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beth writing 30 days without

FIC for team_sga AU Fest: Fly Me to Freedom (1/2)

Title: Fly Me to Freedom
Author: maddie_amber
Rating: PG
Pairing: Gen
Prompt: Mysterious Island AU: Escapee's (in a hot air balloon) from the American Civil war crash land on an uninhabited island, or so they think.
Warnings: none
Disclaimer: Neither the SGA characters nor the movie/book Mysterious Island belong to me. I am just borrowing them and mixing them up a bit. No infringement intended.
Summary: As the prompt states, three soldiers escape from the American Civil War and crash land on an uninhabited island, or so they think. For anyone familiar with the movie, I used the 1961 version. The first part of the story follows the movie somewhat, but I parted ways with the cinema version when I got the men to the island.
Special Thanks to Kethry47 for the beta. Her critiques always make my fiction better.




Fly Me to Freedom


“Have you ever flown before?” The question was spoken in a soft, almost reverent voice.

“Flown? If man were meant to fly….”

“Yeah, I know, he’d have been born with wings. But have you ever flown before?” The question now had more urgency.

Rodney McKay studied the man at the grimy window. Tall and lean with an unruly shock of dark hair, he’d been more enigma than companion during their shared incarceration. His sack coat of faded blue wool, and threadbare, standard issue sky blue kersey trousers were bare of rank. The ill fitted clothes hung on him like rags on a beggar, obvious to even the most casual observer that they were never meant to fit this particular man. His forage cap, as frayed as his coat was faded, was also free of corps insignia as though all effort had been made to erase his origins and affiliations.

He had arrived in the dark of night, a single prisoner under heavy guard, not brought in by wagon or train with other prisoners. Since then he’d been confined here in the cellars. Though most of the prisoners at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia were officers, the cellar was that special place where their Confederate captors kept those they deemed most dangerous. His movements had been restricted to this cell and an occasional trip to the muck filled yard they used for exercise, but only after the yard had been cleared of all other prisoners. With little notice, he would be spirited away, in the middle of the night, by two or three of the Rebel guards. He would be gone for a day, sometimes more, and then returned. Often the bruises would be obvious, other times not, but McKay could tell he was in pain by the way he held his body and moved to perform the most basic tasks.

McKay could only guess what was so special about this prisoner in cell block 14, east wing of Libby Prison.

“I flew in one of them once.” There was a wistful quality to the man’s voice that was almost childlike in its wonder.

McKay moved to stand behind John Sheppard as he continued to stare out the window. Looking, McKay could see what he was so smitten by. It was an observation balloon, tethered just inside the wall of the yard. It had been there for the past two days.

“Would you know how to fly one?”

McKay snorted his disgust. “I’m an engineer, not an observer. I’ve erected and destroyed roads and bridges, placed and removed obstructions, conducted topographical surveys, prepared accurate maps, and reconnoitered the enemy’s works – from the ground.”

“But do you know how they fly?” Sheppard insisted.

“Gas. Lighter than air gas if you understand the concept. The Union uses hydrogen. The only two balloons known to be flown by the Confederates are hot air balloons. Which does make me wonder if this particular balloon has been captured or if the Rebels finally figured out how to make and use hydrogen.”

“Hydrogen?”

McKay rolled his eyes. Was he always to be cursed with the over curious and under educated. “Hy-dro-gen. It isn’t as heavy as the air we normally breathe. Though it is part of the air we normally breathe. It makes the balloon rise. Like wood floating on water. To make the balloon rise you drop weight from the basket. Lighten the load. To make it come down to the ground you let gas out of the balloon. Other than that your fate is determined by the speed and direction of the wind.

“The wind is out of the southeast.” Sheppard observed. “10 to 15 knots. There’s weather developing. That would take us west and north. Just about right.”

“Just about right for what,” McKay asked the question, but had a terrible feeling that he already knew the answer.

“I’m going to escape. In that.” He nodded his head toward the balloon, a calm confidence in his matter as though escape were a god given fact.

Once again, McKay snorted his disbelief. “You are going to escape. The last time I checked we were still in a locked cell, in a locked and well guarded prison. By what miracle do you expect to make this escape happen?”

“Another prisoner was just brought into the yard. Alone and under guard. There is a good possibility they’ll bring him here with the rest of us recalcitrants. When they do we make our move. If a storm develops in the next few hours it will only help to hide our movements.”

