Michael's Chair

Author's foreword:

Inspiration for this story came from a discussion on the GW Shep Whump thread (thanks!) that the Teyla/Michael story arc was boring, that a Sheppard/Michael one would have been better. Here's my version of that story arc.

To the Creators of Stargate Atlantis: This was written for fun. Not money. Anyway, imitation is a form of flattery...


Michael's Chair

Hands bound tight at his back. Numb. No feeling.

Metallic bar pressed hard to cheek. Could lift his head. A fraction. Tight pull to the skin at his throat. Best not do that then. His neck secured to the bar? At least, his face now on cold slab of floor. Feel the cold and grateful. Feel the cold through black hot fabric of the hood. Suffocating. Damp with his breathing and perspiration. The hood too close. Could only breathe through his mouth. Throat and mouth caked and dry. A need to cough.

To choke even.

Throw the damned hood off!

Toss his head and throw the damned hood off!... But his neck was tied.

Just lie still then.

Familiar odour. A memory. Aviation fuel. Oil anyway. Dirt and grime. Workshop? No. Sense of space. Something much larger. Warehouse… This wasn't good. This was Michael's doing. And his stomach lurched.

Desperate. Frantic pull at his hand ties. Useless. Don't struggle then. Listen. Don't think. Don't think anything. Listen.

Think positive. Perhaps wrong. Hoped he was wrong.

Breathing heavy. On his side. Ribs bruised. More memory. Thrown hard against a wall. Couldn't stop. Hands had been bound then. As now. But now, his legs free. But, hell! He wasn't going anywhere. His neck was tied, remember? And his shoulder hurt. Cut out his transmitter then. Damn! How do they find these things out?

Breathing heavy. Effects of the drugs. Another memory. A needle jammed in his arm. The size of a javelin? No. No. Mckay. It was Mackay who did OTT stuff. Stupor. Headache. Dehydration. When did he last drink? How long? When did he last eat? Weak. Lightheaded. Suck it up, John! This is Mckay talk.

If he could see… ? Closed his eyes. Even under the black hood. To listen.

Listen.

Listen for the others. But pretty sure. Alone. Only one to survive? Or only one to be captured? Second idea. Second idea best. Not for him though… But they'd all been stunned? Perhaps all taken to different locations? To avoid detection. Seemed a lot of trouble. For half a dozen hybrids. No. No. Pretty sure again. He was the target. And his stomach flipped again. Don't go there. Don't go there. Listen. Listen to breathing.

Listen. And prepare. Memories. Ronon. I'd rather die fighting. Mckay. Oh that's it! Gotta be the hero always! But be ready. Odds slim. A chance. One in a million. Be ready and take it.

Listen. A door slammed. Distant. Echo high above him. Footsteps. Voices. A large sliding door juddered. Rumbled on old runners.

The voice of Michael. Unmistakable. Hollow. Gravelly.

His breath held.

"You kept me waiting five days?" Spoke to others.

Heart missed three beats. And chest tightened. Listen. Fast shallow breathing now. Blood pumping loud in his ears. Fear. But with adrenalin. Good. A slim chance. He'd take it. Or die fighting. Or a quick death. Execution. Bullet through the head. No. No. Not Michael's way… Heart racing now.

"Daren't use the radio. We had to go through seven gates. Hid awhile twice. To check it was safe to carry on. We couldn't shake the tail off. Mckay's getting good."

Good ole Mckay!

Michael silent. Satisfied with the reply then.

The hood whipped off. Too much light. Blinking to focus. First, a large metal ring, cemented to the floor. A leather tie from the ring to his neck. Then pointed brown boots. That came close. He flinched. Sometimes boots kicked. But it was Michael. Who bent down on one knee beside him. Studying his enemy's face. Head to one side. A sorta Wraith thing to do. A hint of a smile.

"Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard." Carefully pronouncing every word. A hint of triumph. A hint of a sneer. But a whole load of gloating.

"Hi… it's… it's… um… Michael isn't it?" he feigned. Sheppard wasn't going to give him the edge. Smart ass remarks always good at keeping the fear out of his voice.

"I'm not good with names." It was a Mckay line. Hey, but you don't give megalomaniac's the fame they crave. "When did we last meet? Oh yes. When you were busy taking over the Galaxy. Still having problems with that then?... Sorry, but I can't shake hands," he glanced, apologetically, past his shoulder, to his bindings.

Michael's face quivered. He snorted, stood and flounced off, his coat flapping at his legs, shouting his order as he left.

"Bring him!"

Score one for John! He'd already pissed off the man in charge, if nothing else.


The hood removed again. A moment to clear his vision.

"You recognise this place, Colonel?" Michael turned away and walked round a circle, throwing an arm in a wide arc, pointing to the expanse of the grand hall that surrounded them. Michael seemed pleased at his discovery. An incline of the head. Appreciation.

What was this? Michael interested in historic buildings? Like he was going to give him a guided tour?

Sheppard kept his face unreadable. He wasn't going to play any of Michael little games. Not dead yet. But for how long? How long was Michael going to keep this up? This pretence that he didn't want Sheppard dead?

Michael stood still. Lowered his arm. Slightly nonplussed. "You do not?"

There were four guards behind Sheppard and one gave him a sharp prod in the back with his rifle.

"Answer him!"

"Yeah," he conceded, shrugging away from gun, appearing indifferent.

Sheppard couldn't remember the planet's number. Too many visited now. But he could never forget Mara. How she had…

Sheppard shook the memory away and looked round.

"No one appears to be home? You killed them all then?"

He flinched inwardly. There had been some good people living here at one time. And it certainly looked like the place had been trashed. Been in some kind of war. Dust and rubble lay everywhere. Cracked walls and pillars. Broken forgotten furniture. A balcony rail hung loose. The very balcony he and Carson had stood at once and discussed the fate of a dying leader. At the centre, sat the Chair, identical to the one at Atlantis, unharmed. But different from the last time Sheppard had seen it. The Chair, now surrounded by squares of something. Possibly consoles, hidden and sheeted with canvas.

"No. Replicators did this. In their bid to kill all Wraith food. Ultimately… you see, it was Dr. Mackay who killed these people. If he had not altered the base code, if he had not instructed the Replicators to revert back to their original directive, to kill all Wraith, these people would still be alive today."

"Yeah, as hybrids."

Michael ignored him.

"You people on Atlantis… you take it upon yourselves to… interfere. To interfere with the balance of this Galaxy. To alter things that should remain as they have done so for millennia. You have no right. No right…"

Michael fell quiet. His own bad memories.

"One day… one day you will be made to pay in full measure." So his revenge wasn't gonna be personal then, but for the good of the Galactic community. That was reassuring.

Michael turned away. Clearing the deep anger that had surfaced to his features. He picked his way through the sheeting to the Chair. And laid his hand flat on the upright back, tracing over the delicate filigree with his fingers. Smoothing over the bright blue crystal underlay. Caressing even.

Tainting.

Sheppard felt a chill. This city had been an exact duplicate of Atlantis. To see Michael here… At the chair. Amongst all the destruction around him. It felt like a possible future scenario for Atlantis…

"Fortunately, the Chair was left intact…" Suddenly Michael came out of his reverie. He had more practical matters to attend to. "It is my intention to restore this city to its former glory."

Yeah, Michael was your typical world domination character. Plans for a Galaxy takeover. Flash digs. All mod cons and built in spaceship. "And for this, I need your assistance."

"Sorry, but I've already got a job. And I'm not much of a fixer upper."

"Remove his shirt. Then bring him to the Chair." And Michael busied himself pulling the sheets off the consoles, seeming to give Sheppard no more thought.

"Whoa! I work a lot better with my shirt on!"

