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The Avengers -- The First Chapter

A reader asked why there wasn't the first chapter of The Avengers in the back of Allegiance like there usually is for the next book. At the time Allegiance was printed in December we couldn't go ahead yet, but since you've been waiting for the preview chapter, here it is! I've put some pieces of this up before, but not the whole first chapter. Contains Spoilers for the end of Allegiance!

In which there is John Sheppard, and a lot of Wraith....




John Sheppard woke in darkness, unable to move, held upright by the thick fibers of the Wraith bonds. He could see nothing. The corridor was dim, and the alcove he was held in stood in deep shadow. If he could have leaned forward, perhaps he could have glanced up and down the hallway, but the bonds across his chest and throat were so tight that the slightest forward movement threatened to cut off his breath.

There was no sound. Either he was alone, or the other humans imprisoned here must be beyond speech.

A faint vibration through the soles of his feet did tell him something. This was not a planetary base. He was on a ship, each moment traveling further and further from anywhere his team would look for him.

Because he was stupid, and possibly terminally stupid. He'd been so sure that the message that had lured him to Gaffen was from Rodney McKay, his friend held captive by the Wraith and the subject of a terrible transformation. He was so sure that somehow Rodney had slipped out of the programming his captors had used on him and sent a cry for help. John had walked into the trap open eyed, going to the gate address Rodney had specified, only to wind up in the middle of a culling.

Which shouldn't have been a surprise. Teyla had said she thought it might be a trap. Were she and Ronon here too, perhaps bound a few meters away? Or….

"Teyla? Ronon?" His voice came out as a rough whisper.

There was no reply. Which meant either they weren't here, or they were unconscious. Or they'd already been taken to be fed on, some horrible part of his brain said, readily supplying the pictures.

No. He wouldn't believe that. They'd never go without a fight, and if there had been a fight in the corridor he would have known it.

Besides, John thought, conjuring up the scene on Gaffen just before he was taken, Ronon and Teyla hadn't been anywhere near him. They'd been back in the market, a long way from the gate. They'd gone to ask the locals if anybody knew anything. John had thought that was unlikely. Rodney wasn't just going to walk up to people and say hi, especially since he looked like a Wraith. It was more likely he was hiding in the woods behind the gatefield, keeping an eye on the Stargate and the DHD, knowing that was where the team from Atlantis would arrive. He'd been checking out the woods with a Marine team when the gate had opened again and three Darts come through. It was more likely that some of the Marines had been picked up than Ronon or Teyla.

"Simmons? Hernandez? Anybody there?"

Silence.

John swallowed hard. He'd wondered how the Wraith had done this to Rodney, how they'd messed with him so thoroughly. Now he was probably about to find out. If he was lucky he'd be experiment number two, and at least he'd find Rodney. Maybe together there was a chance one of them would remember who they were and plot an escape. If he wasn't lucky…. He'd be lunch, and that would be the end of that.

How long had it been since he was captured on Gaffen? He had no idea. Scooped up by the culling beam of a Wraith Dart, he could have remained in the pattern buffer for days. And there was no way to tell how long it had been since he was strapped here. Hours? Not more than eight or ten, probably. Unless the enzymes the Wraith used affected his metabolism significantly, he'd be hungry and thirsty. Well, he was hungry, but not starving. A dinnertime kind of hungry, not an imprisoned for days kind of hungry. There was an energy bar in one of his pants pockets, but he couldn't get to it, couldn't move his arms or bend enough.

And that was not good. This situation was going to get old really fast.

It wasn't the first time he'd been in prison. It wasn't even the worst. That had probably been Kolya's prison, waiting for his time to run out before Todd drained the life out of him. What had he done then, other than lie against the wall and breathe each time after the Wraith ripped more years of life out of him?

There were things to do, mental tricks to keep yourself in one piece. Some of them weren't very orthodox, but they worked. They were better than going crazy, getting yourself in such a lather that you couldn't do something useful when an opportunity came.

Breathe, and let each breath take you somewhere, take you through the corridors of memory to other places and other times. There were paths he could walk in his sleep, in memory. Breathe, and one pattern took him across the flight lines at Al Kharj Prince Sultan Air Base, the tarmac laid out in concrete squares, across the blowing red gold dust of the areas around the buildings, nearly twenty years ago when he was young and wondered if he'd live through the first days of Operation Instant Thunder.

Breathe, and another memory took him elsewhere, through the underground corridors of Crystal City, when back from Afghanistan he'd spent his days wandering aimlessly, anything to get out of the tiny apartment he shared with Nancy, through mall and metro tunnels, under the glass skylights and potted rainforest trees.

