There was a soft rain, almost a heavy mist, leaving a cold that burrowed under your skin and into your bones. Rodney immediately caught a cold, Teyla shivered, and John and Ronon constantly voiced annoyance at having to wipe water off. Carson didn’t seem to mind much. Dark clouds were racing towards the group.
There was nothing resembling a path. The ground was strewn with rocks, plants, roots, puddles, pinecones, and fallen branches. The rare patches of bare dirt that were spotted were uneven, often revealing the party to be in a large ditch or just on the edge of one, hidden by debris.
The city was sealed off by a tall metal gate of metal bars. The holes were far too small to squeeze through, and there were sharp barbs along the vertical bars, as well as spikes at the top. The fence was recent, though expertly built, a few months old.
There was only one group of people the team knew of that was so skilled, and yet so impolite: Gennii.
“These guys are like cockroaches,” John said.
Before he could suggest they leave or at least retrieve bigger guns, Carson steered the conversation in another direction. “Anyone else smell that?”
Rodney blew his nose. “Smell what?”
“Smells kinda like a swimming pool,” John said, following Carson.
“Yeah, perfect weather for it,” Rodney mocked. “Should we really be checking this out?”
“I think they’re more worried about us this time from the looks of things,” John said.
“I don’t think it’s us they’re worried about,” Teyla commented.
“If a fence keeps it out, we can take it,” Ronon said happily. He obviously wanted the thing to show itself. Or at least something to shoot.
“Are you sure?” Carson asked, coming upon the door to the city. The doors were large and thick, also topped with spikes. One door was leaning inward, its metal hinges unscrewed and was now merely propped up.
“I’m pretty sure Ronon can take a screwdriver,” John said.
“What gets me is that the hinges were taken off from the inside,” Carson said. “If it got in, why’d it need to take the door off to get out?”
“Looks like we’ve got ourselves a mystery,” John said. “We’ve been here, what, five minutes and things are already weirder than normal?”
“Jinkies,” Rodney said before having to blow his nose. “Let's investigate gang.”
“What are those?” Ronon asked.
“You guys are odd,” Carson said, ducking under the broken door and entering the city. “The smell is stronger inside. More like bleach.”
“I smell it too,” Teyla said as she ans the others followed..
“Seriously, what smell?” Rodney asked.
“Just come on,” John said. “You’re not going to get any wetter.” He was right. The rain wa s getting heavier.
There was a flash, throwing everything into darkness, save for the billions of raindrops that were suddenly lit up. It was followed soon after by a long, loud roll of lightning.
“They’d better have more tissues,” Rodney said, ducking under the broken door.
The city was empty. Doors and windows were closed and the only sound was the rain. The group trekked through the muddy streets, finding emptiness and puddles. The tavern was closed up and locked. All the shops were abandoned and bare. Finally they found a building with the shutters not quite covering the windows, letting the bright lights shine out into the dismal outside. It was the hospital.
“Oh, this is a good sign,” John whined.
The building resembled a warehouse more than a hospital, even on the inside. There were a few armed guards who were bored while sitting around near the doors and windows. Half were too distracted to notice the group immediately. There wasn’t any enthusiasm in any of their reactions. They guards all lowered their guns and looked at the newcomers quizzically. Most sat back down.
The patients were all hidden behind curtains, though even from the door, the group could hear retching and severe coughing, both often accompanied by whimpering. The doctor, upon hearing the guards, poked his head out from behind one of the curtains. “Oh great, more people to waste my time,” he said, angrily waiting for the group to take a hint.
“Do you need any help?” Carson asked.
“Yes, I need a stranger whom I have no clue about poking at people with internal bleeding and sores,” the doctor said sardonically.
“We came through the stargate in the forest,” John said. “Is this some sort of case of a planet of having a bad day?”
As if to answer the question, there was a familiar sound, that of a dart in the distance; the heavy rain on the roof hadn’t been able to drown out the noise completely. The sound of the ship was followed by a flash and a roll of thunder a few seconds later.
“Oh, I’d say so,” the doctor said, rolling his eyes. “Whatever’s out there in the forest attracts the damn wraith, it attacked us last night and disappeared with my supplies and half our doors. No one is healthy enough to fix anything, and when someone finally arrives, it’s five idiots covered in mud who won’t shut up. Any more questions?”
“Why are the wraith interested in it?” Ronon asked.
“Why don’t you go be suicidal and investigate?” the doctor shot back. “The wraith don’t bother us here and we’d like to keep it that way. Now, either stay here and be quiet so I can get work done or leave and do something far away.”
It had taken fifteen minutes and a heated argument to get tissues for Rodney, but it was worth it. Rodney wasn’t complaining—he was too busy wiping his nose or too wet to bother. This suited everyone just fine.
The dart showed no signs of landing or even a mild interest in the city. Instead it beamed down on the forest at random intervals. Whoever it was looking for, it wasn’t them. Sometimes the dart would pass over one or more of them with the beam off. Sometimes the beam would miss by a few feet and the dart showed no intent to move it towards them. It was almost as if they were in its way.
Teyla had wanted to go after the ‘thing’ in the forest, but John and Rodney wanted to shoot the dart down first. Rodney just blew his nose and followed whoever was close by. Carson wanted to stay in the hospital to see if he could help or at least find out what had happened recently. Eventually Teyla agreed that the dart was going to at least be inconvenient, and at most, they didn’t want the wraith getting their hands on what they wanted. Ever.
The bigger guns had been left in the jumper, but the group found the ship uncloaked and ransacked. Whoever had done this had hotwired the ship to open it, taken every single bag of supplies—weapons, medical kits, food, water, tools—and then decided to take part of the engine they had hotwired. The job had been meticulously executed, though not carefully.
Ronon said the wet footprints all over the ship belonged to a wraith.
At least now they knew what they were looking for.
It was now after midnight. The dart was still searching and so were the crew. The rain was coming down in sheets and the lightning had yet to stop. The group had split up to cover more ground, with Rodney shadowing John. All they had found was noise and the occasional glimpse of something. Ronon was having trouble tracking it. Teyla couldn’t connect with it at all. The only luck John and Rodney had was that Rodney had yet to run out of tissues.
“John,” Ronon said over the radio.
“Find it?” John asked.
“I found a dead wraith,” Ronon said. “The head’s up a tree, the rest isn’t….could be half the head.”
“I think I found the other half,” Teyla commented from wherever she was. “No, I think this was a different wraith”
“Any piece have our stuff?”
“No,” Ronon said.
“I don’t think this one is recent enough,” Teyla said.
“See if you can find a piece that does,” John said, watching the dart, which was almost directly above him. The beam was off. He turned to Rodney, who was a few feet away. “Don’t move.”
Rodney didn’t, save for trying to wipe his runny nose on his wet sleeve. The ground, however, left. The dirt was soaked and Rodney was standing in a three-inch deep puddle. The soil gave up, sending itself and Rodney slipping into a large ditch.
He barely managed to yell; he was cut off as something slammed into him and there was a flash of white from the beam and the lightning.
“Rodney?” John asked, but he couldn’t hear himself over the thunder.
There was no answer. A fall like that would definitely warrant a complaint. After all, quiet or no, this was still Rodney. The only sound he heard was the heavy rain splattering in a puddle in the ditch and the dart flying away.
John tried firing at what he could see of the dart, but there was no point.
He screamed and kicked the nearest tree out of frustration.
“What happened?” Teyla asked over his radio.
