Sheppard allowed the Wraith guards to drag him down the corridors of the Hive ship, mentally assessing the route and escape possibilities. He knew they were taking him to see the Queen, so he didn't fight. He would need all his physical energy to fight her psychic assault.
They passed the cocoons where the Wraith stored their victims, and Sheppard looked at as many as he could, wondering if a friend would be encased in the strands. Too many off world teams had been culled recently. His team was just the latest. It was surprising so many had been culled, given that the overall number of Hive ships in the galaxy was lower than it had been a year ago. The current theory was that the Wraith apparently were engaged in an all out civil war. Not that Sheppard was upset by the thought. Wraith fighting Wraith meant they weren't trying to get to Atlantis - or Earth.
Reaching the throne room, the guards shoved Sheppard forward and onto his knees. Hands pressed down onto his shoulders when he tried to get back up, and he heard a chuckle from the throne. Sheppard's blood chilled as he recognized the voice.
"Heya, Mikey," Sheppard said with false cheer as he looked up.
Michael sat in the throne, dressed in the black leather outfit that high ranking Wraith wore. His hair had grown in the three years since John had last seen him, and it was hard to tell the Wraith had twice been turned into a human. "Colonel Sheppard," Michael said. "It wasn't easy to find your off world team, but rest assured, your colleagues are safe. None have been fed on."
"Why should I believe you?" Sheppard asked, glancing casually around the room, looking for exits and potential weapons.
"I don't expect you to," Michael replied calmly. "The truth will be seen soon enough. But first, I wish to discuss a truce between the Wraith and Atlantis."
"Yeah, because the last one worked out so well."
Michael chuckled again. "I said a truce, Colonel, not an alliance. I am not that naive to think you would fall for that again, nor am I naive enough to think you wouldn't try to turn us human at the first opportunity."
Sheppard didn't speak, though the reminder of Beckett was painful. Six months after the last encounter with Michael, after the failed alliance with Michael's former Hive, Beckett had disappeared while off world. After two days of searching, they'd found his clothing and gear at the top of a 200 meter cliff, a river raging at the bottom of the canyon. They'd never found Carson's body. Once they'd returned to Atlantis, they'd realized that Carson had methodically planned his suicide, destroying all his research on the retrovirus and all his other work - including the ATA gene therapy. His note merely said he was tired of his work being perverted for other interests, and this was the only way to ensure it never would be again.
Still, he wasn't about to tell Michael they didn't have the retrovirus anymore. It would remove a potential bargaining chip.
Michael smiled and sat back in his throne. "No, Colonel, I merely suggest that we agree to terms where Atlantis will stop trying to kill the Wraith, and we will stop the indiscriminate cullings of the past few years. It will likely be many years before we have to cull again, but nothing like what has been occurring since the Great Awakening."
"You can get all the Hives to agree to that?" Sheppard was skeptical. Michael didn't have that kind of pull among the Wraith.
"You haven't realized it yet, have you? This is only Wraith Hive left. My Wraith live, while the other Hives slumber in stasis on a planet without a Stargate, their ships unable to fly. Correction," Michael said with a dark smile. "They were Wraith. Now they are, what is the human phrase - lambs to the slaughter? Well, they are humans to the feeding."
Sheppard couldn't help gasping in shock. "How --" he began.
A new voice cut him off. "The retrovirus, of course."
Sheppard tensed, his mind telling him he had to be hearing things. No Wraith he'd ever met had an accent. Yet this vibrating Wraith voice also held the soft burr of Scotland in its words.
A form coalesced out of the shadows behind Michael. Sheppard could only stare in horror as the black leather body came into view, stouter than the usual high ranking males. Looking up, his heart sank as he recognized the face now covered in Wraith features beneath short and spiky white hair.
"Carson?" he asked in a choked whisper.
"It took some refinement to ensure the queens were affected but we accomplished it. Now they all wait until we get hungry." The smile he gave Sheppard was terrifying to see on someone he had called a friend, and a lover.
"He also perfected a new virus, as you can see," Michael said with a touch of pride. "We are the new evolution of the Wraith, Colonel. All the Wraith in my Hive have been human at one point or another." Michael smiled. "Perhaps you'll join us?"