Not a good time. Not a good memory to get lost in, not if he wanted to be ready when the Wraith showed up.

Atlantis, then. He could walk in his mind through the corridors of home, through light-washed streets with floors of burnished tile, stained glass making patterns of light across his skin like the city's own brand. From chair room to mess hall, pier to gate room, he could walk the city in memory. Doors opened in front of him and slid softly closed behind him to the touch of his mind. Towers glittered with ice as he'd seen them last, and his favorite balcony stretched under the tropical sun of a world left behind a year ago. Power substations crackled with blue fire, as though storms swirled around them again, rain dashed in his face. Above it all in dreams the shield made a hemisphere of sky, tinted by dawn through bombardment. He looked down on space below from a terrace pressurized by its fragile skin, slid in his mind into the chair's embrace and felt the stardrive flare beneath him, engines answering to his thought.

"This one."

When words came he had almost stopped expecting them, drowsing in his bonds, his mind far away. John Sheppard looked up.

The Wraith was young, or at least he thought so, with long white hair held back in a bronze clasp, his face rounded and smooth beneath a swirling tattoo that curved from his hairline down the side of his face to his collar like tendrils of vine, and his eyes were dark and cruel. "This one," he said, and he tangled his fingers in John's hair, the claws of his other hand tearing the bindings away enough to expose throat and chest.

Not the transformation then, John thought. Not that. Just the other bit. Well, it shouldn't take long. He steeled himself for the kiss of claws, for the pounding in his ears of his own heart as the feeding began….

But the Wraith was looking at him, turning his head toward the light, as though he wanted to see him better. He could lean forward a little now, and the light stabbed his eyes as the Wraith jerked his chin up.

"You," the Wraith said, "What is your name?"

"Han Solo," John said.

The Wraith snarled, tilting his head toward the light again as though trying to see the color of his eyes.

I'm nobody, John willed him to think. Nobody. Nobody worth trying to get intelligence out of, nobody worth taking to the queen. And at the same time a kernel of an idea sprouted inside him. This wasn't Rodney's doing if this guy had no idea who he was. If he did know, he wouldn't waste time. But if he didn't, if it was only that John looked familiar and he was trying to place him….

The steel claws released him. With a snarl and a backward glance the Wraith paced away down the corridor in a swirl of black leather.

"Crap," John Sheppard said.


The voice of the drone at the doors was loud in her mind. *My Queen, Bronze would speak with you. Shall I admit him?*

*Of course,* Waterlight replied, and sat up straighter in her chair, arranging her hands in her lap. Her mother would have told her to sit up straight, to insist upon every courtesy, even with Bronze, who might be her pallax someday, might be her Consort. There was little enough choice. Twelve blades remained to her, and one of them was Thorn, who might never aspire to that role. Twelve blades and seven clevermen, twenty six drones. And Waterlight.

She lifted her chin, her face pale as her white dress in the shiplight, a bluish tint cast by the lights above. Her hair was dark, rising from a sharp widow's peak in the front, falling in a river down her back, held back with the silver combs that had been her mother's, and her small hands were covered by glovebacks of fine white stones set in silver mesh. Too large for her. They did not flex as they should, but rather rang and clattered when she moved her fingers.

*You will grow into them,* the Consort Thorn said at her shoulder, and Waterlight glanced up.

His face was tight as always, pinched even though he had fed recently. The strain told on him, and she was sorry, sorry once again that she was not more ready….

*You are young,* he said, catching at her thought like wind, *and youth is not a flaw.* In his mind she saw herself as he did, at rest on some world she did not remember, breaking from his arms to run toward the waves that crashed on the shore in crests of bright foam, her laughter sparkling like light on the water.

*I am not that child,* she said, mind to mind and heart to heart. She must not be. A fruit-fed baby who trusted all…. She must be queen. There was no other choice.

The door irised open, and she schooled her face to bland calmness as Bronze approached, his every movement sharp and keen. He was not so much her senior, and though she did not burn as she would, she could not help but admire the way he moved, his slender form in its leathers graceful and quick, the tenor of his mind bright. If the day came that he were pallax, she would not regret it.

*What bring you, my blade?* she asked, her voice cool.

He sketched a deep bow to her, a quick nod to Thorn, his mind voice all but bursting with excitement. *My Queen, I believe we have captured the Consort of Atlantis!*

Thorn's voice was dry. *And how would such a miracle have occurred? We have seen nothing of the Lanteans, and have stayed far away from their allies this last dreamcycle. Besides that, he is a warrior, and always accompanied by full many blades.*

Bronze did not back down, his eyes darting to her though he spoke to Thorn. *Nevertheless, I think this is he. He gives another name, of course, but he is very like to the images the Genii circulated. I would stake my life that this is the same man!*

Thorn did not believe. She felt his skepticism at her back. Bronze would do much for attention, much to draw himself to her as she grew older.

