Entaillen 7

by Domenika Marzione

Lorne looks around, taking a quick head count, and sees that everyone is there. The relief is palpable, even if the situation is familiar for all the wrong reasons.

"Everyone okay?"

"Close enough," Sheppard says, voice a little rough. "Can't say that this is going down as a prime vacation spot, though."

If it were anyone else, Lorne would be inclined to take the gallows humor as a positive sign. But Sheppard makes Reletti's stoicism look like soap opera theatrics, so he knows better. This is coming too close in a sequence of imprisonments where Sheppard has been forced to watch his men (and woman) suffer ill treatment; this has to be killing him.

"We're okay, sir," Ortilla offers from across the room. "Just bored off our asses."

Ortilla and Suarez are sitting near Reletti, who has his head down between his knees. Sheppard looks awful and while Lorne is sure that he could slot it in to the sliding scale of all of the times they've brought Sheppard back in pieces, he'd rather not. Ronon is near Teyla and a drawn McKay; Ronon has cleaned up from the last time Lorne saw him, which was under three werewolf creatures and bleeding heavily. Yoni is already standing and Lorne can tell by the look on his face that 'no' is not an acceptable answer to a demand to examine him.

"They're going after the gene carriers," Lorne murmurs, realization hitting like a smack upside the head. That's how Sid knew to call him a Lantean: because he was (is) affected by whatever they were doing. Of course. He'd really like there to be a time when having the ATA gene works for them instead of against them. If it's working in proportion to their affinity for Ancient technology, then Sheppard would be hit hardest, followed by Reletti because nobody's as close to Ancient as Sheppard is, and then himself and McKay because they only have the gene through artificial induction.

"I'm okay," he says as Yoni approaches while pointing imperiously toward an unoccupied corner. Lorne follows him. "I've just had a headache for a couple of weeks and itch like mad."

He'll leave the temporary deafness and dalliance with madness aside for now.

"Eight days," Yoni says as he cups Lorne's chin gently and turns his face to look at the small cut Sid opened up under his left eye.

"Eight days?!" Lorne turns in his grip to look back at him. "That's it?"

He knows he's lost all sense of time, but he thought he'd been in the right ballpark at least. He never would have guessed less than two weeks; it had felt like closer to four.

"Could be off by a day," Yoni says as he turns Lorne's head again, the touch so completely unlike that of Sid's grasp that he doesn't even flinch at the identical gesture. "Ronon is sure that we're not off more than that. We estimate ten days since we left home."

Lorne doesn't ask how Ronon knows with such certitude.

Apparently satisfied with his exam -- there's not much he can do about the cut and it's stopped bleeding down his cheek -- Yoni takes a step back. "Close your eyes and hold your arms out, then touch your nose with your fingertips."

Lorne cocks an eyebrow at him because he knows what that's a test for. "There's no head injury," he says. "I'm not concussed."

Yoni gives him the flat look of annoyance he saves for uncooperative patients. "You've had more than a week's exposure to something that is affecting your nervous system," he says, making a 'get on with it' gesture with his hand.

Lorne swallows a comment on how he's got a higher pain tolerance than McKay and no reason to be as sick as Sheppard or Reletti because from there the only way leads to a discussion of his week of silence and he'd rather save that conversation for the debrief. Especially if Sheppard's in as bad a shape as he looks -- even if only for comfort, they need plausible deniability that one of the officers is fit for command.

He complies with Yoni's order, opening his eyes in surprise when he misses his nose with his left index finger after successfully poking himself in the shnozz with his right. Yoni's expression is more 'I-told-you-so' than outright concern, so Lorne doesn't react except to sigh. He submits to the rest of Yoni's impromptu neurological exam with mixed results.

"It'll keep," Yoni says. "We'll track any changes."

Lorne nods. "How bad are they?" he asks quietly, because the room isn't so large and while it's the obvious topic of conversation and everyone knows Lorne is going to ask, he doesn't know what Yoni has been telling the others.

"Nutrition is becoming a problem and neurological deterioration is far too rapid for my comfort," Yoni answers with a grimace. "The vertigo is profound enough that walking without vomiting is a challenge and there will be other effects the longer they go without being able to keep anything down. I can't do anything for them besides palliative care and that won't last. We need to get them out of here."

"I know," Lorne agrees with a sigh. And it's a surer knowledge than it otherwise might have been, courtesy of his interrogation. As intentionally confounding as his captivity has been -- the relatively comfortable confines versus Sid's unassailable hatred of what he thinks Lorne is... Lorne doesn't think that Sid would let Sheppard and Reletti go because they are so ill. Not when it seems like the entire purpose of the exercise is to ferret them out in the first place for special punishment.

Lorne looks over at Sheppard, who is watching them with half-lidded eyes. Sheppard gives him a sort of wry smile, aware that they're talking about him. Lorne tilts his head slightly toward where the marines are sitting and Sheppard gives him the smallest of nods.

"I'm gonna go check on the boys," he tells Yoni.

Suarez and Ortilla perk up as he approaches. Reletti's still got his head down; he lifts it up enough to meet Lorne's gaze, then puts it back down a little too quickly and groans quietly. Suarez reaches behind himself for the towel that is probably serving as a barf bag, but Reletti mumbles something Lorne can't hear and Suarez drops the towel back where it was.

"How're you doing, Sergeant?" he asks quietly, crouching down carefully because Yoni's right and his balance is off. Ortilla has a hand out to steady him, but it's not necessary. Lorne can see the same deceptively soft cuff on Ortilla's wrist that he has on his own.

Reletti picks his head up again, more slowly this time, and gives him an embarrassed grin that doesn't quite work. "Been better, sir."

