keep alert and stay together.”

            There was light at the end of the tunnel, literally.  The gloom of the corridor gave way to a brighter, more colourful tunnel that made John pause and stare at it in amazement.  They came to a halt in a cavern of what should have been solid rock but was more like a rainbow-hued granite or sandstone.

            “Whoa.”  Tony exclaimed under his breath.

            “This…doesn’t look natural.”  Gibbs observed, reaching out to touch the wall closest to him hesitantly.  “More weird alien tech?”

            “What is this?  Some sort of quartz?”  Ziva marvelled at the riot of colour.  “It is quite beautiful.”

            “I’ve never seen it before either.”  Sheppard admitted, then shook himself to get back on track.  “Whatever it is, it’s definitely the source of the weird scans and stuff.”  He fiddled with the LSD for a moment, trying to get some sort of clear reading.

            “It’s Tok’ra crystal technology, sirs.”  One of the Marines dared to speak up.  Everyone looked at him in surprise and question.  “Uh…there was an orientation lecture…um, the Tok’ra use the crystals to create underground tunnels and caves to hide their bases from the Goa’uld.  It’s one of their most highly guarded tech secrets.”

            Bates whistled lowly.  “They’re going to be very pissed about this, then.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “Sheppard.”  Ronon called, gesturing at the far end of the cavern from where they stood when John turned to look at him.  “There’s two tunnels over there.”

            John strode across the cavern, studying the LSD screen as he went.  “This is a problem.  Guess we’ll have to split up.”  Reaching into his vest, he pulled out the little case of sensor beacons and opened it up.  He took out half of them and handed them to Ronon.  “Here.  Slap ‘em on a wall or something every now and then.  Same as before, take DiNozzo and half the Marines with you.”

            Ronon nodded and handed the sensors off to DiNozzo.  “You do this.  Let’s go.”  He didn’t bother to wait, heading down the left tunnel at a trot.  Tony shrugged and jogged after the Marines and Ronon when Gibbs waved him away.

            John handed the rest of the sensors to Ziva.  “If you would.”  He requested.  Ziva nodded and took the case from him.  John took one sensor and placed it on the span of wall between the two tunnels, then jerked his head in the direction of their route.  “Alright, let’s get going.  Bates, you and the Marines on our six.”

            “Sir.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

            “Stop it!”  Rodney finally cried, unable to take much more of the abuse he was witnessing.  “I can’t do something that’s beyond my genetics, you sadistic bastard!  Torturing them won’t change that!”

            Baal stared at him, studying his expression closely as if he could see right through McKay, and after a long, agonizing moment for McGee, released the lever and freed the agent’s arm.  It didn’t make much difference, however, because the pain was so intense that that the black spots in Tim’s vision expanded until he saw nothing at all, passing out mercifully.  Looking somewhat disappointed, Baal sighed and looped the restraints back around McGee’s wrists.  He was, once again, chained to the wall next to Franks – who was silent, pale, and absolutely furious.

            “Alright, Dr. McKay.”  Baal left his prisoners to saunter over to where Rodney stood next to the Ancient device.  “You have my attention.  Please explain what you mean.”

            Rodney closed his eyes briefly, swallowing hard and hoping he’d be forgiven.  “It’s Ancient tech.  Surely you know by now that most of their technology requires a particular gene the user must have to even be able to turn things on, let alone use them.”

            “Ah, but that is incorrect, isn’t it McKay.”  Baal waggled a reproachful finger at the scientist, mockingly.  “Correctly, most of their technology only required that gene to activate their tech, which could then be used by most anyone.”  He folded his arms over his chest and gave Rodney a haughty stare.  “As you can see, I haven’t had to worry about that.  There are many of these gene carriers amongst my slaves.”

            Rodney scowled and crossed his arms defiantly, his chin coming up.  “Yes, yes, but it still won’t work for you or them, will it?  I’m telling you that you won’t be able to unless you have a strong enough gene!  Unfortunately for you, the two strongest known gene carriers are most definitely not going to be inclined to help you.  Jack O’Neill would just kill you on sight, and John Sheppard…well, so would he, actually.  Either that or he’d Zat you, put a nice shiny bow on you, and give you to the biologists at Area 51 as a present.”

