"Colonel Sheppard?" The Matron was twisting her clawed hands. "We have found Doctor McKay's body."
John stood. "Show me." And he followed her out, Ronon close behind him and Teyla supporting a still-healing Carson.
"A what?" Rodney gasped out.
The Matron's hands twisted, and her break clacked in her distress. "Our ancestors built it to prove the worth of those who would trade with us."
"Well, it sucks!" Rodney snarled. He looked over the ropes to the mist below, where he could hear the roaring river rage. "How far down is that?"
"Nearly fifty arlins," the Matron said. She measured an arlin with her hands, her feathers rustling.
"Fifty metres," Rodney groaned. "Good Lord."
"Tell me again why it has to be McKay," John grumbled.
"Because he appears to be physically weakest," the Matron explained, "since he is not a soldier as the three of you are. And we believe that a braided cord is only as strong as its weakest strand."
Rodney nodded. "So when I cross the bridge --"
"We will accept you as trading partners," the Matron nodded.
Rodney nodded a second time. He shrugged off his pack – with his tablet in it – and handed it to John. Then he took a deep breath. Then another.
And he stepped onto the bridge.
The Avayon soared into the clearing, landing beside the Matron and the rest of John's team. They had a bier with them, and they set it down gently.
Rodney was revealed when they moved away. Too still. Too pale. Surrounded by broken pieces of crystal.
"Matron." One of them lifted a piece of crystal. "These surrounded the body. There is nothing like this that I --" His words ended in a shocked gasp as it dissolved into nothingness in his hand.
All of the crystal around Rodney's body vanished a second later.
"It's... been an hour, then," John gulped. Just one hour.
Just sixty short minutes since... it happened.
Rodney had made it just about halfway across the bridge when they all heard the snap. Instantly, Rodney froze. "What was that?" he squeaked.
But horror had stolen John's voice. He was just staring wildly where one of the knotted support strands had given way.
Rodney turned to face them, and he read the expression on John's face. "Don't try it!" he hollered. "Your TK can't hold it!"
"It's under twenty pounds!" John yelled back.
"No, it isn't! Think!"
John paused – and swore as his mathematical mind slotted in the tension ratios and the estimated force...
"Exactly," Rodney called. And winced as another snap rang out. He slowly began walking backwards, trying to get across before--
A third snap. He raised stricken eyes. "John, it's not gonna hold!" he called.
I know, John mouthed, his eyes huge.
Rodney's eyes flicked over the side again. Then his shoulders straightened as he looked back at John.
Who saw Rodney's wrists start to pulse. Yes, John thought. Yes, support it with crystal!
And as soon as he had thought that thought, the supports gave way with a horrible roar. The bridge – and Rodney – plunged out of sight.
There hadn't been time enough for Rodney to even scream.
Though John more than made up for it.
Carson moved toward the bier as fast as his wounds would allow him. He cursed the Ancients and their exploding tumour machine -- that whole adventure had nearly killed him and had left his back badly burned. But in the same breath, he was thankful Teyla and Ronon had gotten him.
If anyone had to call Rodney's time of death, Carson would rather be the one to do it.
"Oh, Rodney," he sighed, reaching down to brush a strand of wet hair from Rodney's temple. As he did so, his fingers brushed Rodney's forehead.
And Carson stiffened. The others watched, confused, as Carson slowly pulled away. He turned his hand over pressing the back of it to Rodney's cheek.
Carson gasped and his fingers immediately scrabbled at Rodney's throat.
"Carson?" John asked.
Carson met his eyes, his voice thick with emotion. "Get me a medical jumper! He's alive!"
Rodney smiled as his team – and the Matron – walked into the Infirmary and gathered about his bed. "So – are we trading?"
"We are trading," the Matron said, nodding her feathered head.
"Good," Rodney said, closing his eyes. "Nice to know my dunking wasn't in vain."
"Please." The Matron took his hand in her claws. "Please, accept my apologies. We had no idea the bridge actually was unsafe. It is being rebuilt and this will not happen again."
Rodney squeezed her hand and nodded, drifting off to sleep.
The Matron stood. "How did he survive? By rights, the fall should have killed him."
John smiled. "That's Rodney's story to tell. If he chooses to tell it."
The Matron nodded. "I shall return to my world, then. I look forward to our alliance."
Teyla escorted the Matron to the Gateroom, and John returned to Rodney's bedside to watch him sleep.
It was plain what had happened. Rodney had formed a crystal shield to absorb the impact and slow his descent. A lot of crystal, based on the fragments found.
As it was, Rodney had a concussion and a broken ankle. He was soaking wet and had been found with his lower body in the water. He'd managed to not swallow or inhale any water.
It could have been much worse. The Aveyon had thought Rodney had been dead. Granted, they had never seen a human unconscious before – and the Matron had said all humans looked alike to her – but they had thought Rodney was dead.
Rodney shifted and mumbled, and John smiled. It could have been so much worse.
But it wasn't.
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