Bright WingsAuthor: snarkydamePrompt:
Sheppard and his crew salvage artifacts from the depths of the sunken city of Atlantis. They find a weapon that could change the course of Empires. City-State AU.
It wasn't quite dawn yet. The sea was still, a dark expanse broken by the faintest grey ripples of quiet waves. They rocked the sleeping ships at the outer piers only slightly. Sheppard could just see them, far below the tower he braced himself against.
On the docks, the Night Market was wrapping up. The lamps and silk shaded torches flickered out like stars before the coming sun. Tents were rolled and folded, crates shoved back onto the barges that wallowed through the canals. From the tower, he could barely hear the complaints of the laden pack beasts, the muted calls of the canal men. It sounded like the murmurs of birds, settling in to their nests.
The sun hovered just under the eastern sea, and the whole city seemed to be taking in that last deep breath before plunging into light. Sheppard straightened, balancing on the balls of his feet, wary of the metal under his boots. He spread his arms, feeling the pull of the Wing on his muscles, taking in the strain with practiced ease. He looked east, and crouched.
As the first spill of light spread along the sea, the Horns of the First Hour sounded from the Central Spire, and all of Atlantis seemed to thrum with the mellow, bone deep song that meant Dawn, and Wake.
Sheppard let the Wing take his full weight as he launched himself off of the tower to the sound of the Horns. For a moment, he felt as heavy as stone, and the still-shadowed bridges and dark canals far below seemed to draw at him hungrily. But then light touched the outstretched crystal feathers of the Wing, and power surged, gathering the sea wind beneath him. Sheppard flew.
He led the edge of the light as it swallowed the city, sharp and silver on the ancient metal of the Old Towers, warm and golden across the stone of the New City. All of it rang with the echoes of the Horns, and windows were opening, voices starting to call -- the regular, easy pace of the sunlit city unfolding below him.
Other Wings glinted from other towers. Soon, the sky would be full of swooping, diving messengers, and patrol men, and the daredevil antics of boys, scaring the natural birds into dizzy spirals and squawking clouds. But Sheppard grinned fiercely -- he was first. He was always first into the sky.
The sun was well and truly up when Sheppard came to the shop. This part of the city was quiet at midday. The industrial wharves nearby hummed with activity, but it was largely self-contained. There were no residential streets around, and the bars wouldn't open for hours. So, at midday, the shop slumped against the Western Bridge like a disgruntled canal man at a closed tavern door. The yellow stone that comprised its bulk was worn and stained by salt and sea, and the silvery metal that shored it up was stolen from older buildings lost under the waves. The windows were boarded up and battered, as though knives had been thrown at them. It made the faintly painted face on the boards seem to sport horrible pox scars. Between the windows, there was a sign, swinging on creaking, rusted chains over the door, that read Sheppard's Salvage. Most of the painted letters had long since flaked away, leaving only slightly less weathered bits of board behind.
Sheppard slouched under the sign, tapping the folded Wing absently against his thigh. Muffled, but vehement, an argument snarled behind the door. Like wet cats, he thought uncharitably, trapped together in a very small box. He sighed, and straightened.
Slinging open the door startled the voices into momentary silence. Momentary. "You're late. Let's go, this moron's not paying until we get in the water." Disdain dripping from his voice, McKay turned away and started throwing the last of his supplies into his pack. Like a wet cat, Sheppard thought again, pretending not to care that it looked like a drowned rat as it stalked away on its dignity. Raising an eyebrow, he looked to their client.
Professor Kavanagh sneered at McKay's back. "I'll pay you for results, McKay, not so that you and Sheppard can play treasure hunter on my clock. I know exactly where I need to go, and exactly how long it should take to get there."
McKay stiffened and turned back to him, face reddening further. "But you can't get there, can you, you overblown, egotistical mistake! Not without us! So stand back, and shut up, already!"
Sheppard coughed, not very discretely, and stepped between the two men, leaving the Wing propped against the wall. "So," he started, clapping his hands together, "everything set?"
McKay growled, but slung his pack over his shoulder and fell in beside him. "Ronon's already prepped the jumper. We're just waiting for you."
"Well, then, Professor, let's get you in the water so you can tell us exactly where you need to go, all right? Quicker started, quicker ended, don't you think?"
Kavanagh snorted. "And the less I'll have to pay you incompetent salvage rats."
