3. Lived unbruised, we are friends

Chapter 3 – Live unbruised, we are friends

*sga*sga*sga*sga*sga*sga*sga*

It was the quiet that woke him, the steady, unbroken silence of an empty room filled with the absence of ambient noises other people exude simply by breathing, living, being. For months, nearly a year, the only moments of solitude he'd experienced had been when he was aloft in the Spina tree allocated to him for the day. Spina trees were hardly plants prone to quiet, their reflexive movements soothing after a fashion, but mostly very distracting. Distracting in terms of requiring the constant need to be alert for an errant branch idly trying to kill him.

Into silence, Sheppard awoke and awoke not to open skies tauntingly obscured by wire mesh, and the thready, light breathing of Flittas still asleep, or their quiet chatter, but to a blue-grey ceiling. What was more, he was free – from restrictive bindings at least. No ropes, no chains, no collar – nothing to fetter him in place. For the first time in a very long time, he'd been able to wrap himself in his wings like instinct and habit of a lifetime dictated. The soft press of his feathers against his skin, the enveloping sensation of warmth and safety was … unusual and blissfully wonderful. It was probably why his sleep had been truly dreamless, or at least why he did not remember any dreams.

Gingerly, Sheppard blinked, the rush of recent events flashing through his mind as his present situation caught up with him and momentarily he felt the sensation of Iskth's blood on his hands, thick and wet. As if it were a dream, fading from his mind, he heard the crash of fire, tasted ash in the air, and the stench of burning flesh surrounding him. Screaming voices echoed in his ears, the sounds both an echo of the dead and the past. Unwilling to be drawn into recent memories, let alone far deeper, darker ones, Sheppard shook his head and grunted. Time to move.

Drawing in a deep breath, Sheppard sat up awkwardly, feeling the pull of his damaged wing, the cuts on his hands throbbing dully. His throat and jaw ached as well, and Sheppard tentatively touched his neck, wincing as he did. The wounds felt smooth, sealed by some sort of medical sealant applied with more enthusiasm than skill. His hands were bandaged with a light, hardy polymer, and the white material was spotted with fresh blood. Dimly he recalled a round, earnest face, forehead and cheeks alight with the glow internal tech implants. The little C'roid, McKay. Sheppard stared at his hands, blinking, trying to remember them being bandaged. There had been an IV…

Sheppard scanned his arm and spotted the slightly red mark where the intravenous machine had been attached. How had the C'roid known what to give him, what was safe for his species? Had he even thought to check? It bothered Sheppard more than a little that he'd been so out of it, so tired, that a stranger had tended to his wounds whilst he was unconscious. The very idea of being touched, manhandled without his knowing, without being able to stop it, made his stomach roil and writhe. Mouth suddenly dry, heart racing, Sheppard tried to push himself up, wanting, needing to be up, on his feet, facing the world.

He slept pressed up against a wall, several crates nearby. His bed had been a collection of blankets so old and worn that they were smooth to the touch. With his wings he had not needed any additional coverings, and the blankets were still softer and more comfortable than the hard ground of the slave pen. As he moved, he felt the sharp prick of the hidden knife, tucked securely under his good wing. There was a good chance that he'd be subjected to examination and scrutiny today, so rather than risk its discovery on his person, he awkwardly slipped it, his hands tender as he gripped the handle. He shoved the knife blade first behind one of the crates pressed against the wall, and made sure it wasn't visible. Hopefully no one would move the crate before he had a chance to retrieve it. A knife against gun-wielding captors had limited effectiveness, but between his wings and the element of surprise, it might be enough of an advantage in an escape attempt.

Once he was fighting fit, of course.

Struggling, Sheppard hissed at the pressure on his palms and the pain the effort caused, as well the weakness in his legs, which shook and trembled. Why was he so weak? His injuries were hardly life threatening and while the deGaren hadn't exactly provided a feast every night, they had fed their slaves sufficient to ensure they would be able to work effectively. The wall was smooth, more of the slick blue tile he vaguely remembered, as warm water gushed over him last night. His good wing was pressed into the wall as he struggled to stand and Sheppard stiffened the feathers and pushed against the wall trying to generate a little momentum. It was awkward and it hurt, something pulling in his hands as he pushed himself up, but Sheppard made it to his feet, head swimming as he stood. All at once, it felt like too much too soon, and he cursed at the tremble in his legs.

Squinting, trying to right the world and not keel over, Sheppard spotted a solid grey crate nearby and staggered towards it, sitting down in an effort more resembling a collapse than a willing descent. Instantly he felt better, his heart rate calming to a mild panic, the swirl of colours spinning to a stop. He breathed in steadily for a while, and then a while longer, filling his lungs and exhaling, willing his body to comply, settle down. Finally, feeling calmer and steadier and rather than let his mind drift into the past or worry about the future, and the massive uncertain future that awaited him with the Genii, he turned to deal with a far more pressing concern. His injured wing.

The wing had bled periodically through the night it seemed judging by the crust of blood and seeping areas and the feathers around the open wound were stiff, sticky and matted with blood. Gingerly, Sheppard twisted to get a better look at it, opening the wing moderately, to both see better and check the extent of the damage. The blade had hit and glanced off a primary bone, ripping through the muscles overlaying the bone and plunging into a mass of auxiliary and covert feathers. Although it hurt, the Athosian's strike had missed the major muscle running from his back, which was good news. The network of nerves and tendons that ran through his wings and feathers though were another story.

Grimacing more than a little at the sharp pain, Sheppard flexed his wing, and stretched out the feathers. Most of the feathers responded, extending to their full length, bar those closest to the wound. There was barely any response or movement from those and the trembling hurt from trying to make them move was urgent and demanding that he stop. Desisting, Sheppard pulled his wing over his arm, the primaries trailing over his legs, dusting the floor. Unfortunately the wound was in an awkward place, over his shoulder and just that shade of difficult to reach. The nearest oil gland was too close to the wound to press out oil comfortably, so Sheppard chose the gland on the edge of the wing now conveniently over his leg.

Hopefully the oil would heal the nerves as well as the feathers themselves, but either way, he was bound to lose a more than a few feathers and full sensation in the wing for a time. Gently, he worked the gland, generating a generous pull of oil and reached back to clean off the blood and oil the open slice. The natural oil had antiseptic, healing properties, designed to keep the feathers healthy and clean, but combined with his blood, the oil should assist with keeping the injury clean and promote healing. Sheppard slowly worked oil into the top of the wound, biting his lip. Fingers bloody, tense against the pain, he tried to settle into a rhythmic, steady motion letting the controlled hurt settle his nerves and soothe his mind in its own way.

