Rated: T (for language & violence)
Category: General (Action/Adventure, H/C, Drama, Angst.)
Spoilers: Common Ground. (Takes place sometime after Common Ground - season 3)
Summary: Captured and experimented on by the wraith, Sheppard must find a way to escape before it's too late. Along the way, he gets help from an unexpected source. The team, especially McKay, gets more involved in the second half of this tale.)
Characters: Mainly Sheppard, nameless wraith (from CG) and OCs. McKay, Teyla, Ronon, Weir, Beckett & Caldwell also appear later.
Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis and its characters belong to their appropriate proprietors, creators and owners. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was created for entertainment purposes only. No profit has been made from this. Only original characters and storyline belong to the author.
AN: This fic may start out a little dark but trust me it's really not a dark fic. All feedback, including constructive ones are welcomed.
Title: Uncommon Alliance
The worst thing about waking up from a Wraith stunner blast was the great unknown: of not knowing where you're going to wake up, the predicament that you're going to be in, and what you're going to find. The next worse thing was the roaring headache that you experienced at the moment of awakening: it felt as if someone had just sucker punched you right in between the eyes. The third was the feeling of fading numbness followed rapidly by uncomfortable pins and needles running through your entire body.
John Sheppard experienced all three of these after he had received a Wraith stunner blast right in the chest. Upon regaining consciousness, the first thing he did was to open his eyes to determine his whereabouts. He saw dark grey-green walls with strange cobweb-like devices hanging from the above ceiling. At the top corner of the wall behind him were two small spotlights shining down on him. Further beyond was a closed metal door, presumably tightly shut, sealing him from the outside world. There was a strange, foreign metallic smell, alien yet slightly familiar somehow, as if he had smelt it before. He groaned and his heartbeat accelerated, he knew instantly that he wasn't in friendly territory - not in a puddlejumper nor in Atlantis. It was enough to tell him that he was in trouble. Between the pounding of his aching head and the uncomfortable pins and needles of his awakening body, he also realised that he was standing upright, his arms extended, his wrists chained above him to the wall. That would account for the uncomfortable burning sensation on his arms, shoulders and wrists.
'Not good, John... What have got yourself into this time?' he admonished himself.
At the other side of the metal door, he heard footsteps approaching. His mind raced, trying to recall what had happened that brought him to this predicament. He remembered running, trying to support the Wraith-stunned weight of Ronon Dex between him and McKay as they tried to make it back to the Stargate. He remembered looking back, knowing that Wraith behind them would be upon them soon. He knew that he had to do something or his team wouldn't make it back to the Stargate in one piece...
A few hours earlier
Sheppard called out to Teyla, who was guarding their retreat.
"What is it, John?" the Athosian asked, a worried frown evident on her brows.
"Here, take Ronon," he stated, transferring half the weight of the unconscious Satedan to Teyla's slim shoulders as she came over.
McKay who was supporting the big guy's weight on the other side, grumbled. "Conan here needs to go on a diet, otherwise the next time he gets accidentally hit by a Wraith stunner, I'm going to leave him there to rescue himself. Lugging around all his weight is going to put my back in traction, you know!"
"What are you going to do, Colonel?" Teyla asked Sheppard, bracing against the Satedan's weight. As the runner was so tall, he was more accurately dragged rather than carried by his two shorter team mates.
John didn't answer, instead he looked at her and then at Rodney and asked, "Do you think you two can manage it back to the gate?"
"Yes, yes," Rodney replied testily, "Despite Ronon having a healthy appetite that makes him feel like Moby Dick, we should be able to handle him between the two of us. That's provided we don't become Wraith snacks ourselves."
Two pair of worried eyes gazed at him.
Rodney however suspected something. "But what are you going to do? Because I know you, Sheppard... You're probably going to do something dangerous that involves risking your life again. Otherwise you wouldn't have passed the big guy here to Teyla and me."
Sheppard checked his P90, making sure that it was fully loaded, he knew that he needed more than the ammunition he currently had. He turned towards Teyla. "Do you have any spare clips?" he asked. He had used up his in the last fray against Wraith. It had occurred after they had blown up what appeared to be a Wraith research facility that they had discovered on the planet. It was the reason why Wraith were chasing them now.
She checked and handed hers over to him. Sheppard nodded his thanks before turning to McKay.
"Hand me those two small mines that we found, Rodney."
The scientist dug into his pocket and handed the required arsenal over to Sheppard. "Mind if I ask what're you planning to do with them?"
Dark eyes heightened with worry echoed the blue gaze that stared anxiously back at him. "John?" Teyla asked again, using his first name this time.
He knew then that both Teyla and Rodney would not like what he had to say. So he forced a confident smile, even though deep down, his heart was pounding rapidly at what was required of him.
"Provide a diversion to prevent you guys from becoming Wraith snacks," he finally replied.
"What?! By becoming Wraith bait yourself?" Rodney retorted in a high pitched sarcastic tone.
He could see that the scientist did not like the idea, neither did Teyla, but there was no choice here. He would do anything for the safety of his team. The forced smile widened.
"Something like that..."
The sounds of pursuit approached closer. It had to be now or never.
"Get going!" This time it was a command, an explicit order. There was no more time for arguing or niceties. "Get back to Atlantis! Bring back reinforcements if you have to, but I should be following you guys shortly."
There were more sounds, more noises, all knew that within a few minutes the enemy would be upon them. Teyla and Rodney looked at each other, not happy that their team leader wouldn't be following them. However, they didn't have time to argue, it was Sheppard's decision. If they didn't have an unconscious Ronon to think about, it might have been a different matter. They trusted their team leader to do what was required; they had no choice but to obey. But before they left they promised to return and bring back help. McKay reached into his vest pocket and threw the last of his two PowerBars at him.
"Here! You owe me two PowerBars, Sheppard! You'd better be in one piece for me to claim them back!"
Sheppard smiled as he caught the PowerBars, then he was off. He turned towards a bush tree filled with leaves, broke a nearby branch and swiftly began erasing his team's tracks as he backtracked, running in the opposite direction. Before he reached the rocky path that left no tracks, he stopped, dug two holes strategically spaced apart and placed the two mines in them. It wasn't long before they were covered with sand again with no evidence of their presence. When he was done, he radioed back to his team, informing them where he had placed the mines. After all, he didn't want his own people accidentally stepping on them if they returned. However, he hoped that they would stop any Wraith from trying to make their way to the Stargate.
Dusting his hands, he cleared all evidence of his own tracks and those of his team before heading back towards the rocky path. When he reached it, he threw away the branch and headed west, away from the Stargate. After running for about a minute, he brought out his 9mm and shot a round into the air. He knew that it should get Wraith attention. He hoped that his team wouldn't be stupid enough to turn around and come back for him. But he had faith in them, they would obey his command, no matter what happened. They would make sure that Ronon was safe in Atlantis first before they returned for him.
He ran on. It wasn't long before he heard a loud explosion, then another. He smiled grimly hoping that they were enough to give his team time to make it back to the gate safely. Taking a quick backwards glance, he caught sight of several Wraith behind him. They were fast runners and they were rapidly closing in on him. He opened fire, then dashed off and ran for his life. They followed. With rapid breaths, he led them further and further away from the Stargate. It was a good thing that he went running with Ronon every morning, otherwise, he knew that he wouldn't have been able to keep up the intense pace. The Wraith followed like bloodhounds on his trail.
Suddenly he saw a couple of Wraith appear ahead of him. His P90 automatically came up, his fingers pulling the trigger until he realised that they were illusions, projected by Wraith themselves to disorient him. He cursed loudly, angry at himself for wasting bullets and falling for their mind tricks. Several energy blasts discharged behind him, hitting the rocks ahead, narrowly missing him as he ran in a zig-zag manner, determined not to make an easy target. Dammit! They were too close for comfort. Despite his burning lungs, chest and legs, he pushed forward, increasing his pace, hoping to reach some sort of cover where he could make a stand.
It looked like his plan had worked, he certainly got all Wraith attention now - the only problem was finding a way out of it. He quickly became aware of his mistake when he reached a dead-end canyon. To his horror, he realised that he was boxed in, his escape route cut off by Wraith. He cursed silently, angry and breathless at his own stupidity. He had been unfamiliar with the layout of the land when he chose the path that led to the dead-end canyon. Turning, he desperately scanned his surroundings, noting a large boulder where he decided to make his last stand. In the ensuring fight that followed, he managed to get five Wraith before a Wraith stunner got him in the chest. He never even felt it as his body hit the ground.
'Crap, I'm so screwed!' Sheppard thought to himself at the recollection.
He remembered the last time he had been fed upon by a Wraith. It was not something that he wished to experience again. This time, he knew that there would be no common ground between him and the Wraith that had captured him. After all, he had killed five of their kind. At least, he hoped that he had killed them and not only wounded them; he knew all about their rapid healing powers after a feed. He wished that they hadn't taken him alive; it would have been far better for him if he had been killed. Unfortunate for him but certainly not for Wraith. Yet, he knew that they would interrogate him first in an attempt to find out who he was and where he came from before they took their fill. After all, he and his team had successfully destroyed the Wraith's small research facility. They would be pissed, they would want answers, and they would try to make him give it to them. He only hoped that they didn't have a Wraith queen with them. He would rather not face one of those again.
