Warnings: Eventual non-con (het), Occasional foul language
Word Count: apx. 3000
Notes: Sadly, this is still a wip I started posting on fanfiction.net. I've set a goal for myself that I will add one chapter a day to LiveJournal, and by the time I'm caught up I must have a new chapter. The gears are finally moving in my head, so I think I might just manage to make it happen!
Summary: A visit to a village covered in mud leads to a captured Colonel, and an unexpected alliance with an old enemy. Shep whump.
The walk between the town and Stargate was only twenty minutes. It was quite possibly the shortest walk any Atlantis team had yet to suffer on a mission. Predictably this led to one very happy astrophysicist.
“Ah, the smell of another pathetic civilization in the morning… just what the body needs, two parts stupidity, one part filth. Would sanitation really kill anyone? Honestly?” Okay, so maybe not so happy.
“You know McKay, sanitation’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Romans went crazy from poisoning from the lead in their aqueducts.” If there was one thing Sheppard could be relied upon for, it was a random retort that neither of his two non-Earth based teammates would understand.
“Yes, thank you Colonel, that was because they drank from it. And when did you become such a history buff anyway?” The accusing face was already half buried in a power bar.
Looking at the small, but relatively busy town, Sheppard figured perhaps this time McKay’s comments weren’t so far off. Everything from the slanted, thatched roofs to the mud brick walls, to the flooded mud streets, was covered in filth. Every last item of clothing was caked in mud.
The denizens of the village looked worse than their architecture. They moved through the ankle deep mud with a weary gait that spoke of hard times that promised no end. Their eyes had sunken so far as to be nothing but shadows on already gaunt faces.
“Yeah.” McKay had stopped eating his power bar and returned it to his vest half-eaten. “Somehow Sheppard, I don’t think these people are going to have anything to trade. Hell, even if by some trick of fate these people actually have produce to spare, I wouldn’t trust it anyway.”
“Dr. McKay is right, it is unlikely these people will have anything of worth to trade.” Teyla was looking around, obviously taking in everything. “However, they are clearly in need of the assistance we can provide. Do not overlook the value of a debt.”
A thin, wizened old man had caught site of the team and was ambling their way. Except for a few wisps of white hair, the man was brown from head to foot, something no one believed for a moment was his natural coloring.
“Ah… greetings?” The man spoke hesitantly, lines of confusion etched deeply into his brow.
“Hi, I’m Colonel John Sheppard. This is my team, Dr. McKay, Ronon, and Teyla. We’re explorers and we’ve just come through the Stargate, looking for friends and trading partners. We thought we’d just see the sights.”
“The Ring of the Ancestors.” McKay rolled his eyes at the friendly smile on Teyla’s face as she spoke.
“The Ancestors! Ah, yes. Yes, yes. We know of them. Come, welcome to Nultara. I am Hazzan, the elder of this village, if you will. It has been so long since we have had visitors, other than the Wraith, that is.” The laugh he admitted vaguely had Sheppard worried for the elder’s sanity. He wasn’t blind to the shift in attitude once the Ancients were mentioned.
“The Wraith come here often, do they?” McKay asked worriedly, checking the sky as if darts were suddenly about to appear.
“Oh, far too often I am afraid.” The old man sighed. “In my eighty some years I have been an unfortunate survivor of no less than six cullings.”
“Six? In so little time? How can your population possibly survive that?” McKay’s suspicious mode began to check in, and Sheppard wondered how long until the usual paranoia settled in to complicate any possible negotiations. Then again, he wasn’t so sure his teammate was overreacting as much as usual.
“Ho, I’d hardly say we are really surviving. More like hanging on as best we can.” Hazzan gestured sluggishly about his village. “When I was but a boy this was a merry place. So many years ago… good times. Yes, peaceful days. But, surely such hard times have struck many worlds?”
“The Wraith are culling earlier than most worlds have anticipated, this is true. But your village seems to be suffering worse than most. My people were left untouched by the Wraith for over a generation before they returned.” Teyla seemed to be unaware of the wariness her teammates felt.
