Title: Lost Hope (1/?)
Author: tari_roo
Rating: PG13 for now, maybe R later
Disclaimer: I own nothing and profit from nothing but if I did… Sheppard would have had wings at point in the series.
Summary: Wingfic AU. Having survived the destruction of his homeworld, Sheppard escapes the life of a slave on Athos and with a few other runaways, goes in search of their last hope for freedom, Atlantis.
Warnings: Alternate Universe. This is completely AU from SGA and SG1 and is set in a fictional galaxy that is the combination of the Milky Way and Pegasus – a seven spiral galaxy. There will be mentions of torture and war, but no overly graphic depictions of such. So be warned for AUness etc.

Authors Note: I've been hacking away at this AU for years – literally and I have played the key scenes of this story in my head so often I feel that the story has already been told – only it hasn't. Despite my own promises to myself I am posting this as a WIP as its too easy to let RL sidetrack the completion of this story, and at least if its out there… I have the added impetus to finish as you are all waiting too. At the end of each chapter I'll post a brief summary of the original species encountered.

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An early evening breeze twisted down out of the mountains to the north, rustling through the Spina tree orchard nestled on the edge of the long floodplain between the mountain ranges. Perched high in the branches of his Spina, Sheppard flexed his trailing primaries, letting the breeze lift and tug at his wings, whispering promises of height and freedom. Sinking below the horizon, framed between where the northern and southern mountains met, the big red sun was staining the chest high blue grass on the plain and the sky overhead a deep rich purple. As the breeze reached the plain, the dense grass imitated the river that periodically swallowed it, and bent and fluttered with swirls and eddies, and little waves.

A flock of large birds were silently gliding over the swaying purple blue grass, skimming the surface; long, slow, lazy flyers, expertly using the wind with as little effort on their part as possible. The wind picked up as the sun sunk further, the temperature dropping and it ruffled his hair and rattled the narrow, stiff leaves of the branch he was leaning against, the leaves a scatter of whispered voices in the air.

After the noise and busy pace of the work day, a stolen moment of peace and silence was all the more poignant for its brevity, unexpectedness and imminent interruption. ouRiel hadn't reached his tree yet to unhook his tether, and Sheppard was in no hurry to leave the illusion of solitude and freedom the branches offered. Out of sight of the workers and handlers below, the Spina treetop was a bubble of peace. Leaning forward against the branch, a raised arm supporting him, Sheppard watched the quiet of eveningtime fall over the world, as day turned to slumber. A tremor shivered through the trunk and the branches and leaves clattered, like a dog shaking itself off, the movement echoed throughout the orchard as the Spina trees protested the cooler evening air but Sheppard barely moved on his perch.

The Stargate was on the other side of the plain and the blue grass vlei, lost in the shadows of the native woods dotting the southern mountains. Out of habit long forged, Sheppard searched for its distinctive roundness, and true promise of freedom. Earlier, during the heat of the day, the flash of blue light of an incoming wormhole and the sound of chevrons locking had been all but lost in the distance and noise of Spina harvesting. Every slave though had paused, hunting dog ears pricked, alert for anything unusual in the routine of the day. The duHon had set a sentry to watch the approach from the Gate, but as the afternoon progressed no visitors, no attack, no movement from materialised and the mystery remained, hours later.

The smooth well worn leather lead tied to his manacle moved abruptly, a short sharp pull. The tug on the tether was expected, if not anticipated, but it felt off, not the usual impatient and demanding pull of ouRiel. Obedient to the summons, Sheppard shot one last look at the clear open sky and dropped off his perch, wings opening wide to slow his fall, dropping into shadow. The Spina shivered again as he fell, and Sheppard twisted to avoid a branch as the Spina shifted, shaking its limbs. He flared his wings to slow further, and gain a little height before dropping below the cluster of brittle leaves and branches. Once clear, the drop was fast and controlled, the long, smooth trunk of the tree streaming past in the blur, air rushing past his face.

Landing with a little more force than required, Sheppard used the opportunity to stretch out his wings to their full extent, one last stretch before the slave pen, and restraints for the night. The looming hulk of ouRiel was absent though, and instead the little duHon was slowly wrapping the long tether to the hook in the tree's roots and untying the leash. Folding back his wings, caught a little off guard, Sheppard extended his wrists, ready for the first loop of the leash, but the duHon shook his head. "No. We fly."