Two of the guards seized Sheppard's arms. Tightly steadied him as he began to struggle. Though with his hands still bound behind his back, he was never going to put up much of a fight. Another Hybrid stood directly in front of him. Ready with a knife pulled from his belt. Grabbed a handful of tee shirt at the bottom edge.

And flicked the blade upwards through the fabric.

Sheppard jerked as skin was ripped with black cloth, setting his mouth hard so as not to cry out.

Two more cuts at the shoulders and sleeves. And the shirt was tugged free. Thrown to one side. Sheppard shivered. But not with cold.

He was pushed forward to a space behind the Chair. Inches from an impassive Michael intent on his work, firing up consoles. Michael glanced up for a second. A quick flicker of a smile. Gone in an instant. Faking surprise that Sheppard was even there. Faking a lack of reaction to the cuts on Sheppard's body. It'd been there though. Sheppard had seen it. This was payback time then for earlier insolence. Michael could have just asked him to take off his shirt. Though he probably wouldn't have done it.

Score one for Michael. And they were quits.

Michael moved away further down the line of consoles. "Prepare him."

The two guards at his sides held his arms tighter. The one with the knife stood back whilst the fourth came forward with a bucket and a cloth. And proceeded to douse Sheppard's upper body with the fluid from the bucket. The cold took his breath away.

"Hey, guys…?"

Sheppard's could have made a joke about male nurses and bed baths he'd encountered in the Air Force but humour was disappearing fast. He was gonna get experimented on. That much was certain now. But what the hell was this all about? His guards, cold and dispassionate. Couldn't read them. And the liquid stun his cuts. An odour of antiseptic all around.

The first guard had re-sheaved his knife, and appeared now with scissors and a razor.

He knew he was failing. Failing one hundred percent at concealing just what he was feeling. They'd dried him with a rough towel. But he was shivering still.

"Kneel!"

They knew he wouldn't.

One of the guards at his side kicked the back of his calves. Two of them pressed down hard on his shoulders. Landing him heavily on his knees. A hand grabbed a fistful of hair at his forehead. Yanked his head sharply forward till his chin sat uncomfortably on his chest. The scissors began to work at the back and top of his head. Out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed his own black hair falling to the ground. A sort of relief. That was all they intended to do. The razor cleared a small area. Not a full Brynner then.

He was hauled to his feet. Shoved forward to the side of the chair. They untied his hands. Leaving him awkwardly standing there. Rubbing his sore wrists. Glancing down at the thin rivulets of blood snaking down his chest. Even under the watchful eye of four guards, two of whom now trained guns at his bare torso, he toyed briefly with the idea of taking them all on. Or grabbing Michael and using him as a shield. It was going to get him nowhere fast. Except dead.

This felt like score two for Michael.

He lifted a hand to ruefully feel the back of his head. Two guns clicked to attention and he promptly thought the better of it.

Michael was still preoccupied with his consoles. Wraith consoles, Sheppard had noticed. Slimy intestinal tubes of Wraith conduits trailed over the floor or draped over screens not active as yet. It was difficult for Sheppard to find space to stand. And the nauseous aroma of Wraith organic structures. On a scale somewhere between rotting compost and rotting flesh.

Michael looked up. As if noticing him for the first time.

"Please. Sit in the Chair."

Sheppard hesitated, looking down at the steely grey, uncertain. Michael wanted him to work the Chair? Then what with all the crazy prep?

"You know, it doesn't work. Nothing does here." Sheppard was stalling. Thinking out loud. The last time they were here, Rodney had completely drained the city's ZPM to prevent the firing of Drones. Michael must have a pretty good power source or he must have secured himself a ZPM. Several Wraith had, prior to the destruction of the Replicator homeworld.

"Thank you for your concern, Colonel. But you forget, I am a scientist, of equal standing to Dr. Mckay. Or any of your Ancients. I told you. I intend to restore this city. I have taken care of everything to ensure success. Now. Sit down, Colonel."

"Even earthquakes?" Sheppard raised a quizzical eyebrow.

"Nothing that some realignment of substructures couldn't put right. Or excavation of pressure points… Colonel. The Chair?" The hint of a threat.

"But the Chair… ? It'd only fire Drones. Or initiate the Stardrive…" Michael must be trying to use the Chair to operate new systems? With Wraith equipment? Installing a new interface? Could he do that?

"I realise you must have many questions, Colonel. And in the fullness of time, all will be revealed. But at this moment, I need you sitting in the chair. If you refuse… the guards…" he gestured with his hand. "Colonel. The Chair," he repeated. His voice. Icy cold.

Sheppard glanced once more at the guards. At their guns. And reluctantly lowered himself down onto the Chair, flinching slightly at the cold on his bare flesh. The Chair remained in an upright position. Michael's eyes narrowed with annoyance. So, he really expected the Chair to be activated? Sheppard. An expression of innocence. No way was he going to make this easy for Michael.

Score two for Sheppard.

Michael let it go. With difficulty. And nodded to his guards.

"The wrists. Loose enough to work the control pads." Michael was attending to his consoles again. His curt instruction scarcely concealing his former frustration, however.

Two guards came to either side of Sheppard, producing what looked like thick rubber strips with suction clamps at each end. These were used to secure him to the chair and emitted hissing noises when attached.

The wrists first. Then his ankles. His thighs. A longer one around his waist. Then his neck. Apart from his wrists, they were tight and as good as any rope. Sheppard couldn't believe he was allowing this to happen. Couldn't believe his own resignation. And closed his eyes during the whole process. Defeated suddenly.

Score three to Michael.

"Bare feet." Michael's tone now so methodical. Clearly he regarded these procedures as mundane and ordinary. Sheppard felt a guard remove his boots and socks. He frowned. Michael needed him to operate the Chair. But again the question, why all this prep? Whatever were Michael's intentions, they weren't going to be good. They never were. And they certainly didn't look like they were going to be good for Sheppard. Yeah. Michael needed him to operate the Chair. But it was starting to feel like a little torture along the way was going to be an added bonus. And the muscles in his chest just got tighter. And his breathing just got sharper and shallower. And his stomach was doing belly flips.

"And the necklaces." Sheppard's eyes snapped opened as his dog tags were ripped from his neck. It'd probably been the only way to remove them as they'd been hidden under the strap.

Damn. That's what they did to…

The guard held them up, dangling them above Sheppard's face. Michael left the console he was tapping at and came to Sheppard's side. A new interest in his features. He took the dog tags into his own hand and examined them closely. His yellow eyes gleaming as he read the inscriptions. Sheppard so longed to reach for them. Snatch them back. He was even conscious of the fingers of his left hand twitching to do just that. He sort of felt… violated that they were now in Michael's hands.

"These… these carry your name? I remember… you gave me necklaces such as these. Lieutenant Michael Kenmore… We will keep them somewhere safe for you." And he hung them on a protruding piece of metal on the stand of a nearby console. "Though you no longer have need of them." Sheppard helplessly watched them swing until they slowed to a standstill.

I'll get them back. I'll get them back when I'm rescued. Mackay is good. We don't leave people behind.

Thinking positive again.

Score three to Sheppard. And they were even.

Only just.

It had been six days already… When Teyla had been kidnapped by Michael, it had nearly been impossible to find her. Why would the search for Sheppard be any different? And Michael wouldn't comtemplate this current scheme of his, if he weren't completely certain he could carry it out in safety and not be detected. This was permanent. This wasn't a passing fancy. A fleeting aberration of a crazy person. This was Michael calculated and determined to raise a city from the ground. And he knew Michael well enough, that once he envisaged such a scheme, he would ensure everything was done to achieve that end. Even if it might take weeks, months, years. This was permanent. He no longer needed his tags…

Around ten minutes passed before Michael came to his side again. Letting Sheppard stew. All a part of the little game. Unscrewing the top of a small opaque container.

"You had questions earlier, Colonel?"

Yeah, what the hell am I doing here?