“The damn dart took Rodney!” John yelled. “And left. I think it found that ‘thing’ too.”
“What now?” Ronon asked, sounding disappointed.
“Let’s find the DHD and get some reinforcements,” John said, sighing. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go. People got reinforcements to rescue him. He single-handedly got people out of trouble. He wasn’t just the leader, he was the hero.
Rodney woke up in a puddle of water. At first he wondered if the local raccoons were fighting in the trashbins, but then he remembered where he was…or, more precisely, where he wasn’t and where he shouldn’t be.
He was in a cell on a hiveship. The lattice doors were locked and on his side of the cell, a wraith was alternating between pounding on them and trying to rip them off the walls. This wraith was bluer than usual and most of his head was shaved; he had a wild mop on top and a thin, half-braided ponytail at the nape of the neck, but the rest of his head was bare, exposing his odd-shaped ears. Rodney had never seen a wraith with a mullet before, though it seemed appropriate. The thing was making as much noise as a car crash and it was screaming strange noises that had to be profanities.
The wraith turned to him upon hearing a sniffle, and hissed violently.
“Same to you,” he said. “Great, John gets something that might as well be reciting Hamlet and I get Snarls the Angry Cougar.”
Rodney moved out of his puddle and curled up against the wall. He might be cold, wet, and out of tissues, but not being considered food was a stroke of luck and he didn’t want to jinx it.
It had taken two hours for the wraith to calm down. After that, it curled up opposite of Rodney and stared at the door.
For the next hour, Rodney wondered which kind of wraith was more frightening. The proud yet feral ones that resembled a large, wild cat; always knowing it’s superiority and not just that you were edible, but how many ways it could kill you and how easy each version was; or the wild and crazy ones that resembled happy Rottweilers; who thought that every action you took against them was the equivalent of wetting your pants and the most hilarious thing in the universe to their strange, dull, and hyper minds. So far, he was thinking the former, but only because that was the kind across a small room from him that kept hissing at him for staring.
“Yeah, I know, hiss,” Rodney said. “What else is new?”
The wraith laid his head on his knees and stared at the ground, sullen and melancholy, like a dog that had been run over.
“You… don’t want to be friends, do you?” Rodney asked.
The wraith shook his head awkwardly.
“Just out of curiosity, what would you do if you got out?” Rodney asked. He didn’t want to admit just yet that he could open the door. He still had his possessions. Apparently, his captors didn’t think he’d last very long.
The wraith seemed to perk up at the mention, and Rodney could almost see the wheels turning in his head… wheels that perhaps should not be turning within the vicinity of humans. The wraith stared at the door in an almost hungry manner before returning to gaze at the floor and mope. “Save Keslee,” the wraith said, surprising Rodney in a way he never expected.
“Um… I had no idea you were a girl—wom—female. All this time I was thinking of you as Richard.”
The wraith stood up, taking a stance that was perhaps natural for a human, but the imitation thereof by a wraith was lumbering and… in all irony, alien. Still, it had the proper effect. She stood with straight posture, pushing her shoulders out, balling her fists, and her feet spread wide. Towering over Rodney and growling slightly, she tried to make herself large and imposing, or at least moreso than she already was, like a hissing cat arching its back and fluffing its tail.
He realized, other than how much he wished he wasn’t in this predicament, how poorly her clothes fit. Her jacket was not made for the shape of her chest, far too tight in certain area, and too loose around the waist. The shoulders were too wide, forcing her into a wilder stance with her arms far from her body and the sleeves had been sliced along a seam to free her hands. Her pants were baggy and her shoes had been torn up and meticulously stitched back together with pieces from other shoes, creating a Frankenstein-like boot that was still too big. Despite this, she could easily have passed a male until she spoke.
“Changes what?” she asked.
“I just thought… you know… you’d want a different name—never mind. You wanna be Richard, you’re Richard. My first name is Meredith.”
“Rich…chard…” the wraith said, trying work figure out the strange name, finally smiling after a few seconds. “…Like.”
“Who is Keslee?” Rodney asked, hoping to keep Richard from thinking about his own name.
“Human child,” Richard said. “Now sick. Need doctor. Find doctor. Leave.”
“You wouldn’t be leaving with me if I help, would you?”
“Yeah… I don’t think we’ve met you.”
“Heard of,” Richard said. “I leave. You stay.”
“You promise?” Rodney asked.
“Open door,” Richard said, picking Rodney up gingerly.
“Am I going to live after I do?” Rodney asked.
“Yes,” Richard said, shoving him towards the door and setting him on his feet, yet not taking her hand off his collar.
“Give me a minute,” Rodney said, wiping his nose before starting.
Richard never once loosened her grip on Rodney’s shirt, always ready to yank him back, but all the while she patiently watched how he opened the door with quiet interest.
When the doors opened, she tugged him back into the cell. “Stay.”
“You promise, right?” Rodney whispered as she stepped into the hall, looking for other wraith.
Rodney got the hint and stepped back.
“Weak men,” Richard commented before heading down the hall.
“Aww, come on!” John yelled.
After an hour, they had finally found the DHD by tripping on it. The ancients apparently hadn’t considered the local weather or landscape when they had built it. It had long ago half sunk into the dirt and was now covered by a fallen tree. If it was still intact, there was no way to access it, especially in the rain and the dark.
Richard returned an hour later, followed by an armed drone. Apparently she’d been successful at… something.
It had to be five in the morning by now. The only thing keeping Rodney awake was knowing that he was surrounded by at least a hundred things with sharp teeth and claws who considered him a snack in a forgotten cupboard. He hoped the wraith didn’t notice he had wiped his mucusy sleeve on their wall.
Her appearance was another jolt of adrenaline to his already tired, worn out, and terrified mind. First, her coat had been torn to shreds, nothing more than a ripped piece of a single cuff and half the back remained, glued to her as they were soaked with someone else’s blood. She tore it off and threw it on the floor, revealing pants that looked like they’d lost a fight with a lawnmower and the remains of a shirt that was barely large enough to double as a necklace. She had procured two guns and stuffed them in her pockets, which just pulled her pants lower on her hips, and she carried two halves of a broken femur, both sharpened into large shivs.
Rodney was very happy that there was a therapist in Atlantis. If he had to have the image of an angry, giant, nubile, blue Amazon wearing more tattoos than clothes and having just successfully killed at least one male of her species with part of a dead body, he was going to inflict it on someone else.
“Call doctor,” Richard said, pulling Rodney out of the brig.
“What? How?” Rodney asked. “It’s not like you guys have phones.”
Richard yanked his earpiece off. “Fix,” she said, shoving it into his hands.
“With what—Ow, human ears are sensitive!”
Richard dragged him to the bridge of the ship, which was completely empty. She let go of him and turned her attentions to one of the consoles. The drone stood in the doorway, trapping Rodney inside. “So… what exactly is going on?” Rodney asked, taking out a power bar from his vest. Adrenaline was only going to get him so far and he needed something that reminded of sanity. “Don’t get any ideas,” he said to the drone as he sat down.
“Fix,” Richard said.
“Not a fan of complete sentences,” Rodney commented, doing his best to help. At first he just did his best to copy her, not having a clue beyond her vague instructions.
“Have not talked in…forget,” Richard said. “Thoughts clear. Thoughts always clear.” Rodney noticed that when she said this, the drone shifted uncomfortably in the doorway. Apparently ‘clear’ didn’t mean ‘pleasant.’