The duHon's use of Pegasii was enough to give Sheppard pause and he replied in kind, "The Gate?" He half turned towards the now unseen Stargate, eyes trying to penetrate the full evening gloom. The duHon nodded but reverted to his native Reformed Centarii, "On your knees, Feathers. I need to go warn those fools, before they kill us all. And right in the middle of the harvest – I don't have the time for this."

With the prospect of a relatively short flight ahead with a burden, Sheppard didn't bother shifting circulation to his legs and kept his wings in full flight mode. Awkwardly he knelt down so that the diminutive Foreman could climb onto his back, dropping his wings so that the feathers kissed the carpet of dried, brittle leaves that covered the whole orchard. The duHon's tether hook, which all the slavers kept on hand, knocked his right wing and tapped his head as the little daGaren stepped onto the small of his back, and wrapped his stubby right arm around Sheppard's neck. Shifting his wings, helping the duHon get comfortable, Sheppard got another hard tap on the head for his trouble. "Don't try anything funny, Feathers. I'll take you down with me." The duHon's breath brushed the back of his neck and Sheppard caught a glimpse of the tether hook out of the corner of his eye.

Not bothering to reply, Sheppard slowly stood, letting the small daGaren get settled, his sharp little feet digging into his sides. "Stars, you're scrawny, Feathers... nothing to hold onto," the deGaren grumbled, finally settling on one arm wrapped around his throat, the other clutching his hair. The tether hook bumped and knocked his head as the little oaf pulled and grumbled. Sheppard stepped back a little and sighed, "You ready?"

A short, sharp tap on his head, a growled affirmative and Sheppard did a one, two, running leap and took off, beating his wings hard to break away, and gain altitude quickly. It was harder than expected, even if this wasn't the first time he'd ferried the duHon around. He had few opportunities to truly fly and the daily up and down flying motion whilst harvesting had strengthened his ability to hover in place, but the muscles and effort needed for long flights were under utilised. Gone were the days were he could fly comfortably for hours on end. While the Kurgens and Meroy were big enough to carry the duHon, neither species were inclined to resist the opportunity to kill one of their masters, so invariable Sheppard ferried the diminutive head slaver when required. He really didn't mind, in truth - any excuse to fly.

Once clear of the Spina orchard and the rustle of shifting branches, Sheppard let loose, jostling the duHon slightly as he picked up speed, but opportunities to really fly came so rarely he wasn't about to squander this one. The evening air was still rife with warm currents from the day even as cooler night air sunk downwards, and as he flew over the grass choked riverbed, he caught the perfect updraft that lifted them into the night, the stars slowly revealing themselves overhead. From this angle and height, the ruined sprawl of the Athosian city in the valley below the Gate rolled out like decay spoiling the smooth beauty of the plain. The southern forest had not encroached into the city proper as yet, but the forerunners of the forest; shrubs, vines and overgrown gardens and parks were finishing the destruction and slowly burying the city the Asurans had killed. Eradicating the decay and the evidence of a civilisation lost to vagaries of war and an insane nation.

The strangers had set up camp on the edge of the city, amid the few buildings that were still standing – no doubt using the structures as readymade shelter. Whatever the reason the Asurans had left those buildings standing was immaterial and the duHon shouted in his ear. "Down. On the edge, near the trees." Furling in and shortening the span of his wings, Sheppard circled down, watching for movement, picking a clear space to land. Timing it just right, he landed softly, feet crunching into a pile of dead leaves, the down draft from his wings sending the leaves spiralling around them. Straight away a cry went up from the camp, artificial lights turning towards their general area. They had set up perimeter lighting and sentries, and their response was swift as men and lights quickly found them.

The duHon dropped to the ground with grunt, and hit Sheppard's calf lightly with his tether hook and snapped, "Lift."When Sheppard obeyed and raised his foot, the deGeran wrapped the leash around his ankle a few times, tugged to test it and gripped it tightly. "I give the word and you take off, got it," he growled. The duHon may not have brought along an 'overt' weapons, but the tether hook packed a nasty punch and would provide enough of an unpleasant surprise for them to escape in the confusion – if needed.