The metal door opened. The time had arrived and John Sheppard steeled himself for what he was about to face. The day was turning out to be one crap of a day...
"We've got to get back!" Rodney shouted as soon as he and Teyla came through the Stargate carrying an unconscious Ronon between them. Dr Elizabeth Weir hurried down the lighted steps, activating her radio at the same time. "Medical emergency at the Gate room!"
"Slow down, Rodney. Tell us what happened. Where's Colonel Sheppard? What happened to Ronon?" she asked, frowning in concern as she watched the two members of Sheppard's team gently place the motionless Satedan on the Gate room floor. Both of them appeared breathless and exhausted.
"Ronon should be fine, he was hit by a Wraith stunner. He should awake in a few hours," Teyla informed her tiredly, yet her face looked grim. Elizabeth recognised the worried look; John was in trouble.
"But we have to get back for Sheppard!" Rodney gasped loudly, breathing rapidly with anxiety. "There were about two dozen or more Wraith chasing after us, he led them off. A diversion he called it, but I don't think he'll be able to outrun them. Not with so many. I say we get a ready a Puddle Jumper, rescue Sheppard, before it's too late!"
Weir nodded, catching on fast. She changed the frequency of her radio and asked Major Lorne to get ready for a rescue mission, informing him that Rodney and Teyla would be joining him.
"Also, Major Lorne, you might want to take a medic with you. Sheppard might need medical treatment."
She then turned back towards the two members of Sheppard's team. "Report to the infirmary immediately. Get an all clear first then get ready to depart with Major Lorne's team."
The metal door swished open and three Wraith walked into the room. Two stationed themselves in the corner, almost hidden by the dark shadows while one approached him slowly. He stood at the centre of the room for a long time, staring at his prisoner chained close to the wall. Then he strode forward and walked towards Sheppard and around him. There was enough of a gap between the wall and the prisoner for the Wraith to circle him quite comfortably. As he approached closer, his nostrils expanded and he sniffed the air as if testing it. It reminded Sheppard of a wild animal sniffing out its quarry and it didn't make him feel better.
Uncomfortable with the scrutiny, Sheppard finally spoke. "Hey there. Nice accommodation you've got here. Don't suppose you'll let me go?"
At his words, the Wraith laughed, a low guttural laugh, the sound common to the laughter of his kind. Sheppard had heard it before, from Steve, and from other Wraith who had tried to kill him.
The Wraith approached closer, its eyes almost gleaming in the dim light. "You are brave, human... defiant, but soon you will be brave no longer. Soon, you will be begging for your life and telling me all that you know."
Sheppard's gaze locked onto the Wraith, his mind coming up with a smart aleck response, ready to be released at the tip of his tongue. However, wisdom prevailed and he held it back, knowing that it would not do him any good in his present circumstances. Silence was all he had to work with for now. He turned his gaze forward, looking straight ahead at the dark empty shadows of the wall across the room. It was the standard military stance for a prisoner of war. Never look into your interrogator's eyes if you do not want him to read you. He knew then that he was so totally screwed.
The Stargate activated, and Weir hurried across to the Gate room to stand beside the Canadian technician.
"It's Major Lorne's IDC ma'am."
Weir nodded. "Lower the shields," she said, knowing that she didn't really need to tell the young man how to do his job; after all the Canadian was competent enough. He knew what he was doing. But it gave her something to do besides feeling the tightening knot of tension in her stomach. As more time passed and they still heard no news about Colonel Sheppard, the worry knot within her worsened. There was the saying that no news was good news, but in this instance, she felt that the longer they heard no news from the search and rescue team, the less chance it was going to be good news.
She looked at the Canadian technician and wished that it was Peter Grodin there instead. While she had nothing against the young man who took his place in the Gate room, he was just another face among many of the new personnel who came aboard from the Daedalus. It was at times like this when she missed the English scientist's calming presence. He would have been able to sense her concern and in turn would have probably told her not to worry. It would have been a fruitless effort of course, but it still would have been comforting to hear nonetheless; to know that there was someone who believed that things would turn out all right. Peter had been a close colleague whom she had known since their work together in Antarctica, and she still missed his presence in the Gate room. When he had been killed in the fight against the Wraith, she had mourned his loss. She hoped and prayed that Colonel Sheppard wouldn't be the next victim to fall at the hands of the Wraith.
She moved away from the Canadian technician and came to stand beside Ronon Dex. She could sense the tension radiating from him a mile away. When he awoke in the infirmary and discovered what Sheppard had done for the team, he wanted to go back to the planet immediately. Alone, if he had to. But she had counter commanded him, saying that Sheppard had risked his life for him, and she wasn't about to let the Satedan throw it away especially since there was already a rescue team out there trying to get Sheppard back. He had looked at her fiercely, his dark eyes blazing with fury, and for a moment, she thought that he was going to disobey her orders. But he had punched his fist into the wall instead. There was now a slight dent on the said wall and Elizabeth wondered whether the Satedan had hurt his hand in the process. If he did, he never showed it, but Elizabeth suspected that the pain and bruise he received as the result of his action must have helped the Satedan rein in his frustration and anger at the situation. She sighed, knowing full well how the Satedan felt, because she felt the same way too: the frustration, the worried anxiety, not knowing whether a certain stubborn Lt Colonel would make it back to Atlantis alive.
The waiting was the worse part. She tried to handle it the best way she could by keeping her mind busy with various tasks at hand. There were always many things that needed her attention on Atlantis. But Ronon, she knew, did not handle the waiting well. He paced, back and forth in the Gate room at Atlantis. Sometimes, he disappeared for a few moments, perhaps to go for a run when his tension got too great, Elizabeth did not know; but always, after a while, he would be return to the pacing, as if trying to wear a hole on the ground. His pacing made the others working in the Gate room nervous. Everyone stayed clear from the Satedan. No one dared to approach or speak to the man when he was in that dark mood. All knew that he was awaiting word regarding Sheppard's rescue. To say that the atmosphere in the Gate room was tensed would be an understatement.
She nodded a greeting at Ronon. He gave her a curt nod back in return but did not say anything. It was as expected, he was not one for much words. As she waited, she lifted her hand towards her lips and bit her thumb nail, a bad habit that she got when she was especially worried or nervous. When she realised what she was doing, she mentally and physically forced herself to place her hand back down again in order to project an aura of calmness. After all, she was the leader of the Atlantis expedition, she had to act the part.
There was a radio crackle, then Lorne's voice filled the Gate room from the overhead speakers.
"Dr Weir, the scanners didn't pick up any sign of Colonel Sheppard's subcutaneous transmitter. Nor did it pick up any lifesigns of Wraith presence. We found a trail that led to a dead-end canyon. We think that the Colonel might have been captured then. I'm sorry Dr Weir, but there's no way to know where Colonel Sheppard has been taken."
In the background, she could hear Rodney's voice, asking Lorne to make another run around the area.
"We're already scanned and searched the area three times, Dr McKay. How much more times do you want us to do it?" All in the Gate room heard Lorne's words to the scientist.
"As many times until we find him!" Rodney declared hotly.
"Rodney, how can we find John if he's no longer on the planet? Perhaps once we get back to Atlantis, you might be able to find a way to track down where the Wraith ship might have taken him." That was from Teyla - as always the voice of reason.
Elizabeth closed her eyes, bringing her hands tightly across her chest as she folded them together. Sheppard was gone; they had been too late. He was now in the hands of the Wraith once again. She shuddered at the thought recalling all too vividly the scenes of him being fed on by the Wraith when he was a prisoner of Koyla. She prayed that it wasn't so again. Beside her she heard a low, angry growl, and a sense of movement. Opening her eyes, she saw that Ronon Dex had left the Gate room.
The fist slammed viciously into his midriff, resulting in a gut wrenching pain that stole his breath away. Before he could get a reprieve, a knife whipped out, slicing deep into his forearm. Blood began to pool and bleed from the cut, streaming down his forearm onto the side of his black t-shirt. The Wraith before him smiled, as he walked behind Sheppard. Another fist struck out, hitting hard, this time right in the kidneys.
A grunt and gasp of pain escaped from him but no screams yet. He refused to cry out; he refused to give the Wraith the satisfaction of hearing his pain. However, he knew that it couldn't last, it was getting harder to muffle out the hurt from his body's abuse. Strung up as he was, and wanting to double over from the pain radiating from his body, he was finding it quite difficult to breathe properly at the moment. It took a force of will for him to lift his head and stare stubbornly back at the Wraith again, but that he did. Ever since he was a small boy, his mother had always called him stubborn especially when he was punished for something that he felt wasn't his fault. He guessed she was right, because now, despite the amount of hurt he was currently experiencing, he refused to give the Wraith the luxury of seeing him cowed. So he shot the Wraith that was hurting him a death glare, then purposely turned his gaze to stare straight ahead, not saying a word. It was the only insult he could give him.
A long fingered greenish hand reached out and pulled his hair painfully, jerking his head backwards so that he was now once again looking straight into the Wraith's reptilian-like eyes.
"Tell us what we want to know human and your suffering will end!"
