The MALP from Atlantis emerged through the Stargate onto the world of PSG-499 without incident. The camera rotated on its snakelike head, observing its new surroundings. Behind it, the Stargate stayed open as technicians received the MALP's radio signal.

Back on Atlantis, Dr. Elizabeth Weir, Rodney McKay, and the technicians watched the camera feedback with curiosity. The MALP's camera showed them a large, bright and clean hallway. Giant glass windows lined the right side, showing beyond an expansive city of skyscrapers, as white, clean, and orderly as the hall that the Stargate was situated in. From the angle of the camera, there seemed to be no end to the hallway in front of them.

"Bring the camera around and see what's behind the gate," Weir ordered.

One of the technicians deftly maneuvered the MALP around, and it rolled to its left, turned, and panned the camera angle. Behind the Stargate, the hall seemed to expand forever as well.

"Big place," Rodney McKay commented.

"Indeed," Weir nodded. "Yet there doesn't seem to be a soul around."

At that moment, a light on the console in front of them beeped. Rodney jumped, then leaned forward. "We're receiving a radio transmission!"

"Hello. Are you receiving our transmission?"

It was hard to tell if the voice was male or female, and the oddness of the comment caused Weir to raise an eyebrow and glance at Rodney. The doctor shrugged. "It doesn't hurt to say anything since all they can do to us if they're hostile is rip up our MALP."

Weir pushed the communications button. "My name is Dr. Elizabeth Weir. We are explorers and we were wondering what planet this is and who you are?"

There was no hesitation as the voice replied, "We are the Arí, and our planet has no name. We would be honored, Dr. Elizabeth Weir, if you would visit us."

"So did you ever see these people?" Colonel Sheppard asked skeptically as his team waited for the gate to dial out.

"Uh, no," Rodney replied, tugging a gear pack over his shoulder. "They seemed quite friendly, though."

"Friendliness means nothing," Ronan said.

"Yeah." Sheppard tucked his P-90 under his arm as the Stargate unfurled. "Trust me. I had a lot of people that called themselves friends that definitely just wanted something from me other than friendship."

"You're clear to go," Weir called down to them. "We'll be expecting you back in four hours."

Sheppard gave her a thumbs up, then entered the gate, followed closely by the rest of his team.

The hall that they emerged in was so cleanly white that the brilliance of it hurt Sheppard's eyes. As he blinked back tears of pain, he saw a dozen people standing a few meters away from the gate in a tight, neat group. He squinted. There was something a little . . . off about them. Something wasn't quite right.

They all had dressed alike, in white jumpsuits with silver trim lines, and their hair was shimmering silver, not from age, but it just appeared to be the hair color of the people of this planet. Their skin was pale, with a strange luminescent sheen. They had small, pleasant features, and all were perfectly proportioned by human standards. The men of the group were tall, with ample musculature accentuated by the tight clothing they wore, and the women were slightly smaller and quite beautiful.

Though he now determined that these people were not human, Sheppard still could not help but feel that there was something not quite right about them.

One of the men stepped forward, his hands behind his back. "Greetings. I am Filek. Are you the team that Dr. Elizabeth Weir said that she would send to represent her?"

"That's us," Sheppard grinned and extended a hand. "I'm Colonel Sheppard."

The man looked curiously at his hand, but made no move towards it, so Sheppard awkwardly dropped his arm. This wasn't the first time that he had had a handshake rejected. It seemed to only be an Earth custom to shake hands.

"Your hair and skin, they are so dark," one of the women said to Sheppard.

"Uh, yeah." Sheppard didn't quite know how to respond.

"So, what do you call your race?" Rodney pushed in, attempting to break the awkward silence.

"We have no name for ourselves," Filek responded. "When your leader asked us for a name, we gave you one that we have been called before by other races . . . but there is one large distinction between ourselves and you. We are synthetics. You are, obviously, biologicals. They are quite rare on this planet."

"So what are you saying?" Rodney asked incredulously. "Are you saying that you are robots?"

"Being a robotic is a derogatory term. We use them for cleaning and various labors. We are above them," Filek explained pleasantly. "If you like, we could show you around our city, and then you can see for yourselves how we live."

"That . . . would be nice," Sheppard hesitantly replied, raising his eyebrows at his team members.

Ronan scowled, and Teyla said nothing, but a wariness about her told Sheppard that she was feeling as his gut was telling him: that these "synthetics," or whatever they were, could not be trusted, no matter how pleasant they seemed to be. Rodney, on the other hand, seemed eager to explore the city and asked question after question of their guides.

The tour took several hours, and Sheppard was sure that they must have walked twenty miles and hardly scratched the surface of the great city.

The synthetics, it appeared, had built the city themselves. Their origins were sketchy. They claimed that no one remembered who their creator was as they had been on their planet for well over a thousand years, and perhaps longer. They had no need to keep a history of their civilization as nothing drastic had happened since their coming. Every day was as alike as the one before.

"So, have you heard of the Wraith?" Sheppard asked as they headed back to the gate. Up until that point, Rodney had asked most of the questions, and Filek looked at him in surprise.

"We have had no visitors to our planet calling themselves the Wraith," he answered. "We generally receive no transmissions from nearby ships either. I am sorry to say we have never heard of the Wraith."

"Interesting," Rodney mused. "It must be because you're synthetic."

He looked as though he was about to explain more about the Wraith to the synthetic man, but Sheppard poked him and shook his head slightly, whispering, "If he doesn't ask, don't tell. They haven't asked anything about us and where we came from." McKay looked puzzled, and Sheppard added, "I'll explain when we get back to Atlantis."

They were within sight of the Stargate in the middle of the giant hall when Filek pulled open a door and asked them to step inside.