Sheppard grabbed McKay's shoulder before he could tear into their client, and steered him through the back door. "Quicker started . . ." he reminded him, under his breath. McKay shot him an unhappy glare, but complied, stiff necked. Sheppard gave his back a quick pat -- an apology, an acknowledgment. Dealing with University professors always put McKay on the defensive. Unfortunately, the University was often their steadiest client, for all that they disliked dealing with McKay as much as he despised them. They considered him a necessary evil, and he considered them all fools. Fools that had humiliated him and ruined his academic career, and who held the purse stings that funded the bulk of their business. Sheppard sighed, ushering the professor after his friend.
He locked the back door behind them. The shop itself, they rarely bothered locking. Ronon's reputation was enough to discourage casual vandals, and the real worth of the shop was here. Behind the shop, in a courtyard surrounded on three sides by warehouses that only operated during the winter freezing seasons, and shadowed overhead by the curved expanse of the Western Bridge, was a deep pool of water. The pool was a lucky find, and the foundation of their business, because the pool bottomed out in the under levels of the sunken city. It led, in fact, right to a fleet of drowned ships.
Teyla had discovered the existence of the ships, in an old roll of plans and diagrams one of her wealthier contacts had found. She'd slipped a copy to McKay, who, in a flurry of excited motions, had sketched out his theory for Sheppard.
"They're supposed to fly!" he'd said, a glint in his eye as he grinned at Sheppard. "I mean, really fly, not like the Wings. The Old Ones used the air like we use the canals."
"Can you get them in the air again?" Sheppard had asked, hands clenched on his knees under the table. To really fly . . .
McKay had ducked his head, smoothing out the sketches. "The power source . . . Look, Sheppard, aerodynamically, they shouldn't be able to fly at all. They're just big metal boxes. But some of these circuits . . . I don't know how, yet, but they were tapped into the same power source that ran the city. And they converted that power, somehow, into propulsion, and lift, and so . . . they flew. But without that power source, I can't figure out what these circuits were supposed to do. I can't make them fly."
Trying to swallow an intense surge of disappointment, Sheppard had stared at McKay's hands. His knuckles were white against the paper. He hated admitting he couldn't do something. "But . . ." McKay had continued, the excitement bubbling back into his voice. "I think I could make them swim."
Sheppard smiled now, as McKay impatiently waited by the pool, and Kavanagh stood behind him, arms folded. It had been amazingly difficult, and they'd had to pull in a lot of very uncomfortable favors, borrowing salvage equipment and underwater welding tools from allies with long memories, like Zelenka, and the dangerous diving equipment they needed from the unsavory Todd. But it had paid off, in spades. Sheppard's grin widened. The ship that they called a Jumper (for the way the ships looked in the sketches, leaping through the towers of the Old City) could swim.
Sheppard had had to get the systems started, since, as with so much of the Old Ones technology, the Old Bloodlines were somehow tied to their operation. But McKay had long ago figured a way to bypass that, once they were initialized. It was one of the reasons he'd been kicked out of the University, and he'd defiantly perfected the "blasphemous" technique since.
The dark water rose at McKay's feet as Ronon brought the ship to the surface. It was, as McKay had pointed out, a big metal box -- but, Sheppard thought contentedly, it was a very cool big metal box.
The hatch opened, thudding onto the bank. McKay marched in, still not looking at Kavanagh, who was bristling, now, as he caught sight of McKay's modifications to the Old Ones' ship. Wires and cables ran all through it, held out of the way with hooks and ties. Crystals scavenged from sunken equipment and reprogrammed by McKay gleamed from open panels, the covers removed for easy access. The crystals McKay needed to covert and save the power from the shop's solar cells into energy for the jumper were expensive, and fragile. They'd scavenged for two years to fill the jumper's storage with enough to power the ship's engines, lights, and air filters.
The interface which allowed Ronon to pilot the ship shone with a cool blue light at the front of the ship, shining off of the window. It blinked twice as the big man took his hands away from the control, and darkened, saving power. It would only work while the solar reserves lasted, and replacing and recharging the spent crystal was a finicky and time consuming process.
Ronon stood and stretched, leaving the pilot's chair for Sheppard. "You're late," the Satedan said, as Sheppard slid into his seat.
"Had to break up a catfight. Keep an eye on them?"
Ronon nodded, and moved back to haul the hatch closed, the pulleys and levers creaking. He spun the lock, and air hissed as the seal McKay had designed took effect. Ronon wiped his hands on his thighs and leaned against the storage panels McKay had welded into place.
Kavanagh stood glaring for a moment, before tightening his jaw and sliding into the seat behind Sheppard. McKay snorted. "Not going to say anything about how I've bastardized the Old Ones "sacred" works? Oh wait, you can't get to your precious discovery without all this. Ahh, that must sting."