“WE make OUR move?”

“Do you want to spend the rest of the war here? Think about it, McKay. You always complain about how there isn’t enough food, but plenty of lice, scurvy, camp fever and consumption.”

“And if we aren’t successful, there’s a good possibility we’ll be sent on to Camp Sumter...from which there is no escape except to Canaan and the lord’s own presence.”

“Then you’re with me.” The corner of Sheppard’s mouth quirked up in that odd half smirk of his.

McKay let out his breath with a huff of disgust. “Would you give me an option?”

Sheppard grinned. The first genuine grin McKay could remember from him. “Here’s the plan,” he began.

******

“The men that captured him said he was carrying this.” The guard put a heavy holster in the middle of the desk.

Captain Kavenaugh drew the weapon from its holster, turning it over in his hands and testing the feel. “Very impressive.” Kavenaugh returned the revolver to its holster. “And where would someone like you come by a weapon like this? Only the highest ranking Confederate officers carry a LeMat. That tells me that you are not only a traitor but a thief as well.”

“Neither,” the man said bluntly, breaking his silence for the first time.

Captain Kavenaugh slammed his fist onto the table in front of his prisoner. “You are a disgrace to the uniform you are wearing. I cannot believe that a fellow southerner would stoop to such levels.”

The prisoner made no other further sound. The captain found his sullen silence unnerving. The man was a disgrace to a confederate uniform, but he was also intimidating. Well over six feet tall he towered over all of Kavenaugh’s men. His shock of dark, shoulder length hair was unkempt and unruly, twisting into tangled ropes. The man was covered with more grime than could be accounted for in the time he had spent as a prisoner. The official report said he had been apprehended in the bayou, living like a swamp rat amidst the cypress. He still wore his uniform trousers, now faded to butternut, but the rest of his accouterments were a cross between the natives and the Cajuns. He was filthy and yet he carried himself as though he were General Lee himself. And this weapon was further damning proof that he was a threat to the Confederacy. Only ranking officers had been issued a LeMat. He himself had seen only one in the possession of J.E.B. Stuart himself. That meant this man was a deserter, a thief or both.

“You’ve been accused of helping the Negros escape to the north. Running them through the swamps and hiding them from the law. Do you know what the punishment is for aiding and abetting an escaped slave? To say nothing of desertion from your regiment.”

“Didn’t desert.” The man’s comment was little more than a grunt.

“You are wearin’ the uniform of the Confederate States of America. Or what is left of one.”

“Didn’t desert.”

The man’s eyes glinted with a feral sharpness that Kavenaugh found unnerving. Even securely bound he radiated a sense of self assurance and strength that left Kavenaugh twitching with discomfort.

“Perhaps you will be more willing to co-operate after spending some time here at Libby.” Kavenaugh nodded to the two guards standing behind the prisoner. “Take him to the cellars in the east wing.”

“What cell block, sir?”

“Wherever he’ll be the least comfortable. Keep him away from the Negros since he seems to have a particular need to help them escape.”

“Yes, Sir,” the two men said in unison. They used their rifles to nudge the prisoner to his feet and towards the door.

Kavenaugh sighed with relief as the door slammed behind them, glad that the man was no longer present. This one would be very difficult.

******

“They’re crossing the yard,” Sheppard warned from his vantage point at the window. The sun had set and the yard was now shrouded in shadows. The wind had increased in intensity. The rain could not be far away.

McKay had hunkered down behind the door and could feel the panic building in him. He wasn’t a fighter. He made no pretense of being a fighter. He was an engineer. He built things.

From somewhere on his person Sheppard had produced a long thin cord. It looked like little more than a filthy boot lace, but McKay knew, in the right hands such a simple thing could be a lethal weapon. He had never thought of his cellmate as a killer, and now he was suddenly seeing him in a different light. He saw him as a soldier, someone trained to take lives.

A sudden commotion in the corridor leading to their cell alerted them that the guards were approaching. They could hear the steel heel plates of their boots as they hit the stone floor and McKay could almost imagine sparks flying from the contact. Sheppard had flattened himself against the opposite side of the door. His face was an emotionless mask, his body tense and ready to fight. It took all of McKay’s concentration to keep his own body from trembling. What was he doing? This was insane. He was leaping from the frying pan into the proverbial fire.

