Blood Rituals - That Which Doesn't Kill...
by Angel Ruse

Sheppard, Beckett, McKay and Teyla gate to a world with a deadly secret—will Sheppard and Beckett become the victims of genetic exploitation? Sheppard and Carson whump. No Slash.

It was chilly. Or maybe it was his imagination. Surely the Ancients would have provided for the physical comfort of a well-regulated temperature. They provided for everything else. It was his imagination, drawing on the other forms of discomfort he was experiencing at the moment. Impatience, physical tiredness. It was early. But McKay had insisted.

John Sheppard stifled a yawn as he and Beckett headed towards the gate room. He wasn't successful, and unfortunately for the good doctor it caught on. Carson threw him a little glare. Even though this was clearly McKay's fault, deep down Sheppard knew the doctor was blaming him quite thoroughly. Sheppard shrugged and gave a sly grin to his counterpart, who yawned again. "This constitutes as torture, y'know," Carson accused. "I don't see why I have to be dragged along on this little outing, anyway."

"Come on, doc, you've been cooped up here in Atlantis for weeks. An outing will do you good." They stopped together at the door to the gate room and Sheppard motioned the doctor politely forward. "Besides, Teyla's contacts said these people really know their medicine. You like medical supplies, don't you?" He smirked.

Entering the gate room, Carson peered around in search of their other two companions, McKay and Teyla. "Not this early," he murmured, spotting his quarry near the Stargate. He pointed a finger at McKay, who had an impatient look on his face. "And you, insisting upon gettin' us up at the crack o'dawn. It's ungodly, I tell ya."

McKay folded his arms and cocked his head to the side. "I'm not the one insisting you come along." He threw a sidelong glance at Sheppard as if to redirect the doctor's ire. "Be that as it may, I insisted upon this 'ungodly hour' because I happen to be conducting a little research that will need my attention at a specific time later on today. Given Teyla's information on this planet, Dr. Weir was resolute that we make first contact soon and since I'm unavailable later I elected we should get it over with now."

Sheppard smirked. "Who says you've got to come, anyway?" he asked playfully as he gave his supplies a check over.

His feathers a bit ruffled, McKay looked straight ahead, away from the Lt. Colonel. "I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer."

"So, what kind of research are you conducting, anyway?" Beckett asked as he rubbed at his face sleepily. The four of them approached the gate.

Before McKay could respond the Colonel elbowed the doctor. "I betcha he's got a date."

Beckett's eyebrows went up. "Aye? And with who?"

"Now that's the real mystery, isn't it?" Sheppard admitted with a lazy shrug of his shoulders. He winked at Teyla. "See, there's only one person on Atlantis McKay's impressed with enough for that level of interaction. Himself."

McKay gave Sheppard a hard look and growled, "Shut up. I happen to be doing lifesaving, brilliant work on a daily basis. Which, I might add, is more than I can say for some of us. The undertaking that you so flippantly dismissed as a date is one of those things."

From above an audience of one had been taking in this little exchange with a certain amount of amusement. She decided to stop it before it went any further, however. "Tempers seem to be flaring this morning," Dr. Weir said from where she stood at the DHD. "I trust this isn't going to interfere with your objectives?"

This time it was Teyla, who had not spoken up until now, that responded. "I am certain once everyone is properly awake they will remember that first impressions are often lasting impressions, with regard to those we are trying to contact." Her tone said her words were meant not so much to comfort to Dr. Weir as a plea to the other three.

His hands clasped behind his back, McKay nodded once. "What she said. Sure," he said, impatient again. He waved his hand. "Now can we please get this mission underway?"

"Patience is a virtue, Rodney," Weir told him absently as she took up position at the DHD. "Dialing out. Be careful."

