It's been a long time since I've posted anyting long. This story idea has been bouncing around in my head for over a year, and I just now really have a grasp on it (hopefully!) so I can write it. I have a significant amount of the story written at this point (after fighting my AWOL muse for a couple months :( ) but still so much more to go. Making a few changes as I go but thought I was far enough along to go ahead and start posting chapters. :) So... ;)
"The Human spirit is never finished when it is defeated…
it is finished when it surrenders."
"Hmm… trees. How novel."
John quirked his brows at Rodney's sarcastic comment before he stopped, just past the event horizon and scanned the immediate area around the gate. He slid his sunglasses into place to filter out the bright rays of sun streaming down into the small clearing that surrounded them. Rodney did have a point; it seemed most of the planets they visited were forested in one way or another, but then again, they rarely explored the entire planet. Maybe the Ancients just liked trees and placed the Stargates accordingly.
John's right hand left his sunglasses and settled on the top of his P-90, held loosely in his grasp. He walked away from the gate. "We could send you back to M5R-927," he answered without looking back. Not that he needed to. Rodney's loud sigh was enough for him to know that he'd succeeded in annoying the scientist.
"Funny. No blizzards, thank you very much."
"Many worlds I have traded with are forested," Teyla commented. "The woods provide much; from trees for fuel and shelter, to animals and plants for food."
"How very survivalist of you," Rodney muttered as he stared at his Life Signs Detector. Just give me a condo with a McDonalds around the corner and I'll be fine."
"What's a McDonalds?" Ronon asked.
"Never mind," John answered before Rodney could speak. "Anything McKay?"
Rodney sighed. "Nothing. Well, nothing worth mentioning anyway, just some odd energy readings. But, they're not indicative of a power source, nor are they anything that's going to hurt us. They're probably natural occurring. I'm getting some sensor echoes, but I think I can compensate for those…" his voice trailed off as he tapped a few keys on the LSD.
John turned away from his team mates, his sights settling on a worn path leading through the woods and away from the gate. "How about we go that way?"
"How about we not?" Rodney answered. "I just said I wasn't detecting anything worth mentioning. Well, beyond the weird planetary readings, but that's hardly something we need to investigate."
"Just…" John started, only to be interrupted by Rodney.
"Getting to know the neighbors. I know, I get it. Why do you have to be so friendly anyway?" he snapped.
"Because otherwise I'd be like you," John answered, again without looking back. He could hear Rodney's footsteps right behind him and something that sounded like a chortle coming from the general vicinity of Ronon, who took the six as they started down the path.
"Smart ass," Rodney muttered.
John chuckled quietly as he followed the meandering path. He felt himself relax slightly… well as much as he'd ever relax when he took his team off world anyway. The woods were serene and the silence was somehow soothing. It wasn't until he heard Teyla gasp that he realized things were too quiet.
Teyla's choked, half whispered, hail stopped him in his tracks. John spun, his gaze narrowing at her. "What is it?" The words had no sooner left his mouth when the silence around them was broken by an all too familiar whine that turned into a high pitched keen. "Darts!" Even though he and his team were hidden by the thick woods, he unconsciously ducked, as a Dart flew low over the trees and towards the gate.
John ripped his sunglasses off and shoved them into is vest pocket. "Where the hell did they come from?" He questioned. "McKay?"
Rodney stared intensely at his LSD. "More coming in on foot from the south... I think… Two hundred twenty yards and closing."
"You think?" John's voice rose an octave.
"Yes! Sensor echoes remember?" Rodney snapped.
"I sense them," Teyla whispered. "They are…" she closed her eyes for a moment. "They are culling a village not far from here."
John listened for a moment and nodded at the faint sound of darts and explosions in the distance. "It's at least a mile away. So much for sensor echoes." He muttered. "They're probably sweeping the area for any stragglers trying to get to the gate."
"I can't believe we were able to 'Gate in," Rodney abruptly spoke. "The Wraith usually disable gates on worlds they're culling… or at least keep an active wormhole to prevent anyone from dialing out. Wonder why they didn't do that here?"
"Well we're not going to stand around and wait to ask them and we're going to hope to hell they don't take your advice before we can dial out of here." John answered as he stepped around Teyla and Rodney. "I'm on point. McKay, keep a close eye on our friends in the woods. Ronon, take the six. Let's move!"
Without another word, John set a brisk pace down the path towards the gate.Damn it! He inwardly cursed, irritated at how quickly things went sour.
