"That's great," another one says, looking exited. "We have tried to do that since a while now, but never managed to really understand them. Perhaps you can help us decipher them finally!"
"We would be able to finish so much fast then," the first agrees, but Rodney doubts that.
The third pale haired nods his agreement to his companions and wanders out of the tent and to the guard without any hesitation. It's a matter of a few more minutes before another handful of guards appears to accompany them.
The pyramid entrance is on the side of the monument without the ramp and they climb down a series of stone steps that have been built into the surface and down towards a hole.
Rodney curses his curiosity and sees dots and strange shadows dancing across his vision all the way down, clings to the wall and already imagines how it will be to fall off at one side or the other as he finally reaches the opening and the stairs beyond, too.
The guard, satisfied that they will hardly run from here, stays behind at the opening as they start their descent. It's becomes colder the further down they climb and while Rodney is as good as blind from the difference in light and temperature the others seem so used to this place that they know the stairs blindly.
By the time they reach the ground level – and Rodney is sure it must in fact be several feet below the actual ground level outside – the temperature is so low in comparison to outside it sends goose bumps over his skin and makes the pain in his back a sharp reminder that he's still alive.
"This is the tomb of the great ancestors," one of the men says and steps forward to a door that looks suspiciously familiar.
And Rodney knows why as he crosses the threshold and all lights around turn on. They flicker and show the effort the age old machinery puts into responding to Rodney's mind, but they are responding and that's the most important part.
The room is full of stone coffins and most of the consoles are pilled high with trinkets and jewellery that he swipes aside quickly. The pain and the dots become temporarily unimportant as he checks over consoles and keyboards, calls screens awake under his hands and eagerly checks for location, purpose and energy level off the outpost he obviously is in.
"Can you read the texts?"
"Yes, I can," Rodney says turning to the one standing directly behind him.
"You can't right? Nobody ever could! That's why your moronic leaders built your graves here… to be with their ancestors or some shit."
The man isn't even taken aback. "I don't know why we make the monument," he admits and his eyes sparkle in the light of the screens. "We just build it. We were brought here like many others before and told to complete it for the old kings and the new kings, that's all. It's the same for countless generations…"
He reaches out a hand to touch the crystals of one console amazed at the way it responds. "It never did this before."
"Once it's initiated everyone can work with it," Rodney says and waves the man away with a gesture of his hand. "Leave it alone!"
"What does it do?" another man asks.
The shock seems to be over and they all trail their hands over consoles and screens like little children that see something bright and wonderful for the first time.
"Stop that, stop that all of you!" He yells and waves his hands at them to stop before they actually do something they shouldn't.
And they do, too used to listening to commands to not do it. His minions never did that so easily so he's actually a little taken aback, blinking for a second.
"Okay, look I have to find out first what this place does, you could blow us all up or something when you hit the wrong button!"
"Could it defend us against the Wraith?" one asks.
Cutting directly to the chase there, well, a good question given that the slave camps sits pretty much on a silver platter come a Wraith attack. It probably is why the people of this world get slaves to man the building site, too. Why waste their own work force on something as insane as a pyramid in the middle of nowhere? He don't even wants to start with why building a pyramid over a perfectly good outpost to begin with, really.
"Perhaps," Rodney mumbles and turns back to his screens. "I can't tell yet," he adds and types a few strings of commands into the console.
It's a rundown shielding unit. A big stationary version of what there is on the planet with the kids to cover an entire planet, perhaps an entire system with the number of empty ZPMs sitting in the unit below.
"You've got a shielding system here," he says and calls up the energy readings finding them at less than 4%. "But it's not good for much anymore…"
Except for sending a signal when he boosts it with the remaining energy and codes it so it calls Atlantis on a frequency the Wraith mostly ignore.
"That's it!" He snaps his finger at one of the guys and pushes him away from another console.
He ducks under it, ignoring his back for the sake of possible rescue while hunching over and peels the cover off the circuits, handing it wordlessly to one of the men.
"What are you doing?" he asks holding the cover awkwardly.
"Well, the thing doesn't have enough power to form a working shield anymore," he says, wincing at the sting in his back. "But with a little luck I can rig up a signal and call some of my friends. When they know where I am they'll come and bring help along!"
"Yeah," Rodney says and plucks a crystal from its socket. "A ride out of this hell hole…" And back home to messy haired Colonels, the good drugs from the infirmary and his bed.
The promise of someone coming to help does miracles for the camp inhabitants or so Rodney thinks as he and the other men emerge again. The small group of blond men is like exchanged for a bolder set. They lie straight to the faces of the guards, pointing at the arms full of blueprints they have randomly taken on their way out and once on top again the word seems to spread like wildfire.
Rodney don't knows how the gossip around the camp works or what it will cause with all the desperate inmates, he just hopes it will work the way it should and waits for Zelenka or someone else to figure the signal out before the Wraith do.
"Don't worry," Arol says the following night, sharing his bread with Rodney. "You gave them hope, that's all they need."
And seemingly it is, because they all seem to hold their heads a little higher as they drag their stones and stomp their plaster. It's ironic to some degree, how one small promise of a chance to leave this world can change everything.
But it's not that alone.
