Whenever his Genii interrogators pause long enough in the beating to demand a name, John Sheppard is smart enough to give any name but his own. He offers a wide range of monikers, none of which close to his, from between broken jaws and spilt from bloodied lips. They range from old prank call jokes he still vaguely remembers from the Simpsons, to characters from video games, comic and movies. Han Solo. I.P. Freely. Lex Luther. Oliver Klozoff. Tony Stark. Jacques Strap. Al Coholic. Peter Griffin. Mike Rotch. Hugh Jass. It honestly surprises John to no end that he can summon up so many pop cultural references granted what surely must be a concussion after hours of direct punches to the head.
He had been taken during a raid of one of the Genii's outposts while laying suppressive fire so his team could retreat. The Genii had flung some kind of incendiary at him. The next thing Sheppard knew, he was tied to the chair and waiting for his questioning. Fortunately, these particular Genii are rather removed from their homeworld, not up to speed with their current events and certainly not familiar with the face of the infamous Lantean John Sheppard enough to know him by sight alone.
To his eternal amusement, the name his interrogators finally accept is Indiana Jones. He wants to snicker, to laugh and mock their stupidity, but his jaw throbs with white hot agony and his head swims from the many blows. Instead, Sheppard sits in silence as they sign his name to his file, thankful that these goons are dumb enough not to realize that an enemy of the state sits before them, an enemy which, when properly pressed could provide key tactical information to the Genii about Atlantis.
After that, Sheppard is herded out with a large group of other male prisoners and shackled in a chain gang. He tries to fight, to twist, but his hands are cuffed behind his back. He does not recognize a one of them, which brings the miniscule comfort of knowing that all of his team escaped. Yet John's heart constricts sharply when he sees children among the prisoners. He attempts to ask one of the others in a hushed whisper why they are here, but neither his broken jaw nor the Genii guards will allow him to speak.
The Genii drag the chain gang from one building to another. There, they unshackle the prisoners one at a time and haul them across the room to a rather sinister looking chair. When John's turn come, he bucks and fights, digging his heels in, but he is weak and most assuredly concussed. His defiance in is vain, and the Genii force him down to sit for his photograph. When John refuses to look into the camera as instructed, one of the guards aims his service weapon at one of the children. John looks at the camera obediently but with a sarcastic sort of smirk that says that they have not come even close to dreaming of breaking him. He is bloodied but unbowed, and his picture will speak volumes to that should it ever be recovered.
From there, it is off to yet another building where the guards do not even risk removing their captive chains to strip them. They cut the clothes from their charges with sharp blades, leaving a pile of shred garments upon the floor in their wake. Some of the others cry and shriek in terror, yet John stills himself, forcing himself to keep calm by reminding himself that forced nudity is simply an interrogation and torture technique meant to weaken his resolve. To give in to the shame and embarrassment that threatens to flush his cheeks would be allowing the Genii to win. He waits in quiet reserve as the Genii take one prisoner at a time to an adjoining room and shut the door, taking what feels like several minutes for each before returning for the next.
However, when it is John's turn, the fear does actually creep in, despite his best efforts to force it down. Even he quakes with visible fear when they pull him into the next room and bolt the door behind him. They sheer the hair from his head with a coarse razor and scrub him with some sort of white powder that burns his skin and rubs him raw wherever it touches. It does not escape his notice that his Genii handlers all wear heavy gloves; although, whether this is due to the caustic nature of the powder or the potential hazards of handling prisoners of questionable health remains to be seen. They hose him afterwards beneath a torrential current of frigid water that steals his breath away and bruises about his ribs.
After the cleaning, John has only energy enough to shiver against the cutting cold of the water, his teeth chattering loudly. This seems to be the intent for, so subdued, John is easily held down at a plain, steel table. There, they tattoo a ten digit number upon his forearm in black ink; his number or, rather, Indiana's number. Then, the guards manhandle him into a basic, rust orange set of coveralls for a uniform and pass him to another set of Genii soldiers.
They deposit John in a small, cramped cell, barely larger than he. The cell has no door, but it does not matter. The Genii shackle his feet to the ground by the entrance with wide, steel links that look sturdy beyond compare. They leave nothing anywhere within his potential reach, nothing that could be used as a tool or weapon. Only a few pebbles occupy the cell; no bed, no sink, no bucket, nothing. There is only a small hole in the ground which must surely be a toilet judging by the rancid stench which occasionally drifts up from it. They leave him there, passing him several times to drag other prisoners to their own cells, but they ignore the crumpled heap which is John Sheppard.
John curls up on his side and clutches his broken jaw for some time before finally stirring. He takes one of the pebbles and scratches a single line in the wall. One. One day. He will mark the days until his team comes for him. John knows that, for every day which passes in the Genii's clutches, Ronon will be getting more and more pissed off. For every day which passes, the horrors the Satedan will inflict upon the Genii when he finds John increase exponentially.
The line stands for hope as well. John has been taken hostage several times over in his career with Atlantis. He has often mused that it is merely an occupational hazard that comes with the unenviable position of head of military command in the Ancient city, but John knows, more likely, that it is a direct result of his insatiable need to keep his charges safe at all costs to prevent what happened to Holland from happening to another. After so many incidents, John knows that Rodney's personal record for finding him offworld is three days. John resolves that, when the third day is over and a third mark goes on the wall, thenhe can worry. Not until then.
John closes his eyes, but sleep is hard to find. The floor is hard and cold beneath him. His jaw throbs and aches with each heartbeat, every breath and subtle movement. This prison, this camp, is filled with the sounds of suffering in an endless stream of horrors. He clamps his hands over his ears, but that does not drown out the screams and cries. When John finally does sleep, it is not restful and not nearly enough.
John – or Indiana – is quickly introduced the next morning to the sickening routine about which the camp revolves when he is awoken by a splash of icy water tossed from a bucket, so cold that it burns and steals his breath away. He jerks awake, blinking in confusion. His head throbs, pounding with each beat of his heart and swimming as he jumps up. His heart hammers in his chest, racing as it does.
Before John even has a chance to fully gather his senses, the Genii are upon him, dragging him out of the cell by his ankles. He twists and claws instinctively at the cold, stone floor beneath him, digging his fingernails in for any limited purchase. The tips of his fingers scrape roughly on the jagged surface. One of his fingernails – that of his right index finger – catches and nearly tears right off. That does not stop John from fighting, from writhing and kicking in defiance, from trying.
They drop him in a small room at the far end of the corridor that John will come to know intimately. The Genii shackle him to a steel chair and leave him there for some time, long enough for John to study the room. There are no windows, only a bare, incandescent bulb that burns brightly overhead. There is a table on the far side of the room where various tools and instruments gleam menacingly beneath the light, well out of John's reach. The walls are filthy, covered in what appears to be dirt, blood, and various other stains that John cares not to identify.
Time passes, but John cannot be certain how much. That is the point; it is a matter of psychological torture. Without an outside window open to natural light, a prisoner has no sense for the natural passage of time. Under such conditions, a minute can span an hour, or an hour a minute. John is meant to stew in this chamber, to ponder the many ways he will be harmed by the Genii. The mind can be its own worst enemy when left to its own devices to run wild with imagination. His training has taught him this, but his training never accounted for the likes of the Genii and the other assorted horrors of the Pegasus galaxy.
John closes his eyes and mentally shuts out the room. He passes the time by going over various mission reports in his head - now that he finally has the time – and listening to different songs in his head, humming to himself. It helps keep his mind off the many implements of torture awaiting his captors.
After a time, they come to interrogate him; they bark questions at him, demanding answers John cannot give and confessions he will not sign. However, the Genii do not seem particularly bothered by John – or Indiana's – lack of response. The soldiers seem more interested in inflicting harm upon their captive regardless of his answers. John understands somewhere in the logical portion of his mind that this is a psychological tactic once more, reinforcing that John is entirely disposable and so completely below their concern that they do not need to care about his answers. They are trying to make him feel smaller, defenseless, and insignificant. It also serves to illustrate that the Genii have plenty of time and resources to expend on torturing their captives, a constant reminder that there is no need to rush. There is no predetermined time frame for their interrogation, and the Genii can keep doling out grueling punishment for as long as necessary until they have the information they need. John knows both are critical psychological blows. However, the clinical acknowledgment of this fact offers limited comfort at best.
The Genii are well trained. They begin with their fists, delivering solid blows to John's chest and stomach. The strikes to the chest knock the air from John's lungs, causing him to gasp painfully through his broken jaw, while those to his stomach nearly send him vomiting. A good punch to his side cracks something along his side, possibly a rib judging by the searing, white hot pain that follows with each inhalation. Yet, they pointedly avoid hitting John on the head, for any such blow might render him mercifully unconscious before his due.