"I do not understand why I did not sense the Hive in orbit as soon as we arrived through the Stargate," Teyla sounded confused. "They could not have been out of range."
"It has to be those anomalous readings I picked up. Damn it!" Rodney snapped, "I'm still having problems isolating life signs from echoes."
"But that does not explain why I could not sense them," Teyla insisted.
"We'll figure it out later!" John answered. He risked a quick glance over his shoulder at Teyla. "And, while this sucks, it's not your fault."
Both Rodney and Teyla's warnings were simultaneous and John staggered to a stop as three Wraith burst from the bushes in front of them. "Cover!" He dove to the side and towards a clump of bushes as a stunner beam arced through the very spot he'd just vacated. He hit the ground hard and rolled into a kneeling position, before sending a volley of P-90 fire into the nearest Wraith soldier.
Teyla's worried shout grabbed John's attention and he turned, just in time to see three more Wraith soldiers flank their position. "Watch out!" he shouted.
Ronon turned towards the new attackers, but he was a half breath late. It took two stun blasts but within seconds, the big Satedan was unconscious on the forest floor.
"Cover fire!" John ordered as crouched and ran towards his fallen teammate. Grabbing the top of Ronon's tunic, he pulled, grunting at the effort but still managing to haul the big man behind a tree.
John knelt over his friend, one knee on the forest floor while he braced his elbow on the other and steadied his P-90. He fired on the closest Wraith but as soon as it fell, another took its place. This is not good…
"There's too many!" Rodney's panicked voice still made itself heard over the loud shots from their guns.
"Keep firing!" John urged as he leveled another guard. Ducking behind a small tree, he quickly pulled the empty P-90 magazine free before tossing it into the bushes. He pulled another one from his vest, loaded it and fired on the next target that presented itself.
Teyla's broken cry reached his ears and he turned his head, his eyes widening as she crumpled to the ground, unconscious from a stunner blast. For a moment, John's gaze met Rodney's and they exchanged the briefest of resigned looks. Hardening his resolve, John turned and fired on another guard, oddly reassured as he heard shots from Rodney's gun as well.
The hairs on the back of his neck suddenly stood up straight and John spun towards two Wraith that were approaching from behind. But, like Ronon, his reaction was a breath too late. He grimaced, a strangled cry escaping him as a stunner blast struck him square in the chest sending first intense pain, then debilitating numbness through his body. He managed to turn his head slightly and the last thing he saw before darkness took him was Rodney's unconscious form. The ground rushed up to meet him, but he never felt its impact.
Awareness came to him slowly. His eyes still closed, John furrowed his brows and swallowed hard before groaning against the throbbing in his head.Damn…
As his alertness increased he realized his arms were spread wide and felt uncomfortable… like the muscles were being stretched beyond what was normal. Slowly, he opened his eyes and stared, his addled mind starting to process what his eyes were seeing. The floor was there, sure, but his feet weren't touching it. Suddenly, his mind put two and two together. His arms hurt and felt stretched because he was suspended off the ground and pressed hard against a cold wall.
Against the protests of the stiff muscles in his neck, John slowly lifted his head looking first to his right arm and then to the left. Both were flat against the rough wall, with thick bonds covering his wrists and elbows to hold him there. Craning his head, he looked down to see his legs in similar circumstances; spread apart with the same thick bonds circling his ankles. Two sturdy bonds, almost vine like, circled his waist and chest, holding his torso against the wall as well. He was effectively tied and, as he pulled against the restraints, not going anywhere soon.
It was at that moment, that he felt a light vibration against his back. Looking around, John took in the architecture that surrounded him and felt a cold cramp race through his gut as he immediately recognized the distinct design of a Wraith hive ship. "This is not good…" he muttered.
Another light groan captured his attention and he looked right as Ronon stirred slightly. "Ronon? Ronon! Wake up."
Ronon's eyes snapped open with a start and he looked around before pulling hard against his restraints, his grunts echoing in the large empty room.
"Don't fight it," John urged, shaking his head as Ronon continued to struggle. "You can't get loose." After a moment, Ronon ceased and looked around. "Wraith?" he panted lightly.
"Yeah. So much for echoes on Rodney's detector…" John's voice trailed off and he turned his head left, watching as Rodney and Teyla stirred back to consciousness. He waited until they both opened their eyes and looked at him. "You guys okay?"
Rodney pulled against his bonds before looking around, realization dawning on him. "Oh yeah, peachy."
