The ruins on PX3-126 were important enough that Daniel Jackson had demanded that he be allowed to head the archaeological expedition investigating them.
“It had better be really cool,” Jack had said.
Some of the junior archaeologists, who had always been somewhat intimidated by O’Neill, were totally freaked out by him now that he was actually in charge of the SGC. Daniel brought four of them with him when he made his follow up request, trying to show them the right notes to hit and the tone to strive for when asking O’Neill for permission to do something he wouldn’t understand or appreciate.
The most important part was to emphasize the probability of weaponry. Technology worked, too, but something that was probably a gun or a bomb made Jack happier. Secondly, the pitch had to include the statement that wherever the archaeological site happened to be was a totally safe environment, and a good place to leave a team of civilians who would otherwise be making annoying requests to Jack about various piles of useless rocks housed at the SGC.
That was how Daniel got three weeks, nine archaeologists, and two SG teams – SG-12 and 6 - for security. Also for payback, since SG-6 had very nearly caused some kind of apocalypse on their most recent mission and Jack thought a few weeks of digging holes would be a nice way for them to think over what they had done.
The planet was uninhabited, or at least that seemed to be the case for the most recent thousand years. The extra SG team stationed by the ‘Gate had absolutely nothing to do besides report their unchanged status every four hours. Daniel would have liked to leave both teams there, actually, since having four extra workers who didn’t understand archaeology and were far more inclined to use brute force and break everything they found wasn’t actually that helpful. Daniel spent more time supervising them than he did working, and he only had three weeks.
The site was indeed, to use O’Neill’s terminology, incredibly cool. Unfortunately, it was also massively overgrown with a forest that had to have taken root centuries ago. The growth was such that the archaeologists hadn’t yet even found the limits of the site, and mapping the ruin locations was taking forever, because they kept finding more pieces of architecture peeking up through the mossy floor.
Daniel had SG-6 helping him with that, since they did teach reasonable drawing skills at the AirForceAcademy and he didn’t think that Sergeant Elliston could be nearly destructive with a pencil as he was proving to be a shovel. He was going to ask Jack when they got back if the little apocalyptic incident SG-6 had been involved with off world had had anything to do with Jake destroying priceless artifacts and infuriating a particularly violent archaeologist.
He was pointing out the features he wanted drawn when he saw something in the distance, glinting in a patch of sunlight streaking through the trees. Daniel squinted, and it sparkled across the color spectrum, and then vanished completely as the wind blew and the branches shifted.
“Guys,” he said, “I’m going to scout ahead. Just finish up everything here and then follow me.”
“Dr. Jackson,” Jake said, “General O’Neill said we’re supposed to stay with you at all times.”
Daniel resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “I’m not going anywhere. I need you to finish mapping this area. Remember, if it’s not part of nature, it’s a part of the site. Document and draw everything, then flag it with the pink pin flags so we can find it again.” He gave a tight smile. “And please, don’t move anything. It’s really important.” He’d said that about ninety times at this point, and he could already see Jake’s hand reaching out towards a loose stone.
With that, he turned and headed off towards whatever had sparkled in the sunlight. Everything they’d come across thus far had been stone; metal might indicate they were dealing with an entirely different civilization. The wind rustled through the trees again, and the shade shifted, allowing the light to once again reflect off the mystery object. Quickly, before the sunlight was gone, Daniel took off towards it.
His eyes were focused in the distance, and he was paying little attention to the trees and fallen logs he had to navigate to move forwards. His foot slipped on the slick moss covering an old dead tree, pitching him off balance and letting a more recently fallen branch end stab through his pants and scratch his thigh. Rubbing the stinging away as he continued moving, Daniel made a mental note to put SG-6 to work clearing a path. They’d be good at that, provided they didn’t simultaneously destroy the site.
This was his thought as he stepped on another branch, which immediately cracked beneath his foot. It gave way, not to the ground beneath but to absolutely nothing, and suddenly Daniel was falling downwards, through dry snapping twigs and thicker branches broke under his weight. He reached out and his hands caught nothing but dead, splintery wood. He’d stepped off a precipice he hadn’t even seen.
Frantically, Daniel grabbed for anything to stop his momentum. His fall was slowed by the branches he was tumbling through, dry wood that immediately gave under his weight, but nothing sturdy or solid enough for him to hold on to and stop his descent. He landed face down with a hard thump on mossy ground seconds later, knocking the breath from his lungs and shocking him with full body blow.
“Uhh,” Daniel groaned, lying stock still for nearly a minute. Cautiously, he tentatively tried to move his limbs. He hurt all over, but he was able to slowly roll over and sit up, testing his arms and legs for injuries. Daniel was fairly sure he had bruised if not broken a couple of ribs, and every inch of exposed skin had been scratched by bark, but miraculously he wasn’t seriously injured. His field pack had even stayed strapped to his back the whole time. He also hadn’t landed on any of the solid metal architecture he was now surrounded by.
Daniel stared, getting to his feet as quickly as he could. Although covered in fallen leaves and brush and entwined in vines, the structures before him were unmistakable. He brushed a hand over the nearest flat surface and his suspicion was immediately confirmed: decades worth of twigs and loose dirt swept aside to reveal Ancient glyphs.
His heart leapt in his chest. Daniel reached for his radio, and found himself patting an empty holster. It had dropped from his body as he’d fallen. Distracted for only a second, Daniel plucked his tape recorder from his pocket and switched it on and started talking.
“Okay, wow. I’ve just found evidence that the Ancients once inhabited this planet. The other ruins be must more recent from a population that followed centuries later. I, well I fell, so I’m not sure where I am in relation to Stargate, but I’ve found signs of a probable city, including some kind of control panel. Given the overgrowth, it’s impossible to know how large a site we’re dealing with here. Soil accretion could have covered the rest of it, we might have been walking on top of it the entire time.” He paused, took a breath, then began translating the glyphs he’d just exposed.
