Title: Once in a Blue Moon
Spoilers: Brief references to events up through season 5.
Disclaimer: I do not own or have any rights to Stargate Atlantis – because if I did they wouldn't be cancelled.
Summary: The team is kidnapped and sold into slavery. The real trick is staying out of trouble until they're rescued. Sheppard whump, as always.
Note: This was written for the Gen Ficathon 2009 for the prompt "blue moon". Thank you to everybetty for the beta. I made a few last minute adjustments, so all mistakes are mine.
Once in a Blue Moon – Chapter 1
"Finally, a good mission!" exclaimed Rodney, reaching up to pick something out of his teeth.
"What do you mean by that?" asked John, bringing up the rear of the group marching almost single file down the path through the woods.
Finishing his task, Rodney shrugged. "Oh, you know, a mission where no one tries to kill us or kidnap us, the natives are friendly and feed us lots of delicious food . . . a good mission."
"We have good missions, Rodney," observed Teyla.
"Yeah, once in a blue moon," mumbled the scientist. "You do remember that this is our first off-world mission in three months because it took us this long to recover from M3D-499."
"It wasn't anyone's fault that the outpost picked right when we were in it to collapse. At least no one attacked us," observed John.
"This mission doesn't even really count," said Ronon. "This isn't even a mission. The Alcatians invite us to their Festival of the Harvest every year because we've been trading with them for four years."
"Exactly my point," continued Rodney. "Woolsey sent us on this because he felt like it was a safe trip and we couldn't possibly get into trouble."
"Woolsey sent us on this because we're the ones that made first contact and Deerdan expects us to come," said John. "Although I'm sure that he didn't mind our first trip off world in a while being an easy one. And we've had plenty of good missions, Rodney. What about M6X-224? You got a couple of pieces of Ancient technology from there."
Rodney stopped and turned around to stare at John as if he'd sprouted antlers. "You do remember that nasty little storm while we were trying to leave, right? The one that overflowed the banks of the river, bringing the snakes, including the one that bit you in the leg."
John smiled sheepishly as he shifted his pack. "Oh, yeah, that. Still, the natives were very helpful with the antidote. What about P6C-441?"
"Pegasus version of flea bites. Our legs itched for three weeks," Rodney deadpanned as he continued down the trail. "Then there's the mudslide on G3T-779, the Wraith attack on M2G-505, the civil war we walked into on both –"
"Okay! I get it!" John snapped. "We have bad timing."
Rodney laughed and slapped his thigh. "Oh, this is way past bad timing, my good friend."
"What, are you saying we're cursed or something?" asked John, his voice reflecting his annoyance.
"I don't believe in curses," Rodney answered. "I'm just saying-"
Ronon's fist going up as he froze in his tracks had them all going silent and on alert, scanning the surrounding trees in the increasing darkness. John was on the verge of asking Ronon what was wrong when the Satedan pointed to the trees at his left and then nodded at John. John pointed to Ronon and then forward of their position and then pointed to himself and behind in an arc that ended where Ronon had indicated. The big man nodded his understanding and began circling forward. As John moved to circle around the other way, he indicated Rodney and Teyla should stay there. Teyla nodded while Rodney just looked confused.
He was almost to the trees when John heard a grunt behind him. He turned in time to see Rodney crumple to the ground, followed quickly by Teyla. A sting in his thigh made him look down to see a dart sticking out of the muscle. Oh crap, not again. He didn't even feel it when he hit the ground.
John opened his eyes and squinted, the light driving stakes through his eye sockets. A moan escaped his lips before he had a chance to silence it, bringing Teyla to his side.
"Hey," he said, pushing himself into a sitting position and then waiting on the room to settle down. "You okay?" he asked, noticing her drawn features and glassy eyes.
"I will be fine," she said. Her lips were pursed together in a way that told him her stomach felt as unsettled as his did. The narrowed eyes told about her headache as well.
"Yeah, me too," he responded grimly. Ronon was standing next to the wall, looking more like the wall was holding him up than the other way around. Moving his eyes around the room, he noticed Rodney lying against the adjacent wall, his mouth open as a small trail of drool ran down his cheek. The scientist snorted once and then jerked his head up before moaning and then easing back down to the floor.
"Oh, God, what happened and why does my mouth taste like sweaty socks?"
John had to grin. The taste in his mouth had given him the same thought upon waking. "We were drugged. The question is by whom. Have you guys seen anyone yet?" he asked, looking from Teyla to Ronon.
"Nope," responded the large Satedan. "We woke up just a few minutes before you did. All we know is the door is locked."
"It's pretty sad when you can't even trust the Alcatians," said Rodney, moving around to prop himself up against the wall as he scrubbed his face with one hand.
"I do not believe the Alcatians had anything to do with this," said Teyla, frowning at Rodney.
"I don't either," said John. "We've been going there for years and it's common knowledge we attend the festival every year. We're going to have to quit being so predictable."
"We'll just have to wait and see who shows up," said Ronon.
"Great," muttered Rodney. "My heart's all aflutter." Sighing heavily, the scientist looked at John. "I revise my earlier statement. We don't even have good missions once in a blue moon."
"Rodney," John drawled.
"What is a blue moon?" asked Teyla.