"I am uninjured, Colonel," Teyla nodded once at him.
"What now?" Rodney again met gazes with John, "because somehow I don't think the Wraith will be inclined to just let us go." His last words cracked slightly from barely concealed panic.
John pulled absently against his bonds and forced aside his apprehension so he could think clearly. "Still working on that."
"Want to think faster?" The pitch of Rodney's voice increased slightly.
"Don't panic," John hardened his gaze. "Just…" his voice trailed off as a large, webbed door abruptly parted, admitting a tall, tattooed Wraith male. He stopped and looked them over as the two halves of the door closed behind him.
John lifted his head and put on the strongest spiteful look he could muster. He may be tied up and helpless but he'd be damned if he'd give this bastard the satisfaction of seeing him scared. "So what do I call you?" His voice was deep and cynical, "Harry?"
The Wraith slowly and silently walked up to him before staring him in the eyes; a glare that John returned.
John drew in a quick breath but refused to break the eye contact he had with the Wraith. It was close, so close he could feel its hot breath on his face, but he didn't flinch.
The Wraith hissed quietly and suddenly threw his feeding hand back, poised, ready to descend on John's chest and steal his life.
"No!" Rodney shouted.
John clenched his teeth, his lips pulling back into a sneer as he stared defiantly back at the Wraith, still not breaking gazes with him.
A long moment passed, the battle of wills between the Wraith and John sitting at a stalemate before the Wraith slowly lowered his hand.
"I could savor the taste of your defiance," the Wraith hissed quietly, "but there are far better uses for that strength." John had no idea what the Wraith was talking about, but at the moment, he didn't care. He swallowed hard, forcing the fear and apprehension within him to silence, leaving only the strength and defiance for the Wraith to see. "Like killing you?" he spat.
The Wraith smiled, his expression slightly challenging. "Another day, perhaps." He turned and walked towards Teyla. "I could feed on any one of you." He stopped and stared at Teyla who glared back at him. Leaving her, he walked to Rodney. "Or all of you." He met gazes with Rodney for a moment, his eyes narrowing slightly before he turned and walked over to Ronon.
"Runner," he hissed quietly, "you are well known to us." His second hiss turned into a leering smile. "Pleasant surprise."
Ronon's cheek muscles twitched in barely controlled anger. He stared hard at the Wraith for a moment before spitting in his face.
Snarling, the Wraith backhanded Ronon, who bounced hard off the wall and slumped in his restraints apparently stunned.
John pulled against the bonds his spiteful gaze deepening. "Leave him alone!"
The Wraith male turned his attention to John. Barely more than inches from John's face, the Wraith stared deeply into his eyes and hissed quietly.
"It is possible you are too much trouble to keep alive. Perhaps, I should feed upon you now, human," the Wraith tipped his head slightly, a chilling eager look crossing his expression.
John swallowed against his fear, refusing to let the strong defiant look on his face crack. "Then shut up and do it." He pulled in a short breath and waited.
The Wraith stared one moment longer and then smiled widely. He snapped his sharp teeth together once, and stepped back. "The others on that planet were what we would expect to find on our feeding grounds; suitable only for consumption, but you…" His eyes widened in anticipation. "Your weapons, your sprits… you are different. Merely feeding upon you would be a waste. You are perfect for the Round." He looked Ronon up and down for a moment. "As is the Runner." Turning to Teyla, the Wraith hissed at her. "And you."
John's gaze narrowed. "The Round? As in Merry-Go?" He quipped cynically.
The Wraith returned his attention to John. "Do you think we only consume Humans?" He closed the distance between them and again fixed him with an eager look. "One must have…entertainment." His hands clasped behind his back, the Wraith walked a few feet away. He turned towards the prisoners. "The Hives of our alliance are strong. Very few challenge us. Because of this, we have the luxury of pursuing other… interests. We have found many of your kind are formidable fighters…at least against each other…when properly motivated." Slowly, he walked back, "and that provides much entertainment for us. Our queens enjoy watching skilled combat, even if it is only humans. You can be very… inventive with primitive weapons," He showed a wide set of sharp teeth as he smiled. "When you have no choice but to fight or die."
"God," Rodney whispered, "its gladiatorial combat! The Round is the Wraith version of a coliseum."