"This is our medical lab," he said. "Here is only a temporary location, but I though you would be interested in what we have."

The lab was large, spotless, white, and clean. There were a few tables and chairs in the middle of the room, and a few pieces of equipment visible sitting on the sparse shelves. The rest of the dozen synthetics crowded in behind the Atlantis team and stared expectantly at Filek. Besides Filek and the woman that had spoke when they first met, none of the synthetics had said a word since the Atlantis team's arrival.

"Here is where we experiment on biologicals," Filek said, opening a cabinet and pulling out a silver case.

Sheppard's eyes narrowed, and he touched his gun. "Experiment?"

"Yes." Filek smiled pleasantly. "We are trying to discover ways to better them. They can be such fragile, unpredictable things."

He opened the case to reveal two leafy plants, one small and shriveled and the other bushy and bright green.

"These two plants were given the same disease. One, as you can see, is struggling, while the other rejected the disease immediately. We use experiments like this to tell us about biologicals, how they can be treated for disease and how they can be made better. We have now expanded our tests beyond biological plants to other, larger biologicals such as yourself."

"Well, look at that," Sheppard said, glancing at his watch. "I think that it's time for us to go. Why don't we come back and visit you a little later?"

His teammates looked at him, catching the false innuendo in his voice. His hand was on his gun.

"If you please," Filek said, motioning towards the doorway. "You should bring more of your friends. We would love to have them."

Sheppard bailed out of the room as fast as he could, his teammates hurrying behind him.

"What's your problem?" McKay demanded as they hurried towards the Stargate.

"I have a lot of problems with this place," Sheppard replied, glancing behind them. The synthetics were starting to follow them. "Look at the DHD for one thing."

"What about it?"

By now, they had reached the gate, and Sheppard stood in front of the DHD.

"Remember what the MALP showed us of the DHD?"

"This," Teyla pointed at a small box alongside the DHD. "This is not common, though I have seen and used it before."

"Yeah." Sheppard flipped the cover up on the box. Inside was a place for a man's hand, an identification device. "I have a feeling this was installed to keep these synthetic guys from dialing out. Look." He punched in a few of the keys on the DHD and nothing happened. "But I bet you when I do this . . ." He pressed his hand into the box, and the panel on the DHD lit up. "Ta-da!" He dialed the address back to Atlantis and the gate opened.

By now, the synthetics had almost reached them.

"Let's go," Sheppard ordered. He gave a friendly wave to the synthetics and turned his back on them.

"Wait!" Filek demanded.

"Keep walking," Sheppard said, turning and walking backwards towards the gate so he could see the synthetics.

"Please stay a little longer," Filek pleaded. "We want to learn more about you."

"I'm sure you do," Sheppard grinned wryly.

Suddenly, Filek stopped, his eyes changing from pleasantness to a dead cold. His voice deepened as he said coolly. "It is your loss."

Before Sheppard could raise his gun, the synthetics were on him. The rest of his team were on the steps of the gate and watched in horror as the synthetics wrenched Sheppard's gun away from him. Ronan and Teyla wasted no time in rushing into the fray, beating at the synthetics with the butts of their guns. They could not send a spray of bullets into the group for fear of hitting the Colonel. More synthetics seemed to come out of nowhere, rushing towards the struggling group at the gate.

"Go! Go!" Sheppard yelled to his team. "Get out of here!"

There were too many. The synthetics turned all of their attention on Sheppard, ignoring Teyla and Ronan. Rodney stood frozen at the gate, nearly heedless to the call from his radio.

"Colonel Sheppard? This is Weir. What's going on?"

"Uh, Dr. Weir? This is McKay!" Rodney frantically grabbed for his radio. "We're coming in hot!"

One of the synthetics swatted in annoyance at Ronan and sent the man flying towards the Stargate. He landed in a heap at Rodney's feet, dazed. He shook his head, pushed himself to his feet and stumbled towards Teyla who had also been thrown to the side.

"We must go!" Ronan yelled, grabbing Teyla's arm and pulling towards the gate. "There are too many of them!"

"We can't leave him!" Teyla argued.

"We'll come back for him," Ronan growled.

Dozens more of the synthetics raced towards them, running faster than any human possibly could. The dozen synthetics still struggling with the Colonel hid him from their view, and the last Teyla, Ronan, and McKay saw of him was Sheppard's eyes, wild in fear as he looked towards to gate, looking to see if they had gone.

"Desist!" Filek demanded. "It is useless to fight us!"

Sheppard kicked and struggled against the hands holding him from every side, bowling several of the synthetics over from the force of his kicks.

"Get his legs," Filek ordered.

Sheppard's kicks seemed to be of enough force to keep half of the group away from him, but one of the synthetics threw a punch to his jaw, stunning him enough for them to bring him down and pin him, still struggling, against the cold, white floor.

"Take off his jacket."

Rough hands tugged on the Colonel's jacket, pulling it over his shoulders. He fought, tooth and nail, kicking wildly against the grip on his legs.

"Hold his legs," a voice above him ordered. This voice was new, cool and calm as compared to the franticness in Filek's voice. Something flashed out of the corner of Sheppard's eye, and he saw a slender needle being passed from hand to hand.

"Let go of me!" he shouted. "Get your hands off of me!"

"Hold him still," a voice ordered.

The hands pressed in on him, and Sheppard thought he would pass out from the pressure alone. It was hard to breathe, and then he felt a sharp burning as the needle slid into the upper muscle in his leg. He struggled against the pressuring hands, fighting the effects of the needle. A strange burning sensation crept up into his body from his leg, and he felt as though his body were on fire. His sight darkened, black stars raining down into his vision, and then the synthetics melted into blackness and he knew no more.