"On Earth, we usually have one full moon a month, twelve in a year," explained Rodney. "The timing isn't exactly for one a month, though, so the extra days in each cycle build up to where every two or three years, we end up with an extra full moon. When you have that extra full moon, it's the second one in a month and it's called a blue moon."
"So when you say once in a blue moon . . . " Teyla started, obviously trying to put the phrase in context.
"It's a metaphor indicating that an event doesn't happen very often," John filled in. Glancing at Rodney with a smirk, he said, "They probably could have done without the astronomy lesson."
"Well excuse me for trying to answer the question," huffed Rodney.
John opened his mouth to respond, but sounds approaching the room they were in quickly garnered everyone's attention and motivated him to get to his feet. The door burst open a few seconds later and four men piled in, spreading across that end of the room. They were all dressed in simple clothing, brown or tan pants with short-sleeved shirts of various colors. Three of them were armed with guns that looked suspiciously like Genii.
The only man that was unarmed looked around at the team, his eyes stopping on John. "Lt. Colonel John Sheppard," he announced with a grin. He was John's height, but built heavier. His brown hair was thinning, but his beard was full and thick.
John stepped forward and approached the man until the guy next to him trained his gun on the pilot in a threatening manner that obviously meant for John to come no closer. "Well, you know my name, even though we haven't properly been introduced, but I don't know yours. Care to clear that up? While you're at it, you can tell us where we are and what the hell you think you're doing."
With a rough laugh, the man crossed his arms. "I don't have to tell you anything, but as it happens, I don't see that it will hurt. My name is Batair. Where you are is unimportant, as you will not be here much longer."
"So you're letting us go," said John, purposely not posing it as a question.
Batair laughed again and shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Colonel. You are worth a lot of money." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a paper which he carefully unfolded. "This is why you were taken," he said, handing the paper to John.
Snickering, John showed the bounty poster of him to the others before turning to hand it back to Batair. "Well, that's going to be a problem. You see that poster is old and out of date. We now have an alliance with the man who circulated those and he won't be paying you for us. He will, however, contact our people so that they can come rescue us and you aren't going to be happy with those results. Our technology is just a bit more advanced than that of the Genii." He leaned forward into Batair's personal space and lowered his voice. "My men will tear . . this . . place . . up. You'll be lucky if you're alive when this is over."
Turning around, John walked across the room and slid down the wall to sit in the floor. "Go ahead, call Ladon. Be sure and tell him John Sheppard said hello."
Batair's face was red and getting redder as he stood glaring at John. He finally stormed from the room, leaving the three bewildered guards to stand awkwardly for a moment before following him out. The sound of the lock engaging was loud and pronounced.
"Well, that went well," said Rodney.
"I thought so," John said smugly.
Three hours later, Batair and returned, this time with a half dozen armed men. "Tie them up," he ordered, standing beside the door.
"Was I right?" John asked, grunting slightly as two men jerked his arms behind his back and bound them tightly. "I'll take that as a yes. You know, if you just return us right now, I can assure you that my people won't exact retribution for our kidnapping."
"I can't take that chance," said Batair nervously. John was just beginning to realize how shook up the man was, making him wonder if he'd pushed too hard. "Radim doesn't know who we are. My agent went through another trader and used a false name for his inquiries, so your people shouldn't be able to track us down. But just in case, we're getting rid of you now so that there is no evidence of your presence."
"What?" Rodney stuttered. "No, wait, he's telling the truth. Let us go and nothing will happen to you. He's the military commander of our base, so he can promise stuff like that."
"Rodney," John snapped.
Batair's face paled considerably. "The military commander? Oh my. We must hurry."
"Wait," John said as they began dragging him through the door. "Where are you taking us? We can work something out."
"I have already made arrangements," said Batair firmly. "You are being sold to someone who needs workers on another planet. That way you will be far from here. What happens to you after that is not my concern."
"You cannot do this," said Teyla. "Surely you do not think it is acceptable to buy and sell other humans for profit. You referred to being a trader earlier. Trading is an honorable task, this is not."
"We do what we have to in order to survive," Batair said, not meeting any of their eyes.
"There are other ways," said Ronon gruffly, his expression hard and his eyes dark.
"We aren't discussing this," snapped Batair, shoving John forward, causing him to lose his balance and run face-first into the wall. With his hands tied behind his back, he had no way to recover and bounced off the wall to hit the floor on his side, jarring his shoulder.
"That was uncalled for," shouted Teyla, trying to surge forward to get to John. The guard next to her grabbed her and restrained her. It took three guards to keep Ronon from bolting.
"I'm okay, guys," John said as Batair helped the guard pull him to his feet. Blood trailed down his lip and chin and he'd left a smear on the wall. "Just one more thing to tell Lorne about when they find us."
"And they will find us," said Rodney. "They always do. You'd be a lot better off letting us go."
Batair whirled around and grabbed Rodney's shirt. "You will shut up now or you'll get worse than your friend. What's done is done and I can't take it back."
"Let it alone, Rodney," said John, trying to rub some of the blood off his face against his left shoulder. His right shoulder was bruised and sore. He straightened to look square at Batair. "Just don't say we didn't warn you or offer a way out, because when they come, they'll come hard." Not waiting on a response, he turned away from the troubled leader and fell in step with the guard directing him down the long hallway. He had no idea what they were heading into, but they were alive and they were together. These people had obviously contacted Ladon and John had no doubt that the Genii leader would contact Atlantis. Not out of loyalty, but out of fear. Help would come, they just had to be prepared to wait a while. It was the waiting that sometimes got tricky.
