The door to the brig opened; Todd did not bother standing to greet John as he entered the small room.
The cat-like stares of a wraith were something to get used to. It was hard to tell if they were being pensive, or merely watching the dust floating in the air. As a species that often connected minds, few found any reason for subtle gestures or expressions. Todd was not one of the few who had mastered gesture, yet one could often pinpoint his current attitude by his expression. He was waiting for something…watching and waiting.
“So…” John said.
Todd said nothing. He kept waiting. That was all he was going to do and he knew it was now obvious. He was going to do what he wanted to do and not what he was told without a good reason and he knew John didn’t have one.
“Aren’t you going to say something?” John asked.
“Aren’t you going to shoot me?”
“Hey!” John protested. “You did save Earth.”
The fact that Todd didn’t change his expression in the slightest told him that wasn’t an answer.
“Okay, fine. I won’t shoot you. Now get up, Dr. Keller—“
Todd narrowed his eyes in resentment, not at John, but at his words. There was a line John didn’t want crossed. Perhaps he knew where it was and perhaps he didn’t, but John did. The problem was John was standing at the edge of the line he’d drawn himself and was coming after him. When John had said ‘all bets are off’ he had never imagined John would slip into the role of their common enemy, even in the slightest. Being held by Atlantis was something he was used to. He didn’t mind anymore. John Sheppard, of all people, had done worse than merely take him prisoner. He’d taken everything away. No shoes, no clothes, no real name, no sky to see again, no galaxy of his own, no hope. Either John understood or he didn’t, but either way he wouldn’t want to be told what he’d done. Whichever it was, John had left him with one thing his previous captors hadn’t: a promise. He remembered those biting words John had told him, how he had insinuated death in escape was better than wasting away locked away with nothing. Even if those words were laced with his promise, Todd was going to hold him to it; it was all he had and he was not going to let it slip away without a fight.
“Stop looking at me like that!” John complained. He didn’t know half of what Todd was thinking, but he knew what the wraith wanted. He didn’t like it and he didn’t want to think about why.
“You taught me that you kept your promises, no matter what,” Todd said.
The two stared at each other for a long time. John kept trying to find a way around what Todd had said and Todd kept keeping him from doing so. Todd didn’t need to say what he was thinking. Every second John was silently asked ‘Well, what kind of human are you? I can either no longer trust you or I can and you’re just waiting to find the time when you’d best like to execute me. Which is it?’ He couldn’t escape the fact that there was no disappointment, just plain expectation laid down so thick he found it hard to move looking at Todd’s face. The worst part was that he knew it was his fault and he didn’t know why that bugged him.
“I can’t do this,” John said and turned away, waving at Todd and giving up.
Todd watched him leave, still waiting.
“I hear you’ve been rather quiet, lately,” Woolsey said.
Todd didn’t reply.
“That wasn’t a joke. You’ve also been giving the guards a hard time.”
Todd still didn’t respond. He had refused to stand when told. He’d been dragged to his feet and manacled. He did obediently go where he was told, but that was the extent of his cooperation. John had taught him the importance of both defiance and trust. The cunning to twist those things like a pretzel was all Todd’s. It was a combination that needed to be handled with care.
Woolsey pushed a clipboard with a document that spanned over ten pages on it towards Todd, who immediately shoved it back, almost too fast for Woolsey to catch it. “Dr. Keller is concerned about the effectiveness of your ‘cure’.’” Woolsey said, ignoring Todd’s reaction. “She wants to know what exactly happened and believes this could give us genetic information about the wraith.”
“I see no point.” Todd finally said, leaning forward and setting his cuffed wrists on the table. “If I agree, I am to be shot and this information will be useless. If I don’t, Sheppard will eventually find a reason to keep his promise anyway.”
“He has been sent on vacation specifically because of this situation.”
“Then you can tell him of my insolence when he returns. There is no need to insult me by pretending I might choose to have any part of this.”
“If you truly needed my consent, you would have used a language I could read.”
Two days later, Todd was dragged into a conference room again. It was empty at first, but when someone finally arrived, he couldn’t help but be surprised by the stranger. He seemed smaller than he actually was as he struggled with a pile of books and an even larger pile of notes. He was dressed differently than those on Atlantis, similarly to Sheppard when he dressed casually.
“I do not know you,” Todd said. He didn’t know most people on Atlantis. He didn’t care to.
“I was—No, we’ve never met before,” the stranger said, sitting down at the opposite end of the table. “My name’s Dr. Daniel Jackson.”
“One of your men threw me to the floor and held be down with his boot to force these on me.” Todd said, holding up his cuffs as best he could. “Is there an actual point to dragging me here?”
“Uh, well, I’m here to negotiate,” Daniel said. He was used to different verisons of 'Stop wasting my time'. In truth, Daniel enjoyed this. Todd was a mystery he was given all the time he needed to crack and given the guards and the cuffs, as well as the fact that Todd was already smart enough to know his chances if he managed to escape both of those, he wasn’t in any danger. The worst Todd was going to do was steal was his pen, and those were free.
“I am uninterested,” Todd said steadfastly. To him, he knew enough of how things worked around here. He wasn’t going to put up with anything that wasn’t serious, and he doubted they actually wanted to negotiate.
“We’re trying something different this time,” Daniel said. “First, Sheppard’s not going to kill you, even if this ends up going nowhere. Second, I was picked because I was the least threatening.”
“You were chosen over Doctor Rodney McKay?”
“He wasn’t too upset about the decision,” Daniel said happily. He was making slow progress. He’d managed to get the wraith to talk more than he had all week. “Plus, I’m an archeologist… I study cultures and we don’t know much about yours.”
“That sounds like a very good incentive to keep such knowledge to myself,” Todd said.
“There has to be some way we can make a trade where we both get what we want.” Todd was ten thousand years old. It was impossible for nothing to have developed for the wraith in all that time.
“You’ve taken a good many things from me. The only offer I have heard is that you can prevent Shepperd from shooting me…and I doubt you can stop him from doing what he truly wants. Nor do I care to change his mind.”
“That certainly complicates this situation,” Daniel agreed.
“I believe I am already a complicated situation for you… and I’ve seen the way you handle complicated situations.”
Daniel refused to believe this was a futile effort, but it was quite a while until he spoke again. Todd wasn’t trying to rile him up, but he kept saying every sentence as if that was going to be the last thing said in the room and Daniel would just pack up and leave. It was as if Daniel being in the room were a problem and he were trying to solve it. “So… do you have any hobbies?”
“I do not understand.” He didn’t. It was a fact, so it was stated as such. Todd didn't see any point in things beyond that.
“Things you do,” Daniel said, hoping to explain.
“I tend to end up in someone’s brig often.”
“I mean what do you like to do?”
“I prefer not to be in your brig.”
Daniel put his head in his hand and sighed. Then he realized Todd was still being serious. It was like asking which way a river went and being frustrated that the answer was ‘down’. “Really? Because I might be able to pull some string—that might happen.”
“Where would I be, then?” Todd asked with guarded curiosity.
“A nicer room, I guess,” Daniel said. “Maybe somewhere with stuff to do…probably a shower. I can't promise a window, but maybe a tablet to look at cameras aimed at the sky.”
“What kind of information would this be worth to you?” Todd asked, only to confirm that this was yet another ploy to give him the worst of the deal.
“Stuff like…Do you have any legends, myths, stories? Uh… maybe where you got your tattoo.”
“Why would such information be important to you?”
“Well, body art tends to be the most—“
“Art?” Todd interrupted. He’d heard the word often; he just never paid attention to it, like ‘football’ or ‘Batman.’
The wraith may have just wanted to know what gibberish he thought he was being screwed over with, but Daniel wasn’t going to let that keep him from trying. “Art… art…” he muttered, sifting through notes, tossing others away, shoving books haphazardly to the side until he found a book buried on the bottom of the pile, which was now all over the table. He handed the book to Todd. “Here, look at this.”
Todd stared at the book..
“I mean look through it,” Daniel said, understanding that it was caution, not a contemptuous joke Todd was acting upon.
Todd carefully placed the fingers of his left hand, one by one, over the book and slowly wrapped his thumb under it, all on the opposite side to Daniel’s hand. Tentatively he slid it out of Daniel’s grasp, which he found surprisingly easy. He had never been given anything by a human in this way, and in fact, had never been allowed to touch things much. He’d been allowed to type in a lab, but he hadn’t been allowed to adjust the computer or move his chair.
He opened the book to a random page. One page was covered in writing he couldn’t understand. The other had strange and somewhat jumbled picture. A very decorated, yet naked male stood with one foot raised. Blue skin, six arms, strange gestures and items, long matted black hair and covered in ash. Behind him was a circle resembling a stargate, within it lay a lush rolling landscape and outside of it were flames and bodies.
“That is Shiva, the destroyer and teacher,” Daniel said. “Here he’s burning away ignorance, leaving only knowledge.”
“He is not real,” Todd said, tracing a finger across he picture slowly.
“No, it’s a representation,” Daniel said. “He’s a concept.”
“Why do you hide meanings behind odd pictures?,” Todd asked, still interested.
“There are some things words can’t really describe sometimes,” Daniel said. “And even if there were, it’d be easier to just go right to the basic senses. Aren’t there things easier to tell each other with minds than talking to each other?”
Todd lammed the book shut. He wanted to study the picture more. Daniel’s words were right about it and he did not know why, but the man already knew he was curious and that was dangerous. Atlantis wasn’t a group that would offer something so enticing to a wraith, no matter what it was, without a greater gain for themselves in return. “What is it you that you want me to agree to when you have enough force for a vivisection any time want?”
Daniel didn’t like the way he said that. It wasn’t the word, it was that he was back to talking by stating grim facts. It was the way the world worked, some law of nature to him. John was going to shoot him, Atlantis could do what they wanted to him on a whim, and physical objects were piulled towards each other by gravity.
“Dr. Keller has no idea what she could find and she wants to talk to you about what she does—“
“If you are not willing to answer my question, there was never any reason to drag me here,” Todd said angrily.
“Sorry, I was trying to make this more pleasant,” Daniel said. He winced and decided to get it over with. “Dr. Keller scanned you, but they weren’t made for wraith, so she wants a much more extensive look to see if your cancer’s gone or if anything else went wrong instead. It involves a blood sample, but she also wants to perform a lumbar puncture and a trephine aspiration and they’re… very, very painful and you’ll need to hold very still… while awake. She's also hoping for some answers to some questions.”
“Honesty is not something Tau'ri give away easily,” Todd said, staring at the book. “You would be disappointed in the knowledge I have. I do not think they are the answers you seek.”
“you have something, though,” Daniel said. “And even if you don’t, it would be interesting to find out why.”
“I have never known them to make a serious proposal to improve my situation while in custody; you are not serious now?”
Daniel realized Todd had found an advantage over them. The wraith may not have been very pleased by it, but he was obviously holding onto what he had. He could sit and rot in the brig and suffer humans annoying him or he could sit and rot in the brig; be stabbed by large, sharp needles that resembled power tools; and also suffer humans annoying him. Once again, he had an ultimatum for them to do what he wanted or not bother him. The problem with his plan, however, was he wanted them to not bother him.
“What about a contract?” Daniel asked. “It’d be pretty easy to adjust the notes on the procedure into one. Woolsey would still have to agree to what you want out of this.” He wondered how a wraith would sign his name.
Todd was finally intrigued in the proposition. Sure, the best he’d probably get would resemble the brig on the Daedalus with little more than a sink, a place to sit, and more sapce, but it would be comfort of some sort. He never cared for the formalities humans went out of their way to express around each other and he’d grown used to being insulted while in the same room, but he missed the recognition of his help. Being able to ask for something pointless and actually having the request considered was a significant gesture on their part.
If they actually agreed to such compromises, he might even get them to leave him alone. The only thing worse than rotting in a cell is rotting in a cell with someone annoying you. Then again, what little he’d been told by this Daniel Jackson was intriguing. Pointless probably, but it was something of interest and a person worth talking to—those tended to be rare, even when one could travel an entire galaxy looking for one.
Still, that was all to come later. If he was ever going to have a chance to talk to Daniel, he had to give Atlantis what they wanted first. He shoved the book back. He shouldn’t be wasting the human’s time when he didn’t want them waste his.
“You can keep that if you want,” Daniel said. “I own three and that’s an old edition.”
Todd reached out slightly, then stopped, all the while eying the book carefully, as if it were about to bite him. The only free things he’d ever received from humans were gunshots or various kinds and insults. He pulled his hands back. There was a catch to this. There had to be.
Daniel was confused. All this time Todd had been waiting for honesty and something in return. He’d agreed to negotiate an offer where he would still be a prisoner just to have a few more things. Now he was given a free thing, a free thing he wanted, and he was refusing. “It’s not part of the negotiations; it’s free. I’ll tell the guards once we leave that I let you have it.”
“Rodney McKay told me once that there are ‘bonds’ between human siblings,” Todd said. “If I wished, I could have used such information in a way you would find cruel. I do not want what I give you to be used for such exploitation”
Todd was very patient throughout the whole thing, though unnervingly quiet. Daniel had never had something watch him so intensely with no intention of disturbing him whatsoever, especially a person to whom nearly everything he wrote down was complete gibberish.
The contract was signed once Todd was taught how to write his own name—Daniel figured teaching him about the alphabet would come later if the wraith was interested in any of it--odd was moved to the medical lab. Daniel’s comment that sometimes it could take even more work to get a human to agree to such things was not appreciated. He didn’t mention that Todd had left the book on the table, still closed.
“What’d he do?” John asked after walking into Woolsey’s office.
“I doubt it was his fault—for once.” Woolsey said, setting his book down.
“So something did happen,” John stated, both proud of himself and dreading the mess he’d have to clean up. ‘I told you so’ isn’t as gratifying when dangerous aliens were involved.
“He had a severe allergic reaction somehow. “
“He’s a wraith, how bad could it be?”
“He’s had arrhythmia and trouble breathing for the last three days. Dr. Keller had to cut open his chest and use open-heart massage twice, which is already difficult on a human. He’s currently in observation, but Dr. Keller would rather you didn’t bother him until he’s out.”
“Oh, he’s always cranky,” John said, literally hand waving the problem away. “He’s fine now, right?”
“He’s been having blackouts and showing signs of pica. Other than agreeing that he’d rather not have you around for a while, all he’s said is that this is all similar to being bitten by the Iratus bug.”
“What’s pica?” John asked. Why couldn’t medical problems have simple terms like ‘heart attack’ or ‘severed limb’ or ‘dead’?
“Essentially it means ‘eating strange things.’”
“Anything is strange for him,” John said. Why was everything a long story when it came to Todd?
“He didn’t notice he was eating a pen until he was halfway through,” Woolsey said.
“We can get more pens.”
“If you want to speak to him, you can visit him in his room in a few days,” Woolsey said. Todd didn’t want to talk to anyone, especially the person best skilled at talking to him. Said person’s only idea was to give the wraith office supplies. Meanwhile, they had a mystery concerning Todd and mysteries and wraith went together like peanut butter and napalm. If this situation was going to blow up, he’d like to know when and how so he could safely move it far, far away.
“When did he get a room?”
“He wanted one in exchange for agreeing to the medical tests. He’s still under guard and he couldn’t leave if he tried. If you feel the need to shoot him, try not to make too much of a mess.”
The doors slammed shut behind Todd and he gave the room a slow, languid glance. It had been thrown together at the last minute and was minimal even for what he asked, but he was satisfied by it. It was his and it was as private as he was going to get—far more private than the infirmary or the brig at least.
He sat down on the bed and reflected on what he could remember of the past few days. He didn’t understand Dr. Keller. He figured he never would now. She was compassionate, which was an aspect far more complex than he’d suspected. The tests required a fairly uncompromising position and he was already uncomfortable just to be wearing the strange outfit he’d been force to wear on the Daedalus. She’d fetched him a shirt and even scolded the guards for laughing.
That had merely been convenient. He understood it even. It was everything afterwards that confused him. What she referred to as a ‘lumbar puncture’ was indeed intensely painful, but soon afterwards, he felt a pain in his chest and couldn’t breathe. Minutes before, she turned her back to him so he could dress himself and then gently moved his hair away while trying to lessen imminent pain by talking. Suddenly she was someone else, flipping him over by his hair and shredding the shirt she’d just given him. She was screaming at people, grabbing things, violently burning him with strange devices and finally taking a knife to him.
