Disclaimer: I don't own Stargate Atlantis or any of its characters, I just borrow them from time to time for fun.
Warning: This one is dark and creepy.
Incubator – Part One
John Sheppard slid his sunglasses on as he stepped out into the bright afternoon sun. Hearing Rodney mutter about paranoid Ancient scientists behind him, he smiled. They were investigating the ruins of what appeared to be an Ancient outpost and lab, but it was very old and in very bad condition. Every bit of information gleaned so far had been pulled kicking and screaming from the crumbling database.
"Colonel Sheppard!" Three men from the local town were coming down the path. Teran, a man in his mid-thirties with long brown hair and beard to match, led the group. He was smiling and waving. The two men following him were younger, best friends in their early twenties. Sren had shoulder length blonde hair with blue eyes and baby face. Harndt had dark hair cropped short, with a constant five o'clock shadow and a crooked nose. Both men were about Sheppard's height and build, lean and wiry.
John gave a short wave as he stepped out of the doorway and into the full sunlight. He gave a nod to Teyla and Ronon, standing on either side of the entrance as he went forward to meet the men. The two members of his team came up behind him as he and the men from town came face to face.
Teran smiled at them in greeting. "Colonel, Teyla, Ronon. We have come to share some news with you. Two boys returned from their hunting trip to tell of some strange beings near the edge of the Calahoun Meadow. We are going to investigate and since it is not far from here, we thought you might like to come."
John quirked one corner of his mouth up and looked at the sun's placement in the sky. "How far is not far, because we told our people we'd be back in a few hours?"
"Shouldn't take more than two clicks of the sun from here," said Harndt.
John looked at Teyla, who smiled at him. "About thirty minutes."
John nodded, flashing a lopsided grin at Teyla for the translation. "Okay, things are pretty quiet here."
"Perhaps I should come as well," offered Teyla.
John looked back at the temple and then at Teyla. He didn't expect any trouble. They had negotiated a trade agreement with the Baradians three days ago and during the celebration that followed, they had told the Lanteans about the ruins. The team had come back the last two days to examine the place with the blessing of the town. Teran had told him that their scientists hadn't been able to learn anything from it, leaving the Lanteans to use or take whatever they wanted. Rodney had managed to get part of the place to run in spurts, during which he worked frantically to extract whatever information he could. That left John, Ronon, and Teyla to stand watch and try not to be bored out of their minds. John welcomed the distraction.
"Okay, I doubt Rodney needs all of us here to stand guard. I'll let him know where we're going and that Ronon will still be here."
Ronon frowned at John. "Why should I have to stay here?"
John gave him an easy smile. "Because she asked to go first. Sorry buddy, but I need someone here to keep Rodney out of trouble." John heard Ronon growl behind him as he sauntered over to the doorway and peered in. "Rodney, Teyla and I are going with Teran to check out some strangers. Ronon's out here if you need anything."
Rodney never looked up from his place on the floor as he worked on one of the consoles. "Yes, yes, checking out strangers, whatever. Just go away and quit bothering me. Why is this connected like this? I thought these people were supposed to be technologically advanced."
John chuckled as he joined the others outside. "Okay, let's go."
Teran laughed and smacked John on the shoulder. "I knew you would want to come with us. You are a curious sort, as I am." He began walking past the ruins, with John and Teyla walking beside him. Harndt and Sren continued to follow behind.
"So, what do you know about these strangers?" asked John.
"The boys claim there were four of them and that they were very tall and slender with white skin and white robes. We have never encountered such people before."
"Doesn't sound familiar." John glanced at Teyla. "Have you or your people ever seen anyone like that?"
Teyla shook her head. "No, I do not believe so. I do not recall hearing of anyone like them in our travels either."
"Let's just hope they aren't kin to the Wraith," said John wryly.
They talked and kidded with a friendly banter for the next half hour. John liked these people. Their technology level was similar to early thirties or forties on Earth, except for transportation. They still relied on horse-like animals and walking to get places, but they never had very far to go, so that worked for them. They were open and friendly, reminding him of the Athosians in many ways.
"We are here, Colonel Sheppard. The meadow is just ahead," said Sren, pointing to where the trees opened in front of them. They cautiously and quietly walked up to the edge of the trees and stood, gazing across the tall grass.
"Look, there," whispered Teyla, pointing almost directly across the field. Four tall figures stood wearing white robes.
John looked at Teran. "Anyone you know?"
"No," Teran whispered back. "What should we do?"