Ronon moved just enough to swat the engineer on the back of the head.
"Hey!" McKay twisted around to glare at him, but Sheppard broke in.
"Come on, Rodney. Try not to antagonize the paying client."
Kavanagh lifted his chin. "I suggest we get moving. I'm on a schedule."
Sheppard smiled and nodded, ignoring McKay's viciously muttered diatribe about skinflint University funding and tight fisted sanctimonious academics.
They slid below the surface with hardly a ripple. Sheppard felt a familiar little thrill as the dark waters closed over the window and the lights glowed to life. The ship may have been designed to fly, but swimming through the sunken city was almost as much fun. They followed the pool down through it's gently curving path, past the homemade docking area close to the surface, and picked up speed once they reached the wide open hangar. The fleet of darkened ships sat quiet and still beneath them. Here, Sheppard always felt a little like he was swimming through a graveyard. He stroked the console, as though reassuring the rescued jumper.
Atlantis below the surface was at least as large as the city above, and even more sprawling. While the New City rose overhead on stone pylons and cleverly constructed floating streets, the bulk of the Old City slept under the waves. The metal towers resisted corrosion, and the water was a little too cold for coral, but sea life had found ways to use the vast structures of the city for support. Drifting weeds clung to it, and colonies of fish and stranger creatures danced through the arches and spires. Color glowed in the jumper's lights. Broken windows caught the light as well, their sharp shards worn to smoothness by the actions of the currents.
While much of the city was exposed to the sea, there were still rooms protected, and even dry. Sheppard and Ronon had explored several towers, where, after breaching the lower, flooded levels in the jumper, they found floor after floor of dry rooms, sheltered by the pressure of air trapped in the towers. Even in the flooded areas, they could find salvageable artifacts. McKay had added a winch to the jumper, to pull up heavier equipment, and a basket, operated by pulleys and levers from inside the jumper, to carry more delicate items.
They made quite a name for themselves, with this jumper. Enough so that even the University, which despised them for their "irreverence" towards the Old Ones, came to them regularly to explore the city. And Teyla found it much easier to scout out contacts and buyers for what they found, now that they were the first, and often the only, salvage crew to find the deeper, older secrets in the drowned city.
Kavanagh cleared his throat, still staring out the window. "Well," he finally managed, "here are the coordinates I've put together. What I'm looking for should be here." He passed Sheppard a paper. Sheppard looked it over, then held it up for McKay to see.
"Hey, Rodney. This is in the Deeps, right? Right below the Central Spire."
McKay squinted at the paper. "Looks like. What are you looking to find down there?"
Kavanagh chuckled. "If I'm right, you'll find out. And you'll keep your mouth shut. Part of your fee is for confidentiality."
McKay rolled his eyes and went back to monitoring the crystals' power consumption. Sheppard moved the jumper deeper.
The Central Spire rose from the sunken city high into the air above. The High Councilmen and the City Court governed there, and the wealthier merchants had offices nearby. The Old City rose around it like a silver crown, surrounded by the stone of the New City, which arched and wound around it. It was strewn with banners, colors bright and showy. Birds flew about it constantly, and the Wings of messengers and guards competed for air space. It was a busy, eye catching scene.
Here, at the base, the Spire was still. There were few fish here, and fewer drifting plants. The currents moved slowly, and mostly away from the Spire. It was sheltered, and silent. The lights from the jumper seemed paler, colder. Ronon moved up to watch the ghostly scene and Sheppard kept his eyes on the edges of the light, careful of the tower walls. Kavanagh's grip on the back of Sheppard's chair tightened.
"There!" He pointed over Sheppard's shoulder, as the lights passed over a broken corridor, half the wall fallen to the sea floor. "That should be the way in, according to the texts I found."
McKay looked up. "There's no way that's not flooded."
Kavanagh snarled. "It shouldn't matter. The ship should be able to get to the space I'm looking for."
Sheppard looked at him sideways. "It's your money, I guess." Cautiously, he approached the wounded tower. The gap was certainly large enough, but it would require some maneuvering to get the ship in. And then to get the ship through the corridor -- the ones he and Ronon had wandered were fairly roomy, but they curved. This ship was longer than most of the turns they'd seen before. Then again, the Central Spire was certainly the largest tower, and the curve of the corridors might be correspondingly accommodating . . . "What do you think, Rodney?"
