Title: The Jewel and The Regent
Chapter 1: One Swing Ahead of the Sword
Summary: Rodney has spent his life being persecuted for his work with Ancient devices. He dreams of a better life, but John knows that it isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Rating: We'll say PG for now... it will be NC-17 in later chapters. :D
And if you haven't read it:
Millions of pinprick points of light shone out from behind the vast darkness of the sky. The bright illumination of a full moon swept over the vast dunes of a wasteland. Occasionally, a breath of wind would swirl white grains of sand into the air. Those who dwelled in the city told tales that thousands of years ago, these wastelands had been covered by a great ocean. It was said that any who ventured into the haunted hills of pure white sand would never return.
At the top of the most massive of dunes, a dark figure sat mounted on an even darker horse. His pock-marked face twisted into a sardonic grin at the remembered warnings of the elders. Fools, all of them, to shun the one place where the greatest treasures of their Ancestors lay, to instill that fear into their children from the time they were old enough to understand speech. It wasn’t death that lay in these deserted hills; it was the only hope for a future. Or, he amended mentally, in his case, the only hope to shape it to his will.
Beyond the whistle of the wind, he heard the trod of hooves shifting in the sand. Another horse trailed by a cloud of white trotted up the hill to meet him. He tensed in anticipation, his well-trained mount shifting to paw at the ground as if sensing his master’s excitement. The creak of leather and the clink of metal spurs announced the arrival of the second man.
“You… are late,” the dark man stated, his words biting into the relative silence.
“A thousand apologies, my lord,” the smaller man said.
“You have it, then?”
“It was a bit harder to procure than we had originally thought, but I did get it.” He reached into one of the saddle bags, rustled around for a moment, and brought out what looked like a tiny, silver puzzle piece. The light glinted off of it and into the dark man’s eyes as he reached out for it. The second man pulled it back before he could grab it. “Wait a moment. You said you had the means to cure my sister. Where is it?”
Almost before his sentence was finished, there was a sharp, high pitched cry into the night air and the small silver trinket was snatched from his hand by clever talons. The falcon dropped the pilfered item into her master’s outstretched hand before perching on an offered forearm.
“Patience, my friend,” the dark man told him. “You’ll get what’s coming to you.” The falcon let out a short shriek as if in agreement.
Reaching into his cloak, the dark man pulled out the second half of the puzzle. Carefully, he fit the two pieces together to form what looked like an upside down V with a circle placed at the point.
Immediately, a buzzing noise filled the air as the puzzle lit up with a bright blue shine. It jumped out of its owner’s hand to spin crazily in the air for a moment, then dart off between the dunes. The falcon shrieked and took to the sky.
“Quickly, follow the trail!” the dark man shouted, spurring his horse into action and trusting his companion to follow.
The puzzle led them on a winding path through the sand, the horses kicking up dust at a pounding speed in order to keep pace. Finally, the glowing puzzle split into two pieces a few hundred yards ahead of them, embedding itself in a sandy bank. The ground shuddered and shifted, splitting apart, sand spilling down as fluidly as a great waterfall. A shimmering spire punched it’s jagged way from underneath, rising thousands of feet into the air to be silhouetted by the full moon.
“Finally,” the dark man breathed, nearly awestruck, “The Tower of the Ancients.”
“By the Ancestors,” his companion muttered, his eyes wide.
“There you have it,” the dark man snapped, turning to glare at the other. “The cure for your sister no doubt lies inside, along with countless more treasures. Take anything you want, but remember that the artifact we discussed belongs to me.”
“How will I know the cure when I see it?” the second man asked doubtfully.
“It will be made clear to you, I am sure. The Ancestors will see to that. Just remember to bring me back the Intelligence.”
His face still masked in equal parts of wonder and wariness, the second man dismounted, cautiously walking to the single door etched into the side of the massive tower. As he reached the entrance, there was a flash of light, and suddenly, a woman dressed in white appeared before him. He gave a gasp of surprise.
“Who disturbs my slumber?” she asked, her eyes searching, prompting his answer.
“Ladon Radim,” he choked out. “My sister is afflicted with the ancient plague. I seek the cure.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed even more.