"Got it," Sheppard murmured, and kept his wings primed for flight. The leash was already tightly bound to the manacle link surgically inserted into the back of his ankle, but at least the duHon felt satisfied he'd be able to hold on during a rapid lift off. They stood silently and cautiously watched the approaching people, Sheppard lowering his wings, trying not to seem too large or intimidating, but still ready to fly. Heavy, sturdy boots crunched the leaves as the men approached, their grey uniforms suggesting soldiers of some sort. As they entered the clearing they raised projectile based firearms at them both, their faces grim and unfriendly. The duHon snorted in amusement, but gripped the tether hook tight, and the leather leash.

Not quite surrounded but definitely penned in, Sheppard and the duHon waited and watched in silence until a large man stepped forward and in heavily accented Pegasii demanded, "Who are you? Speak." The man's face was obscured slightly by the shadows his hat cast, the light streaming behind him, but he spoke with confidence, his posture radiating calm assurance.

The duHon stepped forward and replied in Reformed Centarii, "A pox on the Asurans. Well met." He followed that with badly mangled Pegasii and tried to say, "Death to Asurans. Greetings."

The man stared at the duHon blankly for a second, perhaps trying to decipher his words and sighed in Pegasii more to himself, "Damn Asur to the deepest black."

Shuffling a little, the duHon probably understood Pegasii well enough but without the Stargate's translation logarithm working, he was not confident in speaking any language but his own, and his tense movements confirmed that. Giving up, he nudged Sheppard, impatiently, and Sheppard translated his first greeting into Pegasii, "Well met, strangers. May the Asurans get the pox and die."

The men around them didn't move, but the spokesperson smiled grimly nodded. Their eyes though were fixed more on Sheppard than the small deGaren. Pointing to himself, the duHon continued, "I am D'Hr, duHon of the Spina orchard across the valley. I bring you warning."

Sheppard carefully translated that, choosing his words wisely and the group of soldiers murmured as he mentioned a warning. Waving them to silence the lead man held up his hand, and said softly, eyes boring into Sheppard but glancing at the deGaren, "I am Commander Kolya of the Genii. Well met."

The duHon bowed as Sheppard translated into Centarii, and then carefully pointed at Kolya with his hook and said sharply, "I do not think you know the dangers of this world. Camping close to the ruins is a risk to your lives and ours." He pointed to the buildings behind the Genii, his face fixed in the disapproving expression his people favoured when speaking with non-deGerans.

Once Sheppard had finished translating for Kolya, man growled in reply, "What could a little Centarii possibly know about a Pegasus world?" Sheppard translated quickly, but the duHon did not need to hear all the words to know Koyla was dismissive of his warning.

Flicking his head to the side in irritation D'Hr shrugged diffidently, "More than you, fool." Sheppard left out the insult, and the duHon noticed but it did not react. In all likelihood, Koyla recognised the insult anyway.

The Genii were unmoved, nothing in their bearing betraying any emotion. Kolya snorted softly and spoke with a dangerous edge to his voice, "Say your piece, little bug." Sheppard didn't leave that out.

The duHon turned to look at the native trees of Athos rising behind them, so much smaller than Spina trees from his world, silent and motionless and said stiffly, "If you know anything of recent events on Athos, then you would know not to remain here."

Kolya barked a laugh, "The Asuran fleet has not been in this sector for months... " D'Hr interrupted him, and the little duHon spoke fast as he said, "They have been seen nowhere for months! Every sector fears their return – you'd be foolish to imagine that they will not!"

Stepping forward, his face suddenly clear and unobscured, Koyla growled, "The Genii are no fools."

D'Hr sniffed, and pointed the tether hook at Koyla, motioning at the soldiers around them as well, "The Athosian's had Ancient blood and technology and they could not stand against the Asurans. What makes you think you and these primitive weapons will fare any better?"

Swiftly Koyla drew a handgun, its long narrow barrel pointed straight at the duHon. "The Asurans are not here and that hook will not stop my bullet, bug."

They stared at eachother, unmoving for several long seconds, wind moving the tree tops and Sheppard's wings. The soldiers fidgeted slightly, fingers brushing triggers, eyes scanning everything. Sheppard licked his lips and wondered if he could gain enough height to avoid any bullets.

Slowly as if speaking to an infant, D'Hr hissed, "There is no time for this idiocy. We are all in danger and your lives and mine depend on you listening!" Sheppard translated quickly, and watched as Koyla's expression got darker. He growled, "What frightens you, bug?"

The duHon snapped, "I fear the Athosians, as well you should." A round of laughter greeted his words as Sheppard translated, and Koyla gestured dismissively.

