"All we found left of him was this," Sumner said, pulling out Ronon's distinctive weapon and laying it down on the table before him so that the others could see it. "There were a few dozen bodies lying around- enough to make it clear that the Wraith's claims to be willing to make a deal weren't worth crap-, but none of them Ronon's; there's no way to know if he's even alive-"
"He is," Teyla said.
"Don't get me wrong, I hope he is, but... how can you be certain?" Beckett asked, looking uncertainly at the Athosian.
"They made a sport out of trying to kill him in the past," Teyla said simply in response.
"And... because he got away, you think they'll try and finish the job?" McKay asked.
"They will try again," Teyla said grimly. "As we have seen, the Wraith do not accept defeat easily."
"But they have to acknowledge how dangerous he can be," Elizabeth said, looking solemnly at the rest of the people in the room. "It's not like they're going to give him a fair chance."
"Which means we have to work out a way of finding him," McKay said, smiling around the table before he restrained a slight wince at a fresh burst of pain from his injured rear. "And, if the Wraith have re-planted him with a tracking device like they did last time, we might be able to use the one we took out of him when we met him to tune the long-range sensors to pick up any similarly generated subspace transmissions..."
"You just came up with that?" Sumner asked, looking at him in surprise.
"I... had some time to think when I heard what had happened to him," McKay replied, shrugging slightly as he looked over at the colonel, the slight wince as he spoke the only indication of just how much pain he'd been in during that time.
"We are still assuming that the Wraith put a tracking device back in him," Sumner said, ignoring McKay's other comment. "They could have just killed him-"
"We don't leave our men behind," Elizabeth said, looking resolutely at Sumner before he could continue his speech. "Ronon has helped to defend us against the Wraith for over a year now, and he has never asked us for anything more than we were willing to give; after everything he's done for us, I think it's only fair that we try and save him, no matter how slim the chance might be."
She knew that part of her current defence was motivated by her concern for John- he might be more 'official' than John, but Ronon was rather similar to him-; it was possible that part of her was hoping that, if Sumner could be convinced to save Ronon, it would set a useful precedent for when he had to work with John again in the future...
"Sateda?" Sumner said, looking sceptically at McKay a couple of hours later, McKay having completed his analysis of the tracking device they'd originally extracted from Ronon and running that frequency through the city's long-range sensors to find similar signals being transmitted via subspace. "You're sure?"
"Well, there's a few other signals, but since one of the signals is from the location we've already identified as Sateda, I think focusing on that would be our best bet; Wraith aren't exactly complicated when it comes to this kind of thinking," McKay said, shrugging slightly as he looked at Sumner. "We've already checked and the Satedean Stargate's been taken off the grid for some reason; since the Wraith had left it alone the last time we tried to visit it, I'm guessing that whatever Wraith took Ronon felt like going 'back to the beginning' and stick him somewhere he'd make interesting prey while at the same time making sure he couldn't actually do anything to escape them."
"Precisely," Teyla said, nodding in agreement at McKay. "Ronon is dangerous, but if the Wraith can confine him to one world, he will eventually succumb to sheer weight of numbers if nothing else."
"But, if there's no Stargate, than the only way for us to get there is by ship, which means that the only way for any Wraith to be there is if there is already a Hive ship in that location," Sumner said, looking grimly over at the rest of the people at the table. "I know that Orion has proven itself against hives in the past, but are you seriously suggesting that we take our strongest ship and most valuable asset all the way to a Wraith-controlled planet to rescue one man?"
"We don't even need to engage the hive if we don't want to," McKay pointed out. "We go to Sateda, beam him aboard, and then get out of there."
"You know that the Asgard transporters we've added to the Orion don't have the range necessary to beam Ronon to safety without us coming within visual range of the planet, which means we'll be within range of the hive-ship," Sumner said, looking grimly at the rest of the people sitting around the table. "I know that the odds are in our favour, but I am not going to put our best ship at risk for one man-"
"Who isn't a member of the US military?" McKay asked.
"That is not what I said-!" Sumner began.