“Know this,” she said. “Only one may enter here. One whose worth lies within his mind. The Jewel of Atlantis.”
Ladon looked back at the dark man questioningly.
“What are you waiting for?” the dark man barked. “Go on!”
Slowly, Ladon took a small step forward.
“Analyzing,” the woman stated as a beam of light swept over Ladon’s body. As the last of the beam faded, the woman’s eyes were consumed in glowing red as bright as ruby.
“Analysis: unacceptable,” she boomed as a high pitched whine filled the air, the vibrations from it causing Ladon to fall to his knees.
The bright red light shot from her eyes into the kneeling man’s face. With a strangled scream, his skin seemed to glow red from the inside out, blistering apart and vanishing until suddenly, there was nothing left of him but a black crater in the sand. The ground began to rumble again, and as quickly as it had appeared, the Tower of the Ancients sank back into the sand.
“Seek thee out the Jewel of Atlantis,” the woman’s voice whispered over the dunes as the last of the sand settled.
With a shriek, the falcon dove from the sky, picking up the two pieces of the puzzle that had been left resting on top of the sand and returning them to her master. She landed on his forearm and began snapping her beak in an angry gesture, shifting and clenching her talons. Her sharp eyes narrowed at the crater where Ladon Radim had once stood.
“Patience, Sora,” Acastus Kolya soothed as he stroked the feathers of her brow. “Radim was obviously less than worthy.” Sora clucked almost sarcastically. “It seems we have a problem,” Kolya continued, letting out a dry chuckle.
“I must find this… Jewel of Atlantis.”
*drumroll* And here we go with...
The city lay perched on the edge of the great wasteland. Simple stone and mud buildings lined dirt roads, the richer homes noticeable by the glass covered windows and metal guilded doors that did more to keep the occasional sandstorm out. Mostly, windows and doors were covered in a harsh woven cloth of muted colors. Carts full of wares lined the street in the market square, and most of the people lived a simple existence with relatively little excitement.
“Stop, thief!” Officer Bates of the Regent’s Guard screamed. “I’ll have your hands for a trophy, street rat!”
“Oh, please,” Rodney Mckay scoffed from his hiding place in a nearby alley. “Even if the practice wasn’t completely barbaric, it’s been outlawed for nearly three generations now. Besides, since when was conning imbeciles out of their money considered stealing? If you ask me, I’m doing society a favor. Weeding out the weak genes and all that. Not that I buy into that medical mumbo-jumbo.”
He seemed to completely ignore the fact that he was talking to himself.
After a few minutes, he cautiously left his hiding place, attempting to get lost in the crowd of market-goers. He should have remembered that the universe seemed to hate him, as he managed to run, quite literally, into another Regent Guard with a muffled oof! The younger (and much stronger) man gave him a shark-like grin before tackling him to the ground.
“Here he is!” the Guard shouted, struggling to keep Rodney pinned. “I’ve got him!”
“The hell you do,” Rodney grumbled, twisting painfully and grabbing one of his very handy and oh-so-genius-if-he-did-say-so-himself inventions from where he kept it strapped to his thigh. He pointed the barrel into the Guard’s side and pulled the trigger. The device sent out a jolting shockwave of electricity that caused the man to yelp and roll off of him to curl into the fetal position. His face red and huffing from the exertion, Rodney rose to his feet and dusted himself off.
It really shouldn’t have been so easy to catch the other man off guard, Rodney thought. He snorted in disgust at the near-sightedness of practically everyone who wasn’t… well, him. The Guard wouldn’t have expected Rodney’s shock gun to be capable of causing such damage. To him, Rodney was sure, even the concept of a gun was completely foreign.
Ever since he was a little boy, Rodney had never understood why everyone placed the artifacts of their Ancestors on such a high pedestal. Sure, he could see why they should be treated with respect, but that didn’t mean they shouldn’t be tinkered with at all. No one seemed to understand Rodney’s outrage at how people wastefully used the things as holy relics in some cases, family heirlooms in others, and for the particularly unrecognizable bits, even as jewelry and paperweights.