And yet she was not a child, and a small, tight-packed bubble of defiance rose in her. If her blade brought something to her, should she not hear him out? Waterlight lifted her chin. *Show me,* she said.

His mind was golden, like the reflecting metal of his name, and the picture was sharp -- one of the images the Genii had made, a dark haired human, rather ordinary looking, eyes a muddy shade between brown and green, like thousands of others. The second picture…. The human rested in their feeding pens, a film of hair upon his chin rendering him more bestial, his hair threaded silver a little at the temples, but those same eyes, the same expression of fearlessness, as though he knew what was to come and did not surrender. *It might be?* she said, and did not like the uncertain sound in her own voice.

Thorn bent his head, a small flash of interest as he studied the images Bronze showed him. *Possibly,* he said grudgingly, *if this one does not distort them.* Bronze might, might in his eagerness make the pictures seem more alike in his mind than they were, exaggerate this man's likeness to the Consort of Atlantis. *Where did he come from?*

*From my run upon Gaffen,* Bronze said proudly. *Everwind and I brought eleven, food to keep us some little time.*

Eleven, Thorn thought, and it was there in his mind -- darts by the hundreds streaking across the sky, thousands scattering before them, great plazas full of panicked crowds swept clean in moments. Such had been Sateda, in the old days. Now they hunted on the fringes, poaching here and there where it would be little noticed.

*Eleven,* Bronze said, and his back was steel. *I go and fetch the food we have, not brood in solitude!*

Thorn snarled, and she felt his anger and at the same time knew the truth of his words. If all had not gone so badly, if her mother lived yet….

*I am Queen,* she said to both, her voice clear as crystals. *And I will have no quarreling, my blades.*

It was her prerogative to call the Consort to order, but she had never done thus. She did not know if he would take it. If he did not….

*Possibly it is the Consort of Atlantis, My Queen,* he said. Pride blossomed bright in his mind. She was growing. She would not be easily ruled, a weak queen who was nothing but her consort's mouthpiece.

It made her bold. *See that this man is taken to a cell and given food and water. If it is not the Consort Guide, it will do little harm to keep him alive some few more days. And if it is….* She raised her eyes to Bronze, whose heart leaped. *We have a great prize.*


He expected to be taken to the Queen. Wasn't that always how this worked? They'd come and get him, drag him in to where the Wicked Witch of the West was waiting, and then she'd start with the whole ‘kneel puny human’ routine. So when two Wraith came to get John, he thought he knew the drill. One of them was one of the big masked guys, and the other was the young one he'd seen before, the one who'd asked his name.

The big one prodded his back with a stunner, and John briefly wondered if he could goad him into firing. If he stunned him it would probably be a little while before they got back to the going to the Queen part. It might buy a little more time before she turned his mind inside out.

But no. This guy would probably just pin his arms or punch him. He was built like a brick wall, and wouldn't actually need to stun him to assure his compliance.

To his surprise they went to an ordinary holding cell, the twin of the ones he'd been in before, a bleak little room in semi-darkness, the front wall a sliding grate of irregularly shaped bars. On the floor on one side was a metal dish piled with four or five pieces of fruit, while a metal pitcher held water. John looked at them dubiously.

The young one was already preparing to leave. "What's with the fruit, Frank?" he asked. "Can I call you Frank?"

The Wraith ignored him and stalked off, not even glancing back.

"Ok." John sat down next to the pitcher, glad to at least to be in a different position. "Planning to keep me a while then." He wasn't sure whether that thought was reassuring or not.


*It may be,* Thorn said grudgingly, studying the likeness of their prisoner against the one circulated by the Genii long ago. The man who called himself Han Solo did not waste time pacing his small cell. Instead he leaned against the wall, his face upturned and his eyes closed, apparently hibernating. This one had been a prisoner before. He did not waste energy weeping or pleading, or throwing himself against things that would not yield.

*And if it is the Consort of Atlantis?* Waterlight asked. She looked up at Thorn, her head to the side. *What then?*

*Then we have a worthy trade,* Thorn said, and though he did not wish it she could see the shape of the fears in his mind. Queen Death had little tolerance for lesser queens unless they brought her something of surpassing worth, and Waterlight had nothing. She was nothing by Queen Death's reckoning. A few tens of men, a battered ship -- she would be dead already, had it even been worth the time to send men to kill her. The day would come, inevitably, when their poaching trespassed upon a greater hive, or when Promised Return chanced upon one of Queen Death's ships. There was no need for Death to seek out Waterlight. In the end, it would all be the same.