The boots stopped. McKay listened intently for the sound of a key in the lock of their door. He heard rough voices and a dull thud like a rifle butt against flesh. Then the boots were approaching again, and this time he did hear the door unlocking.

Before he could think the door burst open and a tumbled confusion of grey fabric and the blue of rifle barrels and black leathers crashed into the center of the room. McKay had barely grasped what was going on when Sheppard waded into the melee and dispatched one of the confederate guards with practiced efficiency. The second’s guard’s head was caught in the vise like grip of the new prisoner’s legs. He rolled with an efficient twist of his hips and legs and McKay heard the sickening snap of the guard’s neck breaking. It was over before McKay could move away from his position against the wall. He and Sheppard stood facing the new prisoner whose arms were still tied behind his back. He glowered back at them. The man continued to kneel on the ground. There was a soft grunt, and the man’s hands were free. In the right one he held a small knife barely visible in the gloom of the cell.

“What?” McKay stammered in surprise and pointed to the knife. “Where was that hidden?”

The other man ignored his question as he got to his feet. McKay gulped. He had to be at over six feet tall. Taller even than Sheppard who was taller than the average man.

Sheppard and the man stood face to face for the briefest second. Then Sheppard spoke. “We’re getting out of here. You are welcome to join us. I think we might be on the same side.”

“All I want is what they took from me. Then I’ll disappear.”

“Wait,” Sheppard said. “If we work together we can all get out of here.”

“I work alone.”

“When we’re out of here, you can go wherever you want alone. We need to work together to get out of here.” Sheppard repeated his statement.

“They took something from me. It’s in the captain’s office.”

“No, no, no,” McKay interrupted their little plotting session. “Nothing was ever said about taking anything from the captain’s office.”

“Quiet, McKay,” Sheppard said, his look thoughtful. “This may work. Grab his greatcoat.” He motioned to the guard that the big man had killed and started to strip the coat off the other guard himself. He also grabbed the man’s hat and weapons.

McKay gulped nervously. “If they capture us again they’ll think we’re spies. They’ll hang us all.”

“Probably gonna do that anyway,” the tall stranger said.

Sheppard finished pulling on the confederate leathers, checked the belt pouches for powder, caps and miniballs, then donned on the confederate greatcoat. He pulled the dead man’s kepi down over his face so that the brim shadowed his features.

McKay’s hands shook as he mimicked Sheppard. The Springfield rifle felt awkward in his hands. He had learned to fire a weapon when he had first enlisted, but he had never needed to do so in battle. His talents lay elsewhere. He’d never killed anyone, but dared not confess that to these two. Apparently he didn’t need to. His discomfiture was so obvious, Sheppard noticed.

“You don’t need to fire it. Just hold it. We’re taking this prisoner to the Captain’s office.”

“He just came from the Captain’s office. Isn’t that going to look odd?”

“I’m hoping no one notices.”

“He’s pretty hard to miss.” McKay’s final protest was cut short by what sounded suspiciously like a growl. His mouth opened and closed wordlessly, as he stared up into the newcomer’s grim face. “Okay, okay, let’s get this over with.” He jammed his confederate kepi down low over his face and shouldered his rifle.

At a nod from Sheppard the big man put his hands behind his back and Sheppard wrapped a scrap of rope loosely around his wrists. Then they were out of the cell, locking the cell door behind them so curious guards didn’t discover their absence any sooner than necessary. They moved quickly down the stone corridor to the steps leading upward,

McKay did his best not to shake when they were stopped by the guards at the main entrance to the prisoner’s barracks. For once he decided silence was best and let Sheppard do the talking.

“He’s had a change of mind.” Sheppard mimicked a Virginia drawl as he addressed the confederate soldier guarding the door. “Seems he doesn’t like small spaces. Took one look at the ‘accommodations’ and decided to talk to Captain Kavenaugh.”

The soldier nodded them on. If he suspected anything he made no indication of it.

McKay said a silent prayer as they marched across the yard straight to the captain’s office. The office was dark and there was no guard outside. They slipped through the door, and into the darkened room. Whatever the tall man was looking for must not have been in plain sight. He quickly surveyed the room then went straight to the gun cabinet at the far corner. He wrenched open the door, and took out an ordinary looking holster. With a fluid movement born of practice the man slipped the belt around his waist and strapped to holster to his thigh. He pulled the revolver from its sleeve, checked the load, and spun it casually once in his hand, then slipped it back into the holster again.