John studied them. He couldn't tell what sex they were, they all looked alike. They were easily Ronon's height, with hoods that covered their heads and part of their face. He could see that their skin was milky white, their eyes large and dark, but they appeared humanoid. "They don't seem to be armed. I guess we see what they want." He led the way into the field, his arms raised. "Hi, we mean you no harm." He could hear the others coming along behind him. The robed figures made no move to come their way, just standing near the edge of the trees.
The group walked slowly across the field until they were in the middle. John paused, staring at the strange figures in front of them. "My name is Lt. Colonel John Sheppard. We just wanted to talk to you, see if we could help you or anything. Could you tell us who you are or where you're from?" The others had come up beside him so that they stood in a straight line, watching the strange white creatures.
One of the figures stepped out from the others a few feet and stopped. He reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out a metal disc. Holding it up as if showing it to the group in the meadow, he gave a short nod and twisted his wrist. The last thing John saw was a blue light burst forth from the disc.
Rodney cursed under his breath when he banged his head on the bottom edge of the console as he was trying to crawl out from underneath it. Glancing down at his watch, he sighed. He'd wasted three hours trying to get this piece of junk working. Just as he'd be about to bring information up, it would begin to flicker and then go out completely. All he had to show for his efforts were scraped hands and a crick in his neck. And a bump on his head, which he now rubbed.
Rodney got to his feet and stretched, taking a long look at the room. "I'm done here," he admitted out loud to himself. "Stupid Ancients," he muttered as he made his way stiffly to the doorway and squinted in the afternoon sun. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust where he could see anything besides painful glare. He finally made out Ronon standing in front of the ruins, looking down what could have been a poorly maintained path. Looking around, he noticed Sheppard and Teyla were not there.
"They not back yet?" he asked, trying to remember if Sheppard had mentioned how long they'd be gone.
"No, and they should have been. They aren't answering their radios either."
Crap, what had Sheppard gotten himself into this time. "What should we do? Can you track them?"
Ronon nodded. "Yeah, they left a pretty obvious trail. You wait here."
Rodney shook his head. "Oh, no, I'm coming with you. Colonel Calamity is probably in some kind of trouble and you might need me."
Ronon scowled at the scientist. "You know what he said he was doing to you the next time you called him that."
Rodney shrugged in feigned nonchalance. "Well, he's not here, is he?" Ronon gave him a tight grin that made him shudder. Tattletale. "Anyway, I'm going."
Ronon shook his head. "No. If they are hurt, we'll need to contact Atlantis for help. If you stay here, I can radio you and you'll be closer to the gate."
Rodney had to admit, the plan made sense. "How long have they been gone?"
"Over two hours and Teran said the meadow was only a thirty minute walk. Something is wrong."
Rodney felt cold fear tie his gut into a big, painful ball. "Maybe I should go ahead and start walking to the gate. I could be almost there by the time you reach the meadow so I could call for help that much faster."
Ronon nodded once. "Sheppard always says you're the genius."
Rodney perked up, his eyes going wide. "Really, he says that?"
Ronon held onto his stoic expression. "No."
"Oh." Rodney tried not to look disappointed. "We'd better go."
"Yeah. Be careful, McKay. Sheppard will kill me if I let anything happen to you." Ronon's mouth twitched into a small smile.
"You too, big guy. Find them."
"I will." Ronon turned and followed the makeshift path that led away from the ruins and the gate. Rodney hurried back into the ruins and gathered his stuff into his pack. He was afraid for his friends, but he felt good about what Ronon had said. He smiled. He knew Sheppard probably really had admitted he was a genius to Ronon and that he would be angry if anything ever did happen to him. Friendship had its annoying little problems, but all in all, he was glad he finally had a few friends. He grabbed his now full pack and headed for the gate.
Twenty minutes later, he could just see the gate rising up in the distance. Several people from the town were walking toward him and he was grateful for the opportunity to tell them what had happened without losing time by actually going into the town.
"McKay? You there?"
Rodney came to abrupt stop and tapped his radio. "I'm here. Did you find them?"
"Teyla is unconscious, but there is no sign of injury. I think she may have been stunned by something. Sheppard and the others are gone. They were here and the grass is beaten down as if they were all stunned here in the middle of the field. But the others are just . . . gone."
"Can you tell where they went? If they were dragged or if they walked?"
"There are no tracks leading away. They are just . . . gone."
Rodney's stomach dropped like a rock. "That means they had a ship and probably beaming technology. We have no way to follow them." He sighed, fighting the powerbar from earlier that was trying to make a reappearance. "I'm almost to the gate. I'll let Atlantis know and get a jumper and med team here for Teyla."
"You should let the people from town know."
Rodney watched the group of men and teenagers drawing near. "I will. There's a group here near the gate. Take care of Teyla."
"McKay, we'll find him."
