It was day five and this was the eighth planet they had been to. Ronon wanted to be anywhere but here; forced to listen to more dribble from people who only cared about the next transaction of fruit. He knew what it was like to be held prisoner, to fight and last in order to breathe freedom again.
Sheppard was strong, fiercer on the inside than physical appearance would lead on which was his weapon. The colonel knew what it took to survive, able to come out alive from situations that would kill lesser men. Ronon also knew what it meant to be lost. It was one thing to stay alive, another to find your way back home.
The darker side of his mind filled with the countless number of horrors that could be happening in a region of space that was a mere pinprick in the sky. And all he had done for his team leader was visit farmer's markets and bazaars.
"Other people from the Ancient ring? You mean those who can fly?"
Ronon's thoughts were interrupted by faint hope.
"Yes, other people who use flying ships. Have you ever traded with them?" Teyla asked in a calm, neutral matter.
Ronon felt his muscles coil and tighten.
"Maybe," the trader hedged.
It was a natural reaction to slam the guy along the mud brick wall and lift him so high the little man's feet no longer touched the ground. So natural, in fact, that the Satedan almost didn't realize he'd done it… well, almost.
"Ronon!" Teyla yelled, "...Ronon! Put him down!"
"Who!" He continued, ignoring her demand, and giving the man a shake. "Who are they?"
Frustrated and anxious to find his friend, there was no way they were leaving yet another planet empty-handed. If this man knew people who used such technology then chances were they had taken Sheppard.
Alone... all his anger would have gotten was a name of a group of people. It became a team effort. Teyla's words, McKay's ideas, his threats.
When they were finished, they had a radio frequency that could be monitored. If these travelers were the ones who took Sheppard then they had the means to track him down and bring him home.
Two months ago a Master Sergeant bled out in his arms while they had been pinned down. He carried the body back to the jumper and filled out the mission report. Hours later Sheppard had found a bottle of Athosian wine and had stared at it before putting back in his hidden stash. He hadn't slept for over twenty-six hours so he went out for a run and ran until his legs gave out from under him. Then he had gone to the gym and bullied a few Marines into sparring with him.
The next day he had awoken in his room with no recollection on how he got there with only a fuzzy memory of Lorne and Ronon's voices. He had felt like a beat up old tire but it was paradise compared to how much he hurt now.
He opened his eyes, willing hot needles to stop severing his optic nerves. His eyelids snapped shut against the onslaught of light and he couldn't suppress a groan.
"Take it easy, young man. I'll dim things down."
The voice startled him and he sucked in a breath that took more effort then it should have. It felt like he was at a high altitude without an oxygen tank. He stowed away the panic and went to rub away the sleep from his eyes only to find that he couldn't move his right wrist.
"What?" He gasped.
Whiled the diffused lights no longer goaded the needles, his head still felt on the verge of imploding. Sheppard yanked both hands, but soft leather impeded any movement, sending his legs flailing and failing.
"Take it easy, Mr. Sheppard. Please calm down."
"What the hell?" Sheppard croaked.
An elderly face peered over him and uttered reassurances that went into deaf ears.
"Untie me," he growled this time.
"Only if you lie still," the voice commanded.
It was his Uncle Pete disguised as a space nomad doctor but there were no lollipops and he was now restrained. "Cage...not good enough...we goin' for tying the dog down for the night?"
"It's morning now, Sheppard and those were so you didn't wander off," Larrin's voice echoed loudly.
He was beginning to really hate the sound of it. "Where am I now?"
The IV should have been a dead giveaway and he felt like throwing up all over Larrin's leather clothes.
"It seems you forgot to mention that working with Ancient technology for too long has bad side effects," she accused.
He really didn't feel up to a verbal battle. "More...of an omission."
The doctor was at his other side. "That was dangerous screwing with your body like that."
Sheppard propped himself on his elbows. "Would it have made a difference? I don't have any rights last I heard. I'm just your test subject." He lay back down, squeezing his eyes shut from a wave of dizziness.
He felt the restraints loosen and he freed his wrists while the physician undid the ones around his ankles.
"Since this isn't something new, care to fill me in on how to treat you?" Chauklin asked.
"I don't know...usually I sleep it off, and Cars-- I mean they give me stuff. Don't know what. Normally it isn't this bad," he admitted.
"Funny how little omissions can come back to bite you in the ass, isn't it?" Larrin asked smugly.
Sheppard wasn't up for this; he hadn't had a shower since his capture and his skin felt damp, sickly.
