A/N: Howdy there, and Happy Thanksgiving! A little insight before you read this story, which is my first Stargate: Atlantis Fanfic. The idea for it has been gnawing at me mercilessly since one of my many muses happens to be a piranha and is about to take my leg off if I don't follow through with this tale. It's set in season one, because I don't have cable and UPN has only just now started showing Stargate: Atlantis. So Sheppard is still a Major, Ford is still around, and those in season two are not even a blip in mental existence. Therefore, I apologize for the time warp, and any lack of knowledge I may have on certain aspects of the show. I'm working with what I got here, people. Thank goodness for the SGA website.
Wrong End of a Leash
Author: Stealth Dragon
Rating: T – for violence, especially against Sheppard, poor guy.
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis – for the love of everything – does not belong to me! Why do so many try to argue otherwise? Oh, wait, those are just the voices in my head;) The creatures involved, however, are of my own creation.
Synopsis: Major John Sheppard becomes the pet of an usual, sentient creature. But life on a leash is a lot harder than it seems. This story starts out humorous, but believe me when I say it won't stay that way.
" Do the words 'Death Valley' Mean anything to you, McKay?" Major John Sheppard muttered. He passed his eyes over a land that was like a solidified sea of red dust and glass-smooth, sharp-edged rocks stretching to a horizon that melded into a yellow sky. There was a wind blowing, neither too strong or too weak, just enough to be annoying by spitting sand in Sheppard's eyes. He blinked against the grit and watched dust-devils try to rise up from the ground only to sputter out before they could even form a funnel.
John looked over at Rodney. The scientist and self-proclaimed genius was searching their surroundings with wide-eyed and slack-jawed disappointment. His hopes for stepping out of the gate into an endless debris field of ruins or an inhabited city was officially dashed. But John knew, with a continually sinking feeling, that McKay was far from being deterred.
" No, there has to be something here!" Rodney said. John rolled his eyes.
" Sure, maybe just over that hill."
Rodney turned his head to squint at the major. " What hill?"
John sighed. " Exactly, McKay. No hills, no mountains, no lakes, no rivers, no plants... and you know what else there isn't any of? Cities. Also, in point of fact, does this look like a good spot to have a city? Not exactly scenic, if you ask me."
" Well I didn't," Rodney grumbled, which elicited a small smirk from John. John was tired, hungry, and his body ached, so he felt justified in his petulance. This was the fourth world they had visited in a day. Like the last three, there were no cities in sight. Unlike the last three, there was nothing in sight. At least the previous worlds had sported trees, grass, and alterations in land features. This world appeared suitable as a land fill and not much else.
At least it wasn't inhumanly hot. In fact, John had to guess the temperature to be around seventy or so; spring-time temperatures. Maybe that was what had attracted the Ancients to this place. Then again, maybe it was a one season thing, and the rest of the year it was boiling hot. The world looked liked it should be boiling hot.
This world – which Sheppard already dubbed as Mar's ugly twin sister – had been one of ten part of a list of worlds McKay had stumbled upon while digging through Atlantis' cryptic archives. A fluke really. He'd been poking around (with Sheppard's reluctant aid, of course) and up they popped. It had taken three days for him to convince Weir to let a team (Sheppard's team) explore just one of the worlds. When that one came up with nil, then it was on to the second, then third. Now here they were on what John could only describe as the crap-hole planet of the bunch – unless the next one happened to be worse.
Ford let out a sharp breath. " Another puddle jumper run, sir?"
John smiled. " McKay?"
Rodney was already in his element, holding up his precious little scanning device and reading it over. But he didn't look happy about it.
" No odd energy readings... of any kind. Definitely nothing that would send your pet ship into the dirt nose first."
Pet ship. It almost made John chuckle out loud. Of course he would have never thought the puddle jumper in such terms, but now that Rodney had said it, John couldn't help it. The jumper he had first flown, first awoken, had unwittingly become his favorite. He enjoyed flying it to the degree that he was always looking for a reason to fly it, and it wasn't just because he loved to fly. The puddle jumper was like nothing he had ever flown before, and the way it responded to his very thoughts made it more than just a ship – it made the thing practically alive. So, yes, in a small way the hunk of metal and Ancient ingenuity was kind of like a pet, a pet he loved to take for a 'walk' whenever he could.
John nodded. " Another run it is. But if this planet ends up like the rest of them – empty and useless which I can already tell you it is – then the rest of the worlds can wait."
" I do not understand," Tayla said. " Why would the Ancients leave gates on worlds that are not inhabited?"
McKay gave Sheppard a withering look. " Maybe they are inhabited but further in."