Rodney kicked the dirt, sending it spraying out in front of him. "Yeah," he said noncommittally. And the Wraith are going to surrender this year because they are so afraid of us, he thought bitterly.
Consciousness came back slowly, little snippets at a time. John could hear sounds of movement and an occasional metal clinking, but it took several minutes before they began to register. Next he became aware of an antiseptic smell, and he relaxed. Infirmary. The relaxed feeling didn't last long, because he began to realize something was wrong. He wasn't lying on a soft bed, he was lying on a cold, metal surface and he was pretty sure he had no clothes on. He shivered, as much in fear as from the chill.
He was in restraints. His hands and ankles were bound to the table with no slack whatsoever. They weren't tight enough to be painful, but they eliminated all movement. As he struggled to open his eyes, his heart beginning to double time in his chest, he also realized there was a strap across his forehead, holding his head still, and another across his chest. If you could die from fear, he was well on his way.
He looked up to see two of the white creatures from the meadow standing on either side of him. They still wore white, but now they had on what appeared to lab coats. Since no hoods were involved this time, he cold see their elongated faces, with tiny mouths and two small slits where he would have expected a nose. Their eyes were large and dark, with no sign of a pupil and their foreheads were twice as long as he expected. They had no hair, just a lobed head with blue veins running close to the surface.
John flinched when one set of cold hands pressed his hips down firmly on the table and another set began to handle his groin. Fear rocketed through him, its level upped by the fact that he couldn't see who was handling him down there. "Please . . . don't," he pleaded.
One of the figures beside him put a hand with long fingers on his shoulder and stroked his cheek with the other hand, almost as if trying to comfort him. He sucked in a quick breath and held it at the discomfort of feeling a tube being inserted into his urethra. They were putting in a catheter. He didn't know whether to be relieved or more afraid. Why would they be doing that? When they finished and released him, he let out the breath, shivering violently. One of them covered him from the waist down with a sheet or something similar. Terrified didn't even begin to cover how he felt.
He shifted his eyes since he couldn't move his head, trying to see more of the room. It looked like a cross between a medical facility and a lab and that scared the crap out of him. He discovered a large bag of fluid hanging from a pole, connected to his right arm by a tube. But he got the feeling it was a little more involved than a simple IV. The tube disappeared into an area covered by bandages on his forearm and he was now aware of a stinging sensation just about where it seemed to enter. The bag and tube were both larger than anything he'd seen in the infirmary. A similar sensation in his other arm caused him to shift his eyes to the other side to see a mirror image of the set up. They were pumping large amounts of something into him. His heart was beating so hard now that he was dizzy and felt like he could barely breathe. At least the times he'd been tortured, he'd known what to expect and why there were doing things to him. This was different.
Three of the creatures drew into a huddle, looking at one another, but not speaking. One of them pointed to a screen turned away from him and then they all looked his direction. He became aware of pads on his chest and wondered if it was some kind of heart monitor. Maybe they had noticed he was on the verge of giving himself a heart attack. At this point, he thought maybe he would welcome it, because he was pretty sure he wouldn't enjoy whatever they had planned for him. He'd also noticed a tray of instruments next to the table he was tied to and he figured they were for him.
The group broke up and one of them began to stroke his face gently before placing its fingers on his temples and pressing firmly. He suddenly felt dizzy and like he was falling. The world darkened around him and a voice began talking in his head.
"Do not be afraid. We will try to make this as painless as possible. Struggling will only make it more difficult for you. I am sorry for what we must do, but it is necessary for our survival."
John projected his thoughts, hoping the being could hear him. "What are you going to do? Look, maybe we could talk about this. Maybe there's another way and my people could help you. You don't need to do this. Please, we didn't intend any harm to you."
"We know you did not intend harm, and that is why we will strive to make this as easy on you as we can. I'm afraid there will still be pain involved, but we will try to minimize it when possible. We are sorry for your suffering, but as I said, it is necessary."
Instead of diminishing, John's fear only began to escalate. "What about the others?"
"We took the four of you that were male. We cannot use females, so the one that was with you was left where the others can find her. She will be fine when she awakens."
John was relieved to find that Teyla wasn't here, about to be experimented on or operated on or whatever they were planning to do. He wished the others hadn't been captured with him. That meant four of them would suffer and he had no way to help any of them.
"Where are we?"
"You do not need to know. But you must try to relax and let us do our work. I'm afraid there is nothing you can do to change your fate. You should accept it and it will be easier on you. I must go now. We are about ready to begin."
"Wait, one more question. Will we survive?"
The hesitation said more than the words. "We have not perfected the method yet. We will work to keep you alive so that you may return to your world when we are finished, but we have not had any success in that yet. I'm afraid you should not expect it."