"Like the fact, that it's Colonel Sheppard, in charge of the military of your base," her voiced dripped in acid.
His ears perked up at that and he peeled his lids open again. "How'd ya know that?"
Her face reddened. "Damn it, Sheppard! Should have figured you were more than just a arrogant pilot after the trouble you caused."
"Yeah? Did it ever occur to you when I was offering you alliances that I might have a little power?" He shot back, panting.
"That's enough!" The good doctor shouted. "Larrin, I don't interfere with how you conduct ship's business, but this man is my patient. He's still under my care and I won't have you aggravating his condition."
"Was your patient," she said.
Sheppard peered at her with narrowed eyes, swallowing the dread.
Chauklin folded his arms. "We transferring him to the hospital vessel?"
"No, we're returning him to his people. I broke away from out fleet and we're heading towards one of their smaller ships that was detected at a near by gate before it disappeared." She looked at Sheppard, raising an eyebrow.
"You...you contacted my people?" He asked dumbfounded.
"Yes, spoke to a very eager Lorne person. They're less than an hour away. I'm weary opening up a hyper space window right now, but it'll give us time to say a heart felt goodbye."
Larrin untangled his IV line. "Shocked you into silence... I'm flattered."
"Was thinking of your clothes," Sheppard replied. Upon her look, he amended. "Don't want to throw up on them," he said closing his eyes again.
"That's good of you. Since we're being so honest then maybe---"
One of her men ran into the room out of breath. "Commander!"
"What is it?" She demanded.
Sheppard sat up while Larrin's eyes went wide. "We don't have weapon's on line yet!"
"What about your fleet?" Sheppard asked, pulling out the IV.
"I didn't tell them where we were going, your return isn't authorized," she said between clenched teeth.
Dr. Lance came barging into. "There are three Wraith darts!"
Sheppard was on his feet immediately using the side of the bed to steady his legs. "Help me to the chair."
Chauklin shook his head. "We don't know what the effects--"
"We're dead if we don't," he said and looked over at Larrin. "The drones are our only chance...again."
"Do it," she said.
Sheppard shook away her help, allowing the doctor who appeared much stronger than his age to lend a hand. His head roared and his muscles were weak but that didn't stop his adrenaline from pouring through his veins as he was helped back to the chair room.
The ship vibrated. "Feels like weapons fire!"
"Our engines have been damaged!" Someone shouted.
His body hit the chair and it reclined, instigating the familiar connection between mechanical and the biological. He closed his eyes while a million artificial signals were fed through his brain.
"There's four darts," he breathed.
The drones recognized his commands and he guided them with easy pushes towards the targets. His skin was alive with an electrical charge; static sizzled across his brain.
"Two down," he breathed heavily.
The thrill seeker in him always felt in awe at this part, how his synapses controlled such weapons. The darts split up and he guided both drones after them. His heart fluttered between his ribs, his fingers curled over the armrests.
With satisfaction, he blew away the tail of the third Wraith ship, sending it spinning into pieces and searched the empty sectors of space for the last dart.
Where was it?
The ship shuddered violently as his head exploded in pain, lancing through his spine and into every nerve fiber. He screamed, the chair bolted up and he couldn't get enough air into his spasming lungs.
"What about the last dart?"
"Commander, picking up on another craft...it's...it destroyed the last wraith ship."
He was on the floor, the world spun around him and his heart was being squeezed inside his chest. Hands touched the side of his face, then his neck and peeled open his eyes.
"The ship is contacting us, they are demanding to be allowed aboard, Commander."
Voices were around him, the stimuli prickled his mind and he tried to move with quivering muscles. "Up," he rasped.
"I think only his people can help him...I don't know what just happened, but we're ill equipped to handle his condition."
That was the doctor's voice and Larrin's blurred in and out. "Help me damn it! We'll hand him back over."
Sheppard felt like he was falling, his chest tightened and his ears buzzed wildly. He closed his eyes to battle the vertigo and tried to place one foot in front of the other.
Lorne never knew relief could feel so tense. Upon receiving the transmission from those holding Colonel Sheppard captive, the mood in the jumper had sharpened to a knife's edge.
"No one gives up a valuable hostage unless it's a trap," Ronon stated.
"Or he's no longer any use to them," Teyla added.
That implication didn't bode well for the colonel or for the expedition. "A token of good will or not. That's why we're remaining cloaked. The Deadulus will be here in a minute's notice. Either way we'll have an ace in the hole."
