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Cutout digital art of a city, stargate at left, raised arms being beaten by a uniformed man at right.


Ronon Dex, report to Mr Woolsey (transcript)

We wouldn't have gone to Varga in the first place if it wasn't for the idiots back on your planet who demanded results. I told Weir years ago that the people there were just as eager to screw over other people for their own profit as the Wraith worshippers. Sateda didn't trade with Varga, and that was good enough for McKay and Sheppard, too.

But Atlantis returned to Pegasus with all the Earth staff on probation, and you said the Vargan shielding technology was exactly the kind of thing the SGC would value.

No, I'd never been there before. No one went there, that's what I was telling you.

Yeah, well, they can go fuck themselves, and you better leave that in the final report.

What happened? We went through the gate. On the other side, it was a big yard inside a wall. There were buildings outside that, big, like in San Francisco. I could see the shield over the city – there wasn't any sky, just a glow. It was weird and made my eyes hurt.

There were police waiting for us, because the MALP had tipped them off. Couldn't have snuck in anyway; no place to hide. They said we had to report to the Decontamination House. Sheppard said okay. I could tell he didn't like it, though. I couldn't see the dialling platform.

If I'm not supposed to say fucked up, how do I describe that situation?

No, bad doesn't work.

*

Had there been a badge that marked her a successful negotiator, Teyla thought bitterly, she would deserve to have it stripped from her and trampled in the mud. The Vargan police had responded to her initial overtures with brutal force – clamping bomb-bracelets on the team's wrists and taking John and Ronon away.

John had fought back, of course. Before Teyla lost sight on him she saw two guards knock him to the ground and kick him viciously. Then they dragged him off.

Ronon had been hauled in a different direction, shackled and struggling, the police jeering and calling him a Satedan dog, fit only to shovel shit, after seeing his tattoos.

Then the explosion, a man's voice screaming, and the silence that followed, far worse than any noise. Their captors had flaunted a torn, blood-spattered black sleeve with the Atlantis patch, showing it to her and Rodney, grinning cruelly. "This is what happens if you fight."

Teyla tried to calm herself. She must not dwell on John's fate or she would be no use to Rodney and Ronon. Time enough for mourning later.

Even Rodney had been taken from her. She'd been the team's spokeswoman – and Rodney for once had done as ordered and kept quiet – so the police now believed her the team leader, and a scientist, or technician, to boot.

Rodney had been incensed and nearly blurted out his credentials. He had, however, learned some discretion from past missions where thugs had forced him to build weapons or fix machinery. Her foot crushing his toes had helped remind him.

"He is only my servant and cook," she'd told the Vargan police. "He knows nothing." Rodney was carrying her tablet, after all, and the team's spare food. His deceptively ordinary appearance helped the ruse.

They lost interest in him, which was good, but would not allow him to stay with her, which was not. Teyla protested that Rodney was her body-servant, but the guards forced him into a shabby uniform, emptied his pack of any technical equipment, and hustled him off to the kitchens to work. Her last glimpse was of Rodney twisting in their grip to peer back at her white-faced. He did not call out, but then they were all numb with shock.

At least as a kitchen-hand he would be fed. And perhaps she could persuade them to bring him to her later, or get him a message. There had to be a way.

They marched Teyla through a gate in the wall ringing the plaza, then on through grim, shuttered houses edging grimy streets. Here and there faces peered down from behind curtains, but they passed no one. Doubtless everyone here feared the authorities.

The squad's leader rapped on the door of a four-storey building from whose windows strange metal antennae sprouted. A communications center? Paperwork was checked, then they dragged her up the steps and into a room painted some color between green and brown, the paint chipped and the single window smeared. There was a metal table and a chair with metal arms, to which she was shackled.

An officer with a thin mustache put her tablet and Rodney's on the table, then emptied out Rodney's usual collection of cords, wires, crystals, odd-shaped electrical fittings and hand-scanners beside them, from a sack.

She barely had time to steel herself. The backhanded blow made her eyes water and her nose run, but did no lasting damage. "Show me how all this works," the officer said.

"If you hurt me too badly I will not be able to operate the equipment," she said, staring up at him as calmly as she could manage. "And I cannot operate it with my hands immobilized."

He sneered and slapped her again, open-handed, but later he released her right hand. In the end, the program that caught his attention was an animated game of battleships, which he seemed to think represented a real fighting force. The more sensitive programs on the tablet were all password protected, and those she had not revealed.

After dark, they took her to a holding cell in the basement of the antenna-building, and brought her thin soup and a chunk of flatbread. Teyla's jaw hurt and her mouth was swollen, but she made herself chew it, very slowly.

On the underside of the bread someone had scratched the inverted V topped with a circle that represented Earth.

*

Ronon knew about prison gangs from watching Earth movies. He supposed Satedan involuntary conscription was similar, but that was meant as a means for redeeming your name's honor. Prison gangs, as far as Ronon could figure, had the two-fold purpose of having a captive labor force for the dirtiest jobs and a demonstration of the power of the State to strip a person of their rights, their dignity, and their health.

He didn't lie about who he was when the police had him seated in a cell, controlling him with the explosives strapped to his wrist. He didn't want to die in slow screaming agony like McKay had; he had to survive to make sure McKay got a suitable revenge. They'd taunted him by waving the shredded remains of an Atlantis uniform sleeve, the leaf-totem patch of McKay's people clotted red with blood.

The police asked him if his tattoos were Satedan, and he said yes. They asked if he was from Sateda, and he said yes. They asked if his companions were Satedan. He said no.

He could tell he was beginning to piss them off, and he slouched a little lower in his chair, spreading his knees, and lowered his chin to his chest.

They asked why he chose to follow a woman of Athos. Ronon thought for a second and then decided to play to the Satedan stereotype. "She pays well," he said, and crossed his arms. "I can go out drinking and have enough left over to pay my own bail in the morning."