All impulses to irritate companions subsiding, the four turned to wait for the Stargate to activate. Sheppard watched each chevron light up, wondering what they would find on the other side. Neither Teyla, nor any of the other Athosians, had actually gated to this address before. All information that she had given the crew had been second hand from another society she had traded with a few times. According to that information these people called themselves Khon'Su, and that they were very proficient with medical technology. But the details were sketchy, as was Teyla's understanding of what these people were like in general. Her contacts had maintained that the Khon'Suans were protective of their knowledge, but genuinely interested in outside trade. Sheppard hoped that meant they would find a warm welcome when they arrived.

When the gate awakened he and Teyla entered its fluid embrace with their other two companions close behind. Sheppard fully anticipated sunshine, at very least, to greet them, and perhaps another one of those pastoral visions of grassy fields and trees. Stepping on the other side of the gate brought to his eyes a vision of darkness, instead. The sky was inky with night, given natural relief only by the dim light shining from a dark red moon. The ground was hard earth, black without sunshine to show its true color. In the distance he could hear tides crashing, and in the light given off by the Stargate he could see they were in the middle of a thick forest of tall trees--or at least he assumed these looming towers of blackness were trees, but who could tell in this galaxy?

McKay and Beckett soon appeared after them and the latter looked around, then into Sheppard's face with a sigh. "Well, isn't this nice?" The Stargate went dark. "How're we going to see whatever it is we're supposed to see, then?"

Taking out a P-90 and shining the light in the physician's face, McKay replied, "Please, tell me I'm not the only one smart enough to have prepared for any possible situation, including this one. Or was I not given the handbook on this particular world?"

Jerking his pack open, Beckett shuffled through its contents for a flashlight. "You know, one o'these days you're going to get sick and need me. And I'll remember this day, make no mistake."

"All right," Sheppard sighed, lighting his own weapon. He looked over at Teyla questioningly. "Your friends didn't happen to mention how far the settlement is from the Stargate, did they?"

She shook her head. "No, however given that these people are interested in trade it stands to reason that a settlement cannot be far from here. They will want easy access to the Stargate."

McKay pointed his light out towards the ominous trees. "Well, I'm certainly no psychologist, but I would assume that most civilizations find it prudent to plan their societies close to the direction that the Stargate faces."

"Oh yeah, and why is that?" Sheppard cocked his head, waiting with a mild expression.

The other man looked at him for a moment as if should be apparent. "It makes sense."


McKay shrugged. "Look, subconsciously any given person would want to travel the least distance from point A to point B, correct? The DHD is here," he motioned towards the control, and then pointed away from it, "so therefore..."

Sheppard cut him off with a shake of his head. "I get it. I'll take your word for it. We go that way." He started off in the direction of McKay's light and the other three followed suit.

The darkness seemed to swallow them whole as they blended into the trees. It was miracle they ran across a stretch of rudimentary pavement that seemed to point the way through the dense forest. Of course when they did McKay shot a look at Sheppard that plainly said, 'I told you so'. After a few minutes of carefully following its path, diligently looking for any sign of civilization, Sheppard directed his light upwards curiously. "Maybe they live in the trees," he speculated only half seriously.

McKay made a dismissive noise. "The trees?"

"They're huge." The Lt. Colonel tried in vain to see some sort of sign above him. "Ewoks live in trees. Wookies too, for that matter. And Wookies know their way around technology."

The other man shone his light at Sheppard. "And maybe we'll find an elevator somewhere just ahead with a nice attendant wearing a pill box hat."

"Hey, it could happen."

Teyla knit her brow and sidled up next to Beckett. "What is a Wookie?"

But the doctor didn't get a chance to respond. Abruptly the concrete pathway ended, and being the first to notice, Beckett lost his balance and hit the dirt front first with a panicked yell. Just as Sheppard was about to ask if he were all right, he heard the good doctor say something a little less than good, followed by, "For cryin' out loud."

"You all right?" the Colonel asked, shining his light onto the physician. Beckett didn't look particularly happy. Sheppard stretched his hand out.

