Title: Mutiny on the CaritasAuthor: Kodiak Bear
Rating: T
Status: Complete (three parts total, the other two are with my beta at the final stage and I should be putting up part two tomorrow and three if it comes back from my beta along with part two)
Warnings: Some language content
Spoilers: Anything up to the end of season two.
Summary: Phase generators, slavers, spaceships and gun battles!

AN: This fic was a long labor of love, and I've got to give credit where credit is due. Thank you Tazmy, for the invaluable beta help and encouragement. Thank you Linzi, for being there, reading copy after copy, cheering me on and telling me that it was actually coming out good and to keep writing, and then for more moral support constantly. There aren't words, hon! Also, Gaffer, my grammar God, thank you! And last but not least, a special thanks to the Gateworld Sheppard whump thread – when I was losing ground on this fic, you all welcomed me in and made me want to keep writing!

Mutiny on the Caritas

"What did you do wrong?" The aging teacher towered over the young boy, arms folded.

The boy's lower lip jutted stubbornly. He hadn't done anything wrong. The goal had been to get his squad safely across the river, past the enemy camp, without being detected, and that's exactly what he'd done. But he had been in training long enough to know, despite his feelings that his teacher was the one that was wrong, he wasn't to say it out loud. Instead, he stood tall, refusing to say that he didn't know, but also refusing to say he'd been right. Either one would be a mistake.

Teacher Delwin frowned at the boy, but didn't lecture. He unfolded his arms, and laying one on the child's back, guided him forward down the path that wound up and through Ground Training Station One on the far side of the river. Without speaking, he took the boy to the bank of the sluggish flowing water and gestured for him to sit. When the boy did, the teacher moved behind and abruptly shoved forward. The boy, unprepared, found himself unable to stop from falling in.

It wasn't deep and the only thing hurt was his pride, but he slipped getting to his feet and wound up sitting in the cool water. Confusion twisted away his earlier stubborn refusal to speak and he asked, "Why?"

"Because you trusted me."

The boy's eyebrows furrowed and he shook his head, his shoulder length braids moving in tandem. "I don't understand. You're my teacher. I'm supposed to trust you."

Delwin smiled briefly before offering a hand to the boy. When the child took it, he pulled him back to the dry shore and let him sit, pulling off his leather shoes. "No, you shouldn't. Just as you shouldn't have trusted the young boy from Devoss."

The other boy had recently been demoted from Devoss barracks for failure to progress, and he'd had all the information Ronon had needed to see his own squad safely through their perimeter defenses without them even knowing. Ronon had seen the advantage and used it, and he wasn't ready to accept the lesson on face value without offering his own opinion. "That's stupid. If we can't trust anyone, how can we ever accomplish anything?" He pinched water from his hair. "Besides, I got my squad to our objective without any losses."

The earlier feel of lazy correction evaporated. Delwin dropped to the ground beside Ronon and very seriously picked up a pebble. "Do you see this?"

It was a rock. Ronon shrugged, thinking Delwin was a paranoid old man, and maybe beginning to lose his mind. "I see it, Teacher." He got himself back on track, finding the deferential tone he should've used from the beginning.

"The tiniest of things," explained Delwin. "Can be a weapon." Without blinking, he threw it at Ronon's head, hard. It hit soundly on his temple and made him wince, but he bit down the outraged cry. "See how little you understand? Trust is like that pebble. It can seem insignificant, something you don't think of, until it hits you hard on the head, or pushes you in the river." Delwin rubbed his arm, the one with the large scar that Ronon always saw when they exercised in the hot summer days or worked on water skills. "Never trust, Ronon. No one is above making the wrong choices. For what they see as good or evil, you can only trust yourself." The probing eyes of his teacher pierced him. "Your tactics were solid, but where you were wrong was in taking Avon's words as truth. If he'd had loyalty to his original training squad, your team would now be in enemy hands. You trusted blindly, and you must not do that, ever again." He reached a thumb and rubbed on the swelling knot, catching Ronon's chin with his other hand. "Do you understand?"

The boy nodded. He understood.


Sheppard told me once that life wasn't black and white, that sometimes things were gray. I'd told him that was stupid because life wasn't black, white or gray. There were a lot of colors in between. McKay had snorted, Sheppard had smacked him on the head, and Teyla had cringed before explaining, "It is one of their many sayings, Ronon."

I'd eventually figured out he'd meant that decisions weren't as simple as "shoot 'em", which was kind of how I saw things. I don't make apologies for who I am. Sheppard's people are weird, but in a way that I can live with, because above all else, they've got the same goal that I do. Kill the Wraith.

Their methods though, sometimes I've got issues with them. They gate to worlds and try to make allies, and they are only finding out what I could've told them, what I did tell them, and that was that most of these so called allies would just as soon hand them over to the enemies and try to save their own pitiful lives than make life long friendships. When you're staring death in the face and someone points a gun at the other guy and says, "What it'll be?" you nod your head and run. If the other guy dies for you, then you've just gotten away to live for another day.

Didn't mean it was good, didn't mean it was fair, it just was what it was. Someone is going to die, and it was always better if it wasn't you.

I checked my gun, slid it carefully into the holster on my thigh. My back still felt naked without my sword, but they'd taken it from me on the Hive ship, and there hadn't been time to worry about getting it back when we ran for our lives.

As Sheppard dealt with last minute instructions from Weir, McKay shouted at the other doctor with the accent, Zelenka, about a new piece of technology we were trying out on our mission. The planet fit McKay's needs -- something about magnetic fields and interference. All I had been able to figure was that the small oblong rock was some kind of phase generator. I'd considered asking what it did, but McKay had that frantic look on him today and it'd be easier to get an answer from Sheppard later.

Waiting to leave was eating on my nerves. Usually we gathered, waved goodbye -- least Sheppard did -- then we left, but today I was standing restlessly beside Teyla while she watched Sheppard discuss something with Weir. I wondered if they'd miss me if I headed back for a second breakfast. That made me think of McKay and when I looked his way he was now standing loosely by Sheppard. We were only a couple of bravos away -- meters.

When I'd first used the term in front of him, McKay had looked at me cross-eyed and demanded to see what the length of one bravos was, and when I showed him, he declared it a meter and said to stop talking in alien measurements. I'd asked him why, and he'd regarded me shrewdly, said something about 'when in Rome' and handed a sheet of paper to me. He'd wanted me to list all the units of measurements, and make a conversion chart. I'd pushed the paper back and said, "One bravos is one meter. I can handle that." It was a lot easier than trying to remember things I hadn't had to since I passed my primaries.

McKay mumbled something to Sheppard while he checked his vest, and waved a hand at the tall guy sitting behind the console. I had no idea what that guy's name was. There were more people in this city than I was used to dealing with in all my previous seven years on the run, and I wasn't even sure they'd be around long enough to make it worth memorizing names and faces. All I cared about was that the hand signal meant we were about to get moving.

I turned away from the gate, to see what, or who, was causing a commotion at the left entrance to the gateroom.

"I don't know why I've been assigned to this mission," Beckett blustered. He pulled up short and surveyed the team he'd been 'assigned to' a worried look replacing the irritated one from before when his eyes fell on all of us in turn. "Bloody hell," he swore and lifted plaintive eyes to Weir. "No offense to Colonel Sheppard, but his team attracts more bad luck than all the others. If you insist on off world experience, fine, but another team." His eyes gleamed with what I recognized as someone scheming. "In fact," he continued spinning back towards the stairway exit, "another day would be best. I've got an unexpected patient and Elaine may be completely capable but I prefer --"

"Are you implying that we're jinxed?" Sheppard asked casually.