"We must move quickly, before they send more to inquire after him," Filek advised.

Sheppard was shifted onto a cart and taken to the nearby lab that he and his team had occupied only moments before. The synthetics, after the excitement had subsided, resumed their daily tasks. The only difference they made in their habits was a permanent guard standing at the Stargate.

It was white. White all over. It was such a clean, bright white that it hurt his eyes when he opened them. After a time, he managed to keep his eyes open and surveyed his surroundings. He was still wearing his same clothes, his black t-shirt and fatigue pants, but a thin metal band had been fixed around his right thigh and his left arm. He could not get them off no matter how much he tugged and strained, so he turned his attention to the rest of the room.

It was a featureless space. There was nothing on the walls, floor or ceiling but blank white panels. If gravity didn't tell him what direction the floor was, he might have never known the difference as the room was a perfect cube, about twenty feet along each side. There didn't even appear to be a door, except that when he looked closely, some of the panels blended together into a large panel that looked big enough to be a door.

As he looked at what he thought was the door, it opened outward, and bright white light streamed into his room. A figure appeared in the doorway, paused briefly, then entered, followed quickly by four others. It was Filek.

"Colonel Sheppard, welcome to your new home," Filek smiled. "I hope you enjoy your stay here."

"You've got to be kidding me," Sheppard replied incredulously. He still sat on the floor, but as the synthetics moved closer, he scrambled to his feet.

"Please, do not attempt anything rash. It will only result in damage to yourself," Filek said.

"Then you're gonna have to damage me a whole lot, because I don't intend on making this my home," Sheppard replied. "I won't cooperate with you."

"That is unfortunate," Filek lowered his head. "We have not encountered biologicals such as you in a long time. We have forgotten how independent you can be." He made a slight motion to the other synthetics that had followed him into the room, and they moved quickly, grabbing Sheppard before he could lash out and pinning him against the wall.

"Our goal here is to make all biologicals as perfect as ourselves. We have mastered the physical appearances of many biologicals, and while you are not quite a perfect specimen yourself, we have realized that one of the main problems with biologicals is disease. Disease is what kills most biologicals. It is not war, it is not hardships, it is not lack of food or drink, it is the insufficiency of their immune system. We believe that if a biological—a human such as yourself—can live through the many diseases that we have procured in our labs, they shall be the first step in perfecting human biologicals."

"You have no right!" Sheppard ground out, struggling against the grip of the synthetics.

"Actually, Colonel Sheppard, in our society, you have no right. Biologicals are beneath us. Plants we can grow and may provide few things to us, and we have tried to use human labor over the years, but our many experiments and lack of knowledge about humans has caused much of our biological population to become extinct. Now, all we can do is obtain what we can from whatever comes through the Stargate. You have been the first to visit our world in several hundred years. We have few humans left now, and a fresh specimen will advance our research." He turned to address someone out of Sheppard's sight outside the door. "We shall start with number fourteen."

A woman synthetic walked in carrying a silver tray. On it, Sheppard saw a large syringe full of clear liquid. The horror of what he had just heard and the sight of the needle caused him to go wild.

With a surprising burst of strength, he managed to break the grip of the synthetics on his arms and ducked underneath them, coming out in the middle of the room, crouched, arms out defensively, and eyes wide. They quickly surrounded him, moving as one unit, and Filek and the woman synthetic stayed back by the door.

"Do not fight us, Colonel Sheppard," Filek admonished. "It will only bring you more pain."

Two of the synthetics moved in on Sheppard, one from behind and one in front. Sheppard spun to confront the one behind him, knocking the synthetic over with a powerful crescent kick. The other had moved quickly however, and caught his left arm, twisting it up behind his back. Sheppard cried out in pain as the synthetic wrenched on his captured arm, moving it to the point of dislocation. Another moved in and caught his right arm, holding his arm out straight and placing one of its hands on his shoulder in a classic elbow lock. Before breaking his shoulder, however, the synthetic paused, and through an unseen communication, both synthetics holding him brought him down to his knees and bore down on his captured arms in an efficient hold.

"We have dealt with your kind before, Colonel Sheppard," Filek said, approaching the man. "There are many ways in which we can subdue you without damaging you, and at this point, my patience with you has been tried. I am tempted to let them break both of your arms for your insubordinance . . . but you have not been long on our planet. You will eventually learn our ways, and then, if you try this again, I will have a sufficient reason for punishing you."

Despite the pain in his shoulders from the awkward hold, Sheppard struggled. His military training had told him to fight for his freedom in any situation, and he was definitely in a prisoner of war situation . . . one that he never dreamed he would occupy.

"Extend his left arm," Filek ordered.

Carefully, the synthetic holding his left arm unbent it and then held it in the position the synthetic was holding on his right. Filek produced a small syringe full of clear liquid from a sealed pocket in his jumpsuit and knelt next to Sheppard, taking hold of his left arm and examining the metal band that was wrapped securely around the man's bicep.

"This is just to relax you," Filek informed Sheppard.

"You're crazy," Sheppard accused hoarsely. "Don't do this."

"It won't hurt," Filek said cheerfully. The small needle slid into a microscopic hole in the metal band on the inside of his arm, and Sheppard realized that the band was fixed over one of his main arteries. It was positioned so whatever drugs the synthetics wanted to feed into his system, they would reach his whole body in short time. It was a sort of enhancement tool, he guessed.

Sheppard struggled again, ignoring the hold on his arms that began shooting numb fingers of pain into his back. The synthetics bore down on his arms slightly more, a warning. He was bent almost to the breaking point, bowed nearly in half.