The woman officer rolled her eyes with a grimace of disgust. "Mercenary," she said. "Well, you've got a new job now."

Ronon raised an eyebrow at her. She held up the controller for the explosive bracelet in mocking response.

"Invading the city with militias and mercenary troops is in violation of the laws of the Protectors," the other officer said. He sounded bored. "Punishable by five years hard labor."

Ronon shot to his feet. "Screw that."

"Additional six months for threatening officers of the law," the woman officer added triumphantly. "Want to add more time? Keep going."

Ronon shut up.

He got processed – a full-body scan for concealed weapons and a medical scan to make sure he didn't have lice or STDs – and then was issued a pair of yellow trousers and a matching pull-over shirt with long sleeves. He felt even more ridiculous when his own shoes were replaced by a pair of over-the-knee wading boots.

Then he was given his punishment detail.

"We're an essential service," his trainer – Metha – informed him, looking wary of Ronon's size. He was wearing the same yellow uniform and had a similar explosive device on his wrist, except his was battered with wear. "Dome farmland gets rainfall from the condensers, but here in the population center everything has to be recycled, even the water, and all the stuff that gets washed away in the water."

Ronon crossed his arms. "I'm not slogging through toilet waste."

Metha looked horrified. "Your people throw away salvageable fertiliser?"

Back on Sateda, yeah, Ronon supposed that was one way to describe it. He had no idea what happened to stuff after it went into Atlantis' beautiful crystal toilet receptacles; maybe it was recycled. He didn't want to know. He gave Metha an expressionless stare.

"Well," Metha said, and raised his chin. "Our section checks to make sure none of the branch sewers inside the wall have blockages, monitors water flow, and scrubs off any algae and... other growths or infestations. If you find any improperly-disposed garbage, you need to report it. That's all." He waved warily towards Ronon's hair. "Do you want a hat? You're a bit taller than the rest of us."

Ronon thought about how stupid he always looked in hats, and then thought about what his hair would smell like after 12 hours rubbing against the top of a sewer.

Everyone in Metha's section laughed at his large yellow hat, but somehow it made them all very friendly, taking him in under their wing to show him how things were done down in the sewers.

He waited until the afternoon, when he was just getting the hang of the #3 algae hook, to ask Metha how he could find his team.

"One woman, two guys, though one of them – I don't think he survived. I figure they've got to be doing the same stuff as me, right?" he asked, ripping a stubborn hunk of green free and exposing the face of the stone wall. He dropped the algae into the collection basket. "You could tell me what section they're in."

Metha's pointy face pinched even further inward, making him look like the park-rodents on Earth. "You were the only one," Metha said, eyes darting around as if afraid of being overheard. "It was big news – a guy from Sateda, here." He leaned in close. "We hope Sateda will ally with the Resistance and help overthrow the Protectorate."

Ronon bowed his head. Hopefully the brim of the stupid hat hid his face. He told himself he'd lost plenty of people before; he knew how to suppress mourning for his team until his mission was done. "If your Protectorate treats peaceful traders as enemies, they deserve to be overthrown," he said finally, throat feeling scratchy and raw. "Yeah, the Resistance can count on Sateda."

Metha smiled nervously, as if not sure whether he was pleased or terrified. "Well. I'll... pass the word along." He patted the rim of the floating algae-basket. "Continue doing what you're doing. And keep your head down."

*
They didn't let Rodney anywhere near the knives.

He probably wouldn't have hurt anyone with a knife – knives were Ronon's thing, not his, and the kitchens were full of staff waving implements. He figured the chefs would disarm him in a heartbeat and fillet him on the spot. But knives could be tools, and he was good with tools.

And after what those bastards had done to Sheppard, maybe he could use a knife.

They made him wash dishes – endless pans and plates. He found a fork in one of the pans, and slipped it into his pocket.

Then he had to peel a huge mound of potatoes – or something very like potatoes, just without eyes, and yellowish. A machine did the actual peeling – his job was to wash the things and feed them into the top, then take buckets of peeled tubers over to the cool store.

He got a big bowl of soup after that, and two slabs of flatbread. The soup didn't taste of much except vegetables, so he figured it was safe.

Halfway through his meal, the guards who'd dragged him away from Teyla swaggered back and told him the food had been for him and Teyla, so she wouldn't get much because he'd been greedy. They thought it was a great joke, but he managed to scratch something under her slab of bread, to let her know he was okay. He wanted to tell her he was sorry there wasn't much soup left, but there wasn't any way to manage that.

He hoped she got the food. Hoped she and Ronon hadn't been beaten up or tortured.

They shut him in an empty storeroom overnight, with just a heap of sacks to sleep on and cover himself. The room was dusty and smelled of mice. Scrabbling noises made it hard to sleep, but he was exhausted, so he did in the end.

Rodney stopped one of the old gas stoves from exploding the next day, and he wasn't put on peeling duty or dishwashing after that. The gas fixture was dangerously loose, and Rodney knocked an under-chef's hand out of the way, stopping him from lighting it with a taper.

The guards wanted to take him outside and beat him up, but the under-chef, Turi, let Rodney explain about the gas leak, then called the head chef over to hear it as well. Rodney used his fork and a small knife with a broken-off tip to fix the gas fitting, then the head chef found him a toolkit and got him to repair their second-best peeling machine, which had jammed. After that it was a mechanical whisk for meringues which had burned out a fuse, then he cleaned and reassembled an ingenious contraption that cored and sliced the notorious rimbo fruit -- a delicacy on many Pegasus worlds, but they smelled like ass.

The head chef gave him extra food for lunch -- cheese and a fritter, as well as the usual bread and soup. He ordered the guards to take Teyla the same thing, which meant she was most likely okay. Rodney scratched MRM on the bread this time, when no one was looking.

