No Place Like Home
Written for the sga genficathon. My prompt was "hidden things". Huge thank you to NT for betaing for me!
The cobblestone roadway started at the stargate and led into a forest of green. Trees of every size and shape, in every shade of green imaginable, lined the way. The tallest trees stretched their branches skyward, forming a perfect naturally arching canopy. A fine yellow-green dust covered the exterior of the gate, the DHD and the cobblestones. Even the air appeared a cloudy yellow.
McKay immediately let out a volley of four violent sneezes. "Great," he mumbled, digging into his vest for stashed Kleenex.
Sheppard ran a finger over the edge of the DHD frame and examined the clump of yellow that coated his fingertip like chalk dust.
"It's pollen." McKay sneezed again, three more times. "This place is like an evil allergy hell."
"There's so much of it?" Ronon asked, sniffing the air and frowning.
"From the trees." John grinned and pointed to the blossoming trees. "Must be spring." He wiped his finger on his pant leg and adjusted his sunglasses.
"Shall we?" Teyla asked, completely unfazedby the poor air quality.
"Follow the yellow brick road," John quipped.
"Oh, perfect." McKay snorted into his Kleenex before stuffing it into a pocket. "If we find flying monkeys on this hunk of rock, I'm blaming you."
Sheppard didn't even bother to respond as he started down the path at a decent clip.
McKay wiped his face on his sleeve and tried not to think of how many days it was going to take to recover from the havoc his allergies were going to wreak on him. He was the one who had found the brief mention of this world in the database. The Ancients had mentioned a base here, but there was nothing more to the entry. The misison was probably going to end up being a colossal waste of time, but he hoped they'd find something interesting. You could never learn too much about the Ancients and if a ZPM happened to be discovered in the mix…it'd be more than worth it.
"McKay." Ronon's gruff call jerked Rodney out of his musings. He hadn't realized he'd fallen behind the others. Ronon had stopped and was waiting for him.
Quickly, Rodney jogged along the uneven stones and caught up to the group. Ronon didn't comment about his lagging, he merely adjusted his stride and fell in step beside the scientist.
The road twisted and curved for about a half a mile through the trees before opening abruptly to reveal a bustling village. Dozens of small cabins dotted the roadside and circled out from a town square where food venders had set up carts, and an open well was busy with activity. The focal point of the settlement,however,was obviously the huge stone castle-like structure that dominated the far hillside.
McKay sneezed twice more. "Is that a castle?"
"Ye-ah" Sheppard dragged the word out as the townspeople began to notice them.
Teyla smiled pleasantly as they continued slowly along the roadway and into the square.
The native people smiled back in greeting, even as they huddled together, pointing and whispering. They were dressed simply yet colorfully. The carts of food were full of fresh healthy looking produce.
"Did the database give you any hints about the people here, McKay?" Sheppard asked quietly.
"No," McKay shook his head as a group of women giggled nearby. "Nothing."
"Remind you of anyplace?" Ronon focused on a group of soldiers mingling with the villagers, their uniforms obvious.
"Uh-huh" Sheppard's grip tightened on his P-90.
"What? Where?" Rodney looked around, trying to figure out what world they were thinking of. It could be any.
"The names Otho or Tavius and a tower ring any bells?"
McKay thought a moment before the memory clicked. "Really?" he stared openly at the curious villagers. "These people look…"
"Contented," Teyla supplied. "They are not living under the same kind of oppression."
"We'll see. Heads up." Sheppard stood a little straighter as one of the uniformed men separated from the villagers and moved toward them.
The soldier explained that hewas the commander of the King's Brigade and that he, Cort, would be honored to escort them to the palace himself.
"King?" McKay mouthed the word at Ronon who merely shrugged. They hadn't had the best luck with monarchies in the past. McKay shuddered at the memory of dark shaky hallways and power hungry overlords.
Before he even realized it, the team had hiked the small distance to the palace. They were standing in a grand entryway,being greeted by another official. This one introduced himself as Rula. Hewas the King's advisor. It was tradition, Rula explained, that visitors of such esteem first have an audience with the King. Sheppard quickly agreed, but when Rula informed them that only two of them could go before the king at one time, John hesitated.
"Go ahead," Rodney told him. "You and Teyla are better at this sort of thing and maybe they'll let Ronon and I look around a bit." He lowered his voice. "You see the structure over in the corner. I'm betting this place was built up around Ancient architecture." His gaze pointed to the familiar patterned metallic material that formed a crossbar above an archway.
"Alright, fine." Sheppard reluctantly agreed. "But stay out of trouble."
Rula smiled at the command. "Your companions are more than free to explore the palace at their leisure."
"Really?" McKay was surprised at the freedom. "Great."
"McKay," Sheppard warned.
"Right, right, I got it. No trouble. Come on, Ronon."