With that announcement, the connection to the white alien was gone. He blinked his eyes a few times at opening them and looked around with his limited field of view. Two of the creatures had some type of machine poised over his stomach and they were staring at a monitor screen. A third one came up on the other side and began pushing against his abdomen, moving his hands around until he found what appeared to be the right spot. One of the aliens at the monitor gave a short nod and then something tickled his stomach, almost like someone writing on it.
And then the action began. They all pulled masks up over their faces and began to put on gloves. One of them began washing his stomach with a cool cloth and another approached him with a cylindrical apparatus about eight inches long and one inch in diameter. A clear tube with liquid was loaded in the back and the alien pressed it against the side of John's neck. He heard a small hiss about the same time as he felt a sting. Great, more drugs. Almost instantly, the feeling in his limbs began to fade. He could see them touching his stomach still, but his ability to feel their gloved fingers slowly faded away. The feeling crept up his chest until he realized he was having trouble breathing. Was that supposed to happen?
He was about to panic. He wanted to shout that he could no longer breathe as the pain built in his chest, but his face was numb and he couldn't talk. His vision was starting to gray and black spots began dancing around when the strap on his forehead was lifted and an alien tilted his head back. He could see the tube in its hand and he knew what they were about to do. He'd been intubated before, but never when he was conscious. He tried to close his eyes, but his eyelids wouldn't work. Oh crap.
He was surprised when he couldn't feel anything. He didn't feel the guide they put in his mouth or the tube that slid down his throat. There was no gag reflex, because it was like he was watching it happen to someone else. Whatever they had given him was good. His head was straightened back up and the tube connected to something that began to pump oxygen in him, relieving the burn in his chest and making the spots go away. He could see the strap being replaced in his peripheral vision. He wanted to laugh. He couldn't feel or move any part of his body. Did they really think he was going to get up and run off at this point?
All he could do was lie and look at the ceiling. The only sound was an occasional clink of an instrument or a sucking sound. He couldn't even shift his eyes down to see what they were doing. Ever once in a while he got a glimpse of a bloody glove or instrument being put back on the tray. Whatever they had given him had slowed his heart considerably. He might be afraid the drug would stop his heart, but that actually seemed like the lesser of two evils. He was probably going to die anyway. His body might not be working, but his mind was. He had already figured out they probably were not on the planet and that meant his team had no way to track him. Escape from this place looked doubtful, although he wouldn't stop trying to find a way. Realistically, he probably wasn't walking away from this one. He'd have to be satisfied with the knowledge that the rest of the team was safe.
At some point he became aware that he was starting to feel pressure and a little tugging from his stomach. There was also a slight sensation of the tube in his throat. He blinked, and realized he could shift his eyes. He moved them to look down as far as he could. One of the aliens held out a jar and something was removed from it and disappeared from his field of view toward his stomach, where they were working. The jar was set aside, empty. The fear that had been somewhat muted by the drugs began flaring up again. They were putting something in him. Images of the movie Alien suddenly flashed in his head, to be replaced with images of monsters bursting forth from his stomach. He began to wish he had given himself a heart attack. It seemed like a much better way to die.
Sensation was beginning to come back quickly. He could now tell they were closing him up. The pressure was just at the point of evolving to pain when they seemed to finish. He was both relieved and scared, because the tube in his throat was now beginning to choke him. He tried to relax and let the machine breathe for him, but he still found himself beginning to gag.
Movement to his side caught his attention and he shifted his eyes, hoping they had noticed and would remove the tube now. Instead, the alien was replacing the now empty bag of fluid on his right with another bag, this time of a blue-tinted liquid. John watched the blue line snake down the tubing and disappear under the bandages. He knew the instant it hit his vein because that's when the fire began. It spread up his arm and across his shoulder, down into this chest. From there, it exploded up his neck to his head and down through his torso. All conscious thought was relinquished as the pain took over. He had no idea how long it lasted, but it was all there was for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually it began to fade and he gratefully allowed the darkness to move in.
Elizabeth followed Carson back to Teyla's bed. The Athosian was propped up with pillows, her expression still somewhat dazed. She noted that Carson had started an IV and had her on a heart monitor. He'd told her the stun had been far more severe than anything they had encountered so far, but she was still surprised at the apparent severity and the caution it had inspired.
"Teyla, how are you feeling?"
Teyla's eyes were a bit glassy, her lids only half open. "I am fine. What about Colonel Sheppard and the others?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "Nothing yet. Ronon and Rodney took two jumpers back to search. Can you tell me what happened?"
Teyla gave a small nod and recounted what had happened. "The blue light is the last thing I remember. I do not even recall falling. When I woke, I was here in Atlantis."