I recognized the laid back posture he'd adopted. He was amused, but I could also tell he wasn't going to back down on Beckett's presence anymore than I could tell Weir would, because both showed a similar lack of sympathy. I might have smiled wolfishly at Beckett also, because while we did seem to attract a lot of trouble -- as he put it-- we also made it back more or less alive every time. Least, so far. "Don't worry, Doc," I offered magnanimously. "I'll stay close."

McKay snorted, but when I turned, daring him to say more, he snapped his mouth shut and turned to Teyla, "See, this is why I would've only accepted properly trained guard dogs on the team, unlike some people…" he looked pointedly at Sheppard.

Weir lifted a hand to her head and rubbed a spot above her eye. "Carson, you need to be there in case there are any physical problems with the phase generator," she reminded him. "Rodney, please be careful." She didn't wait for the reply, taking the moment of silence to escape upward towards the control deck. I always could respect a well-timed retreat.

I looked at McKay, waiting.


"Nothing," I rumbled. Just because I'd expected him to do better than remain quiet to Weir's veiled insult --

"Fine, but for the record, I'm always careful." He shot an irritated look at Sheppard. "Why do you think I always have him test devices first? It certainly isn't because his gene is superior to mine."

The gate activated, drowning out Sheppard's annoyed retort and I shrugged my shoulders a little in my coat, loosening up for the mission ahead. Sheppard walked till he was alongside me. "Ready, big guy?"

I looked down at him. I was taller than all of them, except for that Athosian, Halling, but he wasn't on any teams. Instead, he liked to live the peaceful life on the mainland, farming and caring for kids. I knew Halling wasn't weak, but I couldn't agree with his choice. Let the old care for the young, the capable needed to be out there, doing the ugly job of protecting everyone else.

He took my grin as an affirmative, which it was. McKay and Teyla came up until we all four stood in a line, and then Beckett reluctantly joined us, his hand clenching and unclenching around the handle of his case. He pursed his lips together as if steeling himself for the trip before he too nodded. He hadn't forgotten what had happened the last mission he'd been on with us; Ellia and Sheppard's infection with the retrovirus that he hadn't meant for anyone to get exposed to. I could understand his feelings -- that mission had been one problem after another.

Sheppard took the lead and we all followed into the wormhole.

When we stepped through on the other side, Sheppard stayed near McKay, while Teyla and I split to each side. McKay already had his scanner out and was working, but I wasn't sure what he hoped to find. The area around the gate was barren --the ground scoured down to red dirt from winds that even now blew over us in hot gusts. I frowned as a strong one seemed to send Sheppard backwards a little. As I broke off to the right, I also noticed there weren't any trees around. It was clear horizon as far as the eye could see, except for the ruins ahead. Beckett surprised me by walking alongside me while I began to secure the perimeter.

We had a routine. First thing was scout for any Wraith or other enemies, while Sheppard protected McKay and McKay started looking for power -- because that was their primary mission, power. Allies were a necessary part of their objective. The natives often had information to the locations of possible energy sources and that meant playing nice with the locals. But I hadn't had to worry about a civilian walking along with me before while I did my scouting and Beckett's nervousness was making me nervous. It didn't help that once we left the area immediate to the 'gate, the outer reaches of a ruined city began. Too many places for enemies to lie in wait to spring an ambush.

I'd seen a lot of ruined cities, and this was just one more to add to the growing list. The only thing different is that this world had been destroyed a longer time ago than most. I knelt in the ground and dug my fingers into the dust, bringing it up to my nose and smelling. Minerals and nothing else. It'd definitely been dead a while. I let the dry dust fall away and stood, scanning the ruins ahead with my eyes. I tightened my knuckles and loosened them again, getting ready. The road that led from the 'gate to the city was long gone, the only defining proof that it existed was an opening leading in to where no crumbled stone and roof rested. I narrowed my eyes at the closest pile of debris. The homes here had been mostly one level from the looks of what was left, the faded colors still noticeable despite the sand blasting into it from the wind for how many years I couldn't begin to guess, and didn't really care to. I had a hard time thinking we'd find any source of power here that they could use.

I supposed though, that this mission would be a little different. We would still look for an energy source, or anything that might lead us to one, but McKay was mostly here to test out the device, to see how it worked away from the city and any interference. I had heard enough to know they wanted to see if its power source was tied into the city or if it would function separate on another world.

"And how've you been, Ronon?" asked Beckett.

I looked over at him and recognized he was fighting to keep a tight control on his anxiety. Doc here wasn't really cut out for missions, but he managed in times of need, like the time he'd had to go on an egg hunt to try and save Sheppard's life. That didn't mean he liked it, though, or that he didn't get nervous every time. I knew a lot of people that would've seen his fear as a weakness, but like McKay, fear could be a good thing and losing that fear could cost a person their life. "Been good," I replied.

"Really?" he answered, and his tone clued me in to the fact that I'd blundered somewhere. "Because you never showed up for your last physical."

"I get a physical every time we go through the 'gate."

"A thorough physical, son -- not the quick exam that certifies you aren't dying and can travel through the wormhole."

Okay, maybe Beckett needed a little bit more fear. I scowled his way and grunted. Let him figure it out.

"Don't go grunting at me. I've dealt with more obnoxious patients than you --"

"Bigger and stronger?" I added.

His feet stumbled but he recovered before saying firmly, "No, not exactly, but I've patched you up enough to know you wouldn't hurt me unless I was threatening your life, so stop acting like a prickly bear."

I wasn't sure whether to take it as a compliment or be pissed -- now there was a word I liked. Pissed. Sheppard had used it a while back and while I wasn't McKay smart, I got that he wasn't talking about peeing all over himself. But anyway, I had a reputation. I was bigger than they were, stronger, and I could bring them all down in a fight, but here was one of their more timid members telling me that I didn't come across as threatening or even intimidating, and while he was right that I wouldn't harm a hair on his head unless I had too -- I'd learned my lesson in 'had too' when Sheppard had been possessed and Weir had shot me -- I still wanted people to think I would. "Not even a little?" I asked, and it came out more like a growl.

"Initially, sure," he backpedaled. "Now, 'fraid not, you're like the wee beastie that only wants to be loved."

"You're wrong about that, Doc," I said abruptly, and before he could apologize or say anything else, I found something to go look at. I liked Beckett but he'd crossed a line, invading personal ground. I wasn't prepared to talk about any needs I might have.

I was learning more about them then they were learning about me, and I liked it that way just fine. I'd seen a lot more than they could ever fathom. Doc had saved me, he'd cut out that tracker that had sentenced me to a short harsh life with an ugly end, and no one had felt it slipping away more than I did, so I was thankful, but he didn't need to know how far down the darkness in me went.

When Ford had saved my life, I was convinced it'd been the end. Maybe part of me had already given up and that's why the Wraith had managed to get the drop on me to begin with, but whatever the reason, I'd known I was reaching the finish. I might have survived for seven years, but one thing I'd stopped being along the way, was a person worthy of love. I'd stopped that a long time ago. Now I settled for taking out as much of the enemy as I could before I died.

I supposed Beckett realized he'd stepped in dangerous water because he had settled for doing his own survey of the planet while I did mine. This world wasn't one I'd heard about, and neither had Teyla. Looking around, I figured the reason why was because there wasn't anything left to trade with. The hard thing about this place was that it reminded me of Sateda, just not as fresh. The Wraith had preferred to cull sparingly, but every now and then, they'd wipe an entire civilization out of existence. It'd happened to my people, and it'd happened here. Sweeping my eyes to the left, I saw some larger buildings partially crumbled closer to the center of the city. Still lots of places to hide for an ambush, and the uneasiness I'd felt earlier stuck around.