The drugs Filek had fed into his system began to work, and he could feel his resistance slipping. His breath came faster as he fought against the drugs, wanting to see it through to the end as Filek approached with the syringe the woman synthetic had been carrying.

"Calm down, Colonel Sheppard," Filek said soothingly. "This is nothing to get excited about. This is the first installment of some common viruses we have found that spread among the humans of this galaxy. You are going to be very sick. If you survive this, we move on to the next step." He moved around to crouch in front of Sheppard and survey his dimming eyes. "He's nearly unconscious. Lay him on his back. This one goes in his leg," he ordered the other synthetics.

Sheppard's defiance was only a twitch in the muscles as the synthetics released their hold on his arms and stretched him out on his back. He dimly felt the syringe slide into his leg, and then the white room spun into black.

"He sensed something about them that I didn't catch," Rodney McKay said, shaking his head.

He, Teyla, Ronan, Dr. Weir, and Major Lorne were sitting around the conference table in Atlantis, their reports spread on the table before Weir.

"I did not trust them either," Teyla stated. "There was a falseness to every word they spoke to us."

"We must go back," Ronan demanded.

"We can't," Lorne protested. "You saw what was there when we tried the MALP. They have a guard there now. They'll know when we're coming. Within five minutes of us opening the gate, there were fifty more of those robots surrounding the gate. They know that we're going to come for the Colonel. He's bait. From what you said, they'd love to have more of us in their little labs right now."

"And you said they just took him?" Weir asked, still not over her team's incredible story.

Teyla hesitated. "We are not sure what they meant to do with him. The last we saw of Colonel Sheppard, there were synthetics all over him, a large crowd of them. I could not say what they were going to do to him."

"I don't think they meant to harm him," Rodney said. "Remember how Filek said that biological life forms were very rare on their planet? Maybe they're keeping him alive somewhere."

Weir shook her head, sitting back in her chair to observe the people seated around the conference table. "I don't like it. We don't know enough to send a team through after the Colonel. It appears that they've set a guard by the gate to make sure that a rescue won't happen, and we don't even know where they're keeping Colonel Sheppard."

Rodney waved his hand, a light going off in his mind. "Maybe we can use the MALP."

"What do you mean?" Weir asked.

Excited now, Rodney stood up, pacing behind his chair in order to get his thoughts out and understood. "We never brought the MALP back with us. It's still on the planet. The last time we opened the gate, the synthetics hadn't touched it. They might think it's harmless. It wouldn't hurt for us to dial back there and see if we can do anything with the MALP, scout out the area and see if there's anything that we can use to our advantage."

Weir nodded. "Do it. I'm up for any more suggestions if this does or doesn't work."

Lorne sat up in his chair, saying, "We're still going to need to get a team in there to extract the Colonel. This is only buying us intel if this works."

"Point taken, Major," Weir replied. "If you think of anything, my ears are open. Dismissed."

The world had turned against him. He was a spot of blemish in the spotless, clean, white world. His black shirt stood out in stark contrast with the whiteness of the world. The stink of his sweat and vomit tainted the virgin white. He lay, curled on his side in a corner, trying to hide himself from the strange world he was in. There was no perfection where he was, only . . .

"Colonel Sheppard?"

The voice came from afar. He ignored it. An image hovered above him, almost motherly in its affections and mannerisms. The image turned away, then came back. He did not move. He did not care anymore. The fever raged within his body, fighting the onslaught of viruses that his system had never before seen in his life on Earth.

Needle slid into flesh, and the perfect white world faded.

It had been thirty two hours since Colonel Sheppard's capture by the synthetics, and Weir ordered the Stargate opened to the strange world in order to see if they could use their MALP.

The synthetic guard stood at the DHD, arms folded and looking straight into the wormhole. He turned his head to regard the MALP curiously when Rodney McKay began manipulating its controls through radio transmission, but made no move from his spot.

"Scan for any bio forms nearby," Weir ordered.

A technician diligently typed the command into his computer and began analyzing the feedback.

"I have something!" he exclaimed suddenly less than a moment later.

"What is it?" Weir demanded.

"There's a strong bio reading from about two hundred meters down the hall in front of the MALP," the technician explained.

Rodney dialed up the camera from the MALP and tried to move the camera as slowly as possible so as not to attract anymore attention from the guard. "Are there any more? You sure you're not picking up a plant or something?"

The technician almost rolled his eyes. "Atlantean technology is far too sophisticated for that. I'm pretty sure this is a human bio sign."

"It is good that we installed some of Atlantis' technology onto the MALP," Teyla commented.

"Are you picking anything else up?" Weir asked.

Rodney slowly rotated the camera with its sensors, and the technician watched his display for a moment, then shook his head. "Nothing."

"It must be Colonel Sheppard," Teyla said.

As she spoke, they saw on the camera a group of synthetics arriving, precisely five minutes after they had opened the gate. They lined up outside of the gate, expecting arrivals.

"Uh, we're receiving a radio transmission," McKay said.

"Open the channel," Weir replied.

"Hello. This is Filek of the Arí. Dr. Elizabeth Weir, are you there?"

Elizabeth pressed the com button. "This is Weir. What have you done with Colonel Sheppard?"

"He is alive and well," came the reply. "I wish very much to speak with you in person, Dr. Elizabeth Weir."

Weir shook her head incredulously. "I won't be negotiating anything with you until Colonel Sheppard is released and back with us."

"That is most unfortunate. We shall keep in touch, then."

There was a small click, then Rodney looked up. "He cut the signal."

Weir shook her head. "Shut the gate down. I don't want them to know that we're using the MALP yet. Have you finished your scan, Rodney?"

"Yep." McKay looked immensely proud of himself. "This should help out a bit."

The technician shut the gate down, and Teyla looked at McKay curiously. "What were you scanning?"