“So… what exactly is going on?”
“Fix. Call doctor. You stay. We leave.”
“I meant before all that,” Rodney said. He wasn’t just adjusting the computers aboard the ship; he was rewiring the radio using foreign technology. Even he’d need at least a clipboard, a pen, an hour, and probably a nap. Sure he was a genius at this stuff, but even geniuses needed coffee and to take a few notes. Richard had to have developed theories about this stuff before, albeit not at all precisely. She changed her mind now and then, her familiarity with the advanced earth tech must have been learned from crude gennii electronics and her expertise was comparable to fixing a mountain bike while having learned from an old Victorian model.
“Commander dead,” Richard said. “My ship now.”
“Was he the reason we were in the brig together?”
“Yes,” Richard said.
Rodney waited for more, but that was it. Perhaps a straightforward wraith willing to answer questions wasn’t all that convenient. “Uh… what was that reason?” Rodney asked, punctuated by sniffling and wiping his nose on his other sleeve—the first one was too wet by now.
“Sick?” Richard asked.
“No,” Rodney said. The mere presence of a wraith near him cured his hypochondria instantly; he’d walk off a broken leg if that was his most immediate help.
Richard's eyes changed. She was seeing something distant, something in the past.
“Weak queen. Long ago. Abandoned. Pain,” Richard said. “Now I win.”
“Useless to him,” Richard said. “Now useful.”
“So that’s taken care of then?” Rodney asked.
“I win,” Richard said, handing the radio to him, which she had apparently finished modifying. “Call.”
“Was there more to this plan?” Rodney asked. Hopefully there would be something resembling an actual explanation, maybe a short sentence.
“’Fight,” Richard said. “Burn”
“I need to stop asking questions.” Rodney felt he was going to be sick and hoped he’d be catatonic if he was.
The rain had finally let up around dawn. The group had returned to discuss things with Carson, much to the doctor’s further annoyance. They figured the man was eventually going to snap, and it’d be best to be far away when that happened.
After a short fight over who got to be where, the group slept in the ship.
John was woken up by the sound of the dart returning shortly after dawn. He immediately ran outside to confirm his fears. The dart was looping around, lazily circling over the jumper and over the city.
“You get back here!” he yelled at it. He needed to yell at something.
His yelling woke up the others, who joined him outside. “Get to the city,” John ordered Ronon and Teyla. The two grabbed what guns they had and ran off as best they could over the difficult terrain.
Suddenly his radio crackled at him and he realized he hadn’t taken it off to sleep. “John?” he heard faintly.
“What’s going on?” Carson asked.
John shoved him inside and put his hand to his earpiece to drown out distractions. “Rodney, where are you?”
This time the sound came in much clearer. “I’m aboard a hiveship.”
“Then how are you--Rodney?”
John heard Rodney’s muffled shout and the sound of the earpiece being grabbed. “Have your Rodney,” a female voice said.
“What's your name?” It was too early to be fighting angry women over Rodney.
“No wonder he had such bad luck with women,” John mumbled.
Carson screamed, having finally found his own radio to listen in, at Richard hissing into the microphone. “Don’t make them do that!”
“Want doctor,” Richard said.
“Yeah, we’re not doing that,” John said.
“Doctor or attack city of evil men.”
“Yeah, you’d be a good judge about evil,” John said. If there was one thing Genii were good at, it was being pissed off. So long as they didn’t hit Teyla or Ronon in the crossfire, they could take a dart full of wraith.
Just as John was about to tell Carson to stay in the ship and run to help, Richard spoke up. “Lungs burn from inside… Worse at dark or give doctor.”
John didn’t have time to give orders. Carson grabbed his arm and screamed into the radio. “Get away from the city! Now! They’re dropping chlorine gas!”
It was two hours to dusk on the planet. The bridge was still empty, save for Richard and Rodney, who was huddled in a corner, doing his best to fight off sleep.
The radio crackled, startling them both.
Richard picked it up as further noise came from it. “This is Commander Elizabeth Weir of Atlantis…”
“Want doctor or not care,” Richard said.
“I want to negotiate letting you…’borrow’ Dr. Carson Beckett,” Elizabeth said. “First, I want to talk to McKay.”
“What is McKay?”
“That’d be me,” Rodney said, standing up.
Richard yanked Rodney over to the console and shoved the earpiece in his hands.
“This is Rodney.”
“What’s your status?”
“Close to wetting my pants.”
“I mean health wise.”
“Nothing… y’know, usual for these things…sanity doesn’t count here, right?”
“Put Richard back on.”
“You sure?” Rodney asked. “I’m not sure what happened, but I heard screaming last time someone talked to her.”
“John’s not allowed to negotiate with her anymore,” Elizabeth said.
“I don’t think I want to know how much trouble he caused until I get over this,” Rodney said and set the earpiece down. He backed away as Richard picked it up.
“Talk,” Richard said.
“If you come down to the planet, I assure—“
“No. No humans. Pain. Return Doctor. Leave.”
“I can promise you that—“
Richard hissed and slammed her fist on the console.
“Can we send someone with Dr. Beckett?” Elizabeth asked.
“No weapons,” Richard said.
“I want to be able to talk to them at any time,” Elizabeth said. “And I want someone to tell her everything that’s going on there.”
“If I get doctor,” Richard agreed.
Elizabeth sighed loudly into the radio. “We’ll be ready in twenty minutes. We’d like them back the same way you got them, please.”
“No feed,” Richard said, amused. “Doctor then talk.”
Rodney was sure he’d never get any sleep ever again. He did know he’d be huddling under the covers with the lights at their brightest for a week after getting back to Atlantis, though.
Richard had left him on the bridge, giving him the instructions to ‘stay’ before abandoning him to be watched by the drone.
In the end, Rodney decided to ball up in the corner that would be the least convenient for the drone if it went after him.
He’d lost track of time since she’d left.
He could hear footsteps approaching now, though they didn’t sound like Richard’s. Rodney leaned over to see what was happening, unraveling form his ball somewhat. A new wraith, a male commander, had approached the drone and managed to distract it away from Rodney. The two conversed telepathically, though unless the instructions the commander was giving were ‘keep staring,’ something wasn’t right.
The drone took stepped to the side, blocking the entrance to the bridge even more and the commander snarled at him in response.
The commander swiped at the drone, the claws ripping the skin before the drone grabbed his wrist. The commander took the opportunity to jam a knife into the drone’s side. The drone shoved the commander back and moved to pull out the knife only for the commander to take advantage of the situation and grab the drone’s head with both hands and twist its neck.
Rodney jumped to his feet and looked around for something to do other than panic as the commander stepped over the corpse. The only thing he could think of was to dodge as the commander reached for him, but that plan failed immediately.
“Make her stop!” the commander demanded, holding Rodney by his collar.
“Stop what?” Rodney asked. “Do any of you make sense around here?”
Suddenly Richard was in the room, growling at the commander, who turned to her and dropped Rodney. The two hissed at each other before Richard lunged at him. The commander grabbed his head and fell to his knees as Richard landed on him, grabbing at his hair. She grabbed his shoulder, digging her nails into his flesh through his jacket and shirt. She looped his hair around her other hand and pulled tightly as she sank her sharp teeth into his neck, ripping through skin and organs.
The commander didn’t have long to scream. Richard had learned to be thorough in her time in the forest.
She stood up, still holding the head by the hair and stared curiously at Rodney, who wasn’t sure if he was too sick to be scared or too scared to be sick.
