TITLE: A Price Too High
AUTHOR: Wraithfodder
RATING: T
CATEGORY: General, with angst, whumping and humor
SPOILERS: Contains extremely miniscule spoilers to second season episodes "The Hive" and "The Tower"

Copyright Disclaimer: The Stargate Atlantis characters, as presented on the series, belong to MGM, Sci Fi, and other registered copyright holders. No copyright infringement is meant or intended by the writing and posting of this material. I'm just borrowing the characters and the universe for a piece of non-profit 'fan fiction' and will return in one piece (well, usually). However, all original characters and story material are copyright to author. Please do not repost this fiction, in whole or in part, anywhere, without expression written permission of the author.

SUMMARY: Sheppard must strike an agreement to free his friends, but is he ready to pay the price asked?


A Price Too High

PART 1

"Is it or isn't it?"

Colonel John Sheppard knew that 9 times out of 10, it was impossible to determine if an energy source was something viable as well as usable for Atlantis, but he was not passing up a chance to get a dig in at McKay, who, at the moment, was eagerly staring at the life signs detector as if it were beaming over a porn broadcast instead of indicating the whereabouts of the energy source, which was the sole purpose of their visit to this new world.

"I realize there are only so many brain cells in the average human head," McKay said, the sarcasm only beginning to rev up. "But you'd think after all this time, you could maintain some information in that skull of yours."

Which meant Rodney didn't know the answer.

They'd arrived on PL6 2H5 less than an hour ago. The sky was bright blue and clear of any industrial pollutants. No black smoke rose from any ruins, indicating that the wraith hadn't paid a recent visit. A well-trod dirt path, framed by tall trees set evenly apart, led into the distance. The woods precluded flying a jumper through the gate, and might possibly impede a dart as well, although nothing would stop a wraith cruiser from harvesting lunch.

The team passed by another group of villagers. They'd been warmly welcomed and told that the planet was called Rael. They'd barely been able to introduce themselves when the villagers – all of whom had that Renaissance type look with long flowing skirts, ornately embroidered pants and bright blouses – immediately assumed that the team was there for trading and specifically, to entertain an audience with Protran Audran.

Which all seemed fine and dandy, and there were no wraiths lurking behind trees, and McKay had kept his complaining down to a minimum after going on about pollen counts, but… whenever that Protran person was mentioned, everybody looked at him. It didn't matter who was doing the talking, they'd always end up looking at him and smiling.

Well, he had introduced himself first, which obviously put him in the leader role, so maybe the people were reacting to that. And, he'd noticed a few of the younger women giving Ronon the once over, while others regarded the large Satedan with a wary glance. Rodney was basically ignored but then if he didn't keep yammering on about power sources, which none of the villagers were aware of, he might get more than a glower shot in his direction.

"You know, why is it that ZedPMs are always located on backwater planets where they don't even have indoor plumbing?" Rodney continued to mutter.

"So you can get some exercise," came Ronon's droll response.

McKay's eyes narrowed at the obvious jibe, probably because of their last mission, but he wisely kept his mouth shut. Instead, he pointed an arm off to the right.

The path spread out as it entered a village. Ruts were visible in the broad street; evidence of carts or wagons. The dwellings were constructed of stone, standing no more than two stories tall in most cases, except for a large, almost castle-sized structure at the far end of the village. Sheppard had the sneaking suspicion that's where the Protran resided, so that's where they headed.

The villagers were busy going about their daily business, which was pretty the same all over the galaxy: haggling produce prices, obtaining needed services, etc. They got the usual glances that any strangers would get, and again, strange smiles on some of their faces. He was beginning to wonder if any of them had a 'kick me' sign on their backsides.

"This way," said – no – ordered McKay. Sheppard didn't argue the point, as that sent them toward the castle structure.

