This story could probably be classed as slightly strange, but I enjoyed writing it, and I really hope that you'll enjoy reading it!


The stars wheeled and spun above him, streaking crazy pinball patterns across the dark sky. He stared up at them, sparks flaring on his retinas, gazing on their far-away fires which gave no heat. Cold seeped into his bones from the damp ground. He could feel his body shaking, wracked with involuntary tremors.

He stayed silent, though. It was almost physically painful for him not to make a noise; to hold in his moans behind clenched teeth, to bite his tongue instead of screaming aloud, and almost harder to remember that he had to stay silent. But, somehow, he managed to cling to that one tangible thought, and hold it tightly, even while everything else whirled furiously around him, tossing out flashes of images and emotions like the spinning shower of lights thrown from a Catherine wheel.

His left hand burned. He clutched it tightly, and then the next second dropped it suddenly as if it was white hot, shuddering with remembered disgust. No, no, this isn't happening, it isn't happening

(Memory: John's face with his sardonic smile. "Yeah, come on, McKay, what are you afraid of?"

"Nothing. I'm not afraid."

"Look, we need to indulge these people in their customs. You said yourself that they'd be great trading partners."

"Well, yes, but I'm not exactly keen on going through with some unspecified 'ceremony' to do it!")

Hand. His hand hurt, as if it was on fire. His whole arm was burning, and his mind was buzzing, twisting, memories and hallucinations collating and flooding him. Synapses sparked and jolted thoughts faster than even he could cope with, time passing in skips which he was unaware of.

More spasms flared through him, and he writhed against the cold mud and grass, biting into a mouthful of shirt from his shoulder to keep himself from screaming. He had to stay silent, because if he didn't, he would be found. He had hardly managed to escape, and didn't know where his team was. Alone at night on an alien planet, with no weapon, no scanner or tablet, not even his tac vest. No idea where the gate was.

But the stars… they were so unnaturally large and bright. For a moment he lost the overwhelming jumble of his thoughts, and just stared at them. So bright

"Don't..." he whispered to himself, through clenched teeth. "McKay, keep going. Don't stop."

He rolled over, and pushed himself to his knees, the dim silhouettes of hills spinning and sliding as he unsteadily stood, the ground tilting beneath him as he fought to take slow rolling steps, the grass pitching like the sea. His left hand was bunched into a fist and clutched tight against his chest, where he didn't have to see it. Nothing to see. Nothing to see.

A sudden movement in it caught him off balance and he fell, landing heavily and sliding to a stop, mud gritty and cold between his teeth. Gasping for breath he pushed himself up, staggered on.

(Memory: Teyla's voice, sharp. "You must tell us what you intend to do!"

The settlement's chief. "This is our custom. It is a way of aiding thought, and discovering self. Only those worthy are permitted to take part. It is a great honour for him, and his reward."

John, wary now. "Yeah, but this isn't exactly what we signed up for when we agreed to fix your irrigation system, is it?"

The chief, sounding pained. "You do not understand. This is our highest honour!"

"But it'll hurt him?"

"The pain will be small and transient, compared with the reward of it."

His own voice, sounding slightly high. "Thanks, but, you know, I think I'll just skip the reward, if it's all the same to you."

And Ronon, hard to read, but to his ears sounding scornful. "If McKay's afraid of a little pin-prick, I'll do it.")

"Bastards," he groaned furiously. "Bastards!" They had known, they had known what would happen, those bastard villagers. He had agreed to die a slow and painful death, all because of his pride. He should have let Ronon go instead. (Sudden image: Ronon lying on the hillside, writhing in agony, his inexpressive face screwed up in pain as he died taking McKay's place…) No. God, no.

His train of thought derailed as the imagined image filled his mind in place of his sight, and he tripped over unevenness that existed only in his head to fall heavily to the hillside again, rolling over and over, stopping eventually in a tangled heap as his out-flung arms caught him.

The stars…

So bright…

He couldn't control his thoughts. They brought up pictures, flashes of memory and thought which were more real and immediate than the surroundings, hallucinogenic side-effects of the poison. The stars spun at sickening speeds, and for a second he could have sworn Sheppard was standing over him, his untidy shock of hair defining his silhouette, and then, blink, he was gone.

Get up.

"Gate. Get…gate."

(Gate. Blue wormhole puddle ripples pool and on the other side home. He stepped into it, following Sheppard, impatient as always, but Teyla waited for him. And another step, and he was dissolving and falling…)

He hit the ground. Mud. Damp grass. Stars.

His hand burned. He clutched it, half expecting it to be giving off enough heat to glow through the gloom. He could see it, overlaid in his mind. (Pinprick hole, redness, and knowledge of what was inside it…) He touched the skin, hesitantly at first, and then pressing on it, feeling the bulge underneath.