Ronon didn't appear overly excited to be exploring an old castle, but McKay didn't let the big man's apathy slow him down at all. Once they were on their own, he slipped his scanner out of his pack.
"Anything?" Ronon questioned.
"Not really. There's a very low energy signature here somewhere, but nothing we can use I'm assuming. I mean, it's barely enough to keep the lights on," he waved at the oil lamps that lined the hallways. "Obviously."
"What kind of base was here?"
"No clue. All the database said was that the Ancients had built here. No reason, no function listed. I mean, they might have just been building a vacation home for all we know." He stopped walking suddenly and Ronon barely avoided colliding into him. "Hmmm."
Rodney stared a moment at a suit of armor displayed in a small alcove. He tapped it once, listening to the hollow 'ding' before he shrugged. He looked up one hall and down another. Itwas like a stone maze to him. "I think we go that way."
"Lead on, then."
They'd only encountered a few people in their wandering, but no guards and no one seemed fazedat finding strangers wandering the hallways of their palace. Pleasant greetings were exchanged and Ronon and McKay were left alone.
It took a few turns and one complete U-turn, but finally they reached McKay's destination.
"Here." McKay looked up from his scanner and examined the hallway. "Look at that!" His voice rose with excitement.
"What? The big cat?"
McKay scowled at Ronon, completely ignoring the mosaic of a large predatory looking, cat-like creature depicted on the opposite wall. "What? No, at the door!" He waved at the door in question. "Look at it."
The metal door did stand out from the other mostly wooden ones they had passed in their wanderings, even Ronon had to admit that. An ornate frame had been added that was sculpted with intricate woodworking. Only after he looked closer could Ronon see what McKay was so excited about. Along the right edge, within the scrollwork was an Ancient locking mechanism just like the ones on all the doors in Atlantis.
"Yeah, huh." McKay was tapping away at the scanner. "This is where I've been picking up the energy signature."
"Why just here?"
Rodney shrugged. "Who knows?Probably this is the only area of the original architecture that was left in working order…Maybe."
"Do you need to pull it apart and do that bridge thing?" Ronon sounded skeptical. "I don't think they'll like that." He glanced over his shoulder, but there was no one in the hallway.
McKay scoffed, "I doubt they'd like it either, but let's try the good old fashioned gene way first."
Ronon caught Rodney's wrist as he raised his hand to swipe over the door scanner. "You sure?"
"They said we could explore as much as we wanted, didn't they?"
Ronon thought a moment before letting McKay go. "They did."
Grinning, Rodney nodded and swiped the door.
The scanner lit up and, just as they expected, the door slid open with ease.
"Whoa." Ronon peered inside the revealed room, but waited for McKay's lead.
"That's not…" McKay seemed to be at a loss for words.
"What you expected?" Ronon finished Rodney's sentence as the scientist slowly stepped into the room.
McKay didn't even look at his scanner. Instead, he simply stared as he craned his head around to take in everything.
The room was a perfect four meter by four meter square. Recessed lighting, similar to Atlantis, illuminated the entire room in a soft green light. In the middle of the open space, six velvet draped pedestals were setequal distances apart. The walls of the room… McKay moved closer and ran his fingers over the closest surface. It was cool and smooth and like nothing he'd ever seen or imagined before. The entire room, floor to ceiling was made of…jade. He was fairly certain it was jade or a Pegasus version of it. Various shades of green mosaic tiles, from the size of a penny to the size of Ronon's hand, all artistically arranged, formedpatterns along the walls. It was like stepping inside a pure green kaleidoscope.
Mesmerized Rodney moved further into the jade room. He stepped closer to the pedestals and gaped at the array of jewels laid out on the velvet surfaces. Crowns were encrusted with what appeared to be emeralds of all sizes. There were necklaces of amethyst and emeralds, of sapphires and emeralds, rings with stones the size of ping pong balls, bracelets of diamonds and strings of pearls. He saw turquoise and silver and peridot and garnets but mostly he saw emeralds. He reached, but pulled back before he touched anything.
"Wow." He looked at Ronon, expecting to find the larger man impatiently waiting for him,but instead found Ronon gently running his hand over a tiled pattern on the wall, just as amazed as he was. "It's…" Rodney searched for a word to describe the room, but there was nothing. His mind was blank. It was just too beautiful for words.
He heard the rapid approach of footsteps and turned to the door just as the Commander, Cort, appeared in the doorway. Cort's face was awash with shock and fear. "What are you?" he gasped out as he waved to the soldiers behind him. The room was suddenly crowded and, before either Rodney or Ronon could react, they were surrounded. Ronon scowled at the primitive rifles pointed at them and reached for his own weapon only to have three soldiers direct their aim at his head. He froze and watched McKay.
"What? What are you doing?" McKay snapped out of his shock.