It really isn't. It's a tiny shift in the entire community, a shift Rodney had caused but that works now all on its own, bubbling just below the surface. Argar must sense it, but the promise of faster progress seems to momentarily blind him to the way the men change around him and his guards, or it's just ignorance, Rodney doesn't know.
It works for three days until the whole thing goes south.
Rodney takes a short look over the Ancient machinery in the dark heart of the stone wall, two of the blonds standing watch at the top of the stairs and the third by his side as the guards pick up on their little plan.
It was a matter of time for the gossip to reach them too, after all.
The two blonds end up thrown from the side of the monument for their struggles before they can even voice a word of warning and Rodney, bowed over the glowing console is not surprised to find Argar's men less than gentle as they pull him up roughly and drag him out. The last thing he sees before the sun blinds him again is how they beat the crystals of the consoles to pieces.
The third man puts up a struggle and ends like his companions, screaming as he is thrown over the edge.
Outside, and once down the ramp, Rodney finds Arol to be the second one to suffer. They have dragged him from where he had pulled the large blocks up the ramp before and beaten him up badly.
It's a spectacle that nobody wants to miss as they drag both along the sandy ground, one guard holding to each of their arms, their knees scraping over the sand and finally drop them down in the quarry where the rest of the guards already wait.
Argar is the kind of man who takes his sweet time cooking up a fitting punishment and this, Rodney is sure as the first whip hits him, gives the guy a really special kind of pleasure.
Rodney bites his lips and thinks of rescue as the whip eats away at the flesh on his back for the first time, but can't keep in the cries afterwards. And he's so fucking glad as he blacks out, that he's actually quite content with the idea of not waking up again, even more so after he does.
Argar takes Rodney down after the beating is over, throwing him into the sand as if he is already dead. It may not be far from the truth with the way Rodney is bleeding and hurting all over, but Rodney is still lucid enough to notice how the crowd doesn't fall back as the guards crack their whips.
In fact they seem to be more than eager to stay for the rest of the show.
Inmi steps forward spate in hand and his eyes narrowed, Rodney can see that much. His words are blurry for his ears, something about blood, about water and forefathers, something about the sun and freedom. He has heard all of it before in a movie, or thinks he has, as people close in around him.
"You're no longer controlling us!" is the gist of it, Rodney understands that much.
Argar laughs roughly, whip in hand. "You want to leave, nobody is stopping you, do me a favour and go!" He points out at the ocean of sand around them. "Get out of my sight!"
Inmi grins and straightens his spine.
And perhaps that is the moment in which understanding dawns in Argar's eyes, in which he, for a change, starts to think instead of yelling, starts to calculate that he has surrounded himself and his guards with a couple of hundred angry slaves that have nothing to lose and finally have seen that much themselves.
The look is funny, very funny.
Rodney would laugh, if his jaw didn't hurt so much, so he settles for resting in the sand and watching as a wave of angry men crash over the guards and swallow them whole.
He wakes two days later in the shadow of a tent, the smiling bruised face of Arol above him and a cup of water close to his lips.
"Your plan worked," he says. "Drink some more."
Rodney's brain is too fuzzy for a moment until he recalls the beacon and the way he had tinkered with it and how Argar's guards had smashed it to bits in their anger.
He has no clue how Arol can tell it has worked and can't make his voice work quite right to ask either, but as one of the water guys with the unspeakable names pokes his head into the tent, calling for Arol he starts to understand.
"They're here!" The boy grins and Arol nods approvingly, leaning over Rodney to hoist the weaker man up by his shoulder.
"Come on, Rodney McKay," he says. "You might want to see this."
The sun is setting outside and it doesn't hurt Rodney's eyes as much as it should any longer to look up into the sky; it's still empty, no ships around, but that's not important. The work has stopped outside and everyone gives him, of all people, a respectful berth as Arol guides him past them.
Inmi welcomes him at the edge of the quarry with a broad smile. "Are they your friends?" he asks.
And Rodney blinks to focus his vision and sees three Jumpers parked in line down by the piles of stones and the plaster pit. Several dozen of the workers surround them and the dozen or so people in grey black uniform who stand around the ships seem a little lost in their middle.
"Yeah," he grins weakly.
Inmi lifts his good arm, waves at the men below and the lines around the Jumpers break, giving way for the soldiers to move.
The one with the spiky hair and slightly pointy ears is among the first in line, big aviator glasses on his nose, stitches in his brow and gun ready to defend himself or his men. Rodney can vividly imagine the argument with the Doctors until Sheppard was allowed to go. He's always playing the big soldier, always hands himself over willingly to the bad guys to rescue his people, always plays tough and Rodney can see the worry in the way he walks and holds to his gun like a lifeline because the sides are turned around this time. Rodney has grown stronger over the years but John still thinks of him as the physically weaker one, the one who needs to be protected all the time because he's just not Teyla or Ronon or him.
"Rodney," John calls and darts forward as he sees him, running up the path to where Rodney is held up by Arol.
"Sheppard," Rodney croaks and doubts John hears him as he takes him and sets him carefully on the ground.
He must look horrible with his skin flaking and bruises blooming all over his body, the gashes from the whip on his back and his hair bleached out by the sun, but Sheppard, fucking Prince Charming to the rescue, doesn't mind.
Rodney's seen as the weakest link of their team more often than not, but really isn't anymore.