They hit him until their knuckles split and bleed. Then, the Genii begin using their many toys on John, torturing him slowly but surely with each implement from their collection until they each lose their novelty in turn. They cut at him with filthy knives that would surely make Carson's skin crawl at the sight of them, careful not to cut too deeply to inflict any mortal wounds. They pry two of his fingernails off with pliers, letting the nails drop to the ground, forgotten. One of the guards holds out John's right hand while the other bashes it repeatedly with a metal hammer of some kind until the bones crack and snap audibly beneath the skin. They zap him with something akin to an electric cattleprod in John's opinion until he briefly blacks out from the repeated shocks. When he rouses, his crotch is chilled and wet with his own piss; John flushes immediately with embarrassment despite the knowledge that it was beyond his control.
For some time, John impressively manages to maintain a lose grip on consciousness despite the agony inflicted upon him, but, after a while, he passes out. John is not sure when it happens. John does not remember losing consciousness, nor does he remember being dragged back to his meager cell and chained once more like a dog. He just wakes up to a cold, damp, freshly hosed floor, sprawled out on his side where the Genii surely dropped him, stinking of the stale urine caking the crotch of his uniform. Both his head and right hand throb painfully now with each labored beat of his heart. His side burns where a rib is likely cracked from the beating, along with the myriad of cuts and minor burns from the shocks.
Across from him sits a small pot of gruel and a cup of water. John licks his dry, chapped lips. It has been hours since he last drank anything, yet it seems too great an effort to his tired, aching body to reach for the cup. As a result, John simply stares at the offending cup for some time before summoning the energy to reach. He clutches his shattered, ruined right hand close to his chest and uses his left hand, watching in mild concern as his arm quakes from the effort. The water is old, musty and otherwise disgusting, yet John gulps it down anyway before simply letting the cup fall to the ground.
Afterwards, John considers the gruel, but the rancid smell of it is enough to put his appetite off. He can eat when he gets back to Atlantis. Speaking of, John finds his pebble and scrawls a second line on the wall. Day two. One more day, and Rodney will find him. Just one more day. John hugs himself against the pain and closes his eyes, comforted by the knowledge that his team will find him soon.
John sleeps that night, but, again, it is not restful between the sounds of the other captives and the pain of his own injuries.
The next morning, the cycle begins again. A frigid water wake-up call, followed by a long stew session alone in the torture chamber before a second, agonizing interrogation that leaves John barely conscious and in absolute agony. Again, John is dumped in his freshly hosed down cell to a cup of water and a banquet of nasty, congealed gruel. This time, however, John is hungry enough to eat the slop, choking it down in small bites to avoid aggravating his broken jaw. The sludgy, tasteless glop sits heavily in his stomach, roiling uncomfortably enough to make John wonder if the Genii feed their prisoners tainted food. He wraps his left arm about his stomach, clutching himself against the cramps and pangs.
After his meager meal, John scratches another line in the wall and glares accusingly at the three vertical stripes. Three days. He forces himself to smirk. Three days. Now, when Rodney locates him, John can andwill ridicule him soundly for failing to break his prior record. John falls asleep smiling to himself at the thought, oddly comforted by the barbs he is already forming to hurl at the physicist upon his rescue.
There are many things that John hates about prolonged captivity and torture such as his, but the isolation is perhaps the worst of it. In isolation, the mind turns a cruel traitor. Thoughts can swiftly turn dangerous, deadly even. John is also entirely unaccustomed to stillness, to boredom, having spent much of his days with Atlantis moving seamlessly from one crisis to another.
To pass the long, somnolent hours spanning between beatings, John passes the time by reading the ten digit number stained indelibly upon his arm. His number – or, more appropriately, Indiana's number – reads 2331928450. John reads the numbers over and over again for hours, until they lose meaning. Sometimes, John wonders if the Genii have honestly processed, interrogated, abused, and quite possibly exterminated over two billion people as his number suggests. He tries not to contemplate that too much and focuses instead on playing various games with the digits in his number.
Like so many other American youths, John spent many a day avoiding the drudgery of school reading assignments. He loathed most of the books handed out by his teachers, likely only because it was required and not due to the subject matter. John thinks back on those days and all those wasted books with intense longing. What he would not give for some of the more wretched reading assignments. ToKillaMockingbird. Catch22.AllthePresident'sMen.
John reads his ten numbers and wishes for something, anything else.
Several days follow in the same manner until seven lines mark the wall before the routine changes. Each day is marked by perverse tortures lasting several hours. By the end of the week, John hardly has the energy to eat. He does so, gagging down the vile gruel if only to keep himself alive long enough for his rescue.
Each day, his torturers demand intel from their captive. They think his lack of answers is out of defiance only and reward him in kind with various horrors. If only the Genii knew the truth. If only they knew that they were simply asking the wrong questions. They focus entirely upon the rebellion welling up among their own people, thinking Indiana is a member of their faction. Unfortunately, John is not a member of the rebellion and, therefore, not privy to any intelligence related to them and, as such, cannot answer their questions. It is almost cruelly ironic. John could almost laugh, if he had the energy to spare.
Each day feels somehow longer than the last, blurred together by the continuous thread of his own suffering. One morning, before the Genii come for him, John looks up and blinks in surprise at the fifteen marks upon the wall. He reaches out and brushes his fingertips over the scratches, shocked that only fifteen days have passed and not more. It feels as though more time should have passed by now. Pain has a funny way of doing that.
When the Genii grow bored of his stubborn resistance, they strip him of his uniform. Initially, the guards seem to enjoy themselves with mocking John's genitals, decrying his manhood. John shuts out their comments, reminding himself that he is trained to handle this, but it is harder still to recall this when the Genii focus their intention on inflicting harm to his more delicate of parts. They burn, crush, punch, and dole out other punishments to both John's cock and scrotum, laughing haughtily when John grits his teeth, grunts, or even cries out against the abuse.
When those abuses prove ineffective in eliciting the desired response and the demanded answers, they force John to his knees and rape him. He fights and struggles against the Genii, but there are too many of them. Even where the odds more in his favor, John is weak from days of torture to fight his captors, yet his pride will not allow him to acquiesce peacefully to this offense. They take him one at a time, hooting and joking as they do, one after another. After the first few, John is too exhausted mentally and physically to even hold himself, and each of the Genii to make avail of him beyond that must hold him up by snaking a hand about to his stomach. One even uses John's battered and abused cock as something of a handle.
As the men assault him, John tries to remind himself over and over again that this is to be expected of his captors, that he has been taught of this. It is just rape. It means nothing more than any of the other horrors inflicted upon him. It hurts, oh god it hurts, but it is merely physical pain. His body, for however torn and bruised his captors are leaving him, will heal. The weapon used against him is just a cock, capable of dealing no worse of damage than any of the other implements used against him. However, the reality of rape is a far different than the theories John has held, and it is hard to escape the overwhelming despair, the feeling of utter and appalling helplessness that swallows him whole. He tries not to cry, swallowing the choking sobs, but the tears spill down his cheeks and serve only to fuel the Genii's laughter. He does not know how many men use him; he loses count after five, as the individuals slowly blur together.
After the assault, for however long it lasts, the Genii are considerate enough to stuff John back into his orange coveralls and dump him in his cell. He curls up on the floor and hugs himself against the agony and the shame that well inside of him like a great, gaping maw, a vacuum threatening to swallow him whole. He lies there for a time before finally picked up his bit of pebble and scratching another line in the wall.
Another day, nothing more. As John curls his arms about his aching, bruised and battered body, he forces himself to remember that it is just a day. Just a day.
The days go on like that. Days of physical torture and interrogation are only occasionally interrupted by days of humiliating sexual assault. And, yet, John gives them not an inch. He takes their beatings but maintains the guise of Indiana Jones. He must. Atlantis depends on preventing these hapless Genii scum from discovering his identity. John clings to hope of rescue desperately as the marks upon the wall slowly climb to thirty.
On the thirtieth day, however, the routine is broken. John is hauled out of his cell and taken not to the interrogation room that has become a staple to John ever narrowing world. Instead, the Genii drag John out to the corridor and shackle him to a chain gang of other pathetic, bedraggled captives, each caked in their own blood, sweat and filth. The Genii then proceed to herd the frightened men out of the prison. They trot the men out to another building, where each is stripped down and examined by a doctor of sorts. Some are sorted out, as though culled away, while the others are shaved clean, scrubbed with that horrid, caustic powder, rinsed beneath a torrential, brutal jet of water from a hose, and dressed once more in coveralls.
Afterwards, the Genii return the remaining prisoners to their cells once more. They do not come for John that day, nor any of the other prisoners on his block judging by the sounds. Likely, the Genii are too distracted with the mass grooming to notice. While small, red rashes of skin irritation flush upon John, he begins to ponder if this is a delousing. John shudders at the thought.