The cut wasn't overly large but it dipped in deep at the top and tapered off as the blade had slid out. No matter its length, Sheppard had to be thorough and oil its entire length. Who the splice knew what had been on the Athosian's knife. The sooner he treated the damage, the better his chances of a full recovery. The last thing he needed was an infection and given it'd been nearly a full solar day since the attack, there had been plenty of time for bacteria to settle into the gash. Relentlessly, he pressed on, despite the undercurrent of exhaustion tugging at him, his vision blurring occasionally. He'd barely plumbed the depths of the deep incision, when his feathers started thinning and hardening in response to the constant pain. Instinct was priming his feathers for defence and preventing further hurt, and Sheppard had a consciously try to relax, and let the feathers relax.

It wasn't really working.

He'd barely reached mid-way when his hand started trembling so badly with the effort of working the oil that he sliced his thumb on a sharp, razor edge feather. It felt like the whole wing was throbbing and screaming with pain – his entire side aching with reflexive sympathetic agony. When he cut himself again on a defiantly sharp feather, Sheppard dropped his hand, and leant forward, taking a break, hand shaking in concert with his pounding heart. A fine sheen of sweat broke out on his skin and face, and a few of his feathers spasmed uncontrollably, sharpening and flexing on their own. In the continued silence, Sheppard took in a deep shaky breath and listened, trying to calm the hurt. The building was quiet, but with no windows in the room it was impossible to tell if it was night or day outside. However, as it was quiet, either the Athosians had not yet attacked, or had been fended off and it was another day. No voices outside, no footsteps, no sound of movement at all.

Gingerly, slowly, his wing relaxed, the feathers plumping and filling out as the pain dropped from screaming to whimpering level. The tremble in his hands diminished moderately, and Sheppard looked up at the ceiling, still listening for a clue as to the goings on outside.

The bottom of the bleeding cut needed to be seen to but it was a little too far out of reach for comfort and Sheppard sighed, electing to rest a little longer, regain some strength, stop all of the trembling in his hands before trying again. He glanced around the room, taking in the contents, and dimensions. The room was fairly cluttered, mostly with crates and boxes which did not look Athosian. Grey and uniform, they were most likely Genii products, which meant the Genii were aiming to settle in for awhile, which was interesting in and of itself. This expedition was not a brief effort, and the Genii had packed enough equipment not to need going through a wormhole to resupply themselves.

Sheppard's stomach growled, a deep rumble of hunger and he glanced down at his torso, wondering just when his next meal might be. His stomach rumbled again and automatically he covered his stomach, feeling the muscles ripple in sympathy. The cold, wet touch of bloody bandage was a surprise and Sheppard pulled his hand away, and stared at the polymer covered in blood and oil. For a split second he thought his stomach was sliced open, and the hunger was the pain of evisceration, but the reality sunk in, flooded back as he stared at the white bandage soaked in oil, turning pink and red at the edges. There was a growing stripe of red across the middle, the cuts on his hand were bleeding again in earnest.

"Great," he sighed. Was he feeling so peculiar and weak from blood loss? Had he lost so much? It didn't seem possible, but perhaps he had bled more than he realised while he slept.

As if summoned by his hunger and the realisation that he'd need to change the bandage, the door flew open and a maelstrom in the form of McKay entered the room, burdened with boxes and a heavy scowl. His entrance was accompanied by a burst of noise from outside, a raucous babble of male voices and activity. The cacophony of life and people running about with tasks and errands sounded so alien after the profound silence.

"Good you're awake," McKay growled, stomping into the room, boots scuffed and dusty. He tossed the boxes onto a table with haphazard care and exclaimed dramatically, "Some of us have been working for a second night straight trying to keep everyone alive while others passed out in the shower." Looking around the room, face crumpled with some emotion, McKay headed for a container, threw the lid open and began rummaging inside, "There should be some dehydrated rations in here, our sole sustenance for the duration of our delightful sojourn here." His accent was sharp and tonal, his Magellan more nasal than the standard Asgardian accent. Sheppard found it a tad grating on the ear.

Belatedly and slowly the door swung closed on its own accord, cutting off the noise from outside, plunging the room into silence again. Well, not complete silence. Bemused, Sheppard watched McKay curse and search the container, taking out ration bars, staring at them and then dismissing the unwanted ones. A brief flare of interface light as his implants worked illuminated the dull surface of the container as McKay found what he was looking for. Opening his chosen meal with his teeth, McKay tossed several random dehy ration bars at Sheppard, their packaging flashing in the artificial lighting. Sheppard let them fall, a cascade of three, onto the floor, each rolling over with momentum until one reached his primary feathers. The toss had been too short for him to catch comfortably and he was suddenly awkward about letting the C'roid see his bloody hands, exposing a weakness. McKay stared at the fallen bars and then Sheppard, his face a picture of irate confusion.

"Nice catch. Hurry up and eat, we've got work to do."

Sheppard quirked an eyebrow and McKay scowled back at him, clearly waiting for his orders to be obeyed. Sheppard calmly stared back. McKay opened his mouth, no doubt to snap an order but seemed to think better of it, and whirled around to open another one of the boxes with more force than required. Sheppard glanced down at the ration bars, mouth watering. He was hungry enough to eat a crate of the things but the effort to bend down and grab one seemed enormous and at the rate that his head was spinning just sitting, bending down might keel him right over. If the Genii expected him to work, his priority was tending to his injury otherwise he risked permanent damage and limiting his ability to fly. There was no way he was ruining his chance to fly free someday. The food could wait for now.

The wound, especially the untreated part, was a distant throb now, hopefully one that he could handle without passing out or becoming too lightheaded, so ignoring McKay, Sheppard twisted painfully, pulled his wing closer and peered at the untreated part of the angry injury. The rest of the wound was numb, happily coated in oil and healing, covered beneath blood soaked feathers.

Grimacing, Sheppard coated his fingers and reached back towards the wound, the muscles in his arms burning with the stretch, the muscles over his ribs tight with the effort. The initial touch of the oil stung but it soon faded and the hurt became bearable, the oil soaking into the muscle and feathers. Very conscious of the angry C'roid in the room, who was doing a poor job of not looking at him, Sheppard traced the length of the injury awkwardly, trying to determine the end point, frowning as it stretched further than he initially thought. Cursing under his breath and lifting his wing higher, Sheppard hoped it hadn't reached his primaries and the network of thin, durable sinews that controlled those key feathers. The primaries had responded during the reflex test earlier but if the nerves or sinews were damaged…

"What the circuit are you doing?"