"No. Not really. You just go about your evil plans. Don't mind me."

Michael seemed to do just that. He held the container up to the light. An expression of pride.

"This... has taken me some months to perfect. A by-product of my work with the Hybrids." He lowered his hand. "Even so, what at first appeared a simple task proved to be more… difficult." He picked up a lint-looking cloth. "Many of my test subjects succumbed during trials…" He poured some of the container's contents onto the cloth. "This is, in effect, a solution that, once applied to human flesh," and he dabbed the cloth onto Sheppard's left side, immediately below the ribs, "ensures a more ready acceptance of a Wraith implant."

Alarmed, Sheppard abruptly pulled away from the pressure of the cloth. Too late. And there was nowhere to go. The straps held tight.

Now he watched Michael's every move. Mesmerised. Prey caught under the claws of a predator. Knowing what was to come…Or could make a pretty good guess.

Michael turned away and reached for one of the many limp Wraith conduits hanging on a console. He peered at the free end closely, as if examining for defects. It appeared to Sheppard to have loads. A torn, jagged wound that dripped black slime and ooze. And that odour… Sheppard's eyes followed the line back to source. Beyond his dog tags. To a large bottle on a stand. Filled with some thick grey sludge. He knew that his face screwed up with disgust.

Then quickly back to Michael.

Who had a small white tray balanced on the corner of a console. And selected a small canister. And sprayed the ending.

"Anti-bacteria," he explained. "The same applied to you earlier. I, too have washed my hands. An infection would be… a problem." You had to admire the guy. Caring. Explanations. At least Sheppard wouldn't suffer or die in ignorance.

Though he still might die. This was crude. Less than a field med. unit. Sheppard was an experiment. Never a patient.

A guard came to Sheppard's right. Expected to assist. Was handed squares of dressing and tape. From the small white tray. It'd been moved slightly. And Sheppard could see something small and silvery metallic. A scalpel.

You can't hide dread.

The scalpel. Picked up by Michael. Sheppard watched his eyes. Watched the scalpel. Watched his eyes searching Sheppard's chest. Selecting his point of incision. Watched the scalpel. And the Wraith tube in Michael's other hand.

Holding his breath.

"I have not yet developed human local anaesthetic. This will hurt."

And sliced with the scalpel. Cutting just below ribs on the left. The scalpel was razor sharp. Sheppard had seen that before he closed his eyes bracing himself. He scarcely felt it.

It was the Wraith tubing plunged into the open wound that made him scream.

He held the scream in his throat. A growl trailing to a whimper.

Worse than the pain… Worse than the pain was showing that pain to Michael. Hide the trembling as the guard applied the dressing. Control the shaking. Hope that tears are concealed by perspiration. Open his eyes. Don't give anything away. Swallow hard. It'll pass. It'll pass. Don't give anything away.

That Michael had scored points by the dozen.

Michael was wiping the blood from his hands, throwing the small towel down onto the tray.

"If you had activated the Chair, laid the Chair back, laid yourself back, it would not have caused you so much pain. The muscles would have been more relaxed."

Sheppard's reply. A low rasp between gritted teeth. "Right. Thanks for the advice…now." No way, though, was he going to activate the Chair.

"This should heal quickly. I have adapted special dressings that aid the melding of the different tissues. They are totally absorbed and accelerate the healing process. The cut is quite shallow. The aim is for fresh neurological growth. Not necessarily actual cell growth. That will interconnect with your own neural system." Sheppard was able to glance down at the now throbbing wound as Michael talked. No more than a couple of inches across. A red patch slowly growing against something like white cotton. The Wraith tubing winding across his arm. Oddly warm. And slimy. "This is a trial. Twenty four hours. If this has been successful, I shall be able to introduce further tubes tomorrow." Sheppard's heart sank. "There are two tube variations. Neural conduits. And… more functional tubing. This is of the latter category. It will provide all the nutrients that you require for the duration of your stay in the Chair."

"Right," murmured Sheppard.

"Although you are motionless, your energy requirements will be high, as the neural conduits become fully operational. I also anticipate that muscular atrophy will be a problem, so an additional feed will remedy that."

"Thanks for that." Inwardly, he was creeping out.

Sheppard watched Michael untangling more conventional wiring.

"Why are you doing this? I still… don't understand." The question came out inspite of himself. He never intended to reveal any curiosity on his part. This much he understood. That Michael was linking him up to his Consoles. Him and the Chair. He had remembered Larrin. The last person to kidnap him to use his ATA gene. To adapt Lantean technology to suit their own, they used… Sheppard struggled to remember the word… an adaptor. Rodney. Rodney would simply re-write the interface. None of this human in the middle stuff.

"Why am I restoring the City? Or why am I doing this to you?"

"The last. No, both. No, the last." He wasn't ready for the power-crazed speech. "I don't understand…" he winced. Talking hurt his side. "Why not…why not just re-write the interface. You need to access the Lantean systems with your Wraith technology? Why not re-write the interface? Or use an adaptor?"

"It has not proven possible. Ideally I would have liked to have used the Ancient Control Room itself. But it was too badly damaged in earth tremors and the Replicator attack. So I've had to resort to setting up a Wraith control point." Michael stopped talking for a moment going to a console on Sheppard's right, connecting in the ends of his leads. He resumed his explanation, still working. "The Ancients when they fled to join the others on Atlantis, left all systems operational so that the local populace could defend themselves against Wraith attack. However, they installed a virus, ensuring that no-one with Wraith DNA could access the city systems. At present, I have been unsuccessful in circumnavigating this virus…"

Ouch, that had to hurt Michael's pride. One score point to the Ancients!

"So this method is the most expedient for me at the present… But enough. There is still much to do." Michael walked round behind the Chair, pulling the leads with him. He'd added sensors. Four. With a quick squirt of cold gel, two were placed on each of Sheppard's temples and the last two on the shaved area of Sheppard's scalp. Sheppard offered no resistance. There seemed little point.

"These are temporary. In two or three days, we can add proper conduits."

To my head? With no anaesthetic? Sheppard bit his lip. Someone on Atlantis had better be organising that rescue pretty damn quickly.

"In the interim, I need to carry out important initial calibrations to get all systems up and running."

Michael re-appeared at Sheppard's left side and positioned himself at a console. Typed in a few codes.

"I am ready now. Activate the Chair, please, Colonel."

Saying please still wasn't going to get Michael anywhere. No response from the Chair. No response from Sheppard.

Sheppard stared straight ahead. Concentrating on a half-fallen tapestry. Concentrating on his own rebellion. He wondered how far he could go with this. He knew he was playing with fire. Michael could hurt him at any time. With anything. The goal was to be a thorn in Michael's side. Means to an end.

And he'd earn game points.

Michael turned round. A storm of fury brewing in his face. He maintained a calm voice, however, repeating his request. Without the please.

"Colonel. Activate the Chair."

Still, the silent refusal from Sheppard.

"Activate the Chair, Colonel… You will not?..." He was wanting to explode. Sheppard could sense it. He could nearly hear those Wraith nostril slits flaring. He would not look in Michael's direction. And so did not see the order given to the guards.

Electrodes. Applied to his feet. So he had been right about that. Bare feet. Torture.

This was Michael the scientist taking care of all eventualities. Michael had expected Sheppard to refuse him all along. And had known what it'd take to get him to activate the Chair. Revenge. Michael was in a no lose situation. Sooner or later Sheppard would have to cave in. Michael would get his Chair and his revenge. Yet… for a moment there… Michael seemed genuinely angered at this delay alone. Nothing to do with revenge.

Michael had moved behind the Chair again. Directing his men from there. The guards looked to a space above Sheppard's head for the order to commence.

"You still refuse me?" Sheppard had already set his jaw hard. "You understand what they will do to you?" Sheppard made no reply.

A guard's hand twitched over the switch.