"You were out for several hours," said Carson. "It seems to be a much stronger stun that what the Wraith have."
"I did not feel the pins and needles upon waking."
Carson nodded. "Aye, it seems to work a bit differently on the nervous system. I think it-"
They were distracted by the sounds of several people coming through the door of the infirmary. Rodney, Ronon, Lorne, and Nick all entered the room, their expressions downcast. Nick Straughn, Carson's second in the infirmary, set the medical bag he was carrying down near a set of shelves and then followed the others to Teyla's bed.
"Well?" asked Elizabeth. "Anything?"
Rodney shook his head and looked down at the ground for a second. "Nothing. Ronon and some of the people from town searched all the way around the meadow, but found no sign of tracks or anything. Lorne and I took the jumper up into space around the planet, but found nothing there as well. I'm pretty sure they had a ship in orbit, beamed down and grabbed Sheppard and the others, and then beamed back up. They're long gone by now and we have no way of tracking them."
"There has to be something you can do," pleaded Teyla, sitting up straighter in the bed.
"There isn't," said Rodney. "He's just . . . gone."
Teyla's face darkened. "Then he will escape and find his way back to Atlantis. He is not gone."
Rodney's face reddened. "I didn't mean gone as in gone for good or dead. I just meant that he seemed to have disappeared. Of course, he'll turn up. He always does."
Nick frowned and looked at Rodney. "Is there anything we can do to try to find him?"
Rodney furrowed his brow for a second and then snapped his fingers. "Maybe. If Radek could give me a hand. Maybe we could put together something to look for traces of the ship while it was in orbit. Depending on their power source, sometimes trace amounts of exhaust elements or ionized particles are left behind. With the right kind of sensors, maybe we can detect a trail of some kind."
Elizabeth looked relieved that there was at least something they could try. "Do it and take whoever or whatever you need."
Rodney nodded. "We'll have to hurry. If there is a trail, it won't last long." He rushed out of the infirmary, mumbling to himself about what he needed to do.
Elizabeth patted Teyla on the arm. "At least it's a chance."
John awoke to a combination of more freedom of movement and more pain. His wrists and ankles were still restrained, but with a small degree of movement allowed. There was no longer a strap on his head or chest and he was glad to be on a soft bed instead of a metal table. As soon as he opened his eyes, the room began to spin and he felt nausea roll through his stomach. He began to gag almost immediately. Two of the aliens appeared by his side. One of them opened his mouth to shove something soft and flat, about the size of a squished marshmallow inside and then proceeded to hold his jaw closed. He automatically struggled against it, feeling like he was going to choke, but he was incredibly weak and his captors were strong. The second alien held his shoulder pinned to the bed with one hand and pressed against the wound in his stomach with the other. Pain exploded through his gut, making him wonder if circumstances could possibly get any worse.
The pain momentarily overtook the nausea. A few seconds later, he discovered that whatever they had placed in his mouth was melting and as it trickled down his throat, the nausea was receding. He began to relax and as his struggles lessened, so did the grip of the white aliens. When they let go, he opened his mouth and panted. That was when he realized the intubation tube was gone. He drifted for a few moments and when he opened his eyes again, he found the aliens had left him alone.
John took the opportunity to look around. He still had the two huge IV bags, but they were both clear. He hoped he never saw another one of those blue bags again. He lifted his head a little on a shaky neck and then let it drop back to the pillow. His abdomen was bandaged and what appeared to be two tubes with plugs in the end stuck out from the bandages. He didn't even want to know what that was for, although he was sure he'd eventually find out. The catheter was still in place, meaning they probably didn't plan on letting him out of bed for anything. His entire body ached, probably a remnant of the blue fire they had put in his IV.
John turned his head to his left, surprised that the soft, timid voice had come from Sren, lying in the bed next to him. He seemed to be in the same shape as John. Sheet pulled to his waist, bandaged stomach and forearms, two IV bags. Beyond him he could see Harndt and then Teran. "You guys okay?"
"No, Colonel, we aren't," said Sren, his voice shaking slightly. "They put something in me. They cut me open while I was still awake and put something in me. Why are they doing this? It hurts and they won't give us anything for the pain."
John could sympathize with the man. His gut was on fire and his entire body trembled with a combination of fear, weakness, and pain. He was almost terrified beyond words of what lie ahead for them. But he also knew that panic would not get them anywhere. "I know. It looks like they did the same thing to all of us. Have they told you anything?"
Harndt lifted his head slightly to look at John. "I don't think they can talk. I think they communicate with their thoughts. One of them touched my face and tried to calm me down, but I heard his voice in my head. He just said he was sorry, but this was necessary and we shouldn't fight it."