Startled, both by the voice and sudden nearness of McKay, Sheppard hissed and dropped his wing, straightening to meet McKay, primed to defend himself if needed. It'd be a struggle to stand in time if there was going to be a fight, but if need be, he could kick McKay's legs out from under him. On the ground, he at least had a chance. The C'roid was a step away, eyes darting over Sheppard, all sorts of relays lighting up under his skin, hands clutching a crystal tuner. His curiosity was readily apparent, as he was barely restraining himself from closing the distance between them, his eyes fixed on the wing. Without giving Sheppard a chance to respond, he blurted out, "At first I thought you were preening or something, but… may I?"

Sheppard hesitated. He really didn't want McKay any nearer than he already was, let alone fondling his wing, but what Sheppard 'wanted' hadn't mattered in years, so he nodded stiffly. McKay immediately closed the distance and reached out to touch the oil gland that was still seeping, gathering a large drop of oil on his finger. McKay was close enough that Sheppard could see the cybernetic lenses in his eyes rotate and whirl. Tensely he watched McKay stand there, examining the oil, muttering to himself. Sheppard's stomach growled.

Looking up, McKay winced and growled back, "Eat something, for Surge's sake."

Without really taking a breath, he continued, "It's incredible. Your rather dim looking body fluid is rife with nanites, all I assume designed to protect the feathers and promote cellular growth and regeneration. The design is intricately beautiful, practically efficient and circuit blowing in its simplicity. Multipurpose, with singular protocols dependent on environmental factors. I'd love to see the specs of…."

McKay trailed off, and Sheppard sunk a little lower in his slouch, exhaustion and hunger washing over him. The C'roid frowned and muttered more to himself than Sheppard, "Why the factor are half the cells non-responsive and alternating start cycles? That must be…."

Trailing off again, interrupting himself, McKay looked up at Sheppard, his lenses rotating like windmills and he demanded, "Give me your hand!"

Again, somewhat numbly and automatically, Sheppard obeyed and yielded his blood soaked hand to the being, who instantly exclaimed, "Oh, fantastic! You've opened up those cuts as well!" Rather than tend to the wound, McKay pulled Sheppard's hand closer, eyes flashing again, and in response, Sheppard turned on his seat, feathers trailing in the dust and dirt, and faced McKay. The C'roid's implants in his face, arms and neck were all flashing as he processed information, scanning Sheppard's hand, or most likely the cut. Idly, Sheppard wondered if the placement of the implants and choice of colours was a practical one, or aesthetic – all part of how C'roids expressed their individuality. Or did everyone pretty much have the same placement?

"Surge's Terminal, I shouldn't have given you that fluid replacement. By the Architect, why don't you have a medical response chip like every other sane being in the galaxy?" McKay dropped his hand like it burned him and scuttled off to one of the crates and began frantically searching through medical supplies. "What moronic race doesn't chip their infants with universal treatment notifications? Big, overgrown avian morons, that's who!"

With a shout of success, McKay whirled back with a hypo-spray in his hand and without asking, jabbed it against Sheppard's arm and triggered it. The application device hurt as it pumped the medication in and McKay used it twice more, once near his heart and the other on his abdomen. Stunned, Sheppard watched him step back, a self-satisfied expression on his face, and he couldn't help saying, "What moron doesn't run a basic species screen before possibly killing me with kindness?" While he spoke, McKay snatched up Sheppard's hand and briskly ripped off the bandages, sterilised the cut and slapped on a transparent bandage, which congealed on and around the wound, sealing it.

Colouring red and grabbing his other hand, McKay retorted, "Oh, please! You were passed out and I needed to get back and make sure those screaming lunatics weren't about to smash through our defences again. You should be grateful that I didn't just slap on a stimpack and run for it." McKay huffed, his face colouring further, interface lights whirling with indignation. Second hand done, he stepped back and glared at Sheppard, as if daring him to find fault with his actions.

Acknowledging the truth of the statement, Sheppard waved his acceptance of the non-apology. The effects of the hypo-spray were not immediate, but he was feeling less light-headed already, his heart no longer pounding in his chest, like he was trying to fly the Circuit. McKay drew near again, his hands inching closer to Sheppard's wing. "Do you? Do you need some, ah … help?" His voice was less abrasive and he was clearly intrigued by Sheppard's wings. No doubt he wanted to run a couple dozen scans while he 'assisted'. Sheppard though wasn't above a bit of teasing of his own.

Peering at the shorter being with a frown, Sheppard rubbed his forehead, willing the headache to disperse faster and said, "Why are you fidgeting like that? You treated the cuts on my hands easily enough. Did you not see the wound on my wing? If you missed it, its no big…"

Cutting him off sharply, McKay exclaimed, "How in the name of Surge am I supposed to see dark congealed blood on black matted, dirt encrusted feathers, huh? Yes, I missed it. Can I help you or not?" Demanding, petulant and a little bit hurt.

Reluctantly, Sheppard nodded. The C'roid had cleaned and treated his other wounds competently enough, bar giving him the wrong fluid replacement, which in all honesty would have worked through his system eventually and he would have been fine. Treating the bottom half of the injury to the wing was going to be awkward and painful, and frankly Sheppard didn't really feel up to yet. The quicker it was done, the better – and sooner it could start healing.

"Fine. Just press the gland firmly, it doesn't hurt. You don't need a lot of oil, and don't worry about getting blood in the mix. Just no dirt or crud." Sheppard caught McKay's gaze and added, "Cover any exposed flesh or broken feathers with oil, be thorough, ok?"

"Fine. Sure. No problem. I'll just coat myself in your disgusting bio-fluids and have at it. Terrific. Love my work. Real pleasure." In contradiction to his expressed disgust, McKay swiftly but gently opened up the wing, Sheppard wincing slightly at the movement, but it was easier to see the injury with the entire length out-stretched. "Hmmmm," McKay muttered, exploring the wound. "It tapers off into barely a scratch. There is not much more to do." His visible circuity was awhirl with lights and motion, as he scanned Sheppard's wing, both visually and through his fingers. Suprisingly, McKay's touch was professionally certain, and gentle, like he'd been handling additional appendages all his life.

Sheppard half expected the pain to be worse with the anticipation of someone else touching the injury, but McKay kept a running commentary going so much so that he barely noticed when McKay started coating the cut and even when the C'roid touched a particularly tender part, it didn't seem to hurt nearly as badly as when he was treating himself. Sheppard didn't particularly want to think about why that was. "Nurse maid to bird men and servant to imbeciles, my parents would be so delighted at the station to which I have reached. Granted, they probably expected me to either reach great political heights or end up in the sphincter end of the galaxy. Nothing middling about Rodney McKay." McKay's voice was muted, the grumbles half-hearted. The majority of his processing capacity was probably taken up with all the data he was gathering.