"Using some laser technology we just installed on the MALP," Rodney explained, "I was mapping out the area. I have to convert it into one of our programs, and then hopefully we can see where they're keeping the Colonel."

"Good work, Rodney," Weir smiled. "We need to move fast, however. I have a feeling the Colonel's time is running short. Every minute he's in there I can't help but wonder what those things are doing to him."

"Precisely seventy five hours, just as was predicted," Filek said, pleased.

Sheppard was in his usual hold by two of the synthetics, on his knees, both arms outstretched in a position so as to be broken easily if he moved wrong.

"You recovered well," Filek continued, crouching down in front of Sheppard.

John glared at him. "When I get out of here I swear I am going to tear you from limb to limb."

Filek shook his head. "Such language. If it were Deenein that were taking care of you, you would never dare to speak. I always knew it would be a problem in programming each of us to distinct personalities. Mine is quite soft as we would say. That could be to my disadvantage with you." He looked disdainfully around the cell, then said to one of the synthetics standing outside the door, "Get a cleaning robot in here." As they moved to comply, he ordered the synthetics holding Sheppard, "He needs some cleaning up himself. Come."

The synthetics pulled Sheppard to his feet and dragged him out of the cell. Putting up resistance every inch of the way, Sheppard paid attention to his surroundings. It appeared his cell was adjacent to a lab similar to the one he and his team had seen before attempting to dial out days before. They dragged him through the lab, however, into another lab room exactly like the one before. This time, instead of going straight into what Sheppard thought might be yet another lab room, they turned left and pulled him into a small, featureless room and threw him roughly in the corner. Weak from the viruses that had invaded his system, lack of sleep, drugs, and lack of food, Sheppard sprawled in the corner, not thinking enough to jump up and try to run. When he did gather his wits, the synthetics had pulled a silver hose from the white wall and turned it on, spraying him, not with water, but with an odd, foaming substance that clung to his skin and clothes like water, but then absorbed quickly and dried within seconds. After about five minutes, the synthetics turned the hose off, picked him up off the floor, and carried him back to his cell. The cell now was clean and spotless. The pools of vomit from his hours of sickness were gone, and the floors and walls were sparkling.

He was deposited unceremoniously onto the floor, and then left alone. Five minutes later, Filek entered with his usual four man guard. Sheppard backed into the far corner, wary of the synthetic.

"You have not eaten since you have come here," Filek said pleasantly. "I have brought you sustenance. We kept you hydrated during the first installment of the viruses, but you biological life forms demand solid food as well." A woman stepped out from behind Filek with a silver tray, set it on the floor, and then disappeared as quickly as she had come. "You will be given some time to recuperate, and then we shall continue," Filek said. Before Sheppard could retort, he exited the room with the guards, and the door sealed behind them.

The silver tray lay in the middle of the room, and Sheppard approached it, his stomach clamoring for food. He was cautious, however, and observed its contents carefully. There appeared to be a green, leafy vegetable and a bread-like substance on the tray, along with a cup full of water. The food looked unfamiliar to him, but desire overcame caution, and he fell on the food with ravenous hunger. The vegetable reminded him of a mixture between parsley and lettuce, and the bread was slightly sweet and creamy, reminding him of cornbread with honey.

They left him alone for a long time after that. They had left him his watch, so he was at least able to keep track of time. He realized that it had been four days since his team had arrived. Why had there been no rescue yet? He had total faith in his team, yet it had been so long. What had the synthetics done? How heavy was the guard at the gate?

They left him for ten hours, and in that time, he thought long and hard. If his team couldn't get through, he had to figure out how to get them through. Perhaps the synthetics had a guard on the gate, and that was why no one from Atlantis had come. If that was true, he had to be as dangerous as possible in order to get the synthetic's attention on him and not on the gate. With that in mind, he began to devise a plan.

When Filek and his two of his companions entered Sheppard's cell ten hours later, John was sitting in the middle of the room, staring into space. He did not seem to take notice of the synthetic's entry, and did not move when Filek approached him and crouched down in front of him.

"Well, Colonel Sheppard," Filek said softly, "are you going to cooperate with us now?"

Sheppard did not move.

Filek peered at him queerly, then stood and motioned to his guard. The synthetics stooped to pull Sheppard off the floor, and then the man made his move. Not expecting this surprise, the synthetics were taken down quickly. Sheppard swept one leg behind one of the synthetic's knees, knocking it over, and rammed into the other head on, grabbing its hair and using the edge of the silver food tray that he had kept hidden underneath his body as a makeshift knife, severing half of the synthetic's neck. He had no idea how soft the synthetic's structure was, or how sturdy the tray would prove, but the synthetic dropped, twitching, with sparks flying from its neck. The first synthetic leapt towards Sheppard, but its head was crushed when Sheppard swung around in a powerful back roundhouse, his heel smashing in the side of the synthetic's head. Filek looked on in horror, and raced out of the room when Sheppard started towards him.

John had no intention of killing Filek at the moment. His first thought was of escape. He raced out of the cell, following the rooms straight through until he hit the giant hallway with its enormous glass windows. Looking right and left, he saw down to his right the Stargate. It was hard to tell exactly how far away it was. From where he stood, it was a small circle. He could see with his keen pilot's eyes, however, that there was a single synthetic standing guard near the DHD.

Hesitantly, he started running towards the gate, then as he entered the room, he sprinted full out towards the DHD. The synthetic turned to look at him curiously, then made it's move, running towards him at deadly speed. Sheppard hit the code for Atlantis after activating it with the handprint, then as the Stargate opened, he turned and smashed a fist into the synthetic's face as it reached him. He hissed in pain, shaking his injured hand. Despite the pain, it appeared the blow had some effect on the synthetic as it staggered and seemed blinded, reaching out for him and missing. He took the opportunity to race back to the lab, grabbed a stool out of its first room, and ran back out in the corridor. He swung with all of his might at the glass windows in front of him.