"But it's what you're thinking, right?" McKay countered, glaring at Sumner. "Just because Ronon's not automatically obligated to play by your rules, you're going to just leave him out to dry when we have a chance of saving him?"
"Ronon Dex has been a valuable resource for the past year; if I could be sure of saving him-" Sumner began.
"He's one of us, Colonel Sumner," Elizabeth interjected, glaring at the military commander whose continued presence in the Stargate program was becoming increasingly inexplicable to her; not only did he seem to just regard it as another job rather than the most incredible experience in human history, but he appeared to have not even bothered to try and form the human connections that she'd come to expect from teammates during her time in command of the SGC. "We don't leave our people behind if there's any chance of survival."
"I acknowledge that, Doctor Weir," Sumner replied, looking back at her for a moment before he turned back to look at the other three people sitting around the table, only to be met with hard stares from Teyla and McKay and an equally firm glare from Doctor Beckett despite his own comparative lack of experience with Ronon.
"I'm just..." the colonel said, sighing in resignation as he took in the expressions facing him. "I'm just saying it's a very bad risk/reward situation; we have no way of knowing what we'll encounter when we get there and the Orion is still not quite back to its peak, even with the... additions you're including, to say nothing of the fact that we're still working out how to restore its power supply if we push it too far."
"So long as we can get to Sateda, we'll worry about the finer details when we have to," McKay said with a shrug. "The sensors are advanced enough that we can spot the Wraith long before they spot us, even without the other features we've added recently; if there's too many for Orion to handle, we'll take a cloaked gateship and head the rest of the way."
"I'll go with them, remove the tracking device before we get back on board," Beckett added before anyone else even had to suggest it.
"We'll be out of there before the Wraith even know what happened," McKay continued.
After a few moments of silent contemplation, Sumner nodded in resignation.
"Fine," he said at last. "Let's go... so long as you understand that we engage the Hive-ship only if we can be certain of victory."
"With drones, Ancient sensors, and the element of surprise on our side?" McKay said, smiling reassuringly at the colonel. "We'll be fine."
As he lay on a bed in the Orion infirmary, McKay cursed his still-aching rear end; even after the time he'd spent working on the tracker that had been in Ronon's back, his ass was still aching where the arrow had struck him, which left him forced to endure further treatment to ensure that nothing had been missed.
"Son of a... you're killing me!" McKay said, wincing as Beckett continued his examination.
"I'm not even touching you," Beckett said, looking at the Canadian in frustration. "Seriously, Rodney, I've never treated a bigger baby in my life."
"Just... are we done?" McKay asked.
"Yes," Beckett said, stepping back and removing his gloves with a sigh. "It looks fine, considering."
"How is everything here?" Teyla asked, looking curiously at her teammate as she walked into the infirmary just as McKay had finished pulling up his trousers.
"Aside from Rodney's typical reaction when faced with pain, he's fine," Beckett said, smiling at the Athosian woman before he looked over at McKay. "Come to think of it, why are you here?"
"What do you mean?" McKay asked, looking at Beckett as he walked over to another table.
"On this mission," Beckett clarified, as he sorted through some of the material on the nearby table. "You're injured. You can't even sit down comfortably."
"Doctor Beckett is correct, Rodney," Teyla said, looking curiously at him. "People would not think less of you for remaining behind."
"What, you think I'm completely focused on what people think of me?" McKay asked, looking sharply at her.
"I did not say or think that; I am merely curious as to why you show this much concern to a man who is not of your world who you have spent so little time with," Teyla said, looking inquiringly at her teammate.
"Hey, I am a very caring person," McKay said, only to be met with stares from Beckett and Teyla. "OK, maybe it's not obvious to everyone, but, um..."
"You care about what happens to Ronon?" Beckett said, ceasing his examination of a sample in a microscope as he looked at his friend.
"Yes, of course I do," McKay replied indignantly. "What makes you think I wouldn't?"
"You have been known to refer to him as 'the caveman' behind his back; I do not believe that is an acceptable term to use when referring to a friend," Teyla said, looking sceptically at the physicist.