John curls up in the corner of his cell and tries to savor the respite for as long as possible.
It is not until the middle of the second month that John finally spies the opportunity to escape. One of the two guards that haul him out that the morning is young, a trainee it seems granted the verbal instruction given by the other guard. John feigns weakness, an easy task granted his various injuries and his rapidly thinning body. He falls over the young guard, barely a child, pretending to topple from exhaustion. As he drags the younger man down in surprise, John takes his chance to relieve the guard of his firearm and whips it about to fire on both the Genii before bolting himself.
John runs as fast as his legs will take him, but he knows it is not fast enough. Weeks of abuse coupled with limited movement due to his confinement and binding have taken a toll upon him. His legs burn and throb with each stride, screaming at John for mercy.
Unfortunately, John does not make it very far; the Genii both outnumber and outgun him. However, John does manage to deliver at least a few fatal shots before running out of ammunition. The Genii quickly circle and recapture John, dragging him through the mud of the compound back to the interrogation room and not to his cell. There, they reward John's efforts by smashing at his bare, pale, scrawny legs with metal bars until the bones crack audibly from the blows, breaking both of his lower legs. John howls in rage and suffering while the Genii merely laugh.
The guards chain John back in his cell, trembling with shock. There, John lies on the cold, hard stone floor of his cell for sometime. He tries desperately not to move, not to jar or otherwise disturb his ruined legs. Each minute shift of weight, every twitch of his muscles sends white hot flashes of agony coursing through his body. John clenches his teeth against the pain, but groans and grunts do slip out. The bones should be splinted and bound to knit, but the Genii offer not even this most rudimentary of medical care.
Fortunately, the Genii do not come for him for his daily interrogations. Several days pass in a strange, hazy limbo of sorts without the expected abuse, judging by the arrival of his daily rations. Each day, the Genii deposit the gruel and water just outside of John's reach, forcing him to struggle to reach, snickering and snorting at his suffering. John curses them under his breath and, to avoid further mockery, saves relieving himself until after the prison quiets for the night.
By the time the next delousing and grooming arrives, small, worrying red patches flush John's skin where he lies. John tries not to think of them, valiantly attempts not to be concerned, but he is. He surveys the patches, checking on them daily, but there is nothing he can do without any medical supplies.
The Genii deal with the other prisoners before they return for John; they take John not directly for grooming but, instead, to a smaller, side building. There, a man the Genii charitably refer to as a "medical physician" examines John's legs with the same cold, callous disregard reserved for laboratory animals, as though he does not deserve any kind of sympathy or empathy. The man does not even perform x-rays. He turns John over to another young Genii - perhaps a med student or intern - to wrap his legs. They do not splint or even cast the limbs, probably to avoid offering a prisoner any potential weapon. John is thankful, as every subtle manipulation of his legs is nothing short of torture.
John nearly inquires about the Hippocratic Oath but stops himself just in time before the jest can slip out. He bites his tongue, mentally chastising himself for such potential carelessness. The Genii do not have the Hippocratic Oath, and such a mistake would surely alert his captors to his alien origins.
Once finished, the Genii shave, delouse and shower John again before dumping him in his cell. He lies for a time, staring up at his forgotten makeshift calendar. He sighs and forces himself to add enough marks to make sixty upon the wall. Sixty days. Two months, and, still, Atlantis has not found him.
The physician examines John's legs a few more times and another delousing passes before John is apparently deemed fit enough for interrogation. The torture begins anew.
Sometime in the fourth month, John stops marking the days. It is a pointless exercise to count the days until his rescue if no rescue is to come. At this point, it is certain that Atlantis is not going to find him. He spends his time seeking opportune moments and attempting escape. John makes a few more rather valiant efforts.
In the interrogation following the last escape attempt, the Genii pry his right eye open and dip a hot cauter to it. The eye sizzles and sears while John shrieks in both physical and emotional anguish. When the Genii dump him in his cell again, he takes tender care to wash the eye as best as possible and flush as much of the dirt, debris, and damaged tissue away with the wretched water afforded John in his daily rations. He does this daily, forcing himself to cry as well to keep the eye as clean as possible.
Despite John's ministrations, the eye festers. He quivers with fever chills on the cold stone floor as the eye simply rots away in the socket. A decidedly putrid liquid seeps from about the orbit, eventually followed by the remnants of John's eye.
It is not until John wakes to feel the stomach churning sensation of insects prodding at his ruined eye that he realizes the organ is beyond salvage. It takes another several hours for John to steal himself enough to do what must be done. He digs into the socket with his long, dirty fingers, removing as much of his destroyed eyeball as possibly, sobbing and shaking uncontrollable through it all. The pilot cries miserably as he discards the remnants of his eye down the hole in the corner of the cell.
After that, John sinks into a dark depression. The Genii have struck a far worse blow to John than they could have ever imagined in destroying his eye. Without two fully functioning eyes, he will never fly again, and that is the worst the Genii could do to him. John unsuccessfully fights the sorrow, slowly succumbing to the listlessness, the emptiness, and the grief that are consuming him alive.
The guards do not fuck John after his eye rots away. They continue to torture him, near daily and rather viciously, but they do not rape him nor molest him as they had once done so fervently. A part of John wants to be thankful for this small mercy, but he is not. He knows they do not abuse him sexually anymore simply because he is too ugly, too disfigured a creature to illicit anything but pure, unyielding repulsion. He is a monster.
John hears, however, the screams and grunts of other men as they suffer the indignities he is now spared. It goes on and on through the day and night whenever he is not being interrogated himself or unconscious. John tries not to listen, not to hear sounds he knows came from his own lips once and still do when they hurt him. He clamps his hands over his ears and prays for the screaming to stop.
It never does.
One night, John is woken by a strange, whimpering sound. It takes him a few moments to realize the sound emanates from him. He struggles, chewing down on his lower lip until it bleeds and attempting desperately to swallow his tears. When that fails, John wraps his arms about himself and lurches with small, choking sobs through the night until he simply passes out.
Once, the guards beat John so badly that he pisses blood that night. He watches with a curious dispassion as his urine flows with an unnaturally crimson stain. John knows this is a bad sign. It may just be something minor, or it may herald serious kidney damage, the sort of degenerate injury that eventually kills with blood poisoning. John hopes it is kidney damage, so much so that he is almost disappointed when his urine goes back to a normal, yellow shade a few days later.
John is tired of being Indiana Jones. It is a moronic name. Why he finally settled upon that horrible name, John will never know. It had just simply seemed a good idea at the time. Now, however, it is the only name he hears, and it grates miserably upon his ears. Honestly, who names their child after a state?
John tries to rationalize that Indiana is simply a mask, reminding himself that it is merely a disguise he wears to keep Atlantis safe. It is difficult, though, especially considering he dare not say his own name, dare not think it. Sometimes, in the night, John mouths his own name, just to keep from forgetting it, but, once that begins to feel too great a risk, he stops. John feels himself slipping daily beneath the uncomfortable veneer granted the false name as he feels his own identity slowly melting away.
Droplets in cartoons always come with cheery little sounds. Plip, or perhaps plop, drib or even drab, something of that nature. There is always some sort of clever noise to alert the viewer of ever so gently falling liquid and annoy the protagonist, often someone desperately in need of sleep. In real life, drops of liquid falling to the ground have little sound, if any, just a muted landing.
John considers this as he watches with strange fascination through his remaining eye as the blood drips from his many wounds to the cold, stone floor of the Genii's interrogation chamber. It is so very odd, even after so very long, to watch one's own blood seep from the body and slowly puddle upon the floor beneath. The blood pools together into a wide, dark shape with an oddly mirrored surface. It is not clear enough for John to see, but it is somehow eerily mesmerizing. He cannot take his eyes from the crisp, nearly cheerful red of his own arterial blood upon the floor.
John wonders idly exactly how much blood a human can shed and still survive. If Rodney were here, he would likely tell John a miniscule amount, while Beckett would most assuredly counter with a much more realistic estimate. The two would then, of course, launch into a horrid and heated debate over the matter. John wants to find humor in that, but it hurts him to even think of his friends.
John banishes the thought of his colleagues in favor of the widening pool of scarlet.
Plip. Plop. Drib. Drab.
John thinks of death from time to time as he languishes in his cell between interrogation sessions. He imagines the many ways he might die at the hands of the Genii. By electrocution, by drowning, by bleeding to death, by blunt force trauma, by infection, by a myriad of ways. John muses upon these various methods, playing the techniques and tools over in his mind. He even briefly considers beating his own head against the stone floor to a bloody pulp. Initially, these dark, forbidden thoughts sicken John, but, after a time and after the many indignities he has suffered, these ideas bring him an eerie peace. That frightens John most of all.