McKay was flipping quickly though his notes. Teyla had, over the last several years, managed to get them a fairly complete diagram of the Old City, pieced together from various old notes and texts her contacts had found. "Maybe. It should be a pretty big room at the end of that corridor. But we'd never be able to get through a doorway. If what he's looking for isn't right there, we won't be able to get to it."
Kavanagh sneered. "It'll be there. I've spent years making sure of my research."
"Ah huh." Sheppard exchanged a glance with Ronon, who shrugged.
"We can always back out, I guess."
McKay grumbled, calculating the power requirements of a reverse thrust, then nodded, grudgingly. "If we need to."
"OK, then. Let's get this over with." Sheppard took the jumper into the tower.
The corridor did, in fact, curve. But not quite tightly enough to stop them. Sheppard kept an eye on the clearance, and a steady hand at the controls. McKay steadfastly did not look out the window to the dark and claustrophobic space. Ronon stood close beside him, not touching.
Kavanagh leaned forward, a satisfied sigh escaping him as the corridor opened up into a large room. It looked like there had once been doors blocking the way, but they were open, drawn mostly back into the ceiling. Sheppard took the jumper just a little lower, scrapping lightly against the floor, and entered the room beneath them.
As the lights passed over the room, Sheppard felt his jaw go slack, and heard McKay drop his notebook. "You see?" Kavanagh asked, his voice hushed, although the pride and excitement were obvious. And the look he gave the rows and rows of drones was quite proprietary.
Sheppard dropped the other three off at the surface of the pool. Usually he let Ronon dock the ship and take the swim back to the surface, as he was the better swimmer, but he wanted the Satedan to keep an eye on Kavanagh. Those drones -- they were dangerous, just to know about.
Atlantis was the last independent city-state of the Pegasus Territories. Athos, Sateda, Hoff, Belkan . . . they'd all eventually acquiesced to the Genii's nation building movement, intimidated into solidarity by the growing threat of the Wraith Empire's expansion. Atlantis had held out so far, backed by her extensive merchant fleets, and what her sister cities called a stiff-necked stubborn streak. But the core of the Atlantean resistance was the use of the Chair.
It was a control mechanism that should no longer work, and in fact, a similar device in Taranis didn't, precipitating that city's agreement with the Genii. The Chair was originally powered by the same long depleted power source that once ran the city. But the Atlantean's had once been more accepting of Northern engineers like McKay, who took what was left of the Old Ones' technology and adapted it to their own. More than two hundred years ago, High Councilman Janus, one of the last direct descendants of the Old Ones, had invited a team of Northern Engineers to adapt the Chair's power source, although it would still require the Old Bloodlines to operate. With that, Atlantis could at least use the Chair to control the drones.
It was an effective defense, but one that was carefully hoarded. There weren't many drones left. Actually, Sheppard mused, they hadn't used one in almost 50 years, since the last big influx of Wraith pirates. The Genii were spreading rumors that Atlantis was no longer protected by the Chair. It made their efforts at inspiring a nationalistic movement in Atlantis more effective.
With Kavanagh's discovery, the High Council could hold off the Genii's advances. But if the Genii agents in the city heard about it first . . .
Sheppard shook his head sharply, finishing the status checks on the jumper. No. They'd have to impress upon the professor the need for prudence. He closed the small docking lock McKay had installed by the hatch, and took a deep breath as the seals hissed closed. He opened the hatch to the cold water of the pool, and kicked off towards the surface.
Teyla was waiting for him by the shop. The deepening shadow under the Bridge didn't quite quench the colors of her skirts. "So, you're dancing tonight?" he asked, shaking water out of his hair. She smiled, wrapping a warm blanket around his shoulders.
"The Market will be busy. If I draw a good crowd, we will be able to get the spanner Rodney has been eyeing at Zelenka's shop." Street performing wasn't the Athosian's first calling, but she was certainly good at it. And it allowed her to quietly spread her web of contacts and informants through the ports, so that she could keep a finger on the pulse of events in the Pegasus Territories. It also supplemented their income, to keep them from depending too heavily on the University, or any other client.
Sheppard grimaced at her. "Like he needs another spanner. We should get some power cells for Ronon's gun."
She stilled. "Should we be expecting trouble?"
"Just, keep an eye on the crowd. If the professor can't keep his mouth shut, you might find more of the Genii around than usual."
"I see. So that is why Ronon has not let the man leave the shop."
Sheppard looked up sharply. "He's still here? McKay must be frothing at the mouth."
Teyla smiled slightly. "I believe he threatened to lock the professor in the workroom, if he thought he would not somehow break something important."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Fine. Guess I'll baby sit. Teyla, I'll send Ronon to the Market tonight. Just in case."
