McKay’s voice had been like dropping a match in a fireworks factory. Bedlam and utter panic had ensued, but Sheppard wasn’t one to lie there and get murdered, so he made a break for freedom. He moved a total of three inches before they all pounced on him again and pinned him fiercely to the ground. When he looked up, the leader was staring down at him, holding the gun. A second later, Sheppard felt the butt of the weapon smash straight into his forehead.
* * * * * * *
The Minister seemed averse to answering their questions until Ronon moved right up in front of him. The man’s considerable bulk and menacing growl would scare anybody, but instead, the Minister was saved from cowering like a small child when several people ran up to join them.
All five of them were clad in odd jump suits which looked as though they were made of Tyvek. Teyla remembered being introduced to that strange fabric on Atlantis. It was used when there were chemical or hazardous spills, although she could not fathom the purpose at this very moment. All wore heavy gloves. Three of them carried large buckets with lids on them, a fourth carried a large black bag of some sort, while the leader of the group - a small, short woman with deep brown eyes and angular eyebrows that gave her a hawkish appearance - walked up to the Minister. She conversed quickly but too quietly for the Atlanteans to hear, then turned to Teyla and the others.
The woman, who then introduced herself as Keeper Wallas, glared at the gun in Ronon’s hands. “No weapons. Do you want to get your friend killed?” When Ronon didn’t reholster the weapon, the woman simply pointed at the holster. “Now, or stay behind. The longer you make us wait, the worse it will be for your man.”
Ronon shared a questioning glance at Teyla. He’d come to respect her judgment in situations such as this, as she had known Sheppard for longer and what he would want. She nodded and he reluctantly put the gun away.
“Right then,” Wallas announced. “Stay behind us.” She picked up to a quick jog, her people following while McKay tried to keep up. Teyla spied him talking with the man who was carrying the black bag.
“Why do you need a bag?” asked Rodney in worry.
“To pick up the pieces, of course,” the man replied matter-of-factly.
* * * * * * *
Dead. Dead. He so wanted to be dead at this very moment. No, wait, he didn’t want to be dead. He wanted to kill McKay. This was all the scientist’s fault!
Now he had a headache on top of everything else, but the leader hadn’t struck him hard enough to crack his skull, just enough to leave a bruise and give him a headache, or maybe a subdural hematoma, but he wasn’t sure if he could get those on the forehead. And of course, it had been to put Sheppard in his place, which was back to being squashed into the dirt.
The pain all over his body was slowly subsiding. When the panic had ensued, they’d all grabbed him as though he was the only thing keeping them from floating off. He knew he’d have a hundred or so bruises all over him, that is, if they ever let him go.
The only good thing that resulted from the disastrous last minute or so was that help was on the way. He’d heard one of them key the radio just after McKay called but before the freakout.
Help would be here, real soon. He was sure of that.
And it couldn’t possibly get any worse. That is, until he felt the left boot being ripped off his foot. They’d taken the right boot off minutes after the initial attack The sock went next. The supply sergeant was gonna have a fit if he got back alive. The horrible ripping sound of the sock being shredded into tiny pieces echoed in the dark night air. Sheppard was beginning to wonder just how much uniform was left as he couldn’t see what they were doing and the air was warm enough he couldn’t really tell where skin had been bared and where it still lay covered.
For pete’s sake, he wasn’t that far from the village. Maybe fifteen minutes! Surely Ronon could cover that distance in record time and come here and shoot the whole lot of them. It ticked him off that his team would have to rescue his sorry ass out of this mess.
Sheppard suddenly held his breath as a new sensation trailed down one side of his foot. Something sharp and smooth ran down the bare instep. It felt almost like ivory or plastic, but then, something wet, slimy, and warm wrapped around his big toe.
Oh shit… they were going to eat him?!
Screw it! If they were going to kill and eat him, he was making a break for it, yet suddenly, as if they could read his very thoughts, several hands dug into his hair and pinned him down hard and then he felt—
* * * * * * *
Everybody stopped in their tracks when a horrible scream tore through the air. The anguished cry echoed wildly though the copses of trees that comprised the thick park. A second later, there was only silence and desolation.
“You said they wouldn’t hurt him!” accused McKay, who looked around wildly. For once, his alien technology wasn’t doing him any good as the park was packed with so much wildlife that it was impossible to locate Sheppard.
“He’ll be fine.” Wallas ran a short ways up the winding path, then stopped at one of the many forks in the path they’d encountered. She stared at the sign – written in their language so there was no way that Sheppard could have deciphered it. She crouched near it, studied it for a second and then stood. She let loose with an irate stream of words that Ronon figured had to be the local variants of swear words.
“The damned Lenguons moved it again!” she growled in disgust, then she pointed down the left path. “That way.”
Ronon immediately took off at a run.