As I moved into the outer perimeter of the city, my feet crunched on broken dishes and other discarded and destroyed rubble from this place that had apparently once rivaled any advanced ones that I'd seen, and I'm not saying I'd seen a lot, because I hadn't. And the ones I had, they were all deserted and crumbling, just like this one. The Wraith didn't like to leave anyone nearing a technological level where they'd present a threat.

"Ronon." Sheppard's voice crackled across the radio and I paused. "See anything?"

I looked over my shoulder, surprised at the distance we'd already covered. I couldn't see their faces anymore, just blurry uniforms. I tapped the radio. "Nothing here but debris," I admitted. I wished there was more, because this wasn't looking promising, and their fortune had become my fortune, and alternately, hopefully, the Wraith's misfortune. No power meant continued danger if the Wraith attacked Atlantis again.

I'd managed to shake off my earlier gloom from Beckett's misstep and I looked over at him. We still had McKay's experiment. Sheppard's voice came back, and he sighed in disappointment. I could hear McKay asking something in the background but whatever it was, he ignored it and told me to keep looking and they'd meet up with us at the city center.

I turned to head back on the road that I'd managed to see under all the layers of dust and decay, but I heard a surprised shout from Doc, and as I looked back to see what was wrong, something hit me in the chest and I didn't even have time to warn the others.


Waking up sucked. That was another word I'd picked up, this time from McKay, because all jumbled up in the big words he tended to use was this one that kept cropping up at all the best times and usually I kind of agreed with his assessment, even if I did thrive on the rush of getting us out of the situations we were in. This time though, I wasn't feeling good enough to enjoy the thrill. It just sucked.

The Doc and I came around first, having been the first caught I guessed. I'd thought it earlier -- good place for an ambush, and we'd walked right into it. We were in a dark cell with three metal walls and the fourth had a thin door in the middle, the only window was set up high so whoever was lucky enough to be on the other side could look in at the ones captured.

I didn't hold back the moan from protesting muscles and Beckett didn't pause to worry about his own hurts, instead, he crawled to me and started fussing like he tended to do. He grabbed my wrist to take my pulse, only to frown and look closer, turning my hand over.


Beckett rubbed a thumb along the middle of my arm, as if tracing the pattern of a blood vessel. "They've done something," he muttered to himself. He dropped my wrist and turned his over, palm side up, and studied his own. I was looking at his and mine, and we both had matching thin red scars running up our right arm.

My heart pounded and I felt sweaty. "Get it out," I growled. If I'd had my knife, I would've cut it out then and there.

"I can't." Doc was pushing and feeling along his arm. "Whatever's in there, it's too deep. I can't feel it." His eyes met mine and he looked both terrified and apologetic. "I'm sorry, Ronon."

I flashed back to the moment when the Wraith had stuck the tracker in me, and the panic I'd felt then flooded back through my body now. I breathed out through my nostrils, took a deep breath in and I forced the panic down. This wasn't the Wraith. It wasn't. Besides, the aches running throughout my body were enough to deal with for now. Whatever this thing in our arms was, it'd wait. We'd get out of here and back to Atlantis, then Beckett could remove them.

"Whatever that weapon was, it's worse than the stunner used by the Wraith. I think it has a component to help prolong the victim's recovery," he explained after he finished checking me over. "You're body is going to ache like it's been pounded, but you'll live."

I inhaled deeply, feeling the pull of soreness deep in my chest and back with the brief movement and asked, "What about you?"

Beckett winced as he climbed to his feet. "I'll live, too." His eyes locked onto the crumpled forms of the other three members. "Let's see if they've got the same mark on their wrists."

That wasn't really answering my question but his brush-off didn't surprise me. I'd overheard one of the nurses complaining about Beckett's inability to care for himself because he was always too busy worrying about everyone else. Now he was doing the same thing. He stooped down to each person. First Sheppard, then McKay until finally, Teyla. They were all on the floor in awkward positions. Probably how they'd been dragged in. After he was satisfied they were going to be okay, he waved me over, "They've each got whatever it is we've got in our arms. Help me get them more comfortable."

I didn't point out that no one had helped us 'get more comfortable', but I guess that's the bane of being captured first. First stunned, first to wake up, and maybe our soreness was in part that no one had eased our bodies into better positions. I wasn't a complainer but as I stood, I grunted from the effort of keeping my mouth shut.

We straightened their legs and arms, got them lined up along the wall, and I searched for something to use as blankets or pillows but came up empty. The room was bare and not even our packs had been left. 'Course that was the only smart thing these people had done. They'd made a big mistake in capturing us in the first place, one I vowed they'd regret.

"What do they want?"

I'd been thinking about the same thing and might've been too preoccupied by it because I only now noticed Beckett had moved over and was sitting between Sheppard and McKay, looking pale and worried. I supposed time without having anything to do had let him think too much on what would happen when our captors arrived. "Don't know," I grunted. Truthfully, I didn't. But I could guess.

The galaxy was full of different kinds of people, all with one thing in common. They were trying to survive. Some did it by farming, some did it by trading, and some did it by living off others. Scavengers, predators, slavers -- any way you looked at it, they lived off other's misfortunes. In a galaxy where civilizations lost too many able bodied workers to cullings, a slave market made for a booming business. It was an underbelly the Earthers hadn't seen yet, partly because of Teyla's influence, partly because of chance. Might be that their luck had run out.

"Whatever they want, give it to them," I said, pitching my voice low enough for just the two of us to hear in case there was anyone around that we couldn't see. His face screwed up with uncertainty and I pushed harder because I knew his life depended on it. "Doc, don't try to hold back. You won't be able to and all it will get you is dead."

Beckett wasn't stupid, but this was the first time he'd been in this position and I could see the impact of it was hitting him hard. Interrogated, tortured, sold -- he'd never endured it, or seen it, and now he was getting the lesson the hard way.

Groans from Sheppard pulled his attention off our situation and he began to prompt the colonel into answering questions about what he last remembered, what was his name and how did he feel.

"Bad guys with guns, John Sheppard, and like crap," he mumbled, still blinking away the stun effects. He was helped into a sitting position and quickly locked onto me. "What the hell happened?"

His demand had been a generalized one but I still blamed myself for all of this because Beckett and I had been the first captured, which meant, if I'd been doing my job better we all wouldn't be here right now. I'd known the potential was there and yet I hadn't been able to even get a warning off. If I had, they could've gone for reinforcements. Instead, I'd been taken by surprise, and now we were all screwed.

One thing I had to like about Sheppard's people was their inventive use of language. Pissed, sucked, screwed -- I had picked up a few more, too, but those ones Sheppard had gotten upset about when I'd used them in front of Weir. I saved them for special occasions now.

"We were caught."

That was about when he caught a glimpse of my wrist, started to say something, looked at his, and got angry. "Son of a bitch, what is this?"

"We don't know, Colonel." Beckett held up his wrist to show his own scar. "We woke up before you and found them – whatever it is, it's deep, and my guess is getting it out would be dangerous in these conditions."

McKay woke abruptly, flailing about until Beckett calmed him. When he looked around the cell his face went through stages of annoyance, fear and then outrage. "What is it with this galaxy?" he demanded. "Seriously, is there some kind of cosmic crapper where all the shit rolls into one and it's this one?" He exhaled loudly, slammed his eyes shut and said, "Forget it, don't answer, it was rhetorical anyway. I'm a scientist, I make hypotheses every day based on observations and I'm going to go with yes on this one."

Sheppard held out his arm and pulled the sleeve of his jacket enough so that McKay could clearly see the scar.