“Injured?” she asked.
Rodney shook his head vigorously. “What just happened?” He was hoping for someone to say ‘Yes, you’re insane’ or ‘this is all a dream’.
“Dead,” Richard answered, holding up the head, and speaking as if he were slow to catch on to the obvious.
“I can see that,” Rodney said. “Just… why did… huh?”
“You speak strange.”
Rodney realized that even though that was the pot calling the kettle black, it wasn’t a good idea to point it out when the pot was holding a very fresh severed head. He took a few moments to collect his thoughts and do his best to figure out what best to say to keep himself both alive and sane…or at least no less sane. The problem wasn’t lack of communication, but lack of understanding. She was still handling things as though she were still in the forest, where all she needed to do was defend her territory and use the remains of trespassers to warn others not to do the bother her. He was still handling things as if he were talking to human beings who communicated with grammar, or at least attempted to, not with giving you a concussion by using the nearest dead creature as a weapon. “You’re not used to being in control, are you?”
“In control,” Richard said, holding up the head.
“No, you’re not,” Rodney said. “Look, whoever else is on here doesn’t like…something. You need to go talk to them; maybe they’d actually like to help out. Ask them what they want.”
“Want in head,” Richard said, punctuating her statement by growling.
“Then tell them to stop and then ask them what they want,” Rodney said. “You can take their heads off after that if you need to, but you have to address this and you can’t be everywhere and do everything at once and I really, really want to go home.”
Richard stood there, thinking long and hard as she started at him. Rodney hoped she was considering his words, not whether his skull would be a good weapon. “You’ve been out in those woods for quite a while, haven’t you?”
“Try making some friends to help you get used to all this again… you guys do make friends, right?”
Richard turned to look at the head she still held, then grabbed Rodney’s arm with her free hand and briskly led him out of the bridge.
“Hey! No! I shouldn’t be involved in this!”
Teyla qas halfway to the city when Carson began to demand they flee. She never voiced it, but she hated herself for immediately turning and heading back to the ship. Even more, she hated the wraith for making her do so. Now she was on their ship, here to play diplomat to the same one who had stranded them, kidnapped a crew member, and then killed several humans.
Unlike most of the times she’d found herself in a wraith brig, this one was guarded by two drones, though they looked bored enough just to be there on a break or trying to avoid work or their new commander. Either way, she was trusted less than those who merely considered her a meal.
Twice something had shot through the network like a blow to the head. She had been barraged by flashes of terrifying images, each with worse emotions attached. The images were scrambled, and the emotions seemed confusingly entwined. The drones reacted to the sudden attack the same way she did, though they seemed to be able to discern reality and the invasive memories from each other faster than she did.
Whatever it was that had encountered, she was not interested in tapping into the network until could be safe from whoever was causing it. She wasn’t going to get anything beyond a headache if she tried again. Carson didn’t ask about it. Teyla figured he could figure it out on his own, or that he knew something bad was happening and didn’t want the details.
It had barely been over an hour since she’d been dumped in the brig when a large group arrived, lead by a wraith female who had to be Richard. She was followed by two commanders with fancy hairstyles and four drones and surrounding Rodney. Richard carried a young teenage boy in her arms.
The child couldn’t be more than fourteen. His clothes were muddy and torn, yet someone had attended to his hair, neatly braiding it into delicate cornrows. His left arm was in a crude sling and his wrist heavily bandaged with shredded and stolen clothes. His leg was worse off, splinted well with parts yanked out their jumper. Teyla wasn’t sure if she approved of such good intentions with what she considered her own property.
Noticing the two commanders, it seemed that the one responsible for grooming the child had been Richard, as her commanders had similarly been decorated. They didn’t seem to mind.
“Guys, this is Richard,” Rodney said meekly. He figured it was better than her introducing herself, given how he’d seen her attempts. “I have no idea what she says, but she took the head off the last person who disagreed with her. With her teeth.”
“Keslee go with you,” Richard said. “Keslee save me. Doctor save Keslee. Not return to city of evil men.”
“So what do you intend to do with him after we help him?” Teyla asked. She could understand why Rodney had stopped talking and was cringing away from the group of drones. For once, Rodney hadn’t been exaggerating when he said Richard grouped humans, subtlety, and details into ‘things that happen to other people’.
“We intend to negotiate with your leader about that,” one of the commanders said. “Your people are no longer interested in risking anyone else in the city being harmed. We intend to leave the child in your care… if your leader can prove that would be a good idea. We’d like to know if she would send the boy back to the same parent that routinely injures his own child.”
Teyla was suddenly at a loss for words. When she expected to know what was happening on the ship, she thought she’d just learn where the wraith intended to leave to or whether they were too annoyed with Rodney and became hungry. “We’d find someone to take him in.”
“You’d find someone to take in a child who has helped a wraith?” the commander asked. “Exactly how do you intend to guarantee his safety with strangers?”
Teyla didn’t have an answer to that one. She couldn’t even promise her own people would take him in and they were too cautious to just believe ‘We’ll take him to Atlantis and think of something’. “I don’t know. But we do want to protect him.”
“What of the city?” the commander asked. “You intend to leave the child’s father unpunished?”
“When do we leave?” Carson asked.
“When you can promise us safety as well,” the commander replied.
“How’s Rodney?” Teyla asked.
“He does that,” Carson said. If Rodney still had enough in him to annoy others—especially up to three commanders and possibly the four drones as well, there was no permanent mental damage.
Carson had known about Teyla’s part in Weir’s plan and decided to give her a chance to see if she could discover anything useful. “So--?”
The commander turned to Teyla and hissed. The other strode over to Teyla and growled. “Keep out.” He raised his hand, but the other commander stopped him silently. The angrier commander backed away, still growling.
“You are not welcome,” the first commander said, grabbing his comrade’s wrist and pulling him close. “If there is something you need to know, we will tell you. We will be polite enough to keep out of your heads, as we trust you’d tell us the truth; the second we feel betrayed we seal this chamber and fill it with searing gas.”
Teyla didn’t know what to do. She was useless in all the places she needed to use her skills. All she could do was refuse to show her uselessness.
“We will negotiate your return when we can trust your people to trade.”
“Good to know,” Carson said.
Richard turned, leading her entourage away.
“This is Commander Elizabeth Weir of--“
“We would prefer to dispense with your veiled attempts to say you are pampering us,” the wraith commander said nonchalantly. He was more interested in the other commander examining the weapons Richard had stolen. “We have kept our promise. We have not left orbit, nor have we attacked the city once we received your doctor’s help. One of yours is just now finishing adjustments to our ship. We will send you the conditions of our request to trade shortly. We can begin negotiating for your people afterward.”
“I want to talk to McKay, first.”
“Can you tell him to stop looking at me like that?” Rodney asked, taking the earpiece from the wraith, careful not to touch even his claws. A third wraith, the newly appointed navigator, had been looking at Rodney as if he had just stomped on his favorite toy ever since he’d been come on the bridge. His mood wasn’t improving as Rodney was changing things around once again.
The wraith shoved the earpiece into his hand. “No.”
“This is Mckay.”Rondey answered.
“How is everyone?”
“I’d say somewhere between cranky and confused. The aliens are the cranky ones.”
“Any physical problems?”
“Nothing you’re thinking of,” Rodney replied.
“I’m a big fan of giving them what they want for the most part,” Rodney answered. “Especially since it’s getting crowded in here.”
