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Summary: ... goes unpunished. McKay decides to help Zelenka; Sheppard gives up his day off. And they all end up with regrets. Whumpage, a little torture, a small 'language' blip (but you know those military men).

Categories: General
Characters: John Sheppard, Radek Zelenka, Rodney McKay
Genres: Action/Adventure, Hurt Comfort
Warnings: None
Chapters: 1 [Table of Contents]
Series: None

Word count: 13692; Completed: Yes
Updated: 04 May 2006; Published: 04 May 2006

- Text Size +

A/N: A quick note to say "thank you, thank you, thank you" to my beta's Saclateri and Laryn. They did their best to make this a better story, so anything that is still wrong falls squarely at my door.

~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~

McKay was humming, a small pleased smile on his face, when he reached his lab.

He had been in the mess hall waiting his turn at the coffee urn, an empty mug clutched to his chest as he yearned toward nirvana, when a yapping Kavanagh interrupted his comfortable semi-doze. He had tried to ignore the man, filling his mug and turning away to go in search of more substantial fare. But the whining irritant had followed, flitting around him, invading his personal space until his caffeine deprived nerves snapped.

He snatched the last Athosian sweet-roll out from under Kavanagh's greedy fingers. It had the little dried green fruits, which was not his favorite flavor. But he consumed it with great relish while explaining why he was not going to sign off on Kavanagh's request to have power to the stargate and the control center cut off for three days. With the ponytailed scientist's little clique listening in, he explained how the same result could be achieved without the power cut and in half the time, and had the pleasure of watching the man turn a bright shade of red.

He licked crumbs from his fingers, refilled his mug and left for his lab, leaving Kavanagh standing impotently in the middle of the mess.

All in all a very satisfying start to the day.

Even the sight of Zelenka ransacking the drawers of his tool cabinet couldn't spoil his mood. He leaned against the doorjamb and watched as the other scientist closed the last drawer and turned toward the workbench.

"If you tell me what you're looking for, I can probably tell you where it is," he offered, feeling magnanimous.

"I am looking for battery packs which you borrow and never return," Zelenka said, yanking another drawer open.

McKay cleared his throat in embarrassment. "Top shelf behind you. I was recharging them before I brought them back."

"It takes full week to recharge?" Zelenka snorted in disbelief.

McKay reached up and pulled the entire recharging station down, looking for the DeWalt battery packs with a 'Z' written in lime green sharpie ink on the casing. Disconnecting four he passed them to Zelenka and returned the charger to the shelf. He watched as they were crammed into a padded toolbox, which was then strapped to a rolling luggage carrier.

"What's got you so cranky? And why is it making you run away from home?" he asked.

"It is back," the Czech said indignantly. "I go to snip it in bud."

McKay had to think about that for a moment, and followed absently as Zelenka exited the lab and started down the hallway.

"I think it's supposed to be 'nip' it in the bud; not 'snip.'" Enlightenment struck as they were entering a transport chamber. "Oh, you mean the power surge in Section C out on the northeast pier," he said. "I thought you had decided it was an incidental discharge from another section, and not a problem?"

"It lasted three hours yesterday, and one and a half hours day before," Zelenka said, exiting the chamber and heading toward a stairwell. "My projects are on schedule and my morning is free. So I go to nip it. Why do you follow me?"

McKay thought that was a good question, but couldn't think of decent reply. He had a meeting with Elizabeth later to discuss a rash of missing equipment, but that wasn't for several hours. He shrugged and reached up to key his mike on. "Control, this is McKay."

"Go ahead, Doctor."

"I'm assisting Dr. Zelenka with a power problem out in northeast Section C. Tell Dr. Weir I'll be back for our meeting. McKay out." He turned off his mike and turned to find Zelenka blocking the way to the stairwell landing. "What's up?"

"I do not need help. You should go back to lab. You do not want to be late for meeting."

"It's not until 1130."

"There is department meeting today."

"I postponed it until after Kavanagh leaves for Earth next week. Check your emails. So, plenty of time to 'nip it' and get back," he said and edged his way past the smaller man, ignoring the muttering. "How many flights do we have to go down?"

"Is ten floors, to Level 5." Zelenka nudged him to one side and started down the stairs, dragging the luggage carrier behind him.

McKay winced as it thudded on each riser. "That can't be good for your tools. You should lower it down in front of you. That way you can control how hard it impacts the risers."

"That is what padding in cases is for," Zelenka said, not turning around. "And why there are inflated tires, instead of solid plastic."

McKay watched as the Czech gave the handle a yank, sending the carrier down several steps in quick succession. "I'm just saying..."

Nearly an hour later McKay was wondering why he had allowed himself to be drawn into accompanying Zelenka, especially when all he got in return was abuse. He could not understand how a supposedly intelligent man could be so adverse to constructive criticism; he had only offered his opinion in an effort to help. And the diatribe that had erupted when he tried to explain a better way of locating and stopping the power surge had been totally uncalled for. He did, however, have to admit admiration for Zelenka's preparedness.

Atlantis was full of the remains of plants, so they were not surprised to come upon the petrified branches of a long dead potted plant. What surprised them was that, before its demise, the plant had grown until it blocked the corridor on Level 5. Zelenka, undaunted, had whipped a mini-circular saw out of one of the tool cases, and cut a tunnel through it in less than thirty minutes.

They were arguing the merits of different brands of power-tools when they reached the room where the surges were originating. The door was partially open, enough for them to squeeze through but not enough to get the luggage carrier in. They took their flashlights and edged sideways into the room.

Zelenka immediately turned to the right and started to search for an access panel. The sight of a laptop computer sitting open on a table caught McKay's attention. He started forward, calling out, "Hey, Radek, what – "

He heard a rushing sound, followed by a stinging sensation on his arm. He was reaching around to rub at the area when his body suddenly stiffened, then quickly started to shake as if with convulsions. Pain danced over every nerve ending in his body. It concentrated in his head then exploded, sending him into darkness.

~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~

When he woke up his head was throbbing and there was a metallic taste in the back of his throat. He groaned, tried to sit up, and discovered his wrists and ankles had been tied. Zelenka, similarly bound, was draped across his legs. Pushing up on an elbow he looked around the room, but whoever had tied them up wasn't in the room. He sat up, and scooted back until he was resting against the wall.

"Wake up, Radek."

Disturbed by all the movement, Zelenka made a sound of protest. Pain-filled eyes opened, glanced around briefly, and then shut. "What have you done to me?"

"I didn't do anything to you," McKay said impatiently. "Come on, sit up. The headache starts to go away pretty quickly."

He jiggled his legs to encourage the other man to sit up. It was finally done, amid much grumbling. Zelenka had just gotten settled against the wall by McKay when two men entered the room.

Although they were dressed in expedition uniforms – the science team colors – neither man looked familiar. The intruders both had dark hair and eyes. But the shorter one's hair was drawn back in a stubby ponytail, while a small crescent scar below the right eye distinguished the taller man. The men had been arguing when they entered the lab. They moved to a far corner and continued the disagreement. Their voices were kept low, but the shorter one punctuated his side of the discussion with agitated gestures.

McKay twisted his hands, testing the bindings. Along with computer and diagnostic equipment, clothes and food, they had also appropriated the plastic zip-ties the security teams used for restraints. He wished that he had taken Ronon up on the offer to show him how to conceal knives about his person. Although what he planned to do after freeing himself, he wasn't quite sure. Their comms had been taken, along with every other piece of equipment they had on them.

The argument broke up and the smaller of the two stalked past, glaring at the prisoners. Through the partially opened door they watched as the carrier loaded with power tools rolled away.

"Thief!" Zelenka sputtered, struggling to rise from the floor. "They are nothing but thieves."

"Of course, they are," McKay said, glaring up at the scar-faced thief angrily. "This is all the equipment that was missing from stores. They're even wearing our uniforms, for god's sake. So, what exactly are you two hoping to accomplish here? You're not going to be able to sneak all of this equipment through the 'gate. And who do you work for anyway? The Genii?"