"What?" McKay practically ripped his sleeve off. "Oh, no."

"Before you ask, they don't know." Sheppard dropped his sleeve back over his wrist. "And I don't either, but my guess, it's not a chip to make sure we don't get lost."

"Now that you two are awake," Beckett interrupted. "We've got a problem." He looked at me, then Sheppard before skipping past McKay. "I realize this isn't unusual for the lot of you, but seeing how being stunned and imprisoned is a relatively new experience for me -- what do we do now?"

Sheppard looked accusingly at me and I shrugged. "Don't look at me," I said. "I already told him."

Exasperated, Beckett crawled over Rodney, ignoring his protested cries of 'ow' and 'watch it, Carson' to check on Teyla. She was still blissfully unaware of our situation and I supposed Doc there was worried that she was the last to wake, but she was also the smallest of everyone, though I'd be the last to say it to her face. Smallest didn't translate to least dangerous. "You told me to tell them what they wanted, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence," he remonstrated. "I was hoping more for an escape plan."

The sound of silence greeted his words and he looked expectantly at me, Sheppard and then McKay. "Welcome to my life," McKay said irritably.

"Did you think we had a playbook to go by or something?" Sheppard added, raising an eyebrow.

I enjoyed a slow grin. Not that the situation was all that funny, but like I said, there was a large part of me that got off on this kind of stuff. When everything went right it was boring, besides, I really was going to make sure these guys, whoever they were, regretted the day their parents met each other. I'd been taken by surprise and that alone was something I had to make them pay for. "We'll get out of here."

"In one piece?"

Shrugging, I stood and moved towards the door leading out of our cell. "More or less."

"Oh, that's reassuring," interjected McKay. I heard scuffling sounds and soon he was up on his feet and trying to peer through the small window alongside me. "If we can get to our things I've got a plan."

"Play dead?" poked Sheppard.

I snorted, but before we could dig in and start bickering full force, Teyla moaned and joined the rest of us. She was confused, and thought at first we were back on Atlantis, but in a few minutes time she'd gotten her thoughts unscrambled and waved off Beckett.

"I am fine."

"I wouldn't say any of us are fine, lass," Beckett argued. "But I suppose you'll live."

We all waited for her to discover the mark on her wrist.

"What is…" She looked up to find us each holding up our right wrist. "I see."

Sheppard's mouth crooked into a grin. "I don't think they want us to get away."

Her serious eyes met mine, and I got the feeling she could see right through me, down to the panic I was fighting to control. I broke the eye contact first, satisfied that Teyla was going to be okay. I went back to looking along the door, searching for any weaknesses in the metal.

McKay had joined me, but suddenly stopped, and cocked his head upwards towards the low ceiling before I saw his face slacken from irritation to exasperation

"No," he declared. "No, no no, this can not be happening!"

I'd stopped caressing the door, Sheppard had stopped talking to Beckett and Teyla, and all of us stared at McKay, waiting for him to drop the news that I was pretty sure would not make our day. If it made McKay look like that, I reasoned it wasn't going to make any of us look much better.

Sheppard left Teyla's side and stepped across the cell till he was next to McKay. "Assuming you're not losing your mind and talking to yourself, what is happening that you don't want to be?"

McKay glared at the ceiling before throwing his hands up in disgust. He finally turned to face us. "We're on a spaceship."

I tossed a look at Sheppard, questioning without asking. He shrugged at me.

"Look!" Exasperated, McKay latched on to Sheppard's hand and thrust it against the floor. "Vibrations," he explained to me as I watched Sheppard's face go through the same emotions in less time than McKay. Surprise, exasperation, annoyance –

"Son of a bitch." Sheppard cursed softly. His eyes met McKay's and they said something to each other with their look that I couldn't interpret, but I didn't need to. If we were on a ship, that meant we weren't on the planet, and that meant there would be no rescue party. I turned away, trying to hide my growing frustration. I never should've been caught in the open like that, and a year ago, even months ago, I wouldn't have. I'd known it was dangerous ground and I'd still walked into it.

Behind me, I heard McKay explain to Sheppard that we needed to get access to our bags and he mentioned the phase generator. I hadn't gotten an explanation for what the thing did so I wasn't entirely clear on why it mattered, but I had a knife sewn into my pack in a place that a casual search would probably miss so I agreed with McKay's plan. None of my other knives hidden on me had survived their search -- it'd been the first thing I'd checked after I'd calmed down from finding the scar on my wrist. They'd been more thorough than the Wraith, but considering that the Wraith were more interested in eating than believing their food could fight back, it wasn't such a surprise.

"How are we going to get off this ship?" Beckett asked sharply. "You can make yourself as invisible as you like, Rodney, but that's not going to let any of us breathe in space."

I frowned at the Doc, who wasn't looking at me anyway, then caught Teyla's appraising glance. I shuffled to the far right wall and leaned heavily against it, needing to think. That stunner they'd used had packed a hit to it, and now I knew what the phase generator did. Invisibility -- Doc was right about that, it wasn't going to help us much on a space ship.

Sheppard wasn't as easily discouraged. "Every ship has a life boat, Doc."

McKay snorted. "Like the Titanic."

I didn't get the reference anymore than Teyla did, but Beckett rolled his eyes. "Rodney, the Titanic had life boats, and five people are a wee bit less than thousands. Colonel Sheppard's right, we can find an escape pod."

"Hello -- did you forget about these?" McKay lifted his right hand and pulled the sleeve back. "What if it's a device that explodes after the individual gets a certain distance away, or releases some kind of virulent poison?"

"Then I guess I'll put you in the front." Sheppard's dry reply made me snicker.

"I am certain we will find out soon enough what they do." Teyla spoiled the fun. She was right, though. Whoever was behind this had inserted them in our arms for a reason and my guess was they'd make that reason clear when they came to find out more about who we were and give us the rules. I was pretty sure they were slavers -- scavengers tended to take what you had and leave you for dead.

We couldn't plan for what we didn't know, not yet, so it came down to us needing access to our gear. Either way, our escape would be a lot more likely if we could get our hands on this phase generator of McKay's and my knife.

I folded my arms to try and relieve some of the ache. "How much do you want to play these guys?" I asked Sheppard. "I don't think they went through this trouble to set up a treaty."

Beckett had been right about one thing when he'd said we'd all gone through this before. We'd done it a few times, in different circumstances, but all it'd taken was once for us to realize we needed a plan for times like these. Inevitably, the bad guys wanted information, and if you could convince them you were giving them what they wanted, it usually went easier on you.

McKay glared at Sheppard. "Once again, I reiterate, this is a bad idea, because once they figure out we're playing games, we are screwed. Bad guys do bad things when they get angry."

I grinned and raised an eyebrow. "I can do bad things."

"All we need is time," Sheppard reasoned, interrupting McKay before he could respond. "Besides, Rodney, your plan might actually work. We can lull them by being cooperative, get our gear, and then you can go hunting for a way off this boat."

"I do not want to be Leia again," Teyla said stiffly.

I made the mistake of grinning wider, but McKay took the pressure off me when he snickered and drew Teyla's wrath onto him. He lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender but added, "What are you complaining for -- it wasn't like you were the one made to wear that awful hair style or ..."

"McKay," Sheppard interrupted. "Shut up."

Figures, I was kind of curious what he'd been about to say. Despite McKay's inferior abilities as a fighter, we liked a lot of the same things. Women, food -- we'd watched the movies while we'd been off the mission roster to recover from the last beatings we'd suffered. That time we'd been Han, Luke, Leia and Chewbacca, and I had to admit, I wouldn't mind seeing Teyla in that bikini.

