Ronon met her somewhere in the middle of his time Running, just as he’d begun to consider the possible advantages of insanity or suicide—not for very long or very hard, only when he had to steal supplies or the Wraith came so closely after him that he had no time for thought or sleep. Only when he stepped through the gate into an empty world and felt a knot of regret and relief. When he woke up and thought for an instant that he’d dreamed the whole thing.
As he did that morning, before his empty stomach fiercely declared itself and his back remembered that he’d spent the night on pebbly dirt. And there was someone standing next to his head—he could feel the displacement of air, could smell the poorly-cured leather of their boots. Which meant, at least, that it wasn’t Wraith.
Not necessarily a comfort; he at least knew what to expect from Wraith.
One of the things he’d learned early on in the Specialist Corps was how to wake up while appearing to remain asleep. So now he kept his breathing steady and eased open his left eye, the one closest to the ground. From the size of the boots about half a hand away from his face, the person was a woman, and in worse shape than he was, judging from the way the boots had worn through around the toes.
“I know you’re awake,” she said, but more like a question than a certainty. Probably a good sign; people feeling unfriendly usually prefaced such questions with a kick to the stomach. Still, he’d prefer to be upright and out of reach.
When a child, your duty is to your family.
When a Specialist, your duty is to your squad.
When alone, your duty is to kill Wraith.
In all things, your greater duty is to Sateda: by making your family strong, you make Sateda strong; by keeping your squad alive, you keep Sateda alive; by killing Wraith, you leave fewer to harm Sateda.
Ronon owes his life and sanity to someone he’s never met, an anonymous clerk in the Department of Morale, one of dozens who wrote slogan after slogan during the early years after the Wraith returned in force. All the other slogans are long forgotten, were so even when Sateda existed as more than a memory, but this one caught someone’s eye and become ingrained into an entire generation. “Satedan, what is your duty?” To teach, to learn, to heal, to invent, to kill—to serve Sateda. Even when alone and being used as sport by monsters out of a grandparent’s bedtime story. Even during endless years spent as an animal at bay.