John glanced at Rodney, momentarily pondering his exclamation. It was a fast leapt to conclusion, but one John couldn't discount. He slowly looked back at the Wraith and swallowed, strengthening his voice with cynicism. "I hate to disappoint you, but we're not the cooperating type…at least not with bad guys that want to suck the life out of us."
"Many of your kind have said such things," the Wraith countered. "I could just put you in the Round anyway, but I have learned with ones as rebellious as you, that you are most troublesome and even, on occasion, refuse to fight." The Wraith sighed in an almost bored way. "And while the taste of your hatred is sweet, it still proves to be… less than entertaining."
The Wraith backed away from John and turned to Rodney.
John tore his eyes from the Wraith and caught Rodney's gaze. Barely controlled fear radiated from Rodney's eyes, despite his best effort to hide it. John poured as much strength into his expression as he could manage, and willed it towards his friend for an instant, before Rodney returned his gaze to the Wraith.
"You," The Wraith's tone was chilling as he stared at Rodney, "are not suited for the Round. I have no use for you," the Wraith's gaze turned eager, "other than the obvious."
Even from his position, John could see Rodney's hard swallow and felt his panic. Fear rose in him. "No!" Again, he pulled against his restraints, but was helpless in their grasp.
The Wraith slowly turned and stared at him. "Give me a reason not to feed upon your companion and I will consider it."
John looked away for a moment, his mind racing. He glanced at Ronon, who'd recovered enough to hear the exchange. For a moment, he shared an intense look with the Satedan who slowly nodded back at him. They had no choice and Ronon's affirmation forced John to acknowledge it.
Seething, John looked back at the Wraith. "We'll fight." He spat, his voice was quiet and filled with hatred. He jerked his head in Rodney's direction. "As long as you leave him alone. You hurt him and all bets are off. I want to see him, alive and well, every day so I know you're keeping your end of the bargain."
"Sheppard!" Rodney's voice shook slightly. "Don't. You can't…"
John glanced at him. "Shut up!" he snapped.
Again the Wraith stepped close to John and scrutinized him.
John met his gaze. "That's the deal. Take it, or leave it."
Slowly, what passed for a victorious smile spread across the Wraith's face. "We have an agreement. However, caring for your companion is not my concern. He goes to the Pit, with you and the others. But, if you do not fight; if you cause trouble," the Wraith leaned in close to John's face, "I will feed upon him while you watch… helpless. Then I will kill each of your companions and leave you to die in the Round."
John's smile was devoid of any humor as he nodded. "Well, since you put it so nicely… agreed."
The Wraith snarled once at him, and then turned and exited the room. On his heels eight guards entered, stunners pointed at the team.
Without warning, the bonds holding John to the wall let go, and he tumbled to the floor, the muffled grunts of his team mates proving their fate had been the same. He pushed himself to his hands and knees and looked up… directly into the business end of a stunner rifle. "Right," he muttered as he raised his hands and slowly got to his feet.
Another Wraith stuck a stunner rifle in his back and pushed hard. John staggered and spared the Wraith a glare before leading his team, surrounded by Wraith, from the room.
John walked down the long corridor, his mind racing, searching for a way to escape. But, as he looked around, he realized this wasn't the time. They were surrounded by eight Wraith guards, armed with stunner rifles and he and his team were completely unarmed. They could fight hand to hand, but not against those odds. They'd never win and every time you engaged in combat you risked injury. Right now, he and his team were healthy and mobile, and he wasn't about to risk that on an escape attempt that had next to no chance of success… not yet anyway. John sighed quietly. As much as he grated against being a captive, he grudgingly had to accept it, at least for now.
The hallway terminated in a larger room with some sort of rectangular, smooth table in the center. John stopped as the guards in front of him halted and turned to face him and his team.
"Sheppard," Ronon spoke and was pushed roughly in the back for it. He tensed, ready to spring into action.
"No." John's tone was absolute. Another Wraith jabbed him in the back with a stunner and he slowly turned, fixing it with a cold glare. "I get it. No talking."
"What do we…" Rodney started, only to be knocked to his knees by yet another guard.
"McKay. Quiet." John snapped before another guard jabbed him in the gut with the butt end of his stunner. He fell to his knees with a pained grunt and forced himself to pull in a breath of air. He coughed once and slowly stood.
The three Wraith standing between John's team and the table stepped aside as the tattooed Wraith, Harry, John decided, appeared, seemingly from nowhere and walked out of the shadows. He stopped next to the table and looked at one of the guards, who roughly grabbed Teyla and hauled her towards him.