The control panel he’d exposed dealt the most mundane technology, something having to do with light intensity and temperature. Daniel moved on, taking in the incredible things before him. He was going to need way more that three weeks. He peered upwards, surprised to find himself staring at a massive cliff face, the forest from whence he’d come some dozens of meters up. His ribs throbbed and he realized how far he’d fallen.
“Guys!” he yelled. “Sergeant Elliston!” His own voice echoed back at him, and no one answered.
Distracted again by the objects before him, Daniel moved away from the Cliffside. Some of the debris covered shapes looked like they once formed walls. Daniel whipped out his tape recorder again, babbling a half-formed theory about the possibility that he’d just tripped and landed in Atlantis. He walked on, eyes on a clear shape sticking up, mostly uncovered. It was some kind of archway, like the frame of a huge cube. He’d never seen anything like it, and immediately began describing it into his recorder. He reached out to dust off the glyphs on a panel on its side, and suddenly the panel lit up. Daniel withdrew his hand, and stepped back, unsure what he’d done.
There was a figure standing inside the cube frame, a massively tall man with a tangle of hair, who whipped out a gun and shot Daniel with a pulse of burning red energy before he could even say a word.
Daniel woke up to his head throbbing, and the rest of him remembering that’d he recently fallen from a great height. He was face down in the dirt, and when he tried to lift himself up he discovered his arms were tied behind his back. Carefully, Daniel rolled on to his side. As he turned over, he realized a good amount of time had passed. It was dark, now, the sky a cloudy black and the temperature its usual nighttime chill. He couldn’t see very well, in the dimness. He didn’t think he was in the same place: he didn’t see any Ancient architecture. Concern started creeping into his gut. He’d been shot and tied up, and moved somewhere else. But he also didn’t see anyone.
Daniel squinted into the darkness. His glasses were gone, he realized with annoyance. He could see blurry trees, and nothing else. He turned his head the other direction, and then he saw he wasn’t alone. The guy that had appeared in the cube frame was seated a few feet away, curled up against the base of a tree trunk and seemingly asleep. Daniel could see one large hand gripping the handle of a holstered weapon. Daniel’s pack – and his sidearm – were beside the guy’s leather-clad leg.
Trying to be silent, Daniel began to move his legs. If he could get up, he could sneak off before the guy with the gun even woke up. SG-6 and 12 had to be looking for him. That they hadn’t found him yet was kind of alarming.
Daniel couldn’t get up. His left leg wouldn’t straighten out and he couldn’t get his foot on the ground. He tried to peer back at his feet, and he couldn’t even see them, but when he kicked something tightened painfully around his ankle. His captor had attached his ankle to his bound hands. He wasn’t going to be able to stand.
A horrible image of Jack looking pedantic appeared in Daniel’s mind. He could just imagine the lecture this was going to get. He was never going to be allowed on another archaeological dig without Teal’c holding his hand the whole time. Daniel wouldn’t mind Teal’c having been here. He was actually very careful and listened when Daniel told him archaeological methods. And he probably could have gotten out of this.
Daniel kicked his bound leg again, futilely. If anything, he was only making his bonds tighter. A new idea came to him. Carefully, he bent his other knee. He might not be able to stand, but if he could get up on his knees, he could half-crawl. Maybe he could knee-walk his way out of here.
He rolled back onto his stomach, getting his knees and ankles flat on the ground. He wished his arms were in the front, because pushing his torso up made those ribs he’d whacked earlier very angry.
It worked, though, and he popped up off the ground. Daniel sighed loudly in relief.
Something stirred behind him, and when Daniel looked over all he saw was another red cloud of energy coming straight at his face
The second time he woke up, his head hurt again, he was still sore all over, and now he was tied to a tree. He’d been propped up against the trunk and rope from his field kit looped tightly around his chest several times. His arms were still behind his back. It was daylight, again, although signs of any SG teams coming to his rescue were still conspicuously lacking.
Daniel didn’t even bother trying to conceal his return to consciousness. He moaned, loudly, and kicked the ground with his foot. His pack was lying a few feet away, its contents spread out in neat little piles around it. The sidearm was missing, but since he’d been shot twice with some kind of energy weapon, Daniel didn’t give it much thought. His zat, however, was there, lying on top of his trowel. It hadn’t been identified as a weapon.
“Hey,” he said, looking around. He didn’t see the man anywhere. “Hello?”
Twigs snapped and Daniel heard footsteps coming from behind his tree. He tried, futilely, to turn that direction before the man knocked him unconscious again.
“Don’t shoot me!” He yelled. “Please!”
The ropes meant he was stuck completely in place.
“Don’t!” Daniel yelled, when the man loomed over him, gun already in hand.
The guy was huge. Maybe his perspective was warped because he was on the ground, but Daniel’s captor looked enormous. Maybe even taller than Teal’c. Much thinner, though, with none of Teal’c’s hulk. His arms might have been narrower, but Daniel could see they were solid muscle.
“Uh-oh,” he said, involuntarily.
The man had a mass of dreadlocks, his dark skin was dusted with dirt, and he was looking at Daniel like a lion might look at an antelope.
Daniel swallowed. “Hi,” he said again, since the man hadn’t shot him yet. “I think we got off on the wrong foot.”
“Your army is in my way,” his captor said, in a voice far smoother that the leather outfit might have implied.
“What?” Daniel asked. “What army?”
A long brown finger poked the SG team patch on Daniel’s arm.
“They’re not an army,” Daniel said, slowly. He hoped ‘in my way’ meant ‘trying to rescue my prisoner.’ “Look, my name is Dr. Daniel Jackson. I’m – ”
“Doctor?” the man asked, eyebrows slinking lower.