"How did you get into this room?" Cort towered over McKay.
"I opened the door and walked right in. Look, just check with…" he snapped his fingers and looked at Ronon for help. "check with…"
"Rula," Ronon growled out.
"Yeah, Rula. He told us we were free to look around. To explore. We haven't even touched anything."
"No one can open the Crown jewel room."
McKay frowned. Crown Jewels? Uh oh. "Well, obviously someone can."
"Only the court magicians have the power to access this room." Cort circled the room slowly, examining each pedestal to make sure nothing had been touched or taken. "In order to open this door you must possess serious dark powers."
"Powers? I hardly. What?" He glanced at the other soldiers, hearing the sudden fearful whispers. "What?"
He swore he heard the word "witch."
"You're a witch." Cort stood in front of him again.
"Oh my god, you can not be serious. A witch? Really? What century do you live in?"
"McKay," Ronon hissed a warning but it was too late.
Cort struck McKay with the back of his hand. "You will be silent!"
Rodney staggered with the pain. He saw stars. What the heck was happening? He didn't understand. They'd been told they could look around. He could hear Ronon struggling, trying to fight back, but heard the blows and knew they were beating the Satedan.
"Stop. Stop," he pleaded desperately, only to receive another blow, this time with the butt of a rifle. This one knocked him to his knees. His vision blurred. He heard Ronon bellow as two soldiers grabbed his arms and hauled him up again. Rodney struggled, needing to help as he watched four soldiers strike at Ronon, but there was yetanother blow, a flash of pain and then darkness.
Rodney groaned. He heard Ronon. Felt the big man's hands on his head.
Moaning again, McKay forced his eyes open. Ronon hovered above him with a swatch of bloody material. "Wha?"
"I'm trying to clean your wound. I need you to wake up."
Rodney closed his eyes again.
"Rodney!" Ronon's voice was sharp this time. Urgent.
He felt himself being lifted and leaned against the wall. "Come on, McKay."
"I'm okay." He slurred the words as he opened his eyes again. "Where?"
"It's a cell. We've been arrested."
It took a minute for Rodney to see clearly, but gradually the room came into focus. It was a simple, stone room with a large wooden door. No windows, only a small barred opening about eye level in the door. There was barely enough room inside for both Ronon and himself.
"They took everything," Ronon admitted, sounding embarrassed.
"So kay." Rodney struggled to focus. His head throbbed. He flinched as Ronon once again pressed the cloth to the side of his head just above his ear. "Sheppard will figure out something's wrong. He and Teyla will come for us."
"How long?" Rodney pushed Ronon away, gingerly touching the wound himself. Ronon merely batted his hand down and reapplied the pressure.
"Not sure." Ronon looked around the small cell. "Hasn't been too long."
"You okay?" Rodney eyed Dex. He remembered the four soldiers subduing the man.
"Fine." The reply was tight and Rodney knew not to bother pressing the matter.
Noise outside the cell had both men scrambling to their feet. Ronon held on to Rodney's arm to steady him until he was certain the scientist could stand on his own.
The door swung outward to reveal Cort and three others. They aimed their rifles at Ronon but spoke to Rodney.
"You will come with us now," Cort ordered.
"Where? Why?" Rodney questioned, but the soldiers moved closer to Ronon. Rodney realized there were now bayonets on the ends of the weapons. "Ok, I'm going. Just tell me why."
"You must be tested."
"NO." Ronon surged forward, but was pushed roughly back against the wall and held by three men, with a bayonet to his throat. He growled helplessly as Cort dragged Rodney from the cell. The soldiers backed away quickly after their commander was clear of the room and slammed the door closed, barring it even as Ronon threw himself against it from the inside. Frightened, the men scurried away as he continued to assault the door. His bellowed threats echoed behind them and quickened their steps.
Ronon threw himself against the door twice more after he knew the guards had gone away and then forced himself to stop. His shoulder throbbed where he'd rammed it into the unyielding wood and he needed to think.
They'd taken Rodney.
Slamming an open palm against the heavy door, he cursed himself. Why had he not been quicker? How had they caught him unprepared? He was supposed to protect McKay and he'd been slack jawed and mesmerized by that stupid room. They'd been told it was okay to look around. He never expected to be dragged off by soldiers.
Sheppard was gonna kill him.
Pushing back from the rough wood, Ronon paced the small cell. Four steps one way, three steps back. There was nothing in the room. Not a pallet, not a bucket, not a chair…nothing. It was nothing more than a holding cell. He glanced back at the small barred opening in the door. They'd be coming back eventually. Maybe he could jump them then. He remembered the sharp bayonet points just a whisper from his throat and growled.
He hated feeling helpless. The anger built up inside him. He still had a couple of knives on him, but if he fought back…what would they do to McKay?
What were they doing to McKay now?