Sheppard decided to call the Wraith, Daffy, pea-brained Daffy, silly Daffy Duck, for it seemed to have a one-tracked mind, that is, to use him as a boxing bag and poke him full of holes. He knew the tactics: the Wraith was doing damage to him without out-right killing him. He supposed he should be glad that so far there had been no feeding on his life, but given the present set of circumstances, he found it difficult to be thankful for anything. His only hope now was for his team to return and rescue him in time before he truly became a Wraith meal that had been sliced and diced.
"I already told you... Daffy, mind if I call you Daffy? I'm ...from ...Disney world, and my leader's name is Mickey Mouse..."
The Wraith released his hair and another fist slammed into his midriff, harder this time, more vicious than the others. He heard something crack deep within him, followed by a familiar pain. Dammit, there went a rib, or maybe two, he wasn't certain. The evil looking knife whipped out again, and Daffy grinned again, showing an impressive array of sharp pointed teeth.
"Defiance," he hissed, "gets you no where, human... but pain!" The knife plunged into Sheppard's right thigh. This time he could not hold back the scream. The Wraith smiled to hear his cry of pain.
"Yes..., little human. That is better, much better. Why do you try to hide the truth from us? It is a useless, futile effort, I can sense your fear, I can sense your lies... Soon, your homeworld will be our new feeding ground. I have not felt such defiance... nor such strength from your kind before, but it will do you no good, human..." Daffy said, whispering close to his ear almost as if it were a caress. Then he pulled the knife viciously out from his thigh. Sheppard gasped painfully at the action. However, this time, he managed to hold back the scream.
Although his head hung down wearily, angry hazel green eyes lifted and shot daggers at the Wraith. He felt blood bubbling out from stab wound on his thigh; hot and sticky, running down his leg. The smell of blood now pervaded the air. His leg throbbed painfully with the pulse of his beating heart. The Wraith lifted the bloody knife and placed it at the side of Sheppard's face. John's eyes, tight with pain, stubbornly met the gaze of his tormentor. He wondered where was its queen. Usually she would be the one who did the interrogating and the psychic attack.
"I smell the fear within you human. You give the illusion of defiance, human, but your heart beats rapidly in anxiety... So, I ask you again, what is the name of your homeworld? The coordinates? How did you find out about our research facility? You and your people caused considerable damage to our complex, many years of research were lost. You will tell us about your homeworld, your people, or suffer the consequences. Where are you from, human? The name of your planet... What is your name?"
"Disney world..." Sheppard gasped out again. "And the name's Luke Skywalker..."
"LIAR!" the Wraith screamed into his ear. For the first time, John wondered how Daffy knew that he was lying. After all, it was only names, nothing more... He had felt no fear when he said them, he had made sure of that. But then, maybe Daffy already knew who he was and where he came from. Perhaps, this was all some sort of elaborate test. He wasn't sure and he wasn't about to take the chance. If his people did not rescue him, his death was eminent, that much he knew. Better to go down dying for your home and friends than to be a betrayer of them.
Sheppard had no time to reflect any further as the Wraith suddenly slammed his feeding hand onto his chest. Cruel reptilian-like eyes captured his gaze as if trying to bore a hole into his brain. "If you refuse to answer my questions truthfully, human, then I will take it from you when I FEED!"
John glared silently back at the Wraith as perspiration began to pour down from his forehead leaking into his eyes, he knew what was about to occur, he had experienced it all before. In Atlantis he had awakened from countless nightmares recalling his time with Koyla as he was fed upon by a Wraith. Terror seized him and his heart started to hammer at breakneck speed. He did not want this to happen, he could not allow this to happen, not again. But despite his fear, he stood firm his ground: he could not, would not, betray Atlantis and Earth to the Wraith. Then he felt it, a feeling that he never wanted to experience in his life ever again. It was as if he was reliving his worst nightmare, but now it was a hundred times worse, for this time, he knew beforehand the pain and the agony that he would experience. Sometimes it was better not to know the experience set in store for you. Sometimes it was better not to see death in the eye. The burning sensation in his chest increased, spreading like rapid wildfire, filling up his entire being. Then he felt his life essence being sucked from his chest; he flung his head backwards, his eyes tightly shut and tried his best not to scream...
Indescribable agony bombarded his senses as he felt his life-force being ripped from his body. Sheppard screamed. The pain, all too familiar, tore through his chest as the Wraith fed upon him. Exploding streaks of light began to dance across his tightly closed eyes. Only seconds had passed, yet it seemed like an eternity. Unexpectedly, he heard a surprised gasp from the Wraith and the feeding ended abruptly when the Wraith removed his hand from his chest as if it burned him.
Pulling great gasps of air into his lungs, Sheppard managed to painfully lift his head to look at the Wraith, wondering why it didn't finish him. He wondered how many years the Wraith had taken from him, one, five, ten? He wasn't sure, but he didn't feel as if he had aged that much. As his gaze met that of the Wraith's, he was surprised to find that there was a shocked look on Daffy's face. The reptilian-like eyes were wide, his mouth ajar as Daffy stared at his feeding hand and then back at Sheppard again.
"You have received the gift of life! It is an honour reserved only to a selected few. Yet, you and your people have killed our kind, destroyed our base. This is not the action of a Wraith worshipper. How did you receive it? Who was the Wraith that marked you so?"
So, that's why it stopped feeding. It wants to know who gave it to me… The irony is I never knew its name, Sheppard thought to himself. He always thought of the Wraith who had saved him as Kolya's Nameless Wraith, even though in truth, it never really belonged to Kolya. The Nameless Wraith was one Wraith whom he felt some uncommon respect for - an honourable Wraith if he ever met one. And even if he had known its name, Sheppard would have never revealed it to Daffy for he was not one to betray those who helped him; it was one of his codes of life.
A hard fist suddenly slammed into his face, making his head spin. He felt the taste of blood in his mouth from a split lip. His heart still pounded rapidly like a runaway train and the front of his chest had not ceased hurting from the recent feeding.
"You will answer me, human!" hissed his interrogator. He heard the two shadowy Wraith shift at this, as if eager to hear his response.
"Perhaps all Wraith do not believe in taking human life as food..." he finally replied. "Perhaps, there is honour among Wraith..."
"Ah... so now you choose to speak... and to lie... badly," Daffy sneered. "All Wraith have to take human life, it is that which makes us Wraith. We have to feed in order to survive. Your life was spared for another reason, I want to know why."
"Well, we do not appreciate being fed on," he replied, ignoring the question. "And we have to fight back in order to survive."
Daffy broke out into a laugh, finding his reply amusing. When he finally stopped, the look that he gave Sheppard chilled him to the bone. "What is your name?"
He thought about it and decided on another name. After all, they did not believe him when he said Skywalker.
"James T Kirk."
Daffy brought his face close to Sheppard's and hissed, "Very well… Kirk. Do you wish to talk now?"
"Oh sure, how's the weather out there?" Sheppard replied sarcastically.
Another fist slammed into his side and before Sheppard could regain his breath, his hair was jerked backwards once again as the Wraith hissed angrily at him.
"What you do not wish to reveal now, we will get out from you when you reach our next research outpost..."
Sheppard's gaze came up to meet the Wraith's at that revelation. For the first time since waking up, he noticed the low hum and the slight vibration of the metal floor. With a sinking heart, he became aware that he was on board a Wraith vessel, possibly a Hive ship. That would mean that he was no longer on the planet. It also meant that he was on his own. His team wouldn't be able to track him down now.
"So... lost your appetite?" He finally gasped out, knowing that his words were stupid, meant to antagonise the Wraith further, but he felt reckless and pissed by his current predicament. He was rewarded by another vicious fist in the gut. He grunted painfully, wishing that he could bend over to ease the raging torment that pulsed in his chest, gut and thigh. He didn't know which felt worse, they all seemed to compete with each other on the pain factor.
"Don't try my patience, human," sneered Daffy. "We will get the information that we want from you. Because you have received the gift of life, you will not be fed upon, but you will suffer, most painfully, rest assured. When we reach our outpost, we will use you as our test subject for our experiments. Soon, you will be screaming, begging to tell us all that you know, because the pain will tear you apart otherwise."
Sheppard suddenly felt a solid fist hit him violently across the right temple, flinging him to one side as far as the metal shackles allowed. Blinding pain exploded in his head; black dots swam across his vision and a roaring filled his ears. Dizzy and close to losing consciousness, he barely heard the instructions being given to other Wraith.
"Take him down, place him into the storage cocoon below, that should keep his wounds in stasis until we reach our outpost."
In spite of wanting to stay conscious, darkness reached its tentacles out towards him, capturing him in its cold embrace. He never felt his wrists released from the metal shackles above and his body dragged away.
Teyla and Ronon approached McKay's lab. The scientist was busy typing on his computer keyboard, frowning at the screen, while munching on a PowerBar.
"Rodney," Teyla said, giving him a little nod of acknowledgement. "How is it going?"
McKay barely glanced at his two team mates before bending down to continue typing. Teyla came around to look at the scientist's computer screen while Ronon took a seat nearby. They saw that the scientist was busy calculating some complicated trajectories on his computer.
"Have you figured out where they've taken Sheppard yet?" Ronon asked impatiently from his seat.
