Entaillen 8

by Domenika Marzione

When the lights come back on, Lorne blinks stupidly and looks around. Sheppard is gone from next to him, as is Reletti from across the room, and there is a tray in the center of the room with what is probably dinner (lunch, breakfast, whatever) on it.

"Fuck," Suarez says again. He balls up the towel next to him and throws it angrily at the spot where Reletti had been. Ortilla holds out a hand in a stopping motion and Suarez sits back with disgust. "Why do they keep taking him? He's a fucking grunt -- he's not supposed to know anything."

"They're nothing if not consistent," McKay says sourly. "They've got us ranked by our genetic makeup and they don't care if we follow a different system."

Beyond the obvious frustration, Lorne feels the edges of despair and that worries him more. Suarez isn't making cracks about Reletti's intelligence or the lack thereof and McKay isn't either relieved or offended that he wasn't taken. This is getting perilously close to resignation and that's far too close to defeat.

"Let them underestimate us. We'll just have to use that to our advantage," Lorne says, knowing it sounds a little trite even as it's true. He and Sheppard had been talking loosely around the idea before the lights had gone out, not getting anywhere useful but at least verifying that they both thought it would be the best chance of getting them home. "It's not like Colonel Sheppard and Sergeant Reletti don't have plenty of experience confounding others, especially those trying to get useful answers out of them."

He gets a weak grin from Teyla for that.

The meal, some sort of meat stew doled out of a common pot by Suarez and Ortilla, is quiet at first, everyone concentrating on eating and worrying about Sheppard and Reletti. Lorne is, too, but it's also been a very long time since he's eaten and the low blood sugar is making his headache worse. He eats carefully and slowly, caring less about the taste (which is vaguely familiar and completely unremarkable) than that it's warm and filling. He sips his tea and, seeing that everyone else is either finished or close to it, asks how much anyone has seen of the building they're in (not much, just the hallways) and that moves them toward a discussion of the security measures and the remote controls that seem to operate everything.

"It's your basic remote control, operating through modulated frequencies," McKay says, pushing bread around in his bowl with his fingers.

"Like a clicker for a TV, sir?" Suarez asks, wiping his fingers carefully before picking up his tea glass. Suarez's fastidiousness when eating does not come at the expense of how quickly he can put it away.

"It's probably not an infrared diode," McKay replies. Lorne hasn't missed the patience McKay's been exhibiting with everyone else; he doesn't know the scientist well enough to appreciate what it might mean apart from fewer arguments and it's not something he can really ask Sheppard about, although he doesn't doubt for a second that Sheppard knows precisely what it means. "But, essentially, yes. Radio would be the obvious choice for signal transmission, something light years ahead of anything we brought with us."

Their radios are not-available-to-the-Pentagon super-charged MBITRs, fancy and expensive toys that Lorne doesn't understand except how to work them and that Ortilla takes apart and repairs with ease.

"So if we were to... acquire one," Teyla muses aloud, "We would be able to use it."

McKay makes a sour face. "Maybe. They could have some sort of genetic component."

"Half of what we have at home has a genetic component," Yoni points out, not looking up from where he's apparently conducting surgery with his spoon on something in his bowl. Yoni, despite what he thinks, is a picky eater, so Lorne can imagine any of a half-dozen possibilities for what's offending his culinary sensibilities this time. "The question is whether it is in that class of technology that requires a constant connection to the genetic marker or whether it merely needs activation."

In terms of Atlantis, the items that need someone with the gene to use them tend to be either weapons or weapons-related (say, the jumpers and the control chair). Essential systems need activation, but will run on their own. Navigational tools -- doors, transporters -- don't need the gene at all. If this place is anything like Atlantis....

"We just need to get out," Lorne says. "We don't need to start a war."

Escaping without weapons is somewhere between foolhardy and wishful thinking, but he's willing to promote pie-in-the-sky thinking right now. The mental lethargy will get them nowhere.

"Stargate's gone," Ronon reminds them between shoveling spoonfuls into his mouth.

"We've been away from home for, what, ten days?" Lorne asks, warming to the chance to hope, to get others to hope as well. "That's enough time for the cavalry to saddle up."

For all that the SGC is largely inured to teams going missing off-world, either in Pegasus or at home, the urgency ratchets up when there's no lock on the stargate. No stargate connectivity for ten days... someone is coming for them. Ten days is enough time for a call to Earth and the authorization of either the recall of the Daedalus or the loan of the Odyssey.

"We're forgetting about a little problem," McKay says, putting his bowl down. "Acquisition."

"You and I are probably next," Lorne says, shrugging with a casualness he doesn't feel. "We'll have to see what we can do."

McKay gawps at him.

They've been cognizant all along that they are probably being watched, that their words are being dissected. Not mentioning Atlantis at all is second nature by now and most of the rest only requires a little more thought because they've all had to deal with OpSec before. But Lorne isn't afraid that they'll get into trouble if their plans are overheard. He's starting to think that their captors simply don't believe that they're capable of being a threat.

"Big, burly guards, handcuffs... any of this ringing a bell?" McKay asks, voice high.

"I have faith in you both," Teyla says with assurance, smiling fondly at McKay, who glowers at her and then quickly looks down because McKay's no more immune to Teyla than anyone else.

"You're as crazy as he is, Major," he mutters and Lorne can't hide the grin.