" McKay, since when has any civilization we come across not been near enough to the gate for us to find on foot? That first world was an island, a very small island, and we still didn't find anyone or anything. Not even another island. So... Any other theories?"
Rodney huffed, then threw up his arms as though in defeat. " I don't know. Maybe they saw these worlds as potentially habitable, then changed their minds. Or maybe they saw them as nice vacation spots."
John started back in mock surprise, then glanced around. " Really?"
" You got a better theory, major, then I would like to hear it."
John continued to glance around though it was fairly obvious that there was little to see. Tayla did have a point. Why would there be a gate on a world that looked like it had been demolished by a dozen nukes?
Maybe that was the answer, not nukes but some other weapon that had turned everything to dust. Maybe these places had been scarcely populated, then the wraith came and sucked dry every last breathing thing. There were probably thousands of reasons why these worlds were so empty, and that the list found in the archives was in fact a list of failed worlds – or places to avoid. There was just too little to learn in order to determine anything.
Too bad McKay didn't see it that way.
Something howled, and John snapped his head around, looking directly left. It hadn't been a loud howl, or the kind that rose and fell like the cry of some animal. The sound that had caught his ear could have easily been overlooked, it was so low and monotone. But it was also long, drawn out, reminiscent of the wind through the trees yet far deeper.
" Well?" McKay pressed. John held up one hand for silence, keeping the other tight on his weapon.
The howl came again, low and lonely, coming with another gust of wind trying to make the sand dance.
" Did you hear that?" Sheppard asked.
" Hear what?" Rodney snapped.
" Shut up and listen, McKay."
Another howl, or moan, John wasn't quite sure what to call it. It came, then died, then came again a little lower. The sound made his blood run cold and he shivered.
" I heard something," Tayla said. " But barely. What is it?"
" I don't know," John murmured, and without realizing it he began moving in the direction the sound seemed to be emanating. He also heard the crunch of sand behind him as indication that the others were following not too far behind.
" Um, are you sure this is a good idea?" Rodney asked.
" You wanted to find something, McKay, so that's what we're doing – finding something."
The howling, when it came again, sounded louder and deeper, as though whatever was making it was massive beyond comprehension. Yet there was nothing to see. John kept walking, and the sound became all encompassing, pushing through his skin to vibrate his bones.
" What is that!" Rodney shouted above the monstrous moan.
The sound pushed against John's ears, expanding in his chest. It was not painfully loud, just uncomfortably strong. He looked all around for the source, then looked down and halted abruptly.
" Crap!" He shouted, taking a step back. He had been only two steps away from walking over the lip of the most massive pit he had ever seen.
The others stepped up beside him, and stared into the monolithic chasm with both wide-eyed wonder and fear. The flatness of the land, and its solid rust coloring, had hidden the thing from them, which seemed almost absurd. Sheppard began walking around the thing, and gaged it to be roughly around a forth of a mile wide, or more. The depth, which he could not tear his eyes from, looked beyond measure. The sides of the chasm sloped inward but none too gently, dropping forever down into inky darkness like a starless void – a planet-bound black hole. Staring into it was like staring into infinity. John's heart began to hammer, sweat bead on his forehead, neck, and back, and his brain screamed at him to turn away. He shrank from it, taking a step back, yet still unable to turn away.
" This-this is amazing!" McKay breathed, following John as he slowly walked the circumference of the chasm as though circling a sleeping predator. " It has to be miles deep."
" It explains the sound," Ford said, stiff with unease. " Hate to fall into something like that."
" I have never seen anything like it," Tayla said.
Dust picked up by the wind spilled into the chasm, reminding John of water trickling into a hole – or a massive maw.
Ford crouched and picked up a sand polished rock, tossing it in. They heard it clatter down the steep incline until its sharp reverberations became swallowed up in the depth and the howling.
" We need to go back," McKay said suddenly. John looked at the scientist in disbelief. Since when had Rodney ever wanted to go back after a major discovery? McKay looked at John.
" For the jumper. We need to see how deep this thing goes, what might be down there."
John narrowed his eyes at McKay. " Oh yeah? And what if there's something down there that causes the jumper to lose power and get stuck? How would we get out? I kind of left my rock climbing equipment back on earth."
McKay shrugged. " It's probably not as deep as it looks."
" What does your little toy say?"
Rodney held his scanner out toward the hole. " Nothing, actually. Huh... weird. It's like the hole isn't even there."
" Exactly," John replied. " If we send anything down, it's going to be a machine, something remote controlled... minus any humans. Who knows what could be down there. Lava, cave-dwelling man-eating insects... caves plus human meat – never a good combination."