"Go to hell!" Sheppard exclaimed. "There's no truce, and I won't join you."
Carson moved past the throne and down to circle Sheppard as he knelt. He didn't say anything, but Sheppard could feel him probing at his mind. Finally he stopped in front of Sheppard, looking down. "We don't need your consent," he said. "Imagine being turned into a member of a race you despise, quite against your will."
The analogy wasn't lost on Sheppard. "You're turning into us by doing this." He hoped to evoke Michael's usual disgust at being compared to a human.
"No, Colonel, we're merely embracing our heritage. We evolved from humans, so why not use their tactics to evolve further? Only those strong enough to see the future will survive, and that means learning from our enemy." Michael sounded smug.
"Carson, whatever hold he has on you, we can break."
"Like the hold you had on me, John?" Carson hissed. "The cajoling and word games and sexual encounters calculated to ensure you would get your way?" He leaned forward. "Even if I wanted to go back to being human," his voice dripped with disdain on the word, "it would take months to develop an antidote for the virus that made me Wraith." He held out his right hand, the Wraith feeding slit visible . "Are you prepared to feed me until I am human?"
Sheppard swallowed. Carson's once clear blue eyes were now greenish-yellow, and glittering with what Sheppard knew was Wraith hunger. As Carson leaned forward, Sheppard tried to pull back, but Carson's eyes flickered toward the guards, and Sheppard found himself being pushed forward to meet Carson's hand.
Then Carson was pulling away, staring at Sheppard with an odd look on his face before turning with a swirl of black leather and walking back to the throne where Michael sat. Michael glanced at the guards, who hauled Sheppard to his feet and started dragging him out of the room. Sheppard managed to look back and saw Carson kneeling at the base of the throne, Michael's hand on his hair.
He would break the hold Michael had over Carson, Sheppard swore to himself. He didn't leave men behind.
I stroke my fingers through my pet's hair, and he sighs, leaning further against me. I watch the guards drag Sheppard away, knowing the human will try to escape and rescue my pet. He will fail. Carson Beckett is mine.
Very few members of my Hive were born human. Most are Wraith who were turned human by my pet's retrovirus, then allowed to regain their Wraith heritage. All have discovered the advantages our dual nature gives us against both the humans and the other Wraith.
All are loyal to me.
We have a queen for the Hive, carefully tucked away in stasis. She is a young queen, and her mind is malleable. She, too, will be loyal to me when the time comes for us to breed.
The few who were born human chose to become Wraith, to be a part of our evolution. Even my pet chose this life, developing the virus of his own will.
I look down at my pet, and he pushes into my touch, feeling my gaze on him. To think I almost made a mistake, having my pet be too subservient. It was his resistance to my mental interrogation that drew me to him, but making him totally dependent on my orders would have engendered contempt for him. I have seen it before, in queens who take humans as pets. Most ended up feeding from the whiny creatures, disgusted by their clinging ways.
Carson Beckett is utterly loyal to me. He's killed to defend me, fed from humans at my command, and turned entire Hives into humans when I asked. If I had permitted it, he would have drained Sheppard dry and enjoyed it. I still may allow him to have that chance. Yet my pet maintains a measure of his own independence - especially when working in his genetics laboratory. He rules in there the way I rule the Hive. Scientists who ignore his edicts on proper procedures have found themselves on the business end of a retrovirus syringe. Yet if I walk in and call him, he comes to me without delay or hesitation, no matter what he's involved in. I conditioned him well, and the results are beautiful.
«Could you turn Sheppard into a Wraith?»
My pet ponders the question before answering on the Hive bond. «I could, if you wished.»
There was more he hadn't said, but my pet has never questioned my plans. Not unless I told him to. «You have reservations?»
«We'd never be able to guarantee his loyalty. He's resisted our psychic interrogations before.»
Our interrogations. The sweetness of that pronoun flows through my blood. Once the humans' greatest weapon against us, he is now utterly one of us.
«Would you like to feed from him, my pet?»
At that, my pet looks up at me, his Wraith eyes reflecting his devotion. «If it pleases you.»
I smile at the thought. «It would please me indeed.» I slide my hand down to my pet's neck. «But first, there are other ways you can please me.»