The scarred thief walked slowly across the room, casually kicking Zelenka's feet out from under him, before squatting in front of the two scientists.

"We are... procurers. We travel from planet to planet, taking what is valuable and selling it to those who will pay for it. The Genii have been our clients in the past, and might be again in the future. But we came here, to this city, purely on speculation," this was said in a friendly, reasonable tone, and a smile stretched the thin lips but did not reach the dark eyes.

"We've been in Atlantis for months, learning your written language and how to use your computers – so much more sophisticated than most in this galaxy, a pleasure to work with. There are many fascinating things that we have discovered and will be taking the information on how to make them with us. But recently we came across mention of three things that we wish to acquire knowledge of, but which we have not been able to access."

McKay swallowed nervously when the man pulled a knife from a belt-sheath and leaned toward him. He stared in surprise when the ties binding his hands were cut, and he was pulled to his feet. He was left to balance awkwardly on his still bound feet.

"You will help us access the information."

"You're as lacking in intelligence as you look, if you seriously think I am going to help you do anything," McKay said, rubbing his wrists, then crossing his arms in defiance. "Radek, are you – "

He didn't see the blow that caught him on the side of the face and sent him crashing back to the floor. He landed in an ungainly heap, striking his elbow on the ground and sending pins-and-needles shooting down his arm to his fingertips. Cradling the tingling joint, he sneered up at the thief. "You're going to have to do better than that. I had worse from the jocks in high school. And you better believe they all lived to regret messing with the child genius."

Scar remained impassive. "I know who you are, McKay. I've seen you around the city, and I'm aware of your position as Chief Science Officer. You're able to retrieve the information we want. After we have it, we will leave and you will be free."

"Please," McKay snorted in amusement. He looked over at Zelenka who was taking all of this in with a carefully blank expression. "Scar here says he knows me, but he obviously doesn't since he believes I'm a credulous fool. I've heard – OOF!"

His sneering commentary broke off with a pained yelp as an SGC-issue boot connected with his ribs. He returned his contemptuous gaze to Scar. "Reduced to kicking already? How... mature of you."

He exchanged stares with the thief, who finally gave a slight nod as if in acknowledgement. When Scar knelt in front of them again McKay felt a prickle of unease that rapidly escalated to fear when the other man reached out and grabbed Zelenka's bound hands.

"What are you doing?" He asked worriedly. "He won't – No! Don't – !"

He watched in horror as the scar-faced man casually grasped Zelenka's left pinky, and – with one quick twist – broke it.

The sound of the snapping bone and Zelenka's scream were still echoing in McKay's ears when he was yanked to his feet and shoved toward the table containing the stolen computer equipment. With his feet still tied all he could do was fall forward, catching himself on the edge and dragging his feet forward. He wiggled around until he was leaning back against the table.

He looked down at Zelenka, who returned his concerned look. The Czech was cradling the abused hand, the little finger jutting out at an unnatural angle. "I know it's stupid to ask, but are you okay, Radek?"

Zelenka, pale but angry, nodded, "You should not help."

McKay shot a quick glance toward Scar, then lowered his eyes. The fingers of his left hand started to rub together before he shoved his hands under his armpits. "What information are you looking for?"

"We want all the research on the Hoffan vaccine, and the Wraith retro-virus," Scar announced calmly. "And, of course, the ATA gene therapy. That one will add a big boost to the technology available for use."

"How... how do you know about those?" McKay asked, appalled.

"I told you, we have been here for months. Retrieve the information."

"It's not that easy," McKay said indignantly. "That research is in a secured database that I don't have access to. It's going to take time."

"I know all of this, Doctor." Scar said impatiently, stepping forward and crowding McKay against the table. "If we had had a few more months, we would have broken the encryption and taken the information ourselves. We would have left this place with no one aware we had been here. But we have been discovered, so our plans have changed. Retrieve the information. Now. I'm sure Dr. Zelenka would also like you to hurry."

McKay shuddered at the cold smile that appeared on Scar's face. He risked a glance at Zelenka who was curled protectively over the broken hand, then nodded and scooted toward the stool in front of the keyboard.

He raised a hand and rubbed his temple, hoping the thief could not see the telltale tic next to his eye when he lied. "All right. I don't know how long this will take. It... it could be a couple of hours."

By then it would be well past the time for his meeting with Elizabeth. With him and Zelenka out of comm contact, someone would come looking for them. He could delay that long.


Sheppard crouched and eyed the angle of the incline and then the distance he had to cover to get into the clear again. He stood and nudged the ramp forward a few more inches. A last, quick check and he started back toward the hanger-sized doors. He scanned the ground as he walked, wanting to be sure there were no debris waiting to slow his run toward the ramp.

Reaching the doors, he dug around in his bag for his canteen. While taking a few quick gulps of tepid water he considered the knee and elbow pads that peeked from the depths of the bag. He tossed the canteen on top of the offending equipment with a small sneer and turned back toward the improvised obstacle course.

He had chosen the east pier because there were a number of hazards already in place in the form of pipes and other protuberances emerging from the deck. A carefully plotted course offered a chance to test maneuverability and dexterity, included a series of small jumps, all leading up to the final ramp that would – hopefully – launch him over a ten-foot section of decking criss-crossed with pipes.

He and the other skateboarding enthusiasts on Atlantis had been working on this for weeks. This was his first full day off in nearly a month, so he had carted the newly finished ramp down to the pier this morning and set it up. And, as rank does actually have its privileges, he was going to be the first to try out the finished product. If this worked, maybe he could talk Elizabeth into allowing them to set up a half-pipe. One of the empty warehouse-sized buildings on the end of the pier would be perfect for that.

He toed his board into position and planted his left foot firmly. A fierce grin broke across his face as he kicked off and headed toward the first tight alley.

Over a minute later he took the skateboard off of a five-foot drop, making an immediate 90-degree turn on the downhill incline he landed on. He made minute adjustments as he gained speed, and crouched a little lower on the board as the front wheels hit the ramp.

"Colonel Sheppard, please respond."

Startled, he flinched and jerked the board out of line, slowing his momentum and ruining his chances of clearing the obstacle. Rather than land in the tangle of pipes, he twisted in mid-air and threw himself to one side.

Landing heavily on his side, he groaned and rolled over on his back. Note to self, he thought, remove 9mm and holster before skateboarding. He reached up and keyed his mike.

"Colonel Sheppard?" Elizabeth Weir was starting to sound concerned.

"I'm here, Elizabeth," he said as he climbed to his feet, rubbing at the sore hip and thigh that were going to bear a pistol shaped bruise. "What can I do for you?"

"Have you seen Rodney today?"

"No. I'm taking a day off, remember?" He limped over and picked up his board before heading back to the doorway. "I've been out on the east pier all morning."

"We can't find Rodney. Or Zelenka for that matter." Weir was definitely in worry mode. "He left a message in Control this morning that he and Zelenka were going out to the north pier to fix a power problem, but that he would be back in time for a meeting with me. He missed it, and now neither he nor Zelenka are answering their comm."

"You know they probably found something that fascinated them and just lost track of time," Sheppard said as he pulled out his canteen again. "Have you checked with Lorne? Did they take an escort?"

Weir made an impatient noise, "No, I didn't think to check that. Let me get him on with us."

There was a pause, and then they heard, "Lorne here."

"Major, we seem to have misplaced McKay and Zelenka. Who did they have for escort this morning?" Sheppard asked.

"We didn't get a request for a security escort, sir. Where were they going?"

Weir spoke up, "They were going to the northeast pier, Section C Level 5."

"Thank you, ma'am. I'm just double-checking the rosters," Lorne said. "I don't have anyone listed for escort duty, or exploring that section of the city. We're concentrating on the southern pier area this month."

"Thank you, Lorne." Sheppard looked regretfully at his skateboard, and kicked at his gym bag. He was more irritated than concerned about the wandering scientists. "They're probably just caught up in whatever they were working on. Are the sensors online in that section?"

