Title: Habeas Corpus

Spoilers: SG1 – season 1 episode 7

Setting: Early second season

Rating: K+

Disclaimer: All characters etc are owned by someone else. No copyright infringements intended.

A/N I posted this first chapter many months ago and I've finally got around to finding out what happened next.

For this one more than any other, I want to thank Kiky. Great beta, great suggestions, great encouragement.

Habeas Corpus

Chapter 1

"Three more Wraith darts have appeared behind us, Colonel."

"I see them, Teyla." Sheppard cursed vehemently under his breath. Where the hell had they come from? He jinked the Puddlejumper to the left, adrenaline flooding his veins but his hands steady on the controls. A dart knifed towards them, firing a volley of missiles before arcing away, and Sheppard concentrated on an evasive manoeuvre that caused the overtaxed engines to whine in protest.

"Rodney!" The Colonel spared a second to glance over at McKay. "I need those weapons now!"

"Just one more minute, Colonel."

"We don't have a minute, Rodney!" Sheppard feinted right, flicking the Jumper into a spin to avoid the latest attack.

"Sheppard, the Gate is close enough." Ronon's bass rumble sounded emotionless in the frenzied cockpit.

"Then get us the hell out of here!" Sheppard dragged the Jumper round and lined up on the Gate, calculating his approach to offer the smallest target to the attacking darts.

"Where?"

"Anywhere but Atlantis." The timing would be tight and the Colonel didn't want six Wraith darts following him through to the Gateroom.

Ronon dialled quickly, but the Wraith missile caught them as they plunged through the Gate.

oOo

"Sheppard. We have to go." John woke abruptly at Ronon's rough shake. He could only have been unconscious for a few seconds; he still felt the Puddlejumper settling after the crash landing. Groaning slightly, he turned his head to check on the rest of his team. Rodney was kneeling on the floor, frantically heaving at a thick metal strut, trying to free something lying just out of Sheppard's sight. He looked down at a dark stain seeping from beneath the heavy bar.

"Teyla!" Sheppard leapt to McKay's side, adding his strength to the task of hauling on the twisted metal. His chest tightened with more than exertion as he leaned back and pulled. "Ronon! A little help here!"

"She's dead." Ronon's voice was impassive; not uncaring, just stating a fact.

"Don't say that, she's not dead." McKay snarled through gritted teeth, his jaw clenched in his effort to help his team-mate.

Reaching around McKay's straining arm, John laid his hand on Teyla's throat. There was no pulse. He ran his fingers over her head until he felt the jagged shard of metal that had punctured her neck. He pulled his hand away, his fingers sticky and slick and his mind numb.

"Sheppard. The Wraith will be close." Sheppard knew that Ronon was right, the six darts had been just behind them and it wouldn't be long before the Wraith arrived.

"Rodney, can you get the cloak back online?" He glanced over at McKay who was watching him in rapt fascination as he carefully wiped his crimson fingers clean. "McKay?"

Rodney shook his head as if in a daze. "No, Colonel. It was damaged in the first attack; it'll take me at least half an hour to..."

"That's too long." Sheppard grabbed the first aid kit from behind the pilot's chair and leaned over to take a life-signs detector from its mount.

"Colonel, we can't just leave her here." McKay's obvious distress was tinged with disbelief.

"We'll lead the Wraith away, lose them, then circle back." Sheppard looked down at McKay, still kneeling at Teyla's side. "McKay," he waited until Rodney turned his head to face him. "We don't leave our people behind."

Rodney nodded once and scrambled to his feet, falling into line behind Sheppard as he led his team away from the Jumper and into the dense forest.

A sound behind him made Sheppard turn. The jagged stumps of broken trees showed where the Jumper had smashed through and into the ground, but the Jumper itself had disappeared. "McKay, I thought you said that the cloak was damaged."

Rodney and Ronon turned back to look at the empty patch of forest where the Puddlejumper should have been. They were still looking the wrong way when the Wraith attacked.

oOo

The Wraith looked up into the eyes of the big warrior. It could smell the human's defiance and bared its teeth, slowly running its tongue over dry lips in anticipation. To feed on one so young and strong would be a rare indulgence. The human did not flinch as the guards that held it tore away its shirt to expose the chest. Impatient now, the Wraith slapped its hand flat against the bare skin, expecting the heady rush of power.

Its eyes widened in disbelief as the life failed to surge from the human.

Furious at being denied, the Wraith screamed and reached forward taking the large human's head in its hands. With a vicious jerk, it snapped the creature's neck and let the body crumple to the ground.

The Wraith turned in anger to the second captive. This one was smaller and older, but the Wraith's hunger was now intense and it drove its palm hard against the exposed skin.