McKay finally looked up from his computer screen. "Do you know how many planets there are in the Pegasus galaxy, Ronon? They could have taken him anywhere. I've called up a list of the Ancient database that identifies all the planets that are under the control of the Wraith. I'm trying to calculate out some possible sites. But…" he sighed aloud, got up from his chair, picked up a book and threw it at the wall in frustration, "it's like looking for a needle in a haystack! There are too many of them for me to even guess where they could have taken him!"
His uncharacteristic violent action startled Teyla and amused Ronon.
Ronon, who was seated with his arms folded across his chest, leaned forward and finally spoke.
"Then I say we try another option."
McKay turned, paused in his pacing and looked at the Satedan, his curiosity piqued. "What do you have in mind?"
The Satedan now grinned. "I say we catch ourselves a Wraith."
The darkness receded and John Sheppard slowly made his way back into the world of consciousness. As awareness returned, he found himself floating comfortably in what appeared to be some sort of web-like sticky substance. It felt warm, pleasant, as if he was an embryo in a womb. He felt bodiless, with no sensation of his earlier wounds to cause him pain. Yet, that thought did not comfort him for he knew that it wasn't right; he knew that he was in trouble. With an effort of will, he opened his heavy eyelids, trying to focus on his surroundings. The sight before him confirmed one of his worse fears: he was in one of the Hive's food storage pods - his body trapped deep inside the alien webbing, making it almost impossible to move.
Way to go, John! Get yourself fed upon and trapped in a Hive ship! How the heck are you going to get out of this one?! He asked himself.
He remembered Rodney telling him about his experience in the storage cocoons when he and Ronon had been held prisoner on-board the Hive ship. He recalled hearing how Ronon had managed to escape from the alien webbing through sheer determination and brute force alone. All that effort so that he could get to his blade. But Ronon had a weapon with him to get free; Sheppard was unharmed, with no knife, and still suffering from the effects of the Wraith feeding. In addition, he was injured, bruised and battered. While the web-like material in the pod kept his injuries at bay, Sheppard still attempted to move, to struggle in an attempt to break free from the alien gooey binds that encased his body.
Soon he was breathing harshly, feeling twinges of pain invading the soothing warmth provided by the liquid of the alien webbing. It did not take him long to realise that he too weak; he could barely move much less escape from the storage cocoon that he was trapped in. His breathing increased and he began to feel light headed. He wondered whether he was hyperventilating like McKay. With a force of will, he tried to even out his breaths.
Don't panic, John, you are NOT McKay! Rodney will find a way to track you down. You just need to buy your team some time, that's all. He stabilised his breathing, refusing to panic. He felt weak and hazy; it was getting harder to remain awake. Despite trying to fight against the effects of the Wraith pod, the lull of the cocoon dragged his consciousness back into the dullness of sleep. His struggles ceased, his head fell forward and he knew nothing more.
"You want to what?" Weir asked, not sure that she liked the sound of the idea.
"Catch ourselves a Wraith, you heard us," McKay replied smugly.
"And how would this help?" Weir folded her arms together and raised an inquiring eyebrow.
McKay wondered where she had learnt that look from. Was she trying to imitate Spock?
"If we capture a Wraith, he might be able to tell us where Sheppard is." It was Ronon who replied. He had his hands clasped together as he leaned forward and shot Weir an uncompromising look.
A slight frown formed in between Weir's brows. "What guarantee do you have that even if we do manage to capture one, he'll divulge the information or even know where Sheppard is?"
"We don't," McKay's smug look faltered slightly. "But we have to do something; after all, this is Sheppard that we're talking about."
"We don't leave our people behind," this statement came from Ronon Dex.
"That is true," Teyla Emmagan noted calmly in agreement, her dark gaze piercing.
"I third that," Rodney replied, lifting his hand slightly.
Elizabeth was surprised and touched to hear those words from John's team. To hear it from the Satedan in particular was like hearing an echo from the past. Words that she had heard John Sheppard say many times over when he risked life and limp to go after his people, even if the situation seemed hopeless or desperate. The fact that his entire team had picked up on John's philosophy meant something; more so, due to the fact that two of them were aliens, not from Earth. John's team were more than his team now, they were all part of the Atlantis family, and Ronon was right, John would never abandon any of them. They, in turn, would never abandon him. Besides, Atlantis needed John Sheppard more than the man himself knew. So she nodded her agreement, giving those in front of her a smile.
"Okay, if you are proposing this, I take it that you have a plan? The last time we tried to capture a Wraith on purpose, it hadn't been easy; we had the Wraith transmitter hidden in Teyla's locket, it's something that we don't have now. And I'm not counting the time we caught the Wraith during the Atlantis siege; that happened on our ground."
"We know planets that are held by Wraith," Ronon said before Rodney could speak.
Weir shook her head, "No, we can't afford to invade a Wraith infested planet; it's too risky, even Sheppard would agree with me on that. It has to be on neutral territory, somewhere that gives us a fighting chance."
At Elizabeth's words, Carson cleared his throat and said, "I believe I might be able to assist with that, but I'll probably need Rodney's help with it."
Shattering pain awoke him and he found himself no longer in the Wraith storage cocoon but somewhere else.
Lying still, attempting to keep his breathing even despite the way his body felt, he forced himself not to move or make a sound as he did not wish to reveal to his captors that he was now awake. He remembered the Wraith capturing him, beating him up, and telling him that he would be sent to a Wraith research outpost on another planet. That last memory caused his heart rate to beat faster as he recalled Daffy mentioning his plan to use him for their experiments.
With his eyes still closed, he tried to remain calm, to reassess his current situation through his other senses. Perhaps his team managed to get to him in time; perhaps he was now back in Atlantis' infirmary. However, he knew that it was only wistful thinking – the chance of his team finding him so quickly would be a miracle that he could have used. Stay calm John! Things might not be as bad as it seems, he silently instructed himself, as he became aware of alien smells that were very different from Carson's infirmary.
He was lying on something hard and smooth, an examining table or a bed, he wasn't certain. Something bright and extremely warm seemed to be shinning down on him, causing sweat to bead out from his body and flow like little rivulets on his skin. From the glare and the heat above, he envisioned a large spotlight or two currently beaming on his stretched out and prone body.
He realised that his shirt was missing, his boots and socks removed; he felt a draft of air moving in between his exposed toes. The familiar feel of the fabric of his trousers assured him somewhat that he was still clothed at least. His legs were arranged straight down and his wrists extended out to his side. However, there were tight shackles around his bare ankles and wrists; the metal felt uncomfortably hot against the intense glare shinning from the source above him. The fact that was he was bound tightly to whatever he was lying on, didn't bore well on him. Something solid and metal-like was also holding his head in place.
The sounds nearby attracted his attention; noises made by someone in the room. He sensed that whoever it was, they were standing close beside him. He almost jumped when he felt sharp talons and something invasive probing his body. They were examining his exposed chest that still throbbed painfully from the Wraith feeding. An odd mechanical whirling sound disturbed him. Then he felt something foreign, like a mechanical insect with six sharp legs being placed on top of his bare chest. It felt creepy, uncomfortable... dangerous. Whatever it was, it was moving and crawling on top of him, reaching towards the place close to his pounding heart. Against his will, his heart rate began to accelerate faster as he came close to panicking. His eyes still remained firmly shut; there was a part of him that did not wish to see what was about to be done to him. Perhaps if he remained still, they would not do what they intended to do to him. Not very logical, he knew, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances. Sometimes, ignorance was bliss.
However, whatever was on top of him must have sensed his fear, for without warning, his body suddenly exploded with searing agony as six projectiles stabbed deep into his flesh. Mind blowing pain filled his senses and he could not stop the scream from escaping his lips as his eyes snapped open. His back arched, his torso lifted and his arms and feet jerked violently against the restraints.
A scream of agony rippled from his throat. With his eyes wide open he saw something that vaguely resembled a rather large ugly-looking metal spider injecting six sharp cylinder type legs into his chest. Blood sprang from the wounds caused by the creature's legs, which were attached to six clear tubes, filled with various different coloured liquids that were currently being pumped into him. Whatever the liquids were, they seemed to burn his insides like hot molten lava, filling him with nothing but pain, pain and more pain! His brain screamed the words that he could not say and his vision began to grey out. His body convulsed and his hands jerked repeatedly at the shackles until they began to bleed. He struggled futilely to free himself but to no avail.
Then to his horror, through the blood roaring in his ears and his pain filled screams, he heard another odd sound on top of his chest. Focusing his gaze he saw the alien metal-like spider lift its centre body upwards. Below it, peaked another ugly looking round device like a tiny egg, but spiked with strange, long treadles. It lowered itself down onto the part of his chest close to his heart; it sat in the middle of where the alien liquids were being pumped into his system. He started to breathe harshly, his gaze flicked to stare helplessly into the gloating eyes of the Wraith who was doing this to him. He knew that the experiments had begun, but he didn't know their purpose or what they would do to him. Sharp pointed teeth grinned down at him, watching his fear and pain.