"No, that area had a lot of damage from the storm and then the Wraith attack. We decided to cut the power for safety reasons. That's why Zelenka was concerned about the power surges."

"Okay. I'll go find them for you," he said in resignation.

"Thank you, John. I'm sorry about your day off," Weir said apologetically before signing off.

"I'm going to kick his ass for this," Sheppard muttered as he gathered up his gear.

~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~

He stopped in his quarters to drop off his skateboard and gym bag. Then grabbing his vest he headed to the nearest transport chamber. If he remembered correctly, the closest transporter to the area McKay and Zelenka were supposed to be would leave him with a thirty-minute hike.

Exiting the transport chamber at his destination he strode toward the closest stairwell. As he jogged down the ten flights of stairs to Level 5 he rehearsed the lecture he was going to deliver to the two wayward scientists. Going into an unexplored, unpopulated section of the city without a military escort and not wearing, or turning off, your comm were two big 'Don'ts' on his and Weir's safety list.

Exiting the stairwell at Level 5, he paused to pull out the life signs detector and to check in.

"Control, this is Sheppard."

"Go ahead, sir."

"Just checking in. I'm in the target area." He glanced down at the life signs detector. Besides the dot representing himself there was a large blob at the far end of the detector's range. "I'm getting life signs about a half mile away, toward the ocean end of the pier, still on Level 5."

"Copy that, Colonel."

"I'll check in again in thirty minutes. Sheppard Out."

He keyed off his mike and started at an easy jog in the direction of the life signs. After a few dozen yards he pulled out his flashlight and turned it on. With no power, the areas away from windows got pretty dark.

He had to slow down when he came to damaged areas. Some walls were leaning into the wide corridor and there were sections of the ceiling hanging down or already littering the floor. And at one point, one of the'10,000 year old dead plants' that Weir had once complained about had managed to grow unfettered into an incredible tangle that blocked the corridor. Sheppard was surprised to see that someone – McKay or Zelenka? – had cut a narrow passage through the growth. That sort of obstacle usually resulted in a request for military assistance, if not a request to be delivered by jumper to the end of the pier instead.

At the halfway point he stopped and checked the life signs detector. The signal that had been one large dot when viewed back at the stairwell had now resolved into three separate points. Sheppard stared at the unexpected extra dot, and wondered which lowly tech McKay and Zelenka had recruited to help with the project.

He tucked the life signs detector back into his vest and continued down the corridor. A few more minutes travel and he was able to see light coming from an open doorway. He picked up his pace.

A scream of pain jerked him to a stop when he was still twenty yards from the door. The scream was closely followed by the sound of an angry Rodney McKay.

"Stop it! J – just stop. Hurting him is not going to get you the information any faster." There was a brief pause during which someone apparently said something that triggered McKay's sarcasm. "Oh, right. It says right here – 'The smart one lies because he likes to see his friend tortured.' In which case it's useless to – "

Sheppard winced as McKay's tirade was abruptly cut off, closely followed by the sound of blows. He crept closer to the room, his back pressed against the wall.

"Well, that'll certainly make the computer work faster," McKay's voice was slightly muffled, but still caustic. "Yes, it's clearly intimidated by my being beaten. Look! It's moving ... No, wait, I was wrong. It's moving at the same pace as before."

There was the sound of additional blows, then an unfamiliar voice spoke, "We have very little time – or patience – now that we have been discovered. I am aware of the speed of your computers. Do not push my credulity too far," the voice of McKay's tormentor was eerily calm.

"I told you: I don't have... access to the medical... database. I have to hack... the security codes and... it's going to take time," McKay's voice was breathless. "Radek, are you okay over there?"

The sound of Czech curses brought a brief smile to Sheppard's face as he backed away from the doorway. He moved down the corridor until he was out of earshot of the others and keyed his mike on.

"Control, this is Sheppard. Connect me to Weir and Lorne ASAP." He kept a wary eye on the door while he pulled the life signs detector out of his vest, wanting to verify the location of the people in the room.

He had just enough time to register the fifth life sign before pain exploded in his head and he fell into darkness.

~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~

"Colonel, wake up."

He groaned, wanting to bury his face in his pillow and sleep until this headache went away. "Five minutes," he mumbled.

"No! No five minutes. You must wake up now, Colonel."

The voice was followed by a hard nudge to his ribs. He opened his eyes slowly, then watched the room swoop and rush about him. Another groan escaped him and he rolled onto his side as nausea threatened to overwhelm him. He closed his eyes again and concentrated on his breathing, pulling deep breaths in through his nose.

He pressed his aching head against the cool floor tiles for a few moments before struggling to sit up. With his hands bound behind his back he had to use an elbow as a lever to push up from the floor. When he was finally upright, he leaned against the wall with his eyes closed, waiting for the pounding in his head to ease up.

Finally opening his eyes, he sent a weak smile toward Zelenka, who was tied up across from him. "How're you doing, Doc?" he asked. He leaned forward slightly and slid two fingers along the inside of his belt, feeling for an opening.

In the dim light of a single battery-powered lantern, the Czech looked even more rumpled than usual, hair standing on end and glasses barely managing to retain their perch. Paler than normal, Zelenka was definitely indignant. "How am I? First, I must come to this dark, smelly place with McKay, who thinks none but he can fix problem. We argue. All the way here, we argue. Why are other scientists needed, I ask you? If McKay knows all and can fix all?"

Sheppard nodded in sympathy. Locating the slit he was looking for he managed to wiggle out the thin, flexible blade hidden there. He maneuvered the knife until he could start sawing at the plastic restraints. He cut himself several times, but didn't feel there was time to be more careful.

Zelenka continued to rant. "Then, when we get to this place where I do not wish to be, there are these, these ... " English failed at this point and vitriolic Czech spilled out.

Sheppard raised an appreciative eyebrow. He didn't speak the language, but as a military man he could recognize excellent, inventive cursing when he heard it. Especially if it involved spitting, as this did.

"I agree with you completely," he said when the other man finally ran down. "But I heard a scream earlier. I need to know how badly you're hurt. Are you going to be able to walk when I get us untied?"

"Please," Zelenka said contemptuously. "They hit us several times when they first catch us. McKay, he screams like little girl. The bad men want him to help get information from medical database. So, the big one, he breaks my finger. When McKay does not get the information fast enough, he breaks another. I scream so that he feels he is doing good job. And so he thinks we are both little girls."

"He didn't do a good job?" Sheppard asked, vaguely amused. He finished cutting through his bindings and pulled his arms around to rub at his sore wrists, and applied pressure to one of the cuts that was still bleeding.

"I am Czech," was the proud reply. "My grandmother could do better job. How do you have knife? The hooligans almost performed strip search of you. I had to avert eyes."

"Thanks for the visual, Doc. And Ronon helped me fix up a couple of places to hide knives." He cut through Zelenka's bindings, doing his best not to jar the left hand. He examined the swollen fingers and winced in sympathy. "Those look pretty painful. The little finger is still dislocated. Do you want me pop it back in place, or wait for Carson to do it?"

"Best to do it now. Will not hurt so much to move around then, I think."

"You're a tougher man than me, Doc."

Sheppard accepted the proffered hand, held the wrist tightly. Taking a firm hold of the end of the little finger he pulled on it steadily until he felt it slide back into place. He grimaced as Zelenka released a pent up breath with a hiss and an emphatic curse.

"Let me see what I have to splint that with." He spotted his vest across the room, and started to get to his feet. His knees hit the ground again when the room suddenly tilted.

"Are you all right, Colonel?" Zelenka asked worriedly.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm good. Just give me a minute." He stayed on his hands and knees, head hanging and taking deep breaths through his nose as he waited for the vertigo and nausea to recede. Deciding that caution was the best course, he crawled the few feet to his vest.