"He hasn't puked all day," Suarez offers wryly, aware of how little good news that is.

"That's because he hasn't eaten all day," Ortilla retorts.

"He's right here," Reletti reminds them. "And he can hear you."

"He's shitty, sir," Ortilla continues, pointedly ignoring Reletti's glare. Within their team dynamic, Ortilla is the designated fusser by both rank and nature. But it's a tough love kind of fussing and Ortilla takes great pride in never showing his hand. "Same as the Colonel. It's worse than when the Genii grabbed us."

And that, of course, was a laugh riot.

"At least we got Doc with us this time," Suarez says.

Lorne is pretty sure that he's the only one who knows just how embarrassed Yoni is by the blind faith their team has in his medical skills.

"How long have you guys been here?" Lorne asks instead of bringing up just how little Yoni thinks he can do here. He's obviously been doing enough, even if he can't fix anything.

"Nine days is the estimate we're using, sir," Ortilla replies with a shrug. "Suarez, Teyla, Doc, and I have been here since the beginning. Ronon showed up a day later, Doctor McKay two days after that, Reletti a day after McKay, Colonel Sheppard three days ago, and now you."

Lorne nods. "I'm gonna go talk to Colonel Sheppard and get caught up and then we'll start figuring out a way to get the hell out of here now that the gang's all together," he says. As if it's just a matter of finding their way out of the facility and back to the stargate.

He stands up with care and walks toward Sheppard, making sure to pass close to Ronon, Teyla and McKay. They are sitting together, apart from Sheppard because Sheppard has undoubtedly ordered them away, but not far enough as to make it look like obedience is winning over concern. McKay's pale and his eyes are glassy, but it's really the quiet that's disturbing to Lorne. McKay has never been known to contextualize his suffering -- if he's uncomfortable, that others might be more so is irrelevant. But instead of complaint, he only offers Lorne a half-grin that might almost be counted as understanding, or at least conspiratorial. In this bizarre caste system of misery, he and Lorne share a rung and this is his tacit recognition of that.

Teyla looks proud and worried, but not for herself. Lorne doesn't think that he was the only one to have Teyla's genetics thrown in his face, but he doesn't think anyone's mentioned it to her. (He's not sure if the marines actually know the specifics of Teyla's spidey-sense; it's not general knowledge, but the three of them know a lot of things that aren't.) Better that way, at least for now. Ronon grunts acknowledgement.

Lorne drops down next to Sheppard by sliding his back along the soft-hard wall. "Well, here's another fine mess we've gotten ourselves into."

They can't speak openly -- they're undoubtedly being watched -- but they've certainly had practice at circumlocution.

Sheppard grins. "It's kind of hard to plead mistaken identity when all they care about is one bit of the DNA and not the rest."

They think we're Ancients and we can't convince them otherwise. Being related at all is enough.

"I guess this is why the database was so oblique," Lorne says. Across the room, Yoni is sitting by himself, which is hardly unexpected. Ortilla has undoubtedly been monitoring Yoni's alone-time; his fussing is not restricted to Suarez and Reletti and he'll bully Yoni and Lorne with impunity, if also with respect. "You gotta wonder what the hell went on back in the day for this kind of hatred to last."

Did they taunt you about the 'lesser beings' you brought with you? Is Teyla safe? Are the others? Are we?

"It's certainly different from the usual reception," Sheppard says. His voice is low and rough and Lorne isn't sure if he should be relieved or worried that it's probably from the constant sickness and not shouting himself hoarse. "I think they share a lot of the same questions we've wondered in our darker moments."

They hate the Ancients for playing God, for populating a galaxy they couldn't protect. For creating the Wraith. For disappearing.

"Do you think they know what happened?" Lorne stretches out his legs, careful not to accidentally jostle Sheppard.

Do you think they know the Ancients fled to Earth instead of going down with their ship?

Sheppard makes a sour face. "I don't think so."

I hope not.

They're quiet for a little while then and Lorne looks around as Sheppard seemingly dozes. The room is large enough so that nine people aren't on top of each other, but not so large that there isn't a sense of closed-in confinement. Unlike his own cell, this one has a separate bathroom; Lorne can see the edge of a sink through an open doorway. He wonders how meal distribution works here; waiting for all of them to sleep at once is impractical, if not impossible. Lorne wouldn't be surprised if the healthy are sitting watch overnight.

The marines have their own decks of cards (as far as Lorne knows, the only ones who didn't have cards in their packs were Teyla, Ronon, and McKay) and Suarez and Ortilla are apparently trying to teach Teyla to play poker, something that would be outright hysterical in another context but it still amusing here. They have nothing to bet with, of course, and Teyla has trouble remembering the hierarchy of winning hands and the rules of what is some variation of seven-card stud. Eventually McKay joins them, snide words about card-counting and mathematical advantages lacking their usual bite, and a game begins with a second deck used as chips. Teyla has enlisted Reletti as her partner and Suarez warns her that Reletti has no luck because he loses at dice to anthropologists, but they seem to be holding their own. From their various points around the room, Yoni and Ronon are watching them, resisting the occasional entreaties to join in. The marines offer to bring the game across the room if either Lorne or Sheppard want to play, but Sheppard declines and Lorne tells them he'll maybe play later.

With the quiet chatter of the poker game in the background, Sheppard's more alert. In small bits, he tells Lorne more about what he's learned about their circumstances and what life is like in this communal cell. The former is more confirmation of what Lorne has suspected and the latter becomes very relevant when the lights suddenly go out.

"Fuck," Suarez sighs from across the room.
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26 December, 2006