She was there by the side of the bed, a curtain even pulled around it, after he awoke from his first ‘blackout’. She was smiling, asking him how he felt, and then apologizing. All he could say was that he didn’t understand what she was doing. He ignored her when she started waving a pen around in front of him, but she didn’t show annoyance at having to explain the vision test before trying to get him to comply. She’d even put a new shirt on him under his coveralls at some point and put a blanket over him despite his injuries having healed. It was all in the name of ‘compassion’. It was inconsistent and forceful. He didn’t like it anymore
She left out of politeness, only to return to find him pulling half a pen out of his mouth just as he wondered when he’d started eating it. She yanked it away and tossed it behind her, screaming at him that he’d shredded the sleeves of his outfit in the same way. She loudly and rapidly demanded answers from him, yet told the guards to leave when they asked if there was a problem. Then she asked if he wanted John to come by, ignoring the lack of answers. It was random, irrelevant, and yet, she already knew he didn’t want John to see him like that. She knew it was uncomfortable for him already.
He didn’t like her anymore. He didn’t like her spontaneous changes in mood while claiming it was all in the name of the same emotion. He didn’t like how she could get into his head so easily. He didn’t like her constantly prodding him verbally and saying it was to help him. He used to like her; he’d pick her out of the crowd of humans because she was the opposite of the angry, violent, dominant queens he was used to. It wasn’t her fear, but her willingness to talk to him without sounding like she wanted to kick him in the face with her boot. Now she flipped between the two and he couldn’t predict when she’d change.
Something caught his eye and distracted him from contemplating the aggressive nature of compassion—or possibly the reverse. He made his way over to the object, curious as to why humans would have left anything extra in his possession.
It was the book Daniel had said he could have. He ha left it behind in the conference room. After all this time, someone had taken the time to return to him something that was essentially useless. It was no good to Daniel; he had said so. It was no good to anyone on Atlantis, they had what they wanted and they knew that as much as the book intrigued him, he wasn’t going to give them anything for it. It was no use to him anyway; he could recognize the symbols on the cover, but he had no idea what they meant or said collectively.
After casting a quick glance at the surveillance camera, he picked up the book and sat down on the floor to do what he could in studying it. He was going to test how much of this was truly his and how much he could treat the contents of the room as his own property and how long he could get away with it.
After some time, the doors opened and John walked in. Todd didn’t look up or greet him as the doors closed. He wasn’t in the mood for company, but he wasn’t in the mood to tell John to go away either.
“Swingin’ pad, dude,” John said. “Let’s throw a party, invite some chicks.”
Todd ignored him. Wraith tended to tune out what humans said like similar to cats, even when the humans were talking at them. It took the proverbial can opener to get their attention.
“Not a fan of lightswitches, are you?” John said, looking around the room. Then he realized Todd wouldn’t be able to adjust the lights if he wanted to. He also realized a wraith could see in the dark, so maybe Todd hadn’t noticed. “Somehow, I’d expected more furniture,” John said, cluelessly. There was only a dresser made out of storage boxes next to the door and a cot against the opposite wall. Todd’s new clothes showed a bit more creativity but the same minimalistic sense of effort—that or they were picked out in the dark from a box of rags. His pants had old coffee and blood stains on them and his shirt looked like it had been used more than once to wax a car while it was on fire. The only new things were his fingerless gloves, obviously for human protection, as there were prominent bite marks on his arms and fingers. “Daniel needs to teach you about interior decorating,” John said, looking at the few objects on the dresser. One was a long document written in the ancient language, probably the contract that let him stay here. There was a box of unlabeled crayons, half of them chewed on. Next to that was a small book entitled Learn Colors. “What’s this?” John asked, picking up the book and flipping through it, noting that all English had been crossed out and a few short bits of ancient were written in the margins.
“Doctor Keller was concerened,” Todd said. “Dan-i-ell translated it.”
John laughed. “You pronounce hi name like he’s a girl.”
Todd wasn’t amused. He obviously had no idea what John meant, but he was still not amused.
“Don’t tell him I said that,” John mumbled, turning to the coloring book.
Most of the book was a series of color-by-numbers pictures, all of which seemed to be colored at random. “Well, the good news is you’re not getting graded on this.” John turned the page and this time the instructions were to draw a picture in red. Todd had scribbled a strange conglomeration of geometric shapes in purple. “You know, I think they meant a flower or a bunny or—nevermind.” Why would a wraith draw a cute little bunny or a pretty flower? He was suddenly glad it resembled beginner’s cubism; he didn’t want to know what kind of ‘pretty pictures’ a wraith would draw.
“Is there a reason you are here?” Todd asked, flipping through a few pictureless pages.
“I thought… I’m usually better at this but… you’ve had a rough couple of days and I’m sure Dr. Keller said she didn’t know it would happen, so…” John’s train of thought rain out of steam and he was left wondering if fidgeting enough would push it along its tracks.
Todd finally turned from his book to watch John flounder. He wondered what was so important about John waving his arms about that he needed the wraithto put the book down.
“I’m not really sure if this would even work, but… you wanna talk?”
“Of?” Todd asked. The humans were hiding something while he was the one they were overall suspicious of… again.
“Well, sometimes when…strange things happen, people want to talk about them and they feel better. I don’t know how you guys handle it, so I thought I’d ask.”
“I am ill,” Todd said, closing the book and pushing it away.
“Um…” John said. He hadn’t really planned this out. He had three days to put together a speech or make notes, but instead he hadn’t even bothered to think a situation like this would impair his ability to form complete sentences. What did one say to a sick wraith?
Todd stood up and walked towards him. He shoved John aside, only to collapse after another step.
“You okay?” John asked, bending down. He realized Todd had his hand over his mouth. He grabbed Todd under his arms and did his best to lift the wraith to his feet and drag him the rest of the way to the small bathroom. He just barely managed to get Todd to the shower stall in time.
“Don’t tell me you need another bug,” John said, holding back Todd’s hair as the wraith retched onto the shower floor. “Because we’re all out of those.”
Todd leaned back and batted John’s hand away. “This is the same as surviving one,” Todd said, resting against the bathroom wall.. “Not as severe in effects”
“By ‘this’ you mean...?” John asked.
“Dr. Keller would have more information than I would,” Todd said. “It was ten days, from the bug.”
“Having a heart attack for over a week doesn’t sound like much of a cure for cancer,” John said.
“Sheppard?” Todd asked in a tone that indicated there was going to be a follow-up question.
“Yeah?” John asked.
“Sure,” John said, standing up. He assured himself he was still being helpful. Then he wondered why he bothered. “I’ll tell Dr. Keller, she’ll want to know what happened. She wanted to know what you’ve been chewing on anyway; made it sound like you were a hamster.”
“Would it be a serious problem if I were?” Todd asked. He wondered if being whatever a hamster was qualified as having shoved things sideways.
“Forget it,” John said. For someone who spent thousands of years on a ship full of other men, Todd sucked at male bonding. “I’ll just tell her what colors you ate.”
Todd smiled, knowingly. Half the reason was because he knew it disturbed John. “I do not intend to stop you from keeping your word.”
“…Right.” John said, and left the bathroom. He grabbed the coloring book before standing at the door. He cast a quick glance at Todd, who just sat there. He wasn’t upset, he was just thinking. Again. For the small moment he waited for the door to open, he wondered why he didn’t want to leave Todd alone. As he walked down the hall, he realized Todd had been fully conscious during those ten days, which meant he’d been awake in the infirmary until he blacked out. Three days alone and in pain and when he had a chance, he refused the offer to let John see him.
After every threat, after every trick, after several disturbing comments, now was the time John’s stomach was tied in knots the worst.
The only person Todd had to talk to about this, truly, was him. The only person John had to talk to about this was… no one. If he didn’t know better, he’d say Todd had concocted a pretty good revenge for the threat of being shot.
“I get it, I’ll fix this,” John exclaimed. “Can you lighten up?” He suddenly realized how thankful he was that he was standing in an empty corridor.
The humans on Atlantis had a strange concept known as ‘personal space.’ Apparently it only applied to them when they felt like it, which was arbitrary as far as Todd could see. Rodney treated him like furniture until Todd’s presence became too unnerving, John liked to stand inches from him and glare, and neither Ronon nor Teyla appreciated him closer than a yard away. Jennifer showed no signs of consistency as far as Todd could see. Her tolerance was an unpredictable as her mood..
He wasn’t allowed to keep people from entering his room or forcibly make them leave. She came into his room, apologized for it, and then went straight to the bathroom to throw the mess he’d made into a bag with no concern. While it was true he tended to spend most of his days inside of something that was alive, he didn’t go poking at rotten and sick things. Hives were kept clean, that was one of the benefits of feeding and cocoons. The same person who cared about his health was picking at something covered in bile and complained he didn’t understand her.
“So what happened?” John asked, wandering into the med lab and noticing Jennifer wasn’t very busy.
“He didn’t tell you?” she asked, looking at a test tube.
“I don’t think he could if he wanted,” John said, leaning against the doorway. “And he didn’t.”
“I’m not entirely sure what the tests mean, yet. I’m not as much of an expert on wraith as you think I am,” Dr. Keller said. “I don’t think he knows anyway, John. He had an allergic reaction to the herparin on the lumber puncture needle. He’s experienced hyperkalemia, pica, and syncope and he said it was all just like after being bitten by the Iratus bug queen.”
“Does that come in English, maybe some subtitles?” John asked. He doubted Todd would have a clue what those were either.
“Hart trouble, blackouts, and he ate three pennies I left on the table,” She clarified.
“We’re not watching him because you want your three cents back, are you?” John asked. He hoped not.
“I’m pretty sure he’s digested it, despite being back to normal for him,” Jennifer said. She knew what ‘normal’ was for Todd according to John. She didn’t care. “Right now, I’m trying to figure out why. It’s related to the endogenous retrovirus the bug introduced.”
“I’m going to end up shooting that, aren’t I?” John asked. He was hoping she’d get to the ‘No, everything’s fine, he’s doing this on purpose’ part. “An endogenous retrovirus is like gene therapy. Mine was supposed to just stop the genes that regulated his feeding organ and jumpstart the ones that regulated digestion. It also messed with the genes that controlled the creation of while blood cells in half his bone marrow and his body ended up both attacking and trying to fix itself while cleaning up the mess.”
John figured that explained a lot about Todd’s hive when it acquired the same problem from its residents. It was falling apart, fixing itself, trying to clear things out, and confusing itself in the process.
“The bug didn’t just add one gene,” she continued. “It add a long list of them, though I think most of them are dead.”
“So he’s part zombie now?” John asked, looking at Todd. “That is a pretty good magic trick.”
“Dead DNA is genes your body doesn’t use anymore,” Dr. Keller said. She had come here hoping to spend no more than two minutes explaining this. “Most of the genes aren’t even complete. The bug apparently found DNA from a lot of things and stored it up, probably passing it down for generations until it found something it wanted to spread it to—I have no idea why—he’s got DNA from other wraith, from the bug, from humans, and from ancients; all of those have leftovers from even more species.”
“Wait, back up, you said ‘ancient DNA’?” John asked. “How come he can’t open doors or turn on lights?”
“That’s one particular gene, and I checked: he doesn’t even have a partial version of that one,” Dr. Keller, replied. If there was a reason to watch Todd, she was going to do her best to make sure it was the right one… or two. “I ran a scan when he was unconscious and I found he was showing similar synaptic patterns to something we’ve already seen.”
“Oh, great,” John whined. “Last time someone’s DNA was messed with, Rodney was reading minds and bringing people back from the dead—wait.”
“It’s too early to know what’s going on for sure. If Todd’s right and this is just a repeat of what happened after he was bitten by the bug, we don’t have much to worry about long-term.
“Don’t even think about it!” John yelled, barging into Todd’s room. He left without noticing the wraith hadn’t bothered to look up from his book. John returned thirty seconds later. “You had better not know what I’m talking about.” Again John left. This time Todd looked up. John didn’t return, so the wraith decided this was just another matter of the human acting strange.
“You want me to what?” Daniel complained after John had barged in on him and Todd. “It took me an hour just to see how he sees blue,”
“I’ve known him for years and I never found that out,” John said. He didn’t know when it would come up, but when a species that won’t give their name to someone they had talked with for years tells you about colors in an hour, that’s a pretty good achievement in either diplomacy or drugs. “You’re way ahead.”
“You are concerned?” Todd asked.
“Friends look out for each other,” John said, smile. It was funny. At least to him.
Todd turned away to stare at the table top in resignation. It was a battle he would never win and a question he’d never get answers to.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t have bought that either,” John said before turning to Daniel to address both of them. “Look, just figure out if he’s going to do anything dangerous and you can teach him about Dora the Explorer or whatever. His tattoos aren’t going anywhere. Have fun.” John scruffled Daniel's hair and left.
Daniel sighed. He’d essentially been told to find out the future by asking random questions to an alien who couldn’t understand the concept of ‘orange’ and was occasionally preoccupied with eating random things people weren’t careful enough to keep in their pockets. He didn’t even have an enthusiastic alien to talk to anymore now; Todd was still staring at the table.
“Well, that was embarrassing,” Daniel said, adjusting his hair and glasses.
Todd kept staring at the table.
“You two aren’t really friends, are you?” Daniel asked. Why couldn’t people have warned him he was walking into a soap opera for once?
“No,” Todd said, looking up. His eyes flickered to the door for a second, then back to Daniel. “Perhaps never.”
“So you don’t really trust him?” Daniel asked. He’d covered two pages with notes about colors, another about clothing, and another doodling while John was talking. He had two mote notepads left. He was certain that he’d need a lot more just to understand whatever was going on between Todd and John.
“I have no reason not to trust him,” Todd said.
“But you don’t like him?” Daniel asked. He made a note to ask John to see counselor and circled it.
“I do not see the relevance?” Todd said, almost hissing. His eyes were narrowed and his bare brows were creased, but there as no anger, just disappointment.
“Great, now you don’t like me either,” Daniel said dejectedly. Now he had less of a clue as to who had been messing with whose head.
“He will keep to his threat. What I think of him will not change that. Before, you were honest, albeit in our own unique way. I understand your loyalty to your own people, but I have already told you that you can give me a serious offer or stop wasting your time pretending you don’t need to. I no longer care how much you have to offer; you are just another human now.”
“I think we have a failure to communicate,” Daniel said. Todd was closing himself off, willing to bury his sense of wonder so far away that it would be just as hidden as he himself already was to the rest of the world just to protect himself. Daniel could even understand why just from what little he knew of Todd and he realized exactly where he went wrong. The problem was to convince Todd he didn’t mean it.
“I cannot stop you from talking,” Todd continued. “And I cannot force you to return me to my room. Or hold you to anything.”
“That’s not really what I meant,” Daniel said. “Actually, that is what I mean—“
“I do not understand.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” Daniel said.
Todd just stared, waiting for the rest of what Daniel was going to say so it would all make sense.
“You don’t understand what that even means, do you?” Daniel asked, taking notes. Atlantis had been dealing with the wraith for five years. How come no one ever mentioned this? Probably because no one wanted the wraith to want it.
“It is another of your meaningless formalities,” Todd said. “Isn’t it?”
“It means you regret an action or inaction that affects someone” Daniel said. He wondered if asking for a dictionary would help, but just figured he’d be wasting time flipping through pages and accidentally explaining meanings Todd wouldn’t understand anyway.
“What is the importance?” Todd asked.
“Well, when people say it, the hope the person they are saying it to feels better that they regretted it and won’t hold it against them. At least as much.”
“It does not do anything, though?” Todd asked. He was seriously starting to doubt his knowledge of a language he’d spoken for thousands of years.
“Not physically,” Daniel admitted. “But it means that whoever did something wrong realizes it and wishes they hadn’t. It’s supposed to make people feel better.”
“For what purpose?” Todd asked.
Daniel sighed. An hour and a half ago, he’d been talking about crayons and coloring books and in return he got the deconstruction of language and the most basic element of human nature to rubble and was asking him why it had crumbled so easily.
