"Dead or Alive"

by Grey Lupous

Part Six
 

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The Frescans had been sweeping the forest constantly, forcing Ford and Teyla to stay on the move. One misstep and they would be discovered by their pursuers. Ford glanced around, relieved to find that they seemed to finally be alone. He let out a breath and started to move, but Teyla's hand on his arm stopped him. He looked back at her quizzically, but she shook her head silently, pointing to the open path. Seconds later a Frescan decked out in shredded leather with mismatching submachine gun stalked by. To Ford, he more resembled an extra from Hercules getting lost in a film noir flick than a deadly mercenary.

As he passed by, Ford studied the gun intently, eyes widening as he finally recognized the make. Teyla cocked her head to the side in curiosity, but knew better than to risk asking while they were still in the forest. They had already circled around the Stargate, but found it too heavily guarded to make an attempt to storm it.

So they ventured further and further into the forest, hoping to find some sort of shelter where they could make a plan of action. As the day wore on, they found themselves further and further from the gate, and the encounters with their search parties fewer. The ground grew more unsteady and rose up into a steep incline.

"Mountain?" Ford asked softly.

Teyla nodded, and after checking her surroundings once more to be sure that they were not at risk of being exposed, she darted forward to what looked like to be an overgrown bush.

"I believe we can hide in here for now," she called softly.

Ford stepped out warily, not willing to believe there was such a thing in this forest. They'd been hounded for too long for him to be anywhere near comfortable until they were off the planet. "Is that a cave?"

"I believe so. I think we should seek shelter here."

"You sure?" He took another step and eyed the cave opening dubiously. "What if something big and nasty just stepped out for something to eat?"

"A creature might have lived here at some point in time, Lieutenant Ford; however this cave has been abandoned for a long while now. We will be safe."

"I don't know. The last thing we need is some alien Smokey the Bear pissed at us."

"Lieutenant, I believe we have eluded our captors, but do you think it wise to tempt fate and stay out in the open?"

Ford gave her a dirty look, but led the way in. Teyla could kick his ass from here to next week, but he still felt it was his duty as second-in-command to take the risks. He clicked on the light on his P-90 and shone it around the shallow recess. It certainly appeared to be abandoned. Teyla followed behind him, taking special care to arrange the brush camouflaging the entrance to look as it did before they entered.

He settled down, pointing the light on his P-90 at the opposite wall as he started to inventory his weapons. When Teyla was satisfied that they would not be discovered, she joined him, and they both allowed themselves to relax a little. She began to follow his example and started laying out her weapons. She watched his face carefully, surprised to see it scrunched up in concentration.

"Is something bothering you Lieutenant?"

"You mean other than that psychopath taking off with McKay or the Major almost getting cut in half by a wormhole?"

"Did Doctor McKay not say that it delivered matter whole?"

"Not comforting Teyla." He shook his head and leaned his head against the wall. "The Frescans are what are really bothering me."

"It is very disturbing indeed. By all appearances they should not have the capabilities to build such weapons."

"They don't," Ford answered, eyes returning to his P-90. "Those guns are Genii."

Teyla stiffened. "The Genii? Are you sure?"

"The harmonics on that gun got me thinking, but seeing it up close cinched it for me. I never forget a weapon, Teyla—those guns are definitely Genii made."

"Why would the Frescans have guns from the Genii?"

"The Genii are sneaky bastards. We didn't know the Manarians were in league with them until it was too late," Ford glared at the wall. "I really don't like those guys."

"The feeling is quite mutual Lieutenant. I can only hope that Major Sheppard has been able to rescue Doctor McKay."

"He will, don't you worry about that. The thing we need to be worried about is how we're going to get to the Stargate."

"And how are we going to do that?"

"I'm open to suggestions. Got any?"

Teyla sighed. "I believe we have a problem."

*          *          *          *          *

The light filtering down through the canopy shifted from tiny little white slants directly overhead, to orangey slashes on the ground in front of them. Dusk was drawing near. Sheppard checked his newest best friend, the life signs detector  ,to see if they were still being followed. The dot he'd labeled Vargas appeared to be stationary, making Sheppard wonder if the bounty hunter knew something they didn't.

"Still hungry," McKay chimed from his "lead" that he'd decided to take when it was clear Sheppard had no idea how to get back to the gate. Not that McKay knew any better, but he felt it was his duty as he had the better sense of direction out of the two.