Rodney rolled his eyes. " Come on, John. Just because it's all dark and scary doesn't mean a monster lives down there."
" McKay, ever seen the movie Dune?"
Rodney sighed. " I read the book, actually. Those giant worms were tame, if you don't recall."
" Okay then, ever seen the movie Tremors? Imagine that something besides a meteor or natural causes made this hole. Imagine it to be a worm hole made by a real worm, one as large as the worms on Dune but nasty like the ones on Tremors. Kind of makes you hesitant about going down a really big hole on a lifeless planet, doesn't it McKay?"
McKay opened his mouth, then clapped it shut, paling slightly. " Well, I guess there's no immediate rush to see what's down there. At least we can finally say that we found something."
Sheppard smiled. " Glad you finally see the light. Let's head back to base, tell them this wasn't such a waste after all."
They all turned to head back. John took only two steps when he felt his feet pulled out from beneath him. He fell onto his side with a grunt, and continued sliding.
" What the hell?" He looked around, and to his horror found himself being pulled along by a river of loosened sand spilling over the lip of the chasm, and spilling fast. Panic swelled in his chest, making it hard to breath. He flipped onto his stomach, clawing at the sand to try to pull himself up. But the sand was deep, and increasing in speed when it came to the edge. He reached out, grabbing onto rocks that gave way to go clattering down the precipice.
" He – help!" he cried, already going over the edge. He continued to claw and grab, then felt the sickening emptiness of being weightless. He was falling, but the fall stopped when his hands caught onto the jagged, sharp edges of two rocks jutting from the steep incline.
" Major!" He heard Tayla cry. He tried to look up but sand continued to pour down all over him.
" John, can you reach!"
John managed to plant his feet against the uneven wall. He pushed up with his feet and pulled with one hand, using the other to reach up as sand pushed against him.
" No, major, to your right, your right!"
Sheppard stretched to the right, gripping the rock tighter with his other hand until it stung. He felt something warm and wet run down his arm, and it was making the rock difficult to hold onto.
" Rodney!" John cried out desperately, choking on sand. " Ford! Tayla!"
" John, damnit! I can't reach you, not without getting pulled in. You need to climb up."
John tried. He searched the wall for another hand hold, and pushed up farther with his feet.
Suddenly, his feet slipped, and his weight yanked his hand from the slippery rock.
" Major!" he heard Tayla scream before he felt, again, the sickening lurch of being weightless as he plummeted.
He impacted with the wall, hard, driving the breath from his lungs. He impacted again, then again, tumbling down the steep incline, then sliding, rolling, then tumbling again. He tried grabbing for hand holds, but his momentum pulled him away as the sharp rocks sliced his hands.
The tumbling became a rolling slide that was agonizing and endless. Pain shot up his arm when he tried to reach out to stop himself, then more pain radiated out from his ribs. He fell, and fell, and fell, and thought that he would fall forever. Soon, darkness swallowed him, and still he fell, his screams echoing all around him.
Then he began to slow, sliding more and rolling less, hard rock giving way to soft sand that took most of the impact until finally he stopped all together.
John lay where he was, spread-eagle on his back with his eyes tightly shut. Pain, all he felt was terrible pain, and all he heard was the roar of blood through his ears. He was panting, and it created more pain, but he couldn't stop. He had to breathe fast for the oxygen to keep up with his rapidly pounding heart.
All John wanted to do was to lay there, just until his head stopped spinning. But he couldn't, he was in trouble. He needed help. Slowly, carefully, he peeled his eyelids apart. All he saw was darkness broken only by what looked to be a small, blinding yellow moon. He blinked away the film covering his eyes, staring at that moon, wondering why he hadn't seen it before, it was so bright. Then, with a jolt that made his heart skip, he realized what he was looking at.
It was the entrance to the pit.
Terror tried to get him to move, which sent a fiery river of agony ripping through his bones, causing him to grit his teeth and utter a combination cry and whimper of pain. Then his vision blurred, sparking with stars as that pain hammered through his skull.
I'm dying, he thought. Something moved into his line of vision, fading as it was. It was large, illuminated by oval, phosphorescent eyes. It was a snouted head, like the head of some great reptilian beast – or something like that, John wasn't sure.
Great, a man-eating worm. But by then it didn't matter. Darkness filled his vision, his mind, and his eyes slid closed, shutting off all reality.
A/N: Uh-oh! So, what do you think? Should I keep going? Don't worry, I know what's going to happen. I never write a story until I have it all planned out. Please comment. Reviews are such good motivation.
For those of you familiar with, and reading, my CSINY story, not to worry. I'm still working on that. I'll just be doing a little alternating between the two.