“Now we can go,” he said his voice a low rumble in the darkness. “What’s your plan?”

“We’re flying out of here.” Sheppard said a hint of boyish glee in his voice.

The big man grunted. “You plan on sprouting wings?”

“We’ve already had this discussion,” McKay interjected under his breath.

From the cover of the captain’s office, Sheppard gestured to the tethered balloon. The wind had increased in intensity and rain was falling in large splattering drops that threatened a deluge.

“Sprouting wings might be smarter.” The tall man said as he peered out the window. “I don’t like it.”

“If you can think of a faster way to get over the wall, I’ll hear it.” Sheppard said, watching the yard for any sign of movement by the guards.

The big man thought for a moment, then nodded. “Over the wall. Then you let me out.”

Sheppard nodded agreement. “As soon as we can land.”

Despite the fact that they had barely met, the two men moved in concert, barely communicating, yet seeming to understand what each needed to do. Like a well oiled machine, McKay thought, one any engineer would be proud of, except for the fact that he was the squeaking cog.

With Sheppard leading the way, they left the office, slipped back into the yard and were half way to the gondola. McKay was about to believe they would succeed when the first warning shot was fired.

They had been prisoners long enough to know that the firing of one gun after dark was the signal for the immediate assembling of the guard. Sheppard broke into a run. McKay did not hesitate. He was almost to the balloon when a second shot rang out. The rain had begun to fall in earnest and McKay could barely see where the shot was fired from, but apparently their new comrade did. Without hesitation, he returned fire and was rewarded with a grunt and thud as one of the guards dropped to the ground.

“McKay,” Sheppard ordered, “Into the balloon, we’ll cut the ropes. Get this thing ready to fly.”

“I’m not a pilot…” McKay began to protest, but neither Sheppard nor the big man was listening. They had engaged the enemy and were returning fire, holding the guards at bay, giving him time to board the gondola. He reached the basket, hauled himself over the edge and dropped to the bottom. Peering over the edge, he began to loosen the heavy sandbags that were attached to the sides. He had no idea how many he would need to drop to compensate for their weight, but he guessed. It was, after all, just simple math.

As he worked he heard the report of Sheppard’s Springfield and the big man’s gun. He mentally counted the shots from the revolver, knowing that when the man reached six he would have to reload.

He felt the gondola rock as Sheppard and their new friend heaved themselves over the side and into the gondola. Sheppard sawed at the last rope that held them to the ground. The balloon bucked and yawed with the wind, and for a panicked moment McKay thought they would not be able to rise off the ground. Then, with a lurch, the final rope parted and he felt the balloon begin to ascend. Sheppard and the big man continued to fire over the side of the basket. Five, six…McKay counted the shots from the revolver. Seven? Eight? Did he have two revolvers? Nine. McKay glanced at the man just as he flicked something near the barrel of his revolver. His final shot barked a resounding report that sounded more like a shotgun than a revolver.

McKay wanted to ask what he had just fired, but his question was forgotten as the wind caught the balloon and sucked them up into the rain swollen sky.

* * *

Sheppard stood against the side of the gondola, wind whipping through his hair, a feeling of rapt enchantment filling him. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so free. Whatever troubles he had were far below the bank of clouds beneath them. Here there was only the wind and the sky and careless freedom.

“When are we going to go back down?”

Sheppard turned to the man standing on the other side of the basket. “McKay thinks it would be wise to wait for a break in the clouds, otherwise we may land in something we don’t want to land in.”

The big man snorted and shook his head. Sheppard didn’t think he had much respect for McKay. Looking at the grey lump huddled miserably in the bottom of the swaying basket, he couldn’t help but agree.

McKay’s fascination with flying had lasted about as long as it took him to realize he was absolutely terrified of heights, especially when the heights were encountered in a swinging basket under a very large balloon. McKay had hunkered down on the floor of the basket, pulled his knees to his chest and sat in abject misery. Even the discovery of a small ration of food and water did little to lift his spirits. Granted the ‘food’ consisted of hard tack, salt pork and dried blueberries, but at least it was edible and the water was good.

“He gonna survive?” The big man asked.

Sheppard chuckled. “I think so. He just doesn’t like heights.”