After one particularly grueling interrogation session, John catches sight of himself in a puddle of water left from the guards hosing down his cell. He is so astonished by the sight of his own reflection that the colonel touches himself with uncertain, quaking fingers to confirm what he sees. His face and body are beyond gaunt, emaciated to near skeletal build. His skin appears clammy and slicked with sickly sweat. The right side of his face is distorted where his vacant eye socket has healed improperly and the scars have pulled the skin taut into a macabre, frozen sneer. The left side of his face is swollen and discolored from many blows.
As John stares at his own reflection, he cannot help but see how pathetic, how weak, and how utterly pitiful he has become.
It is then that John cannot stand it any longer. He takes his bit of stone, once meant for tracking the days and now honed to a slight edge, and uses it to slice at his arm. John digs away with the small chip of rock at his upper arm until he opens a large enough hole to probe about with his fingers until he finds the transmitter buried beneath his flesh. John pries the offending object from his arm and surveys it momentarily before crushing it between his fingers and dropping it down the hole.
John is not sure why he does this, but it brings the man some small comfort to know that his friends and fellow Lanteans will never find see him in this sorry state.
Time bleeds away as the seasons blur together and winter dawns once more. It is during the second winter than John falls seriously ill. It begins quite simply with a runny nose and some minor discomfort, nothing more worrisome than the common cold. Unfortunately, this develops into some sort of upper respiratory infection, complete with fever, horribly sore throat, pounding headache, and a deep, nagging cough that leaves John nearly breathless.
John supposes it is to be expected, really. The Genii do not heat their prisons through the winter, nor do their offer their prisoners any blankets or winter clothes. While the previous winter had been relatively mild and cool, this winter has been cruel and nearly arctic. John spends his days cowering in the corner of his cell, huddling for warmth, his teeth chattering as his extremities occasionally alternate between the numbing and burning that suggests frostbite. Absurdly, John almost looks forward to the interrogation sessions, as that damned room at least has what appears to be the Genii equivalent of a space heater for the guards.
Through the winter, the Genii trot their prisoners out once a week for physicals, if the loose examinations actually can be called such. After each examination, some of the men are culled from the group and taken to a boxy building marked "Showers," never to be seen again. Initially, John had concealed his symptoms, but, now, he does not. His injuries and the illness have sapped his energy so that he has not even the strength to muster a verbal protest. Instead, he hangs his head, allowing the Genii to work swiftly over him, taking measurements and listening to John's heart and lungs.
The doctor's face sours and pinches as he presses his stethoscope to another spot along John's brittle ribs. Likely he hears whatever it is that makes John's lungs feel unbearably heavy and cotton packed, the burns his body with fever heat and steals his breath away. The physician gestures to one of the guards to the side.
The guard jabs John's bony shoulder and barks harshly, "Showers."
John gives a meek nod of his head as he awkwardly clambers to his feet, nearly falling over when the blood rushes to his head and grays his vision. He knows what this means; men who go to the showers after the examinations do not return to their cells. John wants to be relieved that he has finally come to his end. He wants to be afraid, to be angry, to be….. anything. After so long, John just wants to feel something in regards to his own swiftly approaching demise, yet he simply does not feel anything. There is only an emptiness where he knows abject horror should reside. John hugs himself against the cold, crushing void lodged firmly within him as the Genii guards herd him along forcefully with the other scrawny, sickly human refuse.
John spills out with the others into a freezing, bitter rain that pelts down upon them, stinging like ice shards. Initially, the rain feels so very good, cooling his fever ravaged body. John momentarily savors the cool before regretting it when the chill hits deeper, cutting right through to the bone.
A small, timid voice meets John's ear. "What's going on?"
John turns and struggles to focus his remaining eye. Between his lost right eye and the battered, swollen pulp encroaching upon his left eye from his more recent interrogations, it is nearly impossibly for John to see properly. It takes a moment, but, then, a small face comes into focus from the others, small and equally as sunken as John knows his must be from months of near starvation in this hell hole. It is a child limping along, a whelp of a teenage boy, no older than twelve at the utmost.
John furrows his brow. He has never understood the children he has occasionally spied in this place. What could a boy have done to deserve this? He is just a child, barely old enough to cause any serious mischief, let alone turn traitor against the Genii government as he has probably been accused. When John had been that age, the worst thing he had ever done was cover a house in toilet paper on Mischief Night or get into a school yard scuffle. Then again, John has not understood his own presence here these past few months, as his more recent "interrogation" sessions have rarely involved any real questioning.
"What's your name?" John whispers, his voice rough from disuse and entirely unfamiliar to him after all this time.
"Tevnia," the child answers.
John nods and puts a hand on Tevnia's shoulder. "My name is John." There is something quite comforting to finally say his own name, so alien to him after so very long. "Stay close to me, Tevnia."
Together, John and Tevnia stagger along with the others across the wide compound. John stumbles frequently. His depth perception is shot, so any rise or dip in the uneven terrain of the camp sends him staggering wildly to regain his footing. At least, this is the lie John allows himself to believe.
John believes this because the truth is so much more pathetic. He knows he is in a bad state, hardly able to ferry himself along without the assistance of a child or the jostling, equally bony bodies pressing him forward. John is emaciated, sick, feverish, dizzy, concussed, beaten, broken, and twisted beyond repair mentally and emotionally. There is hardly anything left of him worth saving.
The guards shove John and Tevnia along with the others into the shower house and order them to strip. Several of the men burst into tears as they tug at the simple buttons to the filthy, orange jumpsuits granted to them by their Genii captors as uniforms. They know what is to come, and, so, they tremble and quake with fear, sobbing openly. The children among them, however, pry their clothes off with little care or concern. Mass showers and delousing are common enough; they have one at least once a month, leaving the prisoners cleanly shaved from head to do and pink skinned from the abrasive chemicals. The younger children do not know to fear.
Tevnia looks up at John with wide, fearful eyes. "What's happening, John?"
"I don't know."
John can think of nothing else to offer the child. He cannot find it in him to tell Tevnia the truth, yet he will not lie to the child that has come to trust him so. Instead, John lies; he knows what this is. This is extermination. Once they enter that box and those heavy steel doors lock shut behind them, they will be snuffed out. Perhaps drowned, electrocuted, or, more likely, gassed like the Holocaust. Gassing would, he knows, be more efficient and cost effective. It is a sobering thought, yet one he will not burden Tevnia with in these last few moments to whatever brief lives they have lived together.
The guards wait until the men finish undressing to press at them again, shoving the prisoners into the showers. Knobbing bones jut from beneath tautly stretched skin to poke and prod painfully as bodies jumble together. John grasps Tevnia and holds him close, huddling protectively over the child as the guards continue to cram further rejects into that tiny, claustrophobic box. The boy shivers against John, whimpering in soft, pathetic mewls that cut to the quick of John's heart.
The door slams shut behind them with a loud, metallic thunk, plunging the captives into darkness. Some scream in terror; others bawl. John does neither. Instead, he clutches to Tevnia, tightening his grasp on the boy. There are several other bangs and loud sounds from the outside.
"Close your eyes, Tevnia."
John does not know why he tells the boy this. It is pitch black in the showers without the usual lights on. Yet, it feels like the thing to say. What else can he say, especially when John can taste the slowly building bitterness to the air, the acrid stench of the poison? This is the end, after all.
He does not fight the searing gas that burns away at his lungs, does not hold his breath, even as Tevnia kicks, twitches, and coughs from the choking gas before stilling in his arms. John grips Tevnia's still body close even as the toxic fumes take him, and, for the briefest of moments as his mind begins to fuzz, John hears the distinct crackle of rifle fire. He shrugs it off as nothing more than the last flare of dying nerves sending confused signals to his brain while his lungs and heart constrict painfully against the gas pouring in about the prisoners. Then, there is simply nothing. Absolute and all embracing silence and void to match the hollow of his soul.
John does not even feel it when he falls amid the others in a jumbled pile.
The Genii forces at this particular camp exert little resistance as the rebels fall upon them and sweep the camp with the assistance of their Lantean allies in the skies. This death camp – so demarked as Internment Section 43 – is, like so many others, poorly guarded at best. After all, why post a large cadre of soldiers in a place where the prisoners are too weak to even think about raising a fight? They catch the Genii with their pants down during a round of exterminations, laughing as the prisoners' wails of agony fade to nothing. They are too distracted to even notice the liberation force moving in on them until there is nothing they can do but die swift, clean deaths, unlike that they have dealt to so many innocents.