“There is no need,” Todd said. “If you want something, you force it. I am over ten thousand years old; do you really think I can’t see though the same lie Sheppard is giving me?”
“I…” Daniel started. He realized repeating himself would just strengthen Todd’s belief that he was ‘just another human.’ He had to answer this in a way that a completely different kind of person would answer because Todd had all this time been talking about humans. Todd understood exactly what he had been saying, he just didn’t trust they applied to him. Not truthfully. Not anymore thanks to John. “There’s a term for what John was doing. It’s called ‘patronizing.’ It means someone treating someone as if you know better than them and don’t take them seriously; you deny them the free will of having a say about the situation as if they don’t deserve to.”
“I’m not trying to do that. I don’t take things by force; I prefer empathy and communication.”
“Empathy give no reason to act on it,” Todd said. He was intrigued, but still cautious. Perhaps Daniel was patient and careful in spinning his lies, perhaps he actually had what he’d promised in the beginning.
“No, but it’s more fun,” Daniel said.
Here was something strange again. Daniel had bothered with so much explanation, receiving none for himself in return and did not even wanted what he had originally asked for in return. Until he was forced, Todd had no reason to answer him at all. There was a catch to all this kindness, however. Daniel did want something in return: he wanted Todd to act upon his own empathy. Ultimately, that had been the point of the explanation. He gave Todd something free, expecting only that Todd choose on his free will to believe he was not behaving the way John was, despite wanting the same answers.
“When you have the information you seek, will you continue with such a pact?” Todd asked.
“I certainly hope so,” Daniel said. “The point of being friends is for it to work in any situation.”
“Even with a wraith?” Todd asked, no longer cautious despite his implication.
“As far as dangerous aliens go, I’ve known worse,” Daniel said, shrugging. “So, Yes.”
Todd’s reaction startled Daniel, as did the guards throwing open the door at the noise. Todd was still in his chair, but the noise could be heard down the hall. He was laughing.
Todd continued laughing as Daniel assured the guards over and over that everything was fine and slowly shooed them out the door one by one. By the time Daniel was about try resuming the conversation, Todd’s laughter had died down to a chuckle and a disturbing grin.
“Human convictions fall apart so easily.” Todd said. “Yet...you are unlike Sheppard.
“Thanks,” Daniel said. He had stalled on his most important question out of politeness at first and had continued due to the cultural barrier that seemed to grow like kudzu vines. If Todd appreciated him for not screwing around, he might as well stop being so rudimentary in his questions, and try to get real answers to what he actually wanted to ask. “I’ve been wondering: What do wraith believe about ascension?”
There was a long pause as Todd considered the question, his gaze drifting over the table and soon settling on the coloring book, as if considering the colors while pondering an answer. “The ancients seemed to grow more and more obsessed with it, yet that is all I know. I have never looked into the mind of one and if another has seen such a thing, it was never passed to me. Tell your superiors you are not going to get such knowledge from me if they wish to change their tactics.”
“I see,” Daniel said, not hiding that he knew what hadn’t been said. There was no need to around Todd, who likely suspected he wanted some sort of new philosophy or religion as a reply. The wraith didn’t even have a word for it ascension because it was just… there. That was it. They didn’t care what the ancients did because they left. No more food, but also no more fighting. It wasn’t something to investigate; it was something to ignore. Daniel realized he might have asked a fish about air.
“We cannot see the patterns on another’s clothes, or whatever comes upon them,” Todd said. “They are meant to clothe the wearer for the most part. The patterns are only there for those who would be allowed to touch them.”
“I don’t think I understand how that’s relevant,” Daniel said.
“Our interest in other wraith may be too different,” Todd said calmly, though wishing he didn’t have to practically hold Daniel’s hand and spell out the connection. “We do not see what you see and your eyes do not see with a mind like ours. There is worth in ascension to you. It means much. It was too much for the ancients to share. I do not know if it would mean anything if given to me.”
“Enlightenment,” Daniel said, wondering if any wraith had a concept of that. As long as his answer avoided mentioning super-powers, he figured everything would be fine.
“That is all?” Todd asked. He had found more interest in the color green.
“Mostly,” Daniel said. “You ascend to another plane of existence.”
“This is desirable?” Todd asked, still clueless.
“For the ancients and some people, yes,” Daniel said. “It’s spiritual to some. It come from faith for them. You can know everything that is happening in the galaxy.”
“I don’t care for this galaxy.” Todd said. “If the ancients from the Pegasus Galaxy knew what was happening, why did they do nothing?”
“They can’t; they aren’t allowed.”
“So it is a point of stagnation,” Todd said, obviously coming to his own conclusion.
“Well, it…” Daniel started. He really didn’t have anything beyond that. At least Todd wasn’t confused anymore. “Uh…”
“Were they unable to prevent others from suffering the same fate?” Todd asked. Truly ascension had to be a mistake, just as his kind sought earth as a feeding ground only for it to be revealed how heavily armed and how determined humans were to defend it.
“Um… I don’t think you understand.”
“How would one avoid ascension?” Todd asked. “It sounds….” Although the wraith spoke the same language as the humans that had intruded upon their galaxy and caused them no end of problems since, the two groups did not share cultural origins in the slightest, it seemed. While humans looked to the stars, seeing power and wonder above, the wraith had lived in them, were born in them. There was no sense of hell, no purgatory, nothing beyond death, and—though many would be able to understand the concept without the mysticism involved—of hell. Except maybe this one. “I have no words for you.”
“But you have… an idea,” Daniel asked. The words weren’t for him.
They were there, hiding behind yellow eyes and apprehension. There was a barrier, and he wondered if he could scale it. There was an answer to this riddle, something inside a knot that had been revealed. Would he understand it, though? Or was it like vision, using a spectrum he’d never be able to see with?
“What you offer is hollow. I have no interest in it, nor do I see your fears if I ever did,” Todd said. “It is not faith. I cannot give you what knowledge I have, for the danger in that is too great.”
Daniel didn’t know who Todd thought would in in danger. He was pretty sure the mystery was intentional.
“I cannot offer you more than that,” Todd said. “My brethren are far away and this is no secret I am willing to share with you, Dan-i-ell, for all the intrigue you could offer me. At best you can tell the others their tactics will not work either. We thought the ancients ran away in cowardice, and it appears we were right. There are places one does not tread, I see no reason to follow them.”
“That’s not quite true,” Daniel replied. For having ascended himself, he found himself stumbling about in his head for words to describe it.
“I am interested in how you would know,” Todd said. It was true to him. It was true to his people. While that didn’t mean it was true to the universe, it was the truth so far. Daniel, so far, wasn’t presenting anything that could say it was false.
“It’s not about running away,” Daniel said. “It’s about… transcending, moving past fear.”
“You have seen it, then?” Todd asked.
“I’ve ascended,” Daniel said. “Twice.”
Todd was interested, but if he was interested in it for power, he was amazingly skilled at lying about it. He sounded and acted confused, the conversation had no definite direction, and Daniel was leading it. Daniel had already explained that when ascended, one cannot use powers—which he hadn’t defined. This had to be curiosity, or Todd would have been smart enough not to have gotten himself stuck on earth n the first place.
“You managed to escape, then,” Todd said.
“I left voluntarily,” Daniel explained.
“You said that wasn’t allowed.”
“You can’t use anything you gained while ascended,” Daniel said. “I just… went back to being human.”
Todd was quiet for a few moments as he pondered the statement. His expression was that of someone who had tasted coffee for the first time, unsure of the flavor, trying to shut out the bitterness, and yet curious enough to try more. “Why did the ancients not return after the wraith decided to hibernate?”
“I have no idea; I didn’t ascend in that galaxy,” Daniel said. It was a good question, actually. “I don’t think they’d tell me if asked, them.”
“Can one force this?” Todd asked. Again, he was either a great liar or he wasn’t understanding as his voice hinted on fear of this misrevelation.
“No, one has to do themselves,” Daniel said. “Although, just choosing to doesn’t make it happen. It’s… It can be difficult for many people.”
“What danger is there in failure?” Todd asked, obviously expecting some version of torture to be involved.
“It depends on how close you are to enlightenment,” Daniel said. “Either nothing happens, or...you just die.”
“You are certain that is enlightenment?” Todd asked.
“It...” As Daniel struggled for words, he began the metaphor of teaching a fish was becoming more and more literal. There was no way a fish could experience air the way something with lungs could. It wasn’t just a tactile impossibility, but completely different mental phenomenon. To accomplish it would take the ability to transfer unconscious thoughts from one person to the next, and the only things capable of that—“Todd isn’t your real name, is it?” Daniel asked.
“We do not have names, not the way you do,” Todd said. While outwardly he wondered where Daniel was going with this, if anywhere, he inwardly was happy to have finally found a human who understood something so basic and seemingly intuitive.
“Because you talk to each other in your own heads, so to speak,” Daniel said. This was the most difficult language barrier he’d ever found and he wondered why it hadn’t been obvious to him before.
“Yes,” Todd agreed, impressed someone in the human race had managed to get a clue. “We know each other by how their mind feels to us. It is… at the closest, it is similar to the sense of smell. I do not think a better description than you can of ascension. Perhaps that is why; ascension is the invoking of a new sense one is not aware of yet.”
“That certainly seems like a possibility,” Daniel agreed. Oma had told him twice that he always had the ability to ascend within him, that there was nothing new he had to take or create for it. “Can you use another sense, though? Can you read my mind or whatever it is you do to learn about it?”
Todd chuckled loudly, though nowhere near as boisterously as his first outburst. “I am not so foolish Daniel,” he said, struggling with the name without dragging it out. “It is already in my nature to do something Sheppard will consider too defiant to warrant letting me live; I am not about to tempt him with something so extreme. As much as you know I am no threat to you, no one else would believe you, especially when they asked you to find any danger I pose to them in the first place.”
“So you could if you weren’t in danger?” Daniel asked.
“It is certainly an enticing offer,” Todd said, grinning. “However, whatever her true intentions actually were, it has been the unfortunate ‘mistakes’ of Dr. Keller that have already shown me what I believe is some sort of ‘new sense.’ I cannot say I do not fear that which you are so...enamored with because if it.”
“What do you mean?” Daniel asked. When it came to Todd, there was confused, and then there was a level of bafflement that even he didn’t know a word for.
Todd reached out and pulled the coloring book towards himself. He flipped through pictures of clowns, flowers, and even a bunny before he arrived at the page he wanted. Daniel hadn’t translated the writing precisely, not wanting to explain just yet how the goofy shapes correlated to real things, so Todd had no clue what he’d been coloring, merely matching up colors to numbers, most of the time making wild guesses. He turned to the page he’d been instructed to draw his own picture. He handed the book to Daniel, not noticing that to the human it was upside-down. “I saw this after I was bitten by what you call an Iratus bug. The vision was… there were colors that belong to your eyes, not mine.”
Daniel instantly picked up on patterns of the shapes Todd had drawn through the odd colors the wraith had no idea he had used. “When exactly did you see this?” he asked, not quite sure what he had just discovered. He hadn’t seen more than three pages of the coloring book after it had been filled out.
“It was during what Dr. Keller refers to as ‘black-outs’,” Todd said. “Dreams that invade the mind.”
“So you have no idea what this is?” Daniel asked.
“It is not like your art?” Todd asked. Not even he could figure out what he’d done this time. “It is just a vision.”
“No, I think this is real,” Daniel said, retracing the swooping pattern of dots and lines. The signs of ascension were manifesting powers and speaking ancient, the symptoms uncontrollable and unnoticed to the one producing them. This, however, was something wholly different, which didn’t necessarily make it any less dangerous. Something was going on inside Todd’s rearranged head and Daniel had no idea what it was. He only knew what it wasn’t.
Todd wished he could hibernate. He wished he were on a hive. He wished he could be with other wraith. He wished he could at least see the stars. His people may have been nomads, traveling the vast emptiness of the empty void of the Pegasus Galaxy, but one of the first things even a wraith child learns is the concept of home.
This wasn’t his room, merely something borrowed from the humans. He didn’t live here, he was kept here. These weren’t his people. They no longer feared him, they resented him. No one wanted to have to guard him. No one wanted to fill out the paperwork about him. A select few wanted only to explore ways he could cause them trouble so they could prevent it. He was something to be explored. Poked at. Kicked when he didn’t do what they wanted.
Not even the only person who bothered to seek answers about his mind could help him. Not that he would, either. Human empathy only went so far.
If only they would allow him something akin to hibernation, he wouldn’t feel so strange, he wouldn’t wonder so much about their motives, he wouldn’t find them so cruel. He’d never experienced anything like this before, fighting against darkness that he should be at home in, haunted by the room spinning when he knew everything was still. He wouldn’t be in a corner, his hands around his legs, watching images blur together as he lost track of time. Hibernation would grant him so much peace with nothingness, dark and true. It would be a tranquil nothingness, a quiet peace where he could let himself drift away for hours and his mind could settle itself without bothering him.
Atlantis was no longer a respite. It no longer offered hope. Perhaps it never did, perhaps it had ceased long ago and the soldiers withing were clever enough to hide that from him. All he knew what that it could never again offer solace.
Todd kept trying to close his eyes, to think about something else, sometimes driven not to think at all. The only alternative was to watch the empty room swirl and shift and wobble in his dizziness tried to adjust his vision. He wasn’t in the mood to contemplate sense; he couldn’t stand it and it was sickening, literally numbing.
The visions themselves offered no comfort. They blended in frightening ways, accompanied by horrible tactile and mental sensation, speeding through their arbitrary repetition so fast he no longer could separate them or tell which were experiences he had had and which were invaders. He futilely kept trying to drive away the sights of a strange mask slammed over his face as he struggled to breathe; a vast, dark, ever-ending sky full of stars he knew none of his kind would ever see again the same way; he felt tubes shoved into him wile he was torn up and bleeding, his body trying to refuse it despite them his only chance to regain the ability to breathe; he remembered a distant memory of a feeling of truly burning alive, flames quickly licking their way through flesh to hungrily eat at bone as her was pleading for help he knew he could never give to another again. Other memories flowed in, images he did not understand, voices of the Genii, odd flashes of light and fire, even parts of the war against the ancients.
The worst of it all was that he’d done all this before. He’d already known this dizziness, this onslaught of images and memories; he’d known it all while abandoned and ignored. Back then, he was trying to save his own life. Now there was no chance to preserve it, no bargains, no plea for compassion, no ultimatums, not even true usefulness.
Even if he was of some interest to Daniel, the man wasn’t going to keep him alive. No matter how often Todd expressed his disbelief, Daniel refuse to truly believe that morality was some superficial quality to keep himself happy rather than something that soaked to the bone and heart. All the man could do was tempt danger, to ask for what he knew was dangerous and call it trust, to insist hard-learned skepticism shouldn’t apply to him, and worst of all, to claim that the nature of others was malleable. He was as dangerous as the information he provided, two aspects which would merely prove to feed off of each other. He had made himself and inevitability.
It was inevitable that Todd would do something to try to escape. It was inevitable that John would shoot him for it. The universe wouldn’t have it any other way. But now Daniel had made himself part of the fabric of reality as well. He was going to stop one of them, depending upon how his frivolous morals dictated. He was going to get in the way, and the universe was not likely to forgive such intrusions. Yet it was now another inevitable part of destiny.
Suddenly, he realized someone was screaming at him. In his dizziness, he hadn’t realized someone frantically shaking him, trying to get his attention. He slowly turned to whoever could be so concerned with him, the dizziness increasing and making the room wobble violently.
“Are you tripping?” John yelled at him.
“Huh?” Todd asked, carefully placing a hand on his head. The dizziness was messing with his coordination. It was dangerous stalking to John when the room wasn’t spinning.
John rolled his eyes. “Are you still high?” John asked, not realizing he was replacing the gibberish Todd didn’t understand with new gibberish. Great. Why couldn’t Todd just watch football with some beer and no longer have a problem to solve? Why did things always involve not only talking, but in a complicated way?
“I do not… understand,” Todd managed. He barely finished his sentence. It wasn’t the dizziness this time or the fear that threatened to take over, but an object in his field of vision. John’s watch. All this time he had assumed it was meaningless decoration—he still did. Now his fear was suddenly real and John’s seeming refusal to make sense didn’t help matters.
