Ronon pretended he was fine. He kept his back straight and gait easy as he strolled into the bar. Didn't flinch at all the eyes that turned toward him making him feel like he was being stripped bare. A jacket would have helped. So would shoes, but after Ronon woke up, with neither, head pounding and legs twisted up, he figured he was lucky he was still breathing.
The bar stank of alcohol, sweat, and oil. It was dim but the air was free of smoke, the sound of ventilation chugging in the background. Ronon was in a metal city, he'd learned that much walking around, but he couldn't find any windows. He had a bad feeling that he wasn't going be seeing daylight when he found one.
Sliding around the back of the room, he found a table in a corner. He still had a couple of knives that had remained hidden in his hair, but he didn't have any coin. He tried not to think too much about that part — how he was going to eat, what he was going to do, where his team was — he couldn't risk it, not now, not alone. Again, the thought slipped through.
Slowly the sound picked up around him. Conversations, spoken in a dialect it took him a minute to make out. Still, many unfamiliar words drifted in, but he understood the gist. Trade, work, politics, gossip. He heard enough to understand that he wasn't just on a ship but a space station in no place he'd ever heard of.
They'd been in the jumper for a trade mission, but all Ronon remembered was going through the gate, nothing after that until he woke up. Could have been worse, he reminded the uneasy roiling in his belly. He could have woken up on a hive ship. He could have another tracker in his back.
No one in the bar looked his way, or at least not for long. They were content to mind their own business. Ronon picked out patched clothing and weapons tucked in their folds. These were hard people, he knew their kind well, but it didn't make him an easier. He would find no help here. He'd already looked for clues about where Sheppard, Teyla, and McKay were when he woke up, but he couldn't track anything in a metal space station. That was something else he was trying not to dwell on.
When the bar stilled, Ronon looked up with everyone else. The harsh light of the corridor lit up the silhouette of a man in the doorway. Two taller men flanked him a pace behind. After a moment he stepped inside. His clothing immediately set him apart - above - the rest: a suit much like the civilian formal clothes of Earth. Distinguished, well groomed hair, glasses. No weapon, but his bodyguards took care of that. Every eye in the room watched him without trying to appear that they were, his presence quieting and charging the room at once. This was a man in total control of his domain.
The bartender rushed a drink for him without prompting. Slowly, ever so slowly, the noise began to rise again as the he took a seat at a hastily cleared table off to the side but in full view of the bar. He sipped his drink and surveyed the patrons, and soon his gaze fell on Ronon.
Ronon looked back, but then looked away at first. He knew a play for dominance when he saw one and he didn't even have boots here. Still, he couldn't keep his head down entirely, not with eyes boring into him. He was too far away to get a good read off the man, but at this distance he could read the body language well enough, and the longer he watched the more it pissed him off. He didn't care if he had nothing and no one here. He'd survived on his own before and he'd do it again and he wouldn't let a petty tyrant push him around.
When the petty tyrant gestured at the chair across from him, Ronon's fists clenched. But he slowly flattened them out, and after a suitably resistant pause, stood and went over.
"Ah," said the man as Ronon sat. He spoke with an accent different from the rest of the crowd, more cultured. "It is good to see manners in the young. I am Adelai Niska." He didn't offer his hand but he stilled, waiting.
Ronon said nothing. He kept his eyes on Niska and his hands in sight.
"Hmm," said Niska after a minute. "You are new to my station. A singularly intriguing event. The cameras went offline and when they came back - poof! You were there. A most unusual thing to see. One of many I see today." He smiled, but it wasn't much more than the pull of dry skin over hidden teeth.
Ronon felt his pulse speed up, five ways to interpret the clues Niska wanted him to have but not enough to act on. Not just him. But Niska couldn't have the others either, wouldn't let Ronon wake up alone unless he wanted something else. He didn't know what could cause him or even the jumper to appear out of the air like that, but he had been inside it when they passed through the stargate. A ring, there must be a ring somewhere on the station, that was the only way he could have gotten there. And if it wasn't, he really wished McKay were there to explain it to him. Don't think about why he wasn't.
"The silent type," Niska said next, and Ronon forced his thoughts to still. Focus. "You are a fighter." It wasn't a question. "And what does a mysterious fighter who wears an interesting mix of fashion and carries weapon of an interesting make do when he appears out of the air?"
The oily words made Ronon tense. The tilt of Niska's lips let him know that it hadn't gone unnoticed. He sensed that Niska had him right where he wanted him, but he wasn't afraid, not for himself, not exactly. He could take the bodyguards and probably Niska too before anyone else shot him, but it'd be pointless, because he would be just as dead. Niska was too smart for that.
"What do you want?"
"Ah!" Niska did smile then, none of it pleasant. "Not so silent. I am businessman, my dear friend. I am interested in what you have to offer me."
This was the test, Ronon knew. Niska had the upper hand — his weapons, the jumper. The others maybe. Maybe not. Maybe that was what Niska wanted. Maybe they got away, maybe they were looking for him. Either way he got Niska's message. Ronon, without value, was useless to him. And Ronon was nothing if not a survivor.
"I don't know how I got here," he said, sitting back in his chair and scratching his head. "One minute I was in my ship, the next," his knife landed in the wall fifteen feet over Niska's shoulder. Both bodyguards jumped, pulled their weapons. Niska only sipped his drink even though he had to have heard it go past his ear. He had a speculative look in his eye, not unlike Sheppard's when they'd first met, only Niska's didn't disappear under a genuine smile. Like looking into the eyes of a wraith.
"The people I worked for," said Ronon slowly, deliberately, seeing no other way, "found me useful."
One of the bodyguards brought back the knife and set it on the table. Niska broke eye contact with Ronon for the first time and picked it up. "If I am to find you useful, I need your name," he said.
Ronon resisted the urge to swallow and silenced the roiling in his belly. "Dex," he said. "I need new boots."