“So long without the Wraith,” Hazzan sounded wistful. “Then you are truly blessed.” Hazzan’s gaze sharpened ever so slightly as he looked at Sheppard and asked, “And you, Colonel, is your world so free?”
“Well, we have our ups and downs.” Despite the almost grandfather-like vibes Hazzan was emitting, Sheppard could not help but feel extra cautious. Something about Hazzan wasn’t sitting right. Sheppard exchanged a glance with Ronon, and knew the runner was sharing his tension.
Hazzan led the team to what seemed to be the central building in town, a two-story collection of mud that most likely served as a combination of pub, inn, and town hall. Turning to McKay, Sheppard indicated the sensor the scientist was holding. “Anything coming up on that.”
McKay frowned. “There’re some small readings spaced out, negligible amounts of power.” Sheppard appeared to relax at this. “Of course, these readings are all underground.” Every member of the team stopped to look at each other, knowing the same thought was going through each of their heads. Genii. Or a people with the same strategy.
“Exactly how strong are or aren’t these power signatures, McKay?” Sheppard asked between ground teeth.
McKay shook his head. “Too small to be Genii, or anything radioactive.”
“McKay I want you to take a look around the village, see if you see anything worth attention. Ronon, go with him just to be safe. Stay in radio contact. We’ve had too many bad experiences with sneaky people.”
“Right.” The first word Ronon had spoken all day. Wow.
“Where are they going?” Hazzan asked as he entered the room to see two of his guests leaving.
“They just wanted to take a look around. Like I said, we’re explorers.” Ah, Sheppard and his easy grin.
After an hour of searching and schmoozing the team regrouped at the pub/inn. “So what did you find?” Sheppard asked McKay.
“Well, let’s see. First we found some mud, and then there was mud, and oh yeah, more mud.” He roughly wiped at the brown covering his sleeves, then began angrily munching on his power bar again. Sheppard was actually somewhat impressed that he’d refrained from eating in front of these obviously hungry people.
Ronon crossed his arms as he addressed Sheppard “We looked around the entire village and the perimeter; there’s nothing here. We should leave.”
“We promised Elder Hazzan that we would stay for supper. Apparently the sunsets are quite a display this time of the year.” Teyla informed her team.
“Sunsets? We’re staying for sunsets?” McKay was quite indignant at the idea.
“No, we’re staying because there’s some Ancient writing along the back wall behind the bar, and I want you to translate it.” Sheppard looked at McKay. “If it’s nothing, we’ll leave. If it is, we’ll stay until you finish translating.”
“Or, we could just take pictures, and I can translate it back in my lab.”
“If we leave before Hazzan’s supper, he won’t want us to return. If you discover anything worth our while in the text, it will be conducive to have positive relations with these people.” Teyla explained.
“Huh, well the food better be better than the people.” He snorted. “We’ll probably get tapeworms or some other alien parasite.”
“Then get to work so we’ll know how soon we can leave.” Sheppard pointed to the wall. Reluctantly McKay began his translations.
“Has your friend found whatever it is you are looking for?”
Sheppard turned to see a pretty young woman standing before him, her eyes darting between him and McKay. “I’m sure he will let us know the instant he has.” Oh which Sheppard had no doubt, knowing McKay wanted to leave a.s.a.p.
The woman stared a Sheppard for a moment, then flashed him a very inviting smile. “I am Dala. It is a pleasure to meet you, Colonel Sheppard.”
Sheppard wanted to roll his eyes and hide his face. McKay would never let him live this down. Captain Kirk moment number one of this visit.
“Would you care to sit with me at the dinner tonight Colonel? I have helped to prepare it. I’ve actually made one of my best dishes, hemyas, and I have to say, I do know how to cook.” Dala had her arm draped around the Colonel’s, who was looking at Teyla for help, and receiving only a grin in return.
The dinner was set about a long wooden table, and everyone from the village seemed to be coming in to eat it. “Dinners are always communal here, Colonel.” Dala smiled, swaying as if dancing her way to the table.
The only food set out so far were bowls of vegetables that had seen better days, and some not-too-horribly-stale bread with strange blue cornels in the center. Three women brought out pots of stew from the kitchens. They were steaming, and actually smelled okay. Looking at it reminded Sheppard of the mud outside, though.