"Farscape?" McKay said, ignoring Sheppard's order. He slid an appraising look at Teyla. "You can be Aeryn Sun, a peacekeeper female with a very bad attitude."

I didn't recognize the show anymore than Teyla did but I had to (silently) agree with McKay's choice. Teyla could have a very bad attitude if you didn't do what she wanted you to do. I'd been on the end of it before, and I know McKay had, also.

She got a little irritated at McKay's description. "If she can hold her own and not rely on men to rescue her then --" she paused, waiting for McKay to answer.

"She can definitely hold her own, in fact," he said. "She kicks Crichton's butt every time, and just for you, Sheppard can play the role of John Crichton, first name's the same so it's less hardship for him to remember."

"Aeryn Sun." She echoed the name and gave Sheppard a satisfied smile. I kind of got the impression she was remembering one of their training sessions -- the ones where she kept beating him up with those sticks of hers.

I grinned. "Everyone can kick Sheppard's --"

"Hey," he responded. "I get it." He glared at McKay. "I can kick yours."

Beckett cleared his throat. "Let me get this straight -- you take on fictional characters and use them to give information?" He checked for all of us to shrug in affirmation before his face collapsed in shock. "And this works?" he asked, stunned.

"You have to make them work for it," I explained. "If you give it up too easily they'll probably hit you harder." I said it as a word of warning but he got kind of shaky and sort of collapsed further into himself. Huh, probably shouldn't have said that.

McKay had paled slightly, too, but he forced himself to keep upright. "Less for us, Carson, trust me. They can smell 'coward' like rotting food. A couple of good punches and you can sing like a canary and they'll believe it."

Sheppard cleared his throat purposefully and I figured he was trying to tell me enough of the mental torture on Beckett's part. I supposed it was a lot to take in on your first time, but my first time had amounted to a Wraith shoving a tracker in my back so I probably wasn't the best guy to go to for sympathy. He narrowed his eyes at the sound of a door opening somewhere outside of our cell and in a place where we couldn't see -- not that we could see much to begin with. He quickly turned, jerking his head at the rear of the cell for us to all get together.

"Okay, Farscape it is. I'm John Crichton, long lost astronaut. Met up with you guys on this side of the wormhole." His face kind of twisted but I didn't know what he'd found funny. "Ronon, you're D'Argo, big alien guy that's been on the run from the bad guys -- it'll fit in case they recognize the scar on your neck, so not that hard for you either, and Teyla's Aeryn Sun, separated from her people."

McKay frowned at me and said, "If he's D'Argo, who am I?"


"What?" he whipped out fast. The footsteps were coming closer and I wanted to remind them that time was running out. Being caught discussing your secret identities kind of ruined the secret part.

Beckett interrupted and did it for me. "Shut up, Rodney. They're almost here. I'll be…who the bloody hell will I be?"

"Maybe we should have stayed with Star Wars," Teyla murmured somewhat apologetically, because we'd had those down pretty good. Switching at the last minute was probably going to cause us more problems then we needed.

"Overused," insisted Sheppard. "Word's probably gotten around so this is a good idea to change. McKay, forget Crais, you're not mean enough anyway. You're Rygel, Beckett, you're Stark."

Neither one of them looked happy, but our time was up, and the door of our cell was making an odd clicking sound. McKay still managed to mutter, "There will be paybacks for this." But if Sheppard heard, his attention was where it needed to be, and that was on the door now opening to reveal four figures standing on the wrong side of our life, guns in hand, and looking just as I'd figured. Their clothing was rough, enough that I knew I was right about the slaver guess. They were all big, but they weren't bigger than me, and I grinned wolfishly at the man I judged to be in charge. I wanted to make sure he knew he was mine.

He stepped forward while his three companions kept their weapons trained on us. He looked like almost anyone, the same middle age that most people were everywhere you turned, some weathered lines on his face to show he'd been around long enough to not be fooled easily. His brown hair was cut close to keep away bugs, but his pale skin was darkened with dirt and grime, probably grease from the ship. A lot of slavers also did their own mechanical work so no one could find out what the ship's capabilities were.

"Welcome to the Caritas," he said pleasantly. "I'm Varak."

Sheppard tried to look bored, but I saw his careful assessment of our situation. They were all armed, though Varak kept his gun tucked into the holster on his stained brown leather pants. They all wore the same uniform, it was the color of the shirts that were different, and maybe that indicated rank in their group. Varak had a black shirt tucked into his pants, while the other three wore faded green.

"Not to seem ungrateful," Sheppard said. "But we've had better accommodations."

The man's eyes narrowed as he stepped closer to Sheppard, making my muscles tense. "It can get better -- or it can get worse." He looked around until he found me. "Runner. I'd like to hear the story of how you managed to escape the Wraith and get the device removed?"

"I'd like you to put us back where you found us."

Varak's mouth curled in a cruel smile. "I guess I'll have to find out the hard way."

I stared ahead, unconcerned. "Guess so." He could try.

McKay pushed past me until he was closer to Varak. When the three green guards raised their weapons he stopped. "I'm not going to attack a man backed by three armed men." His tone of voice implied just how stupid he thought they were for thinking that of him. "What is this?" He grabbed my wrist and flipped it.

I yanked it back and shot him a filthy look. He had his own wrist.

"That is identification and tracking." Varak pulled a card from his pocket and held it aloft between two fingers. "In case you hadn't guessed, you are now my property and that is how sales of ownership are passed from person to person. Everything from the time we caught you goes onto the chip, including your medical history. We did a brief exam while you were unconscious, but we need to know as much as we can…safely…get from you. Where are you from? We've been through your equipment and I know you aren't from Norana."

"Melmac." McKay's smug grin betrayed it for the lie that it was.

I watched as Varak's attention slid from all of us to just McKay, and I watched as Sheppard noticed it, too. He cleared his throat and continued to act as if we were sitting around a table with casual acquaintances instead of being held in a cell, on a spaceship bound somewhere we didn't want to go, with guns pointed at us, and had just been told we were slaves.

"I'm sure you'd love to know." Sheppard was standing next to me. Teyla, Beckett and McKay -- after realizing he'd drawn unwanted attention -- had moved slightly behind Sheppard and I. It gave too much away, letting Varak get a sense for who was the weaker links in our group. They wouldn't find one in Teyla, but McKay and Beckett weren't prepared for this.

It was too late to change now but I pretended to need the support of the wall so I could drop back with them and add a little confusion to the hierarchy of our strengths. Let them work to figure out who was who. Sheppard was in charge and that was something he wasn't going to pretend otherwise with. I knew he wanted them to know it, and to come after him because of it. "But here's an idea," he continued on. "Why don't you give us our things, and we'll make nice and discuss things like civilized people?"

I heard the hopeful edge but knew he was being optimistic again. I recognized the look in Varak's face, and the three guards were exact copies minus the position of power. There wasn't going to be any reasoning. They had us, they knew it and we knew it -- the rest was only a matter of time. The upside, if they were slavers, they wouldn't do any permanent damage, because that'd only cost them money, and one thing mercenaries like Varak prized, was money.

The middle guy in the faded green shirt and dirty spiked blond hair shook his head pleasantly, answering for his boss. "I don't think so."

Varak grinned and tapped a finger to his forehead and said, "But here's a thought -- why don't you come with me, and we'll discuss it on my terms?"

At the same time, he waved a hand at two of his men nearest the door.