Feeling it move.

("You are ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be, I suppose."

The needle, tip shining sharp, and drawing his eyes against his will. His team, tense, waiting for something to happen, something to go wrong.)

Mud. Stars. Mud. Stars.

Get up, McKay.

His hand burned. It was on fire. He could feel the insect stir, beneath the skin. He flung the limb away from him, let it lie limp on the damp grass, as if it wasn't part of him.

Cruel way to kill someone. Trick them into letting an alien parasite egg be injected into their hand. And then kill them with the poisons it secreted as it hatched and chewed its way out.

(As the first effects struck him, he panicked. John started to stride quickly towards him, but was pushed back, and held with the others behind a barrier, as he ran, evading the villagers, who stood solemnly watching, as if they expected him to escape. His teammates' voices floated after him, growing more distant.

"McKay! Stop!"

But he had to escape. Had to get away. Had to…)

He couldn't get up anymore.


The venom flared through all his senses, heightening them, so that the stars blazed close to him, close enough almost to touch, and the wet grass froze his skin at contact, and the smell and taste of the mud nearly overwhelmed his taste buds, but the grass had its own smell too, and every breath, every heartbeat, every movement he made was amplified to fill his ears and yet he was also aware of the overreaching silence behind it all at the same time.

And images, scenes real and imagined flicking through his mind, clearly some cruel mockery of the 'way of seeing yourself' which had been the promise.

(Ronon, teaching him to spar. Ronon treating him like an annoying child. Pain blossoming in him from yet another attacking move he couldn't dodge.) Get up. Not going to die here. Ronon'll never forgive you for giving in like that.

He got up. He could feel the insect again now, feel it restless beneath his skin. He could almost feel the deadly secretions pooling around it, and wondered how long he had left before it ate its way out, its venom spread through veins and arteries as it sheared them open.

Get to the gate.

He wasn't going to make it. He didn't even know if he was going the right way, but it was something for him to do, something for him to hold onto. Get up. Drag yourself forward a step. Fall. Get up. Fall.

Lie still. On the wet grass. Face down, the dew cooling his forehead. (Watching Teyla stroke Torren's head, singing him a lullaby, words he doesn't understand as he stands there awkwardly, feeling out of place.)

Get up. (Sheppard leering down at him. "McKay, what're you doing down there? This isn't a great time for a rest!")

He closed his eyes. But that didn't stop the pain, and it didn't stop the flashes of images which only intensified, revelling in the darkness. He could feel the tiny jaws tearing, chewing, gnawing at his flesh, the layers of skin.

The stars wheeled, streaking across his eyes as the planet turned. Hours, minutes, same thing. Memories crowded through his mind, finding arrangements, patterns, burrowing through who he was. Lying there, hallucinating and in pain, waiting to die while the insect ravenously chewed its way through his palm.

(Realise: They don't know where I am. Even if they escape now, they don't know where to find me.)

Under the stars. Dying in the mud.

He looked at his hand.

Blood trickled down his wrist as the needle-made hole widened. He watched, in horrified fascination, as starlight gleamed on a dark carapace. The insect appeared slowly, hauling itself out of the wound it had made. He couldn't look away. All the deafening, blinding thoughts which had filled his head had gone, leaving only a focus on this… thing.

It delicately split its casing, opening wings which shone iridescent even in the dark, final drops of secretion sliding from beneath the filigree of them as they unfolded and spread.

Rodney watched, fixated, staring. He forgot his horror of it. It was beautiful. The most beautiful thing he had ever seen, with the stars above it, shining through its wings. Why would it want to kill him?

It didn't, he realised, as the burning agony it had created faded, dwindling to nothing, and a euphoria spread through him, replacing the pain and panic, warming him, singing through his blood. The insect fluttered its wings, and then gracefully lifted up and flew away, its small dark shape momentarily blocking the pinprick-lights in the dark sky as it flitted between him and the stars, and out of sight.

It was gone, and he and his thoughts were his own again. His head thudded back against the ground as he let his tensed muscles relax suddenly.

All his thoughts were laid out before him, meshed irrevocably together, allowing him to pick out patterns which had previously never occurred to him. Ideas buzzed in his head – ones which he would never have considered normally, but now seemed so simple and obvious, when looked at in the right way. He saw the insect for what it was, too. A strange life form, somehow capable of secreting drugs to induce this clarity of thought, by seeing everything together. No wonder the villagers considered it a high honour, and a reward.

And this feeling, this euphoric bliss which wrapped him in the safety of a lullaby. Whether or not the effects to his ways of thinking and seeing things would have vanished by the morning, for now he didn't care. He closed his eyes to the faraway stars, and forgot about the cold.

He slept.

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