A shorter man, dressed in similar uniform to Kolya, marking him an officer perhaps, stepped forward and said primly, "The Athosian's abandoned this world, and live as nomads in Pegasus. Do you fear their anger at learning we are here?" The wind was dying down as true night fell, the stars bright in the sky, a thousand points of light.

Laughing, blowing air through his nose, D'Hr sneered, "They fled the Asuran bombardment of their city, yes. But some remained, a group of survivors." The deGeran inched closer to Koyla, both to point at the ruins behind them and probably to get within striking distance, if needed. He continued, Sheppard echoing his words in Pegasii. "Part of the Asuran assault included infecting the population with a virus – a virus that attacked Athosians with the blood of the Ancients. It reduced them into mindless savages! The other Athosians fled to escape them just as much as the Asurans."

Before Kolya could speak and as Sheppard finished the Pegasii version, the other Genii officer snapped, "How do you know this? None of the Athosians mentioned a virus."

The duHon jabbed his tether hook into the ground and growled, "Then perhaps they wished you dead – as they certainly told us about it." Koyla shared a knowing look with his officer, rubbing his jaw in thought. The air was growing chilly and robust with tension as the silence lengthened out.

Kolya eventually sighed, "Enough, Laden." Turning to the duHon, he said roughly, "So there are savage Athosians living on this world. We are well armed and protected. We have nothing to fear."

Throwing his little arms up in anger, D'Hr shouted, "They attack, and kill anyone who goes near the ruins, without fail. Nno amount of weapons or men or technology seems to stop them!"

Staring at D'Hr, studying him, Koyla shrugged, "You seemed to have survived, so thank you for the warning. Now go."

Given permission like it was his to give and the duHon did not like that, or his tone. D'hr snarled and pointed his tether hook at Kolya, jabbing it in the air, "It is not just your lives you risk. They will attack us also, simply because we are in the area. Once disturbed they do not stop!"

"Perhaps you fear savages, little bug, but we do not. Now go," Kolya snapped, as he turned away, dismissing the duHon.

Yanking on Sheppard's leash, D'Hr shouted, "Perhaps you misunderstand me, Commander," implying that Sheppard was doing a poor job translating or Koyla was stupid. "They are cunning, intelligent and powerful, for all of their savagery. You will lose many lives tonight – if not all. They wield abilities from the Ancients."

Kolya didn't turn back fully, but spoke over his shoulder, looking down at D'Hr with a sneer, "Then perhaps you should flee, little bug. Run back to your world. You are no longer welcome. Leave. Now." The collective 'readying' of the soldiers' firearms was a concert of clicks and locks as they raised their weapons. The deGaren's chitinous skin was pale in the light and he yanked again on Sheppard's leash. "Kneel!" he growled in Centarii.

Internalising the sigh, Sheppard dropped to one knee and the little deGeran climbed onto his back. Without waiting for the command, Sheppard stood, keenly aware the D'Hr wanted to get back to the slave compound as quickly as possible. The sound and motion of Sheppard unfurling his wings to their full length startled the group of Genii and the soldiers stepped back in fright as the flight primaries nearly reached them. At just over ten feet, his wingspan was impressive especially in the smaller area of the clearing. Both Kolya and Laden stared at Sheppard, and as Sheppard looked to the sky, judging his spatial constraints, Laden shouted, "Is he for sale?"

D'Hr, duHon and slave master of the deGarens on Athos, replied in broken Pegasii, "The Black take you." He jabbed Sheppard with the tether hook, and held on tight to his neck and hair. Sheppard waited for the right night updraft and leapt smoothly, the rising wind lifting them. Turning slowly, using the air flow beneath his wings and adjusting the angle of his wings, Sheppard turned towards the Spina orchard. His circle over the forest below gave him a clear view of the Genii below, all of whom were watching his climb, their upturned faces white spots in the gloom, the brights lights of their camp a clarion call in the night.

"Fools. Quickly, slave!" the duHon growled and squeezed his legs like he was riding a herdbeast or horse. Grunting a little, Sheppard glided for a moment trailing a stronger updraft and then quickly gained height, beating hard to build up speed. The descent towards the deGeran's compound and the slave pen was fast and heady, the pressure of the wind on his face exhilarating.