He wasn't going to cry out.

But. No. Where. To. Twist. His. Body. To escape the pain. The bindings saw to that.

Michael stopped things immediately. Concerned about the attached Wraith tubing. He checked the dressing. And ordered more straps to keep that area still.

"Upper arms. And chest." When these were secured, he spoke again. To Sheppard.

"You wish to continue with this? Because I do not. What will it prove? That you are strong? …Stronger than me?" He had begun sincere enough. But ended with mockery.

To his Hybrids. "Carry on."

The voltage increased. The jolts to his body prolonged. He writhed in the Chair, restricted by the straps. He cried out in the Chair. Passed out in the Chair. But still he would not obey the command to activate the Chair. Welcomed passing out. Though they quickly brought him round. Welcomed more than anything, Michael's frustration.

Who was winning the points here?

"I could kill you!"

"Go on! Do it!" He knew Michael wouldn't. Couldn't. He needed that Chair working.

"Activate the Chair!"

"Go to hell!"

He'd messed his feet up good and proper. The stench of burning skin. Once he'd thrown up. Once he thought his heart would stop. Once they struggled to revive him.

"Why are you so stubborn!" appealed Michael again.

Yeah, that's me. Stubborn. He didn't know if he said it out loud.

"I know that you expect to be rescued. I know that your friends will risk their lives to save you. Would you then want your friends to find you dead?"

Sheppard had already figured that one out.

It was time to end this. He activated the Chair. Even brought up the HUD.

The next day a further tube was fitted. Michael had intended to implant more but Sheppard was still in a weak state. Michael showing compassion? Well, that's different.

Michael busied himself instead with adapting the Chair. Within an hour, the Chair was permanently in the laid back position, whether activated or not. It meant that Sheppard could sleep. More of that compassion? It also meant that Sheppard was more accessible. Could more readily be worked upon… Sheppard knew he didn't like the sound of that.

In the period before Sheppard's capture, Michael had obviously completed much work already. Connecting the Chair to control points and systems other than Drone storage and stardrive. Sheppard began to suspect that Michael was now the foremost expert in the Galaxy on Lantean Chairs. Though he made a note to self, never to tell Rodney that… if he ever saw Rodney again, that is…

The following day, the day of the head implants, Michael produced a syringe and put Sheppard out.

It must have been a whole day later before he came round again. Sheppard had seen how the first two implants worked. Within twenty four hours, totally healed and the dressings completely absorbed to form new skin.

A shaky attempt to raise his head. Not easy to do. Still bound by the straps. And now a dragging weight at his head. This was the stage of the new attachments.

All fifteen of them.

Nausea hit. And he lay back exhausted. The after effects of the drug. The stench of the tubing. He felt filthy. The heat they generated as they lay coiled around him. Sweat. The sight of them alone was sickening. Like some animal that had been skinned alive, exposing its entrails. They moved and shifted that way. As if still alive. But were red-black and putrid as in death.

Fifteen of them.

Four at his head. Two he could feel at his back. At his spine. Others at his chest and arms.

The rest of his clothes had been removed. And a small blanket tucked around the lower part of his body. He could feel two tubes at his groin even. For waste, Michael explained later. Well, that was good. Michael had begun feeding Sheppard the grey starch a day earlier. He'd been offered water too. On request. No doubt, it would be denied if he misbehaved. Michael had anticipated dry mouth and dry throat. Sheppard certainly as hell needed some now.

A second attempt to raise his head. More tell tale signs that the implants had taken. Little space between the coils. Bare skin a grey shadow. Black tendrils that stretched out beneath the surface. Like a fungus. Repelled at the sight of his own body. Laid back again. Closed his eyes. Opened them again. Turned his head the fraction the coils would allow. His dog tags.

We never leave anyone behind.

But what could anyone do to save him now?

One point to Michael and he hadn't even touched the ball.

Sheppard was the human in the middle.

Michael's commands. Fed into his Wraith consoles. Followed through the Wraith conduits into Sheppard. A Wraith sub- neural system linked up with Sheppard's own. The Chair recognized his ATA gene and was effectively duped into accepting Michael's commands. Commands that operated Michael's new systems or existing Lantean ones. Sheppard was a mere link. A mere organic… adaptor. That was the word. A word for a device. A mechanism. A machine…

When the system worked in reverse, Sheppard participated more. Intel came over the HUD and it was far quicker for Sheppard to give a verbal report, rather than wait for messages to relay through the links, requiring lengthy re-configuration to Wraith, the language that Michael was still most comfortable with.

It was surprising that Michael trusted him. But time saved meant that his project was just that little closer to completion. This wasn't revenge now. This was greed and avarice to finish.

And a routine developed. Every morning the guards washed and shaved him. It'd be nearly impossible for Sheppard with the cumbersome weight of the conduits at his arms and head. Every two or three days, a full body wash. He tried not to be coy. Grateful for some degree of freshness from the humid atmosphere the conduits created. The smell of antiseptic. But nothing could overcome the stench of the tubes that snaked and wreathed around him.

Thankfully Michael was never present at these times. Michael embarrassed?

It'd figure. Whenever, teams had encountered the aftermath of his experiments. His discarded corpses. Victims had never been stripped naked. Was it a line that, as part human, he was not prepared to cross? Sheppard felt he had few things to be thankful for at the present. But Michael's squeamishness would definitely be one of them.

When he did appear, it was always with the same question.

"How are you feeling?"

It threw Sheppard the first time.

"Come again?"

"How are you feeling?" Said matter-of-factly. With no emotion. He waved an arm at the HUD. "The display shows your blood pressure, heart rate and temperature. But I am in need of oral feedback also. You are of no use to me if you fall ill." Torture aside that is.

So sores from prolonged sitting were treated and padding provided. When he complained he was losing the feeling to his legs, however, Michael's reply was dismissive.

"You do not need your legs. If they are a problem, we will amputate." Sheppard winced. It was nothing more than some sort of exercise could not put right. There were limits to Michael's altruism then.

But there was a memory. Jogging on Atlantis…. Out on the piers… The sea… The wind…

Tied to the chair, the desire to run free…

But he doubted he'd ever run again. Even if he were rescued. His feet would not heal. He'd taken up a new game plan…

He was torn.

A part of him cried out to survive. Whatever it took. Survive and be rescued. If that meant pandering to Michael's every whim, so be it. But that other part, just wanted to kick back at Michael, to get under his skin. There was always a possibility that one day Michael would be re-initiating the defence system and the stardrive. That had to be stalled, prevented. The only way he was going to do any of that, was fight. And take the pain. And it was gonna kill him. Eventually it was gonna kill him. But if he were never rescued… ever… did he really want life on these terms?…

So, this was how he was playing it. Let the guy think he had won. Go along with his project.

Then.

Pull the wire tight. Dig in his heels. Put the spoke in the wheel. It'd torment Michael like hell. Not knowing when Sheppard would strike. Would always be on edge. Wondering just when Sheppard would pull that wire tight. And ultimately, Michael would have to admit he'd lost his control over Sheppard.

And Sheppard would take the pain. A little at a time. He could bare that. As long as he had his anchor. His dog tags. There at his side. Yeah, he knew it was stupid. Irrational. To place such importance on an inanimate object. He'd seen other pilots with their talismen and lucky charms in their jets. All intelligent men. This wasn't like that. Hell, nothing could possibly bring him luck in this situation. It was just something that was... there for him. When nobody or nothing else was... And reminded him of who he was. And what he could go back to.

Sheppard's compromise, then. The deal with himself. The best of both worlds. Or the worst…

So. Some days, Michael would leave, saying, "We have achieved much today!"

And Sheppard would say, "Yeah, whatever," and feel the proverbial pat on the back.