Teyla's smile sharpened. "I," she gently answered, "do not need a baby sitter." Patting him on the shoulder, she slipped into the shop, leaving him to follow.
He shook his head. "Still. Just in case."
Sheppard and Ronon escorted Kavanagh as far as the University gates, repeatedly urging him to use his head and keep his discovery secret for a while longer. Ronon, on the walk back, shook his head.
"Somehow, I don't think he'll listen much."
Sheppard groaned, looking back over his shoulder. The University loomed, golden and expansive under the setting sun. Kavanagh's stiff backed figure was already lost to sight. "No. He'll want to make sure he gets credit for the discovery. He probably thinks we're trying to keep him quiet so that we can sell it first."
The Night Market was unfolding along the docks, now. Silk and velvet caught the last of the sun in blazing color. The two of them slowed a step to watch.
At the last touch of the sun on the sea, the Horns of the Last Hour sounded. A single call, thin and haunting, like a gull over the waves, spread out across the city, and the city paused. Then the swelling, brilliant answer of the secondary horns rose around it, and all the torches of the Market were lit in answer.
"It's like the sound catches fire in the streets, isn't it?" Ronon's unexpected voice shook Sheppard away from the sight. He looked over. Ronon kept walking, towards the Market, an almost hungry light in his eyes.
Sateda, Sheppard recalled, had sounded the hours with trumpets and drums, a defiant anthem against the darkness. Ronon hadn't been home since the Genii annexed the city.
He shook himself, and lengthened his stride to match Ronon's long legs. "So," he asked casually, "you'll go meet Teyla?"
"You really think she'll need a baby sitter?"
"No, of course not."
"But you don't want to leave her alone anyway."
Sheppard caught Ronon's smirk ruefully. "Of course not."
They found Teyla near the center of the Market, balanced on one leg in the middle of a carpet threaded in deepest blue. Her vivid skirts flared like flame around her bronzed legs and bare feet as she spun to the rhythm of her drummers. A crowd had formed, sailors in port and canal men on break, merchants watching from their tents around the square. Coins already littered the edges of the carpet, and one of Teyla's accompanists gathered them into a basket lined in white silk. Teyla winked over the crowd at Sheppard. Her face was flushed and laughing.
Ronon raised an eyebrow. "Yeah. I can see it's gonna be a real chore, keeping an eye on her." Sheppard slapped him on the back, and pushed his way back through the crowd.
The Market was in full swing around him. Athosian seamstresses and musicians hawked their wares beside Hoffan scribes and Satedan craftsmen. An Engineer from Taranis was locked in an arm waving screaming match with a blue eyed Northerner, who crossed her arms across her ample chest and sneered at the man's blueprints. Sheppard skipped around a dog that pelted around the corner, an Abydonian sausage dragging from its mouth.
The merchants were Atlantis' pride, and the life blood of her economy. If the Genii succeeded in making the merchants think their ships wouldn't be safe in her ports, this bustle would fade. The canals would run empty. Thinking of this, Sheppard slowed his steps by the Postal Station at the end of the pier.
If the Genii found the drones, they'd hide them. Make sure no one knew where they were, at least until after they had control of Atlantis. If the High Council at least knew they existed, then Chairman Weir might be able to hold off their pressure a little longer. If a message from a scavenger on the New City wharves could make it past her secretary in an Old City parlor.
"Well," he muttered. "Might as well make some use of an Old Blood name like Sheppard."
When he got back to the shop, the bars in the industrial district were in full swing. Lights framed the sagging buildings and worn streets with raucous cheer.
The shop itself was dark. No light showed through the knife scars on the boarded windows.
He frowned. McKay wasn't likely to leave his workshop at all, without urging. Maybe he fell asleep, and actually remembered to put out the lights first. Maybe.
Knowing McKay though, he was far more likely fall asleep at his desk, or on the floor, surrounded by scattered parts and diagrams. Maybe the lights went out on their own. The solar reserves hadn't been replaced in a while.
Still, Sheppard opened the door a little more cautiously than he might have. The front room was empty. So was the loft, and McKay's workroom. It didn't look anymore wrecked than it ever did. The back door was still locked. In the silence, a dark, shivery feeling ran up Sheppard's spine. Behind him, the front door swung shut.
"You're late," a deep voice announced, smoothly amused, and a heavy blow knocked Sheppard to the floor.
When he awoke, he was elsewhere. The metal walls said Old City, as did the heavy braided curtains blocking the windows. A single lamp glowed from a bare and polished desk. Books wrapped in leather bindings lined the walls.