John nodded. "Yeah, that's pretty much what happened to me." He looked down at his wrists and pulled against the restraints with all his might, but they didn't budge. He tried twisting his wrists in an effort to slide out, but there wasn't enough room to make any progress. All he did was make his wrists hurt along with the rest of him. Exhaustion finally made him go limp, panting to suck in enough air.
"They're too tight," said Teran.
John grimaced and closed his eyes a second before rolling his head to look at the man. "Yeah, I think I figured that out." Looking across at Sren, he could see the bandage on his stomach better than he could see his own. The man also had two small tubes sticking up out of the bandages. "Does anyone know what those tubes are?"
Each man lifted his head to look at his own stomach. "No," said Sren.
Teran looked over the two men in the middle to John. "They did not tell us, but we may be about to see." He nodded past John.
John turned to see two of the aliens enter the room with a tray. Four cylinders similar to the one they had used on his neck lay on the tray. They stopped at John's bed first, since his was the first they came to. One of the aliens removed the plug from the end of the first tube and cleaned the entrance.
"Wait, what are you doing? What is that?" John tried not to sound panicked as he asked the questions, but he was pretty sure he wasn't successful. The two beings ignored him completely as the second one took one of the cylinders. The tube in the back of the device contained a yellowish liquid, which he injected into the tube. The first alien then wiped down the tube again and replaced he plug. They moved to each of the others, performing the same procedure on each man. When they were finished, they left, having never uttered a word. Each man had questioned them, with Sren begging them to stop, but they never gave any indication they heard them. As he watched them leave, John realized they didn't have ears. Maybe they really couldn't hear them.
"We're going to die here, aren't we? And they'll never even know what happened. Ansa will never know I was going to ask her to wed me." Sren closed his eyes and a tear rolled down his cheek.
John lifted his head and leaned toward the other man as much as his bindings and wound would allow. "Look, you can't think like that. We aren't dead yet and things can happen. I know my team is looking for me. And your people will be looking for you, right? We can't give up. An opportunity may present itself. They keep apologizing, like they feel bad about what they are doing. Maybe they'll realize how wrong this is and stop, send us home."
Sren rolled his head over and looked at John. "Thank you for what you are trying to do. I do not believe it will happen . . . but I appreciate that you are trying." He turned his head to look at the ceiling. John shifted back into the bed, battling his own internal demons. It was taking everything he had not to slip into full blown panic and just scream and fight until they knocked him out or killed him. He couldn't lose it. There were three men next to him that didn't deserve to be abandoned just so he could try to end his own pain. Suck it up, Sheppard. This could be a long one.
Elizabeth entered the jumper bay and waited for the back hatch to open. Rodney and Radek shuffled out of the ship, their faces full of defeat. "Nothing," said Rodney. "We couldn't find a trace of anything."
"That is not entirely true," said Radek. "We did find a few traces, indicating a ship was there. But there was not enough to make a trail, much less follow."
Rodney snorted. "Like I said, nothing. It's up to him, now. There's no way to track him. I hope he can pull off one of his miracles."
Elizabeth sighed and looked down. "Me too."
John jerked away from the touch, snapping his eyes open to find two of the alien creatures on either side of him. They stood still for a few moments until he lay back against the pillow. He realized he had dozed off and they had caught him off guard. "What do you want now?" he asked bitterly, not caring if they could hear.
One of them hung a bag of something gray and slimy looking on the pole just below the other bag. He noticed for the first time that the creature had what almost looked like a small scar over one eye. Scar held the tube connecting to the bag until the other one had unplugged and cleaned the port on the second tube, emerging from lower on his stomach. He then connected it. Whatever the gray slime was, it was now on its way to being inside him.
"Okay, that's just nasty. What is that? Do you think you're feeding me, cause that's not what I eat. Could we just talk about this please?" Scar and Shorty (because the second one actually seemed shorter than all the others) checked the connections and his restraints and then left. He noted that they didn't hook the others up to the gray junk. Didn't that make him feel special.
He lay watching the stuff move into him with morbid fascination. What was it and what would it do to him? He tried to keep from tensing up, because that made the incision pull and hurt. He guessed it took almost an hour for the small bag to empty. About the time it was finishing, he felt his lower gut begin to roll and cramp. Scar and Shorty came back to disconnect his little tube and they noticed his discomfort. Scar did the stroking thing with his cheek again while Shorty gathered some things together.
The next thing he knew, they had pulled the sheet off, exposing him to the world. Two other aliens came in and got on either side of him. The new guys slid their hands under his hips and lifted him while Scar and Shorty put something around him. He finally looked down to see what they were doing when someone got hold of his manhood again, shifting it out of the way while being careful of the catheter. He gasped. They were putting what appeared to be a large diaper on him. He quit watching and looked at the ceiling, his face red and hot. He could feel the eyes of the others on him, watching out of curiosity. They finally pulled the sheet back over him just as the cramps got worse.