Beckett took it. "Aye, son. Nothin' seriously injured except my pride." He rubbed at a scraped palm. "Nice omen to our little vacation."

"What, that you'll continue to find reasons to grumble as time goes on?" McKay was already examining the stone. "Broken," he murmured. He straightened and moved his light around. "But then again, so is the forest. We're clear. And if I'm not mistaken..." The light faded after some distance, but if one looked carefully they could almost see... "Yes. I think it's a structure."

"Or another tree," Sheppard supplied sagely. "One way to find out."

And a structure it was. It was tall, with crimson moonlight bleeding down its stone walls. Reflections of their P-90 lights revealed a spiral staircase spied through the windows, as well as chiseled out characters imprinted in the stone walls inside. "Point of origin address," McKay murmured, studying carefully. "This must be some sort of way point. No telling how old those stones inside are."

"Not to take away from history and archeology and the like," Beckett said, distracting McKay's thoughts, "but I think we've found our pocket o'civilization."

McKay, Sheppard and Teyla followed the doctor's gaze out from the way point. Indeed they could see light ahead, shining through a smattering of forest, beckoning them away from the darkness. "That's our cue. Let's move out." He pointed the light on his weapon towards the direction and motioned the others to follow.

It wasn't long before they were once again in the midst of trees, but these were not quite so claustrophically gathered together. The red light of the moon could actually penetrate through the canopy above, giving the forest around them an eerie quality. So far there were no signs of animal life, save an unidentified twittering far above. The noise made both Beckett and McKay glance upwards more than once.

And then suddenly there came a new noise that was far more startling. It started out slowly at first, just barely heard in the distance before them, but soon it was apparent that what they were hearing was something dashing rapidly towards them. In the dark they could see no sign of what it was. "Stop," Sheppard cautioned, pointing the P-90. "Teyla and McKay keep an eye on the flanks. Doctor, watch the rear for any sign of movement. We could be dealing with..."

The Colonel might have finished that sentence with 'anything', but McKay interrupted, saying, "A human."

"Right," Sheppard agreed. "A human that could be hostile, or an animal or even a Wraith for all we know."

McKay shook his head and pointed. "A human, Colonel."

And then he could see it. A silhouette could be seen bounding towards them, followed by moving lights some ways back. It was definitely humanoid in form. Still, Sheppard kept his gun level, prepared for anything.

He hadn't been prepared for a white-faced man of advancing age to come crashing to his knees right in front of him. The man collapsed into Sheppard, gasping for air and pawing at the earth beneath his hands wildly. It took a delicate little 'dance' for John to keep his balance without falling. "Run," the man half-moaned, half-wheezed. He looked up into Sheppard's face with terrified eyes, then seeing as no one was moving to restrain him, got to his feet and darted away from the small party.

"Stop him!" a voice snapped from the shadows. There were more footsteps flooding the forest. Before any of them could think to react, however, the frightened man was long gone. Four individuals moving too quickly to be identified swept past the Lanteans while two others stopped. One of them owned the voice that had called out. "Who are you?" she demanded. Her dark eyes were not quite deadly, but neither were they gentle.

Sheppard considered lowering his weapon, but seeing as she still held hers aimed high, he kept it right where it was. "Hey, we come in peace. Thought we could get some sort of trade going, but if your people aren't interested..."

The woman lowered her weapon, and the man at her side did the same. "My apologies. As you can see we're under a bit of stress. The man you saw is a criminal trying to evade the consequences of his actions. Of course we're interested in trade. You come from the Stargate?" Sheppard nodded once. "My name is Minal Iilara, director of security."

"John Sheppard," he supplied, then nodded towards his three companions. "Teyla, McKay and Beckett. We come from Atlantis."

Iilara's eyes flickered briefly at the name Atlantis, but she said nothing of it. A quiet smile spread along her lips. "Welcome to Khon'Su, John Sheppard. Come. The night air is chilly. You will find food, drink and rest in the city." She turned, clearly expecting to be followed. At a glance the guard that had remained by her side began towards the direction the criminal had taken.

