Chapter 1: Welcome Committee

"Pull the hoods"

Sheppard was temporarily blinded as the dark hood was removed. A sound behind him indicated that the hoods were being pulled off the rest of his team. Sheppard blinked a couple of times, trying to clear his temporary blindness. He started to make out the black shapes of people lining the room. They all seemed to be carrying weapons of varying shapes and sizes. That made escape an unhealthy option, so he'd have to rely on diplomacy instead. A figure stood in front of him, a young woman in her mid-twenties, and, oh boy, she did not look happy to see him. She appeared to be snarling at him (why were women always unhappy with him?) and brandishing four pendant-beacons at him.

"Where did you get these?" she hissed, "Who gave them to you?"

"Answer me!" she snarled, hitting John across the face, sending him crashing to the floor.

"We were given them on our last visit here!" Teyla. That was Teyla's voice. Sheppard struggled sit up, his hands still tied behind him. "We were told that if we ever returned to this planet, those talismans would grant us safe passage."

The woman leaned closer to Teyla. "Who was it that gave you the mark of this Guild? Describe them!" She raised her hand, about to strike Teyla as she had him.

"Now, Nerisha. Is that anyway to treat guests?"

The speaker stepped into the light. He was big and his body silhouetted against the light. Sheppard recognized the stance and walk. A trained fighter. He was flanked by two similarly trained individuals. A woman and a wraith. Sheppard recognized the speaker almost immediately. The guy was a the same one that they had met on their first visit to M3X-445. The same leader of a bunch of what he had believed to be freedom fighters that had freed them and several others from the slave pits. Seems he'd got that one wrong. They were more likely mercenaries, given the new evidence. The woman, Nerisha, turned to him, her eyes narrowed.

"What's the meaning of this, Genik? Mutiny?"

Genik took a knife and cut Sheppard's bonds and helped him to rise. His cronies were doing the same for the others.

"Hardly. You were at the Court of the King at the time, so I could hardly ask for your consent." He raised his hand as she opened her mouth to speak, "And don't blame Siric either. I stunned him before I left on my little 'rescue mission'. He didn't have anything to do with it."

Nerisha paused, then grinned whilst shaking her head. At least she didn't seem to be angry any more. "Poor thing. That can't have been much fun."

"I'll live with it." said Genik quietly. He took Sheppard by the shoulder and wheeled him out, "Come, you need some fresh air."

"Wait-" Sheppard started, but his guide didn't stop.

"Your friends will be taken care of, do not fear." He glanced down at Sheppard as they continued up through dark corridors, "Nish…Nerisha, has a fiery temper but at least it is short-lived. She's a good friend when you get to know her."

Sheppard was led into a sunlit courtyard. What staggered him most was the age of all its occupants. The oldest person there couldn't have been older than his late twenties (not counting the wraith that were present). He got the strong sense of déjà vué. The last time he had seen so many young people together had been the kid planet. His escort must have noticed his unease.

"Most are orphans, " he said, looking around, "or ex-slaves." He rubbed a tattoo on his neck. Genik looked back down at Sheppard. Yep, even though he was probably a good ten or fifteen years younger than the Lt. Colonel, Sheppard was dwarfed by the guy. Things like that tend to bug you after a while "Come let us find your team-mates. They will have been taken to your accommodation."

They walked on. As they past through another doorway, Genik indicated a spiral stairway.

"Your rooms are up there." Genik turned to Sheppard, and smiled warmly, "It is good to see you again, John Sheppard."

John returned the smile, "Yeah, big guy. Good to see you too."

Genik walked off, leaving Sheppard to climb the stairs alone. At the top was a landing with two doors. He pushed one open and saw Ronon and Teyla seated on the beds inside. Ronon jumped up almost as soon as he saw Sheppard.

"Where's McKay?" he asked.

Sheppard's brows furrowed. "Isn't he with you guys?"

"The woman, Nerisha, made him remain with her after we left." informed Teyla, her face worried, "We believed that he may have been taken to you."

Sheppard cursed. He'd been pleased to see Genik again. Now it looked like their trust in him and his 'friends' was misplaced. A clunk made him turn. The door had shut behind him, and there was the sound of footsteps going down the staircase. Trying the door handle, he found it was locked. They were trapped.