Quinlan Kiley moves swiftly with his team of fellow liberators through the camp. He has done this twice before, but it does not get any easier. The prisoners are always the same skeletons with taut, sickly grey skin pulled tightly over their form so that joints stick out at sickening angles. Even in the face of their saviors, the prisoners of these places cower in terror, shaking and holding their hands up protectively over their faces. Quinlan tries to pay them no heed, even as several scream while one of the Lantean's trim little crafts swoops overhead.
Quinlan's team and the Lanteans move quickly to secure the area before civilian personnel can enter. Doctors from both the liberation front and Atlantis are present and waiting to see to the prisoners and triage them as best as possible. The starving, sick, and tortured men and children are all in need of immediate medical attention for various ailments and injuries that they have seen before in other camps.
In a matter of moments, they have cleared the entire facility, and all the Genii guards are either dead or secured and awaiting transit to a jail of the liberation force's. Quinlan signals to the Lanteans for Major Lorne and the other pilots to touch down in the center of the camp, on a wide, sparse patch of dust and dead grass.
The crafts settle easily upon the ground, but Quinlan ignores them and his own men as they rally the prisoners for rescue. He has eyes only for the steel bunker on the far side of the compound, his heart heavy at the sight of the ugly cube. He knows what it is; he heard the shrieks die out even as his men moved in, just a shade too late to save any of the doomed occupants.
Quinlan easily crosses the camp, following the tread of many men all to that bunker innocuously labeled above the thick, locking door in bold, white letters with the single word "SHOWERS." He places his hand upon the locking bolt and sighs. As this tiny force has been gathering resources and intelligence, Commander Koyla has been rounding up people in the streets and shipping them off to these torture camps under the guise of dissidents and traitors. How many more innocents will suffer and die at Koyla's hands while his meager rebellion even with the Lantean alliance throw their tiny stones?
Quinlan glances over his shoulder. Their physicians, along with the Lantean, Carson Beckett, tend to the sick and wounded of this place. They check each man and child in swift order for but the briefest of examinations. The doctors along with the soldiers conscripted to assist them tag each of the former prisoners with a bracelet of plastic. A part of Quinlan is sickened by how similar this is to the horrid tattooed numbers upon the forearm of each of the prisoners used by the Genii to track their victims, yet the rebel knows it is necessary. The numbers correspond to their medical chart while the colors indicate the urgency with which they require attention; red, yellow, and green, with red bands requiring the most expedient of care. They tag the dead with black bands; they will tag many with black bands on this day and quickly before the Genii discover that the camp has been hit.
He reaches into his pack for both a fistful of black bands and his gas mask, pulling the thing upon his face before unbolting the door and throwing it open. A wisp of ghostly pale smoke trails from the bunker, and Quinlan subconsciously holds his breath against the toxic fumes despite the reassuringly artificial taste to the air from his mask. He knows it is that gas that the Genii military uses to kill so many so easily and so cost-effectively.
Quinlan moves to step into the overwhelming darkness, but his toe nudges something soft and pliant. He strikes one of the Lanteans chem lights and tosses it into the bunker. The pale, neon green glow casts light upon the pile of corpses contained within as it flies over naked bodies contorted in their death throes. When the chem light lands upon the chest of one of the men, the weedy body seems to twitch.
Quinlan furrows his brow. Surely it was a trick of the light. The Lanteans had cautioned on prior, night time missions how the green glow could play tricks on the mind and eye. He stares at the dead man, who seems to hug tightly to a small child, as protectively as a father would to his son. Surely this man perished in a final embrace. However, as Quinlan watches, the man's chest moves again, ever so slightly.
He swears and rushes to the stranger, clambering over the other bodies, tripping as he does. When Quinlan falls, he simply crawls over the corpses to the man, the lone survivor of such atrocity. He quickly scoops the stranger up and bolts out, cradling the shockingly weightless body.
As soon as Quinlan bursts into the daylight, he cries out, "DR. BECKETT! I'VE GOT A LIVE ONE!"
Shock registers upon the faces of all gathered. No one is supposed to survive the gas. No one ever has.
Rodney McKay glances curiously over his shoulder as one of the rebels bolts towards Beckett, clutching one of the husks of a body as he runs. The Canadian shudders upon seeing the pale, mutilated face, swollen and bruised, but he returns his attention to his work. Sheppard is in one of these camps somewhere, on this Genii controlled world or another, according to the rebels, and McKay will find him, come hell or high water.
The Genii are nothing if not fastidious record keepers at these interment camps, a trait which McKay is absurdly thankful for. They record each prisoner to arrive with a file and a photograph, stored electronically in the camps' offices. It vaguely reminds McKay of the Khmer Rouge in a stomach turning way, yet he forces himself to attend each liberation to secure the files so he can peruse them later. McKay knows it is unlikely that Sheppard gave the Genii his real name upon his capture, but he thumbs through the photographs nightly, hopeful that he might one day spy that familiar face and at least give Atlantis some sense of closure.
Rodney's tablet chimes. The download is complete. It is time to get off this miserable ball of dirt.
Life in Pegasus has served to sharpen Beckett's understanding of that one, basic fact of life, the universe, and everything; humanity knows no bounds. Humans can be the most compassionate of creatures, such as the monks on Darissa, who spend whole days seated in perfect stillness to avoid killing even the most of humble bacteria or insects with their footfalls. Or, as in the case with the Genii, they can be the furthest thing from compassionate.
The only other lesson Pegasus has offered is how surprising and unpredictable life can be.
For example, in no other internment camp has a victim been pulled alive from those death traps, yet, here, of all places, one has been found. Dr. Beckett hurriedly gestures for the rebel – Kiley, he thinks the Genii is named – to bring the wasted creature to him and to an awaiting stretcher.
"Set him down. Gently, now," Beckett croons as soon as he spies the man's pathetic condition and butchered face.
The soldier kneels and eases the nude figure down with great care so Beckett and his team can work. One of Lorne's men spreads a blanket over the prisoner's lower half, covering his scarred legs and shrunken manhood as Beckett quickly checks the man's pulse. He hisses through his teeth and shakes his head grimly; the pulse is weak and unsteady. When the Scot withdraws his touch, the skin remains pale, the capillary refill action appallingly slow. Beckett then gives the man's lungs a quick listen, and his heart falls to note their sad condition as well as the patches of clear frost bite on the man's skin. Beckett fetches an oxygen tank and mask for the man, as well as an IV of warm saline. The oxygen and the saline are the smallest of comforts Beckett can offer in this most dangerous of fields.
Someone taps Beckett on the shoulder, and it is Lorne's voice which meets his ears, low and tender. "Doc, we should be evacuating soon."
Beckett nods; he ties a red medical bracelet about the survivor's wrist. "This man comes with me."
Lorne does not argue. He has learnt better than to argue with Carson Beckett in regards to patient care. Instead, he helps the doctor lift the stretcher to bring the prisoner aboard their jumper. It requires little effort granted the man's paltry weight, a fact with frightens Beckett. It seems unbearably cruel that this man should have survived so much to likely just slip away within the next twenty four to forty eight hours, but at least Beckett can alleviate some of his suffering.
Rodney wrinkles his nose as soon as he climbs onto the waiting jumper and steps into the thick of a heavy, sickly stench emanating from a man sprawled out on a stretcher and tended to by Beckett. This prisoner, like so many others, reeks of both organic stinks and the decidedly inorganic, metallic tang of the gas the Genii employ to eradicate the undesired dregs. It is a smell Rodney has encountered many times since joining up with the rebels of the Genii, but McKay knows he will never grow accustomed to that scent.
Beckett crouches beside the stretcher along with one of his flunkies, tending furiously to the man and struggling to stabilize the man. McKay idly wonders why as he sits. The man has clearly suffered enough judging by his mangled face and twisted limbs. Yet, he knows Carson will never give up on anyone, no matter how miserable a life.
When Beckett lifts the wool emergency blanket to pack warm saline bags against the skeletal form, McKay flushes and turns his gaze back to his tablet. The man has suffered enough indignities; he does not need Rodney's stares.
Besides, there are many images to go through.
Keeping the nameless stranger alive proves more of a challenge than Beckett initially thought. The gas the Genii use to exterminate insurgents is a chemical cousin of hydrogen cyanide gas, with similar effects. As such, it is amazing that the stranger survived initial exposure at all. Unfortunately, the stranger suffers from pulmonary edema as a result of the gas exposure coupled with a serious case of pneumonia, along with a wide variety of injuries and frostbitten fingers and toes. He is also severely dehydrated and malnourished, near starved to death.