The walk to the gate was short, as was the trip through. They stepped out into warm sunshine and a gentle breeze. A wagon hitched to four large animals that looked like long-legged donkeys with huge ears awaited their arrival. Two men stood beside the animals, apparently waiting for their arrival. One of the men stepped forward, a rifle in his hands.
"Is one of you Batair?" he asked, his dark brown eyes searching them warily. His face was leathery and wrinkled, showing many years of hard work in the sun.
"I am," Batair said. "These are the four I promised. Do you have payment?"
"I got it, but I need to look over the merchandise first," the old man said as he stepped forward, frowning as he approached John. "This one's bleedin'."
"Accident on the way," explained Batair. "He, uh, tripped."
The man narrowed his eyes and then grinned and nodded. "Yeah, that happens. Slaves get kind of clumsy sometimes."
John's eyes glittered dangerously as he tried and failed to keep quiet. "What, only two men?"
"That's all I need, mister," replied the old, dusty stranger. "Here, I'll show you." He immediately jabbed the butt of the gun into John's stomach, doubling him over and dropping him to his knees. John struggled for air, wondering not for the first time why he couldn't just keep his mouth shut in times like these.
A growl from Ronon brought the guard nearest to him around to knock him in the head with his gun.
The old guy laughed. "Well, we know these two have spirit. We can break that spirit and focus their energy into getting some work done." He wandered over to Teyla and looked at her up and down, the lust in his eyes undisguised. "The woman will do nicely for household chores." He wandered over to Rodney and sighed. "What am I supposed to do with this one?"
"Hey," Rodney protested.
"He's supposed to be very smart," suggested Batair. "I heard you have problems with your irrigation system. Perhaps he could fix that."
The old guy shrugged his shoulders. "Yeah, we have problems with that piece of unkel all the time. If could really make it work properly, Master Glendon would be very happy. And when he's happy, we all sleep better." Old guy turned around and walked quickly back to the wagon, pulling out a cloth bag and bringing it over to Batair. Taking the bag, the kidnapper looked inside and smiled.
"Yes, this will do nicely. It has been good to do business with you."
"Yeah, yeah. Let us know if you find others. We are clearing new fields and having to haul water. We need more manpower or we'll start losing harvest."
Batair barely acknowledged the statement, quickly dialing and taking his men back through the gate. When the wormhole shut down, Old Guy pointed his rifle toward the back of the wagon. "You'll need to be climbing in now. If you try anything, this will pump you full of holes."
"Of course it will," muttered Rodney. "Got any more cool cliché's? Perhaps you'd care to try make my day, or the ever popular do you feel lucky?"
Old Guy looked slightly confused and then frowned at the team. "Just get in the wagon."
"That's a little difficult with our hands tied behind our back," John pointed out. "Maybe you could untie us."
"Not gonna happen. Get in! Now!"
"Fine," said Rodney walking over to the wagon and leaning over to wiggle in on his belly. As he turned over, Ronon backed up to the wagon and squirmed in on his rear end, backing up to the side. After a moment of his mouth hanging open, Rodney sighed. "Well, yeah, that would have worked too."
Once Teyla and John were in, the back of the wagon was closed and they took off down the road, which was actually more like a rocky and uneven path through the countryside. Old Guy drove while the silent man with him pointed his gun at them, sneering every once in a while to let them know he was to be feared . . . or something like that.
The thirty minute trip seemed to take hours, what with the spine-jolting ride from Hades. John was pretty sure his bruises had bruises by the time they arrived at their new home . . . or rather prison. The wagon moved past fields of some kind of crop that stretched for acres upon acres before stopping in front of a large, sprawling brown house of painted wood. If it had been two-stories and painted white, John would have equated it with a plantation. A well-dressed man in his early thirties, with sandy hair to his shoulders and a ratty looking goatee strolled out of the house.
Old guy jumped out of the wagon and bowed to the dolled up guy from the house. "Master Glendon, I have the new workers and I think you'll be well pleased." The man with the gun ushered them all out of the wagon to stand before their new master.
Glendon studied each of them in turn before putting his hands on his hips. "What are your plans for them, Tynan?"
"I would put the big one in the new fields to help pull stumps and clear the land." He pointed to John next. "That one should be a good worker for the fields. He's strong and healthy. And don't worry 'bout the blood none. He tripped on the way to meet us and bloodied his nose is all." Both men snickered at this, making John fairly seethe with anger.
"Then I figure the woman would be good to work in the house since she's easy on the eyes." Glendon nodded and grinned at Teyla, to which she responded by narrowing her eyes. John knew that look and it didn't bode well for anyone that tried to mess with her. Tynan then pointed to Rodney. "The soft one is supposed to be good at fixin' stuff, so I figured we'd put him to work on the water system."
Glendon nodded, looking satisfied both by his acquisition and his servant's plans for them. "I approve, Tynan. Good work." He stepped forward, obviously intending to address the team with his next round of prose. "I am your new owner and you will address me as either Master, or Master Glendon. If your service is sufficient and you do not cause trouble, you will be treated well. We have a bunk house for all the slaves, with the exception of those who work in the house." With the last statement, he stepped over to Teyla and leaned in close to her face. "You will be allowed quarters in the house and we'll have some nicer clothes to put you in," he said, nuzzling her cheek next to his.