The rage boiled deep within, but he refused to give in to it. Instead, he refocused his attention on the door. It was the one way out. There had to be a way and he would find it.
McKay had heard Ronon's angry yell as Cort dragged him through the well lit passages. He tried to hold onto hope that it meant the Satedan was safe at least for now.
"Where are you taking me?" He found his voice as they turned another corner.
"You are to be questioned."
McKay looked at the man beside him. "For what? I was told I could explore. Rula, he waved his hand" Rodney copied the gesture with his one free hand "and told us we could look around as much as we pleased. I did nothing wrong."
Cort glared. "You will be silent or I will send my men back to your cell to kill your companion." His dark brown eyes narrowed with the threat. "Do not doubt me."
Swallowing the lump that settled in his throat, McKay kept his mouth shut. He'd seen the way Cort's soldiers had treated Ronon. He couldn't chance any more harm coming to his friend.
His head throbbing, Rodney tried to pay attention to where they were going. So far they'd turned right twice and left once. He filed it away and prayed he'd be able to remember it when needed. They had to get out of this somehow. Did Sheppard and Teyla even know yet what had happened?
Suddenly, Cort stopped, forcing McKay to stop with him. Cort smoothed his spiky black hair and rapped once on the door in front of him.
It opened instantly, revealing a sparsely decorated room with several men waiting inside. A lone chair was positioned in the center of the room and McKay pulled back when he saw it. It was a simple wooden structure, but the leather straps at both arms and both legs scared the tar out of Rodney.
Two of the occupants moved behind him and helped Cort shove him forward.
"Oh, no no no no! There's a huge, big, giant misunderstanding here. I'm telling you. I didn't do anything wrong."
His words had no effect as, forcefully, he was shoved down into the chair. He struggled,but two more men had joined the effort and before he could even think…he was strapped securely in place. Panic turned to icy fear that he tried to cover as anger. "I told you I had permission to look around. Just ask…"
Rodney's head jerked toward the familiar voice as Rula stepped from the shadowed corner of the room.
"There you are. Tell them. Please, tell them. You gave me permission to look around. You said I couldn't get into any trouble. I was free to explore. Tell them." He struggled as he pleaded, but the straps holding his arms in legs in place only seemed to tighten.
Rula smoothed his brown hair away from his face in a gesture that had McKay looking back at Cort again. Oh God…he saw it now. They were brothers.
"I did give you permission to look around as you pleased." Rula's statement jerked McKay's attention back to him.
"Then why all this? The physical attacks? The captivity."
"For decades we have invited guests into our palace. They have explored to their delight and our visits were always pleasant and profitable as we built up our trade. In all those years, no one has found our jewel chamber."
"It's right there," McKay protested. "It has an elaborate door frame and there were no warnings signs that we weren't allowed to enter."
"There are no warnings because no one has ever had the ability to enter except the court's magician."
"But all I…"
"Generations ago, aman discovered that he was the lone soul who could gain access to the hidden room. He was appointed the court magician and he designed the crown jewel chamber. It was left in his guardianship and, in each generation, one from his lineage carries on his legacy and takes on his responsibilities ofguarding and accessing the jewels. You are not of his family."
"Oh god." McKay sank back in the chair as it clicked. The gene. "Look, I can explain."
"You are a witch." Rula nodded. "You use dark magic to steal from the innocent."
"NO!" McKay shouted then settled. "No. I'm not a witch. I didn't even touch anything. I'm just a scientist, but I have a gene. The same gene that's in your magician's bloodline. It's passed down from his forefathers, yes, but it lets him work technology left behind by the Ancients."
Rula shook his head. "You lie to protect yourself. There is no way you are of the same line." Then he motioned for another to step forward.
This man was shorter than Rula and Cort, dressed in flowing green robes he was a bit heavier in build with skin as dark as his coal black eyes. Those eyes searched McKay's face. "I am Doni, of the line of Devon. I am the court magician. Only I am blessed with the gift of Devon."
"You, you have the ancient gene thenm," McKay started, but someone smacked the back of his head, hard. "Hey!" he protested then yelped as he was hit again.
"What darkness did you harness to open the hidden door?" Doni asked.
"It wasn't hidden. I just accessed the panel and it opened," McKay hissed. Why couldn't they understand?
"What dark sorcery did you use?"
"I didn't use any sorcery. I told you." He flinched as there was movement behind him.
"How did you open the door?"
McKay stared at Doni and then back at Rula. Cort moved beside him and from their expressions it dawned on him. They were not going to believe him. No matter how he tried to explain the gene…they wouldn't understand. They already had made up their minds.
He shook his head, helplessly. "It just opened."
Doni nodded and exchanged a knowing look with Rula. "Let the tests begin."
Though this story was written and posted last month--seemed very appropriate to start posting it today since I just visited Salem, MA this weekend!