*I am not afraid,* Waterlight said, and hoped that it did not show that she was.

It was there in the mind of the one she called Father -- the Consort of Atlantis might be worth her life in trade. If this human were he, perhaps Death would take him as gift, and leave Promised Return alone. Perhaps his life might buy a few more years for Waterlight.

*And if it is not?* Waterlight asked. *Will we not then look foolish? And moreover call her attention to us?*

*It is a gamble,* Thorn admitted. *But perhaps we may first speak to one of her counselors who has seen the Consort before. If this is some other who only resembles him, we will know before Queen Death ever hears of it. Be still, and I shall contact those blades I know who might study this likeness and tell me if it is or not. I think there are those who can tell me with little risk.* He looked at Waterlight, his teeth bared in a mirthless smile. *I am not entirely friendless yet.*

*I did not say you were,* Waterlight said, trying to keep the color of her mind from shifting with embarrassment. In truth she did not blame him for their predicament, much as some might. He had been Consort. It had been his duty to protect the hive, to protect his Queen with his very life. To have lost her and survived was not something a man might live down. He should have died for her, rather than live for their daughter, even if his Queen had wished it otherwise.

*Then with your permission, My Queen,* Thorn said sharply. *I will contact those blades I know now in her orbit who may be able to identify the Consort of Atlantis. If we have that one, then perhaps our fortunes will change.*

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Comments

( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
jetnova16
Apr. 21st, 2012 10:23 pm (UTC)
Great, can't wait for the rest of the book to come out.

*****
I was wondering was this rewriten for here or copied from another copy and pasted?

Just wondering because I think I may have found a small minor error in this line:
[Quote]:
"He'd been checking out the woods with a Marine team when the gate had opened again and three Darts come through."
[End Quote]

Shouldn't the last part of that be "came through" and not "come through"?
Wouldn't "came through" mean past tense because he (John) has already been captured?
jo_graham
Apr. 22nd, 2012 11:09 am (UTC)
And that is why we have galleys and copy editors! :) Thank you.
(no subject) - jetnova16 - Apr. 22nd, 2012 01:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
emmtob
Apr. 22nd, 2012 06:48 am (UTC)
That was great! Would i be pushing my luck if i asked for the next chapter and then the next chapter and the next chapter....and so on! :)
jo_graham
Apr. 22nd, 2012 11:10 am (UTC)
*g* Yeah, maybe just a little bit! :)

I'm so glad you liked it. What do you think of the very young Queen?
(no subject) - emmtob - Apr. 22nd, 2012 12:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jo_graham - Apr. 23rd, 2012 10:53 am (UTC) - Expand
jansma
Apr. 22nd, 2012 08:10 am (UTC)
I think I spy me a major entrance, and some interesting dealings in the very near future. :D
jo_graham
Apr. 22nd, 2012 11:12 am (UTC)
Oh definitely! John is really in a jam this time.

What do you think of Waterlight, Thorn and Bronze? Very curious.
(no subject) - jansma - Apr. 22nd, 2012 12:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jo_graham - Apr. 23rd, 2012 01:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jansma - Apr. 23rd, 2012 01:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kaviiq - Apr. 23rd, 2012 03:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - jo_graham - Apr. 23rd, 2012 06:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
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kaviiq
Apr. 22nd, 2012 03:01 pm (UTC)
If there's one thing that honestly surprised me when I started reading Legacy, it's the diversity among the Wraith that you and the other authors have created. It's kind of cool to see that their society isn't strictly limited to the hive castes alone - that a Queen might have motivations other than feeding, or choosing a mate, or crushing rival Queens an human planets under her heel.

I kind of relate to Waterlight, in that sense. I believe that you mentioned that she's only a young teenager developmentally, and that's a tough age to suddenly be saddled with the responsibility of caring for a bunch of people other than herself. She's probably been raised to be a leader, but I don't think that anyone can really be ready to suddenly take charge of a bunch of adults when they're still just a kid. I never had to do anything so extreme, but I can definitely relate to that sense of suddenly having a whole slew of responsibilities to take care of by yourself when you're an awkward teen.

Bronze, on the other hand, takes himself so seriously that it's almost - but not quite - comical. I remember watching guys like him in high school: exaggerate anything that might sound even a little bit cool to impress everyone else. Which, incidentally, makes Thorn's I'm-not-buying-this rebuttal almost cathartic to read.
jo_graham
Apr. 23rd, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
Oh thank you so much! The Wraith are fascinating, and of course there's so much more to their society than what we see onscreen in the short time we have.