“Are you alright?” John asked.
“No,” Todd managed to gurgle out. Apparently coordination wasn’t the only thing of his that was affected.
“Do you want me to get Dr. Keller in here?” Jon asked, doing his best to seem like he was genuinely concerned. He was, he just wanted to make sure Todd got the clue. He wasn’t good at this, especially not with wraith. He knew what he should do, he just sucked at it.
“I prefer she was not here,” Todd said.
John shrugged and sat down, leaning against the wall, making sure to give Todd his space. “You don’t look so good,” he said.
“I do not feel well, if that is what you mean,” Todd said. At least John was making more sense. Soon it would be his fault for not communicating well. At least he’d have an excuse, albeit a poor one.
“You’re not going to hork up a lung again, are you?” John asked.
“I will not,” Todd said, wincing at a sudden and temporary intensity in the general wobbliness. “This is not pain, it is…highly unpleasant.”
“I don’t think I can get you anything but a doctor,” John said. He remembered that every time he ended up in the infirmary, he got to play with a handheld game console. It would be wroth a shot to help Todd, but he doubted anyone would let him have one—even less so if they feared he’d eat it. Dr. Keller hadn’t made any progress in that area… not that anyone was looking forward to Todd regaining interest in his original diet.
“I sincerely doubt that would end well even if I needed one. Not for me,” Todd said. He wasn’t fond of being stabbed or sliced open, no matter what the cause. “Are you here because she is interested in…these anomalies?”
“No, I asked to be notified if you… started acting weird like this,” John said. He didn’t want to admit he’d used the words ‘crying or stuff.’ Unless he was actively and deliberately being his usual pain-in-the-ass, dignity was something John would readily give him. At least a little. He just didn’t know how right now.
“What exactly is your concern for me? Todd asked. The phrase ‘piss off’ was not something he had learned, nor did he think such bluntness would result in anything good for his well-being if he did know of such a phrase.
“Y’know… the talking thing,” John said.
“I have lived through this before,” Todd said. “Discussing it would be… superfluous.”
“You sure you don’t want to talk?” John asked.
“Are you sure you would answer?” Todd asked back.
John bit his tongue. No wonder Todd didn’t want to talk. Even asking if he did was a loaded question. “Sure.”
“You speak the truth?” Todd shot back immediately
John decided he was going to punch whoever had taught Todd the term ‘loophole’. “You’re not going anywhere, are you?”
“You know very well that you would not let me,” Todd replied, a wry smile on his face. Even in such overwhelming artificial panic, he could find something amusing. John was, if nothing, a source of amusement. The amusing thing was that he wouldn’t find it amusing at all.
“If I can help it,” John said, rolling his eyes at himself. He had volunteered for something he knew he’d suck at. It was like Rodney deciding to play golf with him if he were having a bad day. He was good at watching football and drinking beer, but he doubted it would have the right affect on Todd even if the wraith agreed. “I’m not good at this, just so you know.”
“Then why do it at all?” Todd asked. Humans were so complicated when they weren’t food. And talkative.
“Because you need it,” John said.
“There are many things I need,” Todd said, closing his eyes. Nope, even with John talking, it didn’t distract him from the odd sensations.
“Well, this I can do…sort of,” John said. He hadn’t thought he’d need to explain talking about bad experiences to a wraith.
Todd didn’t feel like bothering to tell John he meant he needed peace and quiet thanks to what Dr. Keller had inadvertently done to him. “You could have killed me when we escaped together. Why did you let me live?”
“Because it was the right thing to do,” John said before he realized he had even said it.
“I see,” Todd said. It was as simple as that. But simple wasn’t easy. There was no way around each other anymore. Daniel, was going to get in the way. It was simple as that. Not at all easy. Things had changed and though Todd didn’t know why, he at least knew they had.
He couldn’t think this through. He could barely think clearly at all. “I have nothing else at the moment.” He probably never would. He doubted John would be upset about it.
“You don’t want to say anything?” John asked.
“No,” Todd said, no longer trying to hide his exhaustion or dizziness.
“Do you want me to leave again?”
“You may stay if you wish,” Todd said, wincing.
John didn’t move, not four hours until he was called elsewhere. Todd never said a word.
“Who’s been dressing Todd?” John asked. Todd was on the floor when Daniel and John entered his room. He had collapsed in another blackout hours ago. No one really wanted to move him and John doubted he’d appreciate the ‘help’. Todd was wearing an old shirt of Ronon’s that looked like it had met a cheese grater on a bad day and a pair of pants John had given to Rodney years ago after rescuing him from a sunken jumper. The pants had been too big and apparently Rodney had decided to scribble notes with a permanent pen on one leg when John wasn’t paying attention. How come someone who hated coveralls wasn’t complaining about those?
“Miss Keller wanted to give him some thing from the lost and found.”
“Let’s make sure Ronon thinks the shirt’s still lost,” John said.
“Is he alright?” Daniel asked. He barely knew how wraith saw colors. He had no idea about first aid for wraith and he wasn’t going to ask, let alone try.
“He’s fine,” John lied. Todd had stretched the definition of ‘fine’ lately. He was alive; the Atlantis lifesigns monitor had told them that. “He’s asleep. Sort of.” He looked asleep. To his knowledge, wraith could sleep anywhere pretty easily. “It’s kinda like goldfish. Y’know, they sit there…”
“Should we get Dr. Keller? Daniel asked.
“She doesn’t know what to do when he blacks out,” John said, shrugging. “I guess we just wait.”
He was right. After a few moments of the two having no idea what the etiquette of having barged into a wraith’s room while he was sleeping, Todd woke up, sitting up and staring at the two immediately.
“Are you okay?” Daniel asked.
“There is no danger,” Todd said. He didn’t seem to have minded them coming into his room while he was face-down on the floor.
“Next time try being on the bed, not next to it,” John said as Todd stood up. “Did you eat soap?”
“You are not amusing,” Todd said. “Has something happened?”
“Not quite,” Daniel said, rather proud of himself, and indicating towards the door. “I want to show you something.” It wasn’t everyday that a human was interested in what he’d figured out. He wasn’t going to miss a second of having an alien marvel at his ingenuity while he still had the chance.
Todd stood where he was and looked at John. “There are no shackles.” The second there was trouble to get into Todd looked not for an escape or a way to continue, but the gauge John’s reaction. To John, that was worse.
“I got permission for you to go without them. There’ll be guards anyway,” Daniel said.
“I’m not going to shoot you until you actually do something stupid,” John said. “Knock it off.”
“I am still not inclined to leave this room,” Todd said, looking at John,
“Are you just doing this because you can?” John asked. He hated when Todd’s schemes made him someone a babysitter… especially Todd’s babysitter. The problem was that he had acted the same way in the genii cells. He didn’t believe it was worth it. He didn’t want to. Damnit, why did Todd have to learn from him? Todd didn’t listen enough and he listened way too well at the same time.
“I have been given no reason to leave other than that two humans want me to leave,” Todd continued.
“I can’t really describe it, but I wanted to show you something outside,” Daniel said. “I’d rather do this were there aren’t security cameras or things like that.”
Now Todd was finally intrigued, though he spent a moment to consider the offer, still watching John.
“I’m not going to shoot you for being boring,” John said, crossing his arms. He could stand here all day if Todd could… he probably couldn’t, but he didn’t want Todd to know that. Thankfully, he wouldn’t have to try for very long.
Todd turned to Daniel. He took his time studying Daniel’s face. As much as the archaeologist intrigued him, he was no friend. Daniel wanted to be a friend, which could be both helpful and detrimental, depending on the circumstances. Todd had to know which before proceeding.
Despite the strange display of free will and needless caution, Daniel still seemed happy about whatever he’d found, wanting to show the discovery to the person who’d be the most interested in listening to him.
Todd saw things differently. Daniel was suspiciously happy; either discarding or overriding caution in his eagerness to show Todd. Something was about to change.
Todd decided he was not going to be the one to start such a change this time. He’d leave it up to the humans. It was always far more predictable that way.
“Lead the way.”
The coastal San Francisco wind is a fierce, territorial beast, known for angrily ruining outings with rain and research with throwing everything it could in one’s face. It was sharp on the skin and stinging in the eyes biting against the ears, letting any who dared enter its domain know its hatred for them. It blinded, it stung, it shrieked, it threw stinking ocean mist, and it turned hair into tiny whips. It was part of what made San Francisco what it was.
“That’s it!” Daniel yelled and pointed, bothered only by the noise of the wind.
“The ocean?” John yelled back.
Todd was too absorbed in trying to hold his hair out of his face to bother paying attention to their conversation.
Daniel held up a piece of paper in front of Todd, who paused in trying to fight his long hair to examine at it. John leaned over to get a glimpse of what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t instant for either of the two, but once they saw it, they couldn’t see the picture any other way.
Before it had been an incomprehensible mess. Now it was an understandable mess. Todd had attempted to draw the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from this very balcony. The fog wasn’t present and he’d drawn what was probably a boat, but the match between the scene and the picture was too close to ignore.
Daniel probably had a long rambling explanation as to why the picture was the way it was, but John felt his was better. “He can’t draw.” Not even Todd was impressed by his own artistic skills.
“It is… unattractive,” Todd said, returning his focus to his hair
“Well, we didn’t build it for aliens,” John replied. He wasn’t’ going to let a wraith critique Earth’s architecture. Especially one who had been confused about the entire concept of art.
“What is it?” Todd asked. For all he knew, he was shown a far off piece of garbage. It looked like it.
“It’s called The Golden Gate Bridge,” Daniel said proudly. “It’s somewhat famous on this planet.”
“I’d have started with stick figures,” John said. “I think it’s too soon to start on landscapes.”
“I was teaching him art history, not how to make it,” Daniel complained. “He did this on his own.”
“When the hell did you see the Golden Gate Bridge?” John asked. He hoped this was one of the less significant things Todd hid from humans, such as why he didn’t mind wearing Ronon’s old clothes. He hated when it was hidden from him whether or not he should be worrying about something, especially something weird… weird for Atlantis.
“It was one of the visions I saw,” Todd said. Everyone waited for someone to finish the rest of the statement, including Todd.
“So, the question now is ‘why?’ John summed up. Well, this was certainly helpful. Next he’ll just wait for the Todd to inexplicably indicate why there’s a hole in the floor and Daniel can show him the basement.
Todd turned away to look at the water, leaning against the railing. The humans could figure out what needed to be solved by themselves for once. Besides, they didn’t like him telling him what sort of mess they’d stepped in, no matter how obvious or important it was.
“What would happen if my people found earth?” Todd asked, noticing the silence between from the humans had gone on for almost fifteen minutes
“We’d shoot ‘em,” John answered immediately.
“Comforting,” Todd said dryly.
“Will they?” Daniel asked.
“I would not know,” Todd said. “It would not be wise if they did.”
“Why?” Daniel asked.
“Several billion against a few hundred thousand… I can’t say I look forward to experiencing that from anywhere.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” John said. He wasn’t going to fight a wraith on the ethics of letting people conquer worlds.
“I just hope it will be a slaughter and nothing else,” Todd said, still staring at the water.
“What else would it be?” John asked. Things go complicated when you had to do more to the enemy than avoid or shoot them.
Todd gave a short hiss and continued to stare at the water.
“What’s that mean?” John asked Daniel. “You’re the language expert; you know bug.”
Daniel sighed. He thought Todd would find this a lot more interesting. And a lot less depressing. He didn’t expect to end up translating an argument. He probably should have seen this coming and hoped the two would argue with each other without him. “It means… well, it means he thinks you’re being an ass.”
“I saw your bridge from my own galaxy, Sheppard,” Todd said.
John took a step backwards unconsciously. It wasn’t a good thing when Todd used his name.
“You demand answers, then you treat me as so unintelligent that I would not see through your facade?” Todd asked, finally spitting out what he’d wanted to say since he’d found he’d never be leaving his prison permanently. He tried to never give Atlantis a weapon he didn’t want them to use against him. He no longer cared about this one. As pathetic as it may turn out to be, he had a weapon of his own. Daniel would likely never rescue him, but he’d be the voice of guilt human’s deserved.
A storm was sitting on the horizon of destiny and it was coming towards them, gaining speed and growing stronger. All this time Todd had tried to prevent it, perhaps keep one of the humans from being enveloped in its thick, gray chaos. Now he wondered if he could throw it at them. If something great and unstoppable were headed towards him, all portents screaming in his ears that he should fear it, why not inflict his destiny on others more deserving? Why not give them the knowledge of the wreckage of this storm and claim it to be a gift?
Todd turned to look at the two humans. Neither knew what to say or how to form a sentence about what they thought and they didn’t mind making it obvious. The humans looked practically invisible now. There was no chance anything with such expressions could even escape planets, let alone affect the fate of one. Todd wondered what was meant to happen when everything was burned away, when the flames were starved.
There was a soft flash as the mild sun managed to shine briefly off of John’s watch and Todd turned away with a smug snort.
“Don’t get cocky; we still don’t know what to do with you,” John said.
“I am not going to make it easy to pry these visions from my head.”
“I don’t think I like where this is going,” John said nervously. It was only now that he could feel the inertia of what he’d started. By talking to one wraith—one, single, imprisoned, lost wraith—he’d told it far more about humans than he’d meant to, and in turn he’d learned more about them than he wanted to know. In deciding never to trust him, never to grant him what he had given him the first time they had agreed to be allies, he’d set Atlantis against the powers of the one he’d rescued, the one he had admitted wasn’t truly evil. The more either learned of the other, the faster the two raced towards each other in a fight to destroy the other. There was no stopping it now. That had been years ago, but that chance was gone, snuffed out like a dying star, only now did he know it had happened. Keeping up was like riding on top of a train and holding on for dear life, but knowing something worse was in store if he let go. He knew, only now, that Todd had meant to take the two great forces of Atlantis and his own resources and intended to combine them as an unstoppable juggernaut that brought an entire galaxy to its knees in a single moment with the humans gloating just as much as he would.
“Then change it,” Todd said casually, sounding as if John had complained about a TV channel.
“You’re back to being as helpful as ever.” John said. “I’m going to leave you two lovebirds alone and see if I can find a chew toy. Don’t do anything stupid, I’m just going to be in the hall.”
“You are still here,” Todd noted after the door closed behind John.
“I do that sometimes,” Daniel said, leaning on the railing himself, making sure to keep some distance between them. He knew Todd wasn’t stupid enough to try something as simple as killing or holding him hostage. He also knew Todd loved to play with people’s heads. He was curious to see where thoughts would take someone, figured out motives—though his reasoning tended to have a nihilistic twist to it, did his best to keep secrets to himself when he suspected they could be useful to others, and was never hesitant to laugh in your face. But Daniel had a secret weapon. He was interesting. “What are you looking at?
“Your ocean,” Todd said. “It is…duller than others I have seen.”
“That’s because of the pollution. And the fog,” Daniel said. “I didn’t really think—I mean... you know. I didn’t think this would turn into a threat… at least not so soon.”
“I wish I could have been as intrigued by your revelation as you had wished,” Todd said. “Did you do this out of your well-meaning?”
“Would it have been cruel if I did?” Daniel asked.
“On the contrary, it would mean you had hoped for a beneficial outcome from your discovery,” Todd said. “Was that your intention?”
“Pretty much,” Daniel said.
“You cannot prevent anyone form taking advantage of this, can you?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it,” Daniel said. He envied Todd. At least in prison you had an excuse to be powerless.
“Would you stop Sheppard from shooting me if you protested?” Todd asked.
“If I could,” Daniel said. “I thought you didn’t want me to.”
Todd turned to Daniel, a slight smile on his face. “It is something to think about.”
Daniel was surprised when he was asked to meet Woolsey in his office. He felt as if he was a child sent to the principal’s office for something he had no idea he had done. Daniel wasn’t used to having to listen to Woolsey. They had always been antagonists to each other and Woolsey was always so easily circumvented. Now Woolsey actually had to be listened to and Daniel hadn’t been prepared for it.
Woolsey wasn’t angry—not in the slightest—he was disappointed. This time Daniel had stepped over the line with good intentions and ended up the idiot that had endangered them all. He knew it before Woolsey even started talking.
