ANOTHER FINE MESS, SAID RODNEY
"Another fine mess, Ollie," Rodney said sarcastically, as he looked up from the floor of his prison cell.
"It's not my fault," Ronon said. He reached out an arm to pull Rodney up.
"No," Woolsey sighed. "I'm the leader here. It's my fault. I knew I should have stayed on Atlantis. I should never have tried to go on a mission." He looked around. As cells go, this was a bit primitive—no toilet facilities, except for a bucket in the corner, but it did have big iron bars, which showed a certain level of sophistication. And it was made out of wood, which would be handy if they had a match, and didn't mind burning to death in the conflagration.
"If you don't go on at least one mission," Ronon commented. "You won't have any idea what we do out here."
"That's what I kept telling myself." Woolsey said. "Every minute I was in chains walking here."
"I was wondering where John and Teyla were," Ronon said. "And hoping they got away." He went to the cell door and looked out, alert for possibilities of escape.
"At least you were walking," Rodney said to Woolsey. "And not dangling from a log like I was going to a cannibal feast."
"I," Woolsey said, "wasn't trying to escape. Like some people I might mention." He glared at Rodney.
"The whole idea of being a prisoner is to try to escape," Rodney said, sarcastically.
"And I ordered you to keep you calm," Woolsey said. "And I am the head of Atlantis."
"Ronon," Rodney said. "Didn't you even think about escaping?" Ronon kept staring up and down the dingy hall. "Ronon? Ronon!"
"Huh," Ronon said. "I wasn't listening to you."
"You were ignoring me deliberately?" Rodney said.
"I was trying to listen to see what our captors were doing. But some people have never learned to be quiet." He turned back to the bars, tension bunching up his neck.
Rodney and Woolsey looked at each other, then picked opposite walls to lean against. Not for the first time, Woolsey wished he had never taken this off-world assignment. The IOC had no clue what was going on out here, just like he hadn't believed of the dangers of coming to the Pegasus galaxy. He wasn't sure what he had expected. He thoroughly believed that Dr. Weir and Colonel Carter had been too lax in their management styles. After all, Elizabeth was a diplomat and Samantha was, at heart, a scientist, in spite of her military training. He thoroughly believed that the Pegasus Galaxy and Atlantis needed someone with management training—like himself.
He was wrong.
So was the IOC. So, could he tell them that? No. He knew where they were coming from—the same ignorance as he had suffered from. He was still learning, and he hoped that he would, someday, be comfortable in the role of Atlantis administrator—but in the meantime, he would just have to—um—fake it.
Not that he would admit that to anyone.
Except maybe, General O'Neill, who had seen him at his worst.
How could this day have gone so sour? They had sent through a MALP. The MALP had shown nothing beyond the gate. No civilization, just trees and flowers and meadows. Certainly no sign of intelligent life. A couple of herbivores, maybe. A few birds. Lots of sunshine. One small sign of a possible ZPM about a kilometer from the gate. Should have been a walk in the park, and John had been—well, not encouraging him to come along, but pointed out that Woolsey didn't know anything about going through the Stargate in this quadrant. So, he invited himself along.
Some administrator he was. He had watched Star Trek. He knew that the captain and the second-in-command never go on the mission. Why did he come through the gate with John, knowing that Atlantis' premier team was also a trouble-magnet? Just like SG-1 on Earth.
He should have gone with a second wave team. But, the fact was that he didn't feel safe with anyone but Ronon, Teyla, and John. And, yes, he had to admit it, despite his many drawbacks, Rodney was a good teammate.
Until he started talking non-stop. He looked over at Rodney, surprised that he was not talking. Rodney looked back, and his glare said volumes.
Rodney was probably right. They should have tried to escape. But in spite of the exercise he had been starting under Dr. Keller's care, Woolsey doubted if he could have ran more than a quarter of a mile without collapsing. In spite of how he looked, even Rodney was tougher than he was, or else John wouldn't have let him come through the gate. True, he wasn't a fighter, but that wasn't his job.
He looked at Ronon. He could swear that Ronon's ears were perked up like a cat's. He supposed that it was the nervous energy he projected most of the time, unless he was in a place to completely relax. He saw Ronon completely relaxed only once, and that was because he was under sedation.
