Entaillen 11

by Domenika Marzione

"--the hell?!?" Lorne hears Reletti rumble from somewhere off to his side.

The lights go on and Lorne sees Ortilla blinking back at him, looking as confused as Lorne feels. They are not in their cell. They are exactly where they were when the lights went out, still standing and still free. For values of 'free' that include still being barefoot and unable to get home.

"Did they forget to hit the reset button?" McKay asks, looking around.

Maybe the knock-out effect only works in the cells. While his first priority is getting the hell home, part of Lorne wishes that they could come back with the engineers and figure out how all of this technology works.

He turns to their hostage, who merely looks scared and worried.

"They know you've escaped," the man says simply.

Great. So much for their window of opportunity.

"We need to move," Ronon says, shifting Reletti's weight.

Lorne nods to Suarez, who pulls the hostage around in front of him and starts walking.

The rest of the way to the elevator is quiet and quick. When the door opens, they can see that it looks more like an elevator from Earth than the interior of the Atlantis transporters.

"This will take us down to the fifth sublevel," the man says, "But you'll need the key to authorize it."

They pile in and, with a nod from Lorne, the man pushes the button. Lorne figures it's the right one; the man is watching Ronon, twitching at every sudden move and Lorne knows that Ronon is aware of that, is maximizing that for effect.

Lorne doesn't like the power games or the fact that he's had to threaten and will have to back up those threats, but they don't have much in the way of options right now. They don't know who this man is -- he could be another inquisitor for all that they know, or someone else who is working toward their never getting home in one piece -- and they can't take chances.

"How many numbers in the sequence?" McKay asks, eyes on the console.

"Three," the man replies and Lorne feels his stomach turn. They don't have time to run through seven hundred combinations.

"What's the lowest floor where you don't need a key?" Sheppard asks. Because he's done the math already and knows the odds are crappy and the time short. If they have time at all. On Earth, the first thing that gets stopped in an emergency are the elevators.

"The sublevels are all key-encoded," the man says, shaking his head.

"Wonderful," Sheppard sighs. "How heavily guarded is the ground floor? Can we get past it on foot?"

The man shakes his head. "This is the Security Directorate. There are dozens of Monitors on duty at all times and the barracks is close by."

Great. Lorne hopes that this Directorate is run more along the lines of the NID headquarters than, say, the Stasi complex at Lichtenberg. Or even the Mountain. Because if this were there or NID? Lorne would happily take his chances breaking out the front door. Aliens have a great escape rate at both facilities.

"Can't get out, gotta go down," Sheppard says, rolling his neck carefully. He looks clear-headed, although Lorne knows he's still seeing everything like it's on a carousel because his eyes keep tracking sharply to the right. "Any progress, McKay?"

McKay has been punching in codes the entire time. "I'm sorry, but not even I am good enough to hit the one-in-seven-hundred-tw--" he stops suddenly as the doors close. "Or maybe I am."

"Way to go, Doctor McKay," Suarez compliments sincerely. Lorne smiles to himself; the marines think McKay's an ingrate and a menace to himself as much as others, but they don't doubt his brilliance. Even when it's basically all luck.

The elevator may look like an elevator, but there's no sense of motion except a faint shudder of the car and then the doors open before Lorne can even worry that there will be guards waiting for them.

There aren't. Maybe this is like the Mountain after all; the SGC doesn't post guards at the elevators of even the most restricted sublevels, either.

"Move," Suarez instructs the man, who half-stumbles out. Everyone else follows.

They're in a hallway and while it's empty, they can hear voices and the unmistakable sound of men in boots running. Lorne looks around for a place to hide.

"Teyla." He gestures toward a closed door across the hall. She nods and sprints over, testing the door's handle and, finding it unlocked, opening it carefully. Everyone else presses up against the wall, flattening their profile and prepared to duck back into the elevator if spotted.

Teyla disappears inside the room, reappearing a minute later and gesturing for them to join her.

"It is a storage room," she tells Lorne as he passes her. They get in and close the door behind them, Ortilla handing Reletti off to Ronon so that he can find something to block the door, settling on what could be a file cabinet -- or a coffin. They can't stay here forever, but maybe long enough to hide from the Monitors and maybe they can at least see if their hostage knows his way around this level.

The overhead light is bright enough to make both Sheppard and Reletti groan and bow their heads. Yoni is settling Teyla on top of a table so that he can look at the underside of her left foot; it's bleeding. He holds her foot up to the light so that he can examine the wound and then starts unwrapping towel strips from where he'd wound them around his legs so that he can bind her wound. Lorne wonders if they've been leaving a blood trail.