I tensed, ready. There were four of them, but five of us, and though they were armed, I figured with the exception of Beckett and McKay, we still came out ahead, even with the handicap of being weaponless. This might be our best chance…

Before I could move, Sheppard shook his head slightly at me. I knew what it meant. "Don't, I've got a plan. Just follow along." He did it to me often enough, and some how I kept finding myself going along even when I didn't want to, like now.

I eyed the approaching men with promised violence, but I held still. Teyla had once told me not to do everything Sheppard said, that some times we had to use our own discretion on whether or not to follow his orders, and I wondered if this was one of those times, because I really didn't want them taking him without a fight. But as a member of his team, I knew I had to trust in Sheppard's call. I knew that too many leaders were the one way to ensure failure. I clenched my hands into fists and stayed still. I hoped he knew what he was doing -- that there'd be a better time to make an escape.

They hauled Sheppard and McKay out, and I didn't do anything until the door shut behind them and latched with a sickening click. That's when I released my frustration, lunging forward. I pounded my fists against it angrily, as if my effort would break it open and I could get us all out of here.

Teyla's hands on my arms stopped the useless banging, but I turned away, pissed. "We shouldn't have let them be taken," I growled.

"We had no choice."

I let her push me towards the wall where Beckett was at. He was standing still and staring at the door as if they were still there. I narrowed my eyes and leaned in towards him. "Doc?"

His eyes moved, locked on to mine, and his eyebrows scrunched together. "Where'd they take them?"

Nowhere good, is what I wanted to say, but I knew what was going through Beckett's mind. He was learning first hand about more bad things and for a man already half afraid of his shadow, it wasn't a good idea to stride roughly in stating the obvious. I sighed, because one thing I wasn't really good at, was being patient and considerate. That was another thing McKay and I had in common. The only difference -- he berated, and I ignored. But looking at Doc now, I knew he couldn't be ignored. I jerked my head at Teyla, telling her to get over here. She was the one with the ability to get people to relax.

She moved in, and I moved away. I listened to her soft murmurs as she assured Beckett they weren't going to hurt Sheppard and McKay, and I didn't say anything about her lie. It wasn't likely to be life-threatening, but I figured that they'd hurt them -- and us, when our time came -- especially knowing the two like I'd come to know in the short time I'd been with them. I figured the odds of them coming back with anything less than a bloody nose was asking for a miracle. Sheppard could be flippant in even the worst situations, and McKay could be abrasive and rude, and it didn't seem to matter if they were staring down the wrong end of death.

Not long after they'd been taken away, new guards arrived, these ones wearing yellow shirts, and looking a lot younger. There were more of them and they were heavily armed and standing far enough back that I knew we weren't making a break for it here. We were led out of the room; Teyla got the youngest guard to confess it was only a holding cell. The corridor ended in a transporter and I made a mental note of the painted yellow four on the wall. We were shoved in, and the doors shut behind us. When they opened again we were on another level, this one labeled with a five. It was loud, and we could hear the cries and shouts of others. This hall had a lot of doors on both sides, and there was another group of kids in yellow shirts with a few older in green waiting for us.

Beckett didn't balk when we were led to what was a more permanent cell. I scanned it and counted six beds, two beds stacked on top of each other so that there were three total frames, in a neat row towards the back. A small alcove in a corner farthest away smelled enough for me to guess what it was. They shoved us in and began to back out, moving to close the door, but I turned and demanded roughly, "What about the other two that were caught with us?"

The green guy, this one with hair to his shoulders and looking like it needed to be shaved, smiled in a way that made me feel like I'd been dumped in a slime bath. "When they are finished with their debriefing, they'll be brought here." His eyes slid over to Beckett and Teyla, "Then you three will have your turn."

I curled my lip back. "Can't wait," I promised.

He glared, and waved the others guarding us to move, before shutting the door. Beckett had found a bunk and sat down, shaking his head. "I told her I didn't want to go on this mission, and see where I am -- stunned, stuck on a spaceship, going who knows where, in a cell that smells like a sewer, and --" he looked up and caught me staring at him. "No offense, Ronon, but this never happens to Major Lorne's team."

"What about the time they were captured and used for their ATA gene?" I reminded him.

Teyla smiled and turned away quickly to hide it, while Beckett glared at both of us. "That was once -- one time, and they all came back alive."

I snorted. "A little bit lighter in blood, too."

Beckett's lips thinned and he raised his eyes up to the ceiling. "And I gave up my Mum's haggis for this," before stretching out on the bed and purposefully shutting his eyes.

Seeing that I didn't know what haggis was anyway, I let the Doc retreat. I paced our cell feeling like a caged animal, at least long enough to satisfy my mind that there wasn't an easy way out of here. I guessed an hour or two had passed since they'd taken Sheppard and McKay from the holding cell, maybe thirty or more minutes since we'd been moved, when the door finally clicked, and I spun around, automatically ready to act if I had to -- if I could.

It slid open, revealing two bloodied but familiar faces wearing clothes that looked like brown infirmary scrubs. They were shoved in hard enough that they both fell forward. I didn't have time to think, I reached forward and plucked McKay out of the air, and saw Teyla doing the same for Sheppard. The cloth wasn't as thin or as soft as the infirmary clothes I'd mistakenly compared them too. I pulled McKay towards the beds in the rear and set him on one, noticing Beckett had responded as well and was moving off his bed and towards us. Teyla had tried to do the same with Sheppard, but he'd pushed her away and stood on unsteady feet.

His eyes were hard as he glared at Varak, who I saw standing off to the side. "You're making a mistake, Varak."

The mercenary looked amused. "They all say that, Crichton." He gestured at the change of clothes for McKay and Sheppard. "And they all went on to serve their new masters or die."

I let Beckett and Teyla take over with McKay, and moved to stand by Sheppard. "I've defeated better," I said, keeping my tone deceptively mild, but the veiled threat was clear enough.

"And I've sold better," returned Varak without pausing. He gestured for the guys with guns to assume positions while men in green swarmed in the room. "Your turn," he said to me. "If you're half as cooperative as your friend here, we're going to have a good time."

"You're a right bastard, aren't you," swore Beckett from behind, anger over McKay and Sheppard's condition overriding his fear.

Varak smiled tightly. "Out here we lack the luxury of being nice." He moved till he stood in front of Sheppard, lifted his chin with lean calloused fingers and wiped at one of the trails of blood going from his nose to his lip. Sheppard yanked his head back, seething from being in a position where he couldn't do anything.

The mercenary read Sheppard's body language and smiled ruefully, "All we want is to make a living, to stay alive. That's not so much, is it?"

"Slavers," I spat. "Scum of the galaxy -- living off other people's lives."

"The Wraith do it!" Varak responded in sudden fury, clenching his fists. He stepped closer to me, his eyes radiating coldness. "You should know, Runner -- more than any one in this room -- that you do what you have to in order to survive."

Teyla's response was blunt. "Not everyone does the things you do."

I wanted to add that not everyone enjoyed doing it, either, and I had no illusions about Varak -- or myself. He liked the power.

"Not everyone manages to stay alive, either." He turned to his guards. "Take the Runner -- once you've got him secured, come back for the other two and take them to the interrogation rooms on the other side of deck four."

Everything in me screamed to fight back, but I looked at Sheppard. He was barely on his feet and wouldn't be any help, and Varak must have learned enough to know to be more careful because there were a lot more than three guards this time. I glanced back and saw Beckett working on McKay, and knew this wasn't the time, but I also knew Varak would do his best to make sure I wasn't in any shape to fight if I let myself be taken now. I looked again at Sheppard and saw the slight shake of his head. He wanted to wait for a better time, a better opportunity. McKay's phase generator, though how they figured to convince Varak to give us our gear, I didn't know.