He smiles, and his submission is breathtaking. I will never let Sheppard reclaim my pet. I'll drain my pet first, and he'll thank me for it.
Sheppard looked stunned when the guards brought him to the cell. Rodney thought it was understandable, given that the five culled off world teams were in the cell. Lorne and Cadman moved to steady their C.O. when he stumbled.
"You all right, sir?" Lorne asked.
Sheppard shook his head. Rodney frowned. "Well, she didn't feed from you, so what did she do to you? Try to entice you with another busty Wraith worshipper?"
Teyla shot Rodney an angry look and Rodney shrugged. The taunt had the desired effect, though. John shook off the supporting hands and stalked to the back of the cell. He took a deep breath before turning around. "The Hive doesn't have a queen."
"Hives always have queens," Ronon interjected.
"This one doesn't," Sheppard said firmly.
Oh god, Rodney thought. If the Hive didn't have a queen, someone had to be in charge, and Sheppard only got that particular look on his face when someone mentioned . . . "Michael."
Sheppard nodded, and Ronon growled. Rodney glared at him before looking back at Sheppard. "What does he want?"
"A truce with Atlantis."
"Uh-huh. That worked out so well for us last time."
Sheppard gave Rodney a strained smile. "He means a truce, not an alliance. We don't kill his Hive, they don't cull planets."
"Right. And how are we going to know which Hive is his?" Ronon asked.
"This is the only Hive. He's turned the others into humans and stashed them somewhere for feeding."
Rodney's jaw dropped. "But, how? We destroyed that camp, there shouldn't have been any of the retrovirus left - not enough to use on every single Hive in the galaxy!"
"Not unless he had Dr. Beckett," Cadman said softly. Sheppard flinched and Rodney's jaw dropped.
"He has Carson," Rodney said aloud. "You saw him."
When the others in the cell turned to look at Sheppard, most with looks of denial on their faces, Sheppard looked back at Rodney and nodded. "I saw Beckett."
"Dear God," Lorne murmured. Cadman gave a small sound and turned away from the rest of the room.
"We're getting him back," Ronon stated. "And then I'm shooting Michael."
"Beckett's a Wraith."
At Sheppard's soft statement, they all turned to look at him again. Rodney could tell Sheppard wasn't kidding - the pain in his eyes was all too real.
"How?" Teyla asked.
"According to Michael, Carson created a virus that can turn humans into Wraith."
"That's impossible," Lorne stated.
"People said the ATA gene therapy and the retrovirus was impossible, but Carson created those. He'd be the one who could create a Wraith virus," Rodney said. "He'd probably be the only one who could create something to reverse it."
"Until then he'd be Wraith." Ronon's voice was flat. Rodney knew the man had to be struggling with his desire to kill all Wraith, and the knowledge that this particular Wraith had once been a trusted friend.
"Yeah," Sheppard agreed.
The group fell silent, and Rodney tried to get his thoughts in order. "Look," he said finally. "Beckett's not lost until he's dead. So we need to get out of here, get him, and get back to Atlantis, preferably without anyone being fed on. So," he eyed Sheppard, Lorne, Cadman, and Ronon in turn, "you're the military strategists - break us out!"
Lorne glared at Rodney, but Sheppard nodded and turned to Ronon. "Still got your knives?"
As Ronon grinned and began pulling knives from places Rodney didn't want to know about, Rodney moved to the back of the cell and tried to think of ways to get Carson off this Hive and back to Atlantis where he belonged.
My body thrums with the dual satiation of sex and feeding as I walk the corridors of the Hive. The murmur of the other Wraith is a song in the back of my mind, and I revel again in the connection to the Hive, to the others. To Him.
He is with the pilots now, plotting the best route back to our feeding ground without the Lantians noticing. We have always been careful to avoid Atlantis' notice until the time was right, until we were the last Hive left - the superior Hive. We are Wraith, but we have been human; we understand our enemy better for it. The last queen who had betrayed Him couldn't see that. She was weak, and she died because of it.
I stop outside the cells, noticing the lack of guards. He gave orders not to leave the prisoners alone. I send my displeasure at seeing His orders disobeyed through the Hive mind, and feel His answering emotion. He is not pleased at this disobedience.