Twenty minutes later they arrived in what Sheppard figured was the village square. The castle had a good overview of the entire square, as well as a two-storey building with spires on it. A set of at least a dozen well-maintained steps led up to dual doors on that building. There were ornate little stone animals perched on either side of the steps, which reminded Sheppard of a library.

McKay, however, simply jerked his arm, very much like a hunting dog pointing toward a downed bird, at the doors. "It's in there."

"Okay, let's take a look-see," agreed Sheppard.

One or two people stopped to watch them as they went up the steps of the building. They didn't even get halfway up those steps when a dozen men appeared around them. All of them were in deep gray uniforms with tons of buttons and armed with what looked like pretty old guns that Sheppard felt weren't simply for decoration.

"No one enters the Raelan Sanctuary without the Protran's permission," one guard said in a deep, menacing tone.

Sheppard flashed a smile that he hoped would defuse the guards' obvious hostility. "Hey guys, we were just about to get that. If you can point the way…" He held his arms out to the side, indicating they meant no harm.

Several guns were immediately pointed unerringly at them.

PART 2

"If Teyla were here, we wouldn't be locked in this hellhole," grumbled McKay. "Awaiting a life sentence for trespassing! She could have talked us out of it."

Sheppard chose to ignore McKay's complaint. The man still had his computer so he should be darn happy. However, all their weapons had been taken away. He was sure Ronon still had a knife or two up his sleeve, or secreted elsewhere on his person, but he wasn't about to point that out to the guards. There wasn't any need for violence unless the Protran, whom the guards had gone to send word to, decided to hang them from the gallows for mucking up the welcome mat.

Their prison was anything but a hellhole, and Sheppard had seen a few of those in his time. There was a decent sized wooden table to one side, with several chairs around it. Each wooden chair had a thick padded seat. There was a very simple bed against the back wall. If they were stuck there for more than one day, they'd have to flip for who ended up sleeping on the floor. A door to the left led to a simple but clean bathroom.

Since they'd arrived pretty early in the morning, they'd been given breakfast. A nice big platter of fruit, rolls, and what appeared to be cheese. Some of it was a bit too pungent for his taste, but it appeared to be what the locals like to eat, as when they'd been escorted into the building, they walked past the guard's desk. He had a similar plate on it.

The bars that composed the front 'wall' were made of steel or a similar alloy and were more solid than Ronon's right hook. There were no weak areas where a bar might be jarred loose, and the lock was big and complicated. Of course, the key to that lock was down the hall. The window was too small for any of them to fit through, so they had to hope that they got an audience with the Protran before they turned old and gray, or killed one another over who got the bed.

Sheppard was halfway through a pretty delicious chunk of something perhaps citrus in origin – McKay had looked at the fruit as though it were a poisonous asp with fangs dripping venom – when the scientist looked up his computer and stared in horror at his two companions.

"What if the food is drugged?"

As if they hadn't been through that nightmare before with Ford and his little enzyme hopped-up buddies.

"It's not," said Ronon, plucking what looked like an apple from the platter. He went back to where he'd been leaning against the bars. He took a bite. The crisp crunch sure sounded just like an apple. "Saw one of the guards stealing a few pieces off it for himself before they brought it in."

"There. See? No poison, Snow White," smirked Sheppard.

McKay shot a frosty glare at him. "And since when do friendly people lock up their guests?"

"When they trespass?" Sheppard guessed. Although, there hadn't been any signs of 'do not step on the grass,' 'do not proceed.' Nothing. Nada. Apparently it was an unspoken rule and the locals had just let them break that rule. Maybe it was a cheap form of entertainment. Or a test of some kind, but that building they'd tried to enter seemed to be some sort of shrine. And it seemed like a locked-up waiting room they'd be put in, rather than an actual prison, well, except for the steel bars. They'd just been hustled over to the building – which only seemed to have one cell - with guns pointed at them and then told to wait.