He fixed the thermostat on the walk-in freezer in the afternoon, and the head chef gave him and Teyla meat and pickle wrapped up in bread for their evening meal. As he lay under his sacks that night, listening nervously to scuttling and squeaking inside the walls, Rodney decided he was going to see Teyla the next day. Maybe Turi could help.

*

John woke up and smelled death all around him. He gagged and opened his eyes on darkness and had no idea where he was. His heart hammered in his chest like a drum, and he tried to roll over.

There was a body under him. His hand had gone right down on its face. He'd felt teeth against his palm, and his stomach churned. He pushed with his feet, scrabbling crablike as he tried to get away. There were bodies all around him, down in the dark, and they were touching him all over.

He finally made it to a clear patch of floor and nearly cried with relief, sagging down. His skin crawled and he felt filthy. Every gasp of air tasted like death, and he pulled his t-shirt up over his nose and mouth.

His jacket was gone, as well as his pants, boots, socks, and weapons. The room he was in was frigid, and he curled in on himself as well as he could and wracked his brain for memories.

He'd... been on a mission with his team. It had gone south immediately – they'd been taken captive. Fuck, but his head hurt, a sharp stabbing pulse that made his thoughts scatter. They'd been separated. He'd seen Teyla last, twisting in the guard's grip to see her, and then...

He remembered hearing the explosion, and Rodney's screams, gurgling and shrill and finally silent. They'd killed Rodney, and not even because he'd offended them – Teyla had made sure Rodney kept his mouth shut this time around. Rodney's death had just been an expedient example.

John hoped Ronon and Teyla had managed to control their anger. He'd fucked up, he was pretty sure of that. He'd gone completely off his head with rage and tried to take out the guards. They'd treated him like a punching bag – he could feel the pain kicking in, as the rush of adrenaline from fear wore off. He must have passed out at some point... and they'd dumped his body in the pit where all the inconvenient dead were disposed.

Rodney's remains were probably here, down in the dark mass of death. John should probably get over his squeamishness and go look, but the thought of having to touch a bunch of half-exploded dead people was nightmarish. And what if he found Ronon, or Teyla?

What if this was where he died: alone, having failed his team, in pain and slowly freezing?

He took a few steadying breaths, doubling the cotton over his mouth because he could swear the air was still bad, and forced himself to take medical inventory.

He probably had a concussion, he thought. Passing out was a bad sign. His ribs and his balls ached, and something in his guts felt like it was on fire, churning up a roiling nausea that made him feel like curling up on the floor and dying would be an improvement. He had the bad feeling throwing up would hurt a lot worse than keeping it in, though. Half the fingers on his right hand were broken or dislocated. A vague memory of trying to strangle one of the guards came back to him.

In retrospect, pretty fucking stupid.

God, he was tired.

He pushed to his feet, curling his right arm around his middle to hold himself together. Hoping he wasn't bleeding internally, he shuffled away from the bodies, his other hand outstretched. He had to assume that something was going to happen: maybe an incinerator would go on, or a trash compactor, or giant alligators, who knew. He needed to be gone by then.

After a few tentative steps, his fingertips brushed against a wall, and he examined it from where it met the floor – a seamless cement curve – up to as far as he could reach, which wasn't the ceiling. He told himself that at least he'd learned where there wasn't a door, which was still good intel, and started walking to his left. About ten feet down his fingers found the edge of a panel, which when pushed rolled to the side reluctantly. The rusty squeal of metal on metal nearly made him reconsider his ban on vomiting, but fortunately the panel stuck after about three feet.

He felt the recess inside hopefully, but it seemed to be a closet. There was a deep sink attached to the wall, and a bucket with a mop and pile of rags on the floor. He felt the floor, but the pipes were set into the cement. He told himself he didn't want to go through the sewers anyway. He turned the bucket upside down and set it in the sink, and then climbed up on it. Not safe, but effective. Reaching up, he found a ventilation fan just overhead.

He knocked it out with the mop and dropped it to the floor, and then felt around in the crawlspace above. There was a steady breeze, and it felt like a big enough space for him to move in, when he measured its height with the mopstick.

He'd been in worse, he told himself, and started the incredibly painful job of hauling himself up into the ceiling. A couple of the screws left behind by the fan ripped the hell out of his leg. When he was finally inside the air duct, he just lay there for a while, thinking about nothing beyond the throb of his injuries and how much the crawl he had coming was going to suck.

Then he forced himself not to think about anything more than dragging himself forward an inch at a time towards the source of the breeze. In its own way the long crawl was kind of relaxing, he told himself. Kind of Zen. Living in the moment.

Seize the day.

He really hoped the dizzy way his thoughts spun away from him was related to the head injury and wasn't the blood loss talking.

He wondered how many hours had passed – the bastards had taken his watch. Even its feeble light would have been welcome in the relentless dark. The duct echoed weirdly, and he sometimes thought he could hear scritching, like small animals scurrying.

He made an arbitrary turn at the first left, and another to the right when the duct forked, following the air current as best he could and trying to head up and not down. He was really thirsty, and sleepy. He'd be grateful for an infirmary bed, he decided, to hell with the lack of privacy and hard pillows. He'd sleep for a week when he got home.

He was thinking about cold bottled water and bendy straws when his forward hand hit a grate that buckled alarmingly under his weight. He tried to pull back, but the grate dropped into whatever void was below, and so did his upper torso. He struggled to turn, to pull himself up, but he was as weak as a kitten, and finally had to give up and let himself fall.

He woke this time surrounded by feathery softness all around him, like a cocoon. Almost exactly like a cocoon; he couldn't move his arms or legs. Wraith? he wondered blearily, as if his day could possibly get worse.

"Stop it," a woman's voice snapped, and a light (blessed, blessed light) trained itself on his face. He couldn't make her out through the tears flooding his eyes, but she seemed mollified by his grimace. "I'm trying to cut you free," she explained. "Are you by any chance Satedan?"