The building fury spilled over and John lunged at Glendon, knocking the man to the ground before his servants could react. "You will keep your hands off her or I'll kill you," John yelled, pulling against the two burly men who had run from the side of the house and jerked John to his feet. Gun guy had his rifle trained on Ronon, who had stepped forward to join John, and two more guards had weapons trained on Rodney and Teyla. Tynan reached out and helped his master to his feet.
Glendon was red faced and furious as he stepped up to John. "I am your master, your owner . . . and you best not ever forget that again!"
"You're a lot of things, but you don't own me. You don't own any of us! We may be your prisoners until our people come for us, but we'll never belong to you. You can't really own anyone unless they let you and that will never happen. And if you hurt any member of my team, I . . will . . kill . . you." John was panting and he could feel a vein in his neck throbbing from the adrenalin and anger.
Hardening his expression, Glendon glared at John. "I take it you are the leader of this group. In that case, you are the one I need to break, and break you I will. You do belong to me, no matter what you want to tell yourself. And you will obey me, you will work for me, and you will behave . . . or you will suffer the consequences until you do . . . no matter how long that takes." He looked at John a few more moments before punching him in the face, then the stomach, then the face again, all in quick succession while his men held John up. When John's head cleared enough he could raise it and look back up at Glendon, the man smiled. "And if you ever strike me again, you will be killed . . . and it will not be fast."
Walking back over to Tynan, Glendon rubbed his knuckles, red with John's blood. "Take the men down to the bunk house and assign them a bed. They can start work today." He motioned to a woman who'd been hovering just inside the door. She was an older woman, in her fifties with partially grayed hair pulled tight in a bun. "Grainne, take the new girl and get her settled, then began showing her to her duties."
Grainne motioned nervously for Teyla to join her. Teyla looked back at her teammates, being loaded back in the wagon. John nodded to her and silently mouthed "hang on", to which she briefly tipped her head once before following the older woman into the large house. As the wagon pulled away, John glared at Glendon, hoping his message about not messing with Teyla was getting through.
When they were away from the house, Rodney elbowed John in the upper arm. "Idiot, are you trying to get yourself killed?"
Anger once again boiled inside John. "Did you see the way he was pawing all over Teyla? I wasn't going to stand there and let that happen."
"Not that, you moron," Rodney hissed. "I meant the rest of it. You really need to learn when to keep your mouth shut."
"No, he was right," stated Ronon, looking seriously at John.
"W-What?" Rodney sputtered.
Ronon nodded his head once toward John, who was a little surprised at the support. "Sheppard's right. We don't belong to anyone unless we give up. They can make us work and maybe even call that fancy dressed guy Master, but it still doesn't make us slaves unless we let it."
"Right," John agreed, still a little baffled at Ronon, but convinced that his earlier proclamation had been correct. "Look, it may take a while, but Atlantis will find us. Those guys that took us are obvious amateurs. Just think about how old those wanted posters are. I'm betting they left a trail, whether they think they were being careful or not. We just need to keep things together until they get here."
"Well, that includes staying alive, so maybe you should consider putting a muzzle on it occasionally," suggested Rodney.
Grimacing, John admitted to himself that sometimes his need to force some control into matters ended up costing him dearly. At the moment, he was bruised and bloody, but not seriously injured. That could change in a hurry. "Fine, I'll try . . . to be more careful."
"Well, then . . . " Rodney paused as he lost some of his bluster. "Okay. I mean, that's good, right?"
"Right," John said, hoping he would be able to abide by his promise, but knowing his actions would be dictated by the way his team was treated.
The wagon jolted to a stop in front of a long, gray building. Old Guy, or rather Tynan, and Gun Guy bailed out of the front and then indicated the three should get out. John took the lead, noting as he squirmed out of the wooden vehicle that Gun Guy had the rifle trained on him.
"Relax," John said as he waited on his teammates. "I'm not stupid enough to jump you, at least not here in the middle of your little setup." The gun lowered barely an inch as the man considered John's words. Tynan pulled out a large knife and held it up so that the sunlight reflected off the blade and into their faces.
"I'm going to cut your bindings now while Kerr looks on. If you make a move he doesn't like, he'll shoot you. Now turn around."
The three of them turned around so the older man could get to their wrists and remove the leather straps that bound them. When his arms were free, John didn't resist the temptation to rub the abraded skin as he turned around.
"What now?" asked Ronon, also rubbing his wrists.
Tynan nodded toward the building they were standing in front of. "In there. I'll get you a bunk assigned and then we'll put you to work. Still several more ferrins of daylight left and you might as well get some use of 'em."
John led the way into the building. It was long, with a row of bunk beds down each side. Open windows also lined the long walls, situated between the bunks for maximum air flow. The building itself was wood and the floor a type of crude concrete. With Kerr and his gun bringing up the rear, Tynan now led the way down the center of the room, finally stopping to point at the last two bunks on the left.
"These are yours."
The mattress looked ridiculously thin, but at least there was one. Each bed had sheets and a blanket folded up on top of it, as well as a skinny pillow. The bedding was stained, but looked clean at least. John had to admit, they had been in worse conditions that this.
"You can make your beds after work," Tynan said. "Personal needs can be tended to in there," he said pointing to a door near their bunks. Rodney moved to look in the room, although John had a good idea what it was.
