Darkness To Dawn
Whoever had said “it’s always darkest just before the dawn” had obviously never been stuck on an alien planet with only a kid for company. Rodney McKay glowered over at his young companion. “You said we were almost there three hours ago,” he muttered sourly.
“And now we are even closer than when I said that,” the boy remarked cheerfully, holding out what looked to Rodney like roadkill on a stick. He grinned and shrugged when Rodney waved the offering away. “It’s good,” he said, taking a bite himself and swallowing it with obvious relish.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Rodney said, searching through his tac vest pockets and smiling triumphantly when he found an energy bar. “Not exactly cordon bleu but better than barbecued rat,” he said, taking a bite. “Want some?” he mumbled around his mouthful, inordinately grateful when the kid shook his head and continued to eat his own food instead. “What’s your name anyway?” he asked, feeling that some sort of polite conversation was in order. The kid had rescued him from being sacrificed to this planet’s quite literally stone-faced god after all.
“Alaban,” the boy replied. He tossed the bare skewer back onto the fire and stood up. “We should move again now,” he added, using both feet to kick dirt over their campfire. “It’s almost morning and my people will be looking for you. They won’t be happy that the sacrifice will not happen before sunrise.”
“Why are you doing this?” Rodney asked as he stood and stretched his aching muscles. “Won’t you get in trouble for helping me?”
“Perhaps,” Alaban replied as he began to set a quick pace back into the forest. “However,” he turned to flash Rodney a grin as he waited for him to catch up, “at least I know they will not sacrifice me on a burning pyre as they would have done to you.” He looked momentarily downcast. “My father will probably beat me soundly. It will not be the first time, however.”
“Yeah but why-" Rodney shook his head as Alaban took off at a trot and he struggled to keep pace. “Listen, this is about top speed for me right now,” he panted. “I know it’s probably hard to tell but I’m not exactly an athletic type of guy.”
“Then stop talking and use your lungs to breathe instead,” Alaban advised him blandly.
“Point taken,” Rodney murmured. He put his head down and concentrated on making his blistered feet move as fast as they could.
It seemed like hours before they entered the clearing where the stargate stood. Rodney stumbled exhaustedly in Alaban’s wake. His feet were bleeding now, he noticed. The villagers had removed his shoes when they’d captured him, in order, he’d assumed at the time, to prevent him running away. He slumped down to sit on the stone dais in front of the gate, breathing heavily, then looked up as Alaban touched his shoulder.
“Now I will tell you why I helped you escape,” the boy said, crouching down next to him. “My people are good but they are set in the old ways. There are some of us though, young people like myself, who believe it is time to leave the darkness of our past behind and move into a new world, a world where we can learn new things, make friends, see new places. I have seen the darkness my people have lived in for many generations. Now I want my future children and grandchildren to live in the light. Maybe one day you’ll return here and find the old ways have been abolished.” He stopped and looked around. “Someone is coming. You should go through the ring!”
Rodney looked past the boy and smiled with sheer relief as he saw his team crossing the clearing towards them. “It’s okay. It’s my friends,” he said, as he accepted Alaban’s helping hand to stand.
“I must go,” Alaban said. “Be well, McKay. I hope that next time you visit my world all will be different.” He headed off at a swift run and disappeared back into the forest.
“Hey, thanks!” Rodney called after him. Suddenly feeling completely worn out, he slumped back down to wait for his friends. Being an almost-sacrifice was very hard work.