In the Atlantis database of Stargate connections, there is an entry beside the planet designated P9L-253. It’s a planet Elizabeth Weir knows well, she’s looked at it many times.
Beside the designation lies the message: Major John Sheppard and team missing. Possibly not friendly.
John woke up in the biting pre-dawn and listened to the sound of his team breathing.
After eighteen days, there was a comforting aspect to the noises they each made, a reassurance of their presence. John had become accustomed to listening to them as he fell asleep, and often also when he woke up. By now, it was habit as much as comfort.
McKay snored like a pig, complete with grunting noises that had sent Ford into a fit of choking the first night. If there was an essence of ‘snore’, McKay had it in spades. There was no other word to describe the noise. Not that John would have looked for a more delicate word. This was McKay after all.
Ford was the almost-talker. He muttered in his sleep. Nothing that they’d ever been able to work out from listening - and they’d tried. McKay had grumbled about holding conversations with Ford that the younger man never remembered. Both John and Teyla forbore to point out that this was the usual state of affairs when it came to things McKay said.
Teyla breathed like Darth Vader. Deep, even breaths, although maybe not quite as loud as the Sith Lord. During the two nights they’d shared the single mattress, John had dreamed of lightsabers and Jabba’s sail barge. He’d always liked Han Solo as a character, but dreaming about it was weird.
Still, he’d rather listen to simple breathing than either snoring or talking.
Not that he had much choice. He got all three in the cell, whether he liked it or not.
Down by the foot of the mattress, Ford shifted and mumbled something in his sleep.
“Awake, Major?” The question was soft and barely audible. John turned his head to look at the man who stared up at the ceiling.
“How’d you know?”
“Superior intuition.” There was just enough light falling in the window of the cell so McKay could see his expression, but not enough so John could judge whether or not the other man was getting any better.
“How long have you been awake?”
There was a rustle of straw that might have corresponded to a shrug. It was hard to tell in the soft greys of the pre-dawn. “Long enough for my bladder to start protesting.”
John blinked. Visual images so not needed. “Ever heard of TMI?”
“It’s a perfectly normal bodily function, Major. And I might point out that we’ve all been in this cell for the last two weeks?”
“That doesn’t mean I want to know about it!” John hissed. So far, they’d managed to preserve about as much modesty as was going to be preserved in a four-by-four cell shared by four people for at least twelve hours of the day. And that was no mean feat.
They lapsed into silence, staring up at the ceiling as the greys shaded to brown, and the browns faded to yellows, and the sun began to stake its claim on the world outside.
As John heard the sounds of the other prisoners waking in their cells, he figured that McKay had fallen asleep again. Silent was not a usual state for McKay. Of course, imprisoned wasn’t a usual state for John - although ‘in trouble’ was.
So when McKay spoke into the silence of their cellblock, John was surprised. And he was as surprised by the tone of the usually arrogant scientist’s words as he was to hear anything from the man.
“Do you think she can do it?”
John didn’t look at the woman who slept on the mattress, within arm’s reach if he stretched out his hand to brush his fingers over her shoulder. Let her sleep. She’d need every bit of rest she could get.
He shifted and gritted his teeth at the aching lance of pain across his belly, reminding him of why Teyla would need her strength today. He should have been more careful. If he had, then he would have been the one standing out in the arena, not her.
Failure was not an option. Especially not today.
McKay was watching him when he turned his head to look back at the other man.
“She’ll have to.”
All things considered, Rodney figured they’d been quite lucky.
Of course, lucky didn’t count coming down with a local bug that had made him about as useful as a week-old kitten, but he was still alive, which was more than could be said of others who’d caught the same bug.
So maybe the whole prisoners thing wasn’t such a stroke of fortune, but prisoners was better than dead. Much better than dead.
And, okay, in fifteen minutes, Teyla was going out to fight for their freedom - or die trying - but at least they had the chance to try for freedom.
If he looked at this calmly and rationally, it all came down to a choice: a hard place or death.
On the whole, not a cheering thought.
However, as it turned out, his insistence that Sheppard keep them all together had worked in their favour. They were considered a team - and treated that way. Which meant that Teyla’s fight today would mean freedom for them all.
Or death for them all.
“Cheerful thoughts, McKay?” Sheppard eased himself up to a sitting position, setting his shoulders against the wall beside Rodney. On the other side of the small cell, Teyla and Ford were working through a series of stretches, the Athosian woman moving with considerably more grace than the marine.
“Actually, I was thinking about death,” he said, and received a frowning glance from Sheppard.
“Cheerful thoughts, then.”
“Well, if Teyla loses--”
“I will not lose,” she interjected, still shifting through the stretches, as limber as any dancer - or maybe a trained killer.
“But if you do--”
“She won’t,” Sheppard said firmly.
Optimism was all very well, but they had to look at all the possibilities. Even the bad ones. “We have to face the prospect that we’re not going to see it through to the evening.”