No need to arrive at a fight and show your opponent all your weapons Lorne thought. "About to enter the gate," he turned to McKay. "The second we're there. I want full scans of their ships and match them to the ones we encountered the first time."
"Yes, I'm well aware. No need to remind me," McKay grouched.
The astrophysicist had been very hard on himself about Sheppard's kidnapping so he allowed the guy some leeway to vent. Just a little.
"Jumper's One ,Three and Four follow my lead," Lorne spoke over the radio.
The last thing he expected was to be caught in the middle of a battle. "We have Wraith contacts," he informed everyone. "Where the Hell are the rest of the enemy fleet?"
"Did their leader not say they would be alone?" Teyla pointed out.
"Yeah, but I didn't believe her," Lorne answered.
"Four darts are going for an attack run," McKay blurted. "The enemy ship is the same one from a few days ago. An aurora class Ancient vessel, propulsion is off line and they have no shields and---whoa. They're firing drones."
"Weapons are operational?...They didn't have those the last time," Lorne said.
"I thought only Sheppard could fire those?" Ronon asked.
"People with the gene can and only if they know what they're doing...could be the reason he was taken," McKay suggested.
"Two darts have been destroyed," Teyla said.
Lorne watched the remaining two split off in opposite directions, one drone gaining speed until its tail was blown away.
"Should we try to help?" Teyla asked.
Lorne wasn't sure. This was a hostile situation with only gut instinct telling him that his CO was the one kicking Wraith ass. If he gave away their position then they would loose the element of surprise. "Are you sure there are no more ships in this sector?"
"None," McKay replied tersely.
The final dart came from under the vessel and fired. "That's a direct hit," Lorne muttered.
McKay shook his head. "It took out their weapons."
Lorne wasn't about to watch the unarmed ship be destroyed with the chance that his commanding officer was on board. "Taking out the dart," he said firing a drone of his own.
There was a tense silence after the destruction of the Wraith ship and Lorne informed the other Jumpers to stay cloaked.
"Enough of this," he growled. After he engaged the Jumpers communications, he spoke authoritatively, "Unidentified ship, we demand to be allowed to board." Turning to McKay he asked, "How many life signs?"
"Checking... I've got Sheppard's transmitter and I'm detecting ten life signs only."
"We can take them all," Ronon said, sitting forward.
"Small craft, we will allow you to board after we verify our structural damage."
Lorne turned to McKay who was typing. "Engines are still out, as are their weapons."
"This is Major Lorne, we have checked and you have no structural damage."
"Vessel, we can not allow you to--"
"We're landing and we expect our missing crewman to be waiting for us. Lorne out," he said cutting the transmission.
It didn't take long to find the docking bay and glide inside. After giving instructions to the other jumpers to stand by for his signal; he parked the craft and swiveled around. There were two more Marines with them in the back already covering the door.
Ronon, Teyla, and Rodney anxiously waited for the hatch to open but Lorne was leading this rescue mission and stepped forward to take point. He signaled the Marines and they fanned out. A door opened revealing the woman from the transmission along with two guards. The woman didn't seem worried about the heavily armed group and strolled over exuding confidence.
"I am the Commander here but you may call me, Larrin."
"We're here to pick up Colonel Sheppard," Lorne cut to the chase.
"Where is he!" Ronon demanded.
Larrin cocked an eyebrow and held her hands up. "He's being brought over as we speak."
"Was he controlling the drones?" McKay asked.
"Yes, he was helping defend our ship and I give you my thanks for taking out the last Wraith dart." Larrin sized up the team and her face took on a more hesitate quality. "My fleet will be arriving very soon. They are unaware of this arrangement so I would suggest leaving quickly after Sheppard is returned to you."
"So, after kidnapping a man and subjecting him to who knows what. You saw the error of your ways and oh decided to make amends by doing the right thing?" McKay mocked as only he could.
Lorne wanted to strangle him but was too busy aiming his weapon at an older man who approached carefully.
"This is my ship's physician Dr. Chauklin and he's here to explain to you Sheppard's condition." The hard-nosed expression cracked in the commander's facade.
Lorne could hear the muscles of his team tighten around him and he hoped they kept their cool.
Rodney however wasn't going to just wait for the guy to speak. "What condition?"
The doctor held up his hands, too. "Mr. Sheppard has been helping us bring this ship back on line. We have no one with the proper gene and his services have accelerated out research and allowed for the ----"
"He's been your gene puppet," McKay cut him off.
"The amount of progress we've made has been remarkable but we were unaware of the side effects of working with the Ancient technology," the physician tried to explain.