He had already noted that his comm, 9mm, watch and combat knife were gone. His spare comm and ammo clips were also missing from the vest, along with every other piece of possible technology: life signs detector, binoculars, flashlight, swiss army knife. The remaining contents had been dropped on the floor.

Locating the bandana, he cut it into strips. He cut several lengths from the plastic zip-ties that had been used to bind their hands and tied them together with a strip from the bandana. It would have to do as a splint.

"So, Doc," he asked as he bound up the man's fingers, "how much of a head start do the bad guys have? And did they mention where they were headed?"

"They were gone about five minutes before I could get you to wake up," Zelenka said, attempting to get off the floor without jarring the injured hand. "They were upset Rodney had not gotten information yet, so are going to infirmary to force Beckett to access it."

"Great." He used another strip to bandage the still bleeding cut on his wrist, then pulled on his vest and reloaded the pockets. Finally, using the wall for balance and keeping his eyes closed, he stood up slowly. When he was upright, he cracked his eyes open and looked around the room. The thieves had smashed all the computer equipment. Except for the rapidly fading lantern, nothing of use had been left behind. "I don't suppose you have a spare comm hidden on you, do you, Doc?"

"Sadly, no"

"Okay." He picked up the lantern and turned toward the door. Once in the corridor he set a rapid pace back toward the stairwell. "This is the plan. We're going to get back upstairs as quickly as we can manage. If there isn't evidence that the city is already on alert, I'm going to appropriate the first headset I see and arrange for some marines to meet me at the infirmary. I want you to head up to Control. If they manage to get past me, with or without McKay, I don't want them to be able to get through the 'gate, on foot or in a jumper. Not unless I give the okay. Can you arrange that?"

"Of course, Colonel," Zelenka watched worriedly as Sheppard suddenly staggered, bumping off the wall before he could right himself and continue down the corridor. "Will you be able to make it to infirmary?"

"I'll make it," Sheppard said grimly. "And they have our comms. Don't block them completely; if they're listening in, we don't want them to know we've gotten free. I know you can arrange for them not to hear anything they shouldn't." He was silent for a moment, then, "How the hell did they get here? It couldn't have been by ship, the deep-space sensors would have picked them up long before they got here. Which leaves the 'gate."

"The one McKay named 'Scar' said they were hidden in shipment of trade goods from Anertin and then slipped away into city. Lackey, he sneered at our 'gate security."


Zelenka shrugged. "I thought to call him 'Ponytail Guy', but no – that is Kavanagh. He does whatever Scar says, so... 'Lackey.'"

"And I got grief from McKay for naming Steve and Bob."

Sheppard was silent for a few minutes, concentrating on maintaining his balance as they hurried down the hallway. As they emerged from the tunnel through the ancient bramble he asked, "Don't suppose he said how they managed to stay hidden so long?"

"Scar said this is what they do. Their whole society depends on ability to steal information, on industrial espionage. And Atlantis is large city, mostly unpopulated and unexplored."

When they reached the stairwell, Sheppard paused, resting his pounding head against the doorway. He felt an encouraging hand patting his shoulder and turned to smile down at Zelenka.

"Tell me everything you know about the bad guys, Doc."


McKay couldn't believe Sheppard had just walked – all unknowing, like one of those idiot teenagers in a slasher movie – into that mess on Level 5. He had had a nasty shock when Lackey dragged the lt. colonel's unconscious body into the room. His concern about the man's health had waged a fierce battle with his irritation at the lack of rescue. He had been struggling for over two hours to appear just incompetent enough to be unable to access the requested research material, waiting and praying for his and Zelenka's absence to be noticed and a search party sent after them. And then the one person he had truly relied on to resolve this situation was unconscious at his feet, dark hair glistening with blood from a nasty head laceration.

He had watched the lt. colonel's still form anxiously as Scar and Lackey went about destroying any equipment they did not want to take with them. Within five minutes of Sheppard's ignoble arrival they were dragging McKay from the room toward the nearest stairwell.

Now McKay's opinion of his fellow man's observational abilities hit an all time low. He was shocked that no one they passed in the corridor showed more than a mild interest in his split lip or the swelling on the side of his face. Surely he hadn't come back from so many missions in a beat-up condition that this was considered normal? Admittedly, this was not the busiest corridor, but they had passed over a half dozen people who had done no more than glance at him curiously.

The two thieves were doing a good job of blending in, wearing the tan uniform with blue shirts and conversing easily. Lackey had a duffle bag slung over one shoulder, and a large metal briefcase in the opposite hand. Their accents were strange, but with all the different nationalities in the city this did not stand out. And there were new people arriving each time the Daedalus made the trip back from Earth.

They rounded a corner and the infirmary came into view. Across the corridor a marine stood guard outside of the medical department's storage area. McKay had no more than looked up hopefully when Scar's fist slammed into his solar plexus.

His lungs emptied with a pained whoop and his knees buckled. He felt his upper arms grabbed in unbreakable holds and he was hustled toward the infirmary. Above the sound of his wheezing he heard the ponytailed thief babbling something about a lab accident. The marine, who had started forward, nodded and stepped back to his post.

McKay would have groaned in disgust, but was still trying to draw air back into his empty lungs. Before he could regain his breath they were in the infirmary. A quick glance revealed that Beckett was not in the small office by the main doors. They continued back to the lab area where they discovered the doctor and two lab assistants.

Beckett looked up at the sound of labored breathing, then quickly came around the workbench to check on McKay. "Rodney, what have you done to yourself this time?"

McKay shook his head frantically just before he was shoved into Beckett's arms. They tumbled to the ground. Lackey produced a taser-type pistol and fired at the assistants, causing them to convulse before collapsing to the floor unconscious. Scar calmly reached down and removed the comm headset from Beckett's ear.

McKay climbed to his feet with Beckett's help. He leaned against the workbench, arm wrapped protectively around his middle, and glared at Scar. "So, you've got this far. What are you going to do now?"

"Dr. Beckett will provide us with the information we require, and then we will leave. Just as I said earlier."

"Rodney, who are these men?" Beckett asked, watching anxiously as the smaller stranger used zip-ties to bind the stunned lab techs.

"They're thieves, Carson," McKay said with contempt. "They call themselves 'procurers,' but they're just thieves. They want your research on the Hoffan vaccine, the Wraith retro-virus and the ATA gene therapy. Don't give it to them."

"Dr. McKay," Scar said in a chillingly calm voice, "I would suggest you encourage Dr. Beckett to cooperate. If not, you will take Dr. Zelenka's place."

"What does he mean by that, Rodney?" Beckett winced as the ponytailed thief bound McKay's hands together, tightening the zip-tie until it was cutting into the skin.

"Ow! Why don't you jerk it a little tighter, Lackey, and snap my hands right off?" He glared at the smaller man, who ignored him. Gesturing to Scar, he said, "He broke two of Radek's fingers. I don't care if he breaks all of my fingers, don't give him any information."

"Rodney – "

Scar moved closer, forcing them back against the lab table. "Dr. McKay, you acquiesced quickly enough when your companion was injured. I do not think Dr. Beckett will last even that long. Medical doctors are notoriously squeamish when it comes to torture."

"You've obviously never heard of Mengele," McKay swallowed nervously, but still managed to work up a sneer. "I could have had that information within ten minutes, if I had wanted to. You didn't force me to – ack!"

Scar's hand closed around his throat, cutting off his words and his air. The tall man leaned over him, bending him painfully over the edge of the table as he struggled to breath. He clawed at the constricting hand, but could not get any leverage against it; kicked out feebly, but connected with nothing. As his vision grayed he could see the thief speaking, but could not hear what was being said over the roaring in his ears.

The pressure against his throat abruptly eased, although the hand was not removed. He remained bent over the table, sucking in lungs-full of air.

"It's always a pleasure to work with someone who has the correct priorities, Doctor," Scar said with satisfaction.

Alarmed, McKay rolled his eyes around until he found Beckett. The doctor was hunched over the keyboard of a nearby computer, typing rapidly.