            Baal glared at him narrow-eyed and clearly steamed.  Almost casually, he unfolded his arms, straightened, and back-handed McKay across the face.  Hard.  Rodney cried out in pain, feeling not just the sting of the slap on his skin but the sharp, nauseating cracking of bone.  Off-balance, the world tilted and he hit the floor, barely able to stop himself from cracking his head on the cement.  His ears were ringing as it was, and already his eye was watering and closing up from the blow, his vision wavering.

            Groaning he pushed himself up a little, raising a hand to gingerly probe his cheek.  He was pretty sure he had, at the least, a fractured cheekbone.

            “Get up, human.  You will make this device work in the next half hour, or I will kill one of your friends.”  Baal pointed at the device’s control console imperiously.  “No more excuses!  Go!”

            Rodney moaned and swallowed back the urge to puke all over, the pain in his face and head was so bad.  He honestly wondered why he hadn’t passed out yet, but since he hadn’t, he could only attempt to buy more time in the hope that John would find them.  Slowly, dizzily, he pulled himself upright and staggered over to the console.

            “Why should I, anyway?”  He muttered the question even though Baal could hear him quite clearly.  “You’re going to kill me – us – whether or not I’m successful.  There’s no incentive in this for us.  Not really.”

            “Your incentive, Dr. McKay, is to stay alive.  Cooperation will get you somewhere, especially if you do so with the proper respect I am due.”  Baal walked over to his ‘throne’ and slid into it, leaning back comfortably and watching McKay predatorily, as if he was just waiting for another excuse to attack.

            “You don’t honestly believe I’m going to kiss your ass just to stay alive a little longer, do you?  I’d rather be dead.”  Rodney poked at the console thoughtfully.  There was writing all over it – just not any form Rodney recognized.  It was times like this that he actually envied Daniel Jackson’s insane capacity for and understanding of languages.  Even now, under dire, life-threatening circumstances, his scientific mind was curious enough to want to study the device.  He minutely wished he’d kept his LSD, despite having abandoned it for a good cause.  The translation programme on it would have been useful.  “You realize that this would be easier and quicker if you just told me what it’s supposed to do.”  Especially with the massive face-ache he now had, making it hard to concentrate.

            “Is your reputation as a ‘genius,’” Baal drawled the term mockingly, as if such an idea was preposterous to him, “McKay, something that is highly exaggerated or an outright lie?  Because I’ve been told you’re at least as intelligent as Samantha Carter.  For a human, she showed surprising intelligence.”

            Rodney snorted inelegantly, even as he bristled at the implications Baal was making.  “Like I care.  You’re asking the impossible.  I can’t fix something when I one, don’t know what the hell it is, and two, don’t know what’s wrong with it.  I can’t translate this language, either.”  He winced when he shook his head, and his hand came up to his face automatically against the pain – doubled by the wince.  A wave of dizziness threatened to take his legs out from under him and he braced himself on the console with both hands.  “I don’t suppose you’ve got some Advil around here?”

            Baal just looked at him for one long moment, then sat forward on his chair.  “It is a device from among the many things Anubis collected.  It was damaged when he found it, and apparently he stopped caring enough to bother continuing his efforts and had it put away in a treasure vault on one of my loyal planets.”

            “One of your…oh.  That’s right.  I forgot you were one of his stooges for a while there.”  Rodney fervently wished he could at least sit down, and the snide comment had come out of his mouth before it even registered.  Surprisingly, Baal let it slide.

            “As would any of us when faced with such power and knowledge, McKay.  Anubis was, perhaps, the greatest of us all – rivalling even Ra.”  Baal actually seemed to admire the half-ascended snake.  It absolutely baffled Rodney, since he’d heard all about how Baal had allied with the SGC and its allies several times in the fight against Anubis and, later, the Replicators.  “It is unfortunate that he could not use his power and knowledge effectively, and when it became clear to me that was the case, that I had to turn against him.”

            “Yeah, yeah, whatever.  If you’re expecting sympathy or something, forget it.”  Rodney snapped, gingerly circling around the console, trying not to aggravate his injuries further.  At least the room stopped spinning and his vision was clear again.  Now if only his knees would cooperate and hold him up without buckling…

            A Jaffa entered the room just then, bowing to Baal before speaking.  “My Lord, there is a matter which requires your immediate attention.”