He saw Scar and Shorty move over to Sren and hang a bag of gray goup on his IV pole. Next. The cramps suddenly began to tear through him like someone ripping him open and eviscerating him. He moaned and twisted, a cold sweat covering his face. He'd have give just about anything to curl up on his side in a ball. Being strapped down made the pain even worse, pressing down and threatening to cut off his breath. It almost felt like the whole area between his navel and his groin was rippling with the waves of agony surging through him. A sudden sharp pain caused him to cry out, followed by a rush of warmness in the diaper.
He lay shivering and wrung out and miserable. His entire body shook uncontrollably and even his torso was covered with sweat. He was unable to move, his muscles devoid of energy. Scar and Shorty had finished with Sren and had been loitering by the edge of the room as if waiting. They now nodded at one another and came over to him. He was pretty sure the clean up was the most humiliating thing he'd ever been through. It seemed to take forever and the others averted their eyes or turned their heads entirely, an action he was grateful for. They took him out of restraints long enough to get him cleaned and dried, undoubtedly realizing how weak he was. When they were finished, they checked the catheter and replaced the sheet, making him sigh in relief.
He watched as Sren began to squirm in pain and the diaper crew came in to get him ready. He closed his eyes and tried not to think about it. This sucked worse than anything he'd ever been through. He almost wished he was back in Afghanistan.
At the end of what John thought might be a week, they ran another bag of blue liquid through each of them. When they hung the bags, they each begged for them not to, but to no avail. When the drug hit their system, they screamed. John wasn't sure how long it went on. All he knew was pain for what seemed like a very long time before he finally passed out. When he woke up, he was hoarse and thirsty. But they never gave them water. Once or twice a day, they got a small disc to suck on that melted and soothed the throat a little, but never anything by mouth to eat or drink. That made him wonder even more what they had done to them.
The gray slime meal was given once a day, and was always followed by the worse case of cramps John had ever experienced and the humiliating diaper patrol. He was almost used to the clean up afterward. Almost. He at least thought he'd stopped blushing.
Somewhere around ten days into the nightmare, John realized they were going downhill. He'd noticed swelling around his arms and legs and belly. He had even less energy than before and he drifted in and out more often. He didn't fight the alien creatures any more and he'd quit looking for opportunities to escape. The others were sleeping more as well and their words were slurring sometimes. He was pretty sure if they took off the restraints, none of them would be capable of getting off the bed, much less making a run for it. Sren had been right. They were going to die here.
John woke suddenly to a gurgling sound. He twisted his head to the left to see Sren staring wide eyed at him, making the gurgling sound as he tried to talk. Blood bubbled from his mouth and nose. John tried to sit up, a reflex action, before the restraints pulled him back down. Three of the aliens rushed in and surrounded Sren, working over him for several minutes. When they finally backed away, Sren lay still, his glassy eyes staring sightlessly up at the ceiling. Scar bowed his head and then slowly nodded to the other two aliens, who silently wheeled the bed out of the room.
John looked at Harndt and Teran, knowing that his expression probably showed as much fear as theirs did. Teran finally laid his head back on the pillow. "He was a good man."
"We're all going to die, just like he did," said Harndt.
John didn't feel like arguing, like trying to convince them otherwise. "Well, at least then it will be over," he said with resignation. At this point, dying just didn't seem all that bad.
"Good point," Teran said quietly.
Elizabeth entered the mess hall and went through the line. She wasn't even sure what she gathered on her tray to eat. It didn't seem important any more. She stood looking around the hall for a minute, wishing she could see John at a table, playfully motioning her over. God, she missed him. It was two weeks tomorrow and no sign of what had happened to him. The SGC was already talking about having Caldwell stay as John's replacement when the Daedalus arrived next week.
"Elizabeth, over here."
She shook herself out of her stupor to see Rodney motioning at her. Teyla and Ronon were sitting with him. She gave a brief smile and nod and headed over to join them.
"Thank you, I guess I was day dreaming," she explained as she sat down.
"That's okay, we're a little lost ourselves," said Rodney.
"We were just discussing how much we miss John," said Teyla.
Ronon grunted, stabbing his meat with his knife almost like he was attacking it. "There has to be something we can do. I hate sitting here."
Elizabeth nodded. "I know. But we've interviewed all our allies to see if any of them know anything about these beings that took John and the others. No one has ever seen or heard of them. There's no way to track them. I just don't know what else we can do at this point. I'm hoping Colonel Caldwell might have some ideas when he gets here."