“Not a medical doctor,” Daniel said, quickly, since he wasn’t sure if that expression should be interpreted as intense dislike of physicians. “I’m an archaeologist. The ruins? I was studying them. I study old cultures and languages.”
The strange look moved off his captor’s face. Boredom replaced it. He holstered his gun, to Daniel’s great relief. That feeling passed instantly, when the man brought up the same hand, now holding a long, jagged knife.
“Wait,” Daniel shrieked, wiggling helplessly against the tree trunk. “You don’t have to –”
The man moved forward, ignoring Daniel’s terror. He hooked the knife under the rope around Daniel’s chest and jerked it. The rope split – that knife was sharp. Daniel sagged backwards, as the man started reeling the rope in, releasing Daniel from the tree.
“Okay,” he said. “Good.”
His captor kind of blinked at him.
“Better than stabbing me,” Daniel explained, and in the next second he was being jerked to his feet. The guy was strong and damn, he was taller than Teal’c. One elbow pinned Daniel against the tree trunk while the other hand began looping the loose rope around Daniel’s neck.
“Uh,” Daniel gasped, and he involuntarily tried to bring his arms up. They twitched uselessly behind his back, as the rope was looped twice more. His captor knotted it against Daniel’s Adam’s apple, holding about a four foot length in his hand like a leash.
“Hey,” Daniel objected, when he made that connection. His captor ignored him, dropping the elbow and turning away from the tree. At the same time, he yanked the rope and sent Daniel flying forward. He couldn’t stop his own momentum, and crashed facedown in the dirt besides his pack.
A boot prodded Daniel in the side and when Daniel slowly rolled on to his side, the man was peering down at him in tense confusion.
Breathing heavily, Daniel glared up at him. “Ow,” he said, for the man’s benefit. “Why don’t we slow down and talk about this?”
The boot prodded harder. “Your army is in my way.”
A hand grabbed Daniel by the shirtfront and pulled him into a sitting position. Daniel was thankful he hadn’t tried to use the rope.
“What’s your name?” Daniel tried. “I gave you mine. I’m Dr. Daniel Jackson, and you are?”
His captor was silent for a few seconds. “Specialist Ronon Dex,” he said, softly.
“Specialist?” Daniel asked. “You’re in the military? Um, which one?”
Overt hostility returned to Dex’s face. “I have to go through the Ring of the Ancestors,” he said, ignoring Daniel’s questions.
“The Stargate?” Dex blinked at him, unrecognizing. “Chappa’ai?”
Total disinterest crossed Dex’s face. He dropped the rope, but only long enough to step on the leash end while he started shoving things back in Daniel’s pack.
As he did so, Daniel desperately fired questions at his stooped back. “Can you tell me where you came from? Were you living here? It looked like you stepped out of that cube-shaped doorway? Do you know where you are?”
“Doesn’t matter.” Dex had his hand on Daniel’s zat, looking at it curiously. “What’s this?”
“Um,” Daniel stalled. “It’s a tool. For digging.”
Dex looked at him, saying nothing but expressing solid disdain pretty clearly. He fit his hand around it and it immediately spit to life. Dex looked at him again, pointedly.
“Okay, fine,” Daniel said. “It’s a weapon.” He gritted his teeth. “Please, don’t shoot me again.”
Dex shoved the zat somewhere inside his coat and resumed packing the bag.
“If you're an Ancient,” Daniel said, finally. “You’re really not what I was expecting.”
“I have to get off of this planet,” Dex said, not paying any attention to Daniel.
“Why?” asked Daniel.
“Everyone here is going to die,” Dex said, flatly.
“Maybe that cube was some kind of stasis chamber,” Daniel theorized outloud. “Was there a disaster here? A plague? Is that why you were in there?”
Dex finished stuffing the pack, picked up the rope and used one arm to grab Daniel by the shoulder and jerk him violently to his feet.
“Whatever happened,” Daniel said, earnestly, “was centuries ago. There’s not even anyone here except my team.”
His captor wasn’t even listening. He planted one big palm in Daniel’s back and shoved him forward. This time, Daniel kept his feet.
“Move.” Dex ordered.
Daniel obeyed, mostly because he couldn’t think of any resistance that didn’t end badly for him.
“Maybe it was a prison,” Daniel continued, thinking out loud. “I guess even Ancients step out of line.”
He glanced over his shoulder. Dex was glaring.
“Shut up,” he said.
And Daniel did. It was hard to keep his balance with a rope taut around his neck and his arms firmly behind his back. The forest floor had no path, and he had to step over fallen branches and loose roots. Dex moved too fast, and he kept ending up in front of Daniel, literally towing him by the throat.
Eventually, they made it back to the ruins where Daniel had found Dex.
“Wait!” Daniel demanded, coming to a full stop. His neck was stinging from rope burn and aching from being forcibly propelled forward.
Dex allowed him to stop, but sent him a murderous glare.
“Is this your native language?” Daniel asked trying to walk over to the control panel he’d exposed and show Dex the inscribed glyphs. His leash was pulled taut before he got near it.
“No,” Dex said. “That’s the language of the Ancestors.” He was looking at Daniel like he was a moron. “I thought you said you were an archaeologist.”
“I am,” Daniel said, trying not to say it hotly. “You know these glyphs?”
Dex was looking at the standing cube, his face suddenly creased and intense.
“We have to get out of here, now,” he said, and pulled Daniel’s leash hard enough to jerk him backwards and nearly off his feet.
“Oww,” Daniel cried, his hands again trying to come up to his throat. “You’re going to break my neck!”
Dex wasn’t even looking at him, just moving again at a pace that was impossible to keep up with Daniel’s shorter legs.
“Is someone after you?” Daniel asked Dex’s back. “Are you running from something?” He paused. “Are you running from the Ancestors?”