The moment he landed, D'Hr was off his back and shouting for his colleagues. ouReil ambled over, twice the height and girth of the duHon but still shorter than Sheppard and took the leash from his duHon. The compound had its own set of perimeter lights and as a result so did the slave pen, at least until the lights were turned off, then the pen would be plunged into darkness. For whatever reason, the Athosians left them alone and only seemed to react if someone went near the ruins.

As a hanful deGerans ran over at D'hr's summons, ouReil grunted and motioned at Sheppard. Reluctantly, still relishing the feel of the wind on his wings, Sheppard extended his wrists, bracing himself as ouReil was always rough, but efficient with this. The leash that was permanently attached to the ring in his ankle was wrapped around each wrist, with a small loop of leash between each hand, and then run down to the ring in his other foot and then back to the start. Hobbled, Sheppard began folding his wings back, settling them on his back, flattening the feathers, curling the primaries and major flight feathers around his chest. The duHon and his men were arguing, unable to decide if they should stay or run, their voices sharp and high with excitement and fear. The last Athosian attack had badly damaged the compound, with several dead deGerans and a lot of damaged equipment, dead slaves and time wasted in tending the injured.

ouRiel was slightly distracted by the argument so he simply opened the pen gate and let Sheppard enter, rather than ensuring his bonds were secure and walking him to his section of the pen. The slave keeper hurried back the collected deGarens and a sharp voice shouted in Centarii, "You risk everything, D'Hr. We should simply leave!"

The slave pen was large enough to allow people who were born to fly to feel relatively at ease. They were fenced in by high walls and a roof of thick wire mesh, charged with a power current. The slaves were only allowed to mingle until lights out, a brief time to relax and eat after a hard day's work. Then they were secured, each species allocated to a corner, with the ablution block in the centre of the pen. The restraining leash made everyone ungainly and awkward as they moved around the pen. Carefully Sheppard made his way over for whatever was left of the evening meal. A stiff piece of oaten bread – full of nutrients and protein, but very little taste.

As the only one of his kind, Sheppard bunked with the delicate Flittas in the southernmost corner of the pen, the one nearest the Stargate. deGaren slavers separated male and female slaves, and ensured that in a multi-species pen that there were only ever one gender of each species. The Flittas were the only females, and neither the male Kurgens or Meroy found them appealing at all. The Veesh were notoriously xenophobic and kept to themselves, claiming the far north corner, as far from everyone as possible. Sheppard had no idea what gender they were, if they even had a gender as they universally ignored all but the deGarens. The Kurgens, prone to jostling eachother and wrestling, rattling their insectoid shells in mock battles and play, were a noisy bunch in their section of the pen. The Meroy, with their thin, leathery wings snapping with each landbound movement, sometimes joined in the ruckus, keen fighters and a fairly sociable species. Tonight thought their faces were turned towards the deGarens, listening in on the conversation, ignoring the boisterous Kurgens who were as loud as ever.

As Sheppard sat down in his usual spot, and attacked the bread with real hunger, Iskth approached him her flat opaque eyes round with worry. Her Centarii was terrible and she was nervous so she blurted out in her native Upper Carino, "Is it true? Strangers? And the Athosians will attack?"

Nodding, Sheppard chewed slowly, savouring what could be his final meal. Her gossamer wings shimmered, betraying her anxiety as she threw herself down beside him, careful of her own leash and restraints. There wasn't anything to say beyond that, nothing a slave could do other than worry or accept impending death. Whatever the deGarens decided whether to flee or stay and defend, it was doubtful they would take the slaves with them, or protect them. Iskth was one to worry though and she kept twisting her smooth, bald head this way and that, as if she was watching for signs of the impending attack, eyes scanning everything. Her thin, spindly fingers ran this way and that over her crossed legs as much as her bonds allowed, her transparent wings twitching and catching the light with each movement.

Sheppard finished the bread all too quickly, the exertion of however brief a flight making him hungrier than usual and the meal had come nowhere near filling him. Iskth was now shooting him watchful looks as well and Sheppard gave her a small smile. "Iskth ..."

"Please, Feathers... just this once," she trailed her, her mouth round and open with emotion.

Staring at her for a second, her fear vibrating in the air almost, he broke the glance. "Give me a hand," he said quickly, hoping to distract her and unfurled his wings at the same time. Iskth sighed with a small burp and nodded, standing awkwardly, nearly entangling her four legs in the leash. The six months or so of steady work on Athos with the routine of Spina harvesting and regular meals from the deGarens had given Sheppard the opportunity to get his wings into a fairly healthy condition. Iskth had taken to helping him with his nightly grooming ritual a few months ago, intrigued by his feathers at first and later enjoying the ritual. Gently stretching out each wing, Sheppard curled one inwards, and ran his fingers through the long primaries, checking for numbness and damage. Pressing into the gland at the base of the last joint, Sheppard began massaging oil from the gland into the primaries, careful and slow.