The smell of the incoming food was the only clue McKay needed to know that dinner was about to begin. Rejoining his teammates in record time, they sat around the head of the table with their hosts.
“Did you find what you were looking for Doctor McKay?” Dala asked Rodney with her friendly smile.
“Yes, and at the same time, a horrible resounding no.” He looked at Sheppard. “This was an Ancient science outpost. Apparently they were experimenting with the local crops to find a more efficient food source, but nothing that even hints at a power source. Ronon and I looked all over today for signs of ruins or leftover technology, but nada.”
“What would you expect to see Doctor from a civilization that lived here thousands of years ago? They’re called Ancestors for a reason. We build off what was left from their time.” She gave him a deprecating grin. “Why do you think we have nothing?” Tears fell from Dala’s eyes as she gave way to waves of laughter.
“Dala,” Hazzan sighed, “Do forgive my granddaughter, please, for her lack of respect. The few things we have found from the Ancestors no longer work, and are kept for sentimental value, or spare parts. Such a waste.”
“What things? Why didn’t you mention this before? Can we see them?” McKay half rose from his seat and leaned towards Hazzan.
Hazzan’s face was the epitome of a confused elder, but he slowly rose from the bench, and mumbling, went off into the kitchen area. He returned shortly with a gadget no larger than his palm. It was probably the first thing the team had seen on this planet without a trace of mud on it.
Hazzan handed it sadly to McKay, who inspected it closely, food forgotten. After a minute of not being able to make it work, McKay removed the back portion and fingered the control crystals. After moving a couple of them around, he replaced the back and it began to glow a soft blue as the screen turned on. Hazzan and Dala both gasped.
“The power’s very low, so it probably won’t last long. It looks like a sensor designed to analyze layers of sediment at a time without having to dig any of it up.” He turned to Sheppard. “Here, see if you can direct it, it’s not responding to me very well.”
“I don’t understand.” Hazzan looked between Sheppard and McKay. “Why would the Colonel be able to make it work better than you, Doctor?”
“It’s something we call the ATA gene. It’s basically what allows a person to make the Ancient devices work. Only a few people are born with it. Colonel Sheppard is one of them.” McKay explained.
“And yet, you made it work. Therefore, don’t you have this gene as well?” Dala asked.
“I do, but mine is artificial.” At their blank expressions, McKay added, “We have the ability to give a person this gene with technology, but it isn’t as strong as someone who is born with it naturally. And of course, the treatment doesn’t work on everybody.”
“Amazing, this is wonderful.” Hazzan held his hand out for the device, and Sheppard returned it to him before really studying it. Hazzan seemed disappointed as the sensor turned off promptly after leaving Sheppard’s hand.
“The Ancestors were very guarded with their technology. They designed it so only the could use it, to protect it from the Wraith.” Teyla explained.
“Ah, I see.” Hazzan’s shoulders slumped, and he signaled a waitress standing by the kitchen. “I think it’s time for Dala’s hemyas now.” The girl smiled at the elder and went to the kitchen to fetch it.
“Enough talk of such things, we are here to enjoy a meal and welcome our new friends.” Here, Hazzan stood. “A toast, to our new friends from the City of the Ancestors!”
‘Cheers’ and ‘Here, here’s’ rang out as Hazzan resumed his seat.
The hemyas turned out to be some minced meat covered in thin gravy. It didn’t taste too bad, but the gravy seemed to linger in Sheppard’s throat. Looking at his teammates, he saw McKay rubbing his throat and Teyla coughing discretely into her hand. Ronon was taking an unusually long swig of his water.
“Do you like it Colonel?” Dala asked.
“It’s very good.” Be polite, be polite. “What exactly is it?”
Dala giggled, “A good cook never tells her secrets!”
The meal progressed without incident, conversation varying between friendly small talk and trade barter. As expected, the Nultarans didn’t have any food with which to trade, but they did actually put their mud to good use. Their ceramic making skills were quite magnificent. If given the designs, the Nultarans had the proper materials to make their own ancient devices, minus the control crystals. It could be useful for spare parts, at the very least.