This actually made Dex halt and turn on Daniel. He looked half-confused, half-furious. Daniel took a tiny step back.
“The Wraith are chasing me,” Dex said, his lip curled. “They are going to kill everyone here. I have to get through the ring.” He jerked Daniel’s leash, forcing him to stumble forward. “You’re going to tell your Army to let me through.” The threat was implicit.
“Alright,” Daniel said, calmly. “What’s a Wraith?”
Dex’s chin dropped and he stared at Daniel for a few seconds. Then his face went unreadable, he turned back around and started walking, dragging Daniel behind him.
“Wait,” Daniel called to his captor’s back. “Are the Wraith some kind of enemy of the Ancients? You called them the Ancestors? They haven’t lived here in ten thousand years. We’ve never heard of the Wraith. They might not still exist.”
Dex didn’t answer, he just walked faster.
Part of Daniel thought he should probably shut up and let the man go – the SG team at the ‘Gate wouldn’t let him take Daniel with him. But they would probably kill him.
He kept talking, trying to convince the man that these Wraith had probably been dead for thousands of years. And if they were still around, the SGC could help Dex get away. Daniel recited this line of reasoning until his voice began to get hoarse. Dex didn’t even answer or show any sign he was listening, he just walked faster and downright growled at Daniel when he couldn’t keep up.
Dex didn’t seem to know where he was going. The incline Daniel had fallen down was far too high and unstable to climb, particularly if one was hauling a bound man by the throat. Daniel wasn’t sure Dex even knew where the Stargate was. He though about bringing this up, since surely the search efforts were close to the ‘Gate, but at the same time he wanted to at least try to convince the man that he wasn’t being chased by anything.
Unfortunately, Dex did not want to be convinced. About the fourth time Daniel declared that the Wraith didn’t exist anymore, the man stopped in his tracks. He dropped the rope, only to step on it, and open Daniel’s pack. He looked mad – madder than the perpetual look on his face, anyway – so Daniel kept as much distance as the leash allowed and shut up. Dex wasn’t digging for a weapon, since he had his own gun, Daniel’s gun and Daniel’s zat, and the nasty-looking knife he’d used earlier all stashed somewhere under his coat.
Daniel was afraid, but he was also tired, so he took the opportunity to drop to the ground and rest his legs.
“What are you looking for?” he asked conversationally. “It’s my bag; I can tell you if it’s in there.” The sarcasm was almost undetectable.
This got him a flicked glance, and nothing more. One of Daniel’s spare bandanas was tossed toward him. Daniel looked at it, not understanding. Then, Dex produced the thin roll of duct tape. He cinched up the pack and moved towards Daniel.
“What are you going to do with that?” Daniel asked, with a calm he didn’t feel. He regretted sitting down.
“You need to stop talking,” Dex said. He was crumpling up the bandanna in his fist.
“Okay,” Daniel said. “I will stop talking.”
Dex must not have believed him, because two seconds later he was pinning Daniel to the ground and shoving the balled up bandanna into his mouth, holding his jaw shut and wrapping a strip of tape twice around Daniel’s face. It wasn’t fair – the man could hold him down with a single knee in his ribs, and the only defense Daniel could offer was snapping his teeth hopelessly like a trapped animal. He thought he might have gotten a piece of Dex’s finger, because he tasted blood. Then he tasted fabric, and the strange sensation of moisture draining from his mouth into the dry and kind of gritty cloth.
Daniel glared, but decided to keep the fact that he could probably still produce noise – such as screaming for help should the chance arise – to himself. Dex grabbed him by the shoulder and hauled him upright.
The journey got worse from there. As much as being forcibly gagged wasn’t, unfortunately, a new experience for Daniel, it wasn’t any better this time. Dex had used a relatively clean bandanna, and not the filthy one on Daniel’s own head. It probably tasted better, but that was about it. His mouth was getting dryer and dryer. At the same time, he could feel spit dripping out the edges of his lips, loosening the tape. It was incredibly uncomfortable, and every time he swallowed he thought he was going to force the cloth down his own throat and suffocate.
Paying this much attention to not choking to death meant he didn’t pay very much attention to where he was walking. Dex had stopped dragging him, which was nice, and he was also occasionally giving short glances that seemed to indicate that his captor felt guilty about stuffing a rag down his throat or that doing that hadn’t actually accomplished what he’d wanted.
Sweat was unsticking the tape at the edges of his jaw, working with the saliva at the edges of his mouth to loosen the whole strip. It wasn’t enough that it would come off, he wasn’t going to be able to spit out the cloth, and it was chafing his chin. He swallowed some more, and tried not to choke.
They were still walking when the sky went gray, what little sun there was vanishing behind the trees. Dex kept looking at the sky, as if he expected to see something – something very bad, judging by his expression – up there. About then, Dex stopped going straight, diverting their path towards a cluster of trees. Daniel didn’t notice and continued to go ahead, until Dex yanked the rope. Daniel jerked sideways, his boot came down on a dead branch that rolled under his foot, and then he completely lost his balance. He knew before he hit the ground that his ankle was busted; he’d felt it twist unnaturally and now it was full of shooting pain. He’d also gasped and now the gag felt like it was halfway down his gullet.
Dex picked Daniel by the shoulders – something that made Daniel feel about as fragile as porcelain doll, given how easy it was for the man. He moved a few feet and then dropped Daniel to a seat on the enormous twisted roots of the trunk of the first tree. He nearly sat on his hands, and then he almost lost his balance and toppled to the ground. Dex steadied him with one hand, with the other slipping under the tape around Daniel’s mouth. Daniel didn’t have time to feel relief or gratitude, because in the next second, the man ripped a layer of Daniel’s skin off, and took several chunks of hair with it.