Ford stopped stretching entirely, although Teyla continued going, ignoring her team-mates. “I don’t see why we do at all. If she wins--”
“When she wins,” Sheppard corrected.
“--when she wins, then we get out of here. End of story.”
“You know, it sometimes amazes me that you’re in the military at all. Aren’t you supposed to be cynics or something? Blow everything up before it becomes a risk and all that?”
“We’re not the ones who made an atom bomb for a high school project!” Sheppard pointed out.
“I never said I detonated it, Major,” Rodney said, irritated by the comparison. “And that’s not the point. The point is that we’ve pushed our luck so far; the fact that these bat-people have a currency in which we can trade--“”
“Slavery?” Sheppard asked, his voice oozing sarcasm.
Rodney looked at him. “I actually meant fighting.”
“In which you’re no use at all,” Ford pointed out, clearly irritated and definitely irritating.
Here it went. The whole ‘just because you’re not in the military, you’re no good in a fight’ argument; not that Rodney was all that good in a fight, just that he wasn’t good in military strategy and shooting and things like that. “I like to think I would have used my wit and intelligence to find a solution--”
“Your wit and intellig--”
“--your information, I’m not in any way--”
All three men looked at Teyla, standing on the other side of the cell with her fists clenched. She looked more than capable of taking all three of them on at that moment, the expression on her face intense with something very close to dislike.
“If you are going to argue,” she said, her voice rigidly even, “then I will ask you to wait until I have left the cell.” Her shoulders and chest rose in a deep breath that she let out as she regarded them in silence.
Sheppard was the first to respond. “Sorry, Teyla.”
Rodney heard Ford saying something, even as he muttered his own apology. Arrogant he might be, but even he had the discernment to shut up when he was aggravating the person who held his fate in her hands. Well, sometimes.
After that, the silence of the cell was strained until the guards came to collect Teyla and take her out to the arena.
“Hey, Teyla,” Sheppard called as she turned to go. “Good luck.”
Her mouth tipped up in a tense smile, and she stepped back to lay a brief, warm kiss on Sheppard’s temple, then matched it with one to Rodney’s forehead, and another on Ford’s cheek.
Then, without so much as a backwards glance, she went out to the fight.
The sun beat down about her head and shoulders, a palpable weight on her body as she strode out into the arena. Glaring light assaulted her eyes, the bright sand reflecting and refracting the brilliance of the midday sun. She narrowed her eyes to the merest slits, giving them time to adjust from the darkness in which she had spent most of the last few weeks.
Previously, she had fought a single opponent, one per day.
Today, she would fight three. If she vanquished them all, then, according to the laws of these people, she and her team-mates would walk free.
Their first impression of the ‘bat-men’ - as her team-mates were calling them - had been awesome and terrifying. Humanoid, but with wings that unfolded and stretched to twice their height, they were creatures far more intimidating than the Wraith. However, they did not hunger for human energy, but for war and fighting, for the clash of battle and the spilling of blood.
Major Sheppard had called this ‘the Russell Crowe experience’ and promptly fended off Dr. McKay’s scorn regarding his reference. Lieutenant Ford had been a little more forthcoming regarding the concept of the Roman Gladiators and their blood sports.
Teyla considered it barbaric.
However, there was no other way out of this society. To return to Atlantis - to gain their freedom from this slavery - they must win it conventionally, which meant playing by the rules of these ‘bat-men’.
Thus, skills she’d developed solely to use against the Wraith were now being employed in deadly earnest. And Teyla liked it not at all.
As her first opponent stepped out onto the sand to the roar of the crowds, she reminded herself that she did this for her team-mates, and in the hope of seeing her people again.
The first fight was short as these battles went. They circled each other in the bright sun, until he grew tired of circling and closed with her. He got in two hard blows to her belly, and she got in one blow to his belly, another to his groin, and broke his neck with the third.
It was as swift a death as she could grant him; and still it felt too drawn out.
But she and her friends were one step closer to freedom.
As they ran out to clean up the body and gave her a small flask of water from which the slavemaster first drank, Teyla closed her eyes and hoped she could live with the aftermath of these last weeks. She would kill any one of these spectators without remorse as they stood on the tiers above her, shouting and yelling in excitement at her prowess.
But those they had set to fight against her - there was nothing more there than a desire to be free - a desire as strong as her own.
Dr. McKay had been quite correct. They had been fortunate to possess fighting skills that might earn them freedom in this place.
Others were not as privileged.
Her second fight was with weapons; she was given a spear, not unlike the longstaves to which she was accustomed. They armoured her with bits and pieces that would stand little chance in the face of a concerted attack, but which would serve to protect her from the worst of the attacks against her.
As her second opponent came out, armed with a weighted rope and spear, Teyla took a deep breath and trusted to her instincts. Although she could not see her friends, she was sure they could see her. The slave pens afforded a limited view of the arena, permitting the slaves to see their most likely fate without impediment.
