A bone-deep cold infiltrated Teyla’s dreamless sleep. As that familiar warning sign filled every fiber of her body with dread, it dissipated the fogginess that swaddled her mind. She had to wake up to warn the others.
“Colonel … John? I sense Wraith,” she tried to shout. It came out as a hoarse, barely audible whisper that sounded like another person.
She used a surge of fear-induced strength to pry open and keep open her incomprehensively heavy eyelids. The effort made her as tired as a sparring session with Ronon. The reward did not seem worthy of her energy expenditure. All she saw were tall metallic conduits and geometric mirrored surfaces that reflected indiscernible shapes. Everything was dimly lit in pale blue and pink hues.
The intensifying chilling sensation alerting her that the Wraith was getting closer did wonders to shake off the lingering torpor from her mind. But no matter how many times she blinked to clear her eyes, her surroundings remained distorted and utterly alien.
She had no memory of how she had ended up in this strange place. The last thing she remembered was that she had been following John, watching their six, while he kept track of the Wraith Dart. For Ronon and Rodney’s sake, they needed to stop it before it reached the stargate. As John fired his P90 at the Dart, she had caught sight of a fast approaching shadow. Acting on instinct, she had pushed him to the ground to avoid the expected culling beam. His muffled groan made her suspect that he had sustained an injury. Before she had a chance to ask, a sharp pain struck the back of her head and then—and then, nothing.
She recalled nothing else until she woke up here. Wherever here might be. Something—no, many things were terribly wrong.
Most pressing though, the cold wrongness pervading her from within indicated that the Wraith had to be standing right next to her.
Verging on full-blown panic, she tried to lift her hand to wipe her eyes and clear her vision, but she could not move her limbs. It was as if her body had been glued to the hard, chilled surface upon which she found herself resting. The fine hair on her arms prickled from the pull of what John and Rodney called goose bumps. Her tailbone hurt from lying flat on her back for a prolonged period of time. Her muscles remained stubbornly unresponsive to that inner call to flee immediately.
With tremendous effort she turned her head to face the direction of the Wraith. She preferred to face her death.
She could barely discern his shape. There was something very strange about it. Squinting helped her judge that he was a little over five hand spans away from her. Like her, he was supine and encased in a transparent box-like container. Its shape, but not its composition, reminded her of the wood caskets the Genii used to bury their dead—her own people preferred funeral pyres, when there were any remains left of their loved one.
Unlike her, this Wraith was completely immobile and appeared unconscious. As she certainly did not wish to be around to find out for how long he would remain in this harmless state, she ratcheted up her efforts to force her body to move and her eyes to focus.
Her sight cleared up before she regained control of her limbs. A glance down her body confirmed her suspicion that all her clothes were gone. At that realization, her eyes snapped back to the dormant Wraith.
He too was naked.
That was why, when she had first seen him through her unfocused vision, his shape had appeared so strange. Before she turned her sight away from the unwanted image, she noticed thin tubing stuck into the top of his hand and the side of his neck. The tubing snaked out of the container, through one of several small round holes lining its side, and disappeared out of her line of sight. The slightly stinging prickles on her own reawakened right hand and neck led her to surmise that she had similar tubing protruding from her own body.
Her imagination—fueled by personal experience and numerous Earth movies watched with her Atlantis friends—immediately leaped to the conclusion that noxious substances were being infused into her body. That would explain why she still felt the pull of sleep streaming through her veins.
She refused to succumb to it and threw all her strength and willpower against it.
Her left arm finally moved. She snatched her still somewhat numb right hand, raising it so that she could see as she pulled out the long needle and tubing that had been inserted between her pointer and middle fingers. She ignored the pain and the blood streaking down her palm.
Who had done this and to what purpose? Anger now energized her.
She probed the side of her neck area and found a similar implement inserted there. This one she pulled out with a modicum of additional caution before she pressed a finger at the entry site. Now that she was fully awake, an even greater worry gnawed away at her: where were John and the others?
Suddenly, the container that held her jerked into motion. Wherever it was going could not possibly be a good thing for her. The blood dribbling from her neck lost its priority. She pushed with both hands against the top enclosing her; there was not enough head space to fully extend her arms.
The top did not budge.
Through her peripheral vision, she noticed that the Wraith’s container was moving too. She peered down the length of her body and caught a view of the rails on which both of their containers were running in parallel. They were headed toward a dark, low rectangular opening through the farthest wall.
Desperate to find a way out, she bent her knees and planted her shins against the top. She pressed as hard as she could with her legs and arms. When she noticed the latch on the right panel of the enclosure, she concentrated her efforts on that side. She pushed and pounded, again and again, smearing the bloody prints she kept on making with her right hand.