“You do realize what you’re saying, don’t you?”
“Last time you said no, there was screaming and John wasn’t allowed to be in charge anymore,” Rodney pointed out. “and then Richard said she could do worse. I’ve seen what she does on a good day. Finding out what ‘worse’ is shouldn’t be one of our options.”
“How soon will you be finished with the modifications?”
“I’m finished… now.”
The wraith grabbed the earpiece back. “We are sending our requests now; you should be receiving them immediately.”
“These requests are… awkward.” Elizabeth said. “If we give you these, will you return my crew?”
“No. We will return your supplies and the part taken from your ship. You have held back hostilities; we have held back hostilities. You wish to leave safely; we wish to leave safely. You are willing to trade with human foreigners; you are willing to trade with us. Your concept of mercy towards us is neither polite nor impressive.”
“I’ll have my people gather these immediately. We wil trade, and then we will discuss returning your crew. We are not fond of them.”
“Your patience is highly appreciated,” Weir told him.
It hadn’t been a full hour when the more talkative commander arrived and silently sent the drones away to follow someone else. He was completely alone and at first just stood in front of the door, staring at the humans. At first his silent presence was disturbing, but eventually became merely confusing.
“What’s he doing?” Carson asked.
“Maybe he’s just bored,” Teyla suggested. She hoped so. She was starting to prefer hungry wraith to these ones, what with all the anger in the hive.
“What makes us interesting?” Carson asked. “He doesn’t look hungry.”
“They’re always hungry,” Teyla said. He was just polite, as wraith went. She may prefer it, but she didn’t like it and she sure as anything wasn’t going to admit her preference.
The wraith had yet to move. He seemed interested in their conversation.
“I think he’s more interested in you,” Carson said.
“Why?” That was the worst part about wraith. Paying attention to humans.
“I think he’s…nevermind.”
“What?” Teyla asked. Carson sounded as if he’d hit upon a revelation and he wasn’t usually one to keep secrets for very long.
Carson kept silent, though didn’t hide the fact that he was embarrassed about what he’d said.
“Carson?” Teyla asked, turning to the doctor and ignoring the wraith. The thing might was well be asleep or have a bag of popcorn.
“Nothing,” Carson bluffed.
“He is speaking about breasts,” the commander suddenly said.
Carson covered his humiliated expression with his hand and sighed heavily, waiting for everyone to stop paying attention to him.
“Why are you in his head?” Teyla asked.
“I am not,” the commander said. “The other one makes the same expression when he asks our leader to wear a shirt instead of explaining himself.”
Now it was Teyla’s turn to put her hand to her face and sigh in exasperation. It would make sense that a new female about a ship full of men would… spark interests. Her top never did leave anything to the imagination and the brig did offer peace and quiet from the constant fighting she seemed to cause.
“Would it be possible to change the subject of our conversation?” the wraith asked calmly.
“Please do,” Carson said, scooting away from Teyla.
“At the moment we are waiting for your leader to deliver supplies in exchange for what was looted from your ship,” the commander said. “After that, we will talk with your leader about her guarantee for both our safety and the child’s.”
The two humans were silent until they realized the wraith was waiting for a reply.
“We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Carson said.
“What shoe?” the commander asked.
“He means we’d like to know what you’re hiding,’” Teyla said.
“Our queen’s anger and pain are making communication difficult. If you could change that, it would do much to convince her that your people are trustworthy.”
“What if we refuse?” Teyla asked.
“This is my personal decision to ask, not hers,” the commander said. “If you refuse, I leave and never speak of this again.”
“What do you want us to do?” Teyla asked.
“You have a strange ability to access our minds the way we do,” the commander said. “Yet you can choose whether or not to do so.”
“You want me to apologize?” Teyla asked.
“I would not expect you to, even if I were asking for that,” the commander said in a strange matter-of-fact way.
His calm, bland, uncaring demeanor suddenly frightened her. He was not threatening and he didn’t intend to be so in the slightest. To him, humans were nasty, cruel, and ill-mannered things, but that was just how they were and he was fine with that. She had met many wraith who had thrown her words at her and twisted her own personality against her. This one, however, was more like looking into a mirror. To him, humans were evil and nothing in the galaxy was going to change that. Yet, he needed her help specifically, a human that carried around the ability to hurt him and his companions. From his tone, he was asking for help for someone else.
The fact that a wraith could be thinking of her the same way she had always thought of them turned her stomach. It was terrifying to think that there was more to her enemy, especially when that ‘more’ was the same thing she was. She fought back the only way she knew how, the only way she could fend off the nightmares and strange questions that came to her bed from the darkness. She refused to believe it. Nothing, no matter what the wraith did, no matter the problem, no matter their reaction, no matter what they did to placate her or ignore her or reason with her, would keep them from being evil. No matter how evil they thought she was, it was always them. It had to be.
“We are used to touching minds often, but to someone unused to the network, feeling a stranger inside your head can be… threatening,” he explained. “Our leader had been away from others, save for in hostile situations, for quite a long time. She does not take threats lightly. She is our queen, and we need her to speak to us, but her memeries are...painful.”
“I think I’ve seen them,” Teyla said. “They were…”
“You do not have to describe it,” the commander said. “I have no idea what actions she would take if you anger her. I can only take blame for asking you to do this, not your intentions.”
“You can’t guarantee what she’ll do if she likes what I tell her, either,” Teyla said.
“No, I cannot.”
He turned to leave and was one step away before Carson spoke up. “Wait. What if we don’t have an answer at all?”
“I don’t know,” he answered, without turning around. However, I suspect she may respond better knowing it is a female who seeks to help her.”
“That would be me?” Teyla asked.
“No, but you are the only remotely possible option,” the commander said, squelching what she had in terms of pride. In other words, she could help or not. He wouldn’t be grateful either way and the second the wraith left, Atlantis would be remembered only as a threat, possibly an annoyance. All she’d be doing would be to attempt to prevent moods from growing worse, possibly making communication faster. This wraith was giving her just as much of a chance as she’d give him, none.
Teyla sighed. Richard was an expert at threats and collateral damage. Putting as much distance between her and Atlantis as soon as possible was the best plan, especially when the plan involved the least amount of bloodshed. “I can try.”
The doors opened and the commander grabbed Teyla’s arm. He wasn’t’ rough, but he regarded her as a threat as he led her down the halls.
The drones guarding the bridge parted for them without any attempt to stop them, and she wondered why it was so easy to drag a new human onto the bridge. The others were curious, but once she went to comfort Rodney after being released from the commander’s grasp, they turned back to their original concerns. The commander approached Richard and the two discussed his plan silently. The others commander was not happy about her presence, nor were they at all happy about another human around.
Rodney was looking far worse than before. He was shaking, balled up against the wall, and whimpering. His eyes were wide and bloodshot and he jerked and yelped as Teyla lightly touched his shoulder.
“Rodney, what happened?” Teyla asked, keeping her voice down.
“I really hope the ancients invented something so I can unsee things,” Rodney said, holding his head. “Please tell me you’re here to teach them about bedroom doors.”
“That one wants me to talk to Richard in the network,” Teyla whispered, pointing. She noticed that the wraith commander who had led her here had been joined by one of the others, their hands touching slightly. The new one stood in front, as if he were protecting the first while still remaining formal and reverent to his queen. “Are those two…?”