Rodney's face hardened. "Exactly how long have you been using his help?"
The doctor looked to his leader and Larrin took hold of the situation. "Ten hours today, almost ten hours yesterday."
"Are you kidding me!" McKay exclaimed. "Are you trying to run him into the ground and stomp on him afterwards! Do you idiots have any idea how such an interface works? No, I guess not or you wouldn't have tried to drain him like some living battery. No you--"
"Enough!" Lorne yelled and turned to Larrin. "Just being him to us or we take this ship apart."
"He should be right behind me," the doctor said. "During the Wraith attack, Mr. Sheppard was in the control chair when the weapon's platform took a hit...it...well it effected him somehow."
"Effected him?" Teyla asked, stepping forward.
"It's like the damage to the ship sent a jolt or something into him. Has that ever happened before when using the chair? That the person controlling it might receive some type of feedback from the damage?" The physician asked almost too intrigued.
"No, it hasn't!" McKay snapped. "I can't believe you imbeciles."
Sheppard was brought down the hall, two people supporting his dead weight between them. Their commanding officer was barely able to drag his feet but he was conscious and tried to move faster once he looked up to see them waiting.
Ronon growled, his hand gripping his weapon tighter as he glared at the hostage takers. McKay and Teyla were quick, not even asking permission to move as they hurried down the hall and took on Sheppard's burden from the strangers.
"We have you, John," Teyla reassured him.
The colonel's limbs trembled and his complexion was chalk white with the front part of his hair matted down by perspiration. Dull hazel eyes acknowledged him and it took everything in Lorne to keep cool after noticing the faded bruises and cuts on his CO's face.
Ronon fumed where he stood, a smoking volcano ready to erupt. Lorne gestured for him to follow the struggling trio back inside the jumper. He walked over to Larrin his face an expressionless mask but his voice carried the weight of his whole team.
"You better pray we never cross paths again, commander."
Larrin narrowed her eyes. "That might be sooner than you think. Tell Sheppard I accept his offer...for what its worth."
Lorne didn't want an explanation and allowed the Marines to cover his exit back into the jumper. Sheppard was laid across one of the seats, Teyla offering him some water. "We'll be home soon, sir."
"We just going to let them get away?" Ronon snarled.
"Today we are," Lone replied. "Jumpers One, Three and Four. Back to Atlantis, we've got the package."
Colonel Carter met the jumpers and gave the medical team a wide berth while they loaded up her second in command. She hadn't known Sheppard for very long but he had earned her respect and admiration. A weight lifted from her shoulder at his arrival even if he looked very ill.
"Major. Do we know what happened?"
Lorne exhaled heavily. "No, Colonel. Not until Colonel Sheppard is able to tell us."
"I'll put the base on high alert," she paused at his slow nod. "What is it?"
"Colonel Sheppard has survived some pretty horrendous things. I doubt in just a few days he gave up vital intel."
"I understand, I really do. Until I hear Sheppard's account of things we have to be cautious."
Carter's first visit to the infirmary earned her very little information and more feelings as an outside observer. There was paper work to be completed including the weekly databurst to the IOA concerning this matter.
The same four people waited in different chairs from hours earlier. It was such a relief to take Sheppard off the MIA list. She hadn't been forced to scale back the series of search and rescue missions. All she needed was to be both the new commander and branded a bad guy by most the base.
"We know anything?" She inquired the group.
"No, Moses hasn't come back down from the mountain yet," McKay expressed in his usual snappish tone.
"I don't think Dr. Keller would like to be compared to a very old man," Carter said. "I say we find out."
Dr. Keller stared at two monitors while peering at a hand held device. Carter moved closer and waited patiently close by, the good doctor addressing her without looking up. "I'm still going over the tests results and comparing them to Carson's notes in Sheppard's file."
"I'll take what you have," Carter said with a small smile.
Three other sets of eyes anxiously awaited the news.
"His electrolytes are all over the place. Sodium, calcium, and potassium levels are extremely low. His blood work is also a mess. His iron, Co2, and oxygen sats are also extremely below normal. All of which toppled his metabolic rate." Keller looked up and took a deep breath. "Sorry, I know this doesn't mean much."
Teyla looked troubled with a million questions on her lips, Ronon crossed his arms, waiting for the bottom line and Rodney—well Rodney looked ready to blow his top with the need to badger the physician with a list of issues.
Carter smiled at her. "I know a little about a lot. Sounds like Sheppard's bio-chemistry needs to right itself," she said, trying to explain it in simpler terms for two thirds of the Team.