He was tied securely to a heavy armchair, but his aching head was bandaged. The room was quiet -- no trace of the drums of the Market reached here. That meant they were deep in the privileged sectors indeed. He focused on the faint hiss of the lamp. The oppressive hush in this part of the city had always made him uncomfortable.
Not long after, a door opened behind him.
"You certainly move fast," he said, voice just a little thick.
"We're simply well prepared. The good professor has been under our watch for some time."
"So you followed him?"
"Not at all. But we knew where he was going. We just followed you. Interesting, really. We weren't aware of your connection with the Athosian."
Sheppard felt a chill. Wait, he told himself. Just, wait. That doesn't mean they've grabbed her too. Ronon was with her. Those two, together, wouldn't be easy to corner. He breathed deep, ignoring the stabbing headache.
Footsteps behind him resolved themselves into a tall man, with a scarred and craggy face and calm, deep eyes. He tilted Sheppard's chin up. "John Sheppard. You have fallen from your station in life, haven't you?"
Sheppard ground his teeth. "Ambassador Kolya. What a surprise."
Kolya sat at ease behind the polished desk. "What's it been, five years? Six?" His deep voice was still amused, Sheppard noted, with something approaching fury. "I'm afraid I'm a little sketchy on the details. Your father has always avoided public scenes, after all. But are the rumors right? You did throw a tantrum over some new fad or other and storm out of your father's apartments? Ah, I remember. He disapproved of such an 'irreverent and disrespectful use of the Old Ones' technology.'"
Sheppard smiled tightly. "Something like that."
"Well, you may have been vindicated in the end. That fad does seem to have enthralled the younger members of Court and Council. Even the University has begun to allow the Wings to fly over campus."
"You don't say."
"Still, I imagine your father's disapproval would have made it difficult to stay in your old home. But then, you've made such a charming little nest for yourself by the wharves. Such a trusting neighborhood. No locks on the front door?"
"Yeah," Sheppard ground out, " the drunks and the dock workers are all very polite."
Kolya laughed, and, pressing his big hands flat against the desk, pushed himself up. He walked around Sheppard's chair. "I'll be happy to return you to your shop," he said from behind Sheppard. "Just as soon as you tell us where Professor Kavanagh's discovery might be found."
Sheppard craned his neck to look over his shoulder. The angle wasn't right -- all he could see was a shadowed bulk against the open doorway. "I could use some time away from work," he drawled, as casually as he could manage against the pounding of his heart.
"Indeed," Kolya answered, almost sadly, and walked away.
In the empty parlor, Sheppard strained against his bonds. They were professionally tied, he decided in disgust. Not so tight they'd cause damage to his arms, but neither would they give. And he couldn't reach the knots at all.
He glared at the softly hissing lamp. They had to have McKay somewhere. The Genii were nothing if not thorough. Which meant they'd have picked up the engineer before they'd grabbed him. And if they knew about Teyla, then they'd have a watch on her and Ronon. Kavanagh wouldn't be left alone either. They were the only ones who knew where the drones were. So . . . so long as the Genii didn't know, they'd be safe. Or at least, they'd keep them alive. As insurance. McKay was smart. He was the smartest man he knew. He'd figure that out. So McKay wouldn't talk. But if McKay wouldn't talk . . . Sheppard shivered, and yanked harder against the ropes.
And if Kavanagh did talk -- and really, Sheppard didn't think the man was stupid, but he wasn't sure about his common sense -- then he and McKay were worthless to Kolya. Worse, they'd be a liability. The Genii would need the jumper to reach the drones . . . but then again, they didn't need to reach the drones. They just had to keep them from surfacing. Keep them drowned and silent. Eventually, they'd find the jumper, and work out how to use it. But they wouldn't need it anytime soon. So, he and Ronon were expendable too. Teyla would be dangerous to them, with her contacts and her influence with the people on the docks. A mob would be dangerous to them, when the Genii weren't the ones stirring it up themselves.
So. They had him. And most likely McKay. And probably Kavanagh. Ronon and Teyla might be free, but were certainly under watch. And his message to Weir wouldn't reach her for at least another day. That was if her secretary gave it to her. He wasn't exactly well loved in the Old City.
Sheppard felt a nearly silent growl rumbling deep in his throat. And what were they doing to McKay?
Kolya returned some time later. The Horns of the First Hour had sounded some time ago. They were nearly silent here -- so deep he couldn't really hear them. But they shook the walls around him, and the sound trembled over his skin. He hadn't been so close to them in years.