John had a flashback to junior high, watching Ghostbusters in the Cinema 8. When someone asks you if you're a god, you say yes, he thought, and wondered if the white stuff all around him was marshmallow fluff. "Yes," he said, his voice barely a whisper, his lips cracking. "Yes, I am."

The woman said hmm and the bindings around John's legs pulled loose. "Then I better get you out of here before the spiders come back to feed," she said, sounding cheerful, but John was off at the mental movies again. This time it was William Shatner and Kingdom of the Spiders, and he was very grateful that the woman was strong enough to practically carry him the hell out of there. He tried to stay conscious long enough to make sure that there were no spiders, but between one step and the next, he lost the fight.

*

"Ronon," Metha said, sounding like an overexcited child. "Ronon, Ronon, Ronon!"

Ronon pulled his arm off his face and glared. It was hard enough to sleep in the dormitory room, without annoying interruptions.

Metha took that as an invitation, apparently, and dropped down on the floor next to Ronon. He was grinning wide. It made his eyes even more rodent-like. "A group of exterminators in the north-east third section found an escaped Satedan," he whispered, leaning over Ronon in a way that wasn't stealthy at all. "Not a – " he dropped his eyes significantly to Ronon's tattoos – "soldier," he mouthed. "A regular guy. Mostly dead."

Ronon sat up fast, nearly smacking his forehead right into Metha. "I need to see him."

He knew McKay was too stubborn to just die. Though there'd be non-stop bitching if his whole arm had been blown off. Ronon'd help him out, he vowed to himself. War wounds could be badges of honor.

Metha led Ronon through the sewers, heading out of their section at a brisk slog, water sloshing at their boots. They reached a huge main, at least four armspans across and covered completely with a mesh grill. In front of the grill, a work section was raking recyclables up with some kind of power machine. There were bright floodlights clipped to the grill, illuminating the work area, and after so long in the near-dark, Ronon had to blink and look away.

"This way," Metha said, and climbed a ladder that led to a maintenance catwalk. They edged along, carefully silent. After a few minutes, they came to a locked door where the catwalk went through the grill. Metha made a face – Ronon had no idea what he meant – and pulled out the lanyard of keys that he wore around his neck. From what Ronon could see, the keys marked him as a supervisor of sorts. Metha slid an unlabelled black one along the slot, and pushed the door open.

"What about – ?" Ronon held up his wrist with the explosive bracelet around it. He didn't want to walk through anything that might set it off. That would be a badge of stupidity.

Metha rolled his eyes and pulled Ronon through. Once they'd gone far enough away from the grill that it was safe to talk, he looked back at Ronon and said, "There's no explosives in those. If there were the Resistance would use them as bombs. There is a tracking device, that should activate if you go beyond the wall." He pointed above them. "Your friend's inside, so that's not a problem."

"I saw one of my team killed," Ronon said, but even as the words left his mouth he realized that he hadn't. "There was screaming and blood."

Metha stopped, and turned to put his hands on Ronon's shoulders in some kind of sympathetic gesture. "For me, they said it was the mother of my children. They gave me the rags of her shirt with the blood still wet and warm." He shrugged, but Ronon could hear the tendrils of anger curling up through the words. "The police don't actually hurt anyone unless you fight them. They need the labor, and they're happy enough to let people die of the work. But they hold power through fear. Outside the wall, people know if you're arrested, you never come back. They see the bodies, hauled away every day to the recycling station. To speak up against the Protectorate is to die terribly, everyone knows that. The trick with the explosion – it's very easy to believe, and it destroys hope."

Ronon thought about that. "It made me want revenge."

Metha let his hands fall and started walking again. "And thus, the Resistance." He took a while to consider his next words. "The Protectorate was formed to protect us from all the dangers outside the Dome. There are wars out there, and unspeakable monsters. We are happier safely inside the Dome the Protectors provide. Most citizens are not even aware of the Trade Ring's existence, much less that there are other worlds and other people. They just know if the Protectorate falls, so does the Dome, and then we're all dead."

Ronon grinned. "The guy I brought with me, he can probably keep your Dome up even without any Protectors. He does that kind of stuff all the time."

"The Resistance passes down stories about the might of Sateda," Metha said wistfully. "I never thought in my own lifetime you'd come to our aid."

Ronon thought about what the might of Sateda had come to and felt a knife twist in his gut. He thought about Varga's old reputation on Sateda – namely, that they were bad and untrustworthy trade partners – but didn't say anything. It wouldn't help.

The Resistance medical clinic Metha brought Ronon to was a disused supply closet, with three of the wall-mounted shelves used for beds.

"The police dump the bodies of people who can't work," Metha had said outside the door, as a warning. "We try to save them before that if we can."

So Ronon was warned it was bad. A woman on one bunk was emaciated and shivering convulsively; the man above her had his head and hands swathed in bandages stained with yellowish fluid. And Sheppard was stretched out on the far bunk, looking beat to hell.

Ronon leaned over him, weirded out by how still he was, and checked to make sure he was still breathing.

Sheppard's eyes drifted open, but he squinted as if unable to focus.

"Are you dead? Look like an angel," he said, frowning.

Ronon touched his head. "It's a hat."

Sheppard stared. "It's a bad hat." His mouth twisted, and he shifted on the bed as if he was trying to turn on his side. "Not dreaming?"

"He got dumped down the recycling chute with all the others from Interrogation," the medic said, squeezing behind Ronon to pass a scanner over Sheppard's head. He made a note of the reading and told Sheppard that his brain didn't appear to be swelling. Ronon figured this was a good thing. "He keeps thinking everyone's dead." Out of Sheppard's eyesight, the medic tapped a thumb to his forehead and crossed his eyes; Ronon guessed that was the sensitive way people around here talked about mental trauma.

John grabbed Ronon's arm with the hand that wasn't all taped up and splinted, and hauled himself up to sitting. He leaned against Ronon as he swung his feet to the floor, breathing hard.