"McKay doesn't sound like a typical C'roid name," Sheppard sighed, leaning in a little into the steady motion of McKay's entirely thorough ministrations.

"Oh, you're an expert on the etymological roots of C'roid names now? Typical." Without taking a breath or pause, McKay rambled on, gently covering more feathers with oil. "I happen to hail from a founding family who chose to keep the ancestral Tauri name during the hay days of the new colony when all and sundry were embracing cyborg enhancements and rejecting the old 'biologic-centric' legacies. My family put greater stock in the heritage of our ancestors and we kept the name. Alas for my small twig of the family, we fell into disfavour during the Great Collective and barely survived the Genome Purge, but here I am, the latest scion of a family line barely any C'roid worth their capacitor acknowledges. But I am sure you knew that already, what with being an expert, and all."

Sheppard barely murmured a reply, lulled into a stupor by the deft carding of his feathers, as McKay systematically and extremely thoroughly oiled the feathers around the wound. He'd finished the bottom section and was now checking the part Sheppard had tended, thoroughly ensuring no part of the injury was untreated. The feathers, though alive and flexible, had limited nerve connections – just enough to receive neurological instructions to flex, harden and plump, as needed. Iskth may have been fascinated with his wings, and happily helped with his grooming each night, but her fingers were stick thin, sharp little wires in comparison to McKay's thicker, fleshier appendages. It felt wonderful, even with the underlying ache of torn muscles and broken blood vessels. The little ache of hurt was unavoidable, but Sheppard didn't care.

"Alight, all done. Can we go now? How are you feeling?" McKay's voice was loud and sharp, an undertone of irritation buried in the words.

Startled slightly, breaking from the stupor of being groomed, Sheppard blinked and straightened, and said quietly, "Thank you. I appreciate your help." He hoped he covered the look of relief and relaxation on his face, but it was doubtful McKay had missed it.

McKay waved the thanks aside and sat down next to Sheppard with a grunt. "Don't expect me fetch and carry for you, or anything. That was a once off effort in order to get you operational and functional. I am not carrying any more of the load than I need to."

Chuffing a bare, tiny laugh, Sheppard reached down and snagged one of the de-hy bars, and ripped open its flimsy wrapping. It tasted as expected, over-processed and manufactured, but it did the job of partially filling the gaping hole that was his stomach. Whatever counter-agent he'd been given was working, and Sheppard was feeling more settled, less like he was going to collapse. McKay opened a de-hy as well and quietly they sat together, eating one, and then three more dry, tasteless and comfortless bars, which nonetheless left them feeling full. Fortunately, the palsy dissipated rapidly, notably as he ate, and Sheppard felt more stable, capable with each passing moment. With the remains of the fourth and last bar gone, Sheppard tilted his head to catch McKay's gaze and cocked an eyebrow of query.

McKay sighed and muttered, "Enough idling I suppose." He stood with a groan and muttered something about high tech equipment being used for manual labour. "Come on." He extended his hand to Sheppard, who took it gratefully, the cuts on his palm tinging slightly.

"I don't suppose you have any spare clothes I could use?" he asked, and McKay rolled his eyes dramatically. "Grunt, nurse maid, groomer and now tailor. Great! I'm pretty sure I'll have a complete service record of menial chores by the end of this ordeal. I'm certainly validating all those credits spent on education and higher functioning upgrades, aren't I!"

Still grumbling, McKay stood and rooted around an open crate before tossing a pair of grey trousers at Sheppard, who snatched it out of the air before it hit his head. From another crate McKay extracted a shirt, and auto-belt and Sheppard quickly caught those as they were tossed in his direction. Unconcerned, McKay's voice echoed off the crate his head was currently buried in as he said, "Do you need knife or slicer for your…"

The sound of clothe ripping drew McKay's attention and he looked up in time to watch Sheppard slip his thinned, hardened wings through two slits in the back of shirt, before pulling his arms through the shirt. The grey shirt was too big and pooled around his waist, and there was a lot of fabric to tuck in and secure both trousers and shirt with the belt. It was a bit awkward because his hands felt so stiff and puffy, but after a few attempts, he got everything tucked away. Satisfied, Sheppard nodded at McKay who was impatiently hovering near the door. "Finally! Ok. Grab that, no the other one, and that, and follow me."

Gingerly picking up the two boxes McKay had indicated, Sheppard followed him out through the open door and into the noisy corridors of the temporary Genii base. Despite a less fraught night, the Genii were still bustling about securing the series of ruined buildings that they had claimed in the Athosian city. Hard on McKay's heels, Sheppard dodged and tried not to knock over officious Genii who refused to move out of his path. He recognised a few faces from the group who had travelled to the deGaren camp yesterday, but none of the Genii met his eyes. He caught a few wary, covert glances at his wings, but on the whole, every Genii he passed looked right through him and McKay. There were a lot of tired, wane faces in the mix of people, bruised eyes and heavy expressions. Not a happy bunch of people.

Still rather uncertain as what McKay's role at the Genii camp was and what they expected from him, Sheppard silently followed the C'roid who expertly threaded his way past oblivious individuals. Fortunately the boxes weren't too heavy and the de-hy rations did the job of pushing his weakness aside. The deGarens certainly had ensured that their slaves had enough food to function effectively, but they had kept the slaves on the hungry side, enough to make the threat of no food an unappealing consequence. Hunger and weakness were familiar companions for Sheppard by now.

McKay led the way to the perimeter and there he opened one of the boxes Sheppard held and started handing out rations to the Genii on duty. Together, they made their way throughout the various rooms, stepping over rubble and broken walls. Whether the damage was from the original Asuran attack on Athos, or from the more recent attacks by the mad Athosians was a little difficult to tell. The second box Sheppard carried and the one McKay was totting around held medical packs for the treatment of burns and various small injuries. With deadpan efficiency, McKay dispensed rations and medi-packs to whoever crossed their path. They were received gratefully but no actual words of thanks were said. On their circuit, the occasional Genii handed mal-functioning projectile weapons, scanners, lights and communicators to McKay, with terse instructions to fix the devices even as they ripped open their rations.

