Chapter 1: This isn't happening
same old question
if I answer
I am only
just a guess
and with my eyes
it's hard to see
with my ears it's
hard to believe that
if I ever lose my will to live
it was me that I could not forgive
(Over the Rhine – Moth)
„With the Wraith factions becoming more organised, their attacks are picking up pace again, the cullings are hitting all the harder on the populace." Teyla's words were forcibly calm, but the tension was clearly audible. "Other threats have made the situation even more tense."
Richard Woolsey did not to look back to the small pile of reports in front of him. These days he was grateful, that at least the Replicators were taken out of the equation, or the whole situation would have been out of control months ago. "And yet, with this situation getting from bad to worse out there, you are still convinced that I should visit that Planet P452-81 myself?" He inquired, his gaze directed at Col. Sheppard.
"It would be a great tactical advantage having them on our side," Sheppard observed. "These people are trading with an enormous amount of worlds, have access to a wide variety of goods and are pretty good when it comes to intel. They want to meet the leader of Atlantis – meaning you – in person, and they won't set a foot into the city of the ancestors, as they have none among their ranks right now, who would be 'worthy' of that honour."
"Apparently, they connect a lot of mysticism with the Ancients – a… as we have observed with many other races here so far, but they have developed a kind of 'test' or 'rite' to determine the worthiness of a person. Unfortunately the only one to pass this test in the last seven decades his off world and will not be back with them for some months," Rodney interjected.
"They are Lan'Tyran – followers of the Lanteans," Ronon explained. "Sateda traded with them on occasion and we were careful not to offend their beliefs too much."
Woolsey closed the folder and set it aside. "Well then, as my one-year-evaluation with the IOA has been rescheduled for another week, I should be able to make this trip." He replied. "Your team will be accompanying me." As the team filed out of the conference room, Woolsey forced himself to straighten up. With the evaluation drawing near he felt somewhat apprehensive. When he had arrived here, one year ago, he had been confident and optimistic. The situation of Atlantis was getting better and he had believed that, with some proper rules, things would continue to go well. But from the start things had been far more chaotic than he had expected. And now, these past few weeks it looked much like the Wraith began overcoming their civil war and were well on the way of being a threat once again. There were days when he wished he had never left Washington.
The settlement stretched all around the gate, the outer walls forming a near perfect circle. John Sheppard had noticed the symbolism at his first arrival here, along with the complex defences of the place. The people of this world were clearly not likely to fall for an surprise attack. It took a trained eye, to realise that those pleasant stone houses, arching gateways and pleasant courtyards, made one hell of a maze to fight in, should an enemy make it into the city. And John was also sure, that there was an even greater maze of tunnels, traps and caverns right below their feet. But at the moment he was focused on their more immediate surroundings. They stood in the settlements central place, right in front of the gate and Woolsey was welcomed by the Elders of the Lan'Tyran. A full honour guard stood silent and unmoving to the sides of the Elders and all of the four gates, that led away from this square had heavily armed guard details standing under the graceful arches. Arches that reminded John all too clearly of the Greek letter Omega. Another symbol hidden in the architecture. "Colonel, this is Vintár, Captain-General of our troops," Elder Rycár formally introduced John to a tall man, with dark already greying hair and watchful eyes.
John had not met the man before but heard a great deal about him. "An honour to meet you, Sir," he said and he meant it. From what he had heard at least five Wraith attacks had been repelled thanks to the planning, quick thinking and sheer bravery of this man.
"No, Colonel Sheppard – the honour is mine." Vintár replied, inclining his head in a way that hinted at a semi-formal bow.
John Sheppard bit his lip. He had already encountered the tremendous respect these people held for the descendants of the Ancients. He had no idea how he in person had acquired the reputation of being of 'their blood themselves', but it made them treat him like he was of royal blood, every time he was among them. Yet, he had not expected that a veteran of Vintárs standing would do so. "You have the place heavily guarded." He changed topic, hoping to escape more embarrassment.
Vintár nodded. "That's true. I am sorry that it comes at this time, with your people honouring us with their presence – but one of my scouts found a Runner mark on the edge of the eastern woods last night, and this can mean we may have an attack upon us, before we know it."
John shortly gazed to Woolsey and the Elders, both sides seemed to love longwinded speeches, thus he returned his attention to Vintár. "A Runner Mark?" ,he inquired. "I always believed they avoided leaving any kind of tracks." He did not need to explain that he knew about runners, these people had known that the Atlantians had freed a Runner before the team had arrived here for the first time.