His scream was muffled by the gag, and then Dex was hooking two fingers – which tasted disgusting – in behind it and scooping it out of Daniel’s mouth.
“Annh,” Daniel drooled, and then he spent a few minutes breathing deeply, open-mouthed. He could hear his breaths, raspy and strained. His allergy pills had worn off hours ago. “I take it you’re a fan of taking band-aids off quickly, then?” he said, and it was so Jack-like he flinched, waiting for a blow to knock him off his seat. Dex just blinked at him, which was fine, since Jack liked getting punched a lot more than Daniel did. “Right, not talking.” He would have mimed zipping his mouth shut, but his hands were still uselessly behind him. Instead, he sank heavily against the tree trunk and licked his dry, cracking lips. It didn’t help. “I think you just broke my ankle,” he added, in a whisper, since he really didn’t want to get punched. His eyes were watering and his foot was absolutely throbbing.
Dex reached for Daniel’s ankle, and Daniel kicked him in the arm. Not hard, and not with his injured leg, but it was still dumb. He flinched, expecting to get driven through the tree in retaliation. But when he opened his eyes, Dex had moved a few feet away, kneeling on the ground and opening Daniel’s pack. He wasn’t even holding the leash anymore. Well, of course he wasn’t. What was Daniel going to do? Hop his way to freedom with both hands tied behind his back?
Daniel leaned back and watched his captor help himself to Daniel’s canteen. He didn’t say anything, but his mouth was completely dry and full of dirt. Instead, he coughed pointedly and sniffled.
“Look,” he said, “You see that white and red box, there?”
Dex did see, and he looked at it, but he didn’t pick up the first aid kit.
“If you open it,” Daniel continued, “there’s a bottle with red and white pills and a bottle with some yellow pills.” This didn’t get any reaction. “The red and white pills will help me breathe easier,” he continued, and cleared his throat again. “And the yellow pills are for pain.”
He seemed to be thinking it over, but eventually Dex opened the kit. He fished around in it, not showing any intent of actually giving Daniel either Benadryl or Percocet.
“If you give me four or five of those yellow ones,” Daniel tempted, “I’ll just pass out and won’t be any concern of yours.”
He figured Dex would probably just shoot him again if it came to that, but it was worth a try.
To his vague surprise, Dex found the bottles and counted out three of each kind. He fed them to Daniel off his palm, and then angled the canteen so he could gulp some water down. He did take it away before Daniel was done, but then again Daniel would have drunk the whole bottle.
The percocet kicked in quickly. Probably something to do with having an empty stomach, because in a few minutes Daniel found himself slipping bonelessly off his perch and landing on the ground, yet again. Although this time, he didn’t mind so much. The Benadryl didn’t seem to be having much influence, but then again he probably needed ten times that dose to even begin to equal the power of his standard allergy medication.
Dex took the opportunity to take of his right boot, which was strange because it was the left one that he’d injured. He half-heartedly tried to kick the man in the head anyway but he lacked the aim and coordination at the moment, and afterwards he kind of wondered what good it would have done since he couldn’t run away anymore and now he was so drugged he probably couldn’t crawl, either.
He didn’t resist when Dex took the correct boot off, even though the pain sliced through the druggy haze.
It was vaguely surprising that his captor was a reasonable medic. He wasn’t particularly gentle about it, but Dex had figured out which supplies in the kit were for taping, and he knew how to align Daniel’s ankle and wrap it with an ace bandage, and to prop it up on the trunk when he was done. Daniel didn’t thank him, because it was his fault, anyway, and the Percocet wasn’t doing as much as it could to block out just how not gentle Dex was.
He was more surprised when Dex retrieved a knife – a different, yet equally nasty looking one – and sawed the rope collar off Daniel’s neck without slicing him. It hurt anyway, and even if he couldn’t feel it that intensely, he was still able to watch Dex pick the rope fibers out of his skin.
“Disinfectant,” Daniel suggested, blearily. It was going to leave an ugly scar if it wasn’t cleaned.
Dex looked back in the kit, coming up with a bottle of rubbing alcohol. Daniel flinched.
“That’s gonna hurt,” he said. He tried to gesture towards a tube of anti-biotic ointment but, of course, all he could do was roll his shoulder joint in place. Unfortunately, Dex took that as an assent to go to town with the rubbing alcohol, and it stung like hell.
After a few more minutes of less than gentle doctoring and more stinging, Dex pushed Daniel up until he was halfway sitting and untied the rope around his wrists. He didn’t cut it, though, and he immediately retied them in the front. It might have been a little looser, although Daniel couldn’t tell for sure since the sudden change in blood flow was a lot worse.
Why Dex had decided to transition from dragging Daniel around by the neck to treating all the injuries inflicted by doing it in the first place, Daniel didn’t know. He wasn’t complaining about it, and he was glad they’d stopped moving. The SG teams would get some time to catch up. Daniel was counting himself lucky that he hadn’t been hurt worse yet.
He lay on the ground and tried to enjoy the slight buzz of the Percocet. Gradually, he became aware that Dex was still messing around with the first aid kit. Daniel forced himself to focus on the other man’s movements. Dex had stripped one boot off, slit the leg of his trousers, and was applying a bandage to his calf. Daniel squinted, finally identified what looked to be a thick, broken off wooden spire sticking through the man’s lower leg.
“Is that an arrow?” he asked, astounded. Dex hadn’t even been limping. He’d had no idea his captor was injured. Jesus. The man didn’t answer, as usual, since he really hadn’t found anything Daniel had said worth responding to.
Daniel began to reconsider the theory that Dex had stumbled out of some kind of Ancient stasis device. He was pretty sure arrows were not par for course of Ancient daily life. He regretted the Percocet, now, as it was making him sleepy and clouding his thoughts. He didn’t mean to, but he nodded off.