The first few hours are spent in a dire race to stabilize the man. His breathing is too shallow and too weak to go unsupported or to assure proper inhalation of the component dose of amyl nitrite to the cyanide antidote kit, and Beckett inserts a tracheal tube and uses the dose. As Scot works with that, one of his nurses struggles to start an IV; the man's blood vessels are just too frail and thin now to easily hit. It takes several false starts before Beckett concedes and orders a central line placed. Through the central line, they begin IVs of warm saline and sodium nitrite to combat the cyanide poisoning. They push saline steadily as Beckett and his staff work to debride the man's many wounds of both foreign debris and necrotic flesh while also slowly, gently warming the frostbitten areas. Beckett writes orders for catheter insertion, regular vitals checks and for sodium thiosulfate to follow in the next IV to round out the antidote kit before moving on and leaving the man in the more than capable hands of his staff.
The Genii rebels often try to care for the many refugees of the internment facilities, but their resources are highly limited. Thus, the medical treatment for most of the refugees especially the most critical of patients falls to the Lanteans. This means that, after any raid, the infirmary is often packed with strangers in need of various treatments. Beckett and his staff will be busy the next forty eight hours.
Astonishingly enough, the man from the gas chamber lives through the night and into the next day. Beckett knows this does not guarantee any long term survival or recovery, but it is an encouraging sign. The stranger has a long way to go, and Beckett knows each day his heart still beats is a major miracle. Each day that passes, though, increases the stranger's chances of survival.
Unfortunately, midway through the first week, two of the man's fingers and three of his toes begin to dusk. Beckett clucks his teeth whenever he surveys them. He tries to save the digits, but it is to no avail. He cannot chance the tissue festering and infection spreading. Beckett signs the orders and performs the surgery himself, desperate to salvage as much tissue as possible. In the end, the Scot is forced to remove the entire right pinky, a small portion of his left index finger, and a row of three toes on his right foot. It sickens Beckett that he must do so without the man's consent or knowledge, but it is entirely possible that the man will perish before the physician will ever have to explain.
Two weeks later, and Beckett is amazed the man still lives. He has not regained consciousness, but his respiratory function has picked up enough that Beckett takes him off the ventilator. He waits.
For two weeks, Rodney goes through the images harvested from the computer network of the internment camp so recently liberated. However, the Genii have jailed and tortured so many that there is a veritable sea of faces to go through. He secretly calculates the total sum of people he has gone through both personally and through the program, but Rodney does not divulge that number to anyone. It is too heartbreaking a number to bear, yet Rodney forces himself to look at each and every man, woman, and child that the Genii have interned.
It is, however, just as the Canadian is about to give up, when, out of nowhere, there he is. John Sheppard. The man stares out from his own forcibly taken portrait with a sharp, mocking gaze and a slight, coy smirk. He appears a little rough for wear, but alive enough to boast defiance, which means John Sheppard spent time in the last camp they raided.
It takes Rodney several minutes to compose himself enough to even think to look at the file attached to the image to confirm the man's identity. He laughs – honestly hoots – when the name in the file decries this man to be prisoner number 2331928450, or "Indiana Jones." It hasto be Sheppard. No one else in this galaxy would know that name and yield both the sarcasm and testicular fortitude to use it, aside from perhaps Ronon. Sheppard is just witty enough to do something that ridiculous yet utterly genius considering how desirable a trophy the infamous John Sheppard would prove to the Genii.
Rodney spends the better part of a week questioning the refugees before discovering that the Genii have already planned for this. They keep their prisoners separated. Perhaps it prevents uprisings by preventing the prisoners from bonding or even plotting with one another. Perhaps it eases in breaking their captives, keeping them in essentially solitary confinement. Either way, none of the prisoners know anything about John Sheppard or Indiana Jones. It breaks Rodney's heart, but, granted the lack of transfer documentation and a living body, he must assume that Sheppard is dead and buried in one of the Genii's mass grave sites.
With a heavy heart, he writes up a report on his findings to send to the SGC and the IOA, where Shepppard's status will likely be changed from MIA to KIA.
Rodney tells Ronon first. It is only fitting, as the Satedan had perished while searching for Sheppard. The warrior fell amidst an explosion during a raid on another of the Genii's death camps, never to know the fate of his friend. Rodney sometimes wonders if Ronon had triggered the explosion with a well placed incendiary of some kind. It just seems like something Ronon would do, go out in a veritable blaze of glory like that. There had been no body to recover or inter; the Lanteans had placed a wreath of flowers onto the vast, untamed sea at a memorial service in his honor. Although logic tells Rodney that it is foolish and downright pointless, he still whispers that terrible, dreadful news to the waves as though the Satedan can hear him somehow.
Then, he pens a simple letter to Teyla. He cannot face her to tell her the news. A few months ago, Teyla confided in Rodney that she loved John, perhaps more than she had loved her husband. The Athosian left Atlantis with her toddler son shortly thereafter, no longer able to bear the loss of John.
His work completed, Rodney liberates a bottle of spirits from Radek's still. He has not tasted alcohol in years, not since his college undergraduate days. He drinks to drown his sorrows, in hopes of smothering his grief in a drunken stupor. Unfortunately, the alcohol only serves to magnify his sorrows, and Rodney spends the rest of the night quietly sobbing to himself in his room, mourning for John and blaming himself for failing to find Sheppard swiftly enough.
The next morning, Rodney has the worst hangover of his life, but it seems such a small, fleeting thing compared to what John must have suffered that Rodney hates himself all the more.
It is not until three weeks after his rescue that the stranger begins to show signs of any significant improvement. His wounds are healing nicely – or as nicely as can be expected granted his condition at the time of rescue. His blood pressure picks up a bit, as does his respiratory and kidney function. His breathing is sounding much better. His color is even improving, and the hair is slowly regrowing on his head in dark, uneven and raggedy tufts between the many scars.
More importantly, the man begins to show signs of stirring by the end of the third week. It begins with just faint muscle twitches. Although they are unconscious motions, they herald at least semi-functioning nerves in the man's ruined hands and legs. This progresses to a singular fluttering eye.
It is at the dawn of the fourth week that the man finally awakens, although it is all too brief. Beckett has the dual fortune and misfortune of being present at the time, checking his vitals. He is busily tending to the central line through which the man has been receiving nourishment when the man's eye slides ever so slightly open. Beckett hardly pays it any heed, thinking it yet another unconscious act, until he realizes the single eye is focused upon him entirely.
He clears his throat, uncertain initially of what to say to comfort a man who has survived what this poor, pathetic wretch has before greeting him. "Well, hello, there." Beckett smiles warmly, pleased when the man blinks slowly. "You gave us quite a scare. My name is Carson Beckett."
The stranger shudders involuntarily, clamping his one eyes shut.
Carson shushes him gently, crooning tenderly, "Shh, shh. It's okay. I'm a doctor, uh… a healer. Ye're safe." He touches the man's shoulder lightly, feeling the joint protruding so sharply even beneath the stranger's down. "Can ye tell me your name?" The man's heart rate and respiration elevates dramatically and worryingly, drawing out an immediate litany of nothing but soothing sounds and soft utterances of the usual reassurances. "Shh…. Shhh. I promise ye, I'm not here to hurt ye. I'm here to help. Shh…."
The man calms, but he continues to shiver violently. Tears stream down his cheeks, from both his vacant eye socket and his remaining eye. He swallows convulsively, his throat struggling to work properly after days on a ventilator. He coughs, a ragged, wheezing sound, his throat clearly bothering him, likely hoarse.
Beckett winces in sympathy. "Hold on, and I'll get you something for that."
The Scot swiftly fetches an oral spray and a cup of ice chips for the man, unsure of which he will take. Many of the refugees have been quite fearful of even the most minimal of medical care, forcing Beckett and his staff to take extra precautions with treating them. On a whim, he also fetches a mild sedative, just in case. By the time he returns, however, the man lies still and slumbers once more. The foray into consciousness is so brief that the physician wonders if the man will even remember it later.
As the Scott finishes his exam, the man murmurs a single word before going silent once more. "Tevnia."
Beckett notes it in the chart.
Consciousness returns slowly to John, bringing with it a nearly overwhelming bounty of sensations now entirely foreign to him after so many months in the internment camp. He is warm for the first time in weeks since the fall of winter upon the camp, and comfortable. The bed beneath him is downy and plush by compare to the hard, cold stone of his cell. The blankets spread over him and tucked lightly about him are soft and utterly delightful after so long without. It is also brighter now, but the light is radiant and warm, in muted hues of gold, copper, blue, and green.
More intriguing is how he feels physically. The last John recalls, his every waking moment was one of intense and agonizing pain, and it had been difficult at best to breath. Now, breathing is only mildly uncomfortable, and his pain is significantly less than remembered. It is still there, lingering behind a sort of muddled haze, but it is tolerable.
John blinks to clear his remaining eye of the last vestiges of sleep from his eye to be met by the gentle, dulcet tone of Carson Beckett's voice. "Good morning, there."