He waited another couple of minutes, then tried to approach the bars quietly. Ronon tensed, then relaxed. "Anything?" he said quietly
Ronon turned toward him, frustration on his face. "Just a couple of men discussing what they had for supper."
"Did they have… people?" Rodney said, a little bit louder than Woolsey was comfortable with.
Ronon smiled evilly, then seemed to take pity on Rodney. "No, Rodney, they had some sort of herbivore."
"Have you ever met any cannibals in the Pegasus galaxy?" Ronon asked.
"No, but that doesn't mean they aren't out there."
"Well, the first I ever heard of people eating people was from a documentary from Earth."
When Woolsey reflected on Ronon's background—well, that was pretty impressive. Ronon turned back towards the bars, looking them up and down. After a second, Rodney joined him.
"If you're looking for a way out," said a male voice from the next cell. "Good luck and take me with you."
Ronon raised his eyebrows. Looking at Rodney, he said, "Have you been in here for a while?"
"Just today. Came through the Stargate, trying to find new trade partners, immediately got captured. You?"
"The same. Where're you from?"
"Oh, a little planet on the edge of the galaxy. You never would have heard of it. We just discovered our Stargate. Seems like we buried it for some reason to cut ourselves off, but didn't leave any notes as to why."
"The Wraith," Ronon said.
"Never heard of them until we came to this planet. Then it seems like that was all they were worried about. They seemed to think we brought the Wraith. I don't see how. It was just our team."
"Sounds familiar," Woolsey said. "We had much the same problem."
"Where's your team?"
The man laughed wryly. "Oh, yeah. I fought while the rest hightailed it back to the gate. I was the token soldier on the team. Such as I am. We haven't had a conflict in centuries."
"And they haven't come back for you?" Woolsey said.
"Our planet doesn't believe in risking lives for one man."
"Sweet," Rodney said, sarcastically. "I'm glad ours isn't that way."
"We believe that the worth of a man is when he can get out of a situation by himself."
"So," Ronon said. "Why did you ask for help?"
The man was quiet a moment, then spoke. "My wife is three months pregnant. I would like to get back to her. And besides, you're in the same situation. Asking for help from those in the same situation is not the same thing as expecting a rescue."
Ronon made a noise. "That's rather a fine line to draw."
The man snorted. "Yeah, but it seems to work for us."
"So," Ronon said. "Any ideas?"
"I was rather hoping you had some."
"Thanks," Rodney said. "That was helpful."
"They do allow us spoons," the voice said. "I could try to dig my way out."
"I do hope," Rodney said, "that you were trying to be funny. Ha, ha."
"Have you noticed any weaknesses?" Woolsey said. "Any patterns? Anything that might help us?"
"Actually," the voice said slowly. "Like I said, I was only captured this morning. They gave me one meal, and that was it."
"What was in the meal?" Rodney said.
"Is that important?"
"Could be," Rodney said, turning pale.
"Some sort of grain."
Ronon stared at Rodney. "Why do you have cannibals on the mind?"
"Ignore him," Woolsey said. "He's watched too many movies."
"Movies," the voice said.
"Entertainment," Ronon said.
"Doesn't sound very entertaining."
"Depends," Ronon said. "Only when it doesn't give you bad ideas." He glared at Rodney.
"Gentlemen," Woolsey said. "We are getting off the track."
"Yes, we are."
"No," Ronon said thoughtfully. "Maybe we're not. Here's an idea from a movie." He faced the bars. "Hey, you out there! Rodney is sick!" He made a motion to Rodney.
"No, I'm not," Rodney said.
Sometimes, Woolsey reflected, for a smart man, Rodney could be rather thick.
"Yes, you are," Woolsey said quietly. He motioned Rodney down.
"Oh." Rodney said. "Ooooh," he moaned.
"He's sick!" Ronon yelled. "Don't you have any doctors or something?"
The outer door opened. "Be quiet! We don't treat Wraith sympathizers!"
The three looked at each other, startled. "I'm not a Wraith sympathizer! I fight the Wraith!" Ronon yelled.
The door slammed.
"What do Wraith look like?" the other man said quietly.
"Later," Woolsey said.
"No," the man said. "This might be important."
"Pale skin, long white hair, tendency to wear black leather like material. Feeding mechanism on their palm."
"Oh?" Rodney said. "What do you mean by 'oh'?"