The stool did not even make a crack in the surface of the glass, but Sheppard tried again, swinging at the window with all of the strength left in him. In the hall, the lights dimmed, then turned back on with a blue glow, an alarm. The synthetics knew of his escape now. Perhaps it had been a mistake to let Filek go.

No matter. Sheppard continued swinging with the stool at the window, and was rewarded with a small crack in the glass. He wondered which would go first, however, the stool or the window. The crack slowly began to widen, and soon there was a hole big enough for his hand to reach through. Breezy, refreshing air blew through the hole, cooling his face. He kept swinging.

Footsteps pounded behind him. Dozens of synthetics were coming at him from all directions. Panic began to rise, but he fought it and kept swinging. The hole widened, and then they were on him, pulling him back from the window and wrenching the stool from his hands.

They were shouting at him and hitting him, trying to get him to submit like a common work horse, but Sheppard would not give up. They managed to get him down on the floor, his cheek pressed against the smooth floor, one arm twisted behind his back, and one of the synthetic's knees in the small of his back.

Suddenly, the chaos ceased, and from what little Sheppard could see in front of him, the synthetics parted, and a new synthetic walked through, stopping in front of Sheppard. Sheppard's position did not allow him to look up very far, but the synthetic crouched in front of him.

He was cold and emotionless looking, much different from the synthetics that Sheppard had dealt with before. This one was older looking, with pure black eyes and a heartless look as he gazed down on Sheppard.

"Is this the cause of all of the chaos that has been going on the past four days?" the synthetic asked. His voice was deep and commanded authority.

There was no answer from the synthetics surrounded him, and he looked back down at Sheppard.

"I believe, Filek," he began, "that this was your last warning. This human will be handed over to my care now. I shall deal with his rebellion and the ensuing punishment."

"Yes, Deenein," Filek answered obediently.

The synthetic stood. "And by the way, there's blood all over the floor. You might want to fix him up before you take him to me."

The synthetic walked away, and Sheppard realized that he did indeed feel the sting of numerous cuts all over his body from the shards of glass on the floor. Hot blood was beginning to drip into his eyes.

The synthetic on his back released his pressure on his spine, and as he renewed his struggle, he felt a needle sting his arm, and blackness overcame him.

When next he awoke, he was so disoriented that it took several minutes for him to recognize his surroundings. It appeared he was back in his old cell, and his first thought was of his team. Where were they? Why was it taking them so long to come back for him? He did not want to admit that he was actually losing faith in his team, but it was beginning to look as though they would never come. How many days had he been with the synthetics? He looked at his watch. Going on five.

The door opened, and Sheppard looked up to see Deenein standing there alone.

"I am Deenein, your new caretaker," the synthetic said. His hair was a darker silver than Filek's, his manner was colder, and he carried himself with an air of superiority, as though the very air he breathed—or didn't—was beneath him.

"Deenein," Sheppard repeated. "Interesting name."

The synthetic blinked and stepped into the room, the door sliding noiselessly shut behind him.

"I do not have a name. Deenein is the number given to me when I was created. Names are not the same here as they are with biologicals."

"Ah. D9," Sheppard nodded his head, feeling weak enough that he did not attempt to stand. "Well, I'll just assume that D9 is your name since you need to be called something, and if you are called something, then that's your name."

"Illogical." D9 approached another step. "You biological humans are irrational."

"Whatever." Sheppard rolled his eyes.

"Speaking of illogical ... I am curious. Why did you not escape to your homeworld when you activated the Stargate earlier?"

Sheppard thought for a moment. If he had his radio, it would have been simple to get back to Atlantis. As it was, he knew he had no way of communicating with his people and jumping through the Stargate would have made him a pointless splat against the shield on the other side. He had hoped that the Stargate activating would give Weir the idea that he was trying to get out and that he was still alive. Now that he thought it through, it didn't really seem like a good idea at all. He decided not to tell the synthetic that, however.

"I guess I'm just an illogical human being," he offered.

"We have not had a human subject in many years," D9 said. "We have much work to do. Filek immediately started with the virus trials, and I am afraid I am going to have to continue them through. It is not how I would have begun, and his mistake will be mended. We will have to work on your behavior and endure the outcome of the virus trials at the same time."

"What if I don't cooperate with you?" Sheppard demanded, his hackles rising at the thought of the synthetics experimenting on him further.

"You will cooperate," D9 answered coolly. "If you don't, you will die sooner, rather than later. Perhaps you will be the subject to finally survive the virus trials as well."

"What are you saying, that no one has survived these things before?" Sheppard asked incredulously.

D9 raised an eyebrow in a surprisingly human gesture and approached until he was standing directly in front of Sheppard. "We have come close. Perhaps in the years that we have not had a subject, your race has changed enough to survive. We shall see. For now, this is the last conversation that I let you speak to me in that tone of voice. You will learn your place, human. You are not an equal."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Sheppard answered sarcastically. "I thought since I was being held here against my will, I could say anything I wanted."

D9 slapped him with enough force to make Sheppard see stars. There was a long pause as the synthetic glared down at Sheppard, then he turned and left the room.

Sheppard was left alone for several hours after that to fret and stew about what the synthetics were going to do to him next. He was immensely hungry, and his mouth was so dry he believed he could drink an entire gallon of water in one sitting. He had had nothing to eat since Filek had fed him several hours before. The synthetic was doing well in his effort to break him, he had to acknowledge. The hunger alone was enough to weaken him physically and mentally. He would give almost anything for something to eat, and with that thought, he knew he was doomed.