            Baal didn’t look very pleased to be interrupted, but rose from his throne and headed for the door.  “Very well.  McKay, I shall leave you to study the device.  Perhaps when I return, you will have realized the wisdom in cooperating with me.”  His eyes flashed golden, and his voice changed to that creepy, hollow-toned sort the snakes were known for.  “Your friends here are depending on you.”  He threatened one last time with a wave of his hand toward McGee and Franks.

            Rodney scowled at him, but said nothing as Baal and his Jaffa left the room.  Then he managed to shakily round the console and slide down to the floor gratefully with an agonized moan.

            “Oww…my head.”  He leaned against the console and closed his eyes in minimal relief.  Sitting was good.  Lying down would be better, but he figured it wasn’t such a good idea with a probable concussion.  Too easy to fall asleep that way.

            “You doin’ alright, son?”  Franks asked gruffly.

            “Oh, just peachy, thanks.  I’ve actually had worse.”  Rodney laughed dryly, only a hint of hysteria to be heard in it.  Sobering, he opened his eyes and looked across the room at the older man.  “You?”

            “I’m fine.”  Franks grunted, looking over at McGee instead of Rodney.  “Not so sure about the kid, though.”

            Rodney looked at him, too.  The guilt was weighing heavily on his shoulders, and he really hoped the agent wouldn’t hold too much of a grudge when they got out of this.  If they did, the likelihood of which was getting dimmer by the moment the longer they went without any further sign of rescue.  And what the hell was taking John so long anyway?

            “’M…okay.”  Tim murmured, startling Rodney a bit because he’d thought he was still unconscious.  “Just…hurts.  A little.”

            Franks snorted out a laugh.  “You been hangin’ around Gibbs too long, McGee.  Don’t be a tough guy like us old war horses.  Won’t make your life any easier.”

            “DiNozzo.”  Was McGee’s reply to that, which got a genuine laugh of amusement from Franks.  Rodney gave them a blank look, then shook his head.

            Closing his eyes again briefly to prepare himself, Rodney took a slow, deep breath, then let it out and heaved himself up onto his knees, first – testing his balance and the dizziness – then used the console to pull himself up all the way to his feet.  He didn’t really feel so good, but he didn’t know how much time he had before Baal got back.  Whether the snake knew it or not, Baal had actually given him enough info to at least have an idea of where to start looking.

            “What’re you goin’ to do?”  Franks questioned suspiciously, watching him.

            “What’d I miss?”  McGee asked, lying on the floor and watching McKay slowly circle the console again and again, running inquisitive fingers over its surfaces as if looking for something.

            “Baal said Anubis found this and was trying to make it work, but couldn’t and gave up in favour of other things.  Which means there’s a ninety percent chance I know whose technology this thing is, which means that I may be able to figure it out, given enough time, even though I can’t read any of these scribbles on it.”  Rodney said, though it sounded more like he was thinking out loud more than talking to them.  “So if I’m right, there should be a…ah ha!”  He exclaimed triumphantly, as he pressed on a certain spot and a small panel door popped open.  He’d found the compartment where the crystals and wiring of the console were connected to the device.

            “Does he make any sense to you?”  Franks demanded of McGee, unhappy at being so out of the loop.  “One of you had better start tellin’ me what’s going on!  Who is ‘Anubis’, what was all that stuff about genetics and technology; and just who is this Maxime hombre, anyway?!”

            Rodney popped his head up from the panel, expression neutral, saying, “I’d love to tell you all about it but for one thing, it’s classified, and for another, you’re not cleared to know.  Also, I’m too busy trying to buy us time until we’re rescued, so…” he gave his best glare – entirely marred by the bruising and swelling around his eye – and ducked back down again.

            Franks let out a colourful invective and turned on poor McGee.  “McGee!”

            Wincing as he carefully levered himself up to a sitting position with his good arm, Tim turned toward Gibbs’ mentor.  “I’m sorry, Mike.  I really am.  I hardly know anything, either, and what little I do, I can’t tell you.  Just…Dr. McKay seems to know what he’s doing, so we’ll just have to go with the flow.”  He looked over at McKay.  “You do know what you’re doing, right?”

            “Nope.”  Rodney’s reply was scarily cheerful.  “Welcome to my life!  Every day is a thrill ride of mortal danger and fixing what’s broken at the very last minute.”