"Well, that would explain why they attacked us without warning."
Rodney looked wide-eyed at the others. "Don't tell me."
"Yes. But I'm not a Wraith. " He stuck his hands beyond the bars, and Rodney rushed to the bars in his cell, pushing Ronon out of the way. "See? I eat my food with my mouth, not with my hands." He hesitated. "That didn't come out right."
All three of them looked at the man's palms. "You're clear," Ronon said. "But you are rather … light."
"I'm an albino, okay? And I have long hair. And most of the people on my world are light or very blond."
"So," Woolsey said slowly, looking intently at Ronon, "it's an honest mistake."
Ronon pushed close to Woolsey. "I still want to see his face," he whispered to Woolsey.
"So," the other man called. "Any other plans?"
"Somebody has got to look in on us soon," Woolsey said.
"If only just to gloat," Rodney muttered.
The door opened. A tall man with graying hair came in. He was dressed in a green, silk-like tunic, with a hat which reminded Woolsey of an Archbishop's hat. If this had been six months earlier, he would have voiced the thought that at least, now we were getting someplace. As it was, he closed his mouth and waited for the other man to make the first move.
The newcomer stationed himself so that he could see into both cells. "I am Kervarin, ruler of the Dreshe people. Which is your leader?"
"I speak for myself and for my people, the Dever," said the man in the other cell.
"And I am Richard Woolsey, Commander of the Atlantis expedition."
Kervarin spoke to the man on the right. "Our forces believe you to be of the Wraith. We have not seen the Wraith in many, many years, but you fit the general description. Are you sure you wouldn't like to change your story?"
A short silence. "Sir, I didn't know what the Wraith looked like until my fellow prisoners told me. Had I known, I wouldn't have even come to your planet. At least until relations had been established."
"We hoped to establish trade with other peoples. We just recently discovered our Stargate and have started exploring."
Kervarin turned to Woolsey. "And we believe you to be Wraith sympathizers."
Woolsey shrugged. "We just had the bad fortune to follow a team of what you believe to be Wraiths."
"Do you believe him to be a Wraith?"
"All I can see are his hands, but …" Woolsey said.
Ronon said, "I have hunted Wraith, and that is not the hand of a Wraith."
"Perhaps we should push him in with you."
"Oh, good. Another roommate," Rodney muttered.
"Do you have a mirror … or some reflective surface?" Woolsey said. "Our resident expert here, Ronon, could tell you."
Ronon glanced at him, wide-eyed. Woolsey looked away. He had a feeling he would hear about this later.
Woolsey continued, "This keeps us in jail, and gives you the peace of mind of knowing you're not harboring a Wraith."
The ruler gestured, then stood stock-still for ten minutes. Rodney got twitchy after three minutes, and went to the back of the cell to squat down. The others just waited quietly on their feet.
The mirror finally arrived. One of the guards positioned it so that Ronon and the other man could see each other. Ronon gestured the other man to stand closer with the mirror. "I've never seen a Wraith with a round face and hazel eyes and round irises," pointed out.
Woolsey was thankful that he didn't mention Michael, the half-human, half-wraith that the Atlantis staff had tried to turn human.
Suddenly, they heard a commotion outside, followed by a buzzing noise. "What's that?" the other cellmate yelled.
"Damn," Ronon said. "Wraith."
Kervarin pointed at the other man. "You brought them!"
"He didn't," Ronon said. "Listen to me. You have to get your people under cover. In caves. Away from the surface or else they'll take them."
"But then they'll land and capture us."
"Let us out. Give us our weapons and other stuff back. We'll fight!"
Kervarin studied them for a long moment.
"People are being taken," Woolsey said calmly. "Do you really want to be known as the leader who lost his people?"
Kervarin pursed his lips. With a sudden gesture, he motioned a guard forward to unlock the cell. Another guard went to the side to pick up their weapons and communications device. Woolsey grabbed the communications device while Ronon and Rodney grabbed the weapons. Ronon glanced at Rodney.
"I've been practicing," Rodney muttered.
Ronon nodded and grinned slightly at him. He turned toward Kervarin. "You and your guards need to get as many people as possible under cover. I would go, but they're not going to believe any of us after you put us in prison."
Kervarin nodded to the guards. "Go."