The medic squawked in protest, and Ronon nearly laughed. He'd never met a patient who ended up strapped to a sickbed more than Sheppard; he guessed it was in his file somewhere, that to get him to stay put you had to force him down.

Still – "You better not hold us back by dying," he told Sheppard. "And you know you're in your underclothes, right?" They were actually more like rags, ripped and bloody.

Sheppard muttered something rude and started pulling himself to his feet.

Metha had been hovering by the door, probably squeamish about all the medical stuff. Ronon had used to be that way, until he met Melena and had to get over it quick or look like an idiot in her eyes. Ronon stared hard at Metha, who didn't get the hint until he mouthed clothes and tugged at his own collar.

Metha conferred with the medic, and after a short argument Sheppard was presented with his very own ill-fitting yellow worksuit and boots.

"At least there's not a hat," Sheppard said, morose, as Ronon threaded his arms gently into the shirt sleeves.

Metha grinned wide and held one out. Ronon felt that Sheppard totally deserved it.

*

Rodney finally got Turi alone after the breakfast rush had passed. He beckoned him over to where he was working on the mechanical dumb-waiter that carried meals up three floors, to the officers' dining room.

"I just need to see her, the woman I was arrested with," he said. "She's not used to managing by herself – I usually look after her." A bare-faced lie, and he wasn't good at lying, but he was desperate, and that seemed to get through.

Turi cocked his head. "You're sweet on her?"

Rodney flushed, because hell, no. Teyla was team, and kind of terrifying if she wasn't on your side. It'd be like crushing on your sister and he could do without any more Jeannie issues thank you very much.

Turi took his pink cheeks for assent and smirked knowingly. "Well, there's a warming oven at the Control Center where they've got her, supposed to be used to reheat the meals we send over for the squads. It's been broken for a few months and they keep complaining their food's cold, but no one's gotten around to fixing it. Maybe we can send you across – I could ask Gordo?" He looked across at the head chef.

Rodney nodded eagerly. "Please? It wouldn't take me long to mend the oven, and if I could see her briefly to make sure she's okay I'd feel better. I can be back here to fix the emergency generator Gordo wanted me to do, well before dinner time."

The guards weren't keen, but Turi put in a good word for him, and Gordo was feeling indulgent. He sent Rodney off with the truck carrying the noon meals – an odd, battery-powered vehicle rather like a ice-cream vendor's cart, only painted metallic gray.

The two police officers made him sit between them in the front seat, and took every opportunity to jab him with their elbows and gun stocks whenever the cart rounded a corner. Rodney gritted his teeth and winced silently.

It didn't go well at the Control Center. He didn't have Turi or Gordo to stand up for him and the officer there -- a thin-faced man with a mustache -- glared at him, then had the guards march him out back to the servery to fix the oven, with no chance to see where they were holding Teyla.

Rodney kept his head down and pretended to work. It was a minor repair and he'd done it in ten minutes, but he pretended that it was a difficult job, sucking air in through his teeth and shaking his head despondently as he pulled out various rusting components that served no function at all. "This is going to take some time," he told his minders, and after fifteen minutes they got bored and one of them wandered off to get a hot drink while the other put his feet up on a chair and took a nap.

It was dreadfully risky, but Rodney had to try and get to Teyla. He kept an eye on the dozing policeman and crept towards the back of the servery. A narrow passage led to the rear of the building and an external door. Rodney peered out the dirty glass window. Big squarish containers – probably for garbage – and an open-sided structure across the courtyard that seemed to be a garage.

He tried the door latch, an odd lever and bar arrangement, and after some fiddling, got it unlocked and edged out onto the back steps. If they caught him here they'd assume he was escaping, and that would be very bad. He eyed the explosive device clamped around his wrist, and swallowed.

Several meters along the building to his left, a door banged open and voices rang out. Rodney dived over the side of the steps and huddled down, trying to hide. Four policemen emerged and clattered down the other set of steps, hustling someone along between them, then the officer with the mustache strode out and called across to the garage, hurrying them along.

A larger model of the drab truck Rodney had traveled in slid backwards out of its park, noiseless except for squeaks and rattles as it bounced over the cracked concrete of the yard. Not internal combustion, then, probably electric, as he'd thought. The back of the truck was enclosed by a low panel across the bottom half, and Rodney could see crates and boxes inside, filling most of the space. It was low-slung, with barely six inches clearance from the road. The cab was wider than the one that had brought Rodney from the kitchens, and two guards slid in beside the driver, then their prisoner was pushed up to sit beside them. It was Teyla.

Two more policemen squeezed themselves in alongside her and the outermost one pulled the door closed, pushing a bar down to lock it. The officer shouted something peremptory then went back inside, slamming the door. The lumbering electric truck made a slow, wide turn so as to head out the main gate onto the road, and Rodney could see that it would pass very near the kitchen steps. He waited until the cab filled with police had passed him by, then ran forward and grabbed the back panel, hopping desperately until he could haul himself up and fall into the back, wedged in among boxes and bundles. He held his breath anxiously, but the truck jolted on.

Rodney worked his way into the depths of the truck, moving crates and containers so that he could crouch there, unnoticed. They rattled along the roadways for about twenty minutes, but then the truck slowed and stopped, and officious voices rang out ahead.

It sounded like a checkpoint, damn. They probably wouldn't look in the truck, Rodney reassured himself, but a few minutes later his heart sank as a couple of guards come tromping around the side, discussing the supplies in the back. Apparently a lot of it was weaponry and ammunition and it had to be double-checked and signed off by the checkpoint officer.

He shrank back into the farthest corner, trying to figure out what to do, but his only weapons were the bent-tined fork and small, broken-tipped knife in his pocket. His toolkit was back at the servery. Well, apparently he was surrounded by guns or something, but he had no idea how to assemble or load them. Sheppard could probably have intuited it, or Ronon, but Ronon wasn't here and Sheppard was…Rodney closed his eyes, feeling sick.