Rodney had known from a very early age that he was different than the other people he lived among. For one, he’d quickly mastered all the skills taught at what passed for schools here before most other children his age had mastered sentence structure. They’d said he was a genius, a prodigy, that he’d go far as a scholar, but the scholarly subjects open for studying (history, medicine, plants, for God’s sake!) just didn’t interest him. He’d quickly amassed all of what little books and scrolls were available on the subject of mathematics and physics and then begun to write his own.
That’s when they had started to get nervous. He was too ambitious, they said, too far reaching. He didn’t have the proper respect for those who had come before him. When he’d begun studying, testing, and dismantling the Ancient relics he’d had at his disposal, nervousness had turned to anger. He’d been shunned, shut out, had his research taken away. The first two he could’ve handled, but the last one still stung.
The superstitious awe the people of the city placed on any technology was laughable. The heretical and nearly treasonous status that Rodney attained through his stubborn insistence on studying the technology anyway wasn’t quite so laughable as it was depressing. And painful. Especially if they caught him and discovered the shock gun he’d hobbled together from a couple of the Ancestors’ artifacts and his own design.
“There they are!” another Guard yelled almost immediately from 30 or so yards away. “You won’t get away so easily!”
“You think that was easy?” Rodney grumbled before running in the opposite direction. He hated running for his life, dammit. He wished he would manage to avoid doing it so often.
A few more twisting turns through alleys and side-streets, and finally he had to stop to catch his breath. He bent, hands on his knees, gasping as adrenaline coursed through his body.
“Getting into trouble a little early today, aren’t we Rodney?” an accented voice questioned suddenly. Rodney nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Holy crap, Carson, don’t do that!” Rodney shouted, then cringed and looked around to make sure he hadn’t been discovered.
Carson Beckett glared disapprovingly at him. He was a brilliant doctor (medical, sadly), newly appointed as the personal attendant of the Regent and High Consort at the palace (with shiny research labs and dozens of other doctors at his disposal, damn him), and Rodney’s best and only friend (well, besides Teyla). Carson hailed from a country far to the west but had been forced to travel the long distance to relocate his sick mother years ago. Something about the climate here being better for her health. Rodney would never understand medicine.
They’d met at a time before Rodney’s total exile from the higher ranks of academia. Carson had the dubious honor of being the only person to be able to even remotely follow the theories and equations that Rodney almost constantly rambled on about. Though he lived at the palace now, Carson still came into the city frequently to visit his ailing mother. From the pinched and worried expression on his face, Rodney assumed he’d just come from there.
“Really, man, when are you going to stop this damn fool lifestyle of yours?” Carson asked as the worried expression on his face seemed to double in force
He was referring, of course, to Rodney’s current… profession. It was fairly easy to make a pair of weighted dice, to cheat at cards (especially if you could count them in your sleep), or to perform some slight of hand that left the victim’s wallet considerably lighter than it had been before. It was simply a manner of applied math and physics, really. Cut off from any other feasible way of making a living (no one would have anything to do with a blasphemer, apparently), Rodney was sometimes a little surprised at the depths to which he’d stooped in order to survive.
“What, you mean I should stop doing anything that requires money? Sure, I can do without some creature-comforts, but I’m sort of partial to food. Shall I just explain to the Regent’s Guards the dangers of hypoglycemic comas over tea? Think they’ll listen sympathetically and not lock me up and throw away the key?”
“That’s not what I meant, Rodney, and you know it. You could always get a real job instead of swindling people out of their money.”
“Well, I don’t know if you’d noticed, but I’m a bit of a social outcast who can’t even get a damn reference letter, much less a real job. Perhaps I could become a dung shoveler or a fish merchant, but you know how I feel about shit and fish, Carson.”
“Aye, except I thought you were rather fond of bullshit, seeing as you spew it out every five seconds.”
“Oh, haha,” Rodney sneered. “I’m sure it’s fairly easy to judge how those less fortunate get by. Yes, you certainly make the rest of us mucking about in the slums seem foolish.”
Carson flushed guiltily.