The guards moved forward to grab each of my arms, and move me forcibly, but I wasn't moving. I breathed out angrily, nostrils flaring, as I stared down the mercenary. He met my stare and waited. A second went by then another, and still I didn't move, torn between my instincts to fight and my promise to take orders from Sheppard. The guards holding me tried to move me again but they weren't big and I wasn't easily manhandled.

When Varak finally moved to break the stalemate, I didn't have it right. The other guards didn't come at me. The mercenary took a rifle from one of his guards and slammed the handle end into Sheppard's head so hard he collapsed without uttering a sound. We supplied what he hadn't. I growled and jumped for the nearest guard, soon to be a dead man, because that's what he'd be when I was finished. I dimly heard the outraged shouts from behind me. Varak's men didn't have time to prevent me from grabbing on to the guy in green, but before I could snap his neck and take the weapon, I felt the impact of the stunner, and collapsed into the black.


When I woke up, I was cuffed to a chair. Varak was gone, but he'd left me in the care of a few other green shirts. So far I'd figured that black was the lead rank, green under that and then yellow seemed to be the lowest we'd seen.

The guards began to do their job, trying to get me to talk. They started with the standard 'what's your name', but they'd gotten what they thought was my name earlier, probably from McKay. I doubted Sheppard admitted anything. It was part of the game -- you can't change your nature, so we made it work for us. It let McKay spill our story, and made it believable, while keeping him from getting hurt worse than if he had to fight to keep our true identities secret.

I wasn't planning on talking; I'd learned that the silent treatment made the enemy sloppy. They'd get frustrated and make mistakes.

The guards thought they could convince me otherwise, but my guess about how far they were willing to go seemed to be right, because other than bruises and drawing blood, they didn't do anything else. No broken bones or burns. If I hadn't been resolved to stay quiet, I'd have enjoyed taunting them; make them go too far and hurt me more than they should. Varak would probably space 'em and then wouldn't that be a shame.

In the end, all the guys in green did was hit, smack and curse. If we were being sold as slaves, they didn't need the information, other than checking the bounty lists, which is exactly why they wouldn't get the truth from us.

The new Genii leader had agreed to withdraw the price on the heads of any ATA carriers but that didn't make the posters already out there disappear or mean if he was offered the lead team, including Beckett, that he wouldn't turn a blind eye to the agreement. I'd seen his level of loyalty when he'd killed Cowen.

There had been a saying on Sateda. 'Don't tempt the Mudsnap and weep when your arm is bit off' -- as kids, it'd been a game frowned on by the adults. The Mudsnap was a predator that lived in the river, and we'd see who'd dangle raw meat the lowest and hold on the longest when the blood dripping would draw a Mudsnap near. I'd done it more than once, and had a scar to show for it. The analogy worked with the Genii…I wouldn't make the mistake of dangling ourselves for them to come and snap at.

"D'Argo, is it," green shirt drawled. "You can stop the silence. We already know you five are refugees, running from the law on your homeworld. Makes it a lot easier to sell you." He waited but all I gave him was more silence. His face darkened. "Varak wants to know how you got that tracker out of your neck. He wants to know how a Runner managed to live. Were you handed over to the Wraith by your government and rescued by your friends?" The questions were sent out one on top of the other and I ignored each one. He chewed over my refusal to answer, waiting, and then swore at me, backhanding me so hard he split the skin above my eyebrow.

I shook my head, trying to get the blood out of my eyes. When I only made it worse, I stopped and smiled wolfishly at the man.

Another one stepped in and slammed a fist into my stomach, and even tensing for it, I still felt the air rush out with the impact. I could snap their necks without breaking a sweat, but cuffed like this, I couldn't do anything. Something I promised myself wouldn't happen again.

I lost track of more time. They left me alone in the room, cuffed, and trying to blink the blood out of my eyes, still. When they came back, Varak was with them. He took the pail of water from a yellow shirt and threw it at my face. The cold was as refreshing as it was stunning. It got the blood out of my eyes and I grinned, almost saying thanks, until I remembered that I wasn't going to say anything.

Hadn't thought I'd regret choosing that option until now.

Varak slammed the pail into the yellow's chest and came forward, predatory. His smile wasn't going past his lips to his eyes. "I hear you have an aversion to talking." He inhaled, hovering over me, too close, close enough that I smelled the unwashed stink of sweat and dirt. "All I need is for you to listen. You know what I am, and I know what you are -- a Runner who stayed alive will fetch me a lot of money. I also know the worth of your companions," he paused and looked at me, waiting for his words to sink in enough before he continued, "You know I have the control to see you get sold to a fair owner, or owners not so…" hands rested on my shoulders and his voice lowered suggestively, "…fair."

I knew what he meant. Varak was a mean bastard, but he wasn't a sick bastard. Didn't mean they weren't out there though, and what he meant was how willing he'd be to sell McKay, Beckett, Teyla and Sheppard to one. And that if I didn't talk, he'd make sure to do it.

I kept staring stonily ahead.

Varak held his position, waiting, but he finally pulled back, and I claimed at least one victory. I'd kept silent and he'd been reduced to threats, empty or not, it didn't matter, because we'd find a way out of here before we got to a planet to be sold. And I promised myself that no one would make those four do anything of the nature of Varak's insinuations. Leastways, it'd be over my dead body.

I didn't give my loyalty lightly, and I never gave my trust, but Sheppard had somehow found a way to take both despite my training and experiences that told me it was stupid to let either go. But the thing was, he'd given me the same, from him, and so had McKay and Beckett, and to a similar degree, Teyla. I know I'd lost some of her trust when I'd used her to get to Kell, and I regretted the cost of my revenge, but only that part of it.

A painful hit to my head brought me back to the room. I scowled at the green shirt responsible. Varak turned his back on me, disgusted by their inability to get me to talk, and I couldn't hide the grin, because I'd won. That earned me another hit, this time hard enough to cause things to dim, but I heard Varak order for me to be taken back.

I guessed the guards were being proactive because they hit me a few more times, enough that I couldn't shake away the edges of grey that threatened to take me under, and I was only aware enough to know I was being dragged from the room. Back to our cell, I thought sluggishly.

In the end I was right, but I lost the fight to stay conscious when I was thrown inside. When I woke up minutes later on the bed, it was to find Teyla still gone. Beckett had been taken and returned in the time they'd spent working on me, and he looked like he'd gone into a Kartak pit and lost. Yet, he was still hovering over me, peeling back my eyelids and asking questions I couldn't understand.

" 'm fine, Doc," I slurred, pushing myself up on an elbow. The room spun a little but righted fast enough.

"That's why you leered at McKay and said 'there's room for two'?" Beckett asked humorlessly.

I blinked, debated on denying it, but then I realized that Sheppard was lying motionless on the bed across from me. "He's still out?" That wasn't good.

Beckett's heavy frown answered for him.

It seemed like we were on a hill with no way down and I didn't much care for it. When I was gone, they guards had apparently brought some supplies. Food in shiny metal bowls that looked better than some of the things I'd eaten during my years as a runner, some towels, and I realized that all of us were now in new clothes. I'd woken up from the stunner blast in mine. They were the same rough spun cloth, dirt brown -- the better to hide stains.

I let Beckett fuss long enough to assure himself that I wasn't seriously hurt, something I could've told him in less time but I knew he wouldn't have believed it so I saved us both the trouble. Besides, it gave him something to do, and I figured that more than anything would keep him from falling apart.

McKay hovered over Sheppard, shrieked when a rat scurried across the room, and then demanded a new cell to nobody. I let him rant, because like Beckett, McKay needed an outlet, too. I just wished his wasn't so loud and annoying. I looked at Sheppard on the bed and figured maybe he had the right idea.