"Long-term exposure to Ancient technology, especially systems that are demanding and require a great deal of control always causes these type of issues," Rodney snapped. "That's the reason why we have protocols in place to monitor such actions so people like colonel-super gene don't over do it. And I'm sure being in the control chair while that ship took a hit, only scrambled Sheppard's system even more."
Keller nodded. "Yes, its dangerous, but I think we were able to treat him in time. I'm just not used to trying to deal with a physiology that's so... well, out of whack."
"Is that your official diagnosis!" Rodney growled.
"But he's going to recover?" Carter hedged.
"We're going to keep close tabs on his heart to resolve the high blood pressure. Proper medication should bring all his electrolytes back to proper levels. With that, fluids and plenty of bed rest. He's going to be exhausted, his body has been put through the wringer. Not to mention that he has bruises that vary in age but are consistent with more than one beating," Keller looked uncomfortable about that last bit.
Ronon's back stiffened but he said nothing. This type of news wasn't a surprise really, to any of them.
"I understand," Carter said. "We'll leave you alone and come back later. I'm sure Colonel Sheppard needs the rest."
Teyla didn't look ready to leave and hesitated a moment. "Dr. Keller, is it alright for one of us at a time stay with him. That way when he wakes up----"
"One person. That's it," Keller said firmly.
Carter was glad she didn't have a say in which member stayed first. That was a team decision.
Rodney looked for a free spot anywhere, taking a seat at the end of Sheppard's bed with a sigh and placed his tray of food in his lap. "What is it with you and working together with the bad guys?"
Sheppard's fork dripped gravy all over his own tray as it hung in mid-air and he decided the piece of steak took precedence over answering the question.
"I think the colonel has already explained that, Rodney. The Wraith would have killed them all," Teyla stated from her chair.
Sheppard enjoyed every piece of real food, savoring things like salt and seasonings. It even felt warm in his belly and he leaned his head against the wall behind him. "Those people were a card short of a full deck."
Ronon used Sheppard's desk to eat from, stabbing the piece of steak with his fork like a spare.
"Sounds like you did a pretty good job of pissing them off."
"Just doing research for a book," Sheppard replied but didn't elaborate despite the odd looks. He finished the vegetable melody and rubbed at his temples.
"Do you still have a headache?" Teyla inquired.
"Yeah," he sighed. "Keller says they'll linger for a few more days."
"Here, got you extra cake. Doc says you're supposed to gain your strength," Ronon picked up the spongy stuff with a fork and dropped it on Sheppard's clean tray.
"Thanks," he said, snatching it up before Rodney took an interest. "I'm just glad Keller let me out after two days."
Teyla looked up from her meal. "Yes, she did. But you're not supposed to do----"
"...Anything strenuous and take my meds. I know. I'll do whatever is needed to get my energy levels up. I'm sick of feeling like I've run a marathon," Sheppard admitted.
"That's because you allowed them to turn you into a human alternator."
Sheppard glared at Rodney. "It wasn't like I had a choice. If I refused they weren't going to just let me go home."
"You ever get back at those guards?" Ronon asked, with narrow eyes.
"No, strangely...I think she did. I'm not sure. I was too out of it at the time," Sheppard explained.
"Really? Your hot alien jailer punished them? Gee and did she tuck you into bed, too?" McKay snarked.
"No, she only ordered my first beat down and threatened to kill me on several occasions," Sheppard snapped.
"Before she fell for your charms you mean," Rodney egged on.
"No, even after our first Wraith encounter I knew my stay might be longer then she let on. I think she was bi-polar or something."
"Sounds like she was torn between helping her people and doing the right thing," Teyla added.
"Oh, yeah right thing." McKay countered, "Kidnapping, torture, gene slavery, seduction---"
"Rodney!" Sheppard growled. "Knock it off. You're aggravating my headache."
"I'm just saying...Even while being held prisoner and used as a lab experiment you still tried to form an alliance," McKay pointed out.
"They have advanced technology and from what I gather many ships...who knows when we might need them." Sheppard pushed his food away. "Thanks for bringing the mess hall to me."
"It was our pleasure," Teyla said cleaning up.
"Try not to get taken by anymore hot female pirates," Rodney huffed snatching Sheppard's tray.
"I'll do my best," Sheppard drawled and watched them leave.
He let out a breath, looking at the ceiling feeling confident about one thing. He had something that his "What To Do When Taken Prisoner in the Pegasus Galaxy" handbook wouldn't include.
A Team that was willing to do anything to get him back, no matter what the odds.