He woke maybe an hour later, when the sky was a purple twilight. Dex was untying his arms and jostled him from a drugged sleep. For a moment, Daniel was unsure if he should let Dex know he was awake. Maybe the man was releasing him because his ankle meant he couldn’t be dragged any further, and he should just pretend not to have woken.
A big hand grabbed at his shoulder and gave him a shake. Daniel’s teeth rattled in his head and he opened his eyes.
“Not buying it?” he asked, wincing.
“If they find you with me, they will kill you,” Dex said, stonily. If anything, he’d gotten tenser. His eyes were glinting in the darkness.
His hands finally free, Daniel propped himself up on his elbows. “You keep saying that,” he said, carefully.
Dex’s eyes flashed, from Daniel’s face and then down to his ankle.
“I’m not really going to be able to go anywhere,” Daniel said. He gave his leg a gentle shift, and it throbbed dimly. He didn’t mention that this wouldn’t have happened if Dex hadn’t kidnapped him and put him on a rope leash.
And then he realized that his captor knew it was his fault. Maybe it wasn’t aggression and anger on Dex’s face, but guilt. Or maybe he was angry, just not at Daniel. And that Dex was pacing the same seven steps over and over again because he thought if he left, Daniel would be defenseless against whatever he thought was pursuing them.
“Okay,” Daniel said, trying to pull himself into a fully sitting position. Dex reached out and yanked, quickly jerking him upright. “Owww. I mean, thanks. Look, since we’ve reached the stage in our relationship where I’m untied and you’re talking to me, I’ll be honest. I’d be perfectly fine with you taking off. My, um, army is looking for me. If you leave me the orange stick thing from my pack, they’ll be able to find me. They’ll take me home and no, uh, Wraith will get me. Your conscience is clear.”
Dex growled, but didn’t say anything else. Daniel couldn’t be sure he even understood the suggestion. The man’s lip curled and he hunkered down next to Daniel on the ground. Even though Dex was apparently not going to tie him up or gag him again, Daniel would have preferred he keep pacing. He didn’t do anything, though, not even talk. Exhaustion and the drugs kicked in, and Daniel curled up as best he could without hurting anything and lost consciousness again.
It was dark when Dex woke him again. Daniel opened his eyes and blinked blearily up.
“What?” he asked, and tried not to sound grouchy about it.
Dex’s face was close to his, eyes bright and wide. He didn’t look like he’d slept at all.
“These aren’t my stars,” he said, looking intently at Daniel.
Daniel didn’t understand. The pain pills had definitely worn off. He could feel every sore fiber in his body, each waking up in turn.
“The stars?” he repeated.
Dex nodded. He was still crouched over Daniel, but he looked ready to launch himself in any direction. He raised his eyes to the sky and then found Daniel’s gaze.
Daniel forced himself awake, trying to concentrate on anything but pain. “Okay,” he said, trying to sit up. Dex grabbed him, again, and pulled him upright. He never did that gently and Daniel ground his teeth together to avoid screaming. He let out a breath. “Okay,” he said again. “These aren’t your stars?”
“No,” Dex said.
Daniel wasn’t sure what to say. “Are they not your stars at all,” he tried, “or are they just a little different? Like they moved a little?” He didn’t know astronomy, but planetary alignment could change over a thousand years. Sam could have explained.
Dex didn’t answer. “What’s the name of this planet?” he asked.
“Um,” Daniel said. This wasn’t going to help. “We don’t know. We call it by a number. No one lives here to tell us what it was called.”
This got a scowl and a twisted brow.
“What do you think it is?” Daniel tried. “Where do you think you are?”
“Aladoria,” Dex said, after a minute. His voice took a slight lilt, an accent Daniel didn’t recognize. It surprised Daniel when Dex brushed aside the leaves on the ground and exposed the dirt. He used his index finger to trace several letters in Ancient into the moist soil. His scrawl was messy, but the word was perfectly readable.
Daniel peered at it. “I wish I had my recorder,” he muttered. "That means, um, literally, ‘point of way’ in Ancient,” he said. “Or maybe ‘way of point’. Or ‘point way’. Not that any of those make sense.”
Dex stared at him.
“I don’t think you’re where you’re supposed to be,” Daniel said. “Or this planet isn’t where it’s supposed to be.” He raised one hand to his eyes and rubbed them. “I don’t really know what to say,” he said, honestly.
“The Wraith haven’t come,” Dex said, then. He was still looking at Daniel like he had answers.
“That’s good?” Daniel said. “Right?”
“They always come,” Dex said, immediately. He looked at the stars again.
“What is a Wraith?” Daniel asked again. Instantly, his captor’s face crashed into something dark and distant. He stared at Daniel, gaze hard. Daniel threw up his hands in exasperation. “Okay, I get it, that question pisses you off. I’m sorry! I don’t know what a Wraith is. I don’t know why the stars are different. I don’t know why the Wraith haven’t come.” He paused. “My best guess is that cube thing you came out of was some kind of portal. Who shot you in the leg with that arrow?”
This was a question Dex could answer. “Aladorian villagers.”
“Okay, um, why?”
“Stole crops.” Blunt, unapologetic.
“And these aren’t Aladorian stars?” Daniel checked. He got a headshake and white teeth biting Dex’s lower lip. “But you didn’t leave the planet?”
“I was trying to,” Dex said, as if it should have been obvious to him. “I was trying.”
“Aladorians pissed off about the crops?” Daniel guessed. He said it casually, and Ronon grunted.
“Yeah,” he said. “I hid in the ruins near the Ring.” Dex fell silent. “And then,” he shrugged.
“And then you were here,” Daniel filled in. “And decided that the first thing you should do was shoot me.”
Dex could have taken the opportunity to apologize, but he didn’t. He gave Daniel a flat stare. “Yeah.”