On other days. When Sheppard flat refused to co-operate, when the pain from his feet was unbearable, when he nearly passed out, when only the sight of his dog tags helped him to cling onto hope, when Michael stormed out of the hall, with a rage so intense he could not speak, those were the days when much was achieved.

Those days, Sheppard scored bonus points.

On one such day, Michael, in a fury, lashed out and struck him with his bare hand. Unmindful of damage to the Conduits.

Snarling.

The bestial sound filling the hall with echo.

Snarling. Like a Wraith.

His right hand. Full force on Sheppard's chest. Wraithlike. His right hand. The Wraith feeding hand.

He stopped himself. Blinking, staring at his own hand. Hating a memory…

Then.

Lost to anger again.

"Why do you oppose me?" he screamed. Raining down blow after blow to Sheppard's face. "Do you not know how much work we will have to re-do?"

When Sheppard came to, Rodney was there.

He heard his voice first.

"My God! What have you done to him? What have you done to his feet? Sheppard! Sheppard!"

Rodney. Wide-eyed. And afraid. Tied to a faded tapestried chair. Sheppard double blinked against a bleary haze. As much as his bruised face would allow. Was this a dream? If not, it was soon going to turn into a nightmare. Rodney. Bleeding at the shoulder from a missing sub-cu transmitter. His tee shirt ripped at the neck. Electrodes placed at his chest.

"I have a friend for you. He is going to be a great aid to me." Michael had gone into gloating mode again, recovering fully from his earlier temper. "I no longer have to inflict pain on you, but on Dr. Mackay. Perhaps we shall proceed at a speedier pace?"

In one play, Michael scored twenty points.

Michael was sitting on a high stool beside Sheppard. Arms folded. A slight smile. Head to one side. That Wraith thing again. Studying Sheppard.

"I think we should set some new perimeters, don't you?"

Sheppard struggled with the insult he wanted to throw back. Lips cut. His mouth cut. He coughed and spat out blood.

Michael. Patient and caring again. Nodded to a guard. To provide water and a cloth to rinse out his mouth.

A horrified Rodney looking on with alarm. How long? How long had it been since Sheppard last seen the scientist? Three weeks…

Michael resumed. "The Hybrids call me Master. You too will call me Master. Both of you." He glanced back at Rodney. Who indicated with his eyes that he had no problem with that.

"Michael. Master. Bastard. Whatever." Threw in Sheppard. Rodney sucked in breath sharply. He must have thought he was surely in for some of Sheppard's pain. That there was no need for Sheppard to push his luck. But Michael ignored Sheppard's remark.

"Now. Shall we test our new arrangement?"

"I won't let you touch him." It was a warning from Sheppard, as much as an assurance.

"No matter what? Earth humans have a saying, do they not? 'Go through hell and high water.' You would do that for a friend? To protect him?"

"Yeah." Sheppard didn't like the sound of the way this was going.

"Shall we see how much hell you're prepared to go through?" As if he hadn't been through enough hell already. His stomach turned to lead. And the cliché was a good one.

Michael fired up a console screen. The display showed Sheppard and Ronon forcing down a Wraith onto a hospital bed. Smiling. Enjoying the struggle. The Wraith cursing but powerless to fight back. Sheppard mocking the Wraith. 'You're gonna need a name. How does Mike sound?" Not one of Sheppard's proudest moments.

"I wondered when you'd bring that up," he said quietly, a tremor on his lips.

"I took the liberty of downloading this on Atlantis when I arranged the Wraith alliance. I believe it rightly belongs to me anyway… You forced a name on me, Colonel. One I did not desire or need. All as a part of wiping out my true Wraith nature. To give me a human identity… Here are further images for you…" And the screen flickered and changed. To show Sheppard in the Chair.

Humiliation. This was how Rodney saw him.

Shame. This was how Michael felt as his Wraithness drained away from him. He was to be pitied too.

"No longer the Colonel Sheppard we know, is it?" He looked from the screen. Back to Sheppard. Back to the screen. Letting the picture sink in. "Not even… human, is it?" His nostrils twitched. Disgust. Contempt in his voice.

Sheppard's second unwritten motto. You don't let anything show. That's how it should be. But Michael was scoring points by the thousands.

"Just as you transformed me from Wraith to human, you too have been transformed from human to machine. This is all that you are now. A mere machine to process my information and technology. A Wraith control centre. And just as I needed a name to become human, you do not need a name to be a machine."

Michael reached forward and removed Sheppard's dog tags from their hook.

"It has not gone unnoticed, how often you look to these." He held them up. Taunting. Showing them to Sheppard. One last time. And then. Moved a glass beaker of clear liquid that sat beside him. Dropped the dog tags in. They dissolved instantly.

"Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard is no more." Michael settled himself back into his chair. "So… let's go back to testing this new arrangement. Let's see what you are prepared to do for Dr. Mckay. Answer this question correctly and I will not harm him. What is your name?"

"Sheppard…" began Rodney. He had seen the hurt.

"No, Dr. Mckay. You are not required to speak. This… machine has its reply. Again…what is your name?" A silence. Michael sighed. "Do I really need to-"

"I have no name," came the ghost of a voice.

Michael left the room.

"Sheppard!" hissed Rodney, glancing at the only guard, wondering if it were ok to talk. "Sheppard!"

There was no reply. Sheppard was watching the place his dog tags had once hung.

Suddenly, he looked across at Rodney. Anger rising. It was good he was angry. In anger, he could forget...though he was suddenly aware just how sore his mouth was.

"How the hell did you get here?" It'd been complicated enough with his own captivity. Now he had Rodney to think of.

"Wraithship…I think…"

"No. No. What are you doing here?" Still angry.

"And glad to see you too! Trying to rescue you, what do you think?" If his hands weren't tied he'd be folding his arms. Head to one side, (which it was). And with a smug look on his face, (which he had).

"Well, you obviously didn't try very hard. Whose plan was it anyhow to risk getting you captured?" Still angry.

"Yours actually."

"Come again?" Sheppard blinked.

"You remember the decoy plan. The one we were going to use to find Teyla? The one where you set up a trap using yourself as a decoy? Well, this is it! And I'm the decoy!"

"That was a crazy plan! After lengthy, very lengthy discussions it was dropped. Needed two hundred plus Marines to pull it off." Yeah, he was exaggerating.

"Did you have two hundred Marines?" No reply. Rodney's smugness evaporated.

"Did you even have a dozen?" And did Sam actually authorise this? Probably not.

Rodney's confession. His uncharacteristic silence.

"How many did you have?"

Still no reply.

"You didn't have any, did you?"

"Ah, there you're wrong! Ronon. I had Ronon."

"Ronon. And where is Ronon now?"

"He's ok… I think… Left him stunned."

"Left stunned? And he's ok? You think so? And where are the five Marines that were with me? I thought they were left stunned too." Sheppard felt he knew the answer. Would be the way of these Hybrids. Stun everyone to protect the main target. Once the main target is secured, everyone else is expendable… Dead men tell no tales.

He watched Rodney squirm with his admission.

"They were… shot." Hopefully before they came round.

"And you still think Ronon is ok? These guys don't mess around. What were you thinking of?"

Sheppard suddenly felt exhausted. Let the storm pass. He could never be angry with Rodney for long. However stupid his actions. And Rodney always had a way of outweighing anything dumb he did with something of sheer brilliance. Though, once again, he was never going to admit that thought to Rodney.

His jaw throbbed. He lay looking at the high ceiling. Frowning. Thinking. That Rodney had endangered himself in his failed rescue attempt. Remembering the anger on Michael's face as he lashed out. Wondering when Michael would return.

And longing to get out of the Chair. And just walk away…

Silence between the two.

Rodney broke it. He must have been watching him. "What… what have they done to you?"