"How quaint, a communal bath and toilet. And we're lucky enough to have our beds right beside it. Great . . just great. So, could this day get any better?"
"Rodney," John drawled with warning in his voice.
"Hey, I'm just saying," the scientist said, shrugging his shoulders.
Tynan pointed to John. "You may wash your face before I take you to the fields. The sweat will make the dried blood itch."
His hand coming up to his face automatically, John ran his fingers along the dried blood that made his skin feel too tight. "Oh, yeah, . . . uh, thanks." He made his way to their version of the bathroom, a little surprised at the gesture. Four large sinks adorned one wall with what appeared to be the equivalent of faucets. John fiddled with one until he got some water flowing and then washed the blood off his face and neck. There were no towels, so he just brushed as much excess water off as he could while examining the rest of the room. There were several large shower stalls, each with one large spray device in the middle, making it obvious that they bathed in groups. The open arrangement made the military seem like a privacy haven. No wonder McKay was so distraught.
"You must come now!" barked Tynan, standing at the door.
"Yeah, coming," John said, following the man back into the larger room.
"Come and I will show you to your new duties. You will work til sundown, at which time you will return here to be fed and rest."
As they followed Tynan out the door, Rodney muttered, "Gee, I can hardly wait."
By the time they returned to the bunk house, John was soaked in sweat and exhausted. He'd been taken to a large field to work with around fifty or sixty others in hand-weeding whatever crop was growing there. The plants had little hairs that he soon learned made your arms and hands itch like crazy, along with making large red welts that the sweat burned and stung. Most of the workers were men, although a few women also worked the fields. He guessed they weren't suitable for the house.
His team had apparently arrived mid morning, because after a few hours work, the whole group was allowed to sit down and have a cup of water and a piece of bread. There was no fighting over the food, each person merely taking what they were given and doing exactly what they were told. It was obvious they had been slaves so long as to not even question their lives of service any more. It made John sad for them and even more determined that it would never happen to him or his team.
After a few minutes rest, the men were rounded up to haul water. Apparently they had an irrigation system, but the pump was currently out. That meant that the men hauled buckets of water about a quarter of a mile between the river and a large tank from which the water was distributed. John and several others were fitted with a wooden apparatus that fit over his shoulders. The equivalent of a five-gallon bucket hung from hooks at each end. Men stationed at the river filled the buckets and hung them so that John could walk them to another set of workers at the tanks who removed the buckets and emptied them. When the buckets were replaced, John walked back to the river to get more. After a while, his world narrowed to one step in front of the other as muscles began to quiver and burn under the strain.
When a loud bell rang at dusk to signal the end of the work day, John could barely follow the others back to the bunkhouse to collapse on the bed. He could hear some of the others already hitting the showers, but he didn't have the energy. It had been a long time since he'd put in a day of physical labor that intense. And he was pretty sure he'd pulled a muscle in his back when his foot had slipped in the loose dirt going up the bank of the river. The heavy buckets of water had seriously messed with his ability to catch himself. He'd managed to keep from tumbling down the bank in the river, but the sideways jerk had stretched some muscle beyond its normal range.
"Hey, I want the lower bunk. Get up Sheppard." John recognized the whine in Rodney's voice without rolling over and looking at the scientist. He continued to lie on his belly, almost unable to move.
"Tough day, Sheppard?" That was Ronon.
"Umph," was all he could manage in reply.
"Seriously, get your sweaty carcass off my mattress," said Rodney.
John managed to get his right hand under him and pushed enough to roll over on his back. Rodney had a few streaks of grease on his face and uniform, but otherwise seemed okay. Ronon, like himself, was covered with sweat, his shirt tied around his waist and a fine mist of dust clinging to his damp skin. "I honestly don't think I can move," he groaned.
Rodney's expression morphed form annoyed to mildly sympathetic as he stood eyeing John's reddened forearms. "Oh. What did they do to you?"
With a sigh, John lifted one arm to look at it briefly before letting it drop back to the bed. "They didn't do anything to me. I spent part of the day weeding some plant that itches worse than poison ivy and the afternoon hauling water from the river to some tank. I'm pretty sure I used muscles I had forgotten I had."
Ronon chuckled. "Told you that you were getting soft."
"Thanks, Chewie," John said with a grimace. "So what did you guys do?"
"Pulled up tree stumps," said Ronon with a grin.
John groaned and rolled his eyes. "Figures." And here he was so tired he could barely lift his hand off the bed. He must really be getting old.
"You'll be happy to know I've been working on the irrigation system, so hopefully you won't have to haul water much longer. The pump is out and of course, they don't have anything remotely resembling spare parts or decent tools, so . . . it might take a couple of days." Rodney shrugged his shoulders, looking mildly apologetic.
"Great," John drawled. Pushing himself up to his elbows, he glanced past his friends to look at the people coming down the center aisle. There had been a steady stream the whole time they talked, but someone approaching caught his attention. Recognizing the figure, John sat straight up, barely noticing how the sudden motion pulled painfully on his back. "Teyla?" he breathed out.
Ronon and Rodney whirled around just as Teyla walked up to stand beside them. "I was told I could find you here," she said. They looked at her for a moment as she studied each of them in turn, eventually raising one eyebrow. "I was told I was not suitable for working in the main house."