“Very. That one’s Jean-Paul.” Rodney pointed to the commander who had taken Teyla here. “He’s with Hector. Don’t tell them I named them, they don’t like it.”
“That one’s Jason,” Rodney whispered, pointing to the navigator, who was distracted by pushing his decorated locks from his face while glaring at Rodney. “Don’t make eye contact, he hates that. Don’t touch the consoles either, he hates that too.”
Richard watched Teyla and Rodney while the two commanders continued to talk to her, obviously trying to decide the risks of Teyla in her head. She barely allowed them in there. Hector, meanwhile, was starting to share Jason’s opinion that the humans should be killed to prevent any more trouble, or at least given a good punch to the face.
Soon, Richard came to a decision. She shoved Hector away and approached Teyla. She raised a hand towards Teyla, who immediately stepped back. Richard found this very amusing and chuckled. “Weak.”
“I am not weak,” Teyla exclaimed, pulling Richard’s hands towards her and entwining her fingers with the wraith’s as she stood up. “Everything I’ve been through has made me stronger.”
“Not fear,” Richard said, closing her fingers over Teyla’s.
‘Tell me about Keslee,’ Teyla asked as she felt Richard’s mind.
Each mind was unique, with its own impression on those who had touched it. Being able to sense and connect to a wraith was an indescribable new sense…she’d feel almost impressed if she didn’t hate them so much. While most of the minds Teyla had touched were sfot, flwoing gently like rivers with the occasional rocks and eddies, this was like touching fire. Anger burned bright and hot, pain came in the form or sharp, long barbs.
To Teyla’s surprise, Richard’s thought were nothing like her speech. How could you know, human? You may know pain, death, loss, but you don’t know betrayal. you’ve never been thrown away for what you could be.
There was a long pause as Richard waited to see what Teyla would do. The fire continued to burn, but the barbs retreated slightly, waiting with others. For a second she broke the connection. Teyla understood that she was acclimating; likely both the connection and the explanation were daunting tasks.
The connection returned, this time as images and feelings that didn’t belong to Teyla. These were memories and she would feel Richard struggling to keep the flow steady and straight, to tell the story as it had bee, when to her, it was all one terrifying instance that she thought would never end. ‘I was the one who discovered the poison gas. I was young. Too young to take charge. Too young to matter. The memory continued. Richard, along with others had stalked into the city, by this time undamaged, full of life and people, no need for a fence. They were here to steal supplies, not lives. This was a time for stealth. These humans were meant to ignore them for this night, possibly for days, maybe even months or years. They merely happened to be convenient at holding what would take too long and too many resources for the hive to produce on their shelves, carefully labeled and unguarded. No humans were supposed to find out about this mission. But they did.
They were supposed to be beamed away, both of them. She handed the supplies to the nearest commander and was ready to defend him until they were rescued. Instead, she felt pain shoot through her entire body from his weapon. Barely conscious, he threw her at the angry humans and was gone.
The fire returned. The barbs came back, striking Teyla, who almost tore away from the connection. I’ve witnessed what humans do to women they despise. An entire year of their torture. An entire year until I cut out their tongues until I found they had no answers for me. They had no reason. You have no reasons for me. There are no answers for my pain!
Teyla couldn’t think past her disgust. Again, she could almost see a mirror of herself. Richard was fighting the same battle, attacking the questions with the same adamancy. Teyla told herself not to care.
He came for me. He came into my mind, the same torture, just...here. He was so angry I had never left my discovery in the hive. He as angrier when he couldn’t take it from me. I watched him feel the same pain as he finally gave me an answer. He enjoyed betrayal.
My pain made me stronger, too. No one shall hurt me again, or they will pay in more than blood.
Teyla wasn’t sure what to think about such a series of events and didn’t bother to hide the fact. She didn’t plan to go into this to make decisions, especially about convoluted morals. She was here heal, yes, but this? This was like pleading a stay to die out.
You are too human How How would you know the feeling of others invading your head, seeking through it, refusing to leave?
‘I do my best to separate myself from the network, Teyla answered.
I learned to do that too, Richard stated proudly. No one touches me. No one here but me. I made them weak.
What about Keslee? Teyla asked.
There was a storm. I was injured. Another memory came. This one was odd. Wind powerful enough to scrape skin from your face, rain so fast is shot holes into the trees. Lightning shattered the giants of the forest and metal roofs of the village. Clouds so black and thick, they looked liked sludge. Somehow, this torrent of nature’s violence calmed the fire ans washed away the barbs.
He broke down the gate to escape his own father, who had injured him, who had struck others close to him too many times. Keslee found me after the storm. He knew what I was and yet he bound my injuries. He cared for me. He offered me himself, but I took others.
You attacked the city before we arrived, didn’t you? Teyla asked
Keslee asked me to attack, Richard answered. ‘I agreed to make his father powerless and weak. But it was Keslee who weakened.
And you needed a doctor who wasn’t his father?
Keslee would be safe. Richard said. He enjoys betrayal. I do not want this human to live.
‘We will not kill another human,’ Teyla said.
Suddenly the connection was broken. Richard let go of Teyla’s hands and stepped back, grinning slightly.
Teyla, on the other hand, was disoriented from the sudden severance and didn’t notice it was Jean-Paul who caught her as she lost her balance. When she felt his hands on her and screamed, she set off a strange and disturbing chain of events she didn’t understand.
Hector, however, wasn’t pleased with Jean-Paul being threatened and growled at by Teyla, prompting Jean-Paul to shove him away from her, as if she was on fire.
The two momentarily shared a mental argument, which just got more heated until Richard butted in. She punched Hector hard enough that he stumbled back ande turned her attention to Jean-Paul, who had a different reaction. He cowered under her gaze raised his arm defensively.
Just as Teyla realized her ‘help’ was going to get someone important killed, the radio distracted everyone.
“This is Commander Weir. We have the supplies you asked for and are ready to trade.”
“New plan,” Richard said, grabbing Jean-Paul by his hair and dragging him to the console. Whatever she was putting in his mind was disturbing, yet neither he nor Hector protested in the slightest.
He grabbed the radio and held it to his ear, not bothering to adjust it to be hands-free. “A dart will be sent to meet with you to finish the trade. We will begin discussing returning your people once we have concluded the trade is safe. Would you like to speak to one of your people?”
“Yes, please,” Weir answered.
“I recommend the woman. You’re McKay looks less than mentally present at the moment.”
“Talk,” Richard told Teyla, pointing to the console.
“You will be informed of everything after the trade,” Jean-Paul said to Weir before handing the radio over to Teyla, who was relieved at his comment.
“Hello, commander,” Teyla said.
“Teyla, what’s wrong with Rodney?”
“He has seen things. I do not believe these wraith appreciate his presence.”
“Things aren’t going to be normal for a while after this is over, are they?” Weir asked.
“I doubt they will,” Teyla answered. Diplomacy didn’t solve everything.
Jean-Paul grabbed the radio back. “Is there more?”
“Are all these truly necessary?”
“Yes,” the commander said. “You will understand soon enough.”
Teyla risked the link one more time. Blood was about to be spilled over the commander taking the blame for her actions. She might be able to keep the fight from happening, at least until she and the others were safely off the hive if she attempted this on her own.
They may have known pain of their own. Your men are weak. They need you to teach them how to be strong.
Richard didn’t answer.
A new dart was circling over the forest.
“What’re they doing?” Radek asked, uncomfortable that he was the only one nervous about it.