As Sheppard's boxes grew emptier of rations and supplies, they filled with miscellaneous failed equipment. As the pile grew, McKay muttered in Magellan under his breath. "Ludite-idiots! Their tech is so backward it breaks as it comes off the assembly line. I swear that's the third time I've fixed his communicator!" The litany continued right up until McKay reached the central room of the large main building. In total Sheppard reckoned there were about 100 Genii, and given their losses on the first night, an entire Company had travelled through the Gate to Athos. Rather than a series of separate buildings as he had originally thought, the ruin they had claimed as a base was one large irregularly shaped building, badly damaged from an aerial bombardment. The centre of the building though was unscathed, and the large room they now entered was at the very heart of the building. He didn't still have a clear mental map of the camp, but if he needed to run, he was certain he'd get out. If opportunity arose.

The room was roofed by the massive dome, which had large cracks running down its length, a few spears of sunlight breaching the stone. This room was quieter than the rest of the camp, probably because it was the reason the Genii were on Athos. Laden Radim and three Genii, who were probably some sort of scientist or technician, were huddled around a large machine in the middle of the room. As he followed McKay to a work bench on the other side of the room, Sheppard studied the machine. It was tall and bulbous with several interfaces and screens. Its purpose however was not readily apparent. The leader, Koyla, was not in sight, and Sheppard felt his feathers relax a little. The man made his skin crawl. Radim barely noted their entrance, as he was heavily engaged in a debate with the others. The Genii dialect of Pegasii was quick and difficult to follow, but they were arguing about the best way to interface their tech with the Athosian device.

McKay shot a derisive look in their direction when he was certain no one was looking. Grumbling still, he dumped the various broken items on the work bench and whirled on Sheppard. Softly, his voice pitched to carry no further than Sheppard and laced with annoyance, he growled, "I have no blinking idea what level of tech skill you have but by the Circuit, you are going to help me surging fix these things, ok?" Resisting the urge to smile, Sheppard nodded and said quietly back, "Cool your drafts, dude. You are likely to blow a connection or something." McKay sniffed and sat down on the only stool and snapped, "Shut up and get to work."

The various diagnostic tools and repair kits on the bench were galaxy standard, with a few C'roid and Genii specific tools in the mix. Sheppard awkwardly picked up a communicator and began poking the casing to expose the circuitry. McKay was already bent over a scanner, his interfaces whirling with agitation and emotion. The communicator was clunky and had none of the sophistication of the communication devices Sheppard was used to. Even the Gou'ald, whose tech was notoriously antiquated, had superior devices. Genii-tech was decidedly poor standard, and Sheppard, who was far from any sort of technician, could easily see the issue with the device. Carefully he opened the casing and used one of the repair kits to re-secure the wiring and circuit boards. At first his hands ached at the motion and need to grip small tools, but he soon grew used to the hurt. As he connected the last section, it gave a loud squawk and then a babble of voices streamed from the tiny speaker. Ignoring McKay's hot angry look, Sheppard turned the thing off and replaced the casing. He barely noticed the traces of blood under the transparent bandage.

Steadily Sheppard worked through the communicators and fixed all but one, as the loose casing and circuity was the common factor. Utterly bemused at the shoddy workmanship, he murmured to himself, "Solar-winds, did they buy these from a Jearn farmer? Or did a Ghent salesbeast offload sub-standard drak to idiots who didn't know any better?" His head was pounding a little, but his wing was no longer aching, in fact it was a happily numb, and he kinda wished his neck and hands were.

McKay snorted and replied quietly, "Oh no, it's better than that. It's homemade. Highest quality, top notch Genii products." The C'roid was struggling with a second scanner, which kept shocking him as he tried to diagnose which circuit or chip was faulty. He shot Sheppard a look of irate amusement and Sheppard chuckled. The last communicator he left for McKay and he turned to the two hand-held lights. "Well, at least it's not Bearj tech. That stuff only works every second solar year."

His eyes lit up, as well as his interfaces, and McKay laughed softly, "And only if there is a comet overhead! My lab once bought a Bearj compressor just for the challenge of seeing if we could get it to work. Three years we tinkered on it, between other projects and the closest we got was one full compressor cycle and then it started smoking."

McKay proceeded to tell him about several more horrendous tech stories, mostly involving himself in a starring role, but the stories were funny. The lights were a quick fix, and while McKay was regaling him with an unlikely story about a malfunctioning hydro-collider and inter-dimensional space, he turned to the projectile weapons and began stripping them down. The steady routine of stripping and cleaning a weapon, even if it was an unusual, poorly made rifle, settled the remainder of Sheppard's nerves. The familiar motions hurt his hands less, and he barely noticed them, or his neck. While he had no real idea what the Genii wanted with him, and the future was utterly uncertain, today was better than yesterday. Better to be surrounded by tech in need of fixing than death, blood and the smell of burnt flesh. His situation had completely changed in the space of two days, but it was hardly first or last time there would be an abrupt change in circumstance. Life as a slave was hardly filled with certainty.

Mid-way through the morning, McKay tossed him two de-hy bars mid-speech and barely paused in regaling Sheppard about a horror story involving a re-animated jump-drive which was determined to plot nav courses through the galaxy core. The practically non-stop verbal commentary and free-flow story telling from McKay was occasionally interspersed by a 'hmm?', 'oh really?' and 'right' from Sheppard. He finished the rifles and handguns long before McKay gave up on the last scanner. For a good while, he leant against a mottled blue-grey wall and listened to his companion ramble on, jumping from random topic to random topic, mostly themed around technology in the Galaxy. He focused intently on the little being, watching him work, laughing quietly when needed.

In his peripheral vision, Sheppard kept track of the Genii in the room, subtly watching their movements. Radim and his men were clustered around the central device, no doubt trying to interface their technology with the Athosian device. As McKay paused, a sure sign of a subject jump, Sheppard quietly asked, voice pitched low enough that only McKay's audio receptors would pick it up, "Any particular reason the Genii have such low grade tech?"

Without looking up from the last scanner he was working on, McKay snorted as quietly, "Other than because they are misogynist bastards, well, yes." Sheppard kept his wings furled flat on his back, the easiest, most natural resting position he could manage with the injury, and watched McKay chase the circuitry trying to figure out where the fault was. Happily multitasking, his mouth on auto, McKay continued, "They have the misfortune of living on a planet within the Wraith farming range. Surge help them, they probably are a Wraith Farm World for all intents and purposes. The local hive makes sure that any technological advances are short lived and any person with the brains to actually think is eaten. Keep the populace nice and stupid. And mean. And belligerent."

Sheppard frowned slightly and then smoothed that expression away with his hand before anyone noticed. "The Genii use the two hundred year cycle of Wraith hibernation to catch up what tech they lost, so that hopefully they can stop the next cycle of feeding. Hence, we are here raiding dead worlds for possible technological advancement they don't have the time to figure out themselves. Wonderful species the Wraith. Why didn't you lot wipe them out again?"