It was then John noticed the bruising around her left eye, which brought him to his feet. "Teyla?" Reaching out, he gently touched the side of her face near the discolored area. "Who did this?" he gritted out between his teeth, feeling the anger rise and overcome the exhaustion from before. He could feel as much as see Ronon clenching and unclenching his fist next to him.
Remaining calm, Teyla smiled and once again arched an eyebrow. "Glendon . . . " her smile deepened. "Or rather, Master Glendon, put his hand somewhere I felt inappropriate. I may have been a bit forceful when I advised of my desire for him to remove his hand."
"Glendon did that?" asked Ronon.
Teyla shook her head. "No, he was busy screaming that I had broken his hand. Bastiaan, one of the house guards, struck me with his elbow when he was pushing me away from Master Glendon. He wanted to punish me further, but Grainne suggested that I should work in the fields instead. I believe at this point they just wanted to get me away from house, so they agreed. And here I am. Where do I sleep?"
Rodney stood slack-jawed a moment and then looked over at the pair of bunk beds. "I get the other bottom bunk, so you need to take a top one."
"No she doesn't," said John. "Ronon and I can both take a top bunk. Hey, does that mean you're staying here . . . with the men?"
Teyla sighed and waved her arm down the opposite wall. "John, all the women who work in the fields stay here. I was told there are not enough to make a separate dwelling. We do have a separate bathing area though, so do not worry."
Looking around the room, John realized she was right. The other women who had been working in the field were scattered among the bunks in small groups. "Oh, right. Guess I didn't notice." He looked back down at Teyla, who was grinning impishly at him. "Well, I'm sorry your housing arrangements just got more crude, but I'm really glad you're here with us. I want us to stay together as much as possible."
"As do I," she replied. "I think I prefer the work of the fields to that of the house. The dress they gave me to wear was . . . not to my liking."
"I can just imagine," muttered Rodney. He leaned over to feel the mattress. "I hope you didn't get the mattress all sweaty because that's just gross."
John, Ronon, and Teyla laughed, which annoyed Rodney. The scientist looked like he was winding up for one of his tirades, but instead frowned. "Incoming," he whispered.
A man John had seen earlier, about Rodney's height with long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail walked up to them with a pile of clothing in his arms. He was accompanied by a shorter man with a gun. "I am Calais, keeper of this dwelling. I have brought you each two changes of clothing. You may also keep your current coverings if you so desire. You are responsible for the upkeep of your clothes, including washing and mending. You will be given one day a week in which to rest and take care of cleaning your clothes and bed coverings. You are expected to keep your area clean at all times so that unwanted creatures are not attracted to the building. The two occupants of a bunk are expected to share storage space," he said, pointing to a small cabinet that sat between the beds.
John nodded, now understanding why the place was so clean. He was relieved, having spent so much of his captivity time in dirty, damp dungeon-like cells sleeping on the cold floor or some musty hay. Waiting on rescue this time was going to be a cake walk . . . except for the hauling water part. He rubbed at the ache reawakened in his back.
"What about soap and toothpaste and a toothbrush?" asked Rodney.
"The bathing area always has a good supply of cleaning agents. I do not know of this tooth . . . paste."
"Don't you people clean your teeth?" asked Rodney, demonstrating with his finger. "You know, clean the food and gunk off your teeth so they don't rot and fall out."
The man shrugged his shoulders. "Some that have been brought here use a little cleaning agent on their finger and rub their teeth as you do."
"Soap? They use soap?" Rodney asked, his voice high-pitched and whiney.
"There is nothing else. Do as you wish," the man said. He looked at Teyla. "Have you been shown where the women clean themselves?"
"No, I was told to ask one of the women here and they would show me," she said.
Calais nodded. "That is acceptable. Do not go past this door," he said, pointing to the communal bath Rodney and John had seen earlier. "This is where the men bathe and it is forbidden for the men and women to enter the area meant for the other. There will also be no joining unless approved by Master Glendon. Pregnant women in the field are not much use. Punishment for breaking this rule is death."
"For the man or for the woman," asked Ronon, his arms crossed and his stance challenging.
"Both," said Calais firmly.
"Well, as long as they're fair," John said lightly. "Don't worry, we aren't going to be . . .uh, doing that."
Nodding, Calais handed out the clothing. He had obviously studied them earlier to decide what sizes to get them. "The evening meal is shortly. You may clean up first if you like." With a nod, he and the bodyguard with him left.
Now that John was on his feet, he really wanted to wash off the sweat and dirt. If the water was actually warm, it might help loosen his already stiffening muscles. "What do you say we wash off a bucket or two of dirt and sweat?" he asked.
Rodney looked forlornly at the shower area. "I . . . uh. . . I'm not that dirty. Maybe I'll just wait til later."
"What about you big guy?" asked John. He wasn't relishing the idea of the public shower either, but he really wanted to be clean.
"I'm game," said Ronon. "Our showers weren't much different than this in the military barracks," he said.
"Yeah, some of my postings haven't been all that private either," said John. He picked out one of the sets of clean clothing and threw the other on the top bunk. "See you guys in a few for supper," he said, heading for what he hoped was a hot shower.
"And there's another reason I never joined the military," Rodney said.
The shower wasn't as bad as John had feared, with everyone pretty much minding their own business and staring at the floor. The water wasn't cold, but it wasn't really warm either. It got them clean, but did nothing for John's aching muscles. The clothes Calais had given them were clean, if used and a little thread-bare. Ronon's pants were about four inches too short.