The police were thorough with their inventory, and inevitably they hauled him out and dragged him up to the front of the vehicle by the checkpoint. He saw Teyla staring out the truck's window, a look of consternation and horror on her face, and the bastards had given her a black eye, damn them. She was wedged in tightly by the guards in the cab, and he shook his head at her, willing her to be sensible. No point in both of them getting beaten up, or, oh god, shot.

The squad from the truck were arguing furiously with the checkpoint police, who were yelling about incompetence. The checkpoint officer strode over and demanded to know who Rodney was. Rodney thought of Teyla's black-bruised face, set his jaw stubbornly and said nothing. That earned him a blow, and he crumpled to his knees, blood dripping from his nose. Christ that hurt, and his ears were ringing; possibly his nose was broken. He waited hopelessly for the kick he was sure would follow, or a cold gun muzzle at the back of his neck, but suddenly chaos erupted, gunfire and smoke on all sides, shouts and boots pounding and the dull crump of explosions.

Militia were crying out and collapsing all around him, and Rodney flattened himself on the road, sure he was going to die a painful, bloody death any second. And then Teyla was dragging him halfway under the truck, out of the way of the fighting. They couldn't get right underneath, but the low chassis gave quite good cover, and the noise was abating, new voices ringing out.

Rodney peered out from under Teyla's arm, seeing a set of brown leather boots come to rest before his face. He craned his neck to stare up. A puzzled-looking woman in a quasi-military outfit and with graying hair in a long braid was frowning down at him and Teyla, head on one side. "You don't look very Satedan," she said.

*

"So there's this thing called a DHD," Sheppard said. "Not very creative – the letters stand for dial-home device. If you write English, which you don't." He always got a helpless, floundering look when he tangled himself up like this. Normally it was funny, and Ronon enjoyed making Sheppard explain stuff badly. Right now... he wasn't sure Sheppard had the strength to waste on babbling. "It turns the Ring on," Sheppard said, slowly, as if he was also aware of his limitations. "There are big buttons to tell the Ring which planet to go to. Every Ring has one. We need to find it." He looked at Ronon; Metha very obviously thought Ronon was in command, and Sheppard hadn't corrected him yet. Considering Sheppard might pass out any minute, that was probably good strategy. "Now that we've established contact with the Resistance, it's time to call the Marines."

"Armed soldiers," Ronon explained. "In armored transports. Seems to me the Protectorate's biggest weakness is that they've never had to go up against anyone bigger or stronger." He bared his teeth. "We're both."

Metha looked a little disappointed – Ronon figured all the hype about Satedans had him thinking Sheppard's team was supposed to overthrow the government on its own. But he gamely asked his Resistance buddies if anyone had seen such a thing – big and round, Sheppard insisted, cupping his hands in the air like he was holding a very large bowl, unless a computer does the dialling.

They had a quick meal in a secret loft over a water purification tank, even though Ronon was the only one who ate well. Everyone seemed nervous. Ronon assumed they'd all deserted their sections, and this was the lull before the full storm of rebellion broke out. Some kid from a kitchen section showed up with an apronful of knives, which were passed out vaguely according to rank, which meant Ronon got a wickedly curved fruit-knife while Sheppard ended up with a three-inch tuber-peeler.

Finally, one of Metha's buddies showed up with a schematic of the area inside the wall. It was intended for transport drivers: lanes of passage were printed in blue, and forbidden zones were done in red hatching.

"Here," the guy said, tapping the rectangle representing a building Ronon barely remembered – the police had hurried his team past it on the way between the Ring and the Decontamination House. His impression was of drabness, plain cement walls and a low metal roof. "All transports hand over their papers here. There's a sentry box for that purpose. The goods are unloaded onto push trolleys, the papers are verified and taken inside, and the Ring activates."

Ronon wasn't going to point out the flaw in this logic, but Sheppard did it anyway. "Do you guys have radios?" he asked, and was met by blank stares. "Telephones? Any kind of devices for carrying voice messages over distances?"

"Messengers?" Metha asked, tentative. "Some of them have wheeled transports."

Sheppard grinned and looked at Ronon. "The Dome probably causes interference," he said. "Can we get there from the sewers?"

"We can get everywhere," Metha declared. He held up his key lanyard. "I spent seven years with my head down, enduring hell. Their trust was my reward."

Ronon wondered if Metha was planning on going into politics once the old government was dismantled. He had a way with words.

It was pretty easy to feel overconfident, knowing that the police didn't have an easy way of communicating with each other, and it explained how so many people were able to gather without an alarm being raised. If only one or two people were missing from each section, all they needed was someone was willing to lie and say they'd been there just a second ago. Still, Ronon was very aware as they made their way through lesser-used and disused branches of the sewer network that if they were sighted there'd be no mistaking what they were. Twenty people, all from different sections, armed, and two of them off-worlders.

They were careful to keep to the shadows and move in silence.

There was one bad moment, when the guy with the schematic flicked on his light to check they weren't lost, and Ronon realized that the vaults above them were massed with great spider webs. He found the giant hairy legs and glittering eyes the size of his fists disturbing, but Sheppard nearly started hyperventilating.

"Only the females are poisonous," the man just in front of Sheppard told him, as if that was reassuring. Sheppard took an unsubtle step closer to Ronon, and tugged his hat down as far as it would go.

*

Teyla accepted a steaming cup from Rin – Endan Rin, to use her full title. Endan meant something like 'general', here, and she seemed well-respected, a leader.

As far as Teyla could tell, the Resistance groups were not highly organized. They lacked devices such as radios and relied on messengers clambering about in the underground tunnels to communicate. That was how Rin had heard a Satedan strike force had come to their aid. She'd also told Teyla that the bracelets were fakes and contained no explosives, filling Teyla with mixed anger at being duped and relief that John and Ronon might be alive. Ronon, at least, must be the source of the Satedan rumors.