"The pain will be intense, human… soon, your suffering will begin in earnest, it is best not to fight it… or it will make it worse for you…"
Terror stricken, he watched as the alien spiked device, approximately half the size of a small marble, began to spin, faster and faster. Before he was prepared for it, it suddenly aimed downwards and began to burrow itself deep into his chest. Agony roared to life, racing with lightning speed through the cavity of his chest, spreading like wildfire straight towards his brain. Pain, explosive waves of pain as he had never experienced before flooded his system.
His senses were overloaded, he could do nothing else but scream in agony before unconsciousness came to claim him.
Regaining consciousness for the fourth time wasn't easy. Pain washed through him in a nauseating wave, encompassing his entire body like a living, breathing, alien entity. He could not stop a weak groan from escaping his lips as his mouth reflexively opened and he gagged, throwing up some dark liquid on the ground beside him. At his action, agony instantly flared deep within him, making him gasp aloud and squeeze his eyes tightly shut as he tried to ease his pain by breathing through his mouth. With a hammering heart, feeling as if it was going to explode, he waited, remaining motionless until the pain subsided to a more bearable level. It was only when he could breathe a little more easily again that he tried to recall what had happened to him. And it was then, that he came to realise, that he had no memory of where he was or how he came to be in the situation that he was in.
He found himself lying on his side on a cold, dank floor that smelt worn, musty and mouldy. He was curled up like a ball, his hands wrapped loosely around his legs. He had been in enemy hands before to instantly recognise that he was in a cell; the only positive note about it was that he wasn't in chains. He was shirtless and he shivered from the dampness on his skin. Everything hurt: his ribs, his right thigh, his forearm, his wrists, his ankles, his face, his back and especially his chest - a burning, throbbing pain that refused to leave him alone. Even his insides hurt, like he was burning up alive; like there was something in his blood that shouldn't be there. His skin felt unnaturally hot and clammy, and he knew that he was suffering from some type of fever. His hands trembled and he felt both hot and cold at the same time; the sensation seemed to alternate as if his body could not decide what it was feeling.
He heard the sound of harsh breathing and it took him a moment to realise that it was his own. He felt weak, sick and dizzy. So he remained where he was, not moving, not wanting to stir a muscle for fear of igniting the pain and making it worse. Somehow an echo of some indescribable agony lingered in his memory. The shivers were gone now and perspiration began to break out from his body again. He wondered what was wrong with him.
"Wow, they really did a number on you, Sir. Looks like they messed you up pretty badly, Major, more so than they did me," A familiar voice spoke.
Sheppard cracked open his eyes; the feeling of wrongness pervaded. Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong but he didn't know what yet. He tried to recall where he had heard that familiar voice before.
"Ford?" he finally uttered, remembering the young Lieutenant who had once been under his command. He looked up and saw Lt Aiden Ford looking casually down at him. The young man looked normal, like his old self, before he was partially fed upon by a Wraith and became addicted to an alien enzyme. That memory stirred something deep within him. Sheppard started to shiver again and he sensed another memory pressing at the tip of his mind, involving another Wraith and another feeding, but this time his mind shied away from it.
"Yeah, that's me, Major. Your good ol' weapons expert. Never leave your people behind, remember?" the young Lieutenant said flippantly.
As Ford spoke, his features suddenly changed, his visage became darker; the left side of his face morphed to be more insect-like to what he was after the Wraith feeding.
"Well, what about me? You left me behind, Sir. You left me in the Hive ship. You never came back for me, Major. You abandoned me. Where is your team now? I ask you, Sir. I say that they abandoned you, just as you abandoned me."
Sheppard's brows furrowed. "No," he refuted softly. "I tried to get you to come back with us to Atlantis, Ford, but you … you fought me every step of the way. Every time we met, you fought me… You didn't want to return with us, I came for you Ford, but you refused to follow me back. My team will come; we never leave our people behind…"
Ford looked down at him, shaking his head with disgust. His voice was cold. "You left me behind, Major. You forgot about me …"
As Sheppard watched the young man, his image suddenly wavered, changing into Dr Peter Grodin, the English scientist who had been killed by the Wraith at the Ancient satellite. Grodin now looked at him with unspoken grief in his dark eyes.
"Ah, Sheppard, is that you?"
"Peter?" Sheppard said, feeling confused; Peter Grodin was dead, this much he knew. Yet the voice seemed familiar but wrong somehow.
"Ah, do you not know me? What have they done to you?"
Sheppard frowned, of course he knew Grodin; what the man said didn't make sense. But before he could question the scientist further, Grodin's form faded away like a wind blown mirage in a desert sandstorm. John found himself alone once more in the dark cold cell. He stared at the empty wall, wondering what had just happened, wondering whether he was losing his mind. With a soft sigh, he closed his eyes. He was tired. If he was hallucinating Ford and Grodin, things couldn't be good. His hands now moved, slowly, painfully towards the source of his greatest hurt, to the centre of his chest. He was surprised to discover seven deep puncture wounds, with the one in the middle looking the worst. All seven wounds were still weeping blood and puss slightly. His frown deepened as he tried to recall what had happened. The image of a metal spider suddenly flashed into his mind and he shuddered, slamming shut the memory as if his mind could not handle it. Something bad had happened; that much he knew. He wasn't sure that he wanted to remember. Perhaps it was best that he didn't.
However, the question remained: where was he and why he was here? Where was his team? He worried about them and hoped that they were okay. His forearm and thigh also throbbed painfully as did his wrists. He looked at them; saw the stab wounds and marks of shackles on his bloodied wrists. From the damage on his wrists, he knew that he must have struggled violently against his restraints for they had torn the skin making ugly, bleeding wounds. Carson would be annoyed with him for doing that. What the heck had happened to him?
Slowly, forcing himself to breathe evenly, he carefully uncurled himself. He flinched and gritted his teeth at the hurt his body felt just by that slight movement alone. His limps still trembled intermittently as if he had the shakes. Feeling confused and disoriented, the thought came back to haunt him, 'Something is wrong, John, something is very wrong.'
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of soft chattering and the flapping of wings. Turning his head, he caught sight of a small, dark form whipping across the cell, carrying something shiny in its mouth. From the brief glimpse that he caught of it, he thought it might be some sort of bat, but it was unlike any normal bat that he had seen before. Its body was too long and did he also spy a cat-like tail? The creature flew across the floor and then headed upwards into one of the numerous small holes in the ceiling above. He wondered if there was any way out from there. When he was feeling a little better, he intended to do a closer examination of his cell. However, right now he was feeling too sore to breathe properly much less move.
Attempting to make himself a little more comfortable, he rolled over and gingerly laid his back on the cold floor while at the same time straightening his legs. Everything ached; everything throbbed painfully in synch with his still rapidly pounding heart. He wished that he could remember where he was. What had happened to bring him to such a predicament? But so far his memory remained evasive. Thank God he still knew who he was, at least that was something. The last memory he had was going to PX-3759 to check out a strong power source that the sensors had picked up. He seemed to recall something about blowing up a Wraith research facility and ordering his team to retreat back to the Stargate, but after that, everything else was a blank.
He sighed. Turning his head to the right, he noticed that a dirty plate had been placed on the floor beside him. On it was a tiny piece of hard mouldy bread with weird lumps on it. He could only guess that it was bread; it could have been anything for all he knew. Because it was on a plate, he figured that it was food or at least something edible. However, the sight of it made him nauseous again and he quickly turned his head away. The strange chemical smell of his earlier discharge on the floor next to him wasn't helping either. However, he knew that he couldn't afford to vomit; his ribs and chest hurt too much at the moment. From the list of injuries that he had, he knew that he could tally cracked ribs as one of them.
His gaze now roamed to study his current environment. For the first time, he noticed that there was no light source in the cell, yet for some odd reason, his eyesight seemed to be able to see quite well in the dark. He wondered about it; his eyes roaming to all corners of the room. He was in a small dark cell with three brick walls; a window with bars across it on two opposite sides of the wall, and bars at the front of his cell. It reminded him of his time in Kolya's cell and he shuddered at the memory. His hand subconsciously went back to the wounds on his chest. He realised that the pain he felt in his chest had an odd familiarity to it. It reminded him of how he felt after he had been fed upon by Kolya's Nameless Wraith. However, this time, he felt ten times worse. The thought worried him.
He extended his hands before his face and looked at them - they did not seem any older. He moved his hands to feel his face - it too did not feel any older; his skin still felt firm with no obvious wrinkles. If he had been fed upon, he figured that the Wraith didn't take many years from him. But as he didn't have any mirror with him, he couldn't tell without examining his face closer. He could only determine by the way he felt, and currently he felt like crap, which by itself wasn't a very good sign.
With a sigh, he closed his eyes; he needed to rest for a while. Perhaps, after some rest, he might feel better. He hoped that it might be the case; however, deep within him, he felt an unexplained burning sensation that radiated from his very being. He felt as if there was something happening inside him; that something was terribly wrong. He had an uncanny feeling that whatever it was, it was only the beginning of his troubles.
Weir hurried down the lighted steps as the Stargate erupted to life. She didn't have to wait long as familiar figures appeared through the gate, striding animatedly forward. She knew that it wasn't good news by the fact that Beckett and McKay were currently in the middle of a heated argument. Ronon's head was down in frustration and Teyla tagged a few paces behind with a small frown on her normally calm features.