“Stop!” Wallas demanded sharply but Ronon wasn’t going to listen to orders from the bureaucratic nitwit with her bucket brigade. Sheppard was probably being slaughtered by the creatures and could be dying while they stared at signs.
Ronon was accustomed to running in the dark but the trees were thick, the few patches of moonlight that slipped through were minimal, and several minutes later, he nearly tripped over an object. He pulled out his flashlight and aimed the beam on the object. It was part of one of Sheppard’s boots. Toothmarks liberally dotted all the ragged edges.
“Sheppard!” he called out.
The path had stopped, going from a neat cobblestone pattern to dirt, and that’s when Ronon discovered Sheppard’s footprints, and then, the animal tracks - dozens, literally dozens if not more tracks, all over the place. His weapon out and on stun, Ronon cautiously crept around a large shaggy bush, expecting the worst.
What he saw stopped him dead in his tracks as nothing he’d witnessed before truly prepared him for this sight.
It was a seething mass of large, round green orbs – hundreds of them – staring directly at him. Hundreds - which meant perhaps a hundred of the creatures, their retinas reflecting back a brilliant green from the flashlight’s wide beam. The creatures were all deathly still and quiet. He knew a standoff when he saw one, and he was vastly outnumbered. The mass of creatures spread out at least twenty feet, and could be just as deep. Ronon couldn’t see Sheppard anywhere but could see the evidence that he was somewhere nearby – one of the creatures had an emergency medical bandage wrapped around the top of its tiny head like a hat. There were literally dozens of bits of fabric scattered everywhere.
A strange noise began. A thrumming sound, low but deep, emitting from the creatures. A moment later, as he heard McKay and the others catch up to him, Ronon watched the animals begin to bob up and down in place in an almost hypnotic fashion.
Ronon aimed his gun at the mass. “Sheppard!” he called again.
“Quiet!” The keeper woman hissed beside him. The demand was followed by a swift slap on his wrist. Literally, a slap on the wrist!
“I’ll handle this.” She pushed past him. “I’ve had to do this before.” She turned on her heel, facing him with an expression of exasperation. “Unless you plan to shoot me?”
Ronon glared at her, realizing that she was the supposed expert. But if things went wrong, that would be it. He wasn’t taking prisoners and he would easily stun her just to shut her up.
“Nobody move and do not talk,” she said quietly but with such menace that everybody seemed suitably cowed.
All of the animal’s eyes shifted from Ronon to the shorter woman as she approached them. With all the flashlights aimed at the living mass, the scene was now starkly laid out for all to see.
The animals were all bipedal. “Monkeys?” he heard McKay hiss beside him in an incredulous voice. No more than a foot tall, they all stood on stout little legs. Their bodies were covered with thick black fur, with the exception of their faces. Their jaws and nose area were covered with a light blue fur. That fur seemed to tuft out along the jaw line on the bulk of the animals, except for a handful clustered in the middle. They all had longer, more reddish fur on their face. But what they all had in common was the fabric: little pieces of fabric dotted on them – on their heads, or bodies – but definitely small shreds of what had once been a dark gray uniform.
The Wallas woman moved closer in short, determined strides. She stared at the mass, which was still thrumming and bobbing but staring at her. “You’ve been bad,” she said in a droll tone.
“That’s it?” McKay squeaked. “Shoot them!” He nudged Ronon hard in the back. A second later he heard a smack, an “Ow!” and he knew Teyla had dealt with McKay.
“BAD!” The woman bellowed at the top of her lungs.
The entire mass of animals flattened to the ground, except for a middle area which looked as though they were hunched over a slight mound.
“BAD! BAD! BAD!” Wallas continued yelling, waving her arms out to the side.
The animals all screeched, running in blind panic everywhere. In less than five seconds they were gone. They’d scampered in any available direction – to the left, right, front back, through the legs of the humans and into bushes, trees but definitely into the darkness and away from the insane woman ranting “Bad! Bad! Bad!”
“See, they know who’s boss,” the woman smacked her hands together in satisfaction. She looked down at the ground and what remained behind. “What a mess.”
“Oh no.” McKay sounded ready to faint and for once, Ronon couldn’t blame the man.
Scattered everywhere were bits of uniform, most of them no bigger than a thumbprint, like gray snow on the ground. The shredded remnants of a PowerBar wrapper glistened like confetti in the flashlight beams. Bits of shoelace could be seen hanging from a nearby bush. Ammo had been yanked out of the weapons. The holster and belt were in jagged pieces. Even the watch had been taken apart. All that remained in one piece were the weapons. The P90 lay just a foot away from Sheppard’s outstretched arm… The man was spread out on the ground like a sacrifice to some unknown god. A slick reddish liquid covered nearly all of his body. He didn’t move.
To be continued