Rin flicked the long braid off her shoulder and stirred some brownish powder into her tea. She offered the jar to Teyla, raising an eyebrow. "Sweetener?" Teyla smiled and shook her head.

"Yeah, so, as I was saying," Rin continued, "Maybe there was a time, many cycles ago, when the Protectors were needed to fight off the Wraith, but then they found this place, with the Dome. We were safe in here – enough room for the city to grow, for fields and farms around the edge, and over it all, the Dome keeping the Wraith out, making it so they can't see us." She sipped her tea, grimaced and blew on it.

"The Dome is made of energy?" Rin nodded and Teyla continued "My colleague, Dr. McKay, would very much like to study it." Rodney was in a huddle down the hall with the Resistance's technicians, mastering the local version of computer science. Portability had not been a goal here – the computer commandeered by the Resistance usually controlled farm irrigation systems and filled half a small room, all blinking lights and whirring fans.

"Maybe he can," Rin said, "if we take the Transport and Trade Building. The Dome generators are there, down in the basements." Rin shrugged. "Problem is, we have to get past the Protectors, and they hold onto power like a baby crasset clinging to its mother's fur. As you can see!" She waved a hand to encompass the whole shielded city and environs.

"Yes," agreed Teyla. "There would have been no need for a fighting force once you were safe under the Dome."

Rin nodded. "But they didn't give up power, they got worse. That's when they started restricting travel and sucking everyone dry with tithes. It's mostly bullshit – like tricks with the fake bracelets, intimidation and false information. People have gotten used to being afraid, though, and the police do disappear anyone who goes up against them. A lot of people die in the work gangs, too, and they mutilate the bodies to make them look like executions." She shook her head. "They're bastards, but there's not anywhere near as many of them as people think."

"We are not many, either," said Teyla. She had not challenged the belief they were Satedan; time enough for that if they all survived. "But we have some skills, and if we can call for reinforcements through the Ring–"

"The Trade Ring?" asked Rin, shaking her head. "That's under Protectorate control. You need special codes to make the control machine dial out. They keep those very close – we haven't been able to steal them."

"If you can get us there, Dr. McKay may be able to discover them," said Teyla, just as Rodney barreled back into the room.

"They're still using DOS!" he exclaimed, waving his hands excitedly. "Or, well, something like it. Unbelievably primitive. Only one step up from punch-cards."

Teyla ignored this – she was used to tuning out Rodney's technical diatribes. "But you can operate it?" she asked.

"Of course I can – it's about as complex as a toaster! Madison could hack it!"

Teyla turned to Rin. "Can you get us into the Trade House where the Ring is?"

Rin grinned. "We just liberated a truckload of weapons and explosives."

Teyla extended her hand and Rin clasped it. "Then we are with you, Endan Rin," she pledged.

"Oh goody, regime change," Rodney said, making a face behind her back. "My favorite."

"He is a true son of Sateda," said Rin approvingly.

*

Sometimes John swore that the Pegasus Galaxy had it out for him. It wasn't bad enough that his team was in danger, possibly dead – though Ronon insisted Rodney was probably fine, and driving Teyla nuts somewhere. Or that John could barely keep up with the group of Resistance fighters. Or that his busted hand meant he couldn't scurry up ladders like everyone else, and had to have Ronon push him up.

It didn't help that Ronon told John it didn't matter, instead of being an asshole and saying it was because John was getting old, or repeating something rude the Marines had told him about the 'Chair Force'. Ronon being nice made John feel like maybe he really was fucked.

The spiders were the last goddam straw. John had been trying to tell himself that he'd hallucinated the whole thing where Pegasus Shelob had tried to eat him. It was very hard to believe when he could hear the spiders scurrying overhead, and strands of their webs kept catching on his hat.

But the worst part of the whole sorry thing was what happened when they infiltrated the Transport and Trade Building. They came up through a stinking grate in the floor of a room full of tanks of live fish waiting for trade, and spread out through the building, picking off the police one by one and securing them with their own handcuff-like restraints. They found the grains room and the poultry room and what seemed to be a room full of barbecue equipment, and John was starting to worry that they'd wasted their one chance.

But then Ronon's buddy came running back, bread knife swinging wildly, and said they'd seized the control room.

Where, John found out a minute later, there was a computer set-up remarkably similar to the one that operated Atlantis' gate. In fact, he thought, looking around the room, he'd bet dollars to donuts that the whole building had been erected around some kind of Ancient facility. There were a lot of control panels and viewscreens whose purposes he couldn't even guess at. He wasn't about to go poking at them, though. Given his luck, he'd drop the Dome shield and the Wraith would appear for the buffet lunch.

Ronon waved him over to the DHD computer and gave John a hopeful look. John rolled his eyes – which he shouldn't have, it aggravated his headache – but gingerly touched the panel with the fingertips of his left hand.

Nada.

"Apparently there are some kinds of codes," Ronon said in a low voice. "Kind of hoped you could cheat." He looked over at the captive guards and flipped his knife in a neat arc, catching it in a quick snatch.

John had made a promise to himself that he wouldn't ever ask anyone to commit torture again. Especially not Ronon.

He leaned against the console and called Ronon's friend over.

"We're missing two of our team. One is a man who can fix anything. If he's alive, he could get this running in his sleep."

The kid who'd brought the knives had been staring perplexed at a 3D display, but he turned around now. "The oven repairman?"

John treasured those words. If the kid was talking about McKay, and he was alive and well and repairing ovens, John would find him and rescue him and then mock him forever. Maybe this galaxy liked him after all.

"Brown-haired guy?" Ronon asked, being practical. "About this tall, and kind of soft-looking?"

The kid nodded. "He fixed an oven that was about to explode. And the peeling machine."