            McGee – already pale – looked about ready to just keel over.  “Are you joking?  Please don’t mess with me, McKay…”

            Rodney sighed and stepped away from the console.  “Look, I really don’t know if I can do anything with this to buy us some time or not.  But I have to try and it’s all I can think of to do right now, especially as none of us are in a condition to attempt ganging up on our host and his gorillas to attempt to escape.”  He stared at the console a moment, then began looking around the room a little more closely as he continued to speak.  “We have to wait for help, McGee.”

            “You sound awfully confident that help will find us.”  Franks drawled, sounding as sceptical as Zelenka ever does whenever he challenged Rodney’s theories.

            “You don’t know my team.”  Rodney replied evenly, still looking around.  “They have resources that…well, they’ll find us, and they’ll come.  In force.  We sort of have this whole ‘rescue’ scenario down by now.  Lots of practice, unfortunately.”

            “Gibbs, Tony, and Ziva will be with them, too.”  McGee added, sounding much more confident about it.

            “Probably.”  Rodney agreed absently.  He was staring at the large darkened window of glass behind the console on one wall.  He couldn’t see anything – the glass was totally black, – and there didn’t appear to be a switch or some way to turn on lights on the other side from what Rodney could see.  He turned back to the console.  “From what I can tell, this is just a control console, and it’s connected to the actual device which must be in there.”  He pointed at the window-wall.  “Everything looked functional inside the console, so if there’s a problem that isn’t allowing the device to work properly then it must be the device itself.”  The crystals were in decent shape and the wiring looked sound.  He couldn’t really tell without running a proper diagnostic on the system.

            “Can you tell what it does?”  McGee asked.  He couldn’t help being curious – alien technology! – despite everything else.

            “Nope.  At this point, without proper equipment, I can’t do a damn thing with it.”  Sighing, he closed up the open panel and leaned heavily against the console, aching and exhausted.  “I think whoever possessed this thing before Anubis found it may have messed around with it – altered it to suit their own needs, maybe.  It’s Ancient in design but the writing all over it doesn’t seem to be, and for all I know it isn’t all here.  Or its power source is depleted, or whatever.  If Anubis gave up trying to get it to work, then I don’t see how I can do any better without even a screwdriver.”

            “That’s…probably not a good thing.  I suppose our lifespans just shortened considerably.”  McGee leaned back against the wall, his arm lying limply at his side.  He really hoped it was only dislocated.

            Rodney couldn’t deny it, so he didn’t.  He did apologize, though.  “I’m sorry.”

            “Not your fault, Rodney.”  Tim responded wearily.

            “I’ll try to come up with something.”  Rodney made himself let go of the console and move around again, even if it was slowly and he kind of staggered a bit.  His eye was swelling shut, too.  “Though I should warn you it likely won’t work because I can’t lie to save my own life – let alone anyone else’s.”

            Franks didn’t appear all that reassured, but McGee looked rather sympathetic.

            “Yeah, me neither.”

            After only a few moments of silence, the door swung open and Rodney straightened, bravely preparing himself for whatever was going to come next.

~*~*~*~*~*~

            John was beginning to get extremely annoyed.  It felt like they were going around in circles – or covering the whole of Las Vegas through its least attractive parts.  They’d discovered almost immediately that Baal was using a combination of existing utility and sewer tunnels and the Tok’ra crystals to create what was no less than a labyrinth of passages.  The entrances to the Tok’ra tunnels were cleverly hidden so that city maintenance crews wouldn’t easily find them, and to make it all worse, they weren’t just tunnels that ran on one level plane.  Oh no, they had to go up and down, too.  They’d actually crossed paths a couple of times with Ronon’s group before John had thrown in the towel and, at the next spot they found where their radios worked, contacted Odyssey to request the city’s maps for the underground infrastructure in an attempt to make more sense of where they were and where they were going.  It helped some, but it was still confusing as hell.

            “Is there not a better way to be doing this?”  Ziva demanded, visibly as annoyed as John felt after nearly two hours of searching.

            “Hey, if you’ve got an idea, I’m all ears.”  He drawled quietly, his tone stiff.

            Teyla intervened before anyone could start an unnecessary argument.  “May we see the map again, John?  Perhaps if we look at where we have been, we can ascertain where we are going.”