"It's not my fault that the damn thing didn't work!" argued McKay.
"Then whose bloody fault was it?" demanded Beckett. "We wasted several hours out there for nothing!"
"Oh yeah? And who butchered the transmitter when it was removed in the first place, huh?" retorted Rodney.
"It was a very delicate operation. Nobody told me that we would be needing it in good working condition when I was removing it from Ronon's back!" Carson shouted back.
"It's no one's fault, Carson, Rodney," Teyla finally tried to intervene calmly.
"But that still doesn't help Sheppard," Ronon growled. Without another word, the Satedan strode away with a fierce look in his eyes. Everyone in the Gate room quickly stepped aside as he left for his post-mission check-up.
Teyla sighed and shook her head, her dark eyes capturing Weir's gaze.
Elizabeth pursed her lips and crossed her arms together. She knew that the mission was a failure. The tension between her people was palpable. It wasn't that long ago when Sheppard had been a prisoner of Kolya and everyone knew what had happened to the colonel then. The memory of witnessing Sheppard being fed upon by the Wraith from the video broadcast that Kolya had transmitted was still fresh in everyone's minds. Although no one spoke of it, all knew that there was a strong possibility that Sheppard might suffer the same fate.
Major Lorne approached Weir, his face grim. "I'm afraid no Wraith showed up, ma'am."
"Somehow, I already figured that out, Major," Weir stated solemnly. "What happened?"
"The transmitter didn't work," replied Lorne.
"That's because Rodney didn't do his job properly!" This statement came from Carson Beckett. Elizabeth was surprised to hear the bitterness and blame in the doctor's voice. It was out of character for the Scottish doctor to act the way he did. Usually Rodney was the one who insulted his work colleagues, not Beckett, who was much gentler in nature.
At Carson's words, Rodney spluttered furiously. "Hey! You didn't give me much to work with! When you first removed the Wraith transmitter from Ronon's back, you practically butchered the device. It had already been intensively damaged; I had already told you this when you showed it to me. It's a miracle that I got it working in the first place!"
"Well, it's obviously not working properly, if it doesn't do what it's meant to do, Rodney!" Carson retorted back. "Bloody hell, we don't know what those Wraith buggers are doing to Colonel Sheppard at this very moment!"
There was a slight shrill of panic in the Scottish doctor's voice. Elizabeth suddenly realised what was making Beckett so agitated. For a brief time, he had been in a prisoner of the Wraith, Michael, and it hadn't been a pleasant experience for the Scottish doctor. Somehow that experience must be fuelling his concern for Sheppard's safety, not to mention the fact that they had all witnessed Sheppard's feeding at the hands of Kolya's Wraith not so long ago. She knew how Carson felt; they were all worried about Sheppard. It was almost twenty four hours since he went missing. Carson was not the only one worried and upset; she could sense the worried tension in McKay as well. In fact, everyone was terribly worried over Sheppard's well being – and the worst part was not knowing whether John was still alive or dead.
"Okay, calm down, gentlemen," she finally interceded, trying to ease the worried knot she felt in her own stomach. "So, I take it that the transmitter didn't work?"
Rodney shook his head. "No, no, it's not the transmitter, like I said, I fixed it."
Weir frowned. "Then what's the problem?"
"It's getting the right frequency. While I fixed the transmitter, the frequency needs to be adjusted properly. When Carson removed it from Ronon's back a few months ago, he wiped out the frequency setting. Unfortunately for us, trying to determine the correct frequency is the tricky part. There are literally hundreds of combinations to choose from. It'll be more of a case of trial and error in order to get the correct frequency!"
"I see," Elizabeth said, not liking the sound of this. "Well then gentlemen, I suggest that we try again until we get it right. Colonel Sheppard is counting on us. Beckett, you have two of these devices don't you?"
"Aye," the doctor replied.
Weir nodded. "Okay, so we sent out two teams. Rodney, get Dr Zelenka on another team. We start testing out different frequencies. Sooner or later, we'll hit the right one, and I'm counting on sooner, people, rather than later."
The feeling of soft fur rubbing against his face jolted him awake. Opening his eyes, he saw a small furry creature standing close beside him, trying to pull off one his dog tags while nibbling at it in the process. The chain however stopped the little thief from getting away with its prize. As soon as the bat-like creature saw that he was awake, it dropped the dog tag and looked at Sheppard warily. Large beady gleaming eyes blinked at him cautiously. He wondered whether the creature thought his dog tags was some kind of food or whether it was only attracted to shinning metal of the aluminium. Perhaps both, he wasn't sure.
Staying still and lying where he was, he could now study his little companion more closely. He realised that it had a face of a chipmonk's not a bat's. It also had a longish body very similar to a ferret's, four little feet and a cat-like tail. Its fur appeared dark brown but it was difficult to tell in the dark cell; Sheppard wondered whether its coat was coarse or soft to the touch. The folded wings at its side attracted Sheppard's attention. Up close, he realised that it looked more like elegant eagle wings rather than bat wings. The creature fascinated him; he had never seen anything like it before. Ever since he was a kid, he had always been fascinated by any living creature that could fly: finding one in the Pegasus galaxy was no exception.
"Hey there little guy…" Sheppard said softly as he greeted the strange creature. The raw hoarseness of his voice unsettled him. It sounded weak, fragile, so unlike his normal voice. It also startled the little creature, making it squeak loudly. Expanding its wings, it flew a short distance to land a few paces away from him. He came to realise that the back of his throat felt raw – like he had been screaming his lungs out. In all likelihood, perhaps he had.
A disturbing memory stirred within him: of being in chains, in terrible pain, burning in agony as something dreadful was being done to him. His heart rate instantly started to pound painfully in his chest. He gave a soft groan, his hand covering protectively over his sore chest. A second later the memory receded, as if it was part of a forgotten nightmare. Breathing and perspiring heavily now, it was his turn to blink as he wondered where that flashback had come from. Not liking to contemplate its source, he turned his attention back to the alien creature that was still eyeing him warily.
"Sorry about that little fella, I didn't mean to startle you. Here, if you're after food, have this…" he forced his aching body to move and tore a small piece of mouldy bread left on the plate nearby with his fingers. There wasn't much of it and he realised that his little friend must have eaten some of it when he was still asleep. He wondered whether it had been eating it halfway when it became distracted by the dog tags hanging round his neck. However, as he wasn't hungry anyway, he extended his hand and offered the piece to his furry cell mate.
The winged creature gazed up at him. Sheppard saw its little nose twitching eagerly at the smell of the offered treat.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Sheppard said encouragingly. "It's yours if you want it."
It took the little creature a few minutes to decide whether it was going to trust the hand that was attempting to feed it. It gave Sheppard a few more blinks, released another soft chirping sound before fluttering its wings, flying cautiously forward, to land closer to the hand that held out the titbit. Curious gleaming eyes of gold blinked at him, scrutinising him further. Then as if making up its mind, it took a quick dash forward, opened its mouth, while standing on its hind legs and snatched the little morsel from Sheppard's fingers with its front paws and sharp teeth. As soon as it got the crumb, it scurried back a few paces away and began crewing hungrily on its food.
"You must be a hungry little fella. Don't suppose you find much food around here, huh?" Sheppard observed. "Well, seeing that you're my dinner guest, I suppose you need a name. Let's see, what shall I call you?" He eyed the little creature that was munching its meal before him. "Hmm… How about Snacks? Seeing that you like eating so much?"
Snacks looked up at him, nibbling away at the piece of alien bread while constantly darting cautious looks at him. Content to see that Sheppard wasn't about to do anything threatening, it went back to its meal and quickly consumed it in a few hungry bites. Getting a bit braver now, Snacks twitched its little nose and used its front paws to clean its whiskers and face, reminding John of how a cat liked to clean itself after a meal. When it was done, it looked at Sheppard, then at the plate near him. With a flutter of wings, it suddenly flew and landed close to Sheppard, towards the remaining piece of mouldy bread that lay on the plate. With a quick turn of its head, it grabbed it and flew off, landing a little further ahead, to eat it safely.
Unthinking, Sheppard laughed at Snack's audacity. "Hey! What if I wanted that?"
However, as soon he said those words, his breath suddenly hitched and he bit back a painful groan, squeezing his eyes tightly shut as the act of laughing caused sharp pain to spike deep within him. When the pain finally subsided again, he opened his eyes to see Snacks darting a little closer towards him, looking up at him as if in concern. It gave him a little chirp when it saw him looking at it.
He gave his new friend a wry smile. "I'm okay," he said, wondering why he was speaking to a strange alien winged creature as if it understood him. "Perhaps, Greedy might be a more appropriate name for you, Snacks," he finally whispered, still slightly breathless from his sudden attack. "But I think I shall still call you Snacks nonetheless…"
Snacks nodded, gave him a cheerful squeak now as if it approved of the name. Sheppard saw that part of its long catlike tail also seemed to wag almost as if to say: 'Thank you'.
Sheppard smiled. "You're welcome, Snacks."
