By M.N. Talbert
Sheppard struggled for air. His head was covered in some kind of dark sack, making it impossible to see, and difficult to breathe. He fought against the arms holding his, but the captors held him firm. "Let go!" he shouted, but even as he said it, he knew it was pointless. Whoever planned this abduction had been prepared. He was isolated, alone, and there wasn't anyone near to offer rescue.
He knew it was more than one, though he hadn't seen who it was. They'd come up behind him, when he was out walking. He had been grabbed, and his head covered, in one fluid motion. He'd tried to fight back, but all he had to show for it, or would show, were bruises from the tight grip they had on his upper arms. His legs were free, and he was focusing now on doing as much damage as he could by kicking wildly at the bodies that were on each side, and behind.
He heard a sharp intake from the pain of a blow as his boot connected to some part of one of the attackers. He felt other feet tangle in his own, and he lost his balance. He was taken to the ground in a controlled fall. They wanted him down, and immobile. "Son of a bitch!" cursed Sheppard.
He felt his jacket being yanked enough to expose his shoulder. Their intent was clear, and he fought harder. The cold wet swab heralded the incoming needle, and the sting betrayed the injection of a drug. "What…" Sheppard tried to ask, but before he could finish, he felt a wave of lethargy pass through his veins. Instead of his original question he stuttered, "Wh…why?" He didn't know why they were doing this. There was no answer, and he couldn't resist the effects of the sedative. His eyes drifted shut, unbidden, and unwanted. His muscles slackened, and he felt his body being lifted before his last remnants of consciousness vanished.
"Colonel," called Doctor Rodney McKay, striding into the guest quarters that the Hoffans had provided. "When they said you could take your time, I don't think they meant take the entire day." McKay stopped abruptly, the quiet sinking into his awareness. "Colonel?" he called again, this time uncertain.
He scanned the area, and noticed the room was dark, lights off. The bed was neatly made. He stepped towards the chair where Sheppard's pack was sitting, and reached for the strap, fingering the nylon material, while processing the fact that Sheppard wasn't in his room. His P-90 was propped against the chair, on the floor. McKay let go of the strap, and pushed his comm, "Teyla, have you seen Sheppard?"
He heard the audible click that signaled Teyla's presence on the other end, before she spoke, "No, I have not. I thought he was meeting with you and the Chancellor?"
"Yeah, so did I," answered McKay.
"Doctor?" came Teyla's confused reply.
"Meet me in the Chancellor's office," he said. He saw the Colonel's radio on the table beside the bed. "I think we've got a problem." He cut her off, and stared for another moment at the discarded earpiece. Sheppard wouldn't have left it behind. Something was wrong, and he hated it when things were wrong. "What happened to you now?" McKay muttered, before stepping out of the room, and pulling the door shut behind him.
"Chancellor, Colonel Sheppard wouldn't have left without his radio," protested McKay. He was in the Chancellor's office, surprised at how little had changed in the year since they'd last been here. It hadn't exactly been on good terms. They'd told the Hoffans they wouldn't be back. "If you are unwilling to look for him," continued McKay, "I'll contact my people, and we'll look for him. Do you want a bunch of armed soldiers tearing your city apart, or will you help?" McKay wasn't giving him an option. It had been worded as a question, but Chancellor Druhin knew it to be the threat that it was.
McKay had rendezvoused with Teyla short of Druhin's office. He'd explained Sheppard's absence, before meeting with the Chancellor. They'd asked Druhin if any of his people knew of the Colonel's whereabouts, and the Chancellor had said no one had seen Sheppard. McKay smelled something fishy, and it wasn't dinner. This whole mission had stunk of something wrong. The Hoffans had contacted them, and claimed their vaccine had been a success. Claimed they'd managed to reduce the mortality rate, and the Wraith had shown up, only to leave when they began to die every time they tried to feed on a Hoffan.
They had offered to meet with Sheppard's team, and show the results, letting it speak for itself. Chancellor Druhin had claimed to have video footage of the Wraith's attack and retreat. Atlantis had barely survived against the three Hive ships. Everyone knew things would get worse; it was only a matter of time. They had a ZPM now, but the other worlds didn't, and Atlantis couldn't provide sanctuary for a galaxy full of people. Elizabeth and Sheppard had argued against reopening relations, but Caldwell had overridden them, and here they were, and now Sheppard was missing.
McKay saw, with a spike of satisfaction, that his words had the desired impact. Chancellor Druhin paled, and ran his fingers nervously over the surface of his desk. "That's not necessary, Doctor McKay," he assured. His white beard twitched. "I'll order our people to conduct a search," he studied Teyla surreptitiously. "Do you know where he was the last time you saw him?"