At first Iskth had been merely curious that he needed to care for his wings like this as her own gossamer ones were multilayered and constantly shed and regrew over the months. Fliean, her home world, had no creatures like birds, with feathers, so her curiosity overcame her shyness and what started as just watching him each night had turned into her helping with the feathers and glands on his back that he couldn't reach.

Her breath was cold and light on his neck as she worked the gland at the base of the wing where it met skin on his shoulder. Those feathers were soft and fluffy, and Iskth's sharp, sticklike fingers felt too alien to do more than vaguely remind Sheppard of Nancy's warmer, more experienced hands. Even after several months, Iskth's technique was too rough, and brisk but Sheppard didn't mind too much, as grooming was supposed to be a bonding activity between lovers and friends. Iskth didn't know that, and Sheppard had no intention of telling her as the Flittas had odd notions about interspecies relations. As it was, her fellow Flittas thought her friendship with him was strange. Regular oiling kept his feathers healthy, waterproof, and increased his ability to flex and shape them.

He took his time, oiling each primary thoroughly, working back towards the secondary feathers, as far as he could reach comfortably. The oil smelt like home, fresh warm evenings under the trees watching the sunset, familiar fingers burrowing into his feather. The feathers glistened and shone in the light, and as he finished Sheppard ran through the range of basic exercises, sending blood and fluid in and out of each feather, expanding to full flight thickness and shrinking right down to sharp, stiff spikes.

As usual, Iskth watched this in fascination, leaning over his shoulder, her own task forgotten. "You are not scared?" she whispered, her eyes watching his feathers and not his face. Sheppard caught her eye, and smiled again, small and sad and said, "We survived the last attack, Iskth. Why not again?"

Her hard, lipless mouth opened in protest but rather than answer, she turned away and started on his other wing, working the gland and then running the oil through the thick base feathers. As Sheppard worked the primaries on the other wing, Iskth sighed softly, "I am afraid, Feathers. You may be resigned to death, but I still have hope."

There was no answer for that, especially as the noisy discussion outside the pen had come to an end, the deGarens falling into unhappy silence. Loudly the duHon ordered the compound secured, so apparently the deGerans were staying, and hoping the improved security would keep the Athosians out. ouReil was hurrying over to start securing the slaves early, his flat face furrowed in an angry scowl as he rushed past the fence. deGarens often looked funny when they ran, their squat frames not designed for quick movement, the heavy gravity of their home world predisposing them to a more sedate pace. Iskth fluttered nervously at Sheppard's shoulder and gasped, "They will leave us out again, as a distraction, bait."

All of the slaves, even the thick skinned, often oblivious Kurgens, in the slave pen were quiet, fear in the air. The Kurgens ended their tussle, separating out into sleeping positions, while the Meroy were pressed closely together, seeking reassurance from that contact. ouReil's assistants joined him at the gate, and as the deGarens entered, Iskth hissed in Sheppard's ear, her rough skin scratching his chin, "Please..."

ouReil tended to leave the smaller, less volatile Flittas to last, so Sheppard had time and Iskth was visibly trembling. Giving in he pulled her close, gathered her in his arms like a child and wrapped his wings around them. In the semi-privacy this gave them, he kissed her gently on the forehead and she wrapped her spindly arms around his torso, burying her hands in his wings, thin legs also curling around him. Too often it felt mean to refuse this small comfort to her, when all she wanted, longed for, was to be held and loved. Flittas were social and gregarious and slept in an entangled mess from the time they were born until they found mates. Their males were larger and heavier and Iskth missed her mate, missed the comfort of his arms and body. Sheppard disliked the emotions it stirred within him, or rather the memories – of someone pressed against him.

It would always be too short a time for Iskth, when all she wanted was forever, her mate and the opportunity to see him again, so when ouReil came hurrying over, her grunt of protest was sharp and sad. Opening his wings, Sheppard felt her shiver and reluctantly she untangled herself, the stolen moment of comfort far too brief. Uncaring that ouReil was glaring at them, she pecked his chin softly with a kiss. "Thank you, Feathers," she whispered. One of the assistants hurried her towards the others who were being secured, leaving Sheppard to ouReil.