“They’re suspicious,” Weir said. “They want to see what we’ll do.”
“Why would they care?” Ronon asked.
As the dart flew overhead of the small clearing, two wraith-one commander and one drone--were beamed down, both carrying several bags. Neither was bothered by how much they carried.
Weir was more concerned that there were two. She held a large dufflebag and was flanked two assistants and six soldiers, three of them on each side, ready to shoot if the wraith so much as stepped on the wrong stick—all female.
John and Ronon had joined her, and were itching for a fight. The furthest away from the wraith was Radek, who was doing his best to keep convince himself this was not going to turn into a skirmish.
The two wraith stopped a safe distance from Weir and her soldiers and tossed their bags towards her. “That should be everything,” the commander said.
While the main six soldiers stepped closer, the assistants picked up the bags and took them to Radek to identify the contents. “Looks like everything,” he said after several minutes.
The dart was returning; this was the chance to get rid of them.
Weir tossed her dufflebag to the wraith, who began to inspect the contents. When he pulled out something thin and lacey John snorted in amusement.
The wraith apparently found this offensive as he handed the bag to his companion, who disappeared in the beam. The dart vanished into the horizon. The commander, though, stayed behind.
“John, go wait in the jumper,” Weir commanded as he continued to giggle. She was not going to put up with silliness of any kind at this point. She turned to the wraith. “You are going—“
“No,” he interrupted, ignoring the soldiers preparing to shoot him. “We have decided how things will proceed from now on. You will execute the doctor of the nearby city and we will return your people unharmed immediately afterwards and leave this planet. In exchange for killing a human you will also be allowed to kill me; your kind does enjoy that, do they not?”
“Okay,” Ronon said while the soldiers looked at Weir in confusion.
“Ronon, go wait in the jumper.”
“I believe this is the proper gesture,” the wraith said as he raised his hands in a poor imitation of a symbol of surrender.
Weir sighed. This was exactly why people needed her. She was expected to be one of the few people not to go crazy when everyone else did, and if that meant babysitting an entire planet, then she’d better be prepared to give time-outs.
She walked over to the wraith, who still had his hands up. She was just barely close enough that he could reach her with his claws, but he kept his hands where they were. Despite this and the calm expression he held, his body language made it clear he wasn’t comfortable with her so close to him. “We are not going to do anything until I get an explanation, is that understood?”
“That was assumed.” He said flatly, watching her and ignoring her soldiers. “My queen gave me the discussion she had with…your female. I requested the conversation, and I am paying the price for it’s futility.” He suddenly noticed Radek and despite the scientist cringed at the sudden attention, the wraith seemed more uncomfortable.
“Go fix the jumper,” Weird told him. Everyone was doing what she told them to. Everyone was keeping their promises. She had even been handed not only something that promised to tell her everything she wanted to know, but something that agreed for her to put an end to any threat it posed. Despite all that, despite the silence, despite even the fear she conjured in a wraith that hadn’t been harmed or threatened and had given itself over to capture, she felt as if everyone in the universe was screaming at her.
Teyla had been led away before Rodney would ask her anything beyond if she was hurt. For having been on the bridge for nearly the entirety of the current disastrous situation, he had no idea what was going on. He had heard only bits of conversations over the radio, barely heard Richard meeting with Carson and Teyla the first time, and was babysat by a drone while she went to ‘discuss’ things with the other commanders, most her conversations resulting in her returning even bloodier than before. He had no idea what went on between wraith normally when someone took over a hive, but Richard’s diplomacy sounded like the end of a very heated hockey game. At this point he was surprised nothing was on fire.
Now Jean-Paul was missing and according to Hector’s expression, wasn’t coming back. For whatever reason, Hector seemed to be blaming him.
He needed a flow chart, or subtitles. Also a shower. Definitely a restroom. He wasn’t going to ask about any of those, especially the last one. Given the situation, Rodney had made keeping the potential nightmares to a minimum his top priority.
Richard seemed to be an expert at knowing how to solve problems and start them at the same time and decided now was a good opportunity to do both. She grabbed Rodney by the collar. “Teach,” she ordered, shoving Rodney at Hector before returning to…do something with some things... He didn’t want the details. She was busy with Jason, or at least threatening him while talking to others somewhere else.
Hector’s hand was on the console, obscuring text and part of a continuously moving picture of a chain reaction of molecules. From what Rodney could gather from what he could see, it had to do with ignition or combustion.
Hector was facing the console, but kept his gaze on Richard. “It took poison to convince your people to aid us,” he said, startling Rodney. “Yet your doctor was all too eager to help even before he knew he would be helping a human.”
“Wherever this is heading, I really hope it’s about chemistry,” Rodney said. Being around wraith was bad enough. Being around Richard was hard to handle. Being around several very confusing wraith, neither of whom liked him in the least, was a terrifying headache.
“He was sent down there to die; will they make it short?” Hector asked.
Rodney resisted the urge to bang his head against the console. “Why couldn’t it have been about chemistry?”
“I see,” Hector said.
“Wait, why? Didn’t she--?”
“She needed on of us to sacrifice,” Hector said. “He volunteered.”
“Why?” Rodney asked. He wished he didn’t understand this time.
“He refused to tell me. Willthey accept the terms?”
“Um… You see… Why would we…y’know?”
“You cannot answer my question?”
“No, but I can teach you chemistry,” Rodney said. This was either going to be a long day or a very short one. He didn’t want to contemplate either option.
Weir was almost wishing all her wraith captives would act like this one. Almost.
The wraith had indeed told her everything. He divulged the details about Richard and Keslee, about Richard taking over, about Teyla’s conversation, and even the names Rodney had chosen for him and the others. He had done as he was told, though the only order she had given him besides to explain was to sit on a large nearby rock and keep his hands on it.
She didn’t want to admit the surrender gesture made her uneasy. She didn’t want to tell him she was uncomfortable with how he squirmed on his rock, trying to move further from her without disobeying. She didn’t want anyone to know she hated how he flinched whenever someone moved, even expecting to be shot after telling her that Rodney at least had the kindness to try to attempt keeping the fact that he’d named them a secret.
“So why were you sent for…this?” Weir asked. If you were going to send someone off to die at the hands of the enemy, why send the one that acted like a neurotic squirrel?
“Because I begged for mercy,” Jean-Paul said.
“You’re being punished?” Weir asked.
“Yes. And I understood best what you are capable of,” Jean-Paul said. “My leader has adapted quite well to your practice of how you treat enemies. I… did not.”
“What happened to you?”
Up until now, Jean-Paul hadn’t cared much for Weir, but even more so hadn’t cared much about her. He had winced at movements and tensed when she came near, but those were ephemeral moments of instinct. Now, just like when he’d complained about her using his name, she had defined herself as a real threat. Unlike before, she had marked herself as such permanently. She wasn’t going to be able to backtrack, distract, or deny her way out of this; he saw her as something different now and he was going to talk to her as something different.
What worried her was not that his reaction changed, but that she could see vague changes in his expression, especially in his eyes. Before he’d just been another soldier, uncomfortable, but wholly accepting himself as being in the line of fire as part of his duty and she was just another enemy queen. The were two warriors on either side, and this was just how one battle played out. She had been an enemy he could understand, but now the bridge over the culture and language gap was irretrievably lost. So was Jean-Paul according to his look of resignation. They both felt as if she’d stomped on him like a bug.