For supper they were taken to an adjacent building that John originally thought had been another wing of the barracks. Long tables with benches were arranged into three rows. The team stood in line to get a bowl of watery stew, a piece of dry bread, and a cup of water. It didn't take them long to eat and then they deposited their dishes in a trough at one end of the room. No need for the kitchen staff to worry about left-over food since everyone there John could see practically licked their bowl clean. It would keep them alive, but not much else.
"Well, that was tasty," said Rodney as they sat on the bottom bunks, John and Teyla on one and Ronon and Rodney on the other. It was dark now and a string of lights was hung down each side of the room, casting a low yellowish light.
"We've had worse," said Ronon.
"Yeah, I guess we have," Rodney admitted. "So what now?"
"Nothing's changed," said John. "I still believe Atlantis will come for us. We need to stay out of trouble until then."
"So we just act like slaves until then?" asked Ronon, his tone angry.
"Yes and no," John answered, understanding the Satedan's anger. "We act like good little slaves . . . while looking for a chance to escape," he said quietly.
"But . . . but wait," Rodney sputtered. "If we try to escape, we could get shot or killed . . . or worse. What if we get caught? No, no, no, we should just wait on Atlantis. You just said they were coming."
John patted the air with his hand. "Keep it quiet," he hissed. "I do think they'll come for us, but I don't know that for sure and I don't know how long it could take. Look, I don't know about you, but being a slave isn't my favorite way to spend the day. And while things aren't bad right now, we all know how fast things can go downhill."
"Well, that's true," Rodney admitted.
"Look, just keep your eyes open for possibilities, weakness in their system, things we could use for weapons . . . anything that could help." John started to lean forward and rest his forearms on his thighs, but stopped and groaned when his back protested.
"John?" Teyla inquired, looking worried.
With a weak smile, John rubbed at his lower back on the right side. "I . . . uh, kind of strained a muscle in my back. I got a little off balance carrying those buckets of water up the river bank and I guess I zigged a little more than I zagged."
"Lie down," Teyla said.
"I said lie down, on your stomach," she commanded, getting up to allow him room to maneuver.
As John began to slowly comply, he heard the other two snicker. "Better do what she says or she'll kick your butt too," said Rodney.
"Shut up, McKay," he snapped.
His back was well and truly aching by the time he was stretched out on his stomach. The next thing he knew, Teyla was crawling up to straddle his hips. "Uh, Teyla, are you sure that –"
"Shhh, just relax. This will make you feel better." And then her hands were kneading his back in the area he'd been rubbing. "Is this where the pain is?"
An unmanly yelp escaped his lips as she scored a direct hit on the sore muscle. "Yes," he whispered, fisting his hand into the blanket now covering the bed. The pain was excruciating for a few moments, and then began to let up. He moaned, his face buried in the pillow as his grip loosened, Teyla's actions slowly going from painful to soothing. The next time he groaned, it was relief.
"Time to get up, Sheppard."
"M'comin'," John mumbled into this pillow.
"Sheppard!" This time the verbal alarm was accompanied by a smack to the back of his shoulder. John's head came up as he blinked and licked his dry lips.
"What?" A few more blinks revealed Rodney and Ronon grinning at him. It took John a moment to orient himself and realize he was asleep on his stomach . . . on Teyla's bunk. Glancing around at the room filled with moving people, he pushed himself up until he was sitting on the side of the bed. "Guess I feel asleep."
"No doubt," said Rodney. "You drool, by the way."
"Only when I'm tired and in pain," John came back, trying to stretch out his aching muscles. On the plus side, his back was much better. The burning pain of yesterday had given way to an ache only marginally worse than every other muscle in his body. "Where's Teyla?"
"You mean your personal masseuse?" asked Rodney.
Glaring at the scientist, John pushed himself to his feet. "Funny."
"She's taking care of morning stuff," said Ronon.
"Sounds like a plan," said John, heading out to take care of his own morning business. By the time he returned, Teyla was there and all four bunks were neatly made. "Wow, you guys work fast."
"There wasn't that much to do," said Rodney, stretching as he spoke. "Another night on that mattress and I'll need my own massage session."
John felt himself blush slightly. "About falling asleep on your bed, Teyla . . . I'm sorry . . . I guess . . . I didn't realize how tired I was."
"It is not a problem," she said with a genuine smile. "Are you feeling better this morning?"
"Actually, I am, thank you. I guess you have magic fingers."
"It is a skill my father taught me. Strained muscles are not unusual among my people."
John smiled and nodded. "Well, I'm glad he taught you so well. Thank you."
"Hey, let's go eat before they run out. I have a feeling this could be a long day," said Rodney.
Several minutes later, they were sitting down to a breakfast of something that looked like soupy oatmeal. John groaned as he stirred his spoon around in the gray mush. One thing was constant everywhere they went, if you were a prisoner and you actually got fed, it was going to be watery. Just because they needed you alive didn't mean they had to keep you well fed. Taking a tentative bite of the food, he sat up a little straighter as his eyebrows shot up. "Hey, this isn't bad. It actually tastes kind of sweet."
"They began adding a little shoahey several cycles ago," a large man with braided brown hair and a full beard said. He had paused across from John and just behind Rodney at hearing John's comment. "It provides a little more energy that way so the master gets more work done."