The Genii ambassador leaned back against the desk and studied Sheppard. He reached into his pocket, pulling out McKay's notebook without comment. Sheppard stared at it. There was blood on the cover.
"We can't actually read most of it. Apparently, your engineer writes his notes in some obscure Northern dialect. But the diagrams are certainly interesting."
Sheppard took a breath. Made himself take another.
"He really doesn't like me," Kolya continued. "It's a pity. Now, I'll ask again. Where are the drones?"
Sheppard glared at him. And said nothing.
After the Horns of the Last Hour sounded, their clear toll briefly cutting through even the heavy silence of this room, two of Kolya's attendants took Sheppard to relieve himself. They gave him water, but no food. McKay, he thought, almost absently, will be hungry.
Kolya checked in shortly after that. He left a long scrap of scarlet cloth on the desk beside McKay's bloodstained notebook, and left without saying a word. Sheppard stared at it long after he was gone. The images of Teyla, dancing in flames, and of McKay, ink stained hands flipping through the pages, kept him focused.
Another day. Kolya talked for hours, sitting at the desk, randomly looking through McKay's notes. Sheppard didn't listen, beyond half an ear alert for names. Kavanagh was mentioned. It wasn't one of the names he was listening for.
The Horns of the First Hour rang through his veins. He wanted to fly. He pulled against his restraints until his wrists and elbows bled. He wanted to fly.
Kolya stood in front of him, idly twisting a leather cord through his fingers. A weathered bone clinked on the its end. "Where," he asked, "are the drones?" Sheppard, for the first time in days, met his eyes. His voice, when he spoke, felt rusty.
"I really can't tell you now," he said, and felt like laughing.
So long as he's asking, Sheppard told himself, they're alive. They were all alive. So he couldn't answer. Or he'd stop asking.
Kolya's men gave him food before the Horns of the Last Hour. He wasn't really hungry anymore, but he ate it. McKay, he thought, would still be hungry. Ronon too, probably.
On the fifth day, Kolya looked ruffled. To Sheppard's disinterested eyes, the ambassador's shirt looked pulled out of place. There was the beginnings of a bruise almost hidden by his collar. Kolya loomed over Sheppard's chair. "Where?" He barked, voice no longer smooth. Sheppard blinked at him, and smiled.
"They're giving you trouble, aren't they?"
Kolya growled, and his big hand clenched in Sheppard's hair, pulling his head back. "You don't seem too worried about your crew," he spat. "Tell me, do you worry for yourself?"
He let Sheppard's head drop and turned to his attendant in the door. "Bring it here," he snapped. He stood in front of him, glaring, until his servant returned. He handed Kolya something long and heavy. Crystal feathers caught the lamplight, and Sheppard's eyes widened slightly.
"You defied your father and generations of tradition for this. My agents tell me, every dawn, you're the first to take flight with the sun. You're a quiet legend among those who fly on Wings. They've been wondering where you were, these last few days." Kolya placed the Wing on the desk. The scrap of Teyla's skirt wrinkled under it, and McKay's notebook rustled. It knocked Ronon's necklace to the floor. Sheppard tracked the Wing with his eyes, dazzled by the shining feathers. Now, he thought, in the silence of his head, I want to fly now.
"It's heavy. And tricky to use. I'm told it requires great skill, as well as precise muscle control. Arm and shoulder strength. Instinctive balance." Kolya nodded to someone behind Sheppard's chair, and he felt his left arm untied. Pulled straight. He kept his eyes on the Wing. He could see it, in his head. The light spilling over the city beneath him. Stars fading from the sky in front of him. He flew on the edge of Dawn, carrying the light on his wings. He flew.
"Where," Kolya asked, his voice as steady as stone, "are the drones?"
They escaped, Sheppard thought, desperately. That's why he's out of sorts. They've escaped and somehow, he never had Kavanagh. He has no one to threaten but me. And what do I care, really, if the Genii find the drones first? The city will get her merchants back, after the Genii annex her. They'll stop the rumors and the pressure, once they have what they want -- an empire to rival the Wraith. Atlantis will remain.
But, a small voice added in his head, even if they've escaped, if the Genii know where the drones are, they won't let anyone else have that knowledge. They'll hunt them down. They're already refugees. From Athos. From Sateda. The Genii already pushed them out of their homes. And McKay, he can't go North again. He told you that, remember? Even if he wanted to, they wouldn't let him go back. So. What was flying, against that?
"I won't tell you."