Vintár gestured to one of his men – his second in command – who handed him a small book. Opening the book he showed John a drawing of a simple flat ring of stone, that was engraved with some simple letters. "That's a Runner mark," he explained. "they leave it usually, to warn people not to approach a certain portion of the woods, to avoid contact. They'll be around a day or two and then they'll be gone. Thus they make sure, the Wraith don't hit the settlement just because they were around." He sighed. "Not that it works always – we had a few attacks because of Runners in the area, but it reduces the chances of things going bad. None of our people will approach the eastern woods for the next week or two, just to be sure. Still, it doesn't hurt to be cautious."
"I never heard of Runners that did that before." John observed. "Still it makes sense, as they seem to be inclined to protect the innocent people of the worlds they visit." John vividly remembered Ronon fighting his guilt and willingness to accept punishment for what happened to that other village. His thoughts stopped cold in his tracks. "But… wait… you have the Gate here under constant observation. How could runners possibly come here, let alone leave again?"
Vintár raised his hand, pointing east. "Beyond those hills, where the foothills rise up to the mountains are the ruins of an outpost of the Ancestors," he said. "And there is another gate there – deep down in the bowels of the outpost. I do not know how the Ancestors made it happen, nor what address the other gate has – but we know it is there and it is used from time to time."
"That's a virtual impossibility, we saw on Earth what happens with two gates on the same planet. If the Ancients had figured out a way past this problem, they would have applied in Antarctica." Rodney was his usual fast talking self, ignoring everything around him and also the social niceties going on.
"I believe you, Rodney. But they say there is a second gate, and that's how the Runners come here. Ronon, have you ever heard of a Runner mark?" The moment John asked, he knew it was a bad idea. Ronon flinched, then shrugged. "Now and then." His voice made clear that he did not wish to discuss the topic any further. The whole team returned it's attention to the tour through the settlement and John found himself in another conversation with Vintár, who explained him some of the defences they had built here.
The man who was lying flat on the ground, up on the rocky ledge, and watching the settlement through his field glasses, was dressed in ragged clothing. A sword was resting beside him, as well as a gun. Lean and tanned, short cropped brown hair and edgy features, he looked like a hardy character around thirty years of age. He wasn't alone. Behind a rock, only a step away knelt another man. Taller, with long black hair, and a scar running up his left arm. He too studied the settlement through field glasses. "You were right – Ronon's with them." , he said in low tones.
"I was counting on it." ,was the gruff reply. "it will make believing the information we so conveniently dropped a little easier for them. Hearing stories about the High Wraith his one thing, believing another."
The black haired one set aside his field glasses and leaned relaxed against the rocks. His sword, a gun and another short sword were resting right beside him. "Do you really think, Ronon would have told them? He was still ashamed when he met Cayelán, and still is, I guess."
The other one did not sit up, but looked to his companion. "Nothing to be ashamed about, he saved a lot of lives that day. Even as it was only for a time. And when he hears the intel – the High Wraith awakening from their long slumber – he will probably tell them, ashamed or not."
The darkhaired one shook his head. "I am not sure about that. Despite the fact that Ronon was Satedan, and not much of a worshipper of the Ancestors, it still IS a tremendous honour to be among the Atlantean warriors, he might keep silent if he feels they might disapprove."
"He will do what it right – he is Satedan, he had honour.", the other replied less gruffly. Thoughtfully he stared down towards the settlement, without taking up his field glasses again. "Sometimes I envy him, he was luckier than us – he was saved."
"Truly?" ,his companion asked. "You could be saved too – your transmitter may sit in an unusual location, but they should be able to cut it out. All you need to do is walk down that hill and dare to meet them."
The gruff one sat carefully up, hiding in the shadow of a fallen tree. Like always his companion spoke lightly of the fact, that his transmitter would never be removed. Could not be removed. "It's something else…" he said after a while. "Ronon was stronger than us, he dared to stop running. I'm not sure I could."
His companion nodded. "I know, my friend. I know."
The conversation stopped for a while, both a little uncomfortable with the topic they had just touched. "Did you find a blocker?" ,the gruff one asked after a while.
The dark haired one nodded. "Aye. But be careful with using it. It can mute the transmitter for about ten days – but used to often…."