"Teyla!" John lunged towards her. From the corner of his eye, he saw Ronon do the same.
Searing pain shot through his shoulders as one of the guards grabbed him and forced him to his knees. He struggled briefly, determined to get free, but his captors held fast. Helpless, he could only watch Teyla, who fought in the grasp of one of the guards, as Harry walked up and jabbed some sort of syringe in her neck.
Instantly, she collapsed, her body limp in the grasp of the Wraith. Wasting no time, the male ripped her shirt off, leaving her only in the sports bra she wore beneath it. As the guard lifted her and dropped her on her chest on the table, John caught sight of her wide and fearful look: she was still conscious. As the guard held her steady on the table, John locked gazes with her. There was nothing he could do to help her, or any of them, but at least he could silently be there for her. He held her attention and added a strong note of reassurance to his look.
"Transmitters," Ronon muttered, earning himself a shake from one of the two guards that held him on his knees.
John tore his eyes from Teyla's for a moment and watched as Harry implanted a device in her back. He tensed, his lips pressing in a thin line. Whatever plan they'd need to come up with to escape, just got a lot more complicated.
Harry backed away from Teyla and nodded to one of the guards who lifted her from the table and laid her down in the corner. John stared at her a moment, his eyes widening as movement already started returning to her legs, which she shifted weakly. He looked away… and directly into the gaze of Harry, who nodded once.
The guard holding John hauled him to his feet and wretched his arms behind him before marching him over to the table. In spite of the screaming pain from his shoulders, John clenched his teeth and glared at Harry who leered back.
"I have not seen such strength come though these halls in a very long time," he hissed quietly. "I look forward to seeing you in the Round." Lifting his hand, he jabbed a syringe into John's neck.
John gasped as his legs buckled and his entire body, from his neck down, went numb. He was powerless to do anything as the male ripped his shirt off and a Wraith guard lifted him onto the table. He caught sight of Rodney and silently reassured his friend as much as he could. His gaze shifted to Ronon who nodded, his eyes narrowing in hard acceptance. Their exchange was silent, but in his gut, John knew he and Ronon shared the same thought: They'd escape somehow, but they had to bide their time for the right opportunity.
The numbness in his body wasn't complete. While he didn't feel any pain, John could feel the movement of skin on his back and the insertion of the transmitter. He clenched his eyes shut, not from pain, but from a near desperate need to get away; to stop this from happening to him and to his team. But no matter how hard he struggled internally, his body refused to cooperate and in a dark moment, John felt he was getting a glimpse of what it was like to truly be paralyzed. Helpless, his mind raced. With transmitters, the Wraith could track any of them at any time. How would they escape? More to the point, how the hell would they get these things out of them so they could escape? His thoughts were derailed as two guards roughly lifted him from the table and drug him to the same corner Teyla already laid in. Powerless to catch himself, John winced as the guards let go of his arms and he flopped unceremoniously to the floor.
He turned his head and looked at Teyla who stared silently back at him. He swallowed hard, his brows furrowing in concern, but her expression turned reassuring as she moved her arms.
"I will be fine," she whispered.
John winced as a tingling burn started in his legs, before his left knee twitched. Grunting, he bent the joint slowly, before moving his other leg. Whatever the Wraith had given them, wore off damn quick, as he could already feel sensations returning to his entire body.
He looked over in time to see Ronon thrown on the table and implanted with a transmitter of his own. John watched as the Wraith adjusted the cutting device and resealed the hole in Ronon's back. He thought for a moment, before cautiously rolling his shoulders, but instead of being met with the pain he'd expect from a fresh wound, he felt only a slight stiffness. His brows quirked. The Ancients weren't the only ones with advanced medical technology…
"No… I mean it isn't necessary…" Rodney's protests were cut off by grunt as one of the guards grabbed the back of his neck, silencing him. Before long, Rodney laid next to them, his eyes holding a barely concealed panic. "What the hell are we going to do now?" he whispered, earning himself a kick from one of the guards.
His legs nearly completely functional again, John lunged at the offending guard and found himself staring at the end of a stun rifle.
"You will learn the ways of the Round," Harry walked up behind his guards. He stared coldly at John. "I may not kill you, but I will do things that will make you wish you were dead."
John glared back. Deep inside, in that place that harbored the instincts that had saved his life many times before, he knew Harry wasn't bluffing.
After a moment, Harry stepped back and waved casually at John and his team. "Take them to the Pit."