“You know it isn’t like that, Rodney,” he defended himself. “I’m sorry that things are the way they are, but you must have faith that times are changing. Maybe one day you’ll be free to research and invent whatever you want, but until then you should focus on not getting yourself killed.” The concern in his blue eyes was very real, and it humbled Rodney a little to see it. For all that Rodney yelled at him and was jealous of his position, Carson really was a good man. But he just couldn’t take Carson’s advice seriously.
“I can’t slink around and hide or put my research on the back-burner while I get a job that any idiot could do. I’d rather starve than do that,” he answered sadly. Carson nodded.
“I know. And before I offer for the 60th time, I know you won’t accept any help from me, you proud git. I just wish you wouldn’t get yourself into so much trouble.”
Rodney’s mouth twisted into a lop-sided grin.
“Trouble? You’re only in trouble if you get caught.”
No sooner had he said the words than a strong pair of hands spun him around, holding his arms immobile at his sides in a grip Rodney couldn’t shake.
“Got ya!” Bates grinned triumphantly at him.
“I’m in trouble,” Rodney choked out under his breath, his blue eyes wide in fear.
“And this time—” Bates was cut off as a small ball of fur and claws landed on his head, pushing his ridiculous uniform hat into his eyes. He lost his grip on Rodney, who immediately stepped out of his reach while Bates struggled with the hat. He looked up fondly at the ball of fluff.
“Perfect timing, Teyla, as usual,” he complimented. The tawny desert cat gave out a happy meow before leaping into his outstretched arms. With a hurried, “See you later, Carson!” shot over his shoulder, Rodney was off running again with three Guards on his heels. Carson’s face paled slightly before he clenched his jaw. He shook his head as he turned and walked off again, praying that he wouldn’t have to pull some strings to get Rodney out of anything. Rodney was so blasted independent that he would probably never forgive him for it.
Rodney continued to run as fast as he was able, Teyla clutched in his arms. Fairly soon, it was obvious that the Guards were gaining. Rodney cursed his scientist’s physique. Thinking quickly, he took a sharp left to run up some stone stairs set into the side of a nearby building. He got to the roof and stood on the edge huffing and puffing for a moment as he stared down. Laundry lines criss-crossed between buildings. They’d probably work well to hide his escape. If this even worked. He must be insane.
With a slightly shaking hand, Rodney reached into a pocket and pulled out a small green gem-like device he’d been working on for the past couple of weeks. He was fairly certain he’d finally fixed it. This was going to be one hell of a final test. He jumped when he heard the clatter of the Guards rushing up the stairs after him.
“So, if this doesn’t work, you’ll just land on your feet or something, right?” Rodney asked the small cat perched on his shoulder. She dug her claws a little more tightly into the fabric of his shirt and purred serenely. He supposed that was a good enough answer.
Activating the device, he slapped it onto his chest where it stuck and began to glow. The Guards reached the roof just as Rodney offered a parting grin and jumped.
He suppressed the urge (barely) to scream his head off as the air whistled by him. Teyla yowled her disapproval into his ear as her claws bit into his skin. He closed his eyes and braced himself as the ground rushed up to meet him. With a muted sizzling sound and a flash of green, he came to a stop on his rump, completely unharmed.
He opened his eyes slowly, almost not believing it had actually worked. When he realized that it had, he let out a triumphant shout. Teyla jumped off his shoulder and shot him a glare that seemed to say, That was unnecessarily reckless of you.
“Hey, don’t be like that,” Rodney cajoled, deactivating the personal shield and putting it back in his pocket. “It worked, didn’t it?”
He didn’t pause for an answer (she was a cat, after all), but picked her up and walked out of the alley. It was a good idea to keep moving, even if he had thrown the moronic Guards off his trail. Taking winding side streets through the city, he pulled a nutrient bar out of his front pocket and snapped it in two, offering the smaller half to Teyla. He finished it in three bites, savoring the taste on his tongue. He hated not knowing where his next meal was going to come from. Nutrient bars were cheap but he liked them, and they’d do in a pinch. Which seemed to be the constant state of things, nowadays.
He tripped over what he thought to be a pile of rags. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw it rustling.
“Who’s there?” he asked sharply, turning his back to the wall.