"Cool," John said. Oh yeah, years of teasing.

"You know where the repair guy is?" asked Ronon, jolting John out of a happy plan to put a sign up over Rodney's workstation reading McKay's Kitchen Appliance Repairs – No Job Too Small!

The kid shook his head. "I heard he ran off from the kitchens, but maybe they caught him again."

"Hope not," said Ronon grimly. "'cause unless we can get this thing working and dial out for back-up, we're stuffed."

Gunshots sounded from the rear of the Trade House, and something exploded.

"Maybe it's the Satedans," the kid said hopefully. John shut his eyes.

*

The revolution was just as shambolic as Rodney had expected, but luckily the police were badly organized as well, and they were poorly trained and over-confident.

He could have done without all the scrambling through cellars and tunnels, but apparently that was how the Resistance got around so as to avoid the squads. It was preferable to being shot at, despite the alarming noises and glimpses of waving legs and hairy bodies scuttling away from their lamps.

Rodney hoped Teyla was right and Sheppard hadn't had his arm blown off, but if he'd had to handle a similar trip through the set of Arachnophobia, he might not be doing too well.

They got into the Trade House through a short, foul-smelling sewer. The sluice room it opened into led out into a huge underground cellar. There was a brief but vicious engagement with several guards in which Teyla enhanced the reputation of Sateda several-fold and Rodney shot a few pillars. The strange guns they'd taken from the truck pulled to the left, or possibly he wasn't operating them properly – the levers confused him.

He almost got side-tracked by the central installation, which was almost certainly the Dome generator and clearly Ancient tech, but Teyla wouldn't let him stay and explore it. That put him in a foul mood so he used a few Molotov cocktails that he'd made using acid from the truck's battery to speed their passage through the building. The sooner they knocked out the rest of the police, the sooner he could get back and play with the shield tech.

The braided-woman's forces met up with another Resistance group, and they charged around a final corner to find Ronon got up in a ludicrous set of yellow hazmat gear. Sheppard, similarly attired, was leaning heavily on another bank of outmoded blinky-light computers.

Rodney opened his mouth to say something witty and cutting about their outfits – the hats were priceless – but Sheppard scowled and held up a finger. "Not. One. Word," he said, as menacingly as someone half-dead could manage.

"But," spluttered Rodney. "Hats!"

"Nuh uh," said Sheppard, "Or I tell Sgt. Halloran in the mess kitchen how you love repairing ovens."

"I am very glad you are both alive and in possession of all your limbs," said Teyla smoothly, ignoring this interchange as she swept forward to touch brows with Ronon and Sheppard.

"Yes, yes," said Rodney. "Likewise, of course." He frowned at Sheppard unhappily. "They brought us your sleeve. We thought you'd been…you know."

"It's what they do," said Ronon. "They brought me yours." He pulled Rodney into a one-armed hug.

"Ow, mind my back," complained Rodney, but he leaned into the big lunk, just for a moment.

Teyla was easing Sheppard down to sit on a wooden chair. "You do not look well, Colonel," she said, sounding worried.

Rodney hovered behind her, feeling useless. "Your hand," he said. "It's all – they didn't?"

"Nah, those bracelets were duds," said Sheppard. He lifted his bandaged hand and winced. "This's just good old fashioned police brutality." He nodded at the computer. "Speaking of which, can you do your thing with the DHD system there, McKay? We're not gonna have much time before they regroup."

So Rodney did his thing, and they got through to the Alpha site, and then there were cloaked jumpers and marines, and Sheppard being bullied onto a gurney by Keller while their allies in the Resistance helped direct the clean-up along with Ronon and Lorne, wide-eyed at the might of great Sateda.

Rodney missed most of the politics because he was busy analyzing the Dome shield, and Ronon missed it because he was out with Lorne and the braided-hair woman disarming the last police squads.

Woolsey and Teyla negotiated with the weasely guy who was apparently Ronon's boss on the municipal work gang, and they thrashed out some interim, vaguely democratic arrangement. Woolsey said it was going to take months and several visits from the sociologists to really get things sorted. Whatever. Rodney was sure they could spare a few soft scientists for a while.

The shield mechanism was extraordinary, and Rodney could already see multiple applications. It could definitely be extended, although Woolsey said quellingly that the Vargans needed to sort out the society they had now before taking on any more territory. Rodney copied the schematics and headed on home. The SGC were going to wet themselves with joy.

Sheppard had been sent on ahead and was hooked up to an IV in the infirmary, bored and slightly loopy on pain-killers. Rodney ignored his surliness and propped his laptop up against Sheppard's leg to work on the shield specs. Teyla was there as well, a cold-pack pressed to her bruised face, and Ronon turned up after an hour-long shower. He asked Teyla if his dreads smelt funny. Rodney guessed they were tricky to wash.

"How'd they take the news that we weren't all Satedan?" Rodney asked Ronon, looking up from his keyboard.

"Pretty well," said Ronon. He grinned. "Offered me a job in the new government."

"They can't have you," Rodney shot back, typing furiously to cover the way his stomach had clenched. "You're ours."

"What he said," said Sheppard tightly, and Teyla nodded and patted John's arm.

"Okay," said Ronon. He tilted his chin at John's barely-touched dinner tray. "You gonna eat that muffin?"


Ronon Dex, report to Mr Woolsey (transcript)

So that's it, Woolsey. You want to know more, ask Sheppard when he gets out of the infirmary.

How do I feel?

I feel like Earth is dicking us around. I know McKay thinks the Dome tech can be copied, and it'll be good for defence, but we took a risk we wouldn't have before. We could have died.

Maybe this will get the bastards off our backs?

Tell you one thing.

When we were on that planet, Sateda was alive. People believed. It was good to be Satedan, and to fix a problem my people should've known about. Done something about.

Everything went wrong, but I guess we did the right thing.

Don't tell Earth that last bit.

(end transcript)