            John blinked, sighed at how stupid he was, and nodded, pulling the folded up copy of the maps Mitchell had obtained god only knew how and beamed down to them earlier.  Unfolding it, he held it up against the wall so the others could see it too, and Teyla shone the light from her P90 over it for them.  “Good thought, Teyla.  Thanks.”

            She smiled at him slightly then nodded at the map.  “You have marked where we left sensors?”

            “As best I remember, yeah.  See, it does look like we’re headed in this direction, no matter how zig-zaggy our path has been.”

            “And where are we now?”  Gibbs asked.

            “Here.  This seems to be on the edge of a residential zone.”  John frowned.  “Odd.”

            “He couldn’t own a house, here?”  Ziva wondered.  “He must live here.”

            “Well, probably, yes.  But Baal thinks of himself as a god.  Suburbia doesn’t quite meet his standard of living when he’s used to extravagant palaces.”  John scowled and Bates grunted his agreement.  “No, he’d have some grandiose estate someplace secure.”

            “What about that, sir?”  Bates pointed out a junction not far from where Ronon’s group had placed their last sensor.  “It says that services are no longer available to it, so it must be abandoned or closed down.  Perfect place to hide.”

            “Maybe.  It was a water treatment plant and reservoir, according to this.”  Gibbs added, reading a column of writing on the side of his map.  He had the other map of the city, the one that listed addresses and who owned the properties.

            “I’ll ask.”  John tried his radio, and thankfully it worked where they were.  “SGA-1 to Odyssey.”

            “Mitchell, here.  What’cha need, Sheppard?”  Came the prompt response.

            John rattled off the address.  “Look it up and see what the story is, if you would.  We’re trying to eliminate possible destinations here.”

            “Lee and Jackson are all over it.”  Mitchell assured him.  “Any luck otherwise?

            “Minimal.  We’re guessing at the general direction we’ve been moving.”

            “You’ll find ‘em, Shep.  Don’t worry.  Alright, Jackson’s got some info for you.

            “Colonel Sheppard, according to city records, the place you’re asking about was indeed a water treatment plant and reservoir built around the same time as the Hoover Dam.  It was closed down recently when a newer, more up-to-date facility was built elsewhere and began functioning.”  Daniel’s voice came over the radios.  “The land is still owned by the city, but hasn’t been slated for anything yet.

            “Right.”  John took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he thought quickly.  “Okay, thanks, Daniel.  Sheppard out.”

            “What should we do?  Check it out?”  Bates asked.

            “Yeah.  But instead of following Tok’ra tunnels as we’ve been doing, we’ll stick to these utility tunnels instead.  I’ll keep track of the Tok’ra ones we pass, though.”  John handed the map to Teyla.  “You navigate, Teyla.”

            “Yes.”  She accepted the task willingly.  “We should tell Ronon.”

            John nodded, switching channels.  “We’re moving out, Ronon.  Come in?”

            “This sewer stinks almost as bad as a Wraith cocoon!”  The Satedan growled back.  “Sheppard, where the hell are we going?!

            “Turn a sensor on so I know where you are.”  John ordered, looking at his LSD screen.  A new blip appeared, and he cross-referenced it with the map Teyla held.  “Huh.  Okay, you’re nearest to where we’re heading now, Ronon.  Have you found any trace of our people?”

            “Nothing.  It’s impossible to track anything in this disgusting place.”  Ronon complained, pissed off to no end.  “You coming to us?

            “Generally speaking.”  John explained what they’d theorized.  “Scout ahead, if you like, but ignore the Tok’ra tunnels for now.”

            “Fine.  Ronon out.

            “Alright, let’s get going.  Don’t want to miss all the fun parts.”  John brought his P90 up for the light and led the way at a brisk walk, mindful of the damp, slippery cement under his feet.  The others fell in behind and Gibbs stayed just behind him the whole way.

            They were approaching Ronon’s last position when the big guy’s voice came over the radio – in between the distinctive sounds of his gun firing and the firing of several Zats and P90s.

            “Sheppard!  We’re under fire!  I think…” there was a burst of static, “…the right place!

            “On our way!”  John grit his teeth and started running.  “Hold your position if you can!  Anyone down?”