"That is a nickname," McKay replied defensively. "Buddies have nicknames for each other."
"You consider yourself and Ronon... 'buddies'?" Teyla repeated, looking at him in surprise as Beckett began to examine another sample. "Even though he is not of your world, and... I cannot recall; have you ever had a conversation with him outside of our missions?"
"That's... not relevant right now," McKay said, glaring briefly at her before he shrugged. "Anyway, we have an... unspoken bond; he's like a brother to me."
"Aye, a brother who got every gene you didn't, and vice-versa," Beckett said, looking sceptically at McKay.
"You know, just because Sumner being stand-off-ish is his way of making it hard to get to know him doesn't mean that the same thing applies to Ronon!" McKay said, glaring at the doctor. "I mean, OK, they both aren't exactly the chattiest of people, but they're not quiet for the same reasons; Sumner's quiet because of that screwy professionalism of his, and Ronon..."
"He is silent because he has spent many years alone," Teyla finished, smiling slightly at McKay as she thought about what he had just said. "You... truly are concerned for him, are you not?"
"Well, it's... you know..." McKay said, shrugging slightly, suddenly awkward about what he'd just been saying now that he'd been given a moment to reflect on it. "I mean, we've accepted you and the Athosians pretty well..."
"But that was when we had something to offer you on a larger scale," Teyla said, looking solemnly between McKay and Beckett. "While I never doubted that your intentions were good, there were practical motivations behind that decision as well as moral ones, to say nothing of... well..."
"The fact that Colonel Sumner never really seems to have moved on from considering you a local asset rather than a teammate?" Beckett asked, smiling reassuringly at Teyla. "Don't worry about it, Teyla; I sometimes think he mainly got the job of Atlantis military commander because he doesn't really connect to anyone, so it wasn't that much hassle to transfer him here because he wasn't leaving anyone behind."
"Yes," Teyla said, nodding slightly awkwardly at Beckett- clearly, even if he wasn't here, she wasn't entirely comfortable about essentially insulting Sumner behind his back, given that he had ensured their safety from various Wraith attacks even if he wasn't that easy to relate to- before she looked back at McKay. "Nevertheless, the fact that you are both this willing to protect Ronon is appreciated; Doctor Weir has always been accepting of me and my people, but it is... difficult... to know how you feel about someone who had spent so little time with you and done so little."
"He's been our friend," Beckett said, smiling politely but firmly at Teyla. "Maybe that's not enough for Sumner to want to mount this mission on its own, but it's enough for me."
"The point is," McKay said, coughing slightly to draw their attention back to him, as though uncomfortable with the emotional turn it had taken, "maybe Ronon and I don't talk much, but some things go deeper than words; the fact that some of us don't get that doesn't mean that it doesn't matter."
"Quite," Teyla said, smiling briefly at him before she turned to address both him and Beckett. "In any case... thank you for your concern."
"For Ronon?" Beckett said, smiling back at her. "No need to thank us, lass; all in a day's work, after all."
Teyla's simple smile in response to that statement somehow made it even better; she knew that there was still more to it than what they were willing to discuss, but what they had said was enough for the moment.
As they left hyperspace in orbit of Sateda, none of the Atlantis staff were surprised to see the now-familiar sight of a Wraith hive-ship hovering over the planet's surface, the occasional dart flying around it; at least they weren't trying to bomb the planet any more, even if that still didn't tell them where Ronon was.
"Where's the tracker?" Sumner asked, glancing over at McKay.
"On the planet," Chuck replied from his position standing over the science console, the technician having requested to come along on this mission for a bit of variety from his usal duties at the DHD. "There's a few Wraith life-signs around there as well, but Ronon seems to be OK."
"No other signs of Wraith ships?" Sumner asked.
"Apart from that one, this place seems pretty quiet Wraith-wise," Chuck confirmed, before looking curiously at Sumner. "Orders, sir?"
For a moment, as he stared at the hive-ship, everyone present wondered if Sumner was going to order them to withdraw and leave Ronon on the planet to cope on his own, his words about the practical value of this mission fresh in their memories, but then he nodded firmly as though coming to a decision.