John studied the man a moment and then let one corner of his mouth twitch upward. "And I'm guessing the workers felt like they'd gotten something special by having their food be little more edible, so they work harder to repay the generous master."
With a broad grin, the man bobbed his head once. "You are the new people. I am Baruch."
"We're the new people," John echoed. "I'm John. This is Teyla, Ronon, and Rodney," he said, introducing the others.
"Uh, Dr. McKay," Rodney said in a slightly annoyed tone. "Dr. Rodney McKay."
"Titles mean very little here," Baruch said, echoing John's thoughts. "Isn't that right, Colonel?"
John narrowed his eyes at the man. "You're either a very good listener or you have an inside track."
Baruch laughed and then nodded. "I do listen . . . carefully . . . to everything. I like to know what's going on. I just wanted to give you some advice. Do your work and don't cause trouble. Things run pretty smoothly around here most of the time. As long as we do our work, mind our own business, and clean up after ourselves, we get pretty much left alone. All it takes is one trouble maker to upset the balance we've created here." It didn't feel so much like a warning as just advice to the newcomers.
Ronon glanced around the room and then looked back at Baruch. "People here get along better than most places like this. When I've been held captive before, it seems like everyone was scrambling for each other's food or competing for top bully."
"Our needs are supplied as long as we do not cause trouble. We watch out, all of us, to discourage those who would disrupt things and make all of us suffer."
Eyeing the man, John shrugged one shoulder. "So what makes you think we'll cause trouble."
Baruch chuckled and then nodded toward John's bruised face. "Because I can see that you have already caused trouble. The woman too. And remember, I listen."
"We aren't going out of our way to cause trouble here, but we will defend ourselves and we will defend each other," John said firmly. "And no amount of discouragement will change that."
Baruch nodded, not looking upset or surprised either. "That is fair. I have one more piece of advice to give you. Be careful what you discuss in the hearing of others. There are those among us that will share secrets with the master in order to get preferred treatment. Guard your words carefully."
"Thanks for the advice," John said, nodding in appreciation. "We'll do that."
"Enjoy your breakfast," Baruch said as he turned to leave. "Today promises to be a warm one."
Every day for the next two weeks was a warm one. John was usually working in close proximity to Teyla in the fields, which was fine by him. Ronon sometimes joined them, but more often than not, they used him to help clear new land of stumps and rocks. If possible, it looked to John like the young Satedan's muscles were getting even bigger. He couldn't help but grin at the way the women tried to sneak looks at his teammate when he returned shirtless and glistening with sweat every afternoon.
Rodney fixed the irrigation system in two days and was quickly put on fixing other things around the large plantation. John was glad they were making use of his brain, because he was pretty certain the physicist wouldn't last long in the fields.
The best thing was getting together with his team at the end of the day. The captivity was made bearable by his seeing and talking to them daily, and knowing that they were all okay. They had found a spot outside the barracks, yet far enough to be out of earshot of the other slaves, in which to rest and talk each evening before bed. As long as they were inside before the lights out bell rang and didn't stray too far, the guards didn't seem to mind their need for solitude. This was truly the weirdest captivity John had ever been held in.
Plans for escape hadn't progressed very far. It hadn't taken long to discover that the place was well guarded and the guards were armed. The bunkhouse and work areas were situated such that anyone making a run for it would be out in the open for quite a while – long enough to get shot. In asking around, they found it had been several cycles since anyone had tried to get away and they had been shot long before reaching the tree line. No one had tried to help or interfere in any way. Most of the slaves were as docile as lambs.
It was the beginning of the third week when things went down hill and the team found out that the guards were not always benevolent. John and Teyla were harvesting some type of a root crop that was similar to potatoes when one of the older slaves collapsed. It had been brutally hot that day and they had still only been allowed the one water break at midday. Even John was beginning to feel lightheaded at the continued pace the guards had set, yelling at them to work harder and faster. Everyone seemed on edge and John wasn't sure if it was the strangely hot and humid weather or if something had happened.
Being the nearest one to the man who'd collapsed, John immediately went to him. The man's skin was hot to the touch and he'd stopped sweating. A shadow fell across them and John squinted up at the guard who stood over them. "He's having a heat stroke. We need to get him in the shade and get him cooled off, quickly."
"Just drag him off to the side and we'll get the body later," the guard said dispassionately. "He wasn't much use any more anyway. Now get back to work."
John gaped at the man. "He's not dead! We can help him."
"I said drag him out of the way and get back to work. The storms are coming and we have to get the harvest in before they start or we'll lose it. Do what I say slave!" the guard commanded.
Clenching his teeth, John shifted to his knees and then picked the small-framed man up. He was thin and light compared to some of the things John had been forced to haul the last few days. When he passed the edge of the field and continued toward the shade of a cluster of trees, the guard yelled at him to stop and came after him. He had no more than set the man down, when the guard struck him on the back with his rifle.
Enraged by the man's lack of concern for another's life, John lashed out with his leg, sweeping it around to trip the guard. It took him only a moment to knock the gun from the man's hands before punching him twice in the face. He started to get to his feet and find water, but more guards had been attracted to the commotion and were soon on him. There were punches to his ribs, stomach, and face before someone cracked him over the back of the head, delivering him into unconsciousness.