“I know what you’re trying to do,” Woolsey said. He wasn’t even sitting down. He was standing, pacing slightly. Daniel had unwittingly stepped in something personal. “I can understand wanting to, even. Todd isn’t human and he isn’t going to be; he’s using you.”
“I’m not trying to adopt a baby wolverine here,” Danile complained. “He’s sentient—he’s sapient—he deserves to be treated like he is.”
“I didn’t deny his intelligence and I’m not going to,” Woolsey said. “On the contrary, you shouldn’t take it so lightly just because he listens to you. I admit it’s been a relief to have someone to keep him distracted and from brooding all the time, but you’re literally walking right into his hands if you use any authority to keep his cuffs off while he’s here on Atlantis—and I don’t care where the city is when you do it.”
“He wasn’t going to do anything,” Daniel said defensively. He didn’t’ think he should be here or having this conversation.
“I really don’t want to see how you can prove that,” Woolsey said. He had yet to get angry. He never changed throughout the conversation from reprimanding Daniel’s childish antics.
“I meant John was there with me,” Daniel said. “He came to keep an eye on Todd.”
Woolsey put his hand to his temple. “That’s a lot less comforting that you think. You can’t have those two near each other with Todd like that. The problem is I know exactly where you were when you should have seen what he was capable of. You were turning on the attero device. You were the reason he attacked an entire ship on a peace mission and tried to kill everyone on board—and that was after trying to ransom the thing off by threatening to kill me. You were off meeting aliens and messing with machinery, and by now I should know that’s exactly what you’re going to do no matter where you are. If you need something to play with, I’ll find something you can break without endangering anyone. From now on, follow the rules if you want to keep talking to Todd.”
Todd had his hands on his art book, open to a certain page, but he was intently staring at the walls of the tiny conference room. It was all the same metal, shining even when no one had bothered to turn the lights on for him. Nothing dulled the color; nothing blurred the shine: no fog, no pollution. It was a stagnant, unchanging, unmoving, harsh place. Todd wondered if he’d ever bring pollution to Atlantis. It could use some dullness. Or some fog. He doubted it had ever known such things beyond the vague touch of one or two inhabitants.
It was only after a few minutes of musing that Daniel arrived. “Sorry I was held up when—you don’t care, do you?” he asked, stopping in the idle of his gesturing.
“Unless you wish to explain the geography of Atlantis, I would have no idea what you would be talking about,” Todd said. “I believe your superiors would not take kindly to the notion of you doing so. You have your answers about ascension. It won’t change. Why did you offer to meet again?”
“Why not?” Daniel asked, sitting down. “Okay, so Dr, Keller wanted me to ask you some questions, but that doesn’t mean I we can’t discuss anything else.”
“Do you expect any new answers out of me about my condition?” Todd asked.
“Not really,” Daniel admitted. “You would have mentioned something important a while ago if you wanted to tell me.”
“No, there is nothing else,” Todd said. “Why is it a concern to Atlantis? I thought I was…preferable this way.”
“You’re technically sick, Todd. That’s not a good thing,” Daniel said.
“The alternative is what Atlantis has been fighting for five years. They have considered weaponizing their ‘cures’ before. Even you cannot deny I have given them a means a proverbial blade.”
Todd liked to bug humanity, which probably deserved it on most occasions. It easily got annoying until one realized Todd wasn’t looking to humans for answers. They never had answers—no good ones. He was looking for them to ask themselves same things he wondered about. They blundered into ways to ruin the lives of others and, just like the ancients and other wraith, fought without ever seeing their enemy’s face. They began to live on lies about those whom they fought, and then lies about themselves. No ‘fifth race’ would settle for such simple and bloody actions and such petty intentions among themselves.
“I never told them what I found,” Daniel said. “I wanted to show you to know what you had to say about it before I showed it to anyone else. I burned the picture by the way.”
“That doesn’t answer my questions,” Todd retorted. “What of Sheppard?”
“He helped me burn it,” Daniel said immediately. “As much as it doesn’t look like it, Dr. Keller wants to help. I think she feels guilty about what happened to you. Beyond that… I have no idea, but I’d be against leaving you like this.”
“What did he think of the fire?” Todd asked. He kept his book close where Daniel could not see it, but he wasn’t fidgeting or moving the pages.
“You certainly are…” Daniel wondered what the best word to use in this situation was.
“I am cautious,” Todd said, finished for him. “It is why I am still alive. Atlantis has taught me many lessons in caution; perhaps I did not learn the last one as well as I should have. Unlike you, I cannot afford to act on my curiosity before caution.”
“I got better,” Daniel said, defensively. He wasn’t about to argue that John seemed to be the kind of friend to steal your car and set if on fire on occasion. However, he wasn’t about to let an alien who had friends like that call him a reckless idiot.
“Is that why you do not fear me?” Todd asked.
“I’m not dumb enough to trust you that much,” Daniel admitted
“I am flattered,” Todd said, genuinely enjoying the comment. “I want to remain where we can discuss what I have to show you; and I want nothing to change between us until you see it for yourself. I am not asking you to defend me. You cannot. My question cannot be burned so simply. I ask that you consider the danger to yourself as well if you wish to give me answers.”
“You had another vision?” Daniel asked. “Are you asking me to tell you what it is?”
“I was born during the war with the ancients. For all the time I was awake, it was a time of war, nothing else. Little was told to me that did not concern battles, within or without. Yet, for what we have, we understand the deeper meanings of tales past on from mind to mind. Much more, I have found, has been lost. You may hold the answers toa past you have never thought about.” Todd pushed the book forward and opened it to a certain page. “What can you tell me about this?”
“That’s all he said?” Dr. Keller asked. She hadn’t made any progress on trying to figure out what would cure Todd. She had expected whatever was going on to just run its course like last time, but the symptoms hadn’t left yet. Todd was being unhelpful on purpose, even if that meant he was dedicated to gnawing on any random object he could get a hold of. So far Todd had eaten a pen,, most of the crayons, a shoelace, loose change, and according to what he’d thrown up yesterday, a powerbar. “Where’d he even get a powerbar?” she mumbled.
“Uh… I gave him that,” Daniel said. “I figured that he could at least try eating real food if he was going to chew on things. He didn’t like it, did he?”
“Well, he seems to have digested some of the protein from it, but that’s mostly it,” Dr. Keller said. “Just the protein related to keratin. I’m surprised he’s not chewing on his own nails.”
“Keratin?” Daniel asked. Most languages he’d studied hadn’t written much on biology.
“Stuff that makes up fingernails and hair,” Dr. Keller said. “If he had any sort of exoskeleton, this might make sense.”
“Why?” Daniel asked. His knowledge of wraith anatomy could be fit on a post-it in big letters.
“Well, wraith are part bug, so—“ Dr. Keller stopped immediately, suddenly realizing what she was saying.
“Just to check, that was things getting better, right?” Daniel asked. Somehow ‘translator’ began to mean ‘knows the future’ here on Atlantis. The only person who didn’t expect that from him was Todd, and he kept saying it was dangerous if Daniel did know the future.
“Well, I really don’t think it’ll hurt him,” Dr. Keller said. “The problem is how to get him what he needs.”
“Well, I don’t know anything about this kind of thing, so I should probably get going,” Daniel said.
“Actually, you could help with some weird foods; it’s a place to start.”
“So Todd thinks you’re an ass,” Rodney scoffed. Why was this news to him and why did John think he cared? “So what?” Why did everyone have to bug him with wraith problems? “Since when did you care what he thought about you, unless it was the equivalent of a hamburger?”
“I dunno,” John said. He hated it when people pointed out his answers sucked. “I just did this time. He wasn’t doing anything.”
“He’s always doing something,” Rodney said causally. “He’s Todd, he can’t not do something. He already got himself a room.”
“Not much of a scheme just to be locked up somewhere with a shower, and a bed he doesn’t use,” John commented.
“He’ll think of something,” Rodney said. “I’m pretty sure whatever scheme it is won’t be because he thinks you’re a jerk.”
“You’re a lot of help,” John said sarcastically.
“So I’m the expert on wraith relationships now?” Rodney complained.
“Well, you know more about how to talk to them than Teyla or Ronon,” John said.
“I don’t think there’s enough difference between panicking and having someone else shoot them and just shooting them yourself,” Rodney said.
“You’ve done other stuff,” John said.
“And then someone shot them,” Rodney said. “Or blew them up. I know he’s amazingly annoying, but ask Daniel. The only other person who’s ever been nice to a wraith gave Todd cancer… which ended up with shooting and blowing them up, so it’s not much difference technically.”
“No wonder he hates your girlfriend,” John said as he left.
“Yes, Todd is being weird,” Daniel said, not looking up from his book. “I can handle it, John.”
“How did—“ John started.
“You’re the only person who’d interrupt me,” Daniel said, still trying to read.
“Okay, now you’re just being creepy,” John said.
“No, I’d say what he’s asking is creepy,” Daniel said, slamming his book closed. He wasn't going to get anything done until John left. “That and how well he thinks he knows me.”
“So what’d you tell him?” John asked. For being ten thousand years old, Todd had yet to learn how to make friends.
“I told him I’d ask you,” Daniel said, getting up and looking through more books.
Great. Why was all of this about him and not Todd? “What’s he want?”
“Well, he doesn’t want to be sick anymore,” Daniel said. “He also wants me to explain something in the Pegasus Galaxy. The weird thing is what he described isn’t in any of the Ancient records.”
“If he’s lying, just ignore him. He can’t do anything,” John said.
“I don’t think he is,” Daniel said. “The dates match up with the Ancients leaving and the culture he spoke of showing up on Earth. It would explain why the culture’s development seemed almost spontaneous.”
“He probably just read it somewhere,” John said. “I really doubt he doesn’t know English.”
“If he could read, he’d have learned from the coloring book what a clown was and you’d never heard the end of it,” Daniel said, trying to ignore John. Or hoping John would just leave.
“That actually sounds a lot creepier than what you’re talking about so far,” John said, hoping Daniel wouldn’t bother him about clowns either.
“I never told him the dates of any of the Nahua civilizations—just that they were wiped out on Earth. One of those cultures had one of the most dangerous pieces of Ancient technology we’ve ever found, and yet what Todd mentions is a lot more like them than anything I’ve seen in SG-1.”
“Are you sure?” John asked. “I mean you guys found everything. The best we found was some sort of T-rex.”
“Cipactli,” Daniel said.
“Gesundheit,” John replied.
“No, I’m saying there was a monster that became the earth in Nahua legend and that it probably came from a monster like that,” Daniel explained. “Todd mentioned it as the name of a system of planets and pronounced it perfectly; and yet he keeps claling me Danielle.”
“It’s not really that funny,” Daniel said defensively.
“It’s kinda funny,” John said, trying not to laugh anymore. “And yeah, it’s starting to get kind of creepy.”
“Not even close,” Daniel said. “He said the humans call the wraith there Teotl, but they call themselves Titlacauan. The first is… it’s not really a God, but it’s an aspect of nature that needs to be fed or placated. The other means ‘We are slaves.’”
“Yeah, I’d say it’s pretty creepy,” John said. “What’d you tell him?”
“I told him I’d have to ask you,” Daniel said. “By the way, did you want something?”
Todd was silent, not refusing to speak, but seeing no reason to say or do anything. He was outside again, no cuffs, only this time it was just him and John and less of a clue what he was doing here. John had at least attempted some sort of comfort for Todd by giving him something to tie his hair back, unaware that the harsh wind would torment even a wraith’s ears and eyes. John decided not to mention he found the thing on the subway floor.
“Well?” John asked casually, leaning against the railing.
“I have done nothing with your bridge,” Todd said. “It is still unattractive.”
“We’re not here to talk about the bridge, Todd,” John said. Things were already not going the way he wanted. Daniel wasn’t here and Todd was not blacking out anymore these days or being distracted by needing to chew on things. If things weren’t going right, it was because of one of them, and it couldn’t be him.
Without looking around, Todd knew he couldn’t open the door and ask to leave. It was just him and John. That could only mean one thing, especially since he had asked Daniel about somewhere that was obviously dangerous. He stood where he was, letting the empty, shrieking wind speak for him.
John sighed. “Say something,” John said, angrily. It was hard to prove you weren’t a jerk deep down when the person you were trying to prove it to acted like furniture.
“Why am I here?” Todd asked.
“I wanted to talk in private,” John said. “No cameras, no cuffs, and no books with pictures.”
“Why?’ Todd asked.
“I just thought you’d appreciate it,” John said. “Y’now, having a bit of freedom outside.”
“This is not freedom,” Todd said. He didn’t bother to look at the landscape or the door or even John. He didn’t move at all.
“What do you want now?” John complained. “There’s nothing here but us.”
“And?” Todd asked. He still didn’t know why he was here or why John was just leaning against the railing being difficult. He could at least be difficult inside and let Todd ignore him while he did so.
“And I thought you might want to talk about something,” John said.
“No,” Todd said, hoping he could leave. Or John would.
“Why not?” John asked.
“There is nothing I could say that would make you do anything different.”
“I think whatever you ate is messing with your head,” John said. “You sound like a bad fortune cookie. If this is about saying I’d shoot you, I’m not going to.”
“You will,” Todd said calmly. He wasn’t mocking him, merely correcting his wording as politely as he knew how.
“What’d you do?” John asked, suddenly tired of all of this.
“You know everything that I have done or said… unless Daniel did not tell you,” Todd said, too blandly to qualify as ‘innocently.’
John decided not to assume Daniel hadn’t forgotten some disaster caused by the wraith. There was rule-breaking, and then there was having a deathwish. This only lead to a conclusion John didn’t like: Todd wanted to go to a planet full of people derived from blood worshippers and slaveholders. If Todd was as familiar with these people, it would certainly explain his casually morbid view of two galaxies. “You don’t want to talk about that?”
“I am not going to convince you not to shoot me. Neither Am I going to convince you to let me leave.” There was something in Todd’s uncaring tone that John was shocked to suddenly discover had always been there in everything he had said in this pointless discussion. He respected John, too much to keep John from ultimately killing him.
“So you still think I’m--?”
“It was worth a try,” John said. “Let’s get back inside.”
“That would be…appreciable,” Todd said.
John shrugged. It was a start.
“How’s Todd?” Woolsey asked.
“Haven’t seen him and I don’t want to,” Rodney said. He had hoped he wouldn’t be called to another meeting for months. Stupid wraith.
“Except for asking about pictures, he’s giving the silent treatment,” John said. He had thought he was done with explaining Todd. Stupid wraith.
“Is there any chance he’s telling the truth about this culture?” Woolsey asked. Every single time before this one Todd had tried to convince Atlantis to release him back into the Pegasus Galaxy; theft and deception weren’t below him when he thought it could be in his favor. Now he wasn’t doing any of that, finding the most inconvenient time to surrender, intentionally making things hell for everyone else. Stupid wraith.
“I think so,” Daniel answered. By now he was used to waiting to give his explanations until someone actually wanted them.
“Then I want you to get rid of him,” Woolsey said coldly. He continued, too stern to let anyone interrupt him. “I don’t want him even in this solar system by the time the IOA decides to take advantage of what he just went through. I’ve been their messenger of bad ideas long enough to know they won’t wait to get their hands on this. Get rid of him and give me a reason to let you.”
“Weapons,” Daniel said. “Anything we’ve found that actually has a history with this culture and the ancients has been deadly.” He didn’t feel the need to add how dangerous getting the last one had been.
“The IOA’s not going to buy that we need to go to another planet to get another zombie maker,” Rodney said. “And they aren’t going to send Todd to get it, either.”
“We’re not going to steal weapons,” Daniel said. “Todd doesn’t want to go near them without our help. If they don’t have anything from the ancients, they’ve got their own. Negotiating trade would be easier.”
“Let’s just hope they like jeans and coca-cola,” John said.
“Why would we take Todd?” Rodney asked.
“I think we should take him with us,” Daniel said. “He technically knows the most about the place. Given the problems white men have already had introducing themselves to Nahuatl cultures, we could use a guide.”
“If you don’t know what he’s talking about, you can ask to borrow Todd’s book,” Woolsey said, wondering why he was the only one who knew what Daniel was talking about.