By his watch, nearly twenty four hours passed before D9 entered his cell again. By that time, Sheppard was so dehydrated he could not stand if he wanted to. D9 stood in the doorway, staring at him dispassionately, then motioned to some synthetics standing outside the door. A pair of them entered and pulled Sheppard to his feet. He could not support his weight, and they half dragged, half carried him out of the room. The room around Sheppard passed in a blur, and before he knew it, the synthetics were strapping him down to a table. He struggled, but was too weak to fight back to any effect. The synthetics vanished, and D9 appeared over him, face flat and emotionless. Several lights flashed over the table, and D9 looked at a monitor near the table.

"Besides the dehydration and malnourishment, the subject appears to be in good health," the synthetic droned. He seemed to be recording his readings. "He is, however, a difficult subject, having put up a fight at every opportunity and escaping from his cell forty two hours ago. I am beginning the breaking process, however, he has also been started on the viruses, and I shall have to continue that trial as well." As he spoke, he slid a needle attached to a small tube into the band around Sheppard's arm, and clear liquid began to flow through the thin tube. Sheppard guessed the synthetic was hydrating him, but wary of what the synthetic was doing, he flexed his arm, trying to find a leverage to get the needle out.

D9, seeing what he was doing, calmly, pulled out another needle, this one filled with blue liquid, and slid it into his other arm before he could protest.

"What . . . what are you doing?" Sheppard demanded. His throat was so dry his words came out as a hoarse whisper.

"Saving you from an early death," D9 replied. "You have been severely dehydrated, and I am restoring your liquids. However, since you insist on fighting me at every step, I am sedating you. This is part of the punishment. This sedation will not cause unconsciousness, but paralysis. I have observed that every sentient being feels vast discomfort during paralysis, and you need to be discomforted in order to learn that you cannot fight me. I will always win." He turned away, then looked back in afterthought. "Oh, the convulsions should bring you out of the paralysis in a few hours."

As he spoke, Sheppard realized that he was indeed losing control of his body. He could still see and hear, but his limbs refused his commands. Eventually, however, even his vision and hearing faded. D9 continued working around him. Sheppard could not feel him and could not see what he was doing, and every moment of paralysis caused his panic to rise slightly higher. He fought against it by going back to his military training, and went over every mental exercise he could remember, treating the situation as he would a solitary confinement scenario. There were men that went insane when they were put in solitary confinement, and now he could see why. The time he had spent alone in the cell was enough to fray his nerves, but losing control of his body was even worse.

The synthetic was right, however. In a few hours, Sheppard could feel his body begin to shiver uncontrollably, and he unconsciously convulsed against the restraints, his body wracked in pain. All sane thought left his mind, and soon, blessed oblivion set in.

"He's been in there too long. Who knows where they could have moved him by now?"

McKay was sitting dark eyed and weary at the computer screen monitoring the MALP, and his patience had worn thin.

"Rodney, you know we're all doing our best," Weir responded. "As much as I want the Colonel back, we can't risk losing others before we find out the real situation."

"I got it!"

Dr. Coltray ran wildly into the gate room, waving a laptop over his head.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Got what?"

The doctor excitedly set down his laptop in front of McKay and Weir and opened it, pointing to a complicated set of mechanical terms and a small video screen on the monitor.

"Well, we've opened the Stargate four times trying to find out more information on the Colonel, right?"

"Yes," Weir nodded.

"Well, of those four times, the synthetics have responded within five minutes by sending a—ah-hem—welcoming party."

"And . . ." McKay waved his hand, bored.

"Each of those times," the doctor continued, "I have counted twenty five synthetics through the monitor on the MALP. Each of those times, those synthetics are the exact same as before."

"So?" McKay sat up, annoyed. "They're robots. Of course they're going to look the same."

"No. They don't," the doctor continued patiently. "I've gone over every detail. This one here," he pulled up an image of a woman synthetic, "She has a tear in her uniform on the sleeve, presumably from your first encounter with them. All of these synthetics have unique facial structures. I am quite certain that these synthetics that are responding to the security call are the same every time. There has never been any more than twenty five, or any less."

"So you're saying that we could quite probably overcome their numbers since we know how many are responding each time we open the gate?" Weir queried.

"I guess so," the doctor replied. "I don't know much about military techniques, but—"

"That should be good," McKay stood, slapping the lid of his laptop closed. "I'll tell Ronan."

Why didn't they come?

Sheppard was in agony, physically and mentally. His faith in his team was wavering, and his body was wracked with fever. He lay in the corner of his cell, trying to preserve his body heat. D9 had turned the temperature down in his cell in another attempt at punishment. Sheppard refused to break, and it frustrated the synthetic. Every time D9 tried another method, Sheppard rebelled further.

It had been seven days since his capture, and Sheppard felt as though it had been seven years. It had been the fourth day when D9 had taken over from Filek, and a routine had been established from the start. In the morning—or rather, what Sheppard thought was morning—he would be taken out of his cell and cleaned with the foaming wash, and then D9 would inspect him, make sure he was still healthy enough to continue with the experiments, and then he would inject his viruses or other experimental liquids, and Sheppard would be sent back to his cell to be sick for the next twenty four hours. He had had only two meals since his capture, and those had been the same each time: the sweet, bread like substance and the leafy vegetable. D9 fed him once the day after he had given him the paralysis agent in order to keep his strength up. He was being fed enough to give him the strength to stand when he needed to, Sheppard realized. D9's tactic was to weaken him physically to the point where he could no longer fight bodily against the synthetics, and the tactic was working.