It turned into one of the longest afternoons I'd ever known, and finally I did retreat back to my bed, claiming a headache so I could get McKay to shut up and leave me alone. Only problem is that brought Beckett. I opened one eye and said, "Leave." I'm not sure if he would've or not, but Sheppard chose then to wake up and that drew Beckett away.

Teyla was returned no worse than any of us and in new clothes. She looked a lot angrier than I'd felt on my return trip and I wondered what they'd said to her. The introductions out of the way, we were now reduced to prisoner status, until we got to the planet where they were going to sell off their cargo. We'd heard enough noise to know the ship was pretty full which meant it wasn't likely to be long. That was fine with me, planetside we had a better shot at getting free, though the devices in our wrist might be a problem.

Since they hadn't came back and taken McKay or Sheppard again, I assumed we weren't being separated or interrogated anymore. I reasoned our fake names delivered by McKay (and probably Beckett), had held up enough to satisfy them. It was one less thing to worry about.

And speaking of worrying -- I watched as Beckett did more than his share, hovering next to Sheppard, who seemed to be having a hard time keeping it straight where we were and what'd happened. While Doc was busy with him, Teyla accepted McKay's help with getting her face cleaned up before she moved away from all of us and started pacing.

I slipped off my bed and headed towards her.

"Go away, Ronon." She kept pacing by the door.

"What'd they say to you?" I wasn't easily dissuaded. I wasn't the smartest boy in my unit, but sometimes perseverance paid off.

She stopped pacing and shifted her angry stare fully onto me. Then again, maybe it didn't. I went to turn away but she spoke up. "Varak has promised to sell Sheppard to…" she broke off and looked away, her eyes troubled.

"Forget what he said," I growled. I could imagine. I followed her gaze across the room. Sheppard was one of those that had been referred to as Haresha. His looks, body, it wasn't something I'd failed to notice, but I also knew Sheppard wasn't one. Their world was different than ours, but I knew what Varak meant. He'd sell Sheppard to the highest bidder based on his looks and the result wasn't going to be pretty. "It won't come to that," I insisted, as much for myself to hear as her. Most of all because I wouldn't let it.

She frowned at Sheppard again before turning back to me. "We must not allow it."

I didn't tell her that Varak had promised the same end for her as well as Beckett and McKay. It wouldn't help change anything and Teyla was clearly affected enough by the one threat.

We slipped into silence.

Later, with no idea of what time it was, guards arrived. A green that looked as big as me led the group of five, and all of them had their weapons trained on us. I smiled, imagining the fun I was going to have when we did manage to break free. I wasn't going to leave anyone standing.

I unnerved the guards, which is what I meant to do, but it still got us nothing. We were led into a large cargo room that had been made into some kind of common area for the captured slaves. I saw a lot of other people, men and women and even some kids, dressed like us, though not many were as beaten up. I supposed we'd looked guilty of hiding something just by what we carried and how we were dressed. It wasn't something we could change so I supposed I'd have to make an extra effort to not get ambushed again on some other world, or make sure I didn't leave any of these guys alive when we did manage to escape.

By mutual consent, we stuck together and found a table in a corner.

"Why do I feel like I'm in a bad remake of Stalag 17," bitched McKay.

Sheppard chuckled, lifting a hand to push against his head. "Better hope they don't believe in solitary confinement for mouthing off, or you'll be there a lot."

McKay rolled his eyes at Sheppard. "Ha ha, very funny. I could say something equally crude and demeaning but I won't because, see me, being the bigger man."

I leaned back in my chair and folded my arms. "I'm bigger."

"Am I missing something," Beckett interrupted. "Or is this how every escape plan begins?"

Teyla's lips teased with a smile as she said, "Doctor, this is merely their attempt at pretending that we are not as…" she looked at Sheppard with relish, "…screwed as we are."

I almost laughed. Teyla and I were being corrupted by Sheppard and McKay -- my way of thinking, we'd have to try harder to make it more of a two way street. Sateda had some good swear --

"You're sitting at our table."

The interruption surprised all of us. We weren't exactly a prime group to pick on in the room, with three of us being more than capable of killing with our bare hands. I started looking down at the thick legs and followed them up, and up and by the time I got to the top of the bald, round faced man, I was smiling even more than before, slow and steady, because he was bigger than I was, and it'd been a long time since I'd fought anyone that was a challenge.

"I'm sorry," McKay began, and the words might have seemed placating, but judging from the groaning coming from Doc, every one of us knew it was anything but. "I fail to see a label?" He stared contemptuously at the brute of a man, his lips wrinkling from the smell.

Sheppard shoved McKay, hard, but I considered the table with faked intensity. "I think my friend's right," I agreed. "I don't see a name." I massaged my chin, looking forward to what I hoped would be the end result.

I got a dirty look from both Teyla and Sheppard, but McKay beamed at me. Yeah, we were a lot alike.

Just then, a punch out of nowhere sent me flying back into the table. I lurched to my feet, already shaking it off, to see a handful of other men, none of them as big as the one facing me, closing in. They wanted to fight, fine with me, because I couldn't think of anything better to do.

The bigger guy tried to punch me again, but this time I was ready, and I ducked, moving quickly to the right, and followed up with a solid hit to his gut. It was like hitting the wall. I stared upwards at him, momentarily dumbfounded, when I heard Beckett snap behind me, "Now you think twice about it, you bloody ox!"

That made me angry enough that I pulled back and spun around, bringing up my foot to plant a solid kick into the man's stomach. The only problem, he wasn't there anymore. Uh oh.

I'd like to say things got better after that, but they didn't. The others managed to hold their own, but I was losing, and fast. For every hit I got in, my opponent got in two, and they had a lot more power to them than mine did. I felt the blood running again down my face and suspected if I didn't figure something out, this wasn't going to end in our favor. That's when I caught sight of the chair. I'd been thrown down, again, and seeing how it was near…

Rolling away from another kick, I grabbed the chair, slammed it to the floor hard enough to break it, and taking the thick leg, I brandished it in front of me like it was my sword that I'd lost on the Hive ship. I grinned brutally at the now backing away man.

I saw Sheppard knock his opponent out, and then turn to the one about to return the favor to McKay. He tapped him on the shoulder and when the man turned, smiled tightly and said, "Care to pick on someone your own size?" before he delivered a punch that sent the guy flying to the floor.

"Yes, yes," McKay said, his voice muffled. "Pick on Crichton." There was a sniffling snorting sound. "Son of a bitch! You broke my nose. What the hell did I do to you? Seriously – I've never seen you before today, and this is not the way you treat strangers!"

"Save it, Rygel." Sheppard glared daggers at the two by his feet that'd been doing all the damage. "Animals can't be housebroken."

I appreciated his sentiments, but I still had to deal with the one that I was responsible for. He'd stopped coming at me, and I wasn't sure if it was the sharp end of the broken chair leg or the fact that Teyla had polished off the last of his group. Beckett got up and tried to help McKay with his nose, but McKay was busy whining.

"They aren't even animals," I pointed out. "They're shit." I grinned at the big guy, enjoying the taunting because it felt good after having to take Varak's abuse earlier, and not being able to say anything back. I never should've gone with the silence tactics -- I liked to mouth off as much as McKay. "I can smell them over here."

"You're funny." The guy finally spoke up. "But we'll be in touch." He sauntered away and that's when I realized the guards were moving across the room towards us. I threw the stick to the ground, knowing we were going to regret it when they got here.

We did regret it, because their idea of breaking up fights, even when it was obvious the fight was already broken, was to hit everyone with stunners.