The Lanteans exchanged glances between one another. This was definitely not the welcome they had expected.

"You know, this is actually pretty good." Sheppard took another indulgent bite of the star-shaped, pink fruit he had been given. The Lanteans waited in a lavish room they had been shown to after entering what Iilara referred to as the 'Senate Building'. The streets in Khon'Sora—the main city of the Khon'Suan people—were some sort of strange blend of old world tastes and modern practicality. The buildings were mostly made of stone, as were the streets. It looked like some sort of village out of the renaissance period, except for the strange glow-lamps that Sheppard couldn't identify the origin of, and the high-tech looking mirrored windows that shimmered on some of the finer structures.

The Senate Building was easily the largest in the city. Inside it was beautifully decorated in crimson tapestries and carpets, and rich wooden benches lined with fat pillows dotted the halls. The ceilings glowed from light sources hidden behind sinuous sconces hugging the stones like wallpaper borders. And room they had been led to was even cozier than that. There was evidence of some sort of temperature control, for the room was warm, not drafty like a traditional castle from the Middle Ages. Sheppard couldn't find the heating vent it came from, but he really didn't care at the moment. He was comfortable.

Settling back in a large, wooden chair with a cushy black seat, he took another bite of the fruit and savored the sweetness. "Have you considered that fruit might be drugged?" McKay asked, clearly annoyed with his obvious enjoyment.

Sheppard wiped the juice on his fingers along his pant leg. "They could have just shot me, too, you know. A bit jumpy, are we?"

McKay frowned at him. "You might be too if you had any sense. I don't know about the rest of you, but I found that incident in the forest a little unsettling. Did you see that man's face?"

"I saw it," the Colonel replied quietly. He absently twirled a fruit on the table next to him. "And I'll admit it unsettled me a bit too. I've seen criminals, but..."

"He was terrified," Teyla supplied. She looked up. "It makes one wonder what fate awaits his return to the city."

Sheppard inhaled a long breath, and then let it out slowly as he leaned back. Beckett was fidgeting with his fingers; his arms leaned on his knees as he sat forward. He looked up at McKay. "Under the circumstances it might not be entirely wise to ask."

McKay waved an arm in dismissal. "Bah. Don't give me that politically correct crap. It's that kind of lack in critical thinking that gets people killed."

"No, I'm just sayin' they might not take it too kindly if we pry," the doctor explained. Sheppard could tell he was just as unnerved as the rest of them.

A voice broke into their thoughts, coming from the door and startling each of them. "You have questions," asked the voice, a strong, male one. They looked up and at the door was a tall, elder man wearing stately robes in slate gray. His eyes were dark and wise. He entered with hands spread openly. Minal Iilara followed him in, remaining silent as he continued, "I would not start this friendship with shadows cast. Please, tell me what it is you wish to understand and I will do my best to reply. I am Minister Indaali, caretaker of this planet."

Sheppard sat up straighter, brushing aside his discomfort to take Indaali up on his invitation to understanding. "Colonel John Sheppard," he introduced himself with a friendly smile. "Look, we didn't mean to get mixed up in any of your internal affairs. I think entering new territory has the potential to make anyone a little nervous and walking in the dead dark with someone running at you with that kind of fear driving him has a way of helping along that nervousness, don't you think?"

Indaali nodded with a small smile. "I suppose if I were in your position I would be a bit on guard as well. It is unfortunate you had to arrive as that particular criminal escaped our attempt to detain him. He is a brilliant scientist, bent on using his knowledge towards, ah, let us say disgusting pursuits. Several of our most prominent families have been devastated by his actions. We were going to apprehend him this very night, but you saw how that turned out."