"I left Colonel Sheppard in his room," answered Teyla. "He said he was tired, and wanted to rest before meeting with you and Doctor McKay."
Teyla didn't want to admit the real reason Sheppard had remained behind was to do some reconnaissance on the Hoffans. None of them trusted these people, not after what they'd done. The Hoffans had used their help to further their own agenda, and to hell with the cost. Beckett had spent many nights on the balcony after that last mission, trying to find it within himself to forgive the part he had played in what amounted to mass genocide. Fifty percent of a population, killed. And he'd helped craft the means for it. Everyone had taken a turn at consoling the Scotsman, including Teyla, Sheppard and Doctor McKay.
"I see," and it was obvious to everyone that Chancellor Druhin did see. "You understand, that will make it more difficult."
McKay jerked his head impatiently. "Just look," he said.
Druhin stood, and walked over to the door, pulling it open. "We will let you know if we find anything," he said, dismissing them.
McKay frowned, wondering if maybe he should have said he was going to bring over a team from Atlantis after all. If Druhin was involved, this could be bad. "We'll inform our leader's of the Colonel's situation," McKay said pointedly. He headed for the exit, Teyla behind him, but he paused at the threshold. "If anything happens to Colonel Sheppard, I will personally hold you responsible." He spoke quietly, the threat vibrated between the two individuals.
Druhin stared back impassively, but McKay could see telltale signs that he was slightly shaken by his resolve. Druhin sensed that he meant what he'd said. This wasn't the McKay from the first visit. Everyone in Atlantis had been through too much to be the same as back then. Too many people had died, friends and enemies. McKay wasn't about to sit back and watch another one be taken from him. Grodin's death was too fresh. That time he'd sat back and watched. He'd done nothing, and Peter had been blasted into particles in front of his eyes. If Druhin thought he'd let him get away with harming one hair on Sheppard's head, he was greatly mislead.
"Good day, Chancellor," finished Teyla. They walked out the door, and headed towards the gate. It was time to let Doctor Weir and Caldwell know.
"And you think the Hoffans are responsible for Sheppard's disappearance?" Colonel Caldwell asked.
McKay peered into the MALP's camera lens, knowing his image was being sent through the wormhole, to Elizabeth and Caldwell, standing in the command center. "Of course, we told you this was a bad idea," he said. There wasn't any trace of the smug satisfaction of being right, just anger, because he had been right, and Sheppard had been right, and now Sheppard was gone.
"Doctor McKay, I'll let that slide because Sheppard is your friend, but in the future, you'd do well to remember who is in charge now," the steely message came through loud and clear.
The only sign of McKay's irritation was the tightening of his jaw. Since Caldwell had assumed command, everyone had tried to adjust to the change in leadership. Gone were the days of speaking freely that had lived under Doctor Weir's command.
"Has the Chancellor been notified?" continued Caldwell.
"Do you think…" started McKay, before biting back his sarcastic retort. He took a deep breath, and tried again. "Yes, Colonel. He was the first person we notified." The veiled jab that they hadn't run to him probably wasn't lost on the Colonel.
"I see, in that case keep us informed, Caldwell out."
The connection was severed when the wormhole disengaged. McKay had a momentary pang of regret. True, Caldwell was a hard-assed military man, but McKay knew most of the expedition wasn't giving him a fair shake. There were a lot of hard feelings over the change of command.
He looked away from the MALP, disgusted, and noticed Teyla watching him with disapproval. "What?" he snapped defensively.
She didn't say anything, instead turned back the way they'd come, but she didn't have to say anything. McKay was certain there was an appropriate four-letter word for this situation, but he supposed it wouldn't make him feel any better if he used it. Then again…
Sheppard shook his head vigorously, trying to rid his mind of the stringy cobwebs that muddled his thoughts. He was sitting in a chair, and his arms and legs were shackled firmly to the wooden slats. He tugged as much as his skin could withstand before abandoning the attempt at loosening the bonds.
At least the hood over his head was gone. He didn't know how long he'd been out, but he'd come to, sitting in this chair. He was in a windowless room. It wasn't cold or hot, and maybe it was a concession on their part to his needs because his jacket was gone and he'd been left in his black uniform t-shirt and pants. His boots were also missing. He wished he'd worn his socks.
His head felt sluggish, aftereffects of the drug they'd used. What he didn't know was why. Why were they doing this? Sure, they had their doubts about the Hoffans ethics, but they hadn't struck him as being as homicidal and cold as the Genii had been.
It was hard to track the passage of time, but he had been awake for at least an hour, maybe two, and still no one had come to see him. It couldn't be an interrogation, could it? That didn't make sense. They had been open about their technology when they'd been here before. Ransom? Hold him in exchange for more help? But that didn't mesh either, because they'd claimed they'd fine-tuned the virus on their own.