"Having fun, lover boy?" ouReil drawled, as he approached with the night restraints. Each species was secured differently, dependent on their anatomy and wings. The deGarens wanted to limit movement as much as possible, but not so much that injury would occur – just enough to prevent exploration, fights and possible escape attempts in the night. ouReil had yet to find that balance with Sheppard, even after so many months, but perhaps he simply did not want to. Slapping his wings with the tetherhook, ouReil grumbled, "Fold 'em, now."

Feathers shining dark and glossy in the overhead lights, Sheppard obeyed, lying the wings flat, curling them around his torso so that they overlapped. He pulled blood and fluid out so that the feathers were as thin and light as possible, shrinking down to a third of full flight size. Lifting his arms so that ourReil could wrap thick leather restraints around his torso, Sheppard watched the other deGarens pull everything of worth inside their compound. ouReil tightened the straps to the point of discomfort, snapping the clasps closed. He then grabbed a thick collar and wrapped it around his throat. It was both unnecessary and painful, but ouReil fitted it every night, nonetheless. The stiff padded material of the collar forced his head up, jaw clenched as ouReil buckled the collar closed and then clicked the cuffs onto his wrists. The cuffs were linked to the collar by a chain, too short for real comfort, but long enough for Sheppard to move around. Last, the end of the leash knotted in the ring in his foot was tied to the stake driven into the hard ground.

Finished, ouReil mussed Sheppard's thick hair and laughed, "Sleep tight."

As the deGarens left and his hair righted itself, Iskth looked over from her own restrained position and smiled. Her fellow Flittas were busy huddling together as best as they could, both for warmth and security. When the lights in the compound faded and true night enclosed the pen, Sheppard lay back and looked up at the stars. Athos was perfectly positioned for the great spirals of Carina and Centarii to arc across the sky. The unique Pegasus stars were now familiar friends, but even after all these years it hurt to see an alien sky overhead. The great Core often obscured the Persion spiral from Pegasus skies but on nights when the Carina spiral was faint, like tonight, Persion glistened like a distant cloud on the horizon.

Crushing his wings beneath him, ignoring the physical pain and shortened breath, Sheppard stared at Persion rising and lost himself in memories of Helios – of home.

To be continued in part 2

Species mentioned and notes on the galaxy:

The Ancient Galaxy: massive spiral galaxy with seven spiral arms centered around a huge core. The names of the spiral arms are: Carina, Persion, Orion, Magellan, Omega, Centarii, and Pegasus.

This chapter takes place on: Athos, which is in the Pegasus arm of the galaxy.

The Ancients formulated a translation algorithm to assist the many varied species of the galaxy in communication. In recent years the Asurans have disrupted that algorithim and people no longer automatically understand one another

deGerans – a small, squat species from the Centarii spiral, with rough shell-like skin. Well known as traders, and slavers, they plant colonies of trees native to their home world, Spina Trees, on other worlds to harvest the fruit, bark and leaves which are used in medicines and food products around the galaxy . The deGarens are genderless and operate in trading consortiums other than families. Each consortium is lead by a duHon, or Manager and can range from ten individuals to over a thousand. They view all other species as other customers or products.

Kurgens – an massive insectlike species from Carina. Loud and boisterous they make a great of noise and commotion but are generally a passive species. With no high technology or interstellar flight capacity their world is often raided by more developed species

Meroy – a batlike humanoid species from a forested planet in Centarii. On their homeworld they hardly, if ever, land and spend their lives on the wing or perched in trees. As a result, they are ungainly on land and ideally suited to the deGaren Spina byproduct trade.

Flittas – a delicate, small species from Carina, who hail from a low gravity world near the Core. Both genders are bald, with sticklike arms and four legs. Resembling a stick insect, they appear frail but are relatively strong despite the low gravity on their world. They pair off for life and are notorious breeders, one female being able to produce upward to 100 offspring in her lifetime. Males are excellent co-parents. Highly sociable and socially interlinked they do not thrive in isolation

Veesh – a birdlike species from Centarii, who are extremely xenophobic. As a result though, their technology is not on par with other worlds and deGaren slavers frequently target their colonies. Veesh refuse to use StarGates and bury all StarGates found on their colonies. Very little is known of their society and culture.