"Anything you can use here, Doctor McKay?" he asks, watching McKay look around like a nervous kid in a hardware shop, not sure of what's safe to play with or what'll get his fingers cut off. Ronon is shadowing him, either to help or to keep him from making noise, Lorne doesn't know.

The room is about the size of the supply closet nearest to his office in Little Tripoli, but instead of reams of paper and bags of rubber bands, there are rows of boxes and unfamiliarly-shaped items. It's clean and ordered and well-supplied, even if they don't know with what.

"I think this might be an armory, sir," Ortilla says from the far corner of the room. He's holding up something that looks like a cross between an electric guitar and a Wraith stunner. It has a trigger.

Lorne turns to their hostage. "What are they?"

"Rifles," the man replies nervously. "The energy sources should be nearby."

"Find them," Suarez tells him, shoving him gently toward where Ortilla is standing. Lorne can tell that Suarez knows not to push the guy too hard; he's being as compliant as could be hoped for. Whether it's out of fear, out of faith that they won't hurt him, or biding time until he's rescued, Lorne doesn't know. Doesn't care.

They can hear voices outside the door now, not to the point where they can make out the words, but anyone can tell that they are barked commands. More heavy footfalls and Lorne isn't surprised to see Ortilla and Suarez close to their hostage, ready to act at the first sign.

There isn't one. The marines may have been deadly enough with a couple of metal spoons, but now that they are putting together rifles? The hostage keeps his head down as the voices fade.

Lorne crosses over to where Reletti is sitting on the floor with his knees drawn up. He crouches down next to him and Reletti looks up, smiling weakly.

"'M good, sir," he says a little thickly. "Insides are still inside."

Lorne doubts that that's a very high standard for 'good', but he nods anyway, pats Reletti's knee, and stands up. Yoni is finished with Teyla's foot and she is walking around on it experimentally. He edges past her -- the room isn't that big -- and over to Sheppard, crouching down again.

"Think you can convince your marines to leave us behind to find the stargate?" Sheppard asks.

Lorne makes a face. Mostly because it's the kind of plan Sheppard would only come up with when he was the wounded party and would reject outright if it were anyone else. He will admit that he briefly entertained the idea of whether it's worth it to have the healthy scout out -- and probably fight -- their way to the stargate and then return for the incapacitated. But it was just as ill-conceived that way, too. "Probably not."

Suarez emerges from behind the shelves that separate the room into two aisles, a rifle in each hand. "Here, sir," he hands one to Lorne. It's far lighter than it looks and while Lorne knows it's probably a pulse weapon and weight matters less, it still makes him uncomfortable. Like he's holding a toy.

"I don't get one?" Sheppard asks when Suarez moves to turn away.

Suarez stops and looks down at him, part skeptical and part considering. "Can you see straight, sir?" he asks curiously.

"I can adjust for the speed of rotation," Sheppard replies, sounding like he believes it.

"Doc?" Lorne calls over his shoulder quietly, because it's unfair to put Suarez in the position of having to assess his battalion commander's ability to fight and while Lorne can make the call, Sheppard can countermand him. But he won't argue with Yoni, at least not here.

"Your usefulness isn't in your marksmanship," Yoni says. Everyone was expecting something sharper, in both tone and words, and so there's a beat before Sheppard nods. Yoni holds out a hand and Suarez hands him the rifle.

"Do I get one?" Reletti asks as Suarez goes back to where Ortilla and the hostage are still assembling rifles.

"Shut the fuck up," Suarez tells him amiably as he passes by. "What're you going to fire it with, your dick?"

Lorne isn't sure if Teyla is smiling with or at the pair.

Suarez makes another trip, handing rifles to Ronon, McKay (who accepts it gingerly and with a grimace), and Teyla, and then he appears with Ortilla with their own rifles and the hostage, whose hands have been bound. "We're ready, sir."

The rifles have slings, which are an essential feature considering how many hands are required to move others. Ronon and Ortilla haul Reletti up by the armpits, Lorne helps Sheppard up before handing him over to Yoni, and then he gives control over their hostage to McKay because he wants both Teyla and Suarez unencumbered and he himself needs to keep all of his attention on their surroundings.

"Me?" McKay squeaks after Lorne finishes speaking.

"Just keep your rifle leveled at his back," Sheppard tells him calmly. "If he looks like he's going to rabbit, shoot him."