"Don't…" He was going to say 'don't pity me.' But he so wanted pity. Loads of the stuff. The image of Colonel Sumner. 'Pity me' in his eyes. His dog tags at his chest before Sheppard took aim. The dog tags that now hung in Sheppard's room to remind him of that day. His only consolation, that the man he was about to kill was no longer human… Not to look at… Inside… Inside a soul needing pity. Now Sheppard was no longer… human. He swallowed hard. Tried to turn his face so Rodney would not see it. The empty space where his own dog tags had been. Eyes moistening. Some tough guy, he was! But who was going to give him his pity? His mercy?

"You shouldn't have come," he said in a low whisper.

"Sheppard… John…"

"You forget. I don't have a name."

Rodney was released from his chair and held, during the time that Sheppard and Michael worked together, in a force field cage. Michael evidently trusted Sheppard to keep to his word, that he would not allow any harm to fall to Rodney. And the electrodes were put to one side.

Rodney never said anything. Except once or twice to complain about the food. Either sat on the floor. Or paced around his metre and a half square. He was rightfully wary of causing any trouble.

But he was watching.

And Michael was so preoccupied, he didn't notice. Or it didn't bother him.

At night, they took him away. And suddenly the nights felt lonely for Sheppard… He scarcely ever slept anyway. The Chair was far too uncomfortable. Michael insisted on long hours so thankfully the nights were short. Or rather, the time allocated for sleep was short. He no longer had any concept of daylight and darkness.

On the third day after Rodney's arrival, Michael left them alone. And Rodney fired so many questions, it made Sheppard's head spin.

"You know they take me to a cell underground? Do you know how cold it is down there? Do you know they only give me one blanket? One blanket?-"

"-Rodney!"

"Huh? I'm sorry. Sort of... You... in that Chair... Worse off... So you're a link? Why didn't he re-write the interface?"

"A virus."

"You think he has a ZPM? Or two? Or three?" He didn't even give Sheppard a chance to reply.

"And Droids? Robotic diggers? Where did they come from? They are so not Pegasus technology."

"Yeah. Wrong movie, eh?" Sheppard was working these remotely. The half-buried city had to be excavated before any real renovation could be started.

"You don't think he's discovered access to another Galaxy? That would account for why he's achieved so much in such a small time span with apparently so few resources."

"You admire him then?"

"Oh no. No. No. No. And you have access to everything?"

"I thought you knew. Everything comes through me. Not sub-space communications, however. I don't think he'd trust me with that, somehow."

"It's a stupid system. What if something happened… to you?" Rodney had paused. Suddenly realising just how tactless his remark could be.

"There's a back-up. It's called Rodney Mckay." Rodney looked at him horrified.

"But… but I'm no good with the ATA gene."

"Better than nothing. Like I said. You should never have come."

"And what's with this 'how are you feeling?' every morning?" Sheppard was still being asked for his daily health check. Even now new tubes were being implanted. As new areas of the city were recovered. Everything would change now. Before Rodney, Michael had to keep him alive. Now… he didn't.

"He's a caring sorta guy."

"Huh?" Not really listening. "And everything comes through you?"

"Yeah. Said that." Rodney was planning something. Sheppard could sense it.

And the next question. Softer.

"Those implants? They hurt?"

Rodney had seen that. Sheppard wished he hadn't and fell quiet.

"Hmm… And where is Michael now?" The one guard was looking at them suspiciously.

"Don't you mean, Master?" Sheppard. Sarcastic.

The guard was approaching. And they had to stop.

Something went seriously wrong in the East Sector. Sheppard couldn't say why for sure. But the systems were down. The droids were down. A wall was down. And droids were buried beneath it.

Michael jumped up. Flared up. Furious. Sheppard hadn't seen him so mad and riled since the day of his attack on his face. Instantly concerned. Rodney would suffer for this. And Rodney knew that too. Eyes wide open with fear.

"Why do you persistently sabotage my every effort?" He was beckoning the guards over to deal with Rodney.

"No!" Sheppard. Stopping Michael. "I'm tired. Can't sleep. Don't sleep. In the Chair… All the time."

Michael considering. Not entirely convinced. But waved the guards away.

"You were supposed to report-"

"-Just did."

Michael conceded. "We work long hours. I forget. You are not like Wraith. Humans are so weak." He said it with contempt and meant it. Not realising he'd called Sheppard human. Still thinking, he left. Taking all but one of the guards with him.

Perhaps Sheppard also should have mentioned that his left shoulder ached. The latest implant. But he was so used to living with discomfort now, he hadn't given it a second thought.

"Where did he go?" Rodney knew he'd just had a close call. But couldn't help his curiosity. Despite the remaining guard. Different from the other day. Not so attentive.

Sheppard had closed his eyes. Not tired. Exhausted actually.

"I dunno. Off to play with his chemistry set, I guess."

"He has labs here?"

"Yeah." Not the least bit interested. But as a gesture to Rodney, he pressed the control pads and concentrated. The blue of the Chair lit up. The HUD image changed from the wreckage in the East Sector to that of a lab. showing Michael working at a table cluttered with test tubes and glass flasks.

"Impressive, huh?" Not the least bit impressed.

"How did you know he was there?" Rodney dropped his voice to a whisper. "He can hear and see us, right?" Horrified at Sheppard's lack of caution.

Sheppard opened one eye to peer sleepily at Rodney. Sheppard didn't lower his voice. He'd long ago ceased caring.

"It's where he always is if he's not here. It's where he makes these things." He lifted an arm slightly to indicate the Conduits. "And yeah, it's a two way feed. Usually he would have flicked it on his end. Not always. Not lately anyhow. Guess he's getting to trust me…" He closed his eyes wearily.

"And you… 'browse' often? He doesn't mind?"

"I get bored. No in-house movies."

Michael returned. Sheppard opened his eyes again. Watchful. Michael held a small phial of clear liquid and a syringe.

"A sleeping draught. You'll get six hours sleep. The Hybrids will clear up the East Sector in the meantime." Sheppard winced as the needle pricked at the soft flesh on the inside of his arm. He must have looked doubtful.

"It will not harm you." He sounded almost kind.

Michael left again.

So it was sort of an official break. Yet Rodney wasn't taken away. The Hybrids were probably too busy now to escort him.

The effect of the draught was immediate. Not that he wasn't weary already. Heavy eyelids. Drowsiness. Could feel his whole body relax. Pretty sure he hadn't been able to do that in the last three weeks. Even his shoulder hurt less.

And then Rodney began to talk.

"You know, you have to hand it to Michael. What he's done to this place. I caught a glimpse of his plans earlier. Quite ingenious." Whose side are you on ? "His control tower. Our's pales in comparison. He's done this neatest thing. You know, how you can go out onto a balcony on Atlantis and look over the city, breath in the air, take in the view, feel good about the world?" Yeah, but not lately Rodney . Rub it in, why don't you! "And then the view is spoilt by wires, cables and such like? Well, Michael has that all contained in a single tiny, tiny unit, all neatly stacked away." And Rodney held the fingers of both hands close together just to show how tiny that unit was. "Well, tiny relative to everything else, that is."

It was lost on Sheppard who'd nearly drifted off. Couldn't concentrate on Rodney's ramblings. And then on that point when sleep comes, a question. What was Rodney on about? It was the same on Atlantis. All communication systems inside the control tower. Nothing outside. Too exposed to the elements or enemy.

"And I can't help admiring him - he's not listening is he?"

Sheppard was more awake now and opened one eye to peer at Rodney.

"Well, he might be." Wondering when Rodney had joined the Michael fan club.

Rodney wasn't deterred it seemed and carried on regardless. Pacing the short distance of his cage, face animated with enthusiasm, pointing with his finger to emphasize every remark.

"I know, I know he's supposed to be the arch-arch-enemy, but I love the way his scientific brain works." Rodney must have just bought the tee-shirt.