"Okay, this is what we know so far…" began McKay. Sheppard watched Ronon drop his head slightly. They'd been stuck there for an hour already. It was like being trapped in a lecture hall for the wrong class and having no way to escape. McKay had formulated all sorts of theories, some insane and some quite rational, about why they were locked up and how they were going to get out, and who should talk to the mysterious Protran. Sheppard just hoped they wouldn't get a repeat of McKay's theory on the Protran, because that would invariably lead back to the supposed ZedPM tucked away in the mysterious building and how uncivilized societies wasted them by burying them or tossing leis on them and throwing them as sacrifices into volcanoes. Although, actually, the 'sacrifice of the virgin ZedPM' had provided them with ten minutes of excellent amusement, that is, until Sheppard and Ronon reluctantly stopped their teasing of Rodney before he burst a blood vessel.

"Someone's coming." Ronon shifted very slightly, and only those who knew him recognize that his casual slouch was anything but relaxed. If things got ugly, the Satedan would have no problem pouncing on one of the guards in the same manner as a mountain lion takes down a hapless deer.

Half a dozen guards stopped in front of the bar. Sheppard figured the guard overload was due in part to Ronon's harsh stare, which on a good day looked like an impending hurricane, and Rodney's earlier vociferous demands for a lawyer. Sheppard had actually tried to be a good negotiator and had not given away any explosives or dialing codes. He heard McKay packing up his laptop in anticipation of an early release for good behavior.

"I am Belfren," said the guard in the middle. The man had beady little eyes set deep in an angular face. He walked up to within two feet of the bars. "The Protran will see you now."

"Well, we really appreciate that," Sheppard said with a broad smile. He motioned for Ronon to step back from the bars as the lock was turned. A second later, the cell door swung open with a creak.

Sheppard stepped forward, sensing both McKay and Ronon following behind him.

Two guards held out their hands to stop the progress of the men behind him. "Only you, Colonel," said Belfren, squinting slightly as if to convey menace, but all it did was make his eyes almost disappear.

"Really?" said Sheppard quizzically. "And why is that?"

"The Protran wishes to see only you," repeated Belfren.

Sheppard could already sense unease radiating off of Rodney, so he turned on his heel to confront his two teammates. "Ronon, try not to kill Rodney while I'm gone. Rodney, try not to provoke Ronon into killing you."

"We need to get into that building," said McKay, ignoring Sheppard's debatable humor. He lowered his voice, although realistically, the guards could probably hear what was being said. "If they've got a ZedPM just sitting there…"

"I'll do what I can, okay?" said Sheppard, keeping his voice level. "First order of business is getting the two of you out of here, understood?"

"The Protran does not like to be kept waiting," intoned Belfren.

Sheppard stepped into the hall, not particularly happy to see his two friends getting locked behind those bars, but seeing six more guards waiting down the hall, he knew that escape was impossible.

Besides, so far they'd shown no tendency toward violence. Aiming a gun in one's face could be done easily, but it took a worse temper to smack the butt in a person's jaw and send them painfully to the ground. None of the guards had shown any inking of that tendency.

"When's he coming back?" asked Ronon.

Oh, that was a good question, Sheppard realized.

"As soon as the Protran and your Colonel Sheppard have made their agreement, he will be returned here."

"And if they don't come to an agreement?" McKay asked rather suspiciously.

The guards looked at each other oddly, as if no one had ever asked that question before. They all shrugged. "No one has ever refused to the agreement," said a guard from the back.

Belfren swept his gaze over all three of his prisoners. "You still wish to visit the Raelan Sanctuary, do you not?"

Sheppard wasn't so sure, but said yes before McKay began arguing his reasons for going there and then sounding off on how ZedPMs weren't trinkets for gathering dust.

Belfren led the way down the long corridor, with Sheppard following, and in turn, several guards followed him. It seemed like overkill, but then judging from some of the bored looks he caught in passing on the guards, maybe they had nothing better to do with their time.

To Be Continued


Author's Note: This story is complete in 8 parts, which I will post a couple parts each day :)