John glances down curiously. Carson is seated on a stool at his bedside, leaning over John's right hand. His hand sits upon a sterile dressing, the blue contrasting sharply against the white linens and drawing John's attention to it. Carson is laboring over John's right hand, at the base of where his pinky ought to be. He appears to be removing sutures from the last knuckle. John tenses at the sight.
"I'm sorry, I know," Carson murmurs tenderly, setting his tools down. "It's Tevnia, isn't it?"
John blinks once more in surprise, and again as his vision blurs with tears. Have the Genii mutilated him that badly that Carson – Carson Beckett of all people, a man who has intimate knowledge of John Sheppard's body from his various stays in the infirmary – cannot tell it is him? Christ, is he reallythat unrecognizable?
"Tevnia…." The Scot breathes ever so gently and quite fearfully.
John scrunches his eyes shut and shakes his head, swallowing convulsively. For a moment, long and awkward, nothing happens. Then, John feels something strange. It begins with a light tickle at his arm felt only by the patches of flesh nestled between scar tissue and damaged tissue. It takes John a moment to realize it is fingertips ghosting over his ruined flesh. The sensation of warm, friendly and compassionate human contact after so long deprived is enough to nearly tip John right over the edge.
"I'm sorry, Tevnia," Carson whispers so softly that it almost breaks John's heart. "I know this must be very hard for you…." He pauses, swallowing uncomfortably as though to compose his thoughts. "But you're with friends and, we'll help you get through this." Beckett catches his one eye with a warm yet determined stare. "Things willget better."
A queer sound bubbles up in John's throat, escaping in short, hiccupped noises between rasping gulps for air. It is a laugh, but it sounds more like a hideous death rattle. He shakes his head.
How could things ever get better?
Beckett allows John to cry for some time in strangled sobs until he quiets once more, exhausted and spent from the emotional venting. Only once John had settled does the Scot continue to work, cleaning his butchered fingers and other wounds. John trembles and bites his lips, but he has not the energy to say or do anything else save wonder when exactly he turned into such a sniveling child, a pathetic little Nancy.
The Scot murmurs reassuring things as he works. He promises John many things from pain management to physical therapy. Beckett encourages John – or Tevnia, as he keeps calling him – to talk to one of their staff, tiptoeing uncomfortably about the subject. The doctor obviously thinks John is among the Genii, a race of people who do not have therapists, and, as such, the physician struggles to accurately describe a therapist. It does not matter; John hardly hears him anyway.
When Beckett finishes, he gently squeezes John's arm. "Get some rest."
Soft murmurings rouse John from his sleep sometime in the dark of the night. Both Atlantis and her infirmary are still and dimly lit for the evening, tranquil even. It is quiet there, so quiet that even the merest of sounds is focused intensely in John's ears. He blinks to clear his good eye, curious of what has roused him so only to hear the voices once more.
"I'm sorry I didn't go, but I couldn't rightly leave granted the state of affairs around here." Carson, his voice low and somewhat pained.
"I know." McKay now.
"So… how was it?"
McKay snorts, a haughty and mocking sort of sound. "Seriously, Carson? 'How was it?' Oh, it was a real blast. Aren't funerals always? I think I'll go to one every time I go back."
John furrows his brow at the word 'funeral' and listens intently now.
There is a long pause before Carson speaks again, chiding the Canadian. "That wasn't necessary, Rodney."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," McKay grouses back, still obviously bitter before finally settling. "It was…. I don't know, Carson." McKay sighs heavily. "It was fine, I guess. It was a funeral. I mean, what can you say about one?"
There is another rather pregnant pause before Carson speaks again. "How did David take it?"
John flinches; David is his brother's name. Tears burn at his remaining eye and the vacant other socket as he realizes they speak of his own funeral. They have given up on finding him. However, in a rather strange, emotional disconnect, John finds himself simultaneously marveling at the fact that they can hold his funeral without the guest of honor – himself – and that the gaping hole left by his missing eye is still capable of forming tears.
"He took it alright, I guess," McKay answers in a somewhat subdued tone. "I think he was expecting it after all this time."
John shudders to himself; how long has he been gone?
"I suppose," Beckett muses softly. "How are you doing, Rodney? Seriously?"
McKay makes some sort of a noise before completely ignoring the question. "It's getting late. Night, Carson."
John listens to the sound of the two men departing before daring move. When he does, it is only to curl up on his side, gingerly wrapping his arms about himself against his own sorrows. He has not been able to muster the courage to tell them who he really is, but, now, John resolves simply not to tell them. It is easier this way.
Over the next few weeks, Beckett is quite pleasantly surprised at how Tevnia progresses physically. His respiratory issues slowly begin to clear up, and his wounds begin to close and heal. His labs look increasingly better by the day, especially his kidney function – which had been a serious concern upon his arrival. Tevnia even manages to put on a few pounds while on TPN.
Unfortunately, his mental health worsens by the day. Tevnia grows listless, barely moving or showing any interest in the world about him or his recovery. He wakes in the night, screaming at nightmares of which he does not speak. He does not like to sleep in a bed for some reason, preferring instead to crawl out of it in the middle of the night and sleep huddled upon the floor in a corner. Tevnia suffers panic attacks daily, recoiling in horror and pure, unadulterated terror from any who approach too quickly or while escaping his notice. He refuses to speak to a therapist and, even more worryingly, Tevnia barely lips at the teas, broths, and porridges offered as a transition back to solid foods.
It frightens Carson. Many of the other refugees have presented with similar emotional and mental trauma, but none so badly as Tevnia. Carson has limited training in counseling and certainly nothing near the qualifications necessary to even dare hope a man as shattered as Tevnia.
For a few weeks, Carson bites his tongue, but, eventually, even he cannot ignore the deepening depression in the man. "Tevnia…. I know you're hurting, but, please…. you need to talk to somebody. I know it's hard, but it does help."
Tevnia blinks at him, slowly and nearly lethargically, before rolling away. He puts his narrow, bony shoulder to Carson, effectively silencing the Scot. Beckett looses a heavy sigh and shakes his head. Only Ronon Dex and John Sheppard have proven more stubbornly against therapy than Tevnia.
Carson places a hand gently upon Tevnia's shoulder, feeling the muscles bunch and clench beneath even the most featherweight of touches. "Let me know if you change your mind."
Time passes. Weeks, definitely. A year, no. Some curious amount of time in between the two slips away from John in the blink of an eye, and, still, no one seems to realize who is really is, referring to their charge as Tevnia. John does not track the days in the infirmary, but, in time, he begins to hear whispers. The nurses have never been good about keeping secrets, especially about someone as wary as John.
There is to be a transfer. Atlantis is apparently only for the treatment of absolutely critical patients among the refugees, those too ill or too injured for the rebels to treat. Now that John is safely beyond the worst of it, it is apparently time for him to leave. Atlantis simply cannot afford the bed space or the supplies on anyone but the most dire of cases; although, John suspects it is more because they do not wish to have something as repulsive as he about for much longer. The rebels will take him in, care for him, and keep him. And then? John cannot know.
In a way, this bit of news comes as something of a relief to John. He will not have to face the Lanteans for much longer, will not have to know that they bear witness to his many shames. Nor will he have to struggle with the constant reminder that he cannot be a part of that glittering, beautiful world anymore.
John can breathe a bit easier knowing this.
One day, out of the blue, the Lanteans help John dress in strange clothes. They are not the plain, overly bleached and starched scrubs of the infirmary, nor are they the orange jumpsuits of the Genii. No. The nurses help him into woolen pants and a knitted sweater, both far too large for his narrow, wasted frame. The clothes are comfortable but well worn, likely donations of some form. John picks idly at the weave of the sweater, swallowing his own cumbersome emotions.
Thisisit, he thinks to himself.
This is to be his last day upon Atlantis.
John tries not to make a scene and composes himself as Beckett's staff helps him into a wheelchair. They explain in hushed, gentle tones that he is to be transferred to another world where the Genii rebels and the Lanteans share allies. They tell him not to worry, for he, along with the other refugees, will ride in one of their crafts to a safe location. He will continue his recovery there. John nods listlessly, enough to let the Lanteans know he is listening as they drape a warm, cozy blanket about his knobby shoulders.
All through it, Atlantis herself wails about him, a symphony of grief known only to those with the ATA gene in mourning for her favorite son. The city has always favored John for some inexplicable reason. John bites his tongue, though, and says not a word. John does not trust himself not to scream should he open his mouth before leaving the city.
Rodney McKay sighs wearily as he preps the jumper. He has flown back and forth so many times over the last few years, ferrying combatants and refugees as the Genii conflict has deepened. The physicist has never truly enjoyed flying jumpers, not like Sheppard did, nor does he relish being surrounded by so many sad, utterly pathetic creatures such as the refugees.