McKay looked up, “That’s right. Talk about the nervous man as though he weren’t here.”

With a grin the big man leaned against the side of the basket causing it to sway slightly. McKay’s face blanched and the man chuckled.

“All right. That’s enough….what…what is your name anyway.” McKay sputtered half indignant and half terrified.

The large man considered a moment before responding. “Dex. Ronon Dex”

“Ronon? What kind of name is Ronon?”

The man’s expression darkened slightly. “An old family name.”

“You’re not part of the confederate army, are you?” Sheppard asked quietly.

Ronon’s jaw clenched. “No.”

“You’re wearing a rebel uniform…” McKay began.

“I’m no deserter, if that’s what you think. Can’t desert if you never signed up.”

“I can’t believe they let you ‘not’ sign up. I’ve seen far feebler men on the battlefield.” Sheppard said watching the man’s response.

Ronon shrugged, and squatted down in the bottom of the basket opposite McKay. He produced a knife from somewhere on his person and began to idly play with the blade.

“That was not a family tradition.”

“Being a soldier?” Sheppard asked.

“Betraying my country.”

“You’re a northern sympathizer then,” McKay countered. He had lowered his knees and seemed more relaxed now that something had distracted him from his misery.

“I’m an American,” Ronon said simply. “No north or south about it.”

“Then why were you at Libby Prison.” Sheppard studied the man carefully, his fascination with flying forgotten for the moment.

“I work with the railroad.”

“An engineer?” McKay asked brightening at the prospect of someone whose mind set might be akin to his.

“Underground railroad. I’m a runner. I escort escaped slaves along the underground railroad.”

“That will go hard on your family now that you’ve been caught.” Sheppard had heard tales of the bravery of the people involved in the Underground Railroad. He’d also heard of the punishment meted out to escaped slaves that were recaptured. Often those who helped fared as badly.

“Family’s dead. They accused my father of treason when he refused to accept the secessionists’ ideas.” Ronon barely betrayed the anger Sheppard suspected he harbored. “Mob hung him and burned our home. That’s when I started helping the slaves escape. Started with the slaves that belonged to the man who killed my father.” There was a wicked gleam in Ronon’s eye.

“You weren’t a slave owner,” Sheppard asked quietly.

“My father was a farmer, and a tobacco merchant. A good one. But he never kept a single slave. He bought them. Then freed them. Many stayed to work the farm, but they were always paid and always free to go.”

Sheppard nodded. Ronon spoke in a level voice as though repeating a tale he had told too many times.

“And you?” Ronon asked looking at Sheppard. “You act like an officer, but you don’t have any rank on your uniform.”

“Long story.”

“We appear to have time,” Ronon said nudging McKay’s shoulder. He seemed to take an odd delight in tormenting the smaller man.

“I’m just a soldier who was unfortunate enough to get captured.” Sheppard’s gaze went back to the cloud tops scudding past beneath them signaling an end to the discussion “McKay,” he said changing the subject. “How long will this balloon stay inflated?”

McKay shrugged “In theory, indefinitely as long as there are no leaks in the skin of the balloon or in the valve that releases the gas.”

“So we can float up here for a long time?”

“Yes. Why?” McKay demanded.

“Because I haven’t seen any clearing of this cloud cover.”

“Maybe now would be a good time to tell him we’re also going in the wrong direction.” Ronon said.

McKay was instantly alert. “What? Wrong direction? What do you mean wrong direction?”

“Wrong for you,” Ronon answered with a low chuckle. “Good for me.”

“Sheppard, you said the wind would take us north and east.”

Sheppard shrugged and raised a hand to cut off McKay’s protest. “Well, the wind seems to have shifted. Like you said, once we’re in the air, we go where the wind takes us.”

“And that is?” McKay squawked.

“South,” Sheppard answered. “South and east. And very fast.”

* * * *

The air currents that had caught them seemed invincible. The sun rose and fell twice without a break in either the wind or the clouds beneath them. The silent flight still fascinated Sheppard, but his companions were becoming restless. They ate, slept and he and Ronon took turns scanning the horizon for a change in the seemingly impenetrable cloud cover beneath them.

A third day came and went and still there was no change. McKay became increasing withdrawn at the days drew out. He occasionally cursed under his breath, damning all balloons and the men who made them, but mostly he sat in sullen silence. The first time, Sheppard realized, he had been silent since they had become cellmates.