There, at the surface, the familiar taste of fear; sweet and slightly cloying. It thrust deeper, its hunger gnawing and demanding to be met. There was something else; something unexpected. This human possessed an inner strength that ran through to its core. It was intoxicating.

The energy began to flow more freely and the human writhed in agony, struggling against the feed.

The Wraith's breath quickened as the potent force flooded through its arm like a fire, entering its brain and delivering a ferocious sensation of ecstasy.

The urge to rip the human's life away in a single violent act was almost overpowering, but the Wraith resisted, eager to prolong the pleasure for as long as possible. It was a delicate balance, to keep the fragile human heart beating while slowly draining the life force. Too little enzyme and the human would die too soon; too much and it would taint the flavour.

The Wraith's attention was fixed on the feed, savouring the life that it was taking, only dimly aware of the screaming of the third human, still paralysed, lying helpless between the guards.

It could feel that it was nearing the last moments of the human's life, yet still the human fought to live; merely drawing out its own agony and the Wraith's exhilaration.

The end was abrupt and the Wraith threw back its head and shrieked as the connection to the human was severed. Its head still full of the exquisite taste, it was barely conscious of the desiccated bones that fell at its feet.

oOo

Sheppard woke to a nightmare. He lay on his back, his eyes the only part of him capable of movement. Frantically, he searched his tiny world; two Wraith guards stood at his side, but he couldn't see his team-mates from where he lay. He held his breath and listened through the roaring in his ears for any indication that he wasn't alone. As the thundering died away, he heard the gut-wrenching sound of a Wraith scream. Pushing his unresponsive body into action, Sheppard forced his head to turn towards the sound. At the edge of his vision, he could see a Wraith holding Ronon by the head. As he watched in horror, it savagely twisted the Runner's neck to an unnatural angle. Ronon fell bonelessly to the ground and Sheppard stared in shock at the lifeless body, which twitched once then lay still.

The sound of Rodney's anguish tore Sheppard's eyes from the dead man. He turned his head with painful slowness towards McKay. Unable to look away, he watched the brutal scene as it played out before him. Still, his body failed him and he lay helpless as the Wraith fed, a look of fierce exhilaration on its pallid face, stealing the life from his friend.

He watched, unable to move, as the flesh melted away from McKay's face. Blue eyes slowly clouded over and sank into the skull; lips shrank back from teeth in parody of a grin.

From far away Sheppard heard more screaming, only vaguely conscious that this time it was from his own throat. No words, just an animal noise. The sound of pain, anger, hatred and, above all, despair.

He fought his own unresponsive body, commanding paralysed limbs to act. He had to protect McKay, to save him from this torture. He needed a gun; a knife; a rock; anything to end McKay's agony. But there was nothing. He could offer no mercy. Not this time.

Suddenly, it was over.

Sheppard tasted the metallic tang of blood. He swallowed past the burning pain of his throat and the solid lump of ice where his heart used to be, knowing that, for the rest of his life, his worst dreams would include the sound of dry bones clattering to the ground.

Too late, Sheppard felt the sensation returning to his body. Slowly he tensed, shifting his weight, until, with a wordless cry, he launched himself at the Wraith.

It was as if he had run into a brick wall. The flat of the Wraith's hand smashed into his chest and threw him backwards through the air. The last thing Sheppard felt was his body slamming into the solid trunk of a tree with a force that broke his neck.

oOo

"Colonel? Colonel Sheppard. John?" Teyla's insistent voice dragged Sheppard back to consciousness and he opened bleary eyes.

He was lying on his back on a low bed. It was dark, the faintest of lights, filtering in through a small window to his left, was just enough for him to make out Teyla's gently smiling face as she leaned over him.

"Teyla!" Sheppard jerked upright, catching hold of Teyla's arms as a wave of nausea flooded through him.

"Slowly, John." Teyla carefully eased Sheppard back onto the bed. "You will feel better shortly."

As the dark room stopped spinning, Sheppard fought to make sense of his surroundings. "Teyla? But you were…?"

"Dead. Yes John." She smiled encouragingly as he gingerly levered himself to his feet.

"So was I." Ronon's deep voice came closer as the Runner stepped away from the window, allowing more light to penetrate the dark room. "Wraith broke my neck. Felt it snap."

"Same here." Sheppard rubbed his neck, aware now of a slight twinge as if he'd pulled a muscle.

"What about him?" Ronon gestured with a tilt of his head at an area behind where Sheppard was standing. "Die of fright?"

In an instant, the Colonel was at McKay's side. The physicist lay in the semi-darkness on another low bed. Sheppard laid a hand on McKay's chest, feeling the steady movement of breath.