“Not that I like him, but what are we going to do with him?” Rodney asked.
Daniel shrugged. “We won’t know what to do until we get there.”
“Great plan,” Rodney said sarcastically. “Why am I here?”
“Because I want you to make this possible and to go with them,” Woolsey said. He wasn’t in the mood for Rodney to come up with excuses not to go.
“Why?” Rodney asked.
“Because I don’t want those two to depend on Todd in case something needs ot be fixed,” Woolsey said.
“I’m flattered,” Rodney replied caustically. Stupid wraith.
“Grab your—whoah!” John yelled, entering Todd’s room.
Todd walked out of the bathroom as John started talking, curious as to what couldn’t wait and why he was here at all. He was wringing water out of his hair and clad only in a pair of jeans with a giant rip on the knee and two broken belt loops.
“Put a shirt on!” John complained, holding up his hands in front of his face.
“Is that all?” Todd asked, heading over to the makeshift dresser. He didn’t need humans to remind him to get dressed.
“Stop laugh—“ John yelled at the security camera, only to be interrupted by Todd shaking the remaining water from his hair. “Hey!”
John turned to yell at Todd for smirking, but instead Todd was engrossed in pulling on a shirt that said ‘Live Long and Prosper.’ The universe had a very wrong sense of humor today. “Get ready. We’re going in fifteen minutes.”
Todd looked at John the way John looked at him when he was sure Todd was hiding something. “You should not to go there.”
“Tough. And I don’t care if I’m being a jerk, someone needs to watch you and Daniel’s going to be distracted.”
“I would not harm him,” Todd said, disliking the accusation that he would.
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” John said. “Someone’ll come get you in a few minutes; I gotta get to the jumper before Rodney tries flying it.”
The door opened and John left, though not in a hurry.
Todd grabbed his book before remembering his shoes.
Only Todd had a sense of foreboding about the mission. Daniel was too busy enjoying the potential for learning and exploration. Rodney was too busy complaining about everything. John and Woolsey were too busy trying to get Teyla to leave.
“This isn’t your mission,” Woolsey stated, looking at Todd and wondering how the wraith had concocted this particular surprise. If Todd wasn’t responsible, then the universe had just decided to hate him today.
“It’s my galaxy,” Teyla said. “I should meet these people. I should come to help protect John.”
“That would be inadvisable,” Todd said, speaking up. “It is not your planet and it is not your people, it is not your history.”
Teyla refused to let the wraith have the advantage of heavy, pregnant pauses. She wasn’t going to let his words linger in the air, soak into the station; she would never allow his words to make the others start to think about them. “Wraith are evil.”
“Which is why you should stay,” Todd said.
“Great speech, get in the jumper before I decide this is the worst idea I’ve ever had,” John said. The last thing he wanted before leaving was more talking.
“This is the worst idea you’ve ever had,” Rodney said before turning to Todd. “And it’s not your planet when the address doesn’t work. What the heck did you do?”
“I think he was a bit busy with not dying,” John said. He wondered why he hadn’t yet even gotten everyone in the jumper. Daniel was standing around, waiting for Todd. Todd was waiting to be told what to do. John was both waiting for them and trying to avoid Rodney’s loud complaining.
Todd gave John his best attempt at a shrug; he was still very awkward at human body language and as much as he’d had to deal with humans’ need to talk for so long, he still preferred to be concise.
“Have you calculated--?” John tried suggesting to Rodney, only to be interrupted.
“Yes, I calculated for the planet moving. I took into account we’re on earth and in a different galaxy. I checked every possible reason the gate’s not working and the only one left is that he messed with it when he was on the planet.
“Why would he mess with the gate and then give us the address?” John asked. No matter how odd Todd was for either species, he tended to do things that made sense. Gates were too important for wraith to go around breaking them. Time and again wraith fell victim too easily to never destroying or blocking a gate and only guarding it from a single direction. This wasn’t even somewhere he wanted to go. Todd had only give the address because his other option was to be a guinea pig for experiments demanded by the IOA. That and Daniel had promised to come along on the mission.
“I don’t know!” Rodney complained. “I don’t want to know. Every time someone asks him a question, things just get worse. Why can’t I just choose a gate address that’s close and we just tell him to go through and stay there?”
“Because we’re trying to lose him, not our jobs,” John said. He was also trying not to lose his temper, his patience, or his sanity. “Why not try and get all of us to a nearby gate?”
“Unless things have changed, they’re in wraith space—just like the original address.”
“Technically it’s not,” Daniel mumbled. The wraith had taken a map of the galaxy and put ’Here Be Dragons’ on part of it. And now the plan was to go see why. Even to him this sounded stupid.
“Says the man who keeps coming back from the dead,” Rodney scoffed.
“You do have the highest mortality and survival rate, Daniel,” John said, watching Todd. It would be just like him to wander off while they were distracted about saying he wandered off while they were distracted.
The wraith was staring down one of the corridors, seemingly ignorant to he conversation between the Tau’ri next to him. Woolsey and Teyla were gone, and John hoped it was the reason Todd wasn’t paying attention.
John hoped Todd was just being weird. If not, this was the first time he wanted the wraith to start keeping secrets. Todd was polite enough to keep out of the heads of those on Atlantis, but Teyla did what she wanted when it came to going into the heads of wraith. There were other—rather surprising—ways to get under his skin as well. Whatever the reason, whoever had started it, whenever it had happened, what information either of them know at the time, what wounds either of them had taken… those were mysteries John wanted to be very, very far away from.
John had sent everyone to the back of the jumper. After all the trouble it took to leave, he didn’t’ even want Rodney in the front, given how many things the engineer obviously had to complain about. As expected, an argument started immediately, though thankfully it was about the nuances of Star Trek and Todd was kept out of it for the most part. At least everyone was preoccupied during the boring travel through space and entering the atmosphere.
That, it turned out, was the easy part.
“Todd, what did you do?” John asked, interrupting the argument. “Get your green butt over here and explain something.”
The two humans quietly followed behind the wraith, almost as surprised as he was when they saw what had made John mad.
There had been trees here before, a lush and chaotic temperate forest. What lay before them, stretching out to the horizon, was nothing but barren, burnt earth; covered in a thick layer of still ash., disturbed only as the jumper landed.
“They have found this planet,” Todd said flatly.
“I guess we’re in the right place at least,” John said, opening the back of the jumper. “Anything specific we’re supposed to look for?”
Todd either ignored him of felt the question was rhetorical. The wraith silently wandered off, his direction seemingly aimless, away from the jumper.
Daniel shrugged. He could talk to a wraith, explain things to a wraith, but he never gave any indication he could make Todd makes sense if he didn’t want to.
“He’s gone; are we done?” Rodney asked impatiently.
Todd had only wandered so far as to no longer listen to the humans.
John just put his hand to his forehead. He wondered if Rodney was right, that they should just leave now. Or maybe Todd was right and ignoring everyone else was a good plan.
Eventually Daniel wandered after Todd, who kept walking. An hour later, Rodney got bored and wandered off, quietly grumbling. John sighed and finally followed the three sets of footsteps as the sun was setting.
It was an hour before he caught up with the others. Daniel was examining something that even from a distance John knew wasn’t healthy to go poking at while Rodney watched and Todd…stood there.
Even the air was burned, thick, stifling, unmoving…dead. It weighed heavily in the lungs and the heat felt almost solid, a constant wall to fight against while walking. Worst, it smelled. It wasn’t a pleasant char of wood a kin to that of a fireplace, but it had harshness to it, almost an angry scent.
Things made as much sense as they did from a distance. Daniel was busy poking at something and taking notes. Rodney was complaining and was sure they were all going to die. Todd wasn’t even paying attention, let alone watching them. John guessed he probably have wandered off further if he thought he could get away with it.
“What’s a scarecrow doing out here?” he asked. He had no idea what else the thing Daniel was poking at could be.
“It’s not a scarecrow,” Daniel said, still digging at the dirt at the bottom. “Not sure what is it is, exactly.”
“Don’t poke at it, you’ll get tetanus or something,” Rodney said, sounding as if he was going to be sick.
“Is it what I think it is?” John asked. He hadn’t paid any attention to the details of the thing until now, and he was currently regretting it.
“If it’s scarier than a clown, yes,” Rodney said, affirming John’s disgust.
It was a cross, slightly shorter than John himself. The wood was expertly sanded and neatly cut, the rope that tied it together was sleek and white. A large piece of sun-dried green leather was draped over the cross and tied to the ends. Long white wisps of white hair fluttered in a ghost of a breeze and polished claws glinted in the sunlight as they dangled from the tips of the cross. Someone had skinned a wraith.
There were brightly colored ribbons and decorations adorning it everywhere. A necklace of dark, pointed teeth hung over the crossbar. Feathers had been sewn into the skin and beads dangled everywhere, glinting in the orange light. This gruesome thing was someone’s shrine. This was something grand and holy. Everything on it had to have been carried here, gently cared for. Then abandoned for some reason.
John backed away a step, realizing it wasn’t just the decorations that had been brought here with delicacy and reverence. His brain asked the worst question it ever could: where was the rest of it?
“Please tell me you guys found something useful that isn’t….this” John begged. He felt almost as sick as Rodney.
“Sort of,” Rodney said, waving a broken datapad at John absentmindedly. It looked Lantean, only cruder and simpler. “I’m not sure what he’s doing.”
“What’s Todd have to say about the uh…”John nodded at the ‘scarecrow.’
“Absolutely nothing,” Rodney said, shrugging. “Helpful as always. We should have named him ‘Mr. Scribbles’. That was my friend’s old hamster. The thing tried to fly, had a taste for people, and chewed through his little wheel twice.”
Todd didn’t seem to notice Rodney’s comment. He was staring almost at the sky.. A beautiful as it was, large black clouds were gathering, and close. Water was going to return to this world.
“Stop giving Todd weird ideas, he has enough of them,” John said, finally seeing what Todd was staring at. The light had changed from bright orange to a soft purple. Miles away, the hole made by a hive, now charred and fallen in on itself, now defined by distant flickering lights. There were a few campfires near the horizon dotting the edge. They had wandered miles to put a dead wraith in a stick and cover it with gaudy colors, treated it like something special and hoped everyone understood their message, and then went back to camp. Whoever they were, they new someone else was here.
“Did that hamster ever dig up anything odd?” Daniel asked, leaning back from his digging and wiping sweat from his forehead and oiut of his glasses, replacing it with dirt.
John leaned over to get a better view of what Daniel had dug up, thinking it was better than contemplating the silent wraith. He immediately decided he was wrong.
“Yeah, the other hamster he killed after burying it,” Rodney said before he took a look for himself. “Eww! He is Mr. Scribbles!” he yelped, looking at the datapad. “Blech.”
A corner or the datapad had been melted from the recent inferno. Uneasily, John turned the pad over in his hands. Strange white fragments were embedded deep into the back of the datapad.
Daniel held in his hands a skull, scraped clean and with a large holes smashed into the back of the head. Biology was hardly John’s forte, but even to him it was obvious that the head had taken several blows. He wasn’t sure if he should feel better or worse when he noticed the skeleton’s pointed teeth. Humans may have been here, but they had left bits and pieces of something else.
“You pull dead monster out of this thing!” Rodney exclaimed, and shoving the device into John’s hands.
“It’s still not as scary as clowns,” John said. “I mean…yuck.”
John insisted that it didn’t matter who could see in the dark or how well, or who had packed a flashlight before wandering off, and that everyone, alien or not, was to get back to the jumper for the night. The dead people were not going to get up and leave before morning. And if they would, no one should be around when it happened.
What he didn’t say was that he trusted Todd in the jumper with them while everyone slept. Whether this was because he didn’t think Todd was dumb enough to kill them and essentially lock himself in an airtight container or if John cared about the wraith he kept to himself.
It seemed to last only seconds, falling asleep and then waking up, while fully rested, alarmed at a loud, continuous noise as something slammed into the ship, shaking it slightly “Hey!” John yelled, trying to sleep through it. He grumbled and forced himself to investigate. Neither Rodney or Daniel wanted to find out. Rodney had already had enough of this planet and Daniel just gave John a look of ‘this isn’t my expertise’
Todd was already in the cockpit, watching the source of the noise. John shoved him to the side to get a better view. Out wise was a wraith, his wild hair braided and tied with colors as he brought a long, bent blade down onto the jumper as hard as he could. The strike would knock him back, his hair flying from his bare chest, but he would recover and strike again. And Again. And Again.
“Can he see us?” Rodney whispered as he sneaked into the cabin behind John. Daniel quietly joined to watch and the minutes dragged on in silence. It was far longer than anyone intended when the silence broke. A rock hurled through the air and slammed into the wraith’s head and bounced off the ship.
“Looks like we’ve got more company,” John announced, as another rock hit the ship. “Whoever they are, they’re going to break the jumper.”
“Stay here,” he told Todd as he uncloaked the jumper. “Rodney, I need you in case we need another gun; Daniel, I need you so we don’t.” He signaled to Rodney to open the hatch and strode out with a tight grip on his weapon.
“For the record, I vote we all go home, Todd or not,” Rodney said, taking in the scene.
“Hi,” Daniel greeted those in front of him, trying to be as neutral as possible.
“Uh...” John started. There are two things he didn’t like in the universe: Wraith and complicated situations he could fight or swear his way out of. There are two things he likes in the universe: boobs.
Getting a better look at the wraith was unsettling. Long spikes resembling giant nails had been jammed through his head to the point that there probably wasn’t much left to his mind, even with regenerative abilities. His feeding hand had been given decorative bracelets, while his other was missing, skin and muscle had long since healed around the hilt of his weapon. He stood there, waiting for human commands, some in the form of more blades or rocks. He was a living version of a mosaic, shattered and the pieces deemed useless thrown away, the rest filled with decoration and something to hold it together.
Next to him was a woman, proud and welcoming, obviously the thing’s keeper while having no clue how disturbing it was to the strangers who had just arrived. Long black hair to her knees and bright black eyes. Her skin was a dark ruddy color, paint with lines and whorls in blues and bright reds and fresh mud from the nocturnal rainfall. She wore more jewelry than clothing. A wide strip barely hid the barest of details, glued to her bosom by paint and sweat; and a loincloth clung desperately to her hips.
“We were just...admiring your, uh...” John would feel the others behind him cringe in fear while simultaneously giving him death stares. One wrong word and he would be stepping into a large metaphorical pile of dog poop. “Dirt.”
She accepted it. While happy, still welcoming them, and unoffended, she looked at them as people who were weak, ignorant, almost as if she had found lost children on her doorstep. Then her expression changed, seeing the nuances and troubles of adults, not just as people, but belonging to a larger group of people, ones to be respected as sending these three diplomats.
John turned to see what had changed her mind. “I thought I told you to stay in there,” he scolded, seeing Todd had stepped out to see what was going on for himself.
Todd turned to Daniel for a second before heading back into the jumper.
Rodney, even thought he’d been distractedby fear and her lack of clothing, also picked up on her change in attitude. “Uh… bad wraith! Bad! Shoo! You’re on time-out!”
The woman looked impressed. “We had no idea there were others who had crossed Tlillan-Tlapallan,” she said. “We were afraid huitznanuna had come from Coyolxauhqi, seeking to travel through a false cenote.”
“We are from Yacatecuhtli,” Daniel said, hoping he understood enough. “From the other side of Tlillan-Tlapallan.”
“I can definitely see that,” she said, her voice both friendly and in awe. “You seem to need nothing for your teotl to follow you; such power has never been recorded on The Worlds of The Fifth Sun. No one has ever held such favors of Tezcatlipaque.”
By now Rodney and John had no idea what was going on or even if the woman was speaking a language they could.
“How long it take with your teotl?” she asked, just as intrigued as Daniel would be with a new book. “How have you trained him?”
That they understood, wishing she’d go back to talking about unpronounceable gibberish.
“He… doesn’t get a cookie otherwise,” Rodney said, hoping it was answer enough to make her change the subject. The rest he could do was hope John didn’t mention how free-willed Todd actually was in an attempt to get into her lack of pants.
“You have never been to Tlalocan before, have you?” she asked.
“Uh, no…” Daniel said. “Really bad storms stopped us until now.”