Rodney snorted. "Like that's going to happen. He's got Sheppard's position here all tied up. Why would he jeopardize that?"
"Because even though he covets John's command of Atlantis, I don't think he would intentionally do anything to hurt John to get it, including abandoning him when he could help. Steven is ambitious, but he isn't cruel."
Rodney snorted again, showing his disdain for the man. "Maybe."
"Elizabeth," Teyla said softly. "What do we do if John doesn't come home?"
Elizabeth looked down at the table. That was the question she had been carefully avoiding for the past two weeks. "I don't know. I honestly don't know."
John felt like his eyes were rolling around in his head as he tried to open them. Waking up was becoming increasingly difficult. He felt like an elephant was sitting on his chest and his gut rolled with pain. He didn't even have enough energy to squirm. He stared at the ceiling for a while, wishing he'd just go ahead and die. Working up his nerve, he looked to his left to see Teran still there. Harndt had died last night in much the same way as Sren. He wondered if it would be him or Teran to go next.
Scar came in to check the readings on the monitor. They had hooked him and Teran up to some kind of monitoring system after Harndt died. Shorty moved past him to go check on Teran.
"Why don't you just . . . kill us. . . be easier," he said, gasping for air as he talked. Scar fiddled with something on the tray for a moment and then placed an odd-shaped oxygen mask over his face. John almost laughed, thinking it wouldn't help when blood began bubbling up his throat. Scar looked down at him and then reached out, placing his hands on John's temples. John was immediately surrounded by swirling clouds, making him dizzy.
"John Sheppard, I have much to tell you."
The voice was in his head again. At least now he could tell the creature what he thought. "You've already killed Sren and Harndt. Why don't you just kill us too and get it over with?"
"I must explain what we have done. Why this was necessary. My species is dying. There are only a handful of us left and the last generation was sterile. We had a few embryos frozen from the previous generation, but no way to incubate them. They must go through an early stage in a pouch in the male, but we have evolved to a higher state of intelligence that has also left us almost without gender. We no longer have anyone suitable to carry the embryo. Your form is similar to the form we used to have. We have discovered that the stomach of an adult male is suitable for a short period of development. The acidic environment is suitable and the male hormones are close to what is required. We added the other necessary chemicals to the fluids we were giving you. We had hoped to bring the embryos to a suitable stage of development where we could transfer them to the artificial environment we had prepared."
"So what happened to Sren and Harndt?"
"The embryo produces toxins in ever increasing amounts. That is why we have kept fluids moving through you, in an effort to dilute the poisons so you would survive long enough. But your liver and kidneys are showing signs of stress. You are dying and there is nothing we can do. The embryos are also dying. We have decided to send you home and to give up. We will be the last."
"Maybe our scientists could help. I tried to tell you in the beginning, we help people when we can. None of this was necessary. No one had to die."
"I am sorry about the two deaths. I only hope that you and your companion can be saved. I am ashamed that we have taken our research this far. We should have accepted our fate gracefully. There was a time when we would have done anything to avoid taking a life. I regret that we let our fear cause us to fall so far. And thank for your offer, but after what we have done, we cannot accept your offer. We deserve our fate. Perhaps it is for the best since we have let our values drift away from us."
"What happens now?" John was almost afraid to believe that he was going home. He didn't think he could handle it if he let himself believe, only to find out he'd been tricked.
"We are translating our procedures into data that your people can interpret. Our ability to communicate with you in this way allows us to assimilate your language readily. Your healer will be able to help you better if he understands what was done. We will leave this here with you and contact your people with your location so that they may come and get you."
John didn't bother to tell him that the planet he was taken from was not his home. If they contacted the planet, the Baradians would pass the information on to Atlantis. Maybe this was real. "Okay, what about that stuff you kept putting in us? The stuff that made us so sick and the other stuff?"
"I am sorry for the discomfort. Since your stomach was modified into a pouch for the embyo, we could not allow you to eat. We had to limit what went into your stomach. We made a nutrient mash that was predigested and added a pathway to take it directly to your small intestine, just below where the stomach joins. I'm afraid we could not allow you to get up and down, so we had to manage your waste excretion as well. We have found this method takes a minimum of time and effort to deal with. The other pathway we created went to nourish the embryo in your stomach pouch."
John grimaced, wishing he'd wake up to find this was a nightmare.
"As I have said, we are sorry for the pain and discomfort we have caused you and I truly hope you are able to survive. I must go now. The message is already being sent and your friends should be here shortly to help you."
The connection ended, leaving John dizzy and disoriented for a while. When he opened his eyes again, he and Teran were there alone.