"Rodney? Hey, buddy, wake up." He pressed harder with his hand and gave the sleeping man a gentle shake.

Suddenly, McKay opened terror-filled eyes. Lashing out frantically with his arms, he tried to back away from Sheppard, digging his heels deeply into the soft surface of the bed.

Sheppard snatched his hand away from the panicking man's chest, realising what had made Rodney react so violently to his touch.

"It's okay, Rodney. It's over." He tried to calm McKay down, ignoring the flailing arms, until, slowly, Rodney's frightened blue eyes began to focus on Sheppard's own.

"Major?" The stark terror had gone from McKay's face leaving behind fear and confusion.

"You okay, Rodney?" Sheppard watched as Rodney visibly relaxed, still breathing heavily but no longer cowering away from him.

"Colonel, sorry I…" McKay stopped as if finally hearing what Sheppard had just said. "No, Colonel, I'm not okay." Some of the snark was back, but Sheppard could see that it was still a very thin veneer over the panic.

"Sheppard." Ronan called suddenly, and the Colonel turned to see a small figure standing beside him. The man was short, no more than five feet tall, with a shock of white hair that reminded Sheppard of a dandelion just before it blew away.

The small man spoke in a quiet voice. "The Wraith have left through the doorway. You will be safe now." Behind him a section of the wall disappeared allowing dappled sunlight into the room.

"The doorway? Do you mean the Stargate, the Gate of the Ancestors?" The figure appeared harmless and carried no weapons that he could see, but something about it made Sheppard wary.

"Yes, they have left, as you must." The tone was still quiet and reassuring, sounding to Sheppard like a parent talking to a child.

Four large canvas sacks appeared, stacked against the far wall.

"You will take these and go." This time, although still gentle, it was definitely an order.

"Now, wait a ..." Sheppard frowned. He was sure that he had been about to say something important, but it had somehow slipped his memory. He turned to the others; Rodney was sitting on an untidy bed, blinking as if he had just woken up. He glanced over at Teyla who looked back at him with a puzzled expression.

Ronan was standing next to the small... trader who gestured towards the sacks with a smile.

"Yeah, thanks." Sheppard hefted the nearest sack onto his shoulder and felt a slight twinge, as if he'd pulled a muscle. He settled the sack into a more comfortable position, idly wondering how he had managed to hurt his neck. He smiled back at the trader and waited until Ronon, Teyla and McKay had each picked up a sack before leading his team back towards the Gate.

oOo

"Incoming Wormhole." Dr Elizabeth Weir looked up at sound of the Canadian gate tech's voice, silently praying that this time...

"Receiving IDC. It's Colonel Sheppard!" The gate tech's voice rose in excitement and he glanced over to make certain that Dr Weir had heard.

As she hurried past him on her way to the gateroom, Elizabeth's hand brushed over his shoulder. "Lower the shield", she ordered absently.

Armed marines stood at the periphery of the room, P-90s at the ready, as Elizabeth waited impatiently at the foot of the staircase.

Sheppard was the first to emerge, a large sack slung carelessly over his shoulder. Hard on his heels stepped Teyla and Ronon, each with sacks of their own. McKay brought up the rear, hugging his sack to his chest, a schoolboy grin on his face.

"Colonel?" Elizabeth took a step forward as Sheppard swung the sack from his back and dumped it unceremoniously onto the gateroom floor.

"Elizabeth." Sheppard gave the marines a puzzled glance. "Something wrong?"

"You tell me, Colonel." Elizabeth's relief was coloured with concern as she crossed the space between the staircase and Sheppard's returning team. "Where have you been?"

"M4A-635." The Colonel stated, still sounding slightly bemused. "We found the traders... and we have got coffee." Sheppard turned to grin smugly at McKay who smiled happily back, hugging his sack even closer to his body.

"Colonel." Elizabeth's sharp voice brought Sheppard back round to face her. "You have been out of contact for over a week." She watched Sheppard's expression change to one of surprise. "And you left in a Puddlejumper."

oOo

Tanayu and Palandrus watched as the four humans departed through the doorway.

Breaking the silence, Palandrus answered Tanayu's unasked question. "The Wraith have seen the humans die; they will have no reason to return here."

Tanayu smiled; it was good that the Wraith would not be back. They had disturbed the tranquillity of the forest. Their ways were violent. "And what of the humans?" he asked.

Palandrus gazed towards the doorway. "They too will not return. Their memories have been replaced with something more... enjoyable."

Tanayu frowned slightly; the changing of a memory was not undertaken without great need and was not always successful. "Could they not simply have been told to leave and not return?"

Turning back to the settlement, Palandrus shook his head, sadly. "The very young do not always do as they are told."

TBC