Rodney watched as two small children crawled out from under what he now recognized to be ratty old blankets. Their eyes were huge in their little faces, and as he stared at them, the taller boy winced, almost as if expecting a blow. The smaller boy (he couldn’t be more than four years old) took one look at Rodney and smiled, toddling over to grab onto the physicist’s threadbare pants with a grubby fist. Rodney held back a sneer. Why did kids always seem to like him so much?
“Can I pet your cat, mister?” the smaller boy squeaked out, staring up at Teyla who was still perched on his shoulder.
“Uh… sure, I guess,” Rodney said awkwardly, pulling Teyla down into his arms so that she was within reach. The little boy cooed excitedly as he pet her, and soon the older boy had braved the few feet between them to come over and pet Teyla too. The cat purred happily under the attention.
Rodney would’ve liked nothing more than to pull back and go home. He hated kids. Besides, he should get somewhere more safe, as the Guards were probably still looking for him. But even he wasn’t mean-hearted enough to ignore the hopelessness etched into their small faces. They were probably orphans. Rodney almost groaned in frustration. Why did his nearly non-existent conscience have to act up now?
After a long moment, Rodney broke the silence.
“Listen, I really have to go,” he said. The little boys immediately stepped back with disappointed frowns. “But… well, here.”
Before he could talk himself out of it, he reached into a pocket and grabbed the money he’d swindled (earned) just an hour previously. The older boy’s eyes widened as Rodney pushed it into his small hand. Without another word, Rodney spun on his heel and walked swiftly away. Teyla crawled back up to his shoulder and purred into his ear as if she were proud of him. Rodney snorted. See how proud she was of him when they went hungry for the next couple of days.
With a sigh, he finally reached the block of dilapidated buildings that housed the place where he and Teyla lived. He walked around to the back where there was a small metal door. Pushing up a hidden panel on the wall, Rodney punched in a code on the keypad (when one’s apartment housed an illegal laboratory, one couldn’t be too careful) and then opened the now-unlocked door. The extra measure of security had taken him months of work and sacrifices to gain the resources to do, but it certainly saved him the worry that someone would accidentally stumble upon his secret trove of research. He’d already had it taken away once, and he wasn’t too keen on losing it again. It may have been a bit of an overkill seeing as no one else would even have the slightest clue of what the keypad was, but Rodney was nothing if not paranoid. It paid to be in this stupid, backwards city.
Rodney set Teyla down on the floor with a couple of pats. His lab certainly wasn’t anything glamorous; to the untrained eye it would simply look like piles of half-taken-apart junk, sheets of scribbled-upon paper, and strange contraptions set on top of rickety old tables. Most of the equipment was of Rodney’s design, and the rest was so ancient it was nearly falling apart. It was frustrating having to work under such horrible conditions. Rodney winced as he reminded himself that it had taken him the better part of three years to even have this much. He walked a meandering path through the tables to reach a doorway at the far side of the room. It led to a set of stone stairs leading up to Rodney’s bedroom.
Rodney climbed them and then flopped down on to the squeaky mattress of his bed. He propped himself up on his elbows and looked out the window at the fading rays of the sun. He suddenly felt incredibly tired. What he wouldn’t give for the nice bed he’d had at the Scholar’s Atrium, during that short time when he’d been going somewhere, when his work had been praised, when he’d actually been…worth something. His frustration at the outside world was slowly beginning to collapse into a weary resentment that almost seemed to be more aimed at himself. He was nothing but a broken, dirty, penniless—
His thoughts were cut off when Telya pounced onto the bed next to him. She crawled up his chest and butted her head into his chin. With a soft meow, she cuddled even closer to him. Rodney couldn’t help the smile that creeped onto his face. Teyla kneaded her claws rhythmically into his shirt. Rodney glanced out the window again to where he could just see the bulking form of the palace outlined in the setting sun. It was a gorgeous view, really.
“You’ll see, Teyla,” he said as he stroked her soft fur. “One day, people will finally appreciate the work I’ve done, we’ll be living in that palace, and we won’t have to worry about anything except making more progress on my research.”
Teyla butted her head against his chin again, and he could almost imagine that she agreed with him.
The end of chapter one. Please gimme a review! They inspire me to write faster.... ;D