On the fourth day, Ronon spotted the first break in the clouds. Even McKay forgot his fear of heights and rose to peer over the edge of the gondola. There was definitely a change in the color of the clouds. A distinct opening appeared as a dark shadow in the distance. Sheppard could see a glint of sunlight reflecting from the surface below.

As they approached his suspicions were confirmed. They were over water. They had apparently flown far enough south and east to be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. It did not take McKay or Ronon long to realize the implications.

McKay sputtered for several seconds before he put words to his fear and outrage. “Water…we are over the water. There is no land in sight. This is an escape? Escape to what? We are out of food and almost out of water… the drinkable kind, and there is no place to land.”

“Maybe not.” Ronon pointed off into the distant horizon.

On the surface of the glittering water was a darker smudge that did not glisten as the water did.

“That could be land,” Ronon’s expressed no agitation at the turn of events, and Sheppard was glad that he had not panicked. But, Sheppard had decided there was probably very little that could cause the big man to panic. His self assurance and confidence seemed to transcend their current situation.

“McKay,” Sheppard said, trying to get the engineer’s attention. “McKay…can you land this thing.”

“I told you I’m an engineer…”

“I know, but can you land it? How do you land it?”

McKay was so agitated he looked as though he were going to explode. “I think you have to open the valve.”

“Valve?” Sheppard repeated.

“Valve….valve…valve.” McKay pointed over their heads to the bottom of the balloon. “That valve. There should be a release line. You pull it to let out the hydrogen.”

“Hydro what?” Ronon asked as he positioned himself below the valve.

“Hydrogen gas…Oh, forget it…”

Before McKay could make any further comment Ronon reached up and yanked on the indicated release line. There was a whoosh of gas from the bottom of the balloon.

“Not yet,” McKay wailed, his eyes widening. “We have to be close enough to the island to actually land. We have no idea, if the wind will take us that far. Or if it will take us over the island. If you let out too much gas, we’ll end up in the water.”

“Doesn’t seem to be coming out that fast.” Ronon replied.

Sheppard had been watching the dark smear. It was definitely land. And it looked like a fairly large piece of land, not just a sand spit in the ocean. But they had no clue how far out into the ocean they might have been carried by the wind.

“We’re not even sure we want to be on that island.” McKay continued to protest.

“Would you rather spend another few days in this basket?” Sheppard asked.

“The last time you asked me a question like that we were supposed to be escaping.”

Sheppard ignored McKay’s continued mumbling. The balloon was beginning to descend. He tried to gauge the rate of descent against the distance to the island. It was not unlike determining the range for a cannon shot. “We’re dropping too fast. Can we re-close that valve?”

“In theory yes, I suppose we can.” McKay started to turn towards Ronon with a comment

Ronon just grunted and stood with the release rope in his hand. The only problem, Sheppard noted, was that the other end was no longer attached to the valve.

“Oh, no.” McKay’s face blanched. “Look what you’ve done you overgrown…Now we have no control over the valve. “

“Don’t panic, McKay,” Sheppard said, “didn’t you say we could also control the rate of rise and descent using the sandbags. We just need to lighten the load a bit.”

With that they began cutting and releasing the remaining sandbags. For a brief time that seemed to slow the rate of their descent, but it wasn’t enough. It was very obviously not going to be enough.

“We need more time in the air.” Sheppard told his companions. He looked at the rigging. “I’ll climb up and see if I can close the valve by hand.”

Before McKay could protest, Sheppard had removed his greatcoat and started to climb up the rigging. His actions caused the gondola to sway which caused McKay to launch into another verbal assault on his intelligence. Sheppard was just about to marvel at Ronon’s restraint in the face of McKay’s onslaught, when the man reached out and clapped a hand over McKay’s mouth.

“Enough,” he rumbled in a low, threatening voice.

Sheppard entwined his legs in the balloon’s rigging and reached for the valve. He pulled, as hard as he could, but the valve would not close.

“Start dumping weight,” he yelled.

McKay pulled Ronon’s hand form his mouth, “There’s nothing left to dump except the Springfields and what’s left of the rations.”

“Then do it.”

Without hesitation Ronon began to toss the two confederate rifles overboard.

“We might need those!” McKay yelled.

“No war to fight here,” Ronon answered. The second rifle was launched over the side, followed by the rations and water barrel.