Sheppard was beginning to feel drowsy, the hemyas gravy a warmth in his throat that was lulling him to sleep. He felt someone take his arm and he was led up a flight of stairs. Remembering his team, he turned around clumsily to see them following, also half supported by some villagers. Focusing on the face belonging to the arm leading him, Sheppard tried to put a name to the aged face. Hah, Hazz, Hazzi…
The hand was pushing him to lie down, and Sheppard felt softness under his head. Pillow, right bed. “Goodnight Colonel, we will continue our discussions in the morning.”
So tired. Why am I so…? Before he could finish, sleep overcame him.
Hands were grabbing him roughly around his arms and legs. He tried to open his eyes, but they wouldn’t cooperate. His body felt so heavy, too heavy. Something was wrong. He began thrashing, trying desperately to open his eyes.
“He’s waking up!” Someone hissed.
There was a pause, and then something was pressed against the front of his face. It smothered his nose and mouth. Instinctively he tried to hold his breath, but the sweet smell was everywhere. He tossed his head from side to side, but all he found was the clawing, sickening darkness.
The smoke woke Ronon Dex abruptly. After years of running, he was instantly alert. Black smoke was rising in between the floorboards beneath them, and from the walls around them. A loud thud, and Ronon recognized the sound of support beams falling.
Running over to his slumbering teammates, Ronon shook them roughly. “Get up, we have to get out of here!” Teyla woke quickly, but looked around groggily. McKay stirred, but couldn’t get his eyes open.
“Doctor McKay!” Teyla had joined Ronon in his attempts to rouse the scientist.
“Where’s Sheppard?” Ronon looked around for his CO, but could find no sign of him. “No time.” With a grunt of frustration, Ronon hauled the dazed scientist over his shoulder and ran with Teyla down the stairs.
“Sheppard!” Both Ronon and Teyla called for the man in hopes he could hear them, but the pilot remained MIA. Flames surrounded the team, and the smoke clouded their vision. Barging ahead, Ronon plowed his way to the front door of the inn, and kicked it out of his way.
They sat in the muddy street in front of the building, gasping at the fresh air. As soon as she could breathe, Teyla turned her soot-streaked face to McKay. “Doctor McKay, are you alright?”
The doctor was starting to come around, and looked at her through half-open eyes. “Whaz goin on?” He slurred.
“It’s alright, Rodney, just rest.” Teyla patted Rodney on the shoulder and looked at her other companion. “He was clearly drugged. I think we all were.”
Ronon just nodded. “Where’s Sheppard?”
The villagers were starting to come out of their homes and were screaming in horror as their central building burned to the ground about them. “What have you done!” One man shouted at them.
Hazzan came running towards the team, his face red with anger. “What have you done?! We invite you into our homes and share what little we have to share, and this is how you repay us! Get out! You and yours are not welcome here!”
Ronon grabbed the screaming elder by the collar and shook him. “Where’s Sheppard?”
“I don’t know or care where your leader is. You have wrought yet more destruction on a village that can ill afford it. It is a sign from the Ancestors. Be gone!” Hazzan was almost apoplectic in his anger. It was funny from the stick of a man, but it was not funny coming from the mob that had quickly surrounded them.
McKay began violently coughing and looking around. “We need to get him back to Atlantis.” Teyla said to Ronon.
“I’m not leaving without Sheppard.” Ronon bit out.
“Oh, you are leaving alright!” Hazzan cried as one of the villagers threw a rock that hit Ronon square in the face. He stumbled and released the elder, moving for the teen that had thrown the rock. Before he had gone three steps, more rocks flew his way, and a few fell towards Teyla and McKay.
Recognizing a no win situation, the runner turned back to his team and helped McKay to stand. When the scientist couldn’t, Ronon again threw him over his shoulders.
The mob followed them to the gate, throwing rocks and screaming the whole way.
“We will come back with reinforcements and find Colonel Sheppard.” Teyla promised Ronon. “We do not leave men behind.”
Ronon merely grunted as they stepped through the event horizon.