"Battle stations," he said, moving over to sit down in the central command chair. "Prepare the drones and fire when ready; I want that hive-ship out of the picture before it knows what's hit it."
"Already on it," McKay said, smiling as he tapped a few buttons to activate the Orion's new cloaking device, taken from one of their lost gateships and modified to suit the larger vessel. As with the similar measure used to install the cloak in Atlantis, it cost them their conventional shields and prevented them from using the Asgard transporters when it was active, but considering that they could still fire their weapons while cloaked so long as they were relatively close to the target, McKay's team had felt that the trade-off was worth it.
For the next few moments, the Orion advanced forward under the cloak, its engines on low power to decrease the likelihood of it generating any energy that the hive-ship could detect, until it finally came within close firing range of the larger ship with no sign that the Wraith were even aware that it was there.
"Picking up transmissions from the surface to the hive," McKay said, looking over at Sumner. "It looks like... a broadcast of some kind..."
"Wraith equivalent of reality TV?" Beckett suggested with a slight shrug. "Whoever's on there went to a lot of trouble to get Ronon back; they'd probably want to be sure that they saw him die, even if they decided to put him in an environment where he'd have a chance."
"It's nothing we need to see," Sumner said, looking firmly at the Wraith ship in front of their observation windows. "Fire all drones."
With that command, a spree of brilliant gold seemed to emerge from nothing and charge towards the hive at virtually point-blank range, tearing through its hull and easily obliterating the few darts flying around the ship before they could so much as turn around to start to fire at the area that was the source of this new attack. In a matter of moments, the hive had been torn apart, Orion converting the cloak back into a physical shield and pulling away as the ship exploded behind them, soon leaving nothing but a few small pieces of debris to show that it had ever been there.
"Nice..." Chuck said, smiling at his first sight of what Orion was capable of.
"Don't get used to it," Sumner said, looking firmly over at the young technician.
"Sure," Chuck said, nodding in subdued understanding at Sumner's meaning; Orion might be powerful, but its drone supply was limited, and it would still be vulnerable if subjected to a sufficient number of opposing ships.
"Lock on to the tracker and beam Ronon aboard," Sumner said, nodding grimly at McKay before he activated the radio. "Doctor Beckett, Ronon Dex will be on board soon; prepare to operate as soon as possible."
"Understood," Beckett's voice replied.
Even as Sumner was speaking to the doctor, McKay had already returned his attention to the control panel for the Asgard transporters, tapping a few key switches before he looked back at Sumner with a smile.
"Done," he said with a reassuring grin. "See what I meant about it not being difficult?"
"Just remember that we can't afford to get complacent," Sumner said, looking pointedly at McKay. "We were lucky this time, but this ship still only has so many drones available to it; if it wasn't for the fact that we were almost certainly only going to be dealing with one hive-ship, I wouldn't have agreed to this."
"Understood," McKay said, nodding briefly at the colonel.
"Good," Sumner said, before he activated his radio. "Doctor Beckett, this is Colonel Sumner; how's Ronon?"
"Uh... about what you'd expect," Beckett's voice replied. "He looks like he's been through the wars- taken quite a battering, got a few injuries that are going to need tending to, and collapsed while yelling at me about the fact that he hadn't killed all the Wraith yet-, but the fact that he felt comfortable enough to fall down should probably be a good thing."
"We have given him somewhere where he knows that he will be safe," Teyla's voice said, sounding satisfied with the result. "His reaction... will be dealt with when he is safe."
"Quite," Sumner said, before he shrugged and turned his attention back to the rest of the crew. "Take us back to Atlantis."
"Understood," Chuck said, nodding briefly at Sumner before he activated the required controls, turning the Orion around to head back towards Atlantis.
Orion may be more practical as a secret weapon rather than a regularly-used tool for their arsenal, but it had certainly proven its worth on this occasion; another hive-ship had been destroyed, and Ronon was safe.
Coming up next, a certain crisis that will end up being far more personal for Elizabeth than anyone could have expected...