"Not too good with our terminology though. Initials and abbreviations and all that. But…But…He appreciates that science… well… everything is linked. Not a lot of scientists know that. I was only saying that same thing to Radek the other day. And he's another example of a scientist not seeing that link. Oh yes. Good at all that analysis and monitoring-"

"-Rodney!"

"Hm?"

"Shut the hell up, will you? I'm trying to sleep!"

"Oh yes…Sorry. Sorry." And Sheppard closed his eyes again.

Rodney quiet a moment. And then.

"You know I missed you."

Well, that got his attention again. "What?" Sheppard blearily opened his eyes once more. Fighting the sleep that was coming in at the edges.

"No. Re-phrase that. Missed all our little conversations. I know a lot of them have been over the radio lately. But… well… I miss them all the same."

Eyes shut again. Thinking. Not sleeping. Their 'little conversations,' as Rodney had put it, always took place in the mess hall. In their quarters. On the radio? And this on top of all the stuff about towers and links. Rodney was cracking up.

Sheppard prised open his eyes and raised his head as much as the neck binding would allow.

"You ok?"

"Yes. Fine." Sheppard lowered his head, exhausted with the effort. Wincing as his shoulder began to hurt again.

"You know. You must miss Larrin," resumed Rodney.

"Huh?"

"I know you two were close."

"Not particularly, Rodney," remembering the two hours spent trying to escape that evil lady's clutches. And then when things did look promising, she refused to give him a forwarding address…

"It was lucky that I managed to rescue you that day."

Sheppard looked Rodney's way again. Rodney smiling at his own imaginary bravado.

Sheppard's voice slurring. The draught really kicking in now. He struggled with a reply. "If I rem… remember, it was me who…" Imperceptible. Sheppard nearly didn't see it through his hazy vision. Rodney shook his head. A warning. Don't finish. Not out loud.

Quickly covering.

"Rodney. I've just got to sleep," he pleaded.

"Yeah. I know. I'll keep quiet now. Promise." Rodney's over and out. His message ended. His plan. Hidden. Encoded in his gabbling.

Now he has a plan.

When Sheppard couldn't keep awake.

When he had to fake sleeping and try and think straight. Alert. Keep alert. SOS. He'd been about to say that. 'It was me who sent the SOS.' And he would have blown it if he had. The SOS. That Rodney had tracked when Larrin held him. The radio. Comms. Rodney wanted him to send an SOS. Radek was monitoring. Sheppard's trail might have gone cold. But Rodney's was fresh. Radek would be monitoring all deep space sensors for traces of Rodney. And Michael wouldn't recognise the earth distress call. Three short. Three long. Three short. He doesn't understand earth initials. Or morse. Or SOS.

What's next? What's next? He frowned in his supposed sleep. Clearing a fuddled brain. How? He'd told Rodney he had no access to comms. Everything is linked. Everything is linked. What now? What now? And his mind fuzzed over. Went blank. Dammit! Wake up! Start at the beginning. SOS. Radek. Links. Right. Rodney had seen Michael's plans. Over his shoulder. Michael had been careless. Sheppard had a link to the control tower. The new comms. were in the control tower. Rodney had seen a link that Sheppard could use. But Michael would detect that a call out had been made? Rodney hadn't thought of that? Rodney had been talking about… about. He couldn't remember. He couldn't remember. He'd been falling asleep. Rodney had been talking about the control tower. The view? Comms. The comms. unit is tiny. But it isn't. Not on Atlantis. The unit is tiny. Wasn't talking about the unit. About something tiny. Make it tiny... Low frequency. Then perhaps Michael might not notice. But Radek wouldn't notice either? But Radek was good. And he was looking. It'd just be background noise. Michael wouldn't detect it. But Radek was good. And Michael's not returning for six hours. It'll all be finished. Done. Old data. Michael wouldn't expect Sheppard to know about the link. Take the chance. Take the chance and find the link. What had he got to lose? Take a chance they weren't looking in his direction. The guard thinks he's asleep. The guard might notice the Chair activate. But the guard knows he 'browses' anyway. They all knew. Including Michael. If they saw the crystal light up blue. They'd just think Sheppard still couldn't sleep and was browsing. Rodney had checked that out. Rodney also knew they could be overheard. That's why he talked jibberish. Concentrate then. Stay alert. Concentrate.

The first attempt failed. He was too tired. Too damned tired. And hot. And his shoulder throbbed. An ache that added to the dullness in his brain. Though questions and doubt there. Couldn't find the link. If only Rodney had given him another clue. The hardest part was finding the link. Michael would never have made it easy. Was Rodney even certain the link was there? Had Sheppard misunderstood him? Perhaps there had been another clue and he'd missed it? And there was never any guarantee that a message received would result in a successful rescue. This was panic. He was so desperate to escape…Deep breath. Concentrate. Don't panic. But life depends on it. No pressure then. Deep breath. Concentrate. This shouldn't be this difficult. This should come naturally. He was John Sheppard. Concentrate.

Second time lucky.

Sheppard was winning points again.

And tell Rodney.

A pretence at waking. He doubted he'd ever sleep now. He'd fought the sleeping draught for too long.

"Hey, Rodney…" he said drowsily.

"Yes?"

"Glad you're here."

Nightmare. Trembling. Shaking. The tremors of his body pulling hard against his bindings. Soaked in his own perspiration. Hot. So hot. He thought they were thick blankets. But they were snakes. Thick writhing snakes. And one had the jaws of a giant rat. That breathed fire. And gnawed at his shoulder. Searing pain down his left side. Pulsating high into his skull.

"Get these goddammed things offa me! Get these goddammed things offa me!" he screamed. His own hands would not move. He clawed at the hard surface beneath his fingernails. Desperate to throw the snakes off.

Someone was there beside him. A black shadow.

Another voice was screaming. "You've poisoned him!"

The shadow was calm. "The last conduit didn't take. A rejection. Or an infection. Or both. It was always going to be a problem. I'm going to remove it. It hasn't taken…root."

He was begging the shadow. Begging the shadow. "Please! Please!" The shudders of his body hurting his heart.

The other voice. "They take…root? You're sick! You know that! You're just so so sick!"

Another shadow raised his left shoulder. He growled into the pain.

The first shadow came closer.

Michael.

Cooling liquid. All the attention of a good doctor.

Then he jerked the conduit out of Sheppard's shoulder with a twist. And the nightmare whizzed into blackness.

The voices were arguing again.

"He's going to die! He has a fever! And he's going to bleed to death!"

"I've given him antibodies. I've applied anticoagulants. Introduced fluids. There's nothing more I can do."

"Yeah, and what med. school did you practice at? The Academy of Dr. Victor Frankenstein?" Rodney loud and mad. All care to the wind.

Whoa, Rodney. This is Michael you're yelling at. Not heard. Voice a rasping whisper. Lost in the shivering shaking his body.

Rodney… Was like that… On surface… Whimpering fool… But defending… Science. Belief… Friend… Stood his ground…

Go for it, Rodney… Hell, go for it Rodney…

Good to have known you Rodney…

Was good…

"You have to keep him cool! Those conduits are generating so much heat. He's going to die!"

"If I remove the conduits, he will definitely die."

"…And you think I care?..."

"…Yes. I do, actually! I've seen…"

"…Do not be so ridiculous, Dr. Mackay…"

"…Like I said, you're insane!..."

"…I am what you made me!..."

"…If he dies, be prepared to replace him..."

Hearing. The last sense to go…

Fragments heard in a grey mist.

Fragments that faded away…

"They are drawing close, Master."

"Yes. I am ready to depart." Michael picked up a datapad. Rodney had watched him download for the last half hour. Watched him now glance round the hall one last time. Regret. That he had to leave. He walked over to the recumbent Sheppard. Staring down. No remorse. But then…

"I did not believe he would last so long… twenty days…" A quiet voice.

He abruptly turned away and made towards the exit.