With a crack, the latch finally snapped.
Her time was running out—the opening now loomed too close. Without hesitation, she lifted the top pane and extricated herself from the container. While she clambered out, she lost her grip on the pane. It nearly shut on her ankle as she flopped onto the metal grating covering the machinery attached to the rear of the container. As she caught her breath from the exertion, she crouched low, fearful that someone might have seen her. Fortunately, the long chamber appeared to be deserted.
A flicker of movement caught her attention.
A third container had appeared from the opening they were headed toward and would reach in mere seconds. That container was moving in the opposite direction on a third railing. A narrow corridor separated her from its tracks. When the container neared, she noticed that it held nothing except a few splatters of dark green goop on its side panels. They looked strange and somewhat familiar, reinforcing her growing conviction that danger lurked on the other side of that opening.
Teyla did not want to go through there. Seeing no better option, she leaped off from the moving container.
Despite landing in the corridor on soft knees, she stumbled and fell sideways against the nearest railing, scraping and bruising her right hip, buttock and upper thigh. Although dazed by the impact, she kept on moving, periodically glancing behind to ensure that she was not leaving a trail of blood. Her luck could not hold much longer; someone was bound to come and check on the status of the containers or the other equipment lining the walls of this cavernous, windowless chamber.
To make sure that they would not hurt her, she gingerly touched the next set of pipes before she climbed over them and crossed the rails on which the empty container moved. The floor was cool and smooth under her bare feet. Its metallic texture was unlike any building flooring she had ever walked on. In fact, it reminded her of the Orion, the Ancient spaceship John had flown to escape the volcanic eruptions on Taranis.
That clue and the stale taste of the air suggested that she might be in a space vessel or, perhaps, a modular station, like the moon base where her team had encountered Herick and Jamus, the place where John had risked his life to save hers. Little time had passed since then, but so much had happened. Carson and Harriet, her good friends, were among the many fine people who had died or been badly injured on an ill-fated Sunday that Elizabeth had specifically designated for rest and relaxation. Such sadness.
But this was not the time for reminiscing.
After she climbed over another set of railings, she hid behind one of the wide large metal cylinders that lined the wall on this side of the chamber. She took stock of her situation.
She had woken up here alone, with no clothes or weapons, and no clue as to who had brought her here and why. Two things she was certain of—this was not a Wraith hive or cruiser and her captors did not have benign intentions. One of the many things she did not know was whether she should hope that John had been taken too or if it would be better for him to have been left behind on the Wraith-infested planet. Maybe he had found Ronon and Rodney, and the three of them were now searching for her. But, no, that did not seem possible given what she remembered.
Her body’s many aches prompted her to shift on her haunches into a more comfortable position. Some of these aches she could trace to the fall. Others, like the sharp stitch low on her right side, she had no recollection of their origin.
Another container returned from the exit that she had avoided. When it neared her hiding spot, she recognized her own bloodied handprints on its walls and the latch she had broken. The container had been gone for only a few minutes before it reappeared.
After she watched it pass by, another container returned on the same tracks. This one was empty except for smears of what she now recognized to be Wraith blood and bits of flesh scattered on the bottom. The latch to this container was undamaged. What had happened to the Wraith?
Most likely, by waking up and leaping out of the container, she had just avoided a gruesome death. The Wraith had saved her.
In his absence, she would have remained unconscious and would have met the same dreadful end. The momentary delight at recognizing the irony of the situation got swept away by a horrifying thought. If John too had been entrapped in one of these contraptions, he would not have woken up in time to escape.
No, she told herself, he could not be dead. To lose him too, that would be too much.
Teyla shook off the veil of despair that threatened to paralyze her. Instead of wasting time with suppositions, she had to focus on what she could do. Her top priority was to determine John’s whereabouts. Along the way, she would uncover the Who, Why, and Where of her capture. If John was here, she would find him. Together they would escape and resume their hunt for Rodney and Ronon. It would not be too late.
First though, she had to procure weapons. Clothes would be nice too. While quite comfortable in her own skin, she would prefer not to have to fight for her life in the nude.
Having decided that the best way to start would be at the beginning, Teyla stealthily followed the rail tracks to retrace the journey she must have taken while still unconscious. She hoped to be able to intercept whoever might notice that the latch to one of these strange containers had been broken off.
She needed to forestall the raising of an alarm for an escaped prisoner. Anyone who had the guile to imprison not only humans but also Wraith had to be quite a formidable foe. Her best tactic was to delay confrontation until she could do it on her own terms.
Fortified by her admittedly vague plan, she followed the tracks toward what she had labeled the entrance of this long narrow hall. She cautiously peered inside. She saw and heard nothing alarming.
With one last glance behind, she went through.