Emotion roiled through Sheppard which he firmly quashed and he replied with a deadpan voice, "Genocide isn't something you contemplate easily. Predators or not, the Wraith deserve to live just as much as the next species."

McKay made a noise of derision, his circuits flaring red and blue and he shook his head as if despairing of the idiocy of some people. "They eat sentient beings, nerf! It should have been a 'change your diet or die' ultimatum. Not, 'stay in your sector of space and eat only those people!' Stars and circuits!" The little C'roid hissed and shook his fingers. Caught up in his tirade he'd burnt himself with the soldering tool and he shot a glare at Sheppard, clearly blaming him for the injury. "Why are you just standing there? We've got work to do!"

He waved at the bench of completed repairs and belatedly noticed that his was the last item. "Oh. Good. Uhm…."

"C'roid! Come here."

Radim's voice was loud and McKay's head snapped up in response. Sheppard saw him quickly scan the room and bench, no doubt checking if he had neglected anything important, before responding in a dull, obedient voice. "Coming, sir."

"Bring the Helosian."

Silently, Sheppard followed McKay, keeping his wings small and flat on his back. His bare feet crunched the dust and gravel that covered the floor, the design of the smooth tiles lost in the debris. The room had a feel of a library, a learning centre, dotted with annexures and ruined workstations. All of the screens in the room were shattered, and there was still a faint scent of burnt electronics in the air as he passed a few stations.

Radim, his face grim and unhappy, impatiently waved them over and McKay's hesitation was fairly visible as he approached. "Sir?"

Gone was the verbose, argumentative person and a seemingly quiet and biddable one awaited further instruction. "The interface isn't working! Koyla will not be pleased, at all!" Radim pointed at an odd looking contraption that looked incredibly makeshift and cobbled together. Three different pieces of tech were connected through a series of cables and wires and that mess was attached to the open interface of the large Athosian computer. One of Radim's men was holding a screen, and fruitlessly poking it, trying to access the Athosian system. "All I can see are menus and old searches. No actual data," he grumbled.

McKay barely even scanned the tech and replied stiffly, flatly, "As I mentioned previously, sir. The converter will work but first we need to ascertain if the Ancient database is functional and more importantly, powered."

Radim rolled his eyes, his frown deepening. "I know that! The lights are on, aren't they?" True enough there were a variety of lights on the large machine, scattered all over its bulbous structure, and the majority were illuminated or flashing. Someone, probably McKay, had jury-rigged a powerbase into the thing given that the city's power grid was gone, and the only illumination the Genii had in the ruin was from whatever sources they had brought with them.

Stepping closer to the machine, McKay hummed to himself and said quietly, "As far as I can tell, sir, the outer structure was how the Athosians accessed the Ancient Database. All of these processors here are used to decode, translate and encode the ancient data into Athosian." McKay ran his hand over one of the bulbs, its surface marked with dust and tiny degradations. "The actual ancient database itself is not powered. You can see over here…"

The collected Genii bent and followed McKay's directions as he indicated the hidden ancient artefact obscured by the bulkier, more organic looking Athosian tech. The ancient device was barely visible from where Sheppard was standing, but its more crystalline structure was dark and silent. Quite reasonably, Radim asked, "How can you tell, droid? Because it's not lit up or flashing?"

Still hunched over, peering at the outer casing of the database, McKay poked it with a finger, and a whole map of cybernetic implants in that finger lit up, turning his hand into an array of pulsing lines of light. "My sensors can pick up its failure to initialise, but yes, for the un-enhanced, it would be the absence of a glow. It would probably simply look lighter in colour, warmer when powered and functional."

"You could have told us earlier, 'droid!" one of the Genni exclaimed, clearly upset, his voice dark and angry. Radim followed that with a softer, but still furious, "I thought I told you to fix this last night so we could start working this morning. We have limited time here, C'roid."

Sheppard may have only known the shorter C'roid for less than a day, but after a full morning in close proximity, he was fairly certain that the reply he wanted to give was short, sarcastic and caustic. Instead though, McKay straightened and humbly explained, "I was attempting to do just that when you called me away last night to fix the protective barriers. Sir."

The 'and save your ungrateful lives' was unspoken but the tightening on his shoulders and hard brittle eyes carried that non-verbal rejoinder. Oblivious, or uncaring, Radim poked McKay in the chest sharply and said, "Then you should have fixed it before sleeping! Fix it, now!"

There was a long beat of silence, and Sheppard wondered if McKay was going to argue or let loose a tirade of indignant vitriol but he nodded sharply and replied, "Yes, of course. At once."

He did not apologise and it seemed the Genii did not expect one, as the other three turned and left, dismissing him already. The trio of scientists, assuming that's what they were, drew back to the opposite side of the room from McKay's work bench and started tinkering with another Athosian device, this one much smaller, still bulbous but separate from the larger object of their mission. Radim pointed at Sheppard, and barked, "You, follow me." Glaring at McKay, he growled, "You have an hour, C'roid."

Tempted to shoot McKay a look of sympathy, Sheppard calmly followed Radim, and very carefully did not look at the C'roid at all. In his peripheral vision he noted McKay's expressionless face as he picked up a few tools and started diagnosing the problem. Whatever anger he had nearly shown before was now invisible. He obediently got to work. Sheppard obediently followed Laden, curiosity vying with nerves.

Radim had his own work bench, a learning annex he'd seconded against the far wall. Considering the Genii had arrived two days ago, they had set up their camp quickly and efficiently. No matter how much McKay had grumbled about menial labour, the little C'roid could not have done it all himself. The Genii were a smooth, organised, tightly run unit. Radim's bench (unlike McKay's) was neatly ordered and organised, and could be packed up very quickly. He pointed at a stool near the bench and snapped, "Sit. Take your shirt off."

Caught off guard, Sheppard paused mid-step but continued swiftly and silently sat, unbuttoning his shirt as he did so. He tried to ignore how his heart started pounding and he willed himself to calm down. Instinctively, he thinned his feathers, making his wings sharp and smooth and the shirt slipped off his back without a snag. He noted Laden watching him covertly as he fussed with a container on the bench, and his chest tightened involuntary. Hoping that none of his nerves showed, he sat quietly, patiently, unconcerned on the surface.

From the container, Radim took out several medical scanning sensors and a reader, all of which looked well used but in good condition – and not Genii-made. Initialising the largest scanner, he directed it at Sheppard and studied the read out as it did whatever he asked it to do. Sheppard remained utterly still. Laden made no sound, his eyes darting over the screen as information scrolled up. He placed small sensors on Sheppard's temple, throat, over his heart and lungs, chest and abdomen, the metal cool on his skin and barely noticed on his second skin. Radim continued to run a series of scans, his gaze fixed on the screen, illuminated by its glow. Incrementally, Sheppard felt his heart slow and calm down, and he hoped whatever scan Radim was running wasn't picking that up.