When Snacks finished its meal, it scurried off to one of the side walls where there was a small hole and disappeared inside it. Finding himself alone in the cell again, Sheppard discovered that he missed Snacks' presence and his thoughts turned back towards his team, worrying about them. He didn't know whether his team had been captured or whether they were out somewhere, looking for him. He preferred to think of the latter, for his memory stopped when he had ordered his team back to the Stargate.
"They must be okay," he whispered softly to himself. "My team will come for me; we don't leave our people behind…" He stated the last sentence a little louder, with more belief in his voice.
In the quietness of his cell, he suddenly heard a low guttural chuckle sound from the adjoining cell.
"Ah, Sheppard, I see that you still believe that your people will come for you…"
He froze, startled, instantly recognising the voice. It sounded familiar, way too familiar. It was a voice that invaded his dreams after he had been captured by Kolya. Sheppard lifted his head, forcing himself to sit up, grunting in pain at the effort as he held on tightly to his chest and ribs. Soon he had his back leaning against the wall. There was an eerie sense of déjà vu and he had the prickling sensation of goose bumps on his skin.
"You know, we really must stop meeting like this," he finally stated wearily.
A familiar chuckle echoed from the other side of the adjoining cell.
"Ah, Sheppard, I see you recognised my voice this time," the nameless Wraith said.
Sheppard frowned. "You spoke to me before?"
"Yes, but you were not well. You called me Peter..."
"Oh," Sheppard said, disturbed by this piece of news. "I … er … kinda saw someone else. Think I spaced out a little."
There was a moment's pause from the other side of the cell before the Wraith finally spoke again. "What did they do to you, Sheppard?"
Sheppard frowned, trying to think back and reaching a blank wall. There was a darkness there that his mind didn't want to recollect.
"I don't remember," he finally admitted. "Whatever it was, I don't think it was anything good."
Another low chuckle rumbled from the adjoining cell. "That much is obvious, Sheppard. They will come back for you…"
"My team? Yeah, sure they will." Sheppard replied, misunderstanding the Wraith.
"No, I do not speak of your people but of the Wraith that holds you prisoner here."
That didn't sound good, but at least now he knew for certain that he was captured by the Wraith. He had suspected before but wasn't a hundred percent certain. His hand went once again to the wounds on his chest. He felt weak, dizzy and suddenly cold; he shivered. He wished that he could have his shirt back again. He sensed movement on the other side of the cell, and through the darkness, he saw a familiar head looking through the cell window eyeing him closely. It made him shudder, recalling the memory of his time in Kolya's cell. He also recalled their last words spoken to each other on that Wraith planet where he had left it: Next time we meet all bets of off.
"So, if they're Wraith, why are you here? Aren't these your people?" he finally asked, grimacing as he leaned his head back against the wall. Curiosity now stirred within him.
The Wraith moved; he could now hear it pacing. "They are Wraith, but they are not my brethren. Like I said before Sheppard, there is much that you do not know about Wraith. The ones that hold us prisoners belong to another fraction from my fellow Wraith. You could say that I do not approve of what they do."
It was Sheppard's time to give a dry chuckle. "Somehow, I already figured that out, given that you are stuck on the other side of this cell. So, why are you here?"
"I was send here and I was caught," came the vague response.
"Care to elaborate?" Sheppard asked, closing his eyes for a moment and wishing that he didn't feel like crap.
"Perhaps later," the Wraith replied.
"Okay, so where are we?" Sheppard asked, opening his eyes and looking around again. "Somehow this place doesn't really scream 'Wraith' at me."
The Wraith suddenly moved away from the cell window; there were further sounds as if it now sat down on the far corner of the cell.
"They come," it said ominously before going silent.
Sheppard tensed, instinctively knowing that the Wraith didn't want the others to know that they had spoken or even knew each other. He turned to face the cell door. A Wraith approached the door holding a young woman by his side. He looked at Sheppard, noting with pleasure that the prisoner was now awake. Without preamble, he opened the cell door and shoved the woman roughly inside.
The woman gasped as she fell to the ground. Sheppard was instantly on his feet as he stumbled to help the woman up. The Wraith gave them both a low rumbled laugh, flicked on a light switch that flooded the cell with blinding brightness, before slamming the door, locking it and walking away.
The woman clutched tightly to Sheppard's upper right arm, making him wince painfully. Her frightened grip felt strong enough to cut off the oxygen supply from his arm.
"Hey, it's okay, you can let go now," he assured her.
The woman looked up, dark eyes wide as she nodded, breathing harsh and fast as she slowly eased the death grip that she had on him. He tried to give her a smile but wasn't sure how successful he was. However, she seemed to respond to it as she returned a tentative smile of her own.
"I'm Katrall," his new cell mate introduced herself. She appeared young, in her early twenties perhaps.
"Hi," Sheppard replied, wondering why the Wraith had placed her in his cell. "Are you okay?"
She nodded, but she did not move away from him. A little uncomfortable at their close proximity, he slowly eased himself away from her to lean back against the wall. He was well aware of the nameless Wraith next door listening in on their conversation. He was also aware that he was shirtless and cold. To his discomfort, the young woman slid closer towards him as if seeking the reassurance of his presence. He wondered whether she knew the concept of personal space.
"So, do you know where we are?" he finally asked. Perhaps this girl would be able to give him information about their whereabouts.
Katrall eyed him with wide eyes. "On my people's planet. The Wraith came, they killed my people, took us prisoners. But I have not seen you before… You are not from around here?"
Sheppard gave a nod. "No, you could say I'm new."
"Where are you from?" she asked, dark eyes suddenly curious.
Sheppard looked up at her. This was beginning to feel all too familiar and a small disturbed frown began to form between his brows. From the corner of his eye, Sheppard spotted Snacks poking its little head out to look at them curiously. Obviously their voices must have drawn the winged creature out from its hidey hole. He could see its nose twitching as if wondering whether there was more food at hand.
"Uh, do you mind if we continue this some other time? I'm not feeling too good at the moment."
For the first time Katrall seemed to notice his wounds.
"Oh! You're injured!" she gasped in horror. Her eyes widened and she moved to stroke the wounds on his chest. Sheppard drew back, reaching out to halt her hands from touching him.
"No, I'm okay. Just… leave it alone," he gritted out.
Her hands sank back to her sides, her gaze curious and questioning now. "How did you get them?" she asked, noting towards his chest wounds.
Sheppard looked down at them and shook his head wryly. "Would you believe me if I said I don't remember?"
Katrall gave him an unreadable smile. "I will believe anything that you tell me," she replied cloyingly, gazing at him in a way that was totally inappropriate.
Sheppard decided to ignore that last look. Alarm bells were now jangling in his head.
"So, if we are on your people's planet, why do your people have prison cells? Is this a dungeon? Do you have many criminals that you need locking up?" Sheppard asked, trying to ignore the fact that Katrall had reached out a hand to fondle his left ear. McKay would be accusing him of being like Kirk if he could see the two of them now. But this time, fraternising was the furthest thing from his mind. However, thoughts of the scientist made him look at Katrall again as he pushed her hand away. He saw a flash of hurt and anger sweep through her dark eyes, before vanishing quickly.
Noticing that the girl didn't answer his latest questions, he pushed on with another one.
"Do you know of others like me also imprisoned here?" he asked. Perhaps she might be able to tell him where his team was.
"No," she replied. "As far as I know, you are the only one whom I've seen here." She looked disturbed now, eying their surroundings. "Do you think we'll be able to get out of here?"
"Yeah, I'm sure we will; just give me some time to come up with an escape plan. It'll be impressive too. Do you have anything on you? A knife, hairpin - any sort of sharp instrument?" he asked.
She shook her head. Her eyes once again roamed to the wounds on his chest, staring at them curiously. Dark pools of eyes gazed up at him. "Please let me treat your wounds, Kirk, before the Wraith returns."
Hazel green eyes shot up towards her. "What did you just call me?" His heart started to pick up pace. His suspicions about her were starting to pan out.
A puzzled frown crossed her brows. "Kirk? Isn't that your name?" she asked innocently.
"I didn't mention it," he answered warily, studying her and wondering whether she had any weapon hidden on her.
"I … I think I must have heard the Wraith mention your name when I was being brought to your cell," she finally added.
Sheppard frowned. So, the Wraith thought he was called Kirk. If Rodney heard that, he would probably have a field day and he would never hear the end of it. He was glad that he hadn't told her his name when they first met. A flash of memory suddenly struck him: of him being in chains, defying a Wraith… he seemed to recall calling it Daffy. He remembered the Wraith punching him in the gut; stabbing him in the thigh... but that was all; he could not recall anymore. He winced, looking now at his bloody pants where the stab wound was. So that was how he got it.
"James Kirk. Isn't that your name?" she asked him.
Sheppard smiled. "Yeah, but why it is I get the feeling that you are lying to me?"
Hazel green eyes did not waver from her gaze now. She looked uncomfortable under his scrutiny.
"I am not lying to you," she finally replied. "Please, Kirk, tell me where you're from... What's the name of your homeworld? If you don't, the Wraith said that they would kill my family!"
Her voice turned desperate, pleading even. Yet, somehow he didn't believe her. At that moment, another memory resurfaced. It was good timing. Capturing her gaze, he replied, "Disney world. It's called Disney world."
Her face changed from pleading to furious rage, and her lovely features turned ugly with hatred.