A noise drew his attention to the wall on his right. There was a door there, though it was hard to make out in the dim lighting. It clanged again, before being swung inwards. A man he didn't recognize walked in, carrying a briefcase. Two guards followed him in; at least Sheppard assumed they were guards. They were dressed in uniforms, and had what looked like weapons in their hands.
"You know, I have to admit, I preferred my other room," said Sheppard. He didn't want to let them know how worried he was becoming. Be the first one to speak, let them know he wasn't going to be easily intimidated.
The man smiled enigmatically. "Major Sheppard…or rather Colonel Sheppard," he said, emphasizing the change in rank. "Congratulations, by the way."
Sheppard grimaced, before replying, "Thanks."
"Such an occasion must be celebrated, wouldn't you say, Colonel?" The man set his briefcase on a table that was just out of reach of his chair, and opened the lid, withdrawing a vial containing liquid.
Sheppard squirmed; he did not want to be injected with whatever that was, and he had a sneaking suspicion that was exactly what their goal was. "What is that for?" he asked, letting his eyes fall on the vial.
The guards took up a stance on either side of his chair. Sheppard watched them uneasily. This was not looking good. The man was middle-aged, non-descript. He could be anybody, and nobody. He was the man you couldn't remember when asked hours later. His face was average, plain. His hair was your standard brown, with graying on the edges; his nose was average – not too big, not too small. Everything about the man screamed unremarkable.
"That, Colonel Sheppard, is the Galaxies salvation," stated the man, and his eyes gleamed wickedly in a manner that was anything but unremarkable. The door clanged shut, causing him to jerk involuntarily in the chair, and as it closed, he steadied his nerves. For the first time since his abduction, he began to fear what would happen when he did get out of here.
"Doctor McKay, Colonel Sheppard has been found!"
McKay stopped pacing, and looked at the man, surprised and relieved at the same time. Sheppard had been missing for almost eighteen hours. In that time, McKay had begun to worry that they wouldn't get him back. He worried about what was being done to Sheppard. Who had taken him, and where? If it were a Hoffan conspiracy, he knew the chances of getting Sheppard back were slim to none.
"Is he okay?" he asked. He was almost afraid to hear the answer. But the messenger didn't look like he was the bearer of bad news.
"He is unconscious, but appears well," the man replied, and indicated for McKay to follow him.
McKay hesitated. When he and Teyla had tried to join the search, the Hoffan authorities had claimed that whomever had kidnapped Sheppard might try for them as well, and they should remain in the safety of the government building. Was this a ploy to get him alone, and kidnap him as well?
"Just a second," McKay said. He tapped the earpiece. "Teyla, they've found Sheppard. I'm going there now, contact Atlantis and have Beckett standing by."
He leveled his gaze on the man, who shrugged, and led McKay into the hall. They went down two stories, and came out into the bright sunlight of a Hoffan mid-day. Sheppard's disappearance had been discovered when he'd been late for the diplomatic dinner. It was now noon. They crossed the street and entered another building; this was the hospital. McKay recognized it from their previous trip, and he couldn't stop the unwanted shiver from sliding down his spine.
Sure enough, he was led to a hospital bed on the first floor, and was surprised to see a pale Sheppard sitting up, awake if not exactly alert. Aside from his color, McKay couldn't see any obvious injury. He was wearing his uniform, even the outer jacket and boots, which looked out of place with him lying on the bed.
"Colonel?" McKay said apprehensively. He wasn't sure what else to say, not until Sheppard said something first.
Sheppard looked at McKay, and narrowed his eyes, confused. "How did I get here?" he asked McKay.
McKay wasn't normally at a loss for words, but he hadn't expected that. He didn't know what he expected, but this wasn't it. "You don't remember?"
"No," Sheppard replied, and McKay could hear the edges of panic. "I remember gating here, and then…nothing," he finished, frustrated.
McKay figured the best thing was to get him back to Beckett, back to Atlantis, and away from here. He didn't trust the Hoffans, and he had a lot of questions, but right now, Sheppard's health came first. "Can you walk?" McKay asked.
Sheppard nodded, then added, "I think."
McKay moved to his side, and offered a hand, but Sheppard pushed it away. "I see you're still stubborn to the point of…" he trailed off as Sheppard climbed to his feet and swayed. McKay steadied him, and finished, "falling on your face."
"Shut up, McKay," retorted Sheppard, but he didn't remove McKay's support.
"Some things never change," muttered McKay, hefting the Colonel's arm over his shoulder. "Let's go; Teyla's waiting."