Kolya stared at him for a moment, and then nodded to the man holding his arm. He turned his back, and pushed the Wing off of the desk. It pulled the scarlet cloth and bloody notebook with it. Sheppard heard the metal frame crack, a crystal feather shatter.
A great pain ripped through his arm, and Sheppard dropped into silence.
"Sheppard." A hand smacked against his face. "Sheppard?" His eyes opened. He saw . . . carpet. The upturned legs of a heavy armchair. A broken Wing, tangled in scarlet cloth. His eyes closed.
"Damn it. John!" And that, he decided hazily, was McKay. Why was McKay here? "Ronon, help me, here. Teyla's watching the hall." Something jarred his arm then, and he dropped again into darkness.
This time, he woke up unaided. He focused on the ceiling. Wooden planks, warped a little, showing metal struts behind them. An Athosian tapestry draped down from one end, the color of the sea under the sun. It was quiet. Not, he decided, the heavy hush of Kolya's parlor. No. He could hear metal creaking below him. A seagull, crying faintly, not far away. This was the loft. The shop. McKay was in the workshop, below. He shifted, and hissed. His arm . . . hurt. It hurt.
"Hey. You shouldn't move it." He turned his eyes, still tight against the pain. Ronon, leaning against the wall. He looked calm. But he usually did. Today, Sheppard thought he also looked bruised. "Carson says to keep it still for a few weeks. It'll heal, mostly."
"Mostly," Sheppard repeated, and Ronon met his eyes. Sheppard sighed. "So. Teyla. Rodney?"
"They're fine. Carson had to stitch McKay up a little, but it won't leave much of a scar. And Teyla's wrenched ankle won't trouble her for long."
"You?" Ronon just raised an eyebrow. Sheppard laughed, nearly breathless.
"Kavanagh's all right, too, if you care," Rodney called up from the workshop, his voice tight. "Teyla had her contacts hustle him out of the University and onto a ship before her performance was over. The sailors nearly threw him overboard, but they kept him out of port until Teyla called for him. The Genii never found him."
"Good," Sheppard muttered, closing his eyes again. "Didn't ground myself for him." Ronon moved towards him then, but Sheppard was already out.
Teyla was singing the next time he woke up. A quiet song, drifting up from the kitchen. He listened, and could almost ignore the pain in his arm. They were safe. They were all safe. He felt a smile spreading on his face.
In a few weeks, he took the sling off. His arm, Carson cautioned him, would need time and effort to bring up to strength. It didn't bend right anymore. Rodney kept him busy, dragging him down in the jumper after a long list of parts he needed for a project he was working on. Usually, he welcomed the work. He stared out the jumper's window at the fish flashing by, and thought, this is almost enough. This is close.
But at dawn, he sat out on the street under the creaking sign, and watched the stars fall into day. The light, he thought, was overtaking him. It didn't need to chase after him now. The Horns of the First Hour seemed to shake his bones, now that they caught him on the ground.
Kolya and the rest of the official Genii embassy had been kicked out of the city -- Weir had received his message. There were inevitably Genii agents still in the city, but Weir had openly announced Kavanagh's discovery. Now that the whole city knew there was a ready supply of the drones, the Genii's efforts to intimidate the city into accepting their control were failing.
The salvage work was coming in steady. Teyla contacts kept her informed of Kolya's whereabouts. Things were going well. But he couldn't fly.
He felt himself growing irritable. Restless. He was grounded. He sparred with Ronon, and with Teyla, learning to use his arm as much as his damaged joint would allow. It grew flexible enough, strong enough, for normal use. But he couldn't use it well enough to use the Wing. He tried. He stood in the courtyard by the pool and he tried, but it wouldn't move right. He'd crash, if he left the ground.
Rodney was watching him. He felt his eyes on his back as he tried, again, to make his arm move the way he needed it to. "Sheppard," he started, but his voice trailed off. Instead he walked over to stand beside him, at the edge of the pool.
Sheppard stilled, watching McKay's shadow over the water.
"The jumpers were meant to fly," McKay began again, and Sheppard listened. "I made them swim, but they were meant for the air. I didn't want to get your hopes up. Without a proper power source, figuring out those circuits and functions will be largely trial and error. But . . ." he took a deep breath, and continued, forcing an offhand casualness into his voice. "I've been working on a new interface. Strengthened the winch on the jumper. We should be able to drag one of the other ships to the surface, where I can work on it."
Sheppard had to remind himself to breathe. He raised his head, meeting Rodney eyes. They were very blue under the shadow of the Bridge.
"I can do it, John. I'll make it fly."