"Carson," he gasped hoarsely, "don't do it. You can't let them have your research." He wrapped both hands around Scar's wrist and tried to push it away, without success.

"I'm sorry, Rodney, but I really can't stand by and watch him kill you." Beckett's voice was shaky but resolved.

Lackey had opened the metal briefcase revealing a control panel, and was busy making connections from the equipment in the case to an open port on the back of Beckett's computer hard-drive. A box from the duffle bag was opened to reveal a collection of slender, pink crystals. One was removed and inserted in a slot in the panel.

Ten long minutes later the information had been copied into the thieves' computer, and Lackey was packing up their equipment.

Scar looked at the two prisoners. "I think we only need one hostage, so Dr. Beckett I'm afraid you'll be staying here. You'll have to be tied up, of course, but since you cooperated you'll be gagged instead of rendered unconscious."

Beckett nodded without comment. Having already determined that McKay's injuries – while uncomfortable – were not immediately life threatening, the doctor gestured toward the still unconscious lab techs. "May I check on them, please?"

"No time, Doctor. But don't worry. They should wake up within the hour, none the worse except for a headache."

Now that the desired information had been acquired, Scar sounded nearly cheerful. McKay noticed, however, that the good mood was not reflected in the thief's eyes; they were still cold.

His voice still a hoarse rasp, McKay asked, "What are your plans now, Scar? Waltzing into the 'gate room and asking ... Damn it. Hey, Carson! What's that new guy's name?"

"I don't know, Rodney. I can't believe you're asking that right now," was the exasperated reply.

"Hell - oooo? Trying to create a delay here! You might give me a little help," McKay said, equally annoyed as he watched Beckett being tied to a chair. He flexed his fingers, which were going numb. "So, Scar, you're just going to march into the 'gate room and ask What's-his-name to open a wormhole for you? You don't really think it's going to be that easy?"

The tall thief produced a knife and cut through the plastic encircling McKay's wrists. "No, Doctor. We are going to – 'waltz,' did you say? – into the jumper bay, and you will activate a jumper for us and dial the address I give you. At that point, the jumper will automatically fly us through the stargate; your Control center will be unable to stop us."

Lackey shouldered the duffle bag, picked up the briefcase and joined Scar at McKay's side.

"All right, Dr. McKay, we are leaving now. You will keep your head down; don't draw any attention to yourself. These pistols," Scar indicated the small taser-like guns, "are usually used for stunning purposes. However, if I discharge it directly against your head it will cause brain damage, if it doesn't actually kill you. I will use it on you if you don't cooperate. Do you understand?"

McKay swallowed heavily and a small squeaky, "Yes," emerged. His hands fluttered vaguely in the direction of his head.

"Very well." Scar signaled to Lackey, and they took up position on either side of the scientist.

"Hey, guys," said Sheppard


When Sheppard and Zelenka exited the transporter, the Czech took off toward Control. Sheppard turned in the opposite direction, and hurried as fast as his shaky balance allowed.

He had been trying to remember how many exits there were to the infirmary. There was the main entrance, and two others on this level. But then there was an interior stairwell, one floor up and one down with at least two exits on each floor. He cursed silently; there were too damn many doors in this city.

When he rounded the corner to the infirmary corridor he stopped and leaned against the wall for a moment, to catch his breath and to remind his stomach that there was nothing left in it to throw up. He had emptied it quite thoroughly in two stops in the stairwell leading up from Level 5; he needed to remember to apologize to Zelenka again.

He tapped on the wall to get the attention of the marine, standing at-ease outside the door to medical's stores, and signaled for the sergeant to join him. The sergeant, after a quick appraisal of the lt. colonel's appearance, arrived at a fast trot, P-90 at a ready position and eyes scanning the corridor for a threat.

Sheppard cut off the questions he could see about to spill out. "Give me your comm, Knox." As he was getting the equipment into place, wincing as his fingers brushed against the knot on his head, he asked, "How long ago did Dr. McKay, and whoever was with him, go into the infirmary? And are they still in there?"

"Approximately fifteen minutes ago, sir. There were two other science personnel helping him; he was having problems breathing. And I haven't seen them leave by this door, sir."

"Great." Sheppard keyed his mike, "Get me Lorne."

He could hear a lot of background voices in Control, and suddenly Weir was talking to him.

"John, what is going on?" Elizabeth sounded thoroughly confused. "I just had Major Lorne take a jumper out to the north pier to look for you. And now Radek is here demanding to be allowed to disable the jumper bay and the stargate. He says you told him to do it."

"I did, Elizabeth," he confirmed. "I don't have time for separate explanations. Listen in while I talk to Lorne. And tell Zelenka to close and lock all the doors leading into the infirmary, except the main one on this level."

There was barely a pause before he heard Weir say, "Very well, Colonel."

This was quickly followed by, "Lorne here, sir."

"Major, we have two intruders. They're armed with my 9mm and some kind of stun-gun; they might have more, but I'm not aware of it. Right now I believe they are in the infirmary, with at least McKay and Beckett as hostages. They're going to be looking for a way through the 'gate. I've had Zelenka disable the jumper bay and 'gate, and lock all but the main entrance door to the infirmary." He paused to collect his thoughts and rub at his aching head. "I want teams in the bay and the 'gate room, in case they're already out of the infirmary, or if they get past Knox and me. Get some men at each of the entrances to the infirmary. I want everyone in place within five minutes."

"They're on their way, Colonel. I'll be at your location in two."

"We'll be waiting." Sheppard leaned back against the wall, scanning the corridor and thinking furiously. He finally shook his head and stood up. "Knox, give me your sidearm."

The young sergeant pulled the 9mm from its holster and checked that the safety was on before handing it over, along with a spare clip. "Pardon me for saying so, sir, but you look like crap."

A small smile twisted his lips as he automatically checked the pistol and holstered it, then shoved the extra clip into a vest pocket. "Then I look the way I feel, Sergeant."

"I've got some E.M.T. training, sir. Would you like me to look at your head?"

"Thanks, but no. It's stopped bleeding and the jackhammers have slowed down. I think I'll just let it be for now."

Sheppard moved up the corridor until he could peer through the window into the infirmary. It appeared deserted, but then one of the physician assistants – Gretchen Cho - appeared carrying a stack of charts and headed for Beckett's office. He knocked quietly on the glass, then watched the rapidly changing expressions – curiosity, recognition, then concerned shock – wash across the woman's face. The PA tossed the paperwork on a nearby instrument cart and came rushing out to the corridor.

"Colonel Sheppard, what happened to – hey!" The question broke off with a startled exclamation when he grabbed the woman's arm and retreated back to the bend in the hallway.

"I'm sorry, Cho, I don't have time to explain. Do you know where Dr. Beckett is?"

"The last time I saw him, about half an hour ago, he was working in his lab with Tran and Craig. He was planning to spend the day in there, unless there was an emergency." Ten years of ER work and a veteran of the Wraith siege, the PA was able to rattle off the requested information calmly.

Sheppard stuck a pin on his mental map of the infirmary. "Who else is working in there today, and do you know where they're located?"

"We don't have any patients in beds and it's the unofficial weekend, so most everyone is off today. Dr. Timmer's downstairs in Lab 2 checking some of her experiments. Other than that, there are just me and three others waiting in the lounge for a scientist to singe their eyebrows off." Gretchen eyed the lt. colonel with concern, then turned to look questioningly at the sergeant who responded with a negative shake of the head.

Lorne and a half-dozen marines came trotting up the corridor at that point, saving Sheppard from having to turn down another request to examine his head. He was pleased to see that half of the contingent was armed with Wraith stun-pistols.

The major came to a halt at Sheppard's side and gave him a quick once-over. "Everyone's in place. If you don't mind my saying so, sir, you look like shit."

"So, I've been told," Sheppard said dryly. He accepted the pistol Lorne handed him, and passed Knox's back to the sergeant.

"Do you have a plan, sir?"