"You…you are not going to kill us?"

Michael stopped. A half-turn, to reply to Rodney.

"He will never leave that Chair alive. You are his friend. You can watch him die. There is no better revenge." Reached the door. An afterthought. "Oh, and congratulations, Dr. Mckay, for the message to Atlantis. Though it was really Colonel Shep-" He stopped and corrected himself. "-The Chair that discovered the link. It is a pity that I could not be here in person to give your rescuers the welcome they deserve."

Another dark shape. Michael? That tugged at his bindings. Releasing and hissing. Louder than his own gasping breaths.

"Whoa!" The click of Rodney's fingers. "Shouldn't have done that big guy! This whole area could be booby trapped." Rodney's sing song voice.

Big guy. Had to be Ronon. But Ronon. Was dead.

"We've just wasted an hour outside already looking for traps! Damned if I'm going to waste anymore time!"

"Don't! Don't touch those!" Rodney's wincing voice.

"These things? What are they anyway?" Ronon. Gotten used to horrors of Pegasus. But couldn't conceal his disgust at the Conduits.

"A Wraith neural interface. Overlaying the ATA neural interface of the Chair. Linked to Sheppard. In turn linked to command posts throughout the city. It can't be removed. It'd kill or paralyze him. The fever. Rejection of Wraith tissue. Therefore it has to be removed. Catch 22." Rodney's explanation. To others that now moved in the hall.

"Oh my God!" Keller. "What did Michael do to him?"

Keller. Keller could help him.

Forced his eyes open. Fought hard to focus. Keller. And Sam. Shock on their faces. They were the guys who knew. Always had the answers… but now… their faces… seen only for a moment… they didn't know how to help him.

Michael. Michael knew what they'd find. He was still there with the torture. He was still winning points and not even in the game.

He couldn't understand why he was holding on. Keller came close. Antibodies, she explained. In the haze, he was begging her. The memory. Colonel Sumner begging with his eyes. Sheppard begging with eyes and words.

"Kill me… Kill me… If you can't help, kill me…" Hoarse and rasping.

Keller taken aback. "No. No. I'm gonna do no such thing. Don't think like that. You'll be ok. But it's complicated. And… you're very ill."

Something cooling on his forehead. And an oxygen mask over his face. It seemed like clear, clear fresh air. And he sank into and allowed it to take him away.

Voices again. Arguments. Ideas. Pros and cons. Rodney mainly. Often loud. Keller too. Couldn't understand any of it. Headache from hell. Hurt to think. Hurt to breathe. A moan, a whimper in every breath. A blur if he opened his eyes. Listen then. Hearing is the last sense to go… Listen and someone would come to him.

"John?" Sam's voice. Calm reason in a crisis. A lifeline. A raft in a shipwreck.

"John, can you hear me?" He managed a reply of sorts. Muffled by the mask. Tried to lift an arm to remove it. Conduits. Dropped it feebly. Shaking too much. Sam understood and did it for him.

"John, we're going to do everything we can to help you. You know that. But we're working in the dark here."

Swallowed hard and tried words that cracked lips. Faint and broken. "I know… You… have… a… plan… though?" He wished he could just stop shaking.

"Yeah. A crazy plan." If he could see her face clearly, he knew it would have a weak smile. " John. Jennifer will give you something for the pain. But not yet. We need to get the power off. To free Rodney. And you, by disengaging the Chair. But Rodney correctly believes the whole system may be booby trapped. We have to be certain that nothing we touch is rigged to blow. We think that it's possible that you can safely check the systems via the Chair. That Michael wouldn't have anticipated you could do that. And a passing thought doesn't quite trip switches like fingers over a keyboard." Again a smile in her voice. A memory of a warehouse. Ceiling and walls collapsing. And nowhere to run.

"But just activating the Chair could have the same effect!" Panic in Rodney's voice.

"Know that Rodney. But we have to start somewhere. It's all supposition, anyway-"

"-He left the power on! Even leaving a ZPM behind! He wouldn't have done that without a reason!"

"We've been all over this Rodney… Clock ticking?" Sam. The only one could ever be patient with Rodney.

"Yes. Of course. Sorry."

"Can you do this, John? Activate the Chair?"

"Try."

"It won't be easy. The internal implants are now in decay… It's what's making you unwell… John?" He'd closed his eyes.

"Still here."

"Rodney has his earpiece. I'm evacuating the place. When he says it's clear, you do this. If it's ok, I'm returning to switch off power. Jennifer can come in then… John!..." He'd drifted. Jerked at her voice. "This is rather long but bear with me, John, so I can tell you the rest of the crazy plan." Again the smile. "Major Lorne's been sent back to Atlantis. He's returning with Wraith enzyme. In small doses, Keller believes she can stave off the rejection for a day. Keep things stable. Counteract the trauma. In that day, the Daedalus will be here. We can withdraw the implants using its beaming technology without damaging your nervous system. The same technique that was used on Colonel Caldwell? With the Goa'uld? Are you with me so far?" Sheppard attempted a nod. And it hurt like hell. "But we need to get you on board. To do that the conduits will have to be severed. Lorne is also returning with a full medical unit to perform what is, in effect, major surgery to do just that…John?"

"Yeah."

"John. I said that we were going to do everything needed to help. But I have to be honest… every step… setbacks…anything could go wrong…"

"Yeah… I know…"

"You understand what you're looking for? Anomalies. Irregularities. Anything that's not familiar. Anything accessed in the last couple of hours. And conversely, concentrate on anything set up at the very beginning. Michael was likely to have installed this stuff right at the onset." Rodney wasn't asking a lot. Sheppard was a F302 coming in on half an engine. In a hurricane. On a bomb cratered landing site.

He'd asked for something to clear the fog in his brain. And Keller had reluctantly agreed to a low dose stimulant. Something said about overloading the heart. He didn't want to know. He was still trembling. The perspiration stung his eyes. And the cramps were worsening. Quick in and out. It had to be that sort of mission.

"I can do all that?"

"Yes… Surprisingly... You can. You forget. I've been watching…you've been doing it all subconsciously and not been aware. But your brainwaves are now a fully integrated part of the system. Ingenious really…if it weren't so ghoulish. Just think it… The worse part as I've said, is actually activating the Chair." But it'd been checked over for obvious explosives. "If there's a trip somewhere, we're gonners..." He sniffed. "And on that salutary note, shall we begin?" He tapped his earpiece to take the incoming call. "You know even using this thing could have triggered-"

"Rodney."

"Ok Sheppard. They're clear - Hey! Don't you faint on me!"

Sheppard pulled himself out of a sudden nosedive.

Rapid breathing. Rapid heart. It was on the HUD. Michael. How are you feeling? Like crap, Master.

Hands shaking over the control pads. Hesitating.

"One last time, eh?" Rodney. Uncertainty in his voice.

"Yeah. Last time." He hoped he'd won the game. Yeah. By default. And subs. brought on. Yeah. He'd won the game.

Could hear Rodney holding his breath.

Closed his eyes.

And activated the Chair...


Epilogue

"Ah, Sheppard, just the person, I wanted see." Rodney holding up a finger. To stop Sheppard in a corridor on Atlantis. But Sheppard walked on by.

Rodney followed. Persistent.

"I need to make some adjustments to the Chair. A little tweaking here and there-"

"-No! Find someone else to tweak with."

"Sheppard-"

"-No!"

"Come on, you owe me a favour." Trying to keep up and head the Colonel off.

"No, I don't. Saved your butt on MR9 P16."

"Hey, introduced you to Pauline, the new lab. tech."

"Nothing happened."

"I could-" The start of a bribe.

"You have nothing to offer!" Rodney stopped. Knowing this was pointless already.

"Sheppard-"

"-No!"

An echo down an empty corridor. Rodney shrugged and walked off to find another victim.

End