He looked up toward Sheppard. “Good enough?”

Sheppard held his breath and counted silently. They continued to drop much too quickly. They were not going to come close to the island. “We’re going to have to cut the basket free,” he shouted

“Oh, no, no, no, no…” McKay stammered.

“Climb,” Ronon ordered, then grabbed McKay by the back of his shirt and propelled him toward the rigging.

Sheppard reached down to grab McKay’s arm. “Come on, engineer. Up you go.”

With Sheppard pulling and Ronon pushing they managed to get McKay into the rigging underneath the balloon, then began slicing through the ropes that held the gondola. As it finally broke free the balloon bobbed upward and for a brief moment Sheppard hoped it would be enough. But it was soon obvious that they if they made it to the island at their current rate of descent it would be by luck alone.

They were still a good half mile from the island when the tips of the waves began to lap at their feet, catching at them and threatening to pull them from the balloon.

“Can you swim?” Sheppard shouted to McKay.

“Not well,” McKay answered his face sheet white with panic.

“Make sure he gets to shore,” Sheppard said to Ronon.

Then before either McKay or Ronon could protest or attempt to stop him, Sheppard released his grip and dove into the surging sea beneath them.

* * * *

Coughing, sputtering and wheezing, McKay rolled over in the wet sand. The balloon had dragged them the last fifty yards up the shore before it was finally snared by a tangle of driftwood and came to a halt. It still billowed in the slight off shore breeze looking like a beached leviathan laboring for air. Ronon had already gotten to his feet and his dark shadow loomed over McKay blotting out the brightness of the sun.

“You all right?”

McKay nodded, not quite ready for words. Ronon reached down and helped him to his feet. He stood shakily for a minute trying to orient himself. “Is there any sign of Sheppard?”

Ronon shook his head. “I don’t see him. But it would take him longer to swim than it took us to fly.”

“If you call that flying? Crashing maybe. Being dragged through the surf and sand.”

“We need to find Sheppard.”

“How? We have no idea how long this coastline is.”

“We start walking.” Ronon said matter-of-factly. There was no room for reason in his view.

“Which way”

Ronon arbitrarily pointed to their left.

“And if Sheppard is also going in the same direction looking for us? Do we spend the rest of our days circling this island?”

“Fine.” Ronon said bluntly. “You stay here. I’ll go. If I chase him around the island you can stop us when we get here.”

McKay liked that idea even less. “Look. Let’s at least wait a day. Give him time to get to shore. He might not be that far away.”

“He could be hurt.”

McKay groaned in frustration. Every muscle in his body ached and all he wanted to do was rest. There was no arguing with this one once his mind was made up. “Okay. But can we at least wait an hour or two to give him time to swim to shore. Assuming he’s swimming and not drowning.”

Ronon grunted. Then started towards the trees at the edge of the beach.

“Wait,” called McKay, “Now where are you going?”

“Wait in the shade. “

* * * *

“Ronon.” McKay finally stopped. “We at least have to find water. To say nothing of food. We can’t just keep walking without water.”

Ronon said nothing, but stared impatiently at McKay.

“You may have a camel’s hump, but I need food and water.” In the time they’d been walking, the sun had moved from halfway up the eastern horizon to just past its zenith. There had been no sign of Sheppard or that he had come to shore.

“I suppose you will want to build a fire and cook it too.”

“Well,” McKay never finished the thought. “We may not have to build the fire.” He pointed to a spot over Ronon’s left shoulder, not sure why the man hadn’t seen it himself. Around the next curve in the shoreline he could see a faint curl of thin white smoke. “We may have company. Or we may have found Sheppard.”

Ronon started out for the location of the fire without looking back to see if McKay was keeping up. Groaning McKay began to trot, determined to keep up with the larger man.

They slipped into the brushy foliage that grew neat the shore, and Ronon slowed moving forward with a stealthy grace until they were near the edge of the underbrush. McKay tried to see around Ronon’s broad shoulders, but before he could catch a glimpse of anything Ronon was up and running across the beach. In the distance McKay could see a dark figure sprawled on the slow white sand of the beach. It was Sheppard. McKay ran to catch up. He watched Ronon roll the still figure over and bend low to listen for breathing. As McKay arrived, panting, Ronon looked at him and smiled.

“He’s alive.”

(continued in part two)

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