He didn't even raise his head when the door opened. He stayed limp and unresisting when the synthetics dragged him out of the room. When they strapped him to the table in the lab, he did not fight back.

"I am glad to see that you are finally beginning to learn," D9 said. He examined his instruments and frowned. "This installment of viruses has taken a hard toll on you indeed. Perhaps your behavior is due to this." He pressed some buttons near Sheppard's head, and his frown deepened. Sheppard watched him through dull eyes. "The subject's temperature is dangerously high. I shall have to intervene in this experiment, I am afraid. Usually, the virus will set its course and be burned out by the human, but in order to continue the experiments, I shall have to interfere in an effort to bring the subject's temperature back to a normal level."

D9's voice droned on into his recorder and eventually faded as Sheppard lost track of consciousness.

Ronan led the rescue party, charging through the Stargate into the vast synthetic complex and taking down the synthetic guarding the gate with one shot to the chest.

"I thought we weren't going to kill anyone!" McKay protested.

Ronan raised an eyebrow. "Are these things really alive?" He approached the synthetic, which was twitching on the floor. "We need to move quickly. We have at most five minutes before the rest of them arrive."

With military precision, the rescue party of three dozen, including Teyla and McKay, spread out across the hall. A small group stayed with the gate, alert and ready to dial back at a moment's notice.

It took them only three minutes to go through over twenty rooms before they finally found the Colonel.

He was lying, sprawled in the corner of a large, white cell, his body burning with fever. A strange, metal device was fixed to his temple, and did not release when McKay tried to remove it. Delirious, Sheppard did not recognize them, and feebly fought against Ronan's grip as the man pulled him to his feet.

"It's alright, Colonel," Teyla tried to reassure him. She pulled one of his arms over her shoulder for support, and McKay took his other arm, allowing Ronan the freedom to protect their backs. Strangely, they encountered no synthetics until they exited the cell, and even then, there was only one synthetic standing in the doorway, blocking their escape back to the hall.

"Greetings," it said. "I am D9."

When Sheppard woke, he did not realize where he was at first, and in an unconscious attempt to break away the restraints at his wrists, he came bolt upright in a soft white bed, gasping for air.

"Whoa, whoa, laddie!" A gentle hand pushed him back, and he looked, panic stricken, into the familiar eyes of Dr. Beckett. "It's all right," the doctor said softly, realizing the Colonel's panic. "You're back in Atlantis. You're safe now. Don't worry."

Looking around him and realizing that he was indeed in one of the infirmaries on Atlantis, Sheppard relaxed slightly, and confused, demanded hoarsely, "What happened?"

"I think your teammates can answer that better than I," Beckett answered. "They're right outside the door, so I'll call them in. They've been worried sick about you, you know. They'd have been here all night if I hadn't sent them out. You had a very high fever." He disappeared briefly, then reentered the room, followed closely by Teyla, Ronan, McKay, and Dr. Weir.

"How are you feeling Colonel?" Weir asked carefully.

"What's going on?" Sheppard demanded. "How did I get back here?"

"We rescued you," McKay offered, smug.

"I can see that," Sheppard retorted. "What happened?"

"It took us nearly twenty four hours to get back in," Teyla began.

"Well, why didn't you come after me right away?"

Teyla looked confused. "Colonel, we did. We came for you as soon as we could. I am sorry it took that long, but—"

"Seven days," Sheppard said.

Teyla looked at the rest of her teammates and Weir, puzzled, and they looked at each other with perplexed looks on their faces as well.

"It—wasn't quite that long, Colonel," Weir said. "From the moment your team came back and the moment they brought you back through the gate with them, it didn't even amount to twenty four hours. We had every man working on your rescue mission that entire time."

"I think I can explain," McKay said, shoving his hands in his pockets. "When we found you, one of the synthetics was there named D9." Sheppard's eyes narrowed at the name, but McKay pressed on. "He told us that Filek—the guy who gave us the tour—had taken you against D9's wishes and wanted to . . . um, experiment on you." McKay paused at the unhealthy thought, then continued, "I guess he had a device in which he could perform artificial experiments using an environment he created through the mind. That way, he could keep you safe and perform simulations and see whether you would survive his experiments or not. The environments were very complex, and I guess your perception of time was altered as well."

"I'll say," Sheppard muttered. "That doesn't explain why I had a fever when you brought me back. D9 was the one performing the experiments on me. He was the one injecting me with viruses."

"Colonel, it may seem terrible what you went through," Weir said gently, "but none of it was real. It was all an illusion. The fever was a result of the device that the synthetics had attached to you. D9 told us it was one of the side effects. He also told us that Filek had a long hatred against D9, and most likely would have painted him as the bad guy in your mind. I guess there has been two feuding parties among the synthetics for the past few hundred years. One believes in using biologicals as scientific experiments while the other is trying to protect biologicals. D9 was a part of the faction that is trying to eradicate the biological experimentation."

The reality of the situation was beginning to sink in, and Sheppard looked, dumbfounded, at his teammates. "You mean, nothing . . . nothing that I went through . . . was real?"

Weir shook her head. "I can't imagine what it was you experienced Colonel, but D9 was your saving grace in the end. He called off Filek's men and escorted us safely through the gate. His group is the one that installed the device on their DHD that only allows biologicals to dial out. It trapped his faction on their world, but it allows for biologicals to escape. He promised me that they would not bother us again."

Sheppard shook his head. "No. I don't believe it."

Weir put her hand on Sheppard's arm, a gentle touch, full of compassion, and said, "It may take some time, Colonel."

As his teammates left the room, Sheppard closed his eyes, the weight of his mental anxiety beginning to relax. It definitely would take some time before he could handle what he had been through with ease.