“You could have just asked,” Daniel said, not unware he was just being petulant. He was sore all over, he probably had a broken bone, and it all could have been avoided with a simple and direct conversation. Dex, not surprisingly, decided not to answer that. “Hey,” Daniel said, “Can you hand me that um, silver envelope thing you got out of my pack?”
It was close enough that Daniel could have reached for the MRE himself, but he wasn’t quite sure how Dex would have reacted to that. He’d untied Daniel and was willing to talk to him, but that didn’t mean he wanted Daniel moving around and picking things up without warning him. He really didn’t need to get shot again.
Dex did as asked, but he turned the package over in his hands and examined it.
“It’s food,” Daniel said. “I’m hungry. There’s a couple more, help yourself.”
Dex did help himself. He handed Daniel the first MRE, and picked up a second. Daniel was still occupied with ripping his open, and when he glanced up Dex had tossed his empty wrapper aside and was licking remnants off his fingers.
“Yeah,” he said, “it’s better not to taste it.”
He’d hoped to make some more conversation over dinner, but since Dex was done, it was going to have to be a one-sided dinner. But it would probably be a one-sided conversation, too.
“You don’t know the Wraith,” Dex said, and Daniel was startled. It was maybe the first thing Dex had said without Daniel talking for an hour first.
“No,” he said, swallowing a mouth full of macaroni and cheese. “Can you tell me about them? So I know what to run from?” Or hop from, as the case would be.
Daniel was kind of surprised, because Dex hulked closer and began to speak. It wasn’t clear if the man was just naturally succinct and inclined to silence, or if he simply hadn’t had anyone to talk to in a while. He seemed completely unable to comprehend that Daniel didn’t know the Wraith, and equally unable to explain what they were to someone who didn’t just know. He also seemed, well, pretty pissed off about it. Daniel did his best to help the man communicate, interrupting to ask simple questions like “What color?” and “How do they walk?” It reminded Daniel of a basic anthropology assignment he’d given in his Intro classes: Describe an elephant to someone who’s never seen one.
Dex didn’t mind the interruptions, which was fine since without asking anything the only thing Daniel understood was that the Wraith were evil and they ate people, and possibly had mouths on their hands. They had ships and they destroyed worlds, and it was absolutely unfathomable to Dex that anyone could not know them. This point was repeated, with sidelong glances that were either suspicion or resentment or both. Daniel almost wanted to apologize.
“Okay,” Daniel said, when Dex had fallen silent. “My turn. I’ve never heard of the Wraith. The biggest threat – the only real threat – here are the Goa’uld.”
No recognition crossed Dex’s face. The expression that appeared so frequently – Daniel thought it was probable complete disinterest and a side of irritation – returned.
“They look like snakes,” Daniel said. “They burrow into your brain and take over your body, and they like to pretend they’re gods and force people to serve and fight for them. Um…they’re big fans of gold and ostentation, and their eyes light up and glow.”
This got knitted eyebrows and then a head shake.
Daniel was going to make a witty comment – offer to trade enemies for a bit or something. It wouldn’t actually be funny, since people-eating monsters didn’t sound any better than evil egomaniacal snakes in the skull. And before he could say anything, Dex stood up, looking for all the world like he was about to leave.
“Um, where are you going?” Daniel asked. He tried to sound mildly interested, since having the large aggressive kidnapper decide to leave him was probably a good thing. But they’d been having a conversation and started to connect in a non-violent way. There were still SG teams looking for him, and if they ran into Dex without Daniel but with Daniel’s pack, it probably wouldn’t end well. For whom, he wasn’t sure. Other than being kind of stubborn and not particularly willing to chat – and briefly putting Daniel on a leash – Dex hadn’t actually done anything after taking him prisoner. He was armed with more guns than he had hands and at least two knives, and he wasn’t even slowed by an arrow shaft through the leg. This wasn’t the kind of vengeance Jack had had in mind for SG-6.
“I have to go back.” Dex looked down at Daniel’s pack, as if he was contemplating stealing it.
“Through the ‘Gate?” Daniel asked. “We’ve made friends now, I’ll come along and tell my army to stand down.”
Dex shook his head. “Not the Ring. The ruins.”
“The portal you came through?” Daniel asked. The other man nodded, and then he dropped to his knees, grabbed the remaining MREs and shoved them inside his coat. Daniel didn’t comment on it. “Why?” he asked.
“They’ll come,” Dex said. “They’ll come here and they’ll destroy all the worlds they find. Doesn’t matter if you people never heard of them.”
“The Wraith?” Daniel was back to confused. “I don’t understand.”
“They’ll follow me.” Before Daniel could ask why or how, Dex leaned closer. “They’re hunting me.”
“You’re safe here,” Daniel said. “If you don’t even know how you ended up on a different planet, I’m certain they won’t be able to follow you.”
Dex stretched a long arm up and behind his back. He patted somewhere behind his neck. “They put a tracker in me. They follow the signal.”
Daniel blinked. It didn’t quite jive with the image he had in his head from Dex’s stilted, vague description. World-destroying, life-consuming creatures who also liked to hunt for dinner?
“Maybe my people can help with that,” he said. “We have doctors…”
But Dex was already standing. He took a step away from Daniel, then paused. “Will your army be able to find you?” he asked, gruffly.
“They’ll be looking for me closer to the ruins,” Daniel said, honestly, even though all he had to do was set off a flare. “Also, I might be able to help you use the portal. I know a little bit about Ancient technology.”
Daniel expected to be pulled off the ground, and he tensed himself for the stress the movement put on his ribs as Dex grabbed him by the arms and lifted. He didn’t expect the lifting to continue, until he was half-draped over the man’s shoulder.
“Ugh,” he grunted, trying to wiggle down. Dex didn’t let him.