“My leader has made it clear that she does not wish to hide her experiences,” Jean-Paul said, staring at his lap and no longer at Weir. “Mine, however, I do not wish to speak of. You were… thorough.”
“What is this going to accomplish?” Weir asked. She’d step on him again if it got her answers. She stepped on her own people when she needed to. It wasn’t personal and she’d tell Jean-Paul if she thought he’d believe it.
“I was rescued by… another,” Jean-Paul said. “Since my experience, though, I’ve become useless to my hive when it comes to combat. This is an opportunity to repay him and to keep the others safe.” It was obvious that he meant ‘safe from humans’ and that he thought the statement would be redundant if he had included it.
“You like that guy, don’t you?” Weir remembered what Teyla had said and there was something in the wraith’s voice, beyond his dislike of humans and his desire that she’d stop asking him questions.
Jean-Paul looked up and studied her face. He was both curious and distracted.
“You’re talking to him right now, aren’t you?”
“It is only obvious to you now?”
The fact that he was clearly expressing curiosity rather than mockery didn’t make Weir feel better about the situation. “You guys put a lot of thought into this, didn’t you?”
“My leader has become quite skilled at learning about how you behave,” Jean-Paul replied.
“That was rhetorical,” Weir said, and sighed. The worst part was that this made complete sense. Jean-Paul wanted to repay someone close for saving him from cruel humans by doing the same. Richard wanted to repay a human with her request to kill the doctor… in order to repay Keslee. It was just a circle of changing places, like some honorable way to lose at a fatal game of musical chairs.
Her problem with all this was that she didn’t want to kill someone, including Richard’s ‘gift’. Then she realized the real problem. The wraith did not expect her to have qualms about killing Jean-Paul. Why would she according to everything they had observed?
The chemistry lessen did nothing to help either Rodney’s mood or his sanity. Hector was only slightly more skilled at chemistry than John was at paying attention to science in general. Add to that the whole lesson was rather complicated for Hector’s level of understanding and top it off with the fact that the point was to make explosives and Rodney constantly interrupted the lesson with asking if he could just be thrown in the brig. After three angry refusals to let his escape the teaching lesson, Rodney had made the mistake of asking how Hector had dealt with such difficulties before. The answer turned out to be the wraith he’d named Jean-Paul.
Rodney was finally relieved to his corner. He preferred Jason’s angry looks to having to fight through Hector’s complicated knowledge barrier.
His relief didn’t last for long. Apparently when all you do is run from wraith, you become very skilled at your hobbies; Richard was finished with her own business just in time for Weir to radio them. The conversation between the two leaders was short, and he barely heard any of it. All he knew was that Richard wasn’t pleased. As usual, wraith proved themselves incapable of informing him of things calmly.
Hector grabbed his harm and yanked him up, dragging him from the bridge and down the hall swiftly; Rodney’s feet barely touched the ground.
“What’s going on?”
“Your leader refuses to give us what we want.”
“Look, just because—“
“She requests that we speak to her face-to-face and listen to a last request before we put a permanent end to this farce.”
“Let me guess, I get to go first if she doesn’t change her mind,” Rodney said.
“Slowly,” Hector answered.
“I gotta stop being right,” Rodney mumbled to himself.
John and Ronon were still on their ‘time-outs’. It was their job to handle the simpler situations: killing, escape, and combative rescue. When it came to keeping situations from escalating, negotiating while treading on thin ice, and babysitting the universe, that was her job. When a situation was just dangerous John got it; when a situation was complicated it was up to her to handle it.
Jean-Paul’s confusion over the situation had added to his fear, not replaced it. He was standing in front of the group of soldiers, and to the side so Weir could be seen when she spoke with Richard.
Again, a dart circled overhead continuing in a wide arc over the spot in the forest to above the city. It beamed down the group of wraith and humans: there were two drones and one commander along with Richard, but that hardly seemed to matter. Rodney was useless and Carson had his hands full keeping the neurotic physicist on his feet while Teyla was holding Keslee. Richard was wearing some of the items traded in exchange for the return of their supplies: a military vest and a lacey bra. Her armaments, however, canceled out any silliness of the situation; a bone knife in hand, two guns at her side, and several of what appeared to be homemade bombs strapped to the vest.
“Talk. Now,” Richard demanded.
“I’m not giving the order to kill anyone,” Weir stated.
“Then they die in sticky fire,” Richard said, ripping one of the bombs off the vest.
“Don’t!” Weir said as the soldiers sited their weapons at her.
This caught Richard’s attention as her finger hovered over the trigger.
“I said no!” Weir commanded.
Richard complied as well, taking her finger from the trigger, though ready to change her mind. This was new to her. An enemy was using their power against her, yes, but also for her. She was not being spared just to be tortured.
“You’d risk his life when you don’t have to?” Weir asked, nodding toward Jean-Paul. This fight was still black and white. Either the wraith were evil or they were gone, just as the humans were evil or they did as they were told. Neither side was going to wait to understand a middle ground and Weir had to keep that to her advantage.
Richard growled, she wasn’t going to regret listening to her, but she wasn’t going to regret taking out everyone, and a large patch of the forest, either.
“I am not going to compromise my decision,” Weir stated firmly. “You are going to take him back and leave this planet. If you give us trouble, we shoot the boy and then go after your ship. If you comply, We will keep Keslee with us until we can find proper guardians for him.”
Richard seemed unmoved at first, seeming to find it more efficient to kill the humans now and alert the dart, but didn’t move. She cast a quick glance to the bomb in her hands, then to Jean-Paul. She placed her finger back on the trigger. “We are not weak,” Richard said without taking her hand from the firing mechanism. “Him first.”
Jean-Paul turned to Weir, who nodded, before running over to join his companion, who pulled him close and snarled at her. The dart was returning overhead. Richard’s finger twitched. This wasn’t about food. This wasn’t about revenge. This was about power. Power kept her alive. Power was what kept pain at bay. Power was the only thing that was used to destroy others, but power was not the same as strength when it came to protecting the ones she wanted to protect. Letting them die made her weak. She couldn’t afford that.
There was a bridge that needed to be crossed, just one glimpse of two people, a human and a wraith seeing eye to eye, just for a single second. After that, everyone could go back to knowing the other was pure evil. Neither wanted to cross first, fearing damnation.
Damnation could go to hell, Richard decided. She took the metaphorical step. Richard tossed her bomb to Weir, gleefully laughing as she watched the human panic as she fumbled with the device. She shoved the humans to the side as the beam passed over and the wraith disappeared.
Weir waited for the dart to disappear from sight before approaching the others and handing the bomb to a soldier. “How is everyone?”
“I need to find a tree!” Rodney yelled and ran off. From his fluctuating and squeaking voice, that was going to be his indoor voice for the next few weeks. Things were not going to be quiet for a while on Atlantis.
“I—I need to—bye,” Carson said and did his best to scoot away as fast as possible, obviously with the same goal in mind.
“Let me take him,” Weir said to Teyla, who looked sick. It wasn’t the kind of sick Carson would be fixing, but the kind Weir knew she’d be fixing. In the meantime, Teyla left to handle the same need as the men.
Weir sighed. Complicated situations didn’t wait and they certainly didn’t make themselves convenient. The best you could do was make sure they didn’t cut in line.
“Let me guess, you have to go too,” Weir asked Keslee, who nodded. “John!” Sometimes you got lucky. Someone else was better suited at a situation than you and you knew just who they were and you could give it to them. Weir was grateful for what little luck she had.