"I think so, Major." He reached up and keyed his mike, "Can someone tell me how many life-signs there are in Beckett's lab?"

There was a brief pause, and then Zelenka spoke, "There are six life-signs, Colonel. Two are at back of lab, and the other four are moving about in middle."

"Thanks, Doc. I think our bad guys are still there then." He tilted his head back and stared up at the grating above his head. "Now, please tell me there is a ventilation shaft opening in the lab."

Lorne grinned and gestured two marines forward, had them start removing the fasteners holding the grating closed.

"I will check." The scientist was back almost immediately, "There is vent opening at back of lab, near southwest corner."

"All right. Give Lorne the directions to get from here to the lab."

He listened as Zelenka gave the instructions, and watched as the marines worked to open the vent panel. The men had formed a three-person pyramid, the topmost one prying at the corner of the grate leading to the vent shaft. The last fastener suddenly flipped open, the panel retracted slightly then slid sideways into the wall. Sheppard sighed in relief that it performed this maneuver almost soundlessly.

Performing an effortless chin-up into the three-by-three foot opening, the marine scanned the length of the shaft then looked down and announced, "Coming down." Everyone stepped back and the young man dropped lightly to the ground. "Everything looks clear up there, sir, at least until the shaft takes a turn."

"Okay, listen up men," Sheppard said, looking around the group. "Lorne, I'd like you and one other to go through the vent to Beckett's lab. Once you get there, you're going to have to get the vent open without alerting the intruders. When it's open, go ahead and take them out using the stun-pistols. Don't use the hard ammo unless there's no choice; I'd like to try and not injure our people, and I want a chance to talk to these thieves."

He closed his eyes for a moment and rubbed at his temples. When he opened his eyes again, Lorne was holding out a canteen and looking at him with concern. He accepted it and took several swallows before handing it back. "Cho says there are three people in the lounge. I want two men to go back there and make sure they stay safe, and one person to escort Cho to... I guess Control will be safe enough for now." He looked over at the PA who had been standing patiently nearby.

"I'd like to stay here, Colonel," Gretchen said, a stubborn look appearing on the previously passive face. "It looks like the infirmary is going to have a few patients soon, and I want to stay nearby.

He sighed impatiently. "It's likely to get dangerous around here soon, and I'd prefer you be in a safer location." This was met with a headshake. He resisted the urge to grab and shake the woman. God, his head was killing him. "Fine. Knox, you take Cho over to the next corridor. Keep her there, and safe, until the 'all clear'. The rest of you take up positions in this corridor. I don't want them getting out of the infirmary."

He looked around at the assembled men, appreciating the calm confidence he saw on all their faces. He worked up an encouraging smile. "Okay. Let's go do this."

He turned away toward the infirmary doors. He had only gone a couple steps when a hand on his shoulder stopped him. Turning too quickly he was hit with another wave of vertigo. He staggered, and would have fallen, if Lorne had not gotten an arm around him, supporting him.

"Whoa, Colonel. Maybe you should sit down?" Lorne suggested, obviously wondering if calling Cho back would be a good idea.

Sheppard knew he looked bad, probably pale, and he could feel blood in hair and staining his neck and t-shirt. He kept his eyes closed and head down until the swimming sensation abated. Finally, pulling in a deep breath, he raised his head again and looked around at all the worried faces. "Sorry. Turned too fast. I'm good," he said, smiling. "What did you want, Major?"

"Excuse me, sir," Lorne said quietly. "But where are you going?"

"I'm going to go distract the bad guys while you sneak up on them, Major," Sheppard said lightly.

Lorne looked at him skeptically. "Sir, you don't look like you could walk ten feet, let alone all the way to Beckett's lab. Let me or one of the men go."

All humor gone from his face, he said, "I will make it. I'm the only one who can walk back there right now without having the intruders start shooting immediately. They already know me, and I don't look anything like a threat right now." And don't feel like one either, but he kept that thought to himself. "I can keep them focused on me, while you get there and get the vent panel open. Trust me."

The major stared at him for a moment, then nodded reluctantly. "Okay, sir. We'll be as fast as possible."

Sheppard watched as Lorne and Sergeant Perez were boosted into the vent opening, then saw the other marines moving off into their assigned positions. As he headed into the infirmary himself he removed his 9mm from the holster and tucked it into the waistband at the small of his back. He tried not to think too hard about what he was going to be doing during the next little while, but he sent up a quick prayer that no one would be injured.

He moved quietly down the hall toward the lab. The other rooms coming off the corridor got a quick check as he passed by, and he used his ATA gene to close and lock their doors. It was harder to do than normal and he wondered if the head injury had anything to do with it; he would have to remember to mention it to Beckett and McKay. Which gave him an idea.

When he was within twenty feet of Beckett's lab he started to hear voices. He kept close to the wall as he inched forward, straining to hear.

"... brain damage, if it doesn't actually kill you. I will use it on you if you don't cooperate. Do you understand?"

Was that Scar? Sheppard wondered. Zelenka had said the one called Lackey didn't talk much.

"Yes." That almost squeaky, terrified voice was definitely McKay.

"Very well." Scar again.

Sheppard keyed his mike, and whispered, "Lorne, I'm outside the lab, about to go in."

"Understood, sir. We're almost in position, then we'll need a couple more minutes to get the grate open," was the quiet reply.


Leaving his mike open, he pushed away from the wall and walked into the lab. "Hey, guys," he said. "Where're you going?"

A quick glance around the lab spotted two unconscious and bound lab techs close to the back wall, near where the vent panel was located. Beckett, tied to a chair, was partially hidden behind the intruders. Scar and Lackey were ranged on either side of McKay, who was looking both worried and enraged – as only McKay could do. When the scientist first saw Sheppard hope replaced the other emotions, then rapidly changed to shocked concern.

"My God, Sheppard," McKay gasped, staring at the figure swaying unsteadily in the doorway.

A brief smile twisted his lips. "Jeez, Rodney, everyone keeps telling me how bad I look. I must say, you don't look all that chipper yourself."

As Sheppard stepped into the room both thieves raised their weapons and aimed them at the McKay's head.

"Hold on, hold on," he said hastily. He leaned against the doorjamb, raising a hand to his head as if dizzy. The lights in the lab flickered and then steadied. "Let's not do anything hasty here. I just came back to talk to you about the current situation."

He straightened away from the door and took another step forward. The lights began to cycle from incandescent to dusky over and over. Sheppard shaded his eyes with a groan. "Sorry, sorry."

"What are you doing to the lights?" Scar demanded, fisting a handful of McKay's hair and ramming the taser-pistol against the scientist's head.

"Hey! Hey! Careful with my head," McKay snapped. "I'm not going to be able to activate the jumper if I'm a vegetable."

The rapidly changing light level stopped at the dimmest setting. After a moment it started to brighten.

"Sorry," Sheppard said, smiling ruefully. "McKay or Beckett can tell you, if I get sick or have a head injury this sort of thing can happen. My ability to use the Ancestors technology gets a little... " He waggled a hand back and forth. The door behind him started to slide shut, but stopped before it had moved more than six inches. Luckily, neither of the thieves were looking at Becket or McKay as they both looked confused at this revelation.

Lackey made a noise, somewhere between a growl and a snort, and took a step forward. The taser-pistol that had been pointed at McKay came around and targeted Sheppard.

"Stop." Scar stared at Sheppard for a moment, then looked at Lackey and ordered, "Get the doctor untied. We'll take him as an additional hostage. As I told Dr. McKay before, we will leave them and the puddlejumper at the first planet we 'gate to. But that's if you let us leave unscathed, Colonel. If we have to fight our way out of here, you'll never see them again. My people don't normally trade in slaves, but we know many worlds where their skills will be useful."

"Sheppard – " McKay started, but was interrupted.