“Really, really bad,” ‘For a guy who was constantly threatened by interstellar women, he sure was hogging this one,’ John thought.
“My name is Cualli, I oversee this settlement,” she said, offering her hand to any who wanted to take it. “Let me be the first of the The People of Aztlan to welcome you to the purified land of Tlalocan. ”
“How much of Tlalocan have you claimed?” Daniel asked. The last thing they needed was ‘your spaceship is one my lawn, so we’re taking it.’
“You aren’t here to settle, are you?’ she said cheekily, crossing her arms and proud of her deduction.
“We merely came to explore,” Daniel said cautiously.
“Is that all?” Cualli asked, suddenly suspicious. “We can see the value of knowledge, but our people have never forgotten the last time those from the Land of the Fleshless came from Thirteenth Heaven.”
“I’m hoping not to do any of that, either,” Rodney said. He wondered if he had a sign saying ‘kick me’ that only people from other galaxies could see.
“You can help make sure we don’t…do that?” John asked. Now he was getting somewhere. Hopefully where he wanted to be.
She laughed, her mood returning to friendly as she chuckled. “I could even take you to Aztlan; we are always seeking the wisdom of the stars.”
“Sounds like a date,” John said. Finally. Besides, a lady who could pronounce words like that had to have a skilled tongue.
Daniel put his face in his hand and Rodney rolled his eyes. “Does he do this often?” Daniel whispered to Rodney.
“All the time,” Rodney replied quietly.
“We are laying the foundations for our new city there,” she said, pointing to the blank horizon. “If it returns and the city is unharmed, then I will gladly take you to our homeworld. .”
“John, what’d you do?” Rodney asked, wincing.
Cualli’s wraith edged it’s way towards the jumper as she walked forward, offering her hands to them. “I am in charge of overseeing the new city; I should return to my work.” John was th4 only one to shake her hands. “It will need more primitive discipline that you’re used to. Ours are nowhere near as obedient as yours.”
“Can you give us a minute?” Daniel asked the wraith, unsure as to whether it understood anything short of rocks at all. If it truly came to a vote, he was going to agree with Rodney.
Todd was sitting in the back, staring at nothing, completely expressionless and still. His lack of reaction made the air in the ship as stifling and suffocating as it was outside.
Daniel sighed and winced at having nothing to say. John crossed his arms and glared at Todd, sternly believing that all this was somehow the wraith’s fault.
Rodney couldn’t look at him as he sat down in the co-pilot’s seat and covered his face with his hands. “Thanks John, now we’ve got a Hellraiser version of Solomon Grundy following us.”
“I didn’t know what her job was,” John said.defensidely He was more concerned about Todd. The wraith had a history of complaining when he thought humans just wanted his species to suffer for the hell of it. “Do something!” He yelled.
“Do what?” Todd asked, not turning to him. He was thinking and didn’t want to be bothered by John’s antics.
“Say something else!” John continued to yell. “There’s…!” The only words John had for what he’d seen so far was very colorful profanity. As frustrated as he was, he reminded himself he didn’t want to explain swear words to an alien. “How about why you didn’t tell us about some of that stuff.”
“Because we wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Daniel explained, leaning back in his seat. “He hasn’t exactly been here himself, as far as he’s explained this to me.”
“I hate when your plans go right, you know that?” Rodney complained, taking his hands away from his face to point at Todd.
“Would you rather his plan failed?” Daniel muttered.
“Right, I’m stuck with both of you,” Rodney muttered, putting his hands back before Todd took it too personally. He preferred Todd to the wraith outside, but he didn’t want to have to choose between the two.
“So what now?” John asked. “Can’t go back.” Not unless Daniel had a really good way of saying ‘sorry for wasting your time. We forgot how to count above three’. Not that John wanted to ditch Todd just yet. Not here.
“We go looking for something else?” Daniel suggested, acknowledging how vague it sounded.
“That doesn’t narrow it down,” Rodney teased. “What about the datapad?”
“I would not know what it contains,” Todd said calmly.
“Great, we wasted an entire day digging around in dead things for nothing,” Rodney complained. He liked this plan less and less by the minute.
“Actually, I don’t think it was so bad,” Daniel said.
“Do you know how creepy that sounds?” John interrupted. He’d had enough of Rodney before they got here.
It was almost an hour of sickening silence before Rodney spoke up. “He’s our wraith, right?”
“I don’t think Todd’s going to end up in the lost and found, Rodney,” John said. He didn’t like this conversation. But he didn’t like the silence either.
“I mean she’s not going to try to shoot Todd with nails unless we say she can, right?” Rodney asked. “And I’m certainly not going to.”
“We can’t take him there,” Daniel said.
“We can’t leave him here,” Rodney said.
“Maybe we should go back to earth,” Daniel said.
“Yeah, that’d be easy to explain. ‘We found nothing, did nothing, landed nowhere, flew around, stopped caring about the mission you sent us on, and came back home because we’re just plain lazy. Thanks for letting us waste your time.’” John shot back sardonically. “How about a real plan?”
“What do you think about all this?” Daniel asked Todd.
“Would you like a nail through your face and to lose your hand?” he asked, wondering when the humans had all become so stupid about the obvious.
John thought the question was rhetorical and a waste of time while Daniel was searching for a polite answer. “No,” Rodney said, knowing nothing would be accomplished no one answered.
“There isn’t much else,” Todd said, and went back to staring at dust in the air.
“Can’t you say anything useful for once?” John complained.
“They would have killed you if I had not disobeyed. They consider my kind gifts. They burn worlds and hives I have never seen them with my own eyes. I was warned not to.”
“John, quit asking him to say stuff. I’m feeling greener than him,” Rodney whined. “And neither of you are helping.”
“This,” Todd continued and lifted his hand towards his face with a vague gesture. “represents that we have dealt with their kind…and survived. It was just a symbol by the time I earned it through other means. We avoid these planets. Keepers watch out for them and their heat.”
Daniel grabbed his notes and started looking for a pen.
“Knock it off,” John chided. “Look, you’re not going to throw up,” he told Rodney. “You’re not Pocahontas,” he told Daniel. “And you’re not ET. Everyone grow up and stop acting stupid.”
“Yeah, except you,” Rodney muttered, interrupting before Daniel could correct John on his bad analogies and history.
“Hey!” John retorted, walking over to Rodney.
Daniel took the opportunity to strike up a conversation with Todd, knowing they’d be ignored while the others bickered.
“Fine,” Rodney said. “When are you going to come up with a plan—which is probably just shooting everything—before or after sex?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You hit on every female we come across,” Rodney said. “If Todd had breasts, you’d be all over him.”
“Stop looking at me like that!” John complained at the two in the back. Todd was looking at him wit a mix of fear, shock, disgust, and desperately trying to rid himself of a mental image. Daniel was pretending to clean his glasses in an effort to hide the fact that he was trying to swallow laughter and failing badly at it.
“What’s wrong with thinking she’s attractive?” John asked. “She’s got nice…eyes.”
“She’s insane!” Rodney rebutted. “All her people are! You really think this isn’t a bad idea?”
“She’s not insane,” John commented.
“Yeah, she’s the spitting image of sanity, what with Solomon Grundy out there. I’ll bet you fifty bucks she’s insane and you’re still going to try and get in her pants.”
“You are so on,” John said.
“That’s not a very good idea,” Daniel said. “The teotl were gods—actually it translates to ‘mysterious’ or ‘inexplicable’; in the Nahuatl language. They were concepts that were worshiped on Earth. The wraith are real here and they’re considered gifts. And then there’s the matter of what the nahuatl were famous for—besides dying form diseases the Spaniards brought over.”
“Which would be..?” John asked.
Daniel winced. He didn’t know what was worse. What he was going to have to explain or John’s bad grasp at history.
I have to go digging around in my computer or on ff.net for more chapters to fix up, so it might be a while for some updates. I'm sorry for the delay.
"So what now?" John asked. Everyone had mostly finished giggling or shooting him strange looks. By now. “Can't go back. Not unless Daniel had a really good way of saying 'sorry for wasting your time. We forgot how to count above three'.” Not that John wanted to ditch Todd just yet.
"We go looking for something else," Daniel said, acknowledging how vague that sounded.
"Great, we wasted an entire day digging around in dead things for nothing," Rodney complained.
"Actually, I don’t think that’s what we’re looking for,” Daniel added.
"If we're not looking for the dead people, what are we looking for?" Rodney asked.
"Something I wish to see for myself," Todd said, finally joining the conversation. His expression said that just because he might fare better than the wraith outside, but even he wasn’t certain. "Now I know where it is.”
"Oh, now you know," Rodney exclaimed. “Can it be on a planet where people wear pants, at least?”
"Is whatever you want dead too?" John asked. "Don't answer that, I don't even like what we found alive."
"Do you know what direction to look in this time?" Daniel asked.
"Someone else does," Todd said.
There was a slight pause as Daniel watched the other humans realize Todd had been communicating with the other wraith, something he'd figured out fifteen minutes ago.
"Being annoying must be a contagious," Rodney said flatly. "We're not leaving until we find the whatchamajig, are we?"
Leaving looked really good at the moment.
"Make it do something," Rodney told Daniel, trying not to look at the one-eyed wraith standing at attention, waiting for orders none of them wanted to give.
"I don't even know where we're going," Daniel said. "Todd does."
"He does not listen to wraith," Todd explained.
"Nothing's ever easy on this planet, is it?" John complained. "Look, go… go find whatever it is he wants," John said, pointing at Todd.
The wraith spent a whole minute to contemplate John, before turning away and wandering off, his weapon dragging on the ground.
Todd followed without hesitation. Even Daniel stayed behind for a moment before walking after the two.
Whatever Todd wanted, it was beyond the Scarecrow. Far past that, the ground sloped down into a valley, littered with glass, pebbles that had been cooked along with the earth. The slope had already been changed to suit the preferences of the humans moving in, now shaped into a stair-like formation instead of it’s natural slope. Walls of charred skulls and bones held back the loose dirt.
“Todd, quit finding gross stuff,” John muttered as the rest moved on, each ignoring the intricately and tightly made walls for their own individual reasons.
The group kept walking, the two wraith silent and inexpressive while the humans showed more and more discomfort at their surroundings. The slope was long, meaning there were dozens of terraces held up by walls of bone. They could all recognize the skill it took to create such structures and slowly, they each realized that this would all be farmland someday. Humans would walk by them and they would be so normal and mundane to them they’d never notice they were strolling by a massacre or that part of their lunch had been grown on top of thousands of torn up bodies.
Unease did not disappear for long once they reached the valley. A large black shaped loomed in the distance between the party and Cualli’s camp. The wraith Rodney had named ‘Grundy’ waited as the group stopped to contemplate the strange edifice that interrupted the smooth and nearly spotless tract of as and blackened dirt.
The strange edifice was immense, a hollowed out shell that would tower over most trees for centuries if left untouched. The air was thicker here, almost smokey. A strange, disturbing smell wafted up from the blacked bits, biting at the edges of the brains of the humans until they realized what they were seeing. An entire hive have been cooked until all that remained was blackened char. As the hive died, the crew was sealed inside, no more able to fight the heat than their ship.
Uneasily, they turned to Todd for answers. He had none. None for them, at least. They doubted he had answers for himself the way he gazed at the remains, trying to take it all in. Daniel’s comparison of a warning of dragons was now far too accurate for comfort. To Todd, he was staring at a burnt village, everything destroyed with no chance of escape from the monster. None of the humans could fully understand the expression on his face, whether he was mourning as best he could too close to the demons who had taken the lives of those he knew or if the tragedy was too distant to be personal and he was trying to take in the enormity of situation. Either way, the dangerous creature that had survived thousands of years of war, torture, and treachery, was overwhelmed by what he saw.
Cualli was thankful for the return of her teotl, which seemed not to express anything other than attentiveness. Her work, whatever it was, would not be done until evening. If they wished, she would give them coordinates for their ship to see her home planet when she was finished.
“Your teotl,” she said, staring inquisitively at Todd. “There are rules that must be obeyed, whether in the cities or outside the limits. Disloyalty is not allowed, yet I cannot promise his safety if he is left here.”
“He… prefers not to be shot, if that’s where this is going” John said.
“He is yours. You must discipline him if needed or we will.”
Todd just stared at the others.
“Got it,” John replied quickly. “Todd, don’t be weird.” It was obvious to the Tau’ri that the order was as effective as telling a cat it couldn’t sleep wherever it wanted, but it wasn’t for Todd, it was for Cualli, who nodded, as she took it as an actual order to the wraith.
“If anything happens, I’m sure I can explain--” Daniel said.
“You will keep an eye on him or someone else will solve the problem,” Cualli insisted. “He is unusual for a teotl on my world.”
“Yeah, he’s like that,” John muttered. “Look, we’re double parked and it’s a new paint job, so why don’t I follow you and get the coordinates for your home world and we’ll drive there ourselves when it’s time to leave?”
“If you insist on taking your own means of travel,” Cualli said, gesturing for him to follow.
“We just got volunteered to babysit Todd, didn’t we?” Rodney asked, once John was absorbed in Cualli’s ‘information’.
“Voluntold,” Daniel corrected before turning to address Todd. “You know, if I had any clue things would be like this, I wouldn’t have brought you here.”
“You often know about the people you will find?” Todd asked, his displeasure obvious, despite the question.
“Not really,” Daniel answered.
“And yet, you are still here,” Todd commented, hoping for the words to sink in.
* * *
It was late afternoon on the planet when they arrived. In the center of the city was a step pyramid showing signs of Mesoamerican-derived art, though the thousands of years and cultural differences showed drastically. Only Daniel and Todd recognized the motifs beneath the current artwork. To the others, this was merely another alien civilization of humans. Neat, clean, straight roads spread out from the pyramid. There were a few larger buildings behind it, mostly silos, and a patterned terrace in front. Along the lanes were sturdy and beautifully simple one-story houses as far as the eye could see.
The jumper landed, on the side of the terrace, next to a stolen one Cualli used.
It was hot out, blazing hot, mirage-creating hot, hard-to-form-a-complete-sentence-in-your-head hot.
The woman leaned back and, in a grand gesture, indicated to the pyramid and they turned to watch as a festival was taking place on the steps, music already in full swing.
The pounding of drums grew in volume and tempo, faster, louder, faster, louder, more hectic, becoming a deafening, hypnotic thrum that reverberated through one’s bones. Moving to the magical beat were dancers, their clothes nothing but ribbons held in place by sweat, matching the speed and ferocity of the music, swinging their beaded hair like jeweled scarves.
The four were entranced, including the wraith. Daniel managed to remember to take off his jacket in the heat, but he dropped it on the ground, too mesmerized to remember it once he felt the air on his shoulders. John barely managed to open his own, his hands falling limp as his brain became a numb slave to the flashing colors, sounds, and moving flesh that seemed to fly through his mind like a soaring, overwhelming dream. No one even paid any attention as the woman wrapped her arm around Daniel and told them what was being celebrated.
The dancing and drumming was soon accompanied by rhythmic chants, practically from the entire population of the city behind them, building everything higher, deeper, greater into a climactic crescendo, culminating in fires lit along the steps of the pyramids, as if lighting up the sudden silence. It was so abrupt, so tense, so powerful, it was near impossible to breathe or hear past one’s own heartbeat. Everything else went still as a man, decked out in a ribbon skirt and a dazzling cloak of beads spread his hands, welcoming everyone, all the while giving the feel as if he were drawing in their souls.
He stepped to the side, revealing a wraith, almost as heavily decorated, and a man, naked save for a tiny loincloth kneeling before him. The weapons had been taken from the wraith, as well as the contraption that held its feed hand in place. The cauterized stump of its other hand was covered in dark metal. Two soldiers with glaives stood behind the wraith on either side.
The leader of the ceremony made a sudden gesture and the wraith slammed its feeding hand against the chest of the man kneeling in front of him. The man didn’t move or make a sound, nor did the wraith. As the wraith fed, seemingly unknowingly, the leader produced a knife and the soldiers raised their weapons, all three approaching the wraith with devotion. A roar went through the crowd, hitting the four like a sudden ocean wave as the glaives were brought down, the knife struck the wraith’s chest, and the man fell dead. There was an overpowering cheer from the mob, even from parents holding up their child to watch the spectacle.