Yes, Waterlight is very young, the equivalent of thirteen or fourteen, and she's not ready to be Queen. But her mother was killed in the Replicator War, and she's all there is, Waterlight and her few men and one battered ship.

Bronze is the equivalent of seventeen or so, and he's too young for the responsibilities he has too. He's trying so hard to impress her, trying so hard to be a man, when he should be just a boy himself. They're a hive on the edge, and Thorn is doing his best to keep them all alive.

And now they've captured John Sheppard!
(no subject) - kaviiq - Apr. 23rd, 2012 07:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jo_graham - Apr. 24th, 2012 11:02 am (UTC) - Expand
brigona
Apr. 23rd, 2012 12:01 pm (UTC)
Great opening-chapter! It really captured me. Describing the Wraith the way you do make the series so much more interesting than just writing them as "unknown, bad villains". I,m really waiting for the book!
jo_graham
Apr. 23rd, 2012 06:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you like the way we write the Wraith. We've enjoyed so much being able to flesh them out.
kinetikat
Apr. 29th, 2012 01:40 pm (UTC)
What a brilliant surprise - I forget LiveJournal for a week while busy with other stuff, I come back, and whammo! First chapter of 'Avengers' is up waiting for me! Thank you!!
Ooooh, so much good chewy stuff here. I love the dynamic between Thorn and Waterlight, and Bronze's man-child posturing. Thorn is old and tired, grieving his Queen, Waterlight and Bronze so young - unready, untried - all doing their best in a terrible situation.
And here's John Sheppard, echoing Guide's experience in Kolya's jail (the passage from I forget which of the earlier books, where he is pacing in his cell and using the pacing as an aid to finding and reliving memories to keep him sane) - lovely correspondence there, yet another link between the two men.
Han Solo. And calling Bronze 'Frank'. LOL Sheppard is just irrepressible.
Bravo once again ;)
ps: I wanted to be Han Solo too when I was a kid!
jo_graham
Apr. 30th, 2012 10:10 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you like it! And wow, you noticed the deliberately parallel passage for John and Guide! You're the only one who's mentioned it! Yes, that was a deliberate parallel to Melissa's scene with Guide in Homecoming.

John is irrepressible. Han Solo -- you know he wanted to be Han Solo! (I wanted to be Princess Leia.) He's really in a tight spot here. Thorn and Waterlight need something of worth to trade to Queen Death, and it looks like he's it!
(no subject) - kinetikat - May. 1st, 2012 06:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jo_graham - May. 1st, 2012 03:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
kinetikat
May. 1st, 2012 06:43 am (UTC)
Oh, and looking at the comments above - Queen Death? Total fruit loop.
hiveshipmist
May. 16th, 2012 09:52 pm (UTC)
Is Waterlight's dress the same dress Teyla dreamed about in Death Game? If so, the two might be related...
jo_graham
May. 17th, 2012 10:53 am (UTC)
OH! Aren't you clever! Nobody else has noticed that! :)

Not exactly the same dress, but the same style. The same inspiration for both. Or, rather, Waterlight's dress is a copy inspired by the one Teyla dreams of! There's something for you to chew on! :)
(no subject) - hiveshipmist - May. 17th, 2012 11:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jo_graham - May. 17th, 2012 11:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hiveshipmist - May. 17th, 2012 11:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
hiveshipmist
Jun. 27th, 2012 01:52 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting Chapter 1 and the link to the painting. Without having the paperback book yet, I can only comment on Chapter 1. You certainly created a gem of a character with Waterlight! Who would not identify with her and root for her?! Not only does she resonate with me, but everyone in the comments on the painting wants to rally to her side for what she has been through and how rich and beautiful she is on the inside. In just a few paragraphs, you made it so many people could identify with her. So many women feel they have big shoes to fill in their mothers’ places and dread the chapter in their lives of their mothers’ passing. People know the meaning of struggle, as we all have our personal daily battles to overcome. Then, there is the magic of childhood wonder, as she remembers through Thorn’s loving memories, at the beach and the feelings of her first crush on Bronze. How universal and how exciting! So many people are rooting for her and I hope her hive will see better times by the end of the series.
jo_graham
Jun. 27th, 2012 11:06 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you like Waterlight! I hope people do rally to her and wish her well. She's a brave little toaster, and she'll have her own part to play in the last book. Your painting was lovely!
( 34 comments — Leave a comment )