"Colonel," Becket said apologetically while being pushed into position next to McKay, "They have all my research. The big one was going to kill Rodney, and I – "

"Don't worry about it, Doc. Zelenka told me about their method of... encouraging cooperation." Sheppard saw a flicker of light behind the vent panel. He leaned back against the wall, letting his shoulders and head droop tiredly. The room lights waivered again. He looked at Scar. "You seem to be the one in charge. So, I'm just going to tell you that you are not getting out of this city with any of the information or technology that you have stolen. You are certainly not going to leave with Beckett and McKay."

Scar regarded him impassively. "We will leave. And with the things we have procured."

Sheppard shook his head and sent the lights on another round of changes. The door behind his shoulders slid closed a few more inches then slammed back open. The two hostages were watching him with curiosity. Lackey was starting to glance around nervously, while keeping a firm hold on the neck of Beckett's lab coat.

"Zelenka told me you've been here awhile, that you know who the top people are. So far you've just been uninvited guests, albeit really bad ones. Dr. Weir is likely to just let you go. Without the stuff you've 'procured.' If you try to leave with Dr.s McKay and Beckett, if you hurt one of them further, you won't get anywhere near the 'gate."

The panel covering the ventilation shaft opening retracted then started sliding into the wall. Sheppard almost groaned out loud when it stopped midway. He watched as fingers wrapped around the edge and tried to move it further, to no avail. He couldn't see into the darkness of the shaft. All he could do was keep talking and hope Lorne was still able to take down the two thieves.

"Scar," he began, then paused. "As much as I enjoy the names McKay picked out for you, you must have real ones. Why don't we start there? Your names and your home planet?"

"Do you seriously think that we would believe such a promise, Colonel?" Scar asked curiously, ignoring Sheppard's question. "And why should we leave empty-handed? We have McKay and Beckett, two very valuable commodities both to us and – I think – to Atlantis. You won't do anything that might cause them to be damaged. I think we will be able to leave here on our own terms."

They started forward, shoving their hostages before them. Sheppard shook his head and stepped to the middle of the doorway, sliding his hand behind his back and grabbing the butt of his pistol. The door behind him slid shut.

Scar ground the taser-pistol against McKay's head, earning a wordless exclamation of pain. "Move."

"You're not going to – " Sheppard began, then watched in relief as the thieves were struck by Wraith stun-bolts and collapsed to the ground.

Beckett and McKay stumbled forward in shock, and Sheppard urged them to continue on into the corridor after he opened the door again.

"Stay here until we get them situated," he said, forestalling the questions he could see on both men's faces. He stepped over and looked down at the thieves who had ruined his day off. Lackey was unconscious, but Scar stared up at him with a burning hatred. "Sorry, but I really was serious about you not leaving with those two. We're too fond of them to let them go so easily."

Scar's eyes finally closed. Sheppard looked up as Lorne finished climbing out of the vent. Perez followed quickly and stooped to check on the lab techs who were beginning to stir.

"Took you long enough," Sheppard grumbled.

"Sorry, sir," Lorne said, kneeling by the stunned prisoners and binding their wrists and ankle with zip-ties. "We forgot to bring the WD-40."

"Well, you did a good job. Get 'em down to the brig. If Beckett wants to make sure they're okay, he can send someone down there. Two guards at all times, in the room."

"You got it, Colonel," Lorne signaled to Perez to take charge of the prisoners, then looked over at Sheppard. "Sir, I'll make sure these two are situated. You need to let Beckett take a look at you."

Sheppard watched the groggy lab techs staggering out the door, and shook his head. "In a few minutes. Elizabeth, Zelenka, are you still there?"

"Yes, Colonel,' Weir said, sounding worried. "You caught them? Was anyone else hurt?"

"No, Lorne and Perez hit them with stunners. We're getting them down to the brig now. Go ahead unlock the infirmary doors and have someone fix whatever Zelenka broke on the stargate and the jumper bay. He can come on down and have Beckett look at his hand."

"I will be there very quickly for good drugs," Zelenka promised.

"Sounds like a good idea," Sheppard said, a small smile touching his lips. "Elizabeth, I'm just going to – "

"You're just going to come back to the examination area and let me check your head, and then you will be my guest overnight."

He turned in surprise, then closed his eyes when the room tilted. He put out a hand and leaned against the workbench. When had Carson snuck back into the lab? The doctor was bearing down on him now, a very determined look on the normally calm face.

"Doc, I need to speak with the prisoners as soon – " Sheppard began, only to be interrupted again.

"Those two will still be here tomorrow, John," Elizabeth said. "Lorne can take care of any security measures until then. Go with Carson. Those are my orders."

"All right, Elizabeth. Don't try to talk to the prisoners until – "

"Go, John. Weir out."

Beckett held out a hand, ready to assist the too pale man. "Come along, Colonel. Rodney is already on his way. If we're lucky, his throat will be so sore he won't be complaining too much. Although it didn't sound like it as he was leaving. He's already talking about taking the thieves' briefcase computer apart."

Sheppard chuckled and straightened away from his support. The room immediately swooped around him, and bile rose in his throat. He heard Beckett calling his name, but he couldn't reply. He tried to take a step but his knees buckled and he slumped to the ground as everything went black.


Two hours later McKay was lounging on a bed hooked up to an IV and enjoying the painkillers he had been given. He had an interesting assortment of bruises on various places on his torso, neck and face and knew he was going to be very sore once Beckett quit the really good drugs and restricted him to OTC analgesics.

Zelenka, hand freshly splinted and also enjoying a little buzz, was sitting cross-legged on the foot of his bed. They were discussing how they could get their hands on that briefcase computer, which was most likely still down in the lab. McKay had almost convinced Zelenka, who was not hooked up to an IV, to sneak down the hallway and retrieve it. McKay was pretty sure they could 'borrow' the laptop in Beckett's office to set up an interface.

Before they could put their plan into action the doors opened and Beckett and a nurse wheeled a bed containing Sheppard into the room. The man was lying face down on the bed, and appeared to be sleeping. McKay was relieved to see that most of the blood had been cleaned from the oft-ridiculed hair. When Sheppard had staggered into the lab earlier he had been shocked at the bloodied appearance. The man was still much too pale for peace of mind, but Beckett didn't appear overly concerned so it was probably going to be all right.

"Thank you, Lindsay. Would you get me a suture tray and some lidocaine, please?" Carson asked the nurse quietly, then turned to stare at the room's other occupants. "I don't know what you two are planning, but you can stop it now."

Zelenka managed a look of hurt innocence, but McKay succeeded only in looking indignant. "What do you mean? We were just sitting here discussing... discussing stuff," he ended lamely and started to cross his arms, stopping when his IV pulled painfully. He settled for a glare.

"Keep your voice down, Rodney. It would be nice if the Colonel could sleep through this. He'll have to be awakened every couple of hours as it is. Thank you, love, I'll take it from here," Carson accepted an instrument tray from the nurse and pulled a wheeled stool up to Sheppard's bed. He sat and pulled on a pair of latex gloves. "As for what I meant? Rodney, I've known you too long not to recognize that look. Wherever you were planning to go, whatever you were plotting to sneak into the infirmary, just forget it. I'm only keeping you overnight because we don't know about the affects of the taser the thieves used. You'll be out of here after breakfast in the morning. So just relax and enjoy it."

McKay watched in horrified fascination as Beckett shaved a four by one inch strip of hair off the back of Sheppard's head, exposing a long gash. The contents of a syringe were injected at multiple points around the head wound, and at several smaller cuts on the lt. colonel's hands. He swallowed queasily and looked around the room, trying to find something else to focus on. Zelenka was leaning forward and watching the doctor with great interest, blinking owlishly behind smudged lenses.

"Couldn't you have done that before bringing him in here, Carson?" He asked finally, gesturing vaguely in Sheppard's direction. "It's just so... so ewww."

"Oh, grow up, Rodney," Beckett replied in exasperation, tying off a stitch.

McKay turned back toward Sheppard and the doctor, a biting reply on his tongue, but stopped when he saw the lt. colonel's eyes were open. "He's awake," he said in delight, sitting up and almost tipping Zelenka – who was leaning too far forward – off the bed. "Welcome back to the land of the semi-living, Sheppard. Let me be the first to congratulate you on the daring new hairstyle you're sporting."