"You will tell me where you're from! You will give the Wraith what they want!" she shrieked out angrily at him. Suddenly she was slamming against him, biting and scratching his arms, hitting the wounds on his chest with her fists as she lost all control and began demanding answers from him.
Sparks of pain exploded from the unexpected assault; he was knocked back to the ground, and felt her thick boots kicking violently at his midriff. Bursts of pain expanded from his cracked ribs. Crying out, his arms moved, trying to protect his ribs from receiving further damage as black spots began to dance before his eyes. In any normal circumstance, he would have easily fought back, but now, weakened and in pain, he found it hard to defend himself from the vicious kicks. There was a blur of motion, a small animal's shriek and something flew in the air. Eagle like wings batted against the woman, claws extended and Katrall started to scream out as a small furry, winged creature began to attack her with its sharp claws and teeth.
While she was distracted, trying to knock down Snacks with her fists, Sheppard managed to stagger to his feet. Despite the waves of pain that now plummeted at him, threatening to bring him down, he swung out and punched her hard in the face before she could hurt his new little winged friend. As her limp body fell to the floor, he heard the sound of his cell door opening and someone rushing in. Before he could turn around to defend himself, he felt something hard hit him at the side of his head. Like a rock, he dropped to the ground; his last sight was of Snacks flying away to hide in one of many the holes on the ceiling above. He expelled a breath and succumbed to the darkness that called his name.
There were voices speaking around him. At first they were muffled and he could ignore them, but the closer he arrived back to the world of the living, the clearer the voices became.
"…The human bleeds, if you do not allow me to treat him, he will die."
He recognised that voice. It was a voice that haunted his nightmares; a voice that was both friend and foe.
"Then he will die! This is no concern of yours!"
The second male voice he did not recognise. He wondered whether it belonged to the person who had struck him from behind.
"Ah, but would your masters be pleased with that?" the familiar voice spoke from the adjoining cell. "They want him for their experiments, do they not? That means that they want him alive."
"He hit me!" An outraged female voice replied. "I say we let him die!"
He felt her kick him viciously, making him moan and curl up to protect his already injured midriff.
"That is not for you to decide, human, but that of your masters." The tone of the nameless Wraith was mildly chiding. "Perhaps, you should ask them about it."
Amidst his pain, it amused Sheppard to think that even though the Wraith was a prisoner, it still reprimanded its jailers. The Wraith had more fighting spirit now than when it was a prisoner in Kolya's cell.
"We do not disturb our masters over matters as trivial as this," replied a man's voice coldly.
"If not then allow me to treat him. After all, do you not worship my kind?"
Sheppard did not hear the response to the Wraith's suggestion for at that moment someone (he suspected the woman Katrall) gave him another kick that sent him spiralling into darkness.
He felt rough hands on his chest, lifting his torso as something soft was wrapped round his chest. He cringed, releasing a soft moan, wanting nothing else but to move away from the pain his body was experiencing. Suddenly he felt nauseous, his breath hitching; he gagged as something warm and horrible bubbled up his throat. Rough hands quickly turned him to the side, allowing him to discharge the contents from his body. Opening his eyes, he was alarmed to note that the colour of his vomit was unlike anything he had seen before. Its hue was dark green, almost black, and it smelt really bad too. After he had finished, he felt slightly better. The rough hands laid him down on his back again, allowing him to rest for a while.
When he was ready to face the world again, Sheppard looked up to see the familiar greenish face of the nameless Wraith bending over, examining him closely. It was studying him in a manner that spoke of concern. However, the sight of the Wraith crouching so close set his heart racing and nervous perspiration broke out from his skin. After all, he still did not know whether it was friend or foe. A furrow formed at the top of his forehead.
"Lay still and do not speak, Sheppard. Now that you have discharged more of the xyethar, you should feel better in a little while." The voice that spoke to him was soft and low as if not wanting the others to hear its words.
Sheppard had only enough strength to give the Wraith a nod of acknowledgement. Amidst his discomfort and the pounding beat of his heart, he was finding it difficult to form any coherent thought. The side of his head hurt and he remembered being hit there earlier. He wondered whether there was a bump on his head the size of an egg for it certainly felt like it. That would explain the vicious headache that he currently had.
"I managed to convince the others to allow me to treat your wounds in private. However, if we converse too loudly, they will hear us. I can only bandage your wounds nothing more."
"I thought we decided that all bets were off?" Sheppard was surprised by the sound of his voice; he sounded weak and croaky.
The Wraith gave him a low chuckle. "So we did. Do you still wish it to be so, Sheppard?"
Sheppard thought about it and gave the Wraith a wane smile. He finally shook his head and instantly regretted the action when his vision dimmed and his surroundings started to spin alarmingly. It took a few long moments before the world settled back down again.
"So why are you doing this?" He was puzzled. After their last encounter, they didn't owe each other any favours. All bets were off. Yet, despite everything that had happened, he was glad that the Wraith was here with him. In some inexplicable way, he was beginning to trust this particular Wraith. Even if it wasn't necessary a friend, perhaps they were allies, an uncommon ally of sorts - one that resulted from a unique set of circumstances found only in the Pegasus Galaxy. After all, he was unlikely to forget a Wraith that had first taken and then given back his life.
"My reasons," the Wraith replied vaguely, "are my own."
As the Wraith finished bandaging his chest, it paused to study Sheppard intensely for a silent moment. Sheppard felt the first stirrings of alarm when he detected an alien presence touch the edge of his mind; it reminded him uneasily of his encounter with the Wraith queen aboard the Hive ship. Before he could react, the presence swiftly retreated and faded away. However, to Sheppard's growing apprehension, the Wraith suddenly placed its feeding hand at the centre of his chest now covered with bandages. All thoughts of trusting this Wraith flew out the window as Sheppard's eyes widened in panic. Cold dread rushed into his gut, sending shudders through him as he tried to pull back and escape from the hand that trapped him. An overpowering fear gripped him as memories of being fed upon by this particular Wraith invaded his mind.
The Wraith seemed to sense his terror and it soon lifted its feeding hand away from his chest, giving him a somewhat apologetic smile.
"You have been fed upon," it concluded, "They will want to know who gave you the Gift of Life. You must not tell them."
Sheppard felt his heart skip a beat and an icy coldness swept through him at the revelation. Somehow he had suspected it from the moment he had woken up in the cell. He wondered how many years of his life the Wraith had consumed. He didn't feel that old and from the look of his hands, he suspected not much. Still, the thought of being fed on again was horrifying. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut wanting to reject what he had just heard, his mind screaming in futile denial. No! No! No! No! His mental cries intermixed with the painful pounding of his racing heart.
He did not know how long he was in that rigid, tensed state, but he eventually calmed down enough to accept what had happened. Ice cold dread was now replaced by the fires of red hot anger. He could not change the past but he could make the most of the present. Escape from his current predicament was now in the forefront of his mind. He vowed that he would not be fed upon again. Breathing heavily, he opened his eyes to look down at the dirty bandages wrapped round his chest. He recalled what he had seen under it. He also knew that the puncture holes he had seen on his chest were more than just the result of a Wraith feeding.
"What else?" he finally whispered. He had to know and he knew that the Wraith would be able to tell him. Although his voice was weak, his gaze was strong; it never wavered from the Wraith's face.
The Wraith eyed him for long moment, reading the flames of anger and determination written on his rigid form. It gave him a nod of approval as its hands moved to treat the wound at the side of his head, placing some yellow powdered paste at the site of broken skin. Sheppard winced. The Wraith's ministrations were efficient but not gentle. However whatever it was that the Wraith was using seemed to stop the bleeding.
"They have started the experiments on you." The answer was abrupt.
Sheppard's gaze leaped up towards the Wraith's face. At hearing those words, the image of a large metal spider creature suddenly flashed through his mind. Sheppard jerked forward and felt the Wraith's firm hand on his shoulder, grounding him, easing the terror and uncontrollable shudders that wracked his body. He suddenly felt nauseous and the Wraith helped him to his side once again to heave convulsively but nothing much came out the second time. When he finished, he looked up and saw Snacks peeking out from one of the numerous ceiling holes above. Its beady eyes stared at him curiously. Despite everything that had happened, a small smile crept at the corner of his lips. He was glad that Snacks hadn't been harmed by Katrall. The Wraith might be an uncertain ally, but Snacks, he felt he could trust, even if it was a little thief that liked to steal his food.
The Wraith moved and helped him sit up now. Sheppard's gaze flicked from Snacks back to the Wraith. The Wraith was looking at him with an undetermined gaze. Sometimes, this one was hard to read.
"Remember Sheppard," it warned, "whatever happens to you, do not reveal who gave you the Gift of Life."
"Why?" he had to ask. He wasn't intending to reveal anything to anyone, but he wondered why it was so important to the Wraith. This Wraith after all did not strike him as a coward.
The Wraith chuckled softly. "You humans are forever questioning things that you do not understand," it observed. "Let's just say that it would be for the best for both of us."
Sheppard pursed his lips together. "Okay, you have my word."
The Wraith gazed at him in silence once more. Then it nodded and the feral lips curved upwards in a smile.
"I believe that your word, Sheppard, is good enough."
To be continued