“Rodney, keep your mouth shut,” John ordered.
The woman gave a hearty laughed as Rodney grabbed the nearest thing he could and threw up in it. John stepped over Rodney, who could no longer stand while he retched, and scowled. “Never mind,” John muttered as he took off his jacket and slammed it into Todd’s chest. He turned his glower to Daniel, who was being led away through the crowd by the woman as she gesticulated wildly, her arm drifting lower.
“It is what keeps us glorious!” she said, putting her other hand on Daniel’s shirt and leaning on him.
* * *
It was cool in her guest room, but it was a coolness that hinted at the indifferent, crushing heat outside. The room was clean and bare, just nice enough to be hospitable. While elegant, the doorways and windows were just carved holes in the walls with flimsy curtains over them.
Rodney was huddled in a corner, rocking back and forth as he carefully poked at the device, trying to focus on repair work. Daniel had been invited out to talk with the woman, leaving John to babysit Todd, neither spoke nor made eye-contact. John wanted to blame Todd for something in all of this, but he kept stopping once he saw the giant holes in his own logic. Eventually, John decided to complain that there was only a single bed instead.
They were all allowed out, but Rodney wasn’t the only one who refused to leave the room. There were wraith patrolling the streets, about one for every hundred humans, used to keep order and do drudge work. One had attacked a mugger as they had walked to her house and the woman had mentioned that one had dragged a man out of a bedroom that wasn’t his own later that night.
John was worried. He still had his watch.
* * *
Daniel wasn’t sure what to think of this new situation. John Sheppard was no Jack O’neill and Rodney McKay was far from being Samantha Carter. Neither would be much help, so that left Todd and Cualli. He wasn't sure how helpful either were, though. She was impressed by how much he knew of the basics of her culture from his knowledge of a lost one from his own planet. She spoke of how the teotl took in the filth and sin of the land and the people;how every month a person was chosen to take in all the sin of the people of the city and give it to a teotl, a grand gesture of sacrifice and altruism. Even in death, teotl skin soaked up the disgusting elements of the land, leaving their crops to grow in soil that was clean and pure. She spoke of how her planet and many others were divided like nations, working together to gather teotl and using the huizilopochtli to defeat centzonmimixcoa and centzonhuitznahua. Like her, they all took pride in how they had conquered them all, and sought out new planets to start it all over again.
She was eager to learn all he had to say about earth, intrigued by wars and innovations, especially the food he’d brought with him, which she tried to feed to him during lunch. Nearly everyone she met, given her job to teach teotl and terraform planets meant it was just diplomats wanting to share land and prevent wars. To technical, too impersonal, always gone the next day.
At the end of the day, she led him to the top of the pyramid, now empty and powerless. It was clean and barren. Then Daniel noticed why she’d brought him here. The setting sun at the edge of the city was magnificent.
They sat down and watched as it painted everything up to their feet in still fire, coloring all the shadows in the colors of dark roses, pink fire fading to deep indigo and then into twilight and then into the beautiful black velvet and diamond-like stars.
“I’m sorry,” he said, remembering how watching sunsets was Sha’re’s favorite thing to do as well.
“Don’t be,” she said. “It’s still beautiful.”
“It is,” he agreed.
They watched the sky in silence a bit longer before heading back.
* * *
A day went by.
Rodney was still in his corner. Todd still didn’t say much. John, however, was in a much better mood.
Daniel traded jobs of watching Todd in the evenings, enjoying the difference in company. He didn’t even mind Rodney on the floor, ignoring both of them.
During the day, there were three guns on the empty dresser, the only furniture other than the bed. Rodney never touched his. Neither Daneil nor Rodney saw any point in carrying them anywhere. John had left his on the dresser after the first day, giving up on the idea of needing to shoot ‘their’ wraith. At nights, however, John’s was missing and there was a constant, one-note song of him teaching Cualli to shoot coming from the roof.
It frustrated Daniel when he couldn’t sleep through the noise. He’d heard it a thousand times before. Even Rodney slept through it with ease. Daniel sat up and watched the glow of Todd’s glowing eyes slowly drift about the room in boredom.
“You are awake,” Todd said, with as much concern as if saying the sky was blue.
“Yeah, it’s...the noise.”
“McKay makes quite a lot of noise when he sleeps,” Todd said. “Does that bother you?”
“It’s just… that noise,” Daniel said. “Because I keep thinking she’s up there.”
“You wish for her not to be up there?” Todd asked. He didn’t understand if it was the roof or the woman that disturbed the man.
“She’s… confusing. She gave us this room, free food, she wants a peace treaty with America, and she even… she was…” He sighed. He had really wanted to avoid saying this to Todd, and the fear and guilt were another part of what kept him up. “She’s the sweetest person I’ve ever met to when it came to comforting me about losing my wife. I ended up pouring my heart out to her and she made me feel better about it than anyone else ever had.”
“Well, she—“ he was interrupted by a metallic screech from outside. One of the wraith on patrol was dragging his blade against something new. “That.”
Todd laughed, loud and sharp. Despite the noise, Rodney didn’t wake up. “You wish to understand the wraith when you cannot understand humans.”
“Sometimes aliens make a lot more sense.”
It was dark below the pyramid. It was surprisingly spacious and clean. Daniel would never have guessed it was hollow, or even any indication of an entrance without her help. Cualli had wanted to show what lay hidden here instead of the sunset this time.
He was lead to large machine. It took him a while to figure out what it was, as usually whatever he discovered was more blatantly sinister in it’s use. It was, almost, just a telescope. Mirrors, magnifying lenses, and, as the name suggested, a telescoping tube that pointed towards the heavens when the pyramid opened up. It took longer, his curiosity for what it was meant to do mistaken for awe until he spied the generators inside.
“Is this how you...um...cleansed the other planet?” He asked. This looked very familiar now. Possibly worse. The Ori forced others into belief to sustain what they thought was a god. The goa’uld conquered and demanded subservience. The wraith were desperate for survival and seeing others as equal was a death sentence. Her people...he didn’t know what to say. Her culture had been taken to earth and later slaughtered and killed through rampant disease. Still, she relished torture and death, believing it to be a way to kill more and take more, not just to live. This kind of thinking was never easy.
“How many teotl have your people claimed?” she asked, as if in a friendly competition about hobbies.
“I…I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask my boss,” Daniel said, struggling for an answer that didn’t lead to worse questions. Unfortunately this did not prompt her to stop.
“You like to name yours,” she said. “What other names have you given teotl of your own?”
Daniel realized it was a great honor to do anything with another person’s wraith, especially another nation’s. This could solve the problems of the wraith altogether. Yet, all he could think of was people—not creatures—people, who may not be human, who may threaten humans, but still people, in pain. People no longer able to be people.
“I…I’ll have to ask John about that. They were his, technically.”
“What happened to them?”
“They, um, died.” Daniel answered and he could change the subject before she got any ideas.. “What is this?
“Another sun,” she answered proudly. “It was cold before our world. Cold and full of monsters. The teotl ran wild, vicious. We killed them out of fear. And then we found this, and ignited it. We’ve sacrificed to it ever since, and our world has become more beautiful and we have spread it to new worlds ever since.” She wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned her face close to his neck.
Daniel wished he had a clue what to do in these situations. Ten years and all he could ever do is close the door on Vala, who soon learned to thwart that.He wondered if just asking for personal space would be inoffensive enough, but she spoke up before he could ask.
“Is your world as beautiful?”
“Well, there’s no teotl.”
* * *
That evening, Rodney, having fixed the datapad, wanted to gloat over his accomplishment and have Daniel and Todd, whom he still blamed for everything about this mission other than the food, do the rest of the work. Todd narrated each of the many, many scientific articles—the ones John didn’t declare were ‘lame’--as Daniel sat and listened and the others sat around bored, while enjoying the cool breeze and lack of threats.
The first hundred or so were details about random planets, and flora and fauna native to them. One or two were even about the progress the ancients were making an expansion in the new galaxy and the plan to spread humans everywhere possible. Eventually he found a few articles on the Iratus bug. John wasn’t interested, but Todd read the entire thing. The ancients at first tried to wipe them out by, but eventually noticed it was a formidable threat to humans, and that threats were popular for studying ascension.
Many notes were taken on how the bug survived: preferred food sources, preferred breeding grounds, number of eggs, number of surviving children, lifespan, size, color, and many other uninteresting things.
The next article, however, was focused entirely on the feeding habits of the bug. Often it was for food, but when there were extremely few of its numbers, it absorbed DNA to pass onto a new generation. When numbers were too high, however, that was when the bug did something strange. It gave its own DNA to the victim, inducing effects Todd was far too familiar with. If the victim survived, it was practically rabid; devouring things, wrecking the environment, killing large numbers of not only bugs, but also attacking its own kind with fierce aggression and heightened healing abilities. Fellow creatures were either outright killed or weakened defending themselves, restoring ecological equilibrium.
Todd moved on, going back to narrating, according to what John wanted to listen to plans to improve the bug’s strange reaction environmental threats.
Several ideas were recorded, but discarded, a few after initial experiments, but the plan continued, developing into calculations, extensive proposed changes, and eventually very specific flaws to keep the things in check.
Increased size, warm-bloodedness, larger brain, upright posture, lack of females to curb reproduction, territoriality, more and more advanced healing abilities, the ability to see in nearly no light at all, extreme aggression, and finally a dependency on humans—a species that specialized in fire, projectiles, determination, and revenge. It would be a perfect tool to push humanity to ascension for their studies—if it didn’t work the first time, they’d just breed more humans. No experiment was given a name, merely numbers, and they were always disposed of immediately after serving their purpose.
Afterward, there were articles about the success of the experiments, once unleashed into space, ranging from aggravatingly pathetic results from both species to success that produced an ego similar to Rodney’s. The determination of the author was never dampened, even after needing to exterminate several experiments.
The last article was speculation on taming the creatures, as they showed too much of a need for independence. There was nothing more.
“I still fixed it,” Rodney muttered.
Daniel couldn’t sleep again. John was up on the roof, along with Cualli again. The weapons fire had ceased and hour ago and everyone, including the sleeping Rodney could figure out why. This time, it was the lack of noise that kept Daniel awake, despite Rodney’s snoring trying to make up for it.
“You are awake again,” Todd said, after twenty minutes of watching Daniel sit up in the dark.
“Yeah, it’s…it’s not the noise,” Daniel said. He may not have considered his interactions with Todd disasters, or at least not as much as the others did, but he he now not to play games with the wraith. “John up there and he doesn’t care the slightest about...what’s going on. Rodney doesn’t like it, but he doesn't want to do anything about it.”
“And I don’t know what to do,” Daniel admitted. Had anyone ever said that to Todd? That they were just as confused or helpless as he was? Maybe more?
“You expect me to have the answers?” Todd asked.
Daniel sighed. He didn’t know if Todd was just being obtuse again or if the wraith had misinterpreted thanks to all the years of being blamed and yelled at by John. “No, but if you have anything useful, I’d like it. Frankly, I’m thinking of just asking Rodney to drop you off on a planet far enough away from here and just leave this place.”
Todd was quiet for a few moments. The only sounds Daniel could hear were Rodney’s snoring and his own dark imagination. All he could do was stare at the alien creature, something for whom everything was different—upbringing, history, culture, beauty, expression. When Todd reached out to him after his moment of silence, Daniel just watched and waited, wonder what to expect other than a lack of danger.
Everything faded away. There was nothing but a bright, hot sun and a painfully blue sky. And then, someone, whoever’s mind this was, lowered their vision and looked around. Bodies everywhere. Dark-skinned humans and wraith—teotl and their masters—lay dead or dying in the intense heat that was getting hotter.
A hand, a wraith hand, reached up and slowly pulled at something unseen close to his field of vision. Daniel watched as the vision became clearer as nails were slowly pulled from the skull of whoever had seen this, long ago, until the vision was once again obscured, this time by blood dripping into a healing eye.
The wraith looked up at the sky again, the heat becoming unbearably hot now. Both Daniel and the wraith in the vision recognized what was happening. This world, lost to the teotl, was being cleansed. The wraith had won their freedom only to be wiped out in a planetary oven. They were coming back to reclaim this place and they would do it all over.
Yet, there was comfort in those last thoughts as the mind, finally free from the pain and no longer damaged by the nails, began to die again in the heat. Others could know of this. They could rise up, they could avoid these people. They could fight back. No matter how many planets they conquered or hives they destroyed, they would never win. So long as this reached another, there would always be a teotl who knew freedom
The vision faded and Daniel was left in the dark to watch Todd with his hands by his side. The cool night air was as gentle as velvet after what he had experienced. The wraith just watched as Daniel sat there in silence, eventually turning to the window.
There was a shrill sound as Daniel realized it wasn’t just him Todd had showed it to. The wraith outside hadn’t been as interested.
* * *
The next day Cualli took Daniel out again. The others felt it was too hot to venture out, plus too unsettling and too dangerous for Todd to leave—and bother humans knew Todd would if he wasn’t watched.
Finally they heard Daniel and Cualli return, their excursion short this time.
“I’m not interested!” they heard Daniel shout.
“I’m gonna go see if there’s anything to do about that,” John said, and left the room.
“Yeah, I know what that anything is,” Rodney commented, wanting to stay in the bedroom where he wouldn’t have to put up with anything but Todd’s eerie stares.
John found Cualli following Daniel and playing with his short hair and glasses as she did. “I’m sorry, not interested” Daniel apologized as he gently moved her hands away.
“I am,” John offered, trying to join the conversation.
“I hate being right sometimes,” Rodney mused, staying in the bedroom and overhearing the conversation.
“There are more or less an equal number of males and females for your species,” Todd commented. “Why does he pursue one who is not interested?”
“He thinks his penis isn’t big enough if he doesn’t sleep with every woman we meet, at least the ones that don’t try to kill anyone immediately.” Then Rodney realized who—or what—he was talking to. “Don’t think too hard about that; you’ll hurt yourself.”
The conversation in the other room turned into screaming.
“Can you make them stop?” Todd asked.
“I guess I’ve got nothing better to do,” Rodney conceded after a full minute of curious staring from Todd. It wasn’t as if there was anyone else who was going to stop the fight. All three were heavily engaged in the squabble and Todd would end up without an eye or a limb if he tried to get involved. The worst Rodney would get would be John yelling at him for cockblocking and being made to explain half the words he used in doing so to Todd.
There was a screech outside the door. No one cared to hear it in the next room.
* * *
Daniel stretched once inside the house. He was exhausted despite just coming with her to the market. Thankfully, not many teotl were expected to be around the crops they supposedly helped grow once they were harvested and set out to be sold.
His was interrupted from musing about lunch by suddenly wondering whose tongue was in his mouth.
He shoved Cualli away as hard as he could. “What are you doing?” he asked. “I already told you about Sha’re.”
“You are lonely,” she said, shoving him against the wall.
“I’m not interested.”
“I am,” John said, interrupting as he walked in.
“I have already chose him!” Cualli yelled.
“But he’d love to be chosen” Daniel complained.
“You do not have what I want!” Cualli exclaimed, shoving John away.
“Hey!” John shot back.
“Huh?” Rodney asked, entering the room.
“The teotl only listen to you. If it is no power of yours, you will teach me.” Cualli explained. “And I do not need those who get in my way.”
She lunged at John. Daniel attempted to grab her, only to get a sharp elbow in his face, knocking his glasses away. Panicking, Rodney ran to Daniel.
Cualli caught John by surprise, and was muscular herself. She slammed John against the wall and grabbed a decorative knife off the wall.
John ducked, but not fast enough. She managed to down is wrist, then decided to forgo formalities and kicked him hard between his legs.
John dropped to the floor, wincing in pain.
Cualli raised her knife.
There was a loud, wet sound of metal striking flesh and bone, followed by a thump.
John opened his eyes, Rodney handed Daniel his glasses and they all were struck silent by what they saw.
Cualli lay on the floor. There was already a giant puddle of blood creeping towards John’s knees and tiny bits of gray matter and bone were splattered on the floor.
Todd stood over her, the butt of the gun he carried stained red and dripping.