“You can’t walk.” Which was true, but Daniel didn’t want to be carried like a sack of potatoes. Dex reached down with one arm, picked up Daniel’s pack, and held it up for Daniel to hold.
“Okay, fine,” Daniel said, and Dex took off into the darkness. His strides were smooth, and he still wasn’t limping. From his position, Daniel could peer down the neck of Dex’s shirt. He saw angry, twisted scar tissue.
It was almost dawn by the time they reached the ruins. There was no sign of SG-6 or SG-12. Dex dropped Daniel lightly on a large piece of fallen architecture and made a beeline towards the cube.
“Look at the side,” Daniel suggested, “There’s some kind of panel.”
Dex reached out and touched it, and in seconds the interior of the cube was no longer hollow but filled with what looked like silver jelly. Almost like a wormhole threshold.
“I was serious about helping you,” Daniel said. “We have doctors that could cut that thing out of your back.”
“It’s already been too long,” Dex said. “Your people will die if I stay.” And he sounded so convinced Daniel didn’t want to ask why he thought that.
“Okay,” he said. “Look, if you see people wearing my, um, army uniform. If you need help, they’ll give it. Just ask nicely, with less kidnapping.”
“Okay,” Dex said, and he still didn’t apologize. He looked over his shoulder at Daniel.
“You should destroy this. Break it. Bury it. So they can’t use it.”
“Okay,” Daniel agreed, although he had no intention of doing that. “Good luck, I guess.”
“I’m hunting them, too.” Dex gave what might have been a predatory scowl, and stepped into the cube. He vanished into the liquid-like surface, and then the cube was empty again.
Daniel stared at it for a few seconds. It felt almost surreal, as if the events of the past few hours had never happened. He wished he’d been able to convince Dex that the SGC could help. It didn’t seem fair, didn’t seem possible, that one man could survive being chased by the creatures he’d described. He reached into his pack and found the emergency flare. It was still dark enough to be visible in the sky. Daniel broke the cap off, set it on the ground, and watched as the flame shot up into the darkness.
It happen so gradually, Daniel almost didn’t notice. He was peering at the closest panel of Ancient glyphs, when all of sudden, he really did have trouble remembering what had just happened. Had a hard time reading the glyphs swimming before his eyes. He looked up sharply, saw a white mist filling the landscape. He knew immediately what was happening.
“Hey,” he said, angrily. “What the hell?”
The white mist billowed and a glowing, flowing light appeared, right next to the cube.
“Oma?” Daniel asked. “Or one of Oma’s little buddies?”
“This was not supposed to happen.” An unfamiliar female voice, or Oma playing dress-up.
“What was not supposed to happen?” Daniel asked. “I thought you weren’t allowed to mess with things.”
“This cannot happen,” the woman’s voice said.
The cube was vanishing into the mist. Daniel glared at the Ascended. “You shouldn’t leave your toys lying around if you don’t want the other children playing with them.”
The Ascended wiggled, the rays of light flowing erratically. Maybe it was laughing.
“I’m not going to remember any of this,” he accused.
The Ascended only rippled, shimmying in place.
“Is he going to remember?” Daniel asked, wondering now where Dex had gone when he stepped through.
“It will be right, in time.”
“What does that mean?”
The Ascended was moving closer and it was getting harder and harder to concentrate.
“You guys are assholes,” Daniel said, because his head was getting fuzzy. “At least tell me you’re going to help him.”
“It will be right, in time,” she said again, close enough to tickle Daniel’s eyelids. His vision went glorious white, and that was the last thing he saw.
Daniel woke up in the infirmary, and Jack dropped by to tell him that he, his archaeologists, SG-6, and SG-12 had dialed out, floated through the wormhole into the Gateroom, and immediately passed out on the ramp. None of the teams remembered a single thing beyond rolling white mist. The SGC couldn’t establish a lock with the planet’s ‘Gate anymore, and by the way, Daniel was never getting to excavate off-world ever again after this little adventure.
And then he crouched down and wrote as much on the cast on Daniel’s ankle, and signed it with his full rank.
Daniel was sleepy and muddled with pain pills, and he could feel the chilling touch of Ascended-style mind wipe whenever he tried to think of the past few days. He vaguely remembered someone dark and looming, perhaps the someone responsible for the broken ankle, the bruised ribs, the chafed mouth, and the rope-burn on his neck. But mostly he remembered that someone was a person in desperate need of help, and he hoped the Ascended had, for once, done the right thing.
Ronon Dex made his way out of the ruins, towards the unguarded Aladorian Ring of the Ancestors. The angry farmers chasing him must have lost interest when he vanished into the old, abandoned section of the ruins because they were nowhere in sight. He dialed quickly, back to one of the standard addresses he knew to be uninhabited. He shouldn’t have come here, but their crops were near the Ring, and he’d been so hungry.
Once through the Ring, Ronon paused to check his injured leg. It was no longer throbbing, but numbness might be worse. He was confused when lifting his trouser leg showed smooth, undamaged skin. His wound was gone. A chill went through his body. Something supernatural must have touched him in those ruins, some old, still active piece of Ancestor technology. He touched his calf, feeling around for either end of the scar that he should have. It wasn’t there.
He also found four strange, alien items in his coat that he had no memory of stealing. Two were food stuffed in shiny packages, strange-tasting and salty. They filled his belly, though, and didn’t seem poisoned. The other two were weapons. He shot a rock three times with the energy gun, and the rock vanished. The other had ammunition, so he worked out its basic function and didn’t waste any bullets.
He wasn’t hungry for a day, he wasn’t injured, and he was well-armed. He didn’t understand the Ancestors’ gifts and it was strange he didn’t remember receiving them. He thought hard, but could only vaguely remember a vision of a man in uniform wanting to help. He hadn’t taken it; he never took it.
Two days later, a Dart whistled overhead, and Ronon ran again.
~Please feed the author~