            “Two Marines!”  Ronon shouted over the din.  “Come around behind them!  There’s another utility tunnel!

            Teyla came up next to him and pointed out where she seemed to think Ronon’s group was.  John studied it, nodded, and kept running.

            “We’re nearly there, Ronon!”  He called to his teammate.

            “DiNozzo!”  Gibbs snapped, getting on the radio channel, too.

            “Here, boss!  I’m fine!”   Tony’s voice sounded a little winded, but otherwise alright.

            “Keep your head down and stay that way!”  Gibbs ordered, cursing himself for not leaving Tony on the Odyssey for this.  The man might be a fully trained cop and NCIS agent, but he wasn’t combat trained.  “So help me, DiNozzo, you get so much as a bruise and you’re fired!”

            “I read you loud and clear, boss!

            John shot Gibbs an understanding glance.  “He’ll be fine.  Ronon will keep him safe.”  They could hear the sounds of combat as they closed in.  John slowed only when they came to a junction of tunnels, and took a quick peek around the corner.  He pulled back and said, “Looks like they’re guarding another Tok’ra tunnel entrance.  I count seven bad guys with Zats and the two on the door with staff weapons.”

            “Staff weapons?”  Gibbs asked, to the sounds of combat and safeties going off on their own weapons.

            “Long, stick-like weapons – like a quarterstaff – that shoots out a blast of energy.  Does a lot of damage, if you’ll recall that phone booth in Phoenix.”  John explained tightly.  Gibbs paled but nodded.  “Ready?”  At everyone’s nods, he warned Ronon that they were entering the fray.  “Ronon!  Keep them busy for a moment!  We’re taking out their rear guard.”

            “Done!”  Ronon growled back happily, and the sounds of his gun firing back were John’s signal to turn the corner and start firing.

            Outflanked, the Jaffa were easily overpowered.  Between the two groups, their way was cleared in a matter of moments.

            Ears ringing from the noise in a closed space like that tunnel, John popped a new clip into his gun and stepped over the Jaffa on the ground to meet Ronon, the Marines, and DiNozzo at the entrance to the Tok’ra tunnel.

            “You guys alright?”  He inquired, taking a quick look over everyone.

            “All but those two.  They’ll be fine, though.  Ronon jerked a thumb over his shoulder at where the two downed Marines still lay, watched over by their fellow Marines.  “One Zat each.”

            “Ah.”  That was something, at least.  “Richter!”

            “Sir!”

            “The rest of you stay with them and report in to Odyssey.  Get them beamed back up.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “And secure this entrance.  We’re going in.”  John didn’t wait for the affirmative response.  He just strode on into the tunnel.  Everyone else hurried after him, and Ronon slipped by him to take the lead.

            “Think anyone heard all the noise?”  Tony whispered loudly to Ziva, both of whom were hovering behind Gibbs as they moved quickly along.

            “I do not know.  It is possible they had time to warn their employer of the intrusion, however.”  Ziva replied.

            “Let’s hope not.”  Tony frowned at the thought.

            “Bates, you should go get your NID guys and some Marines to secure the place from the surface.”  John said, phrasing it as a suggestion rather than an order.  Bates frowned, but agreed.

            “Yes, sir.  Be careful, Colonel, and good hunting.”  Bates turned and jogged back the way they’d come.

            The tunnel became more of a hallway, complete with doors – which was odd.

            “Holding cells, perhaps?”  Teyla offered, peering inside one that had an open door.

            “Looks like.”  Tony shone a light in, looking around.  “Shackles, benches, no windows…”

            “Blood.”  Ronon stated, from where he crouched on the floor.  There were a few dark stains on the floor around him – not enough to have been a life-threatening amount, but still blood.  “No way to know whose though.”  He added as he stood and moved to the hall again.

            John suppressed a shiver, forcing himself to concentrate on finding Rodney and McGee rather than letting his imagination run away with him.  He looked closely at the floor of the hallway to see if he could spot a blood trail, but there wasn’t.  “Let’s keep looking.”  He pulled out the LSD again, to see if it could find anything or anyone.

            The Tok’ra tunnels messed with the little device’s sensors too much, however, which was why they didn’t know about the Jaffa waiting as they came out of the tunnel and re-emerged in the man-made underground of the water treatment facility.

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

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