Across the room, McKay was buzzing around the Athosian interface, his hands full of a variety of tools and he was very studiously not looking at Radim. "Hold this." Laden's voice startled Sheppard slightly but he stared at the small boxy device Radim was holding out to him. "What is it?" His voice was rough, dry and he resisted the urge to clear his throat. "A life signs detector, I think. Take it!" Laden sounded irritated but he was rummaging around in another container, not glaring at him. Sheppard took the machine, its smooth white casing familiar. Ancient tech.

Sure enough, the little screen lit up as he touched it, and several dots appeared, and a handful of ancient words. Life Signs Detector. Radim was looking at him and the device, his eyes darting from the screen to his face, an odd expression on his face. Calmly, Sheppard replied, "Looks like you were right." Radim frowned and took back the device, which instantly shut down. "Can you tell it to stay on?"

Taking it back, Sheppard shrugged. "I can tell it that, but it might not work. Generally, if they require the gene to work, an instruction to stay working is fruitless." Nonetheless, Sheppard told the LSD to stay on and he handed it back to Radim. As the Genii's hand touched the white surface, the screen went dead.

"How do I know you didn't just tell it to stop working?"

Before he really thought about it, Sheppard smirked and said, "You don't."

Unimpressed, Laden picked up another ancient device from the box and said, "This is a weapon?" The round ball he put in Sheppard's hand was smooth and sleek, an intricate design over the surface, but it looked a bit beat up. Sheppard shook his head, and said, "No, it's a reconnaissance device. You can send it through a wormhole ahead of you to recon the other side."

The ball did not light up or activate and Radim raised an eyebrow of query, studying his scanner at the same time. Sheppard sighed, "You don't need the gene to operate this, just the control device. You know? To send it where you want to go."

Grimacing but interested, Radim pulled out another piece of tech and said, "Like this?"

It was a control device, but not one for the recon sphere. Taking the control, Sheppard pursed his lips and replied, "No, this is for a quantum mirror, I think."

"A what?"

"Quantum Mirror. The Ancients built them to recon and visit parallel dimensions." Radim stared at him, mind ticking over with that intel and he mused, "Is it a big thing? Looks like an actual mirror?"

"Yes."

Nodding, pleased Radim took both devices from him and handed him a small square communicator. "Comm right?"

"Yes. Doesn't need the gene."

The little device lay flat and unresponsive on his hand. "Is it broken?" Laden asked, staring at Sheppard's hand like it was gold. "I have no idea. McKay could probably tell you."

Laden snorted, unimpressed and exchanged the communicator for a triangular crystal. This one flickered briefly in Sheppard's hand and Ladim grunted at the readings from the med scanner. "What is it?"

"No clue," Sheppard replied studying the crystal, which was very definitely damaged. "Might have been a personal cloaking device, kinda looks like one. Definitely not working though. It's code is very garbled."

Laden peered at the scanner screen as he spoke and said keenly, "You can hear its code?"

"Sort of. The gene linked tech talks to you, in a way." Sheppard wasn't too interested in trying to describe it. It wasn't something that readily leant itself to explanation. Radim though seemed to accept that and moved on to the next device.

They went on this way for nearly half an hour, Radim giving him broken, nearly dead and mostly useless ancient technology and Sheppard confirmed its functionality and purpose, if he knew. The majority of the tech was harmless, functional type stuff that would normally be left in the debris of an abandoned city or ship. Nothing of real note. Radim, initially interested and excited by seeing the devices light up and getting confirmation on their function, started projecting frustration and anger the further they got.

None of the devices or technology was a weapon, or really useful. Sheppard guessed that the Genii had bought this junk in the hope of finding something useful to fight the Wraith. The last piece of tech in the container was a broken LSD, its screen cracked and Radim didn't even bother giving it to Sheppard.

Angrily, he put the stuff that mostly worked back in the container, and the rest he tipped onto the floor. He detached the sensors and despite his anger, carefully packed them and the reader away. Sheppard remained silent, passive, not wanting to provoke any come back. He felt a little exposed suddenly in the silence and his wings fluttered slightly, the injury a dull ache. Under the transparent bandages, his hands were red and angry, a small trickle of blood scabbed over under the wrapping.

Laden pulled over another similar looking container and opened it, his face grim and focused. This container did not have as many devices inside it and they didn't look ancient in design at all. As Sheppard took a second, more detailed look at them, he felt his blood run cold. Radim took out one near the top, a short black rod embedded with round crystals with no discernible switches or buttons and said, "Here." He moved to put the thing in Sheppard's hand and Sheppard instantly moved his hand away and up, fingers outstretched.

"No. That's not ancient technology."

Radim stared at him, and at the rod, his eyes tight and curious. "What is it?"

Sheppard shrugged, "Not too sure. All I know is that it's from the Elder Wars and whoever built it wanted to hurt Ancients. It's a weapon alright, just one that's directed at Ancients - only."

"And Ancient gene carriers?" Radim surmised, his expression intrigued. He gripped the device a little tighter as Sheppard nodded. Throat thick with tension, Sheppard tensed, and watched Radim carefully, his eyes darting to the rod.

"Do you know who built it?" Laden asked.

Sheppard shook his head and croaked, "No. I just know that it hurts. A lot."

Radim was pensive and gave Sheppard a considering look, one that he was all too familiar with. Caught in a moment of indecision, Sheppard weighed the options of toughing out the stare and making it seem like he wasn't worried, or backing away, and creating a little space. Showing weakness and fear was never a good thing.

His indecision was a second too long. Radim feinted right and Sheppard flinched and missed his left hand rise, rod outstretched. The instant one of the crystals touched his skin, his world exploded in bright, white pain. Nerves on fire, muscles locked in a rictus of pain, Sheppard collapsed off the stool, crashing to the floor, wings crumpled beneath him. Unable to move, he rode out the wave of pain, heart and lungs screaming.

He sensed movement around him, but couldn't tell who or what it was. Something touched his feet and then his hands, but all he could do was impatiently wait for the agony to fade. He knew that it only lasted a few minutes but felt like hours. As the red mist of pain fell from his eyes and he came back to the here and now, Sheppard looked up at the cracked dome ceiling, momentarily at a loss as to where he was. Radim's heavy Pegasii was unintelligible but as the present trickled back into the fore, Sheppard groaned. And then he realised what Laden had said.