They finish eating and collect their bowls and spoons. Ronon has already tried to hide one away -- they took all of his knives -- but was forced to return it after they went a day without food as punishment. There is stew and bread and tea left for Reletti and Sheppard, although nobody has much faith in either of them being able to eat much (any) of it. Teyla tells Lorne that the tray will stay until after both men are returned, which is good because Lorne is long past the point where the whole hit-the-lights routine is even vaguely entertaining. He closes his eyes for a while, enjoying that his headache has quieted a notch and, with his stomach full, he feels the prickly itch of his skin less acutely.

Sheppard comes back to them first, thrown through the door and landing awkwardly on the floor with a grunt and muttered curses. Ronon is there first to help him up, half-carrying him back to the corner from which he'd been taken.

"How are you doing?" Lorne asks after Yoni's given him a quick once-over, mostly for form's sake because it's completely obvious that Sheppard is not doing well. He's pale and exhausted and he accepts without looking up the wet cloth Teyla offers him.

"I don't think I'm ever going on a tilt-a-whirl again," Sheppard replies after he wipes his face, looking marginally better for it. Teyla returns with a glass full of tea and Sheppard thanks her.

"Make sure that you drink it while it is hot," she tells him. "It will soothe your throat."

Sheppard grins up at her with amused affection that almost covers up his misery. "Yes, Mom."

They sit quietly for a little bit, Sheppard sipping his tea and taking deep breaths, and everyone else watches and waits.

"They think we're here to invade," Sheppard says. He's not ready to speak, eyes still slipping closed and back pressed up against the wall like his world is still spinning. Probably is. But everyone else needs to see that he's still some value of 'okay' and if he can't do that in deed, then he can at least talk. "They think we were sent to scout out the place."

McKay scoffs. "Because we look like a vanguard?"

In the twisted Thadorian mindset, they probably do, Lorne has realized. Eight armed men, four of whom are of Lantean descent, and one woman who is part Wraith. Lorne has never begrudged them the mistaken identification. He's just pissed off that they won't accept that appearances can be deceiving.

"We don't exactly look like peaceful explorers carrying rifles," Sheppard replies with a frustration that has nothing to do with his words and everything to do with the circumstances, personal and team, that are beyond his control. "They're still reeling at the thought that their ancient enemy isn't dead after all, so they're not thinking too clearly. So it makes perfect sense to them that the first item on the Lantean agenda is to pick up where they left off ten thousand years ago and re-start a war."

"The Ancestors had a lot of enemies," Ronon says. The Ori invasion of the Milky Way can't be mentioned aloud, but it doesn't need to be.

"They have a lot of enemies," Ortilla corrects. "We're just the most convenient target."

There's not much to say to that, so they fall silent again. Yoni is playing some ridiculously complicated version of solitaire ("patience," he calls it) that has drawn spectators and Suarez as a sarcastic commentator and would-be assistant. Sheppard drinks his tea in small sips and starts to lose a little of the seasick weariness, which Lorne tries to find comfort in because the alternative is worrying about Reletti.

"He'll be okay," Sheppard says. Lorne turns from where he's watching Yoni slap Suarez's hands away from his cards. "He's probably giving them lessons on how you can use 'fuck' for every single part of speech."

Lorne isn't worried about Reletti's ability to take whatever's given out to him. He's worried that Reletti will pay for his ignorance about the Ancients. Suarez wasn't wrong -- Reletti isn't privy to most of what Sid wants to know. It has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with the fact that Reletti is on the bottom rung of a military command structure and it's not his job to know.

Lorne sighs. "I'll feel better when we get him back."

"Me, too," Sheppard agrees.

After a while, once Sheppard's movements become less clutching for balance and more coordinated, McKay brings over food and more tea. Sheppard groans.

"Eat something so the crazy doctor over there doesn't have an excuse to go Jack Torrance on us," McKay implores plaintively, gesturing with his head to where Yoni is sitting.

"Hey!" Lorne feels obligated to protest, although he knows that McKay's just using bitchiness to cover up for his concern for Sheppard.

Perhaps sensing the attention, Yoni looks up from his card game and cocks an eyebrow. Lorne nods to him and Yoni returns to fending off Suarez.

Sheppard, meanwhile, grins and picks up his tea glass. "Redrum, redrum," he sings softly. McKay glares at him, a look completely devoid of actual irritation, and goes back to his 'spot'.

Sheppard's grin fades and he frowns at the food before him. He sighs and picks up the bowl, dipping his bread into the stew, taking small bites, and eventually a few spoonfuls ("Safir scares me"), but that's it. He tells Lorne to put the rest back in the pot if there's not enough for Reletti (as if Reletti's going to have more of an appetite) or give it to McKay or Ronon or someone who wants to eat. Ronon takes the bowl off of Lorne's hands and he doesn't find out its eventual destination because before he can get back to his seat, Reletti is tossed through the door.

Reletti lands like a sack of potatoes and doesn't move and Yoni is there right away, everyone else keeping a little bit of distance so that he can work unencumbered. Reletti is curled awkwardly on his side, his back to the room, and Yoni's face is grave as he kneels over him... until it suddenly isn't.

"You putz," Yoni hisses and that's their cue to relax because they can distinguish between most of Yoni's verbal expressions of annoyance and that's him being relieved. And annoyed, but mostly relieved.

Behind Lorne, Ortilla exhales loudly and it sounds like a sigh.

"Sorry, Doc," Reletti says in a low voice. He moves slowly, accepting Yoni's help to sit up. Lorne edges past Teyla to come around to Yoni's side and crouches, teetering a little but not enough to need support. Reletti still looks like crap and he's got a bruise on his cheekbone, but his eyes are lively and alert and he grins at Lorne.

"Brought you back a present, sir," he says, holding out his right hand. Lorne pretends to miss that it shakes slightly because in Reletti's paw is a remote control.
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26 December, 2006