Yesterday, she had watched Major Sheppard escape death by a very narrow margin. As it was, the slice across his belly was judged painful but shallow. He would survive if the wound did not become infected; but he could not fight.
So Teyla took his place.
Lieutenant Ford had protested, but both he and Major Sheppard knew that Teyla’s skill in this kind of fighting was better than his own. She would have ceded today’s fight to Major Sheppard only because she understood his need to represent the people he thought of as ‘his’.
The second fight was longer and harder in the sun; brutal and prolonged, and every moment drained her of more precious energy she would need to battle her final opponent. When finally she stabbed the long-bladed spear through his chestplate and into his heart, she had energy for nothing more than the barest relief.
Even that fled as the cacophony of the crowd rose to a thundering shout, and a shadow fell across the sand beyond her.
Instinct screamed at her to duck and roll. She did, keeping her fingers tight around the butt of her spear.
The wings of her attacker were spread wide to blot out the sun, and his pale face was set in an ugly grin as he slashed through the sand where she’d been a moment previously. He landed on his feet, then leaped for her again, dangerous as any wildcat, and armed as well.
They had set one of the bat-wings as her third-opponent.
Teyla felt the gush of anger and betrayal, bitter in her throat. Against a third opponent, fresh to the day, she would have had only the slimmest chance of survival. Against one of the bat-winged warriors, the scarlet slash of his lips gleaming hungry to spill her blood, she had none.
Yet he would not take her without injury. Of that, she was determined.
She lashed out at him with her spear, he caught her blow and parried it. His next attack would be inside her defences, and Teyla moved before he could begin it. Her metal armbrace struck sparks as the blade of the spear slid down it, but the little hooks built into the outer edges did their work, catching the sharp edge and halting it, giving her time to bring her own weapon back into play.
His advantage was in his wings. She had to somehow level that field.
So she lashed out - not at his torso, but at his wings, aiming for the trailing edge of the membranous expanse.
He snarled as the tip sliced partway through the wing, and leapt away, startled by her attack.
Teyla climbed to her feet, panting, but refusing to lie in the dust and wait for her end. It took more effort than she liked to aim and throw the spear as he took to the skies, and she was well aware of the risk inherent in giving away her one weapon.
As he struggled to gain altitude - the tear in his wing had more effect than she’d hoped for - Teyla flung her spear high into the air, blinking against the brightness of the sun into which he was flying. She had just enough aim and energy to catch the trailing edge of his wing, causing him to drop further.
The distant sound of her name being bellowed from a ground-level window startled her a moment. It was barely audible beneath the cries of the crowd. “Teyla! The stands!”
Movement in the corner of her eye gave her warning that the spectators did not like what they were watching. Some looked as though they were more than ready to come to the aid of their failing warrior.
She had to act fast.
Teyla wasn’t even sure what she was scrambling for when her hand touched the weighted rope her second opponent had carried into the arena. She’d just gotten hold of it, when the cheers of the crowd warned her that the bat-wing had come back for her.
Standing her ground was risky, extremely so; but she watched and waited as he grew in her sights, then dodged at the last second. Metal scraped down her leg, shaving the skin but not piercing the muscle; he was weaponless, and she was armed.
She turned left with the weighted end of the rope in her right hand, swung a full circle and hurled the weight up over the bat-wing, bringing him crashing down to the ground as he tried to fly away.
The crowd screeched with outrage and she had seconds before the first of them were upon her.
It took her but a moment to loop the rope around his throat, hauling the line tight around him, and another to fist her hand in the slack of the hemp. Then she yanked back his head so he could see her face and said, panting, “Call them off.”
It was a risk. Teyla knew that. There were many factors that might mean he would neither give the order nor be obeyed, but after they had sent him to fight her, it was a risk she was willing to take.
To say nothing of the fact that she was at the end of her tether.
He growled, but did so. Then he regarded her malevolently. “You will never escape.”
Teyla tightened the rope. “Tell them to bring my cell-mates,” she said, cold as ice, for all that the day and the sand was boiling heat around her.
“They will never let you live.”
“Maybe not,” she said with lethal quietness, and pricked the underside of his wing with her sword-blade. “But if not, you will never fly again.”
He gave the order for her team-mates to be brought, gritting his teeth against the humiliation.
Dr. McKay was unsteady on his feet, propped up by Major Sheppard on one side and Lieutenant Ford on the other. However they were all alive, however bad their shape.
“I see you’ve been making more friends, Teyla,” the Major quipped with a tight smile. He was clearly in pain but the levity was a relief to her, even if she could barely manage a smile.
Teyla hauled back on the ‘leash’ that held her prisoner captive. “Now,” she said with brittle gentleness. “Take us back to the Stargate.”
In the Atlantis database of Stargate connections, there is an entry beside the planet designated ‘P9L-253’. It’s a planet John Sheppard knows well, he and his team slaved on it for over two weeks before they escaped.
Beside the designation lies the message: Planet of the Batmen. Major John Sheppard and team captured and enslaved. Definitely not friendly.
- fin -