McKay's eyes bug. Sheppard gestures for him to draw close and he does. Lorne can't hear every word, but he catches enough to know that Sheppard's telling McKay that the hostage isn't going to do anything, that McKay isn't going to have to do anything because if something does happen, someone else will do the hostage-shooting.

"Let's go," Lorne says once they're ready. McKay is still holding the rifle like it's about to explode on him, but Lorne is pretty sure the hostage is more afraid than McKay is.

Suarez moves the obstacle from the door and opens it carefully. Lorne holds his rifle up and ready. The trigger's not as counter-intuitive as it is with a Wraith stunner and Ortilla already disabled the safeties, so he doesn't feel as helpless as he might otherwise, but it's still a massive relief when Suarez gives the all-clear sign and they move into the hallway.

"Which way?" Lorne asks the hostage.

The man blinks at him. "The examination rooms are that way," he says, pointing with his bound hands.

They are not as quiet as before, the rifles banging into the sides of the men who are assisting others, but they make it to the end of the hall quickly. Suarez checks out the intersection of corridors and they cross the hallway in a rush because they can hear voices echo. The distant voices don't sound urgent, however, and they don't sound like they're getting closer, so they proceed.

The hostage guides them down long, ill-lit hallways, telling them as they go that he's taking them on the roundabout route to avoid people. "I don't want you to shoot me," he explains without prompting. "I don't want them to shoot me."

Assuming they're going in the right direction, they're making good time until suddenly Reletti urgently mutters "stop, stop," and is barely to his knees before the heaving begins.

"It's getting worse," Sheppard says, eyes closed and leaning his head against the wall. "We have to be getting closer to whatever it is."

"I know," Lorne agrees. His headache has blossomed from annoyance to migraine and his skin is almost numb with burning pain.

They move faster then, less concerned about noise discipline than the fact that both Reletti's and Sheppard's conditions are visibly deteriorating. They have to stop twice more and Lorne takes over hostage-watching duties to allow McKay to help Yoni with Sheppard, who is barely able to keep his eyes open. Lorne knows McKay's suffering, too, he can tell by the pained look on his face, and he hopes that McKay will be sufficiently distracted by Sheppard to ignore his own discomfort. It's what has worked so far.

They finally stop at the end of a hallway; the intersecting one is brightly lit and their hostage says that the suite is directly to their left. Suarez goes to look, then reports back that there are five armed men in the hallway.

"Take Ronon," Lorne tells him, then turns to Ortilla. "You're watching our asses."

Yoni is focused on Reletti and Sheppard, both of whom look worse than they have at any point in their captivity, and Teyla is assisting him. McKay is standing stock-still, eyes distant and face pinched, and Ortilla is waiting at the mouth of the hallway, his rifle up and Yoni's on his shoulder. Lorne goes over to the hostage. They are all waiting for a gunfight to break out and hoping that it doesn't, that Suarez and Ronon can take care of this without drawing attention from others.

"You are Lanteans?" the hostage asks hesitantly. "We believed your kind long extinct."

Lorne sighs. "Yeah, well, we thought so, too."

He feels a little embarrassed for his actions -- taking a hostage was necessary and, if they get out of here, completely justified, but at the same time it's the sort of behavior that has always been the other guys' traits. The Genii take hostages. The System Lords take hostages. Hell, the Asgard kidnap people when they think it's expedient. The Tauri don't.

"There have been measures proposed to eliminate the defenses against your kind," the hostage says, gesturing vaguely with his bound hands. "Too expensive, just a relic of a bygone era... but it's not. You are real and, now that you know we are still here, you will come."

He sounds resigned to his fate. Lorne doesn't understand the sentiment. He's been forced to help the bad guys enough times and he's never lost faith in the ability of the good guys to win in the end.

"We're not interested in starting a war," Lorne says, eyes on Sheppard, who is trying to take deep breaths and can't. "We have enough trouble on our hands with the Wraith without reviving a pissing match from ten thousand years ago."

The hostage chuckles sadly. "Then why did you come? No good could have come from your visit."

Lorne knows this is a subtle interrogation of its own kind, if not as pointed as Sid's. Maybe this hostage will tell the authorities. Maybe he'll tell only his wife. Maybe he'll tell no one. No matter what, his answers count.

"We were hoping to start over, start fresh," Lorne says, thinking it's accurate enough. "We're not too proud to accept help in destroying the Wraith. Certainly from someone who's in a position to do some good."