"Sure, let me just pull a Power Bar out of my ass," Sheppard snarked back without thought—it was just second nature now. He continued to study the display, weighing their options.

"You know, as appetizing as that sounds, I'll pass."

Vargas knew this jungle a lot better than either of them, as the man had intimated to McKay. They had seen neither hide nor hair of any other creature their entire time in the forest, but faint chirping noises in the distance confirmed that there was indeed life. If this jungle was anything like the ones back on Earth, then that meant the big predators came out at night.

"I'm thinking we may want to stop for the night," he said aloud, interrupting McKay's monologue on Hypoglycemia.

"What? Why?" McKay spun around, but continued to walk backwards as if to prove his point. "Not that my feet or stomach won't thank you, but that seems like a bad idea."

"Stop."

"Huh?"

"Root!"

"What the hell does that—" and McKay went down, tripping over the exposed root of a strange, gnarled tree. "Next time! Warning!"

"I did warn you," Sheppard cocked his head at the strange appearance of the tree. The trunk was made up of several roots shooting out of the ground, winding together. Several feet off the ground some of the roots shot out into branches, while the rest continued to climb. "Interesting tree."

"Evil tree," McKay corrected. "It tried to kill me!"

"It was here first," Sheppard shrugged. "You really need to watch where you're going."

"I was before you suggested we stop and wait for the mood swinging psychopath to catch up to us!"

"He's stopped for the night. Any reason why he'd do that?"

"I'm supposed to be able to peek into the mind of a man who gets kicks out of pretending he wants to steal my virtue?" 

"First, what virtue? Second, he never said that, you assume too much."

"Were you there for all our lovely conversations? No. Shut up." McKay glared at Sheppard before rubbing his ankle. "Damn it."

"What?" Sheppard frowned and knelt down to examine his friend's foot.

"Knock it off!" McKay slapped Sheppard's hand away. "It's fine."

"Yeah, really?"

"Really! Watch!" As McKay jumped to his feet his eyes widened in pain, and he choked back a yelp. With a shaky voice he asked, "See?"

"Very convincing. Now sit back down."

McKay didn't argue and sank back to the ground.

"Now we definitely need to stop for the night," Sheppard said with finality.

"No we don't; it's just a little twist of the ankle. Get me a stick and we can keep going."

"When you stop complaining about injuries you start to scare me," Sheppard raised his eyebrow. "Anything else wrong?"

"No," McKay spat. "We just can't chance him catching up."

"You know back on Earth the large predators usually hunt at night. Did Vargas mention any of the wildlife in the area?" He watched as McKay paled a little. "What now?"

"Monkey-cat."

"Monkey-cat?" John echoed.

"Vargas killed this giant cat thing that looked like a monkey, with really sharp teeth and, yeah, monkey-cat."

"Dangerous?"

"Oh, let me clarify: giant, man-eating monkey-cat!"

"So you want me to find that walking stick still?"

"You know, Major, I've decided that we should stop for the night." McKay pushed himself to his knees, to find Sheppard offering him a hand up. Pursing his lips together he took the proffered hand, bracing himself as Sheppard helped haul him up. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it," Sheppard grinned, resting a hand on McKay's shoulder. With the other hand he indicated the gnarled tree that had tripped McKay. "Ready to climb?"

"What? The tree of death? No, no, no!"

"C'mon, McKay, you won't even need to use your ankle."

"You know, when I was a kid, I always fell out of any tree I tried to climb. I wound up eventually breaking my arm. I've already got a foot out of commission. Don't need to compound my injured state, do we?"

"I'll make you a safety harness. Climb."

"Did I mention the monkey-cat came out of the trees?"

"Nope. Climb."

"It'd be like going into a cave while a bear's using it!"

"We'll climb higher. Go."

"Major, I am not climbing that tree, and nothing you can say will change my mind!"

"Have it your way," Sheppard shrugged, and started moving forward. "You want me to leave you my P-90? Or hey, here's my nine mil," Sheppard handed the gun over as he moved past McKay. "But I'm sure the snakes and jaguars of this planet will choose to go around us."

"You know, when I said earlier that I hated you, I really meant," McKay's nervous chipper voice turned to ice as he speared Sheppard with a glare, "you are the most loathsome individual in this galaxy."

"Great!" Sheppard grinned. "Let's start climbing, huh? Sooner we're up there the sooner we can look at that ankle."

"Bite me."

 

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