An attendant entered as if on cue, bearing drinks and more fruit. "Unfortunate," John echoed, absently taking one of the glasses offered. He took a drink, then lifted the cup. "Good stuff. It's a bit..." Carson, at that point, took a swig from one of the same glasses, then abruptly coughed. Sheppard nodded towards him, finishing his thought, "...strong."

"Aye," Carson agreed, sitting back and taking another, more careful sip. "That'll wake ya up in the mornin'."

Indaali laughed good-naturedly. "May I present Dr. Carson Beckett," Sheppard said, taking another sip. "He'll be the one I turn to if this gives me a hang-over in the morning."

"Indeed?" the Minister said, looking at Beckett for a long moment before bringing his glass up to smell the liquid within. He took a sip. "You'll find our culture just as rich as this drink. We enjoy life to its fullest. You'll find we trade in much the same way. Tell me what my people can do for you."

The Colonel nodded Beckett to take up the lead. The doctor inhaled deeply and set his cup down to address Indaali with his full attention. "Well, we've heard your people were skilled in the way o'medicine. Among perhaps other things, we were lookin' to see what sort of medicines and techniques you might trade. We're a bit aways away from our home, and unfortunately my knowledge of this system doesn't stretch as far as I'd like."

Listening carefully, the Minister nodded. "That may be arranged. Tell me, if you will, where you come from."

Carson glanced at Sheppard, who stepped back into the conversation. "We're from Atlantis, currently."

"The home of the Ancestors?" Minal said thoughtfully, then quieted with a look from her leader.

Indaali measured them with his eyes. "What could we know that you could not, if you indeed come from there?"

"Well, see we haven't completely explored the database," Beckett explained. Sheppard knew well the doctor was curious as to what medical treasures might be found inside the archives of the Ancients. "There's so much that we don't know, actually. What sort of illnesses we might run across, other conditions caused by factors we aren't prepared for."

"I see," the Minister said mildly. "In that case, we may be able to come to an accord. Tell me, what do you propose to trade?"

It was Sheppard who answered. "We have plenty of options, I'm sure. Advances in technology. Medical knowledge of our own. I would say it depends on what sort of trade you're interested in."

"An interesting question," Indaali replied, getting to his feet. He moved to where the attendant had placed a carafe filled with the wine they were drinking. Pouring himself another glass, he seemed to consider their offer carefully. In that moment Sheppard could see that this man was very shrewd and likely to make certain the trade was even, if not more in favor of his own people. Indaali swirled the glass around and watched the contents swish inside. "Perhaps, to begin our relationship, an exchange of information would be acceptable?"

"Information?" McKay repeated, looking alert.

Indaali nodded. "There is a ruin nearby, very old. Within is a virtual treasure trove of technology that we cannot decipher the purpose of. We believe it may be Ancestor technology, but we have no way of knowing. Perhaps you could aid us?"

Sheppard glanced at McKay, hoping he would have the foresight to scan for any sign of a ZPM. As always the scientist could be counted on to think ahead. He was already nodding when John met his gaze. "Well, I think there's a good chance it is Ancient technology," he said to Indaali, who had noticed the interaction. Sheppard motioned. "Dr. Rodney McKay. The device he's holding can scan for the creations of those you refer to as 'Ancestors'. He seems to think there's a good chance we'll find something on your planet, which would seem to correspond with what you're telling us."

The Minister looked at the scanner in McKay's hands in fascination. "If indeed you do possess such capabilities, then perhaps our trade may go further than information. If you can examine the technology in the ruins and explain what we have, we invite your Dr. Beckett to browse our database for anything of interest. What do you say to that, Sheppard?"

With a shrug and a smile, the Colonel replied, "You've got yourself a deal, Minister."

A/N: The news at savecarsonbeckettDOTcom could use a look at, if you don't mind spoilers. I've sent my letter!

Email: angelruseATgmailDOTcom
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Disclaimer: Don't own the fine hineys of Shep or Beckett. Don't mean I can't imagine I do.