"I know, I know, it's dangerous. It's only for emergencies anyway." The brown haired man pointed down towards the settlement. "What do you think – with our transmitters silent for some time – do we sneak down and watch the information being delivered?"
The dark haired man had already risen. "No, I would never underestimate Ronon's senses. He'd feel, KNOW, that there is somebody familiar around and he would go looking. We hide, lie low, and go our ways the moment they have left, Paryan."
Paryan nodded, his eyes still on the settlement down in the valley. "I wonder if Ronon ever told them of us, of Shankwyr and Saldéar, of the dead worlds…"
The dark haired one walked over, bent down in front of his friend. "No, he would not. He swore to never reveal the secret, remember? 'Not under torture, not under threat, not in dying, not in desperation and not to save the person he loves most.' And he will keep his word, even after this incompetent fool of a Wraith turned him, he kept his silence." It had been a story they both had heard, when they had been sneaking around and listened to villagers talking in the woods, when they had snuck up on weapon's traders hideouts at night, to steal some ammo, or when they had patiently lay in wait close to a gate for an unguarded moment. The story of Tyre and Ronon had been around soon, another sad Satedan story to remember a lost world by.
Paryan chuckled. "If the High Wraith are wakening it may be worth watching, and be it just to see this idiot of a Wraith and the hive who turned Ronon runner, suffer for their idiocy."
A smile, that did not reach the cold blue eyes, lit on his friend's face. "Believe that and it will give you the strength for another year. Come on, we have to get moving."
"Most of the Archways can easily secured by falling grates. The grate comes down, and gets locked inside the stone ground, by another bar fixing it. Once down, it can only get released by the mechanism."
John studied the construction silently. He had seen more than his share of combat in close quarters and barricaded streets and knew a deadly trap when he saw one. The whole city was built as one big trap for the Wraith. "Most impressive." ,he observed. Some lessons could clearly be drawn from these structures. If they could be adopted by some other tribes, it may enable some more people to give up on nomadic live.
Vintár looked around. "We should go back to the town hall, the ceremony should begin soon."
John had been glad to get away from Woolsey's speeches for a while, but he nodded politely. "Of course. The Hall is an impressive building, from what I saw up till now. Why did you built it so far away from the gate?"
"The Hall was founded on a formation of a rare granite." Vintár replied. "We call it 'guarding stone'. A building built from the material is practically immune to cullings. The beam of light can't get through it. In times of need many people can hide in the hall and it's cellars."
Sheppard had just wanted to reply something, ask another question, but he got interrupted by a young man, that came running towards them. He came to a halt, pale, nearly shaking. "Vintár – it's getting dark – cold – they are coming!"
"Sound the alert – get the people to the shelters – then block off the archways and close all gates." Vintár ordered. "Mobilise all men." He turned to Sheppard. "I'll bring you back to the townhall, you should be safe there."
Sheppard shook his head, and disabled the security on his gun. "Won't be necessary. I am with you." He fixed Vintár with a stare, that would hopefully end all debates right now.
Vintár nodded. "If you wish so."
For the first time Sheppard was glad, that these people tended to hero-worship him, it spared him a lot of arguments.
"This is madness – utter madness." Richard Woolsey could not help himself, but repeat those words again. Trapped in a building, that – while being safe from cullings – was the main target of the Wraith attack, was enough to make him fear. But the wild battle raging outside was inclined to drive him into a state of panic. Darts were chasing above the settlement, culling people out of the streets and right out of the fighting, bombing heavy defences, the southern part of the city was burning. The Wraith troops were numerous, outnumbering the defenders five to one. The people of this city fought them as hard and bitter as only a hardened race of survivors could, but still it was only a matter of time until the Wraith troops would push through. Ronon and Teyla had joined the defenders of the Town Hall, after preventing the surprise attack on the building the Wraith had been staging.
Again the ground was shaking, as another series of explosives hit ground. Woolsey tried not to shake. "There is no reason to fear – those explosions were our own." ,Elder Rycár said softly. "A great number of Wraith troops amassed in a building or courtyard and our troops blew it up."
"How – how do you know?" Woolsey was grateful for any distraction. Even if it meant discussing the battle.
"I know the sound of them. They are everywhere below the town, in the structures of the buildings themselves."
"You…. Your rigged your own city with explosives?" Woolsey couldn't help himself, he sounded like he was panicking. "Just…just in case?"