"John. Major Sheppard! This is Woolsey," Woolsey said urgently into the communications device.
The answer was slow in coming. "Woolsey?"
"The Wraith are here."
"We see them. The gate is open. We're trying to herd as many people through as possible. They started running down the path as soon as we came back after you."
Woolsey looked at their fellow prisoner. "See? I prefer our culture. We come back for our people."
The white haired man nodded. "It does have its advantages." A wraith ship sounded like it was just outside the windows, and they all ducked backwards involuntarily. "I'm Dobby, by the way."
Woolsey was glad John wasn't here; this wasn't the place for Harry Potter jokes.
"Good to meet you, Dobby."
The man smiled. "Likewise."
Ronon was right, the man didn't look like a Wraith. He actually looked more like an elf.
"Are you under cover?" John communicated.
Woolsey turned his attention back to the communicator. He could hear Ronon and Rodney shooting out of the door. "We are. Rodney and Ronon are defending us." "Rodney?"
"Major, he shoots better than I do."
A short silence. "Granted. Huh. Does he seem to be doing all right?"
"I think so. I suspect he'd do better if he didn't squeal like a girl after every shot," Woolsey said.
"I thought he got over that." Another short silence. "Look, I'm keeping the gate open. Do you think you can get here?"
Woolsey stuck his head out of the door and yelled to Ronon. "Sheppard is keeping the gate open for us. Can we go?"
Ronon looked up at the darts. They seemed to be moving away. "I think so."
"Come with us," Woolsey said to Dobby, Kervarin, and the remaining guard.
Kervarin inclined his head and pulled up his robes. They took off running. Woolsey soon regretted not exercising more often, and it didn't look as if Dobby was in much better shape.
They stayed under trees as much as possible, and soon were at the Stargate. Woolsey was panting heavily, but slowed his steps so that Dobby could go ahead of him. He could see Sheppard holding his arm in the Stargate wormhole as Ronon went through the gate. Rodney was almost to the steps when Woolsey heard the whine of the dart—and Rodney disappeared. Sheppard was yelling something but Woolsey wasn't sure what it was …
He woke up entangled in something … he couldn't tell what. Through some miracle, his glasses were still on, and he looked around. From the descriptions he'd heard, this must be a hive ship. He felt fear go through him, but the worse he could say was, "Oh, crap."
"I had choicer words to say," said Rodney, beside him.
"As did I," Kervarin said, beyond Rodney.
"I am so sorry," Woolsey said, calming down, now that he knew he wasn't alone.
"For what?" Dobby said. "You didn't cause this."
"And if we hadn't captured you, my people may all have been taken," Kervarin said. "We reacted out of fear, and you had every right to not help us."
"That's not the way we work," Woolsey said.
"Can you tell us what to expect?"
Woolsey nodded at Rodney. "They keep us in these cocoons until they—feed. Which probably isn't long now. After all, they can't feed if we're dead."
"You've never been in this situation yourself," Kervarin said to Woolsey.
"I haven't been in Atlantis very long. This was my first expedition outside of Atlantis."
"This was supposed to be a walk in the park," Rodney said.
"Where do you come from?" Dobby said.
"We come from a galaxy far, far away," Rodney said.
"Rodney," Woolsey said.
He shrugged. "Well, we do."
Kervarin interrupted. "We need to find a method of escape."
Woolsey sighed. "Agreed. But I can't move." He struggled.
"I do have a pocketknife," Rodney said, "but I can't get to it."
From what Woolsey could see, Kervarin looked disappointed, as if the Atlantis personnel were letting him down. "I'm sorry."
"Hey," Dobby said. "I think I can move."
Woolsey looked at him. Sure enough, the more Dobby struggled, the less the webbing of the cocoon seemed to hold him. Gradually, his arms became free, and he pushed the rest of the webbing down like a girdle.
Woolsey really wished his mind hadn't given him that visual.
Dobby looked at them both, then turned to Rodney. Stroking the webbing, he seemed to loosen them. Rodney looked at him, then raised an eyebrow to Woolsey, but, fortunately, kept his mouth shut.
Woolsey nodded at him. Until they were out of this situation—if they got out of this situation—he wouldn't say the obvious. But he would insist on genetic testing. He was told that the Wraith were a combination of human and the Eratus bug, but he never heard where the human part came from. Maybe this was why Dobby's planet closed their gate and withdrew from the galaxy. They knew their people served as hosts to generate the Wraith.