"I'm sorry. I need to know if they are all the same."

Unable to move, muscles still stiff and unresponsive, Sheppard whispered, "Please. No."

If Radim heard him, he ignored it. Sheppard couldn't see which blasted device it was but its touch brushed his leg and he was lost. His scream was strangled and broken, as every muscle contorted and contracted, bones pushed to the point of breaking, tendons and sinews twisting as his body fought the insidious pain. For a long, awful minute, Sheppard was back on Riall's Ha'tak, writhing on the deck as the System Lord experimented with various torture devices.

Radim though had only barely touched him, and the pain faded swiftly, but as the spasms and constrictions lessened in intensity, aftermath tremors set in, and Sheppard shivered and twitched in the dust, his wings brushing artful patterns he neither saw or cared about. The relief at seeing Radim rather than Riall's white eyes was a direct contrast to the fear that clutched his heart when he saw the next ancient device. He mouthed, "No," unable to speak, the familiar taste of blood in his mouth.

Laden looked sick, his face pale and wane. He really looked like he didn't want to continue, but bent down nonetheless, the short, squat cube in his fist shiny in the afternoon light. Once Sheppard might have closed his eyes, and willed it away, but he stared, unable and unwilling to go back to that dark place.

"Hey! Stop! Stop!"

Radim turned, face red and McKay descended upon them, his own face red, interfaces flashing, wielding a wrench like a sword. Laden tensed, no doubt expecting some sort of attack and raised the cube as if it could be used against the little C'roid. McKay though, using those enhanced reflexes no doubt, caught his hand tightly and said, "Are you out of your sharding mind? You're torturing him!"

His face even redder, angrier, Laden barked, "I paid a lot of money for this trash. I have to know if it's all useless!"

In full furore, McKay snapped back, "Of course it's all useless! I told you that when you were haggling with that surging Nargil! Did you really think that you could buy genuine, valuable Ancient tech for a couple thousand credits? Frakking moron!"

Neither one of them moved, and Sheppard watched them both, willing his limbs and body to stop shaking. If Radim ignored McKay and knocked him aside, Sheppard wanted to be able to at least run, hell, crawl away if he had to.

"Watch your tongue, McKay! Or I'll have you shot!" Laden shouted, but McKay shouted back. "Go ahead! See how far you get with all this tech without me! You are not touching him again! Or do you get your rocks off causing people pain?"

The last sentence dripped with derision and scorn and Radim dropped the cube as it burned him as well. "You go too far, C'roid!"

"If it stops this insanity, then I don't care, Genii!"

Radim stared at McKay, fists clenched, radiating shame and anger. Patches of sweat had broken out under his armpits and in the small of his back, and he looked like he really, really wanted to punch McKay. Instead though, after sneering at him, Laden growled, "See to him and then get that ancient database working. If it's not working by sunset, then I'll personally execute you both!"

With that threat, he stormed off, angrily knocking into McKay as he did and he signalled for the ashen faced, stunned scientists to follow him.

McKay stood in the silence, watching him stalk off and snarled in return, "Psychotic jackenape." Belatedly he realised the cube was still in his hand and dropped it in the container like it was something disgusting. Tossing the other two devices inside, he closed the box and shoved it to the far end of the bench. Instantly, Sheppard felt some of the fear leave him, his heart rate calming.

McKay dropped to his knees and gently checked Sheppard's vitals, wincing at the trickles of blood still streaming from his mouth. "Bit your tongue, huh? Bastard." Without any fuss, the C'roid helped Sheppard sit up into a recovery position, head between his knees, wings curled around him. He kept a steady, comforting litany of meaningless chatter as he checked the spot where the first rod had touched Sheppard. "It's blistering, but doesn't seem too bad. I think your leg is worse."

The second rod had touched his thigh, and the contact point was still a dull, throbbing pain. Scanning through the material of the trousers, McKay sighed, "It's blistering, badly. I'll get something to counteract it." McKay moved to leave, and Sheppard shocked himself when he instinctively grabbed his arm and hissed, "Stay." He continued to shake like he was freezing, limbs still not entirely his own.

McKay's face was priceless. A mix of annoyance and pleased pride. Sheppard though felt fear tighten his throat again. He stared at his hand, gripping McKay's arm. A thick cuff was around his wrist and it was connected to its pair on his other wrist by a long metallic cord. A similar cord was connected to the two rings surgically inserted into his ankles. His position with the Genii was definitely no longer in doubt. McKay grimaced at the restraints and sighed, "I wouldn't be surprised if I was in restraints by the end of the day. And about to be staked out for the crazy-ass Athosians to surging eat. Bi-nodular fardling bastards, the lot of them."

Sheppard had no idea what a bi-nodule or a fard was, but he completely agreed.

*sga*sga*sga*sga*sga*sga*sga*

TBC

Species mentioned and notes on the galaxy:

The Ancient Galaxy: massive spiral galaxy with seven spiral arms centred around a huge core. The core is a massive collection of giant stars, clustered so closely together so as to make navigating and transversing the Core impossible. StarGates 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. Athos was attacked by the Asurans soon after Helios. The majority of the population who survived left Athos and roam the galaxy as nomadic refugees.

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 algorithm 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 led 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 – a massive insect-like 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 the Centarii spiral. 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 the Carina spiral, 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 the Centarii spiral, 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 colony worlds. Very little is known of their society and culture.

C'roid – a humanoid species from the Magellan spiral. They derive their genetic ancestry from the Ancients but have developed into a unique species entirely dependent on artificial cybernetic implants. From birth, C'roid children receive implants that are used to enhance their natural abilities. Family units are the prime base for child rearing, but adults tend to join corporations or conglomerates that form the basis of their social circles. Expulsion from a corporation will result in complete isolation as no other group will accept an expelled person. C'roids do not thrive outside of large social groups.

Genii – a humanoid species from the Pegasus spiral, within the Wraith Farming range of space. Preyed on by Wraith Hives for generations, on the surface they appear to be a low tech, agricultural society, but in truth are a ruthless, military based society determined to destroy the Wraith. While their technology is low grade and simplistic as a result of wraith strategy to keep their livestock defenceless, they remain intelligent and capable of adapting to situations, new technology and exploiting weaknesses.

Heliosan – a genetically modified variant of the Ancients, whose home planet was within the Persion spiral. Genetically designed by the Ancients as a warrior race, Helios was home to a large population of winged people who shared the Ancient gene marker with their creators. Two years ago (as this story occurs) the Asurans attacked Helios and completely annihilated them. Several Goa'uld system lords assisted with the genocide.