Elder Rycár nodded. "Buildings can be rebuilt, destroyed streets can be restored, it saved us more than one time, that we were able to destroy the mass of the Wraith troops this way." He obviously saw that his words did not help to calm down Richard Woolsey. "Captain-General Vintár is a most experienced commander and knows what he is doing." ,he said. "He has kept this town secure and alive for the better part of thirty years. He will make sure that no harm comes to you."
As the morning dawned above the grey clouds it seemed to Woolsey that Rycárs words were coming true. The Wraith were retreating. The shooting, that had been right around the building some time in the night, was now farther away and got lower with every other half hour that passed. "They are pushing through!" Ronon, who still was standing at a window, ready to fire again, pointed outside.
Woolsey rose and walked over to the window. Down, in the courtyard before the walls, protecting the town hall, was a heavy fight going on. The Wraith that sill held this spot, were not willing to give up, but the cities defenders were pushing through. Woolsey could see their leader- they Captain- General just beheading a Wraith with a blade, while another man took out a Wraith in the back of Vintár. It took Woolsey a moment to recognise the man guarding the Captain-General's back as Sheppard. The Colonel looked like hell, bloodstain, wounded but still fighting. He gestured up, to another troop, and a series of explosions made a building collapse right on top of a Wraith troop.
They did not stop, but turned around, attacking what remained of the Wraith troops. A warning shout echoed through the courtyard, Woolsey saw Vintár spin around, throwing his blade to nail down another Wraith, trying to push Sheppard out of the way, but stumbled and fell hit by another Wraithblade. A dart swooped down, a white beam of light fell down into the courtyard, like a ray of sunlight through the clouds, and when it spun up again, Colonel Sheppard was gone.
John awoke in the darkness. He did not need to look up – he knew where he was. It was the familiar darkness of a Wraith ship. He could never really tell what made this darkness onboard of Wraithships so different from any other darkness he knew. Perhaps it was the certain knowledge, the cold feeling, that there was more in the shadows than he would like to know.
He came to his feet. As far as he could see he was alone in the cell. In a way he was glad about it – it meant the Wraith had not managed to cull too many people off that planet. A dozen or so pains shot up in his body, reminding him of the battle he had been through. He thought of Vintár, the last thing he had seen, was Vintár stumbling hit by another Wraithblade. It had not to mean much, Vintár had suffered some similar wounds already during the battle. Still, John could only hope, that the Captain-General was okay.
The door of his cell opened and a Wraith strode in, accompanied by four guards. John straightened up, even as a cold know rose inside him, he would face them on his feet.
The Wraith scrutinized him, hissing loudly, sniffing the air. Then he spun around. "Get him healed, he is no use in this shape."
John had no way to tell how much time had passed. Another Wraith had come and taken care of his wounds. Declining the offer had not been an option, four guards had held John down for every treatment. He had slept a couple of times, but never knew how long. After the third time he had laid down to sleep, the Wraith took him from the cell and dragged through the corridors of the ship. He struggled as they placed him, facedown on a table. But they already knew that they had too keep down four at a time. The Wraith healer returned, sniffing at John. "You are strong – good." He hissed.
"Strong enough for what?" John spat, trying to free himself.
"To be prepared."
A burning pain shot through John's left shoulder and down his arm. He bit his lip, he wouldn't give them satisfaction to have him scream. The Wraith hissed again. "You are burning bright – your will is strong. Good."
He gestured the guards and they let John sit up, always at gunpoint of four Wraithstunners. Now John saw, that the Wraith from the first day in the cell was also present. He hissed softly. "It is time, John Sheppard. You want to live – you run."
"You want to let me go? Good." John didn't like the sound of those words at all. But he would deal with it, when he had time for it.
The Wraith's lips twitched in an unpleasant smile, then he raised his hand, something small resting in the palm. "This," he hissed. "is your subcutaneous transmitter. We removed it and gave you a tracking device. Should you come close to a person with one of these…" again he hissed, then put the transmitter into a jar and nodded to the Wraith healer, who activated a device beside him. With a bright ping the jar exploded.
John paled. "What have you done…."
"Come close to someone with such a device implanted and it will explode – instantaneously." The Wraith said. "And now – you run. From this moment on – John Sheppard – you are the prey." Impatiently he gestured towards the other Wraith.
A white light embraced John Sheppard again, and when he could see again, he stood in the middle of a forest. A pile of clothes and a knife beside him. They had made him a runner.