Staying in the shadows, I move forward. The Lantians are there, gathered at the living bars of the cell. As I watch, Ronon takes aim with a knife and throws it. I am close enough to feel the Hive's pain when her flesh is pierced, but none of the others are. This is why he wanted guards here - to know when the Lantians were trying to escape. We knew they would - it is what they do.
Now that they know, about me, about Him, they cannot be allowed to return to warn the others. While He offered the truce to Sheppard in good faith, He knew Sheppard would never take it. That is what made the plan so perfect. It was a winning proposition for us either way. If Sheppard accepted it, we wouldn't have to worry about the Lantians hunting us. But now that he has rejected it, we can cull with impunity and add to the feeding grounds in case of drought.
Another knife mars the skin of the Hive, and she whimpers again. I reach out to stroke her, letting her know she is not alone. I feel His thoughts through the Hive bond, approving of my plan, and I send back my devotion to Him before stepping forward, letting the next knife pierce my left hand. I hear a muffled gasp from those in the cell, and I remove the knife before I step forward, into the light. The wound in my hand has healed already.
"It is true," Teyla says with some dismay. Ronon is growling at me, and Rodney - he looks devastated.
"I wouldn't advise trying to escape," I said mildly. "Though I know you won't take that advice."
I saw them all shudder at my voice. "We are in hyperspace, and we have learned from past experience to lock away the Darts when we have . . . guests on board. Even your puddle jumpers are hidden. And while the guards here may have been remiss in their duties, the others will not be so accommodating." A mental touch to the Hive, and the bars on their cell double, shrinking the openings. It will be harder for them to aim projectiles now.
"Carson," Rodney says, "what happened to you?"
I look at the man I had called friend. I wonder if he'd accept the gift of becoming Wraith, and know that he wouldn't. Despite his arrogance, Rodney is a compassionate human, with a moral streak he tries to deny. He wouldn't survive past the first feeding.
None of these Lantians would survive the change to Wraith. Unlike the retrovirus, there is no amnesia with the Wraith transformation. Those of us who have become Wraith remember the humans we were. It is how we evolved Wraith defeated the others, and how we will defeat the Lantians. They have too many morals, too many rules, too much of a belief in individuality to embrace the Hive.
I reach behind me to pull Ronon's other knives from the wall, smoothing my hand over the tears until they heal. "I found where I belong, Dr. McKay."
"Kneeling at Michael's feet." The contempt dripped from Sheppard's voice, and I smiled, moving closer to the cell. Ronon growls again, his hand going to the small of his back. A flicker of thought and the bars extend, wrapping around him and pinning his arms tightly to his side. He glares at me, but my attention is on Sheppard.
"I would have knelt at yours, but you were too weak to see that what you took by force would have been freely given."
Sheppard's eyes go wide at my remark, and the others look at him in confusion. I turn and walk away, indulging in theatrics with the swirling of black leather. I pass two warriors on the way and growl at them in displeasure. They move to take up their positions near the cell, and I can feel their fear in the Hive mind. They should fear me, but fear Him more. While I can turn them human, it is His voice that would give the order.
I long to go kneel at His feet, to lose myself in His presence. I did it often when I was still human, remaining by His side for hours as He ruled the Hive. My submission enhanced His status - while other Wraith Hives had worshippers, He had a member of the Lantians kneeling at His feet, and I was there of my own free will.
I am here of my own free will, no matter what the Lantians will think. Oh, I know He has manipulated my mind to draw me to Him, and to make me resistant to Sheppard's clumsy control. But even He could not force me to come to Him if I truly had not wanted to.
Sheppard never understood that. He was too focused on getting his own way, too determined to have the upper hand. In that, he is like the unevolved Wraith - he focuses on one goal and one way to achieve it. He doesn't see that a different tack can bring greater rewards.
What the Wraith -- what He -- offers is acceptance of my nature. The Hive mind means we are all submissive to the dominant personality. Unlike the contempt others would show me after I capitulated to their desires, as if by giving them what they wanted I was somehow unworthy, the giving over of myself to the Hive, to Him, was celebrated. The day the virus worked and I became Wraith, heard the song of the Hive mind and this ship herself in my head, was the day I realized that I was finally where I belonged.
I have always been Wraith. I will always be Wraith.
I will always be His.