This would explain, partly, why Dobby could get out of the webbing. It recognized the DNA.
He liked Dobby. It was hard not to.
Dobby finished loosening Rodney, then turned to Woolsey. He soon had Woolsey free, and then he turned to Kervarin.
Rodney and Woolsey stared at each other. Now what? came to Woolsey's mind, but he suppressed the thought. Rodney was the expert here, but he was supposed to be the leader. These three were looking to him for direction; he couldn't fall apart now. "I suggest," he said slowly, that we tread carefully until we can figure out …" He looked at Kervarin. His people were still here. "… where everybody else is." He sighed. "These people are warriors. I can safely say that I am not."
Dobby nodded. "I'm a soldier, but like I said, we've had peace for years." He shook his head. "I do solve crimes, but we haven't had a violent crime for years."
"Ah," Woolsey said. "We call people like you policemen."
Rodney nodded. "I'm a poorly paid scientist."
Kervarin looked wistful. "I was a soldier when I was younger, but I know my limitations."
"So we stay together and we remain quiet."
They started down the corridor. A few slots down, they discovered a couple of men trapped in webbing.
"Remain quiet," Kervarin said. Dobby swiftly removed them from the webbing.
They turned the corner.
There were men, women, and children. Dobby started working. Soon, he had twenty people free. What in the world they were going to do with these people, he wasn't sure, but he couldn't just sit there and leave them struggling, waiting to be killed by Wraith, like cattle. Or like flies in a web, he thought to himself.
Would the IOC approve of this?
To hell with the IOC. He shook his head. That did it. He didn't care what the IOC thought anymore. Probably that would get him fired, but they weren't out here.
Out here. He thought of something.
Dobby straightened up. "That's it. The rest are dead." He looked somber.
"They aren't mine; mine are all accounted for," Kervarin said. "I don't like to be thankful, but …"
"I know," Dobby said.
"Kervarin," Woolsey said. "This is a little too easy. Where are the guards?"
"I've been wondering that myself," Rodney said. "Of course, the Wraith are rather egotistical about their abilities."
Woolsey thought that this was the pot calling the kettle black, but again, kept his mouth shut.
Kervarin looked worried. "This is too easy," he said. "You are correct. If I were leader here …."
Woolsey suddenly looked at Dobby. "They probably have somebody posted at the exit," he said cautiously. He suspected that Dobby's genetic makeup was part of the reason they weren't getting caught. Possibly he had some latent telepathic ability? But then, why did they put him in the webbing?
Probably because they were culling as many as they could, and never looked at what they had.
"Woolsey." He started. His microphone had suddenly come to life. "Don't answer. We're coming up behind the ship in puddle jumpers. This Hive ship has seen better days and has a blind spot in the aft rear bay. We'll land there and come and find you."
Woolsey held his microphone in his hand. "My people are coming. We need to find the aft rear bay. Everybody needs to stay as close as possible. Dobby, I can't explain why now, but you need to stay in the middle of the pack."
Dobby looked at him, puzzled. Woolsey couldn't explain that it was because he suspected that Dobby exuded an influence, a pheromone, or something that was tricking the Wraith.
"Rodney, do you know where the aft rear bay is?"
"Yeah, if I had my computer and …"
"I'll make an educated guess."
Well, Woolsey hoped that Dobby's influence would apply to this. He spoke into the microphone. "Free. Twenty four people. Meet you."
"Really." Sheppard sounded surprised. Well, Woolsey would be, too, if he were Sheppard. "Twenty four people. Hmmm … Still. Look, the holding cells are close to the back of the ship. If you can keep everybody quiet and … No, I'll still try to come to you."
Dobby raised his hand. "I think I know where the back of the ship is, too."
"I have really good hearing. It's that way."
"You've never been on a Hive ship," Woolsey said.
"Still. It's logical. I'm not sure why, but I know it's this way."
Rodney said, "I think he's right."
Kervarin looked at Woolsey. Woolsey shrugged. "Follow him."
Kervarin went from person to person among his people, explaining the plan. They all nodded, the adults taking care of the younger ones.
They set out after him. The group was still quiet, and Woolsey admired Kervarin's control over his people. He wished that this would work with Rodney.