He takes solace in the fact that the destination slated for this particular group of refugees is Rivers, one of his favorite places. Rivers is a small village nestled between two wide, tranquil rivers, amid a lush, pastoral setting in a lovely valley. Purple, snow capped mountains rise up about the valley, jagged and untamed like the Rocky Mountains. The town has a local name in an ancient, dead language, but it is one that is impossible for the Lanteans and the Genii rebels to pronounce. The locals, a pleasant, mild, and understanding people offered that they simply refer to the village by the common tongue; Rivers. Rivers is only accessible by a space gate, making it the perfect place to for refugees and rebels alike to hide from the Genii.
While Rodney finishes his preflight checks, Beckett and his crew load the last of the refugees onboard. The jumper thrums strangely with the new arrival, life and energy surging through the craft in a way that Rodney has not felt in ages. He glances over his shoulder and spies the Scot assisting to get one of the refugees – the man rescued from the Genii's gas chambers – settled on the jumper. The scrawny, scarred man hunches over in his wheelchair, hugging himself and trembling ever so slightly. Rodney furrows his brow but scowls; the refugee may have some long dormant vestiges of the gene. He shrugs it off.
John freezes and holds his breath when Rodney turns and stares directly at him, scrutinizing his every mangled feature. He has not seen Rodney since his rescue; he has only heard Rodney's voice and at distance. John swallows hard, forcing his throat to work and struggling not to meet the Canadian's gaze. Fortunately, McKay finally turns away, returning his attention to the HUD and the gate travel ahead.
John breathes a heavy sigh of relief, irrationally thankful that Rodney did not recognize him. He cannot stay here, in Atlantis, not if he cannot be the man he once was. He cannot fly without the depth perception granted two eyes, nor could John even hope to shoot. He is too weak to fight or even serve of any practical use as a scout. He suffers panic attacks and night terrors. Who could – would – honestly follow the lead of a man who pisses himself in his sleep on a near nightly basis?
No. It is better this way.
John draws the blanket tighter about him with fingers that shake not from the chill.
Rodney says nothing as he pilots the jumper through the gate and into space above Rivers, yet it bothers him. There is something nagging at the back of his mind. His thoughts continuously drift to the back in the back of the jumper – the invalid in Beckett's care. Rodney does not know why. He does not recognize the man, does not know him. He is yet another of the Genii's many victims, one of the decidedly lucky ones to have escaped with his life yet one visibly ruined by the Genii. The Canadian tries to pay the eerie sensation no attention, but concern keeps creeping up, gnawing at him.
The weather on Rivers does not help the feeling. Outside of the winter, Rivers is marked by long, mild, and generally pleasant days. Occasionally, the Lanteans have been met by a shower, but they are often quickly spent. Today, however, the rain is coming down in torrential, driving sheets. It is something of a foreboding sign.
Rodney sets the jumper down as lightly as possible at the edge of the village. Rivers is a fair sized village, with quaint architecture that reminds him of those adorable little mountain farming towns in Pennsylvania like Reading and Kutztown. The houses are small, each individual from one another, and marked by round blessing signs not unlike the hex signs. It is not much, but the people are apt healers who welcome the refugees into their village with open arms. Few refugees leave Rivers after recovering, preferring instead to find work there among the many farms.
Rodney opens the hatch and watches as Beckett and his lackeys arrange the man and the two other refugee passengers for the rain. The scarred man sharply ducks his head, turning away from Rodney, as though averting his gaze. It bothers the physicist mildly, yet many of the refugees McKay has seen come from the Genii's death camps hide themselves in perhaps fear or shame.
While Beckett and one of his men push the man down the jumper's ramp the path towards the village, a sharp pain spikes up in the back of Rodney's mind. It stabs viciously, too swift to be even the fastest of onsets of a migraine. It is the jumper, it is Atlantis, or rather an extension of it, screaming at him even with his poorly copied gene. She has not often called to Rodney, not as she sang to Sheppard, but, when Atlantis calls, Rodney cannot ignore her. She insists; she makesher point known.
Rodney blinks, and the pain recedes instantly. However, the feeling, the intense and absolutely crystalline knowledge that something is horribly wrong remains. Rodney looks up, his gaze meeting the man being wheeled away from him over the wet path, and he knows.
The Canadian scrambles from the controls and bolts out, into the downpour and after the man. When he reaches the man's side, he jumps, nearly clean out of his skin, yet Rodney ignores it. He stumbles, crashing to his knees before the stranger with the single, wide, expressive hazel eye. Rodney peers into that face, unsure now.
"Who are you?" the Canadian asks in a soft voice.
The man just shakes his head.
Rodney's brow sets. "What's your name?"
"Tevnia," Beckett supplies for the man. "His name is Tevnia."
"No," the Canadian hisses through his teeth, feeling now how absurdly wrong this all is. "It's not, is it?"
"Yes..." the man mewls, a sad, pathetic whisper.
Again, Rodney gives a quick toss of his head. Any other man, woman, or child in the universe may have been none the wiser, but not Rodney McKay. He has seen so many thousands of faces, so many people, yet McKay has known each and every one of them in some small, fleeting way. He has committed each of them to memory over the search, so that they might live on in some perverse way.
It is also unknown to most that Rodney McKay is not merely a genius, but something of a modern myth. He does not tell anyone, save once when extremely drunk, but McKay possesses an eidetic memory. He holds within his mind the incredibly ability to accurately recall anything he desires at will with an extraordinary precision. Rodney refuses to tell anyone, for paranoid fear that it might call his impressive genius into question. He has not told a soul and has never indulged in public to avoid a second error.
Rodney McKay knows the stranger is lying, for he remembers a Tevnia recorded from the camp where this man was rescued. He can picture Tevnia's face as easily as he can picture his own niece, his own sister. Tevnia was a child, with wide, brown, terrified eyes and a faint line above his temple from an old, well healed scar. This man, this grown adult, is not anyone remotely similar to Tevnia.
The man hunches back, deeper into the chair as he shakes in small, jerking motions. He might be crying. Rodney cannot be sure. The rain does hide tears ever so well.
Again, Rodney asks firmly, "Who are you?"
The man shakes his head once more, sobbing now. As he lifts his arms to bury his mangled, scarred face in them, Rodney catches sight of the tattoo upon his arm. He snatches the stranger by the wrist, pulling at his arm.
"RODNEY!" Beckett cries out in shock and surprise.
Rodney pays no heed to his friend, nor to the frantic struggles of the man as he attempts desperately to twist away. Instead, he focuses on the arm, holding the man's wrist tightly and digging his fingers into the man's flesh to see the numbers tattooed there. He gasps at the sight, blanching visibly in the rain. 2331928450. There is no way Rodney could ever forget those numbers.
"Sheppard…." He whispers as the blood runs cold through his veins. The man stiffens, but Rodney holds tight. "It can't be…."
But it is. Now that McKay looks, truly looks, he can't notsee. The Canadian does not know how he sees it, but he does. Beneath the scars, the pain, the pure, uncharacteristic terror, Rodney sees him. Perhaps it is the eye, that single, hazel eye staring wildly back at Rodney in horror. Perhaps it is the hair, dark and growing in unruly tufts between scar tissue. McKay cannot place his finger on it, but he knows it is Sheppard.
The man is crying. Not sobbing openly. Just crying. Tears well at the vacant eye socket and the remaining eye. They blend in well with the rain, but Rodney is so close that he spies the tears. His own vision blurs.
Rodney throws his arms about John before his own tears fall, burying his head in Sheppard's sparse hair. He tries desperately not to feel how bony Sheppard has become, or how the many trembles so in even his most delicate and loose of embraces. Rodney dare not hold him tightly, for paranoid fear of near crushing the man. Beckett is making some sort of soft, apologetic sounds, but Rodney only has ears for the harsh, labored gulps of air Sheppard takes. Those breaths slowly turn to soft sobs, which eventually become uncontrolled, hiccupping sounds as gnarled paws reach up to draw Rodney closer and cling to him desperately.
While adept with most any technology, fluent and indeed verbose in several computing languages, and keenly attuned to the varied nuances of even the most improbably of wormhole physics, Rodney McKay has always been woefully clueless in regards to human interaction. For example, Rodney has no clue how Beckett did not see it, nor why Sheppard did not correct anyone when the infirmary staff called him by the wrong name. Such questions burn in Rodney's mind, yet he at least has the limited social tact to know better than to ask. However, he is similar unsure of what to say to the decidedly damaged man in his arms.
Rodney's mouth opens, and words spill from his lips unbidden. "It's okay, John. It's going to be alright."
It is something of a lie, for, deep down, Rodney knows with the same instinctive understanding of astrophysics that has propelled him through life that nothing can ever be simply "okay" ever again. But, even that is somehow okay as long as John is alive.