They've made deals with worse.

The hostage shakes his head. "The Wraith are your trouble, Lantean. Not ours. The Wraith are your burden to bear, the creation turned against creator. Thador will not help you unmake your own mistakes. No matter how much time has passed."

Ortilla shifts position and Lorne puts on hand on his rifle, waiting.

"You could save so many people," Lorne says. It's more frustrating than surprising. The Ancients won't save anyone from the Wraith, so why should their rivals? Not for the first time, Lorne thinks that they bet on the wrong horse.

"People you endangered in the first place when you pretended to be gods."

The funny (for not really being funny) part of this is that the guy isn't gloating. He's just saying what is. And while it may also be the truth....

"I'm not the one who did it," he replies. "I'm just the one who wants to clean it up. How long do we have to pay for something that happened so long ago?"

The man shrugs awkwardly. "What is the punishment for creating a life and then failing to protect it?"

Nothing, Lorne says to himself. The Ancients seem to be having a peachy time on their higher plane of existence, leaving their children's children to clean up the mess.

He thinks his headache is making him maudlin and cranky.

There's a noise that Lorne can tell is an energy blast, higher in pitch than a Jaffa staff weapon, louder than the Wraith stunners. Ortilla is already in firing position, down on one knee, and lets loose one blast as Suarez and Ronon come charging back into the hallway.

"We're good but we should go, sir," Suarez says as he stops.

"Is that yours?" Yoni asks, pointing to the blood on Suarez's clothes. Ronon, who is already helping Ortilla lift an inert Reletti, has a red stripe on his pants to go with an accompanying tear, so there's no point in asking him.

Suarez looks down. "Hunh," he chuffs, pulling his collar out to look down his shirt. "A little? It's just a scratch."

"I'll look at it later," Yoni sighs. "Help me get Colonel Sheppard up."

"I'll do it," McKay says, snapping out of his reverie.

With all of the stopping and starting they've had to do, they've gotten the routine down well enough. Suarez is in front, leading them toward the examination rooms while Teyla guards their rear.

The examination room looks like a laundromat with rows of glass doors and cubbyholes and metal cabinets with dials and buttons. Suarez does a quick sweep to make sure they're alone in the large room and returns, nodding to Lorne.

"Sir," Ortilla calls over, pointing to one of the glass doors by him. "It's some of our gear."

They put Reletti and Sheppard on the ground -- there are stools, but neither of them could sit on one -- and start looking through the doors for items they recognize. The doors are locked, but McKay figures out which button means "unlock" in the Thadorian language and they end up recovering almost everything except their clothes, the Ancient PDAs, digital cameras, Yoni's medical supplies, and the GDOs. Basically, everything useful except their weapons. Their arms are all in one cabinet, which is both surprising and not -- they're near to a point of entry, where it would make sense to have better security, but Lorne doesn't think that the Thadorians are used to anyone breaking in or out of their city. They hand out P-90s and sort out whose 9mm and whose knives and Teyla finds their packs a couple of cubicles over. Suarez kisses his St. Michael's medal and Ortilla and Yoni split Reletti's gear between them.

"If you want to get down to the planet, you should hurry," the hostage tells them. "The Monitors will be arriving in force."

"Where do we go?" Lorne asks, shouldering his (too light) pack. He's tucked the Thadorian weapon into his pack, preferring the familiar comfort of his P-90.

"It is not far from here," the hostage replies. "But we must travel in the halls and the Monitors will be coming quickly. They are superbly trained."

As Sheppard and Reletti are hauled up again, Suarez approaches the hostage. "Why are you helping us escape, sir?"

The man smiles sadly. "I learned the story of the Folly and Fall of Atlantis as a child, as did all of my people," he replies. "I memorized the list of great battles, the honored dead, the Eight Wise Men who tried to reason with the Lanteans before they created the Wraith and were slaughtered for their efforts."

McKay mutters a quiet curse as he struggles to balance his pack and his share of Sheppard's weight.

"I know that if our two peoples come in contact once again, there will be war and it will be catastrophic. And I also know that if you go now, you will not return. I don't do this for you. I do this for my children, so that they will not see war."

Suarez looks at Lorne. "Sir?"

Lorne knows what he is asking and nods. Suarez pulls out his ka-bar and slices the rope binding their hostage's wrists. Good faith in return for good faith.

"And now let us go," the man exhorts. "The Monitors are not so far-sighted or as trusting."
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30 July, 2006