After fifteen tense minutes, they arrived in the DartBay. Their luck still held—they hadn't seen any Wraith.
The gaunt Wraith looked up, puzzled. He opened his eyes wide, then reached for his weapon … which was blasted out of his hands by Sheppard. The group shrank back as Sheppard blasted the Wraith with multiple gunshots, then approached the Wraith cautiously. He looked at the natives, shamefaced. "I'm sorry I had to do this in front of you, but it's either him or you." Expertly, he rolled the Wraith over and laced him up, tightly. The Wraith came back to life with a roar, but Sheppard pushed him back out of the way and blasted him again. "Rodney, get them in the ships."
"Ships?" Rodney said. Woolsey looked around. Three other puddle jumpers were landing in the bay. "Oh."
"Let me," Woolsey said. He raised his voice and pointed to a spot in the middle of the group. "You," he gestured right, "in that ship. You, in that one." He pointed to illustrate what he meant. "Rodney, Dobby, Kervarin and I in John's ship." John took a glance at him as if to say "So few?", but kept his mouth closed.
The puddle jumpers' doors opened, and the groups rushed inside. As soon as everybody was loaded, they took off and left the bay. Woolsey's group rushed onto John's ship, and they lifted off and exited the ship with no return fire.
"Something's wrong here," Sheppard said. "Why aren't they shooting back?"
"Did you see that Wraith?" Rodney said. "He looked like he was starving."
"Come to think of it, I didn't see any more than two darts on the planet," John said, turning the jumper back towards the ship. "What's the deal with that?" He took a run toward the cruiser, shooting drone weapons.
"Wait, we should study …" Rodney said.
The cruiser blew up, and the puddle jumper veered away.
"Never mind," Rodney said.
"Your orders, sir?" Sheppard said to Woolsey.
Huh, Woolsey thought, he didn't get that kind of respect very often. "Let's drop Kervarin off," he said, with a look at Kervarin, "then we need to talk to Dobby." He turned to Kervarin. "If it's all right with you, we would like to come back later to talk."
"And I would like to offer you my apologies," Kervarin said. "We have been so afraid of the Wraith for so long—without even knowing what they are—that we forgot that there might be friends in the galaxy, also."
"I accept your apology."
"We will talk later. But …" Kervarin said, glancing at Sheppard.
"The Wraith shouldn't come back soon. I have a feeling that these guys were loners, if there is such a thing. Or maybe they got separated from their hive," Sheppard said.
"Thank you, both," Kervarin said, "for saving us."
"You are very welcome," said Woolsey. He glanced at Dobby.
"It was my honor," said Dobby
As soon as Kervarin had de-boarded on the planet, Dobby looked at Woolsey. "You need to tell me something that won't be good."
Woolsey shared a look with Rodney. "I won't lie to you. I believe your people to be related to the Wraith. I believe that was how you got out of the cocoon so easily. I also believe that was how you kept the Wraith from noticing that a group of people were moving around the ship until we were almost on top of them."
He held up a hand at Dobby's objection. "I don't believe you are with the Wraith. I was hoping you might agree to have our doctor on Atlantis look at you."
Dobby stared down on the floor. "I felt something on the Wraith ship wasn't right. Of course I will."
Dobby walked into the gateroom and smiled at Woolsey. "Thanks for showing me around. This city is amazing!"
"We think so," Sheppard said. "Even though we didn't build it."
Woolsey reached a hand out to Dobby. "I look forward to seeing you again."
Dobby looked at the hand, then smiled. "I hope I do get to see you again," he said, glancing at the information in his other hand. "I'm not sure how my government will react, finding out we're related to the Wraith."
"I'm sorry," Woolsey said, looking him straight in the eye.
"Not your fault," Dobby smiled as he walked through the Stargate.
"Why do I feel," Sheppard said into the silence, "like I just kicked a kitten?"
Woolsey sighed. "Maybe because we did. Doesn't he remind you of us when we first started? When we first opened the Stargate and the System Lords noticed us?"
"It wasn't our fault," Rodney said quietly.
"Tell that to Dobby's people." Woolsey walked out of the control room into his office and stared at his computer for a long, long time. He was reminded of what Rodney said a couple of days ago.
Another fine mess, indeed.