Sheppard glared up at him. "Your ass is grass, McKay," was the quiet but acerbic reply. A quick snort of laughter escaped Beckett and a giggle came from Zelenka. Sheppard eyed the tipsy Czech and smiled. "How're you doing, Doc?"

Zelenka smiled happily and waved the splinted hand. "I do wonderfully. Carson has shared what McKay calls 'good drugs' so I – "

"Wait, wait, wait," McKay interrupted indignantly. "How come my ass is grass, but he's 'how are you, Doc?' I got beat up, too, you know. I almost got choked to death. I could have internal injuries." He held up his gauze wrapped wrists as evidence, and waved at the colorful bruises on his face and neck.

"You went into an unexplored area of the city, where the sensors weren't working, without a military escort."

"Hey, Zelenka was in charge of that little expedition. I didn't realize I was going along until I was actually going."

"And did you see anyone dressed in military colors in your little expedition group at that point?"

"Zelenka was – !"

"Who's the Chief Science – !"

"Quiet!" Beckett roared, startling both men into silence. "I'm going to sedate you both – all right, only you then, Rodney – if you don't both calm down. Your dinner trays will be here soon. I want you all to eat, and then rest. No more shouting. Colonel, I'm sorry I can't give you something stronger for your headache, but try to remain quiet and rest. Radek, lad, let's get you back to your own bed."

Sheppard and McKay continued to glare at each other as Zelenka was being helped back into the bed across the aisle. As soon as the door slid shut behind the doctor, the whispering started again.

"You ruined my day off," Sheppard hissed, trying to ignore the urge to scratch at the new stitches.

"You know what this is," McKay hissed back with a sneer, holding up a fist and running his thumb in a circle around the side of the forefinger.

Sheppard stared at the gesture and all the anger drained away. Only Rodney McKay would consider 'The Worlds Smallest Record Player playing "My Heart Bleeds for You"' a suitable reply in this argument.

"Why, Rodney, how seventies of you, how positively analog." Sheppard watched in amusement as the realization of what he had done registered on McKay's face. "Hasn't that been updated yet?"

McKay groaned and flopped back on his pillow. "You know what I meant. I'm sorry you had to interrupt your day of skateboarding daredevilry, but ..." he paused and looked over at the man in the other bed, "I really appreciate you coming to find us. Sorry you got hurt."

Before Sheppard could find a suitable answer to that they were interrupted by laughter coming from the third occupant of the room. They both looked across the aisle to see Zelenka lying in the hospital bed, injured hand weaving intricate patterns in the air, chortling in Czech and giggling maniacally.

McKay looked at Sheppard and rolled his eyes. "Carson really needs to adjust his meds."

"I'd say so," Sheppard agreed.

They were quiet for a few minutes, listening to Zelenka's incomprehensible ramblings.

Finally Sheppard couldn't resist asking, "Is it true you screamed like a little girl – "

"Bite me."


The next afternoon Sheppard was sitting propped up in bed, wondering if it made him a bad person just because he was wishing for a Wraith attack – only a little one – so that he wouldn't be bored. Beckett had decided to keep him confined to the infirmary. Just because he had grayed out on the way to the men's room and had to be helped up off the floor and back to bed.

McKay, and Zelenka, had been released after breakfast. Weir and Lorne had already made a visit to see how he was. So he was all alone. His head hurt too much to read so his book or a laptop was useless. He had begged to be allowed to return to his quarters, but kept being told 'later.'

He fingered the comm unit plugged into his ear. McKay had snuck it to him after lunch so that he could keep up with the gossip. Unfortunately, it was a quiet day and there was very little chatter to amuse him. He was starting to doze off from boredom when an emergency call sent adrenaline surging into his system.

"Medical team to the brig." The urgency in the voice pulled him into a sitting position. "Emergency medical team to the brig."

He was on his feet and starting toward the door when Beckett's voice drew him up short.

Beckett was hurrying down the corridor, followed by two PAs, all three carrying emergency kits. The doctor never slowed while barking orders at Sheppard.

"Get back to bed, Colonel. I don't have time to – . Where did you get that comm? Ach, never mind. I'll talk to Rodney later."

Sheppard watched them disappear around the corner and had to resist the urge to kick something in frustration. He went back and sat on the bed and hoped that there would be more information forthcoming. He resisted the urge to get on the comm and demand it, not wanting to be a distraction during an emergency situation.

What the hell had happened down there? Had the prisoners tried to escape? Had some of his men been injured in the attempt?

He threw his pillow across the room.

When a half hour had come and gone with no additional information, he got up and left. He didn't know where they had hidden his clothes this time, but he was more than willing to make the trip in scrubs and bare feet. It made it easy to sneak past the nurses in the lounge.

He made it to the brig without mishap and only two short bouts of dizziness. The guards outside the brig said nothing about his odd appearance, just stepped aside and let him in. Inside he found Weir and Lorne huddled together in one corner while Beckett and his team tidied up their equipment in the two cells.

The prisoners were dead. Their faces held a bluish tinge and their eyes, which had been so cold in life, stared blindly at ceiling. Their own clothes had been replaced with scrubs – the closest Atlantis had to prison garb. The tops had been cut open by the medical personnel, and the sight of EKG and IV lines tangled together, the intubation hoses emerging from their mouths, showed that a fight had been made to save their lives.

Sheppard stood in the doorway, feeling his headache increasing. "What in the hell happened here?" He demanded. He aimed the question at Lorne, but everyone in the room looked up in surprise to see him. "Did they try to escape?"

Lorne hurried over. "No, sir. They didn't try to escape. In fact they didn't do anything once we put them in the cells. The guards say they just sat on their bunks and stared at the walls. They didn't talk to each other, they didn't sleep and they didn't eat or drink anything; we can check the security footage to verify it. Then about an hour ago they both stood up and then collapsed on the floor. They were dead by the time Dr. Becket and his team got here, Colonel."


Beckett looked up from entering notes on a pc tablet, and frowned. "I can't tell you what killed them, that will be for Dr. Biro to decide. But it looks like some kind of poison."

"And they were searched, Lorne?"

"Of course, sir," Lorne said, not offended. "Everything except a cavity search, and I regret not doing that, now."

Sheppard shook his head in regret. "Don't be, Major. These were two very determined men. From what they told McKay and Zelenka, they were here, in hiding, for over six months. If they wanted to die, they would find the means to do it."

More people, pushing gurneys, were waiting to get into the brig. He walked into the corridor, aware of Weir and Lorne following him. He leaned his shoulders against the wall and scrubbed his hands over his face. "I should have realized yesterday they might try to do something like this. Scar was sure they wouldn't be allowed to leave."

He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked over at Weir.

"This isn't your fault, John. They made their own decision here."

"I know. I realize that. It doesn't mean I'm not going to kick myself for this." He sighed in frustration. "You do realize that we still don't know where they came from, Elizabeth?"

"Why would we need to know that now?" Weir asked in confusion. "We're not going to be sending them home."

Beckett came bustling up at that point. "All right, Colonel, it's time to get back to the infirmary."

Sheppard made a concerted effort to shake off his gloomy mood. "Carson, I'm much closer to my quarters than to the infirmary," he offered hopefully.

Beckett eyed him skeptically, taking in the pallor and the tired stance. "Were you dizzy on the trip down here?

"The point is, Doc, that I made it down here on my own. I think that shows that I can survive if released to my quarters."

"How many?"

"Twice. But small ones." Sheppard sighed as Beckett took his arm and started to lead him down the corridor.

Before they had gone more than few paces, the gurneys with their sheet wrapped burdens emerged from the brig. He stopped and watched as they passed by on the way to the transport chamber.

"But we don't know what world to avoid now, either," he said softly. "I just hope we don't end up regretting it."

~~ The End ~~