AUTHORS NOTES: Thanks Tipper and Sable Cain for your comments, corrections, and support. This wouldn't have been finished without them -- so blame them both this time. There are probably issues here with medical stuff. I'm not a doctor.
This story takes place during Season Two. Small spoilers for "Childhood's End" and "The Hive"
CHAPTER 1: PANCAKES AND SYRUP
John Sheppard made his way into the conference room, offering a contrite smile as he realized he was the last to arrive. Even McKay was already there, making use of the 'down time' by attacking his laptop.
"Sorry I'm late," John uttered as he slid into the last available seat. "I could give you an excuse but…"
McKay, still clicking away at his keyboard finished the sentence for him, "…but all the apology would amount to is recognition that you have a lack of time management and perhaps a somewhat Freudian attempt at avoidance." He never raised his gaze from the screen as he worked.
"There was a line at the mess hall," John completed. "And they were out of pancakes."
"Pancakes?" Ronon returned, looking confused. "There were plenty when I went." He smiled contentedly, looking rather like a lion that had just had his fill of antelope. "Pretty good. I had about a dozen."
Raising his eyebrows, Sheppard sighed. "Which explains why they were out by the time I got there."
"I think I like syrup," Ronon added. "Hashbrowns were good, too."
Sheppard decided not to mention that the ends of Ronon's dreds looked a little – stickier than usual. It was best not to point out such – not because the colonel feared any retribution for mentioning that the former runner had gotten his hair in the syrup – rather he figured Dex would simply stick the natty ends in his mouth and suck of the remainder. John didn't want to be a party to that. Instead he watched McKay, finding himself getting irritated at his constant typing.
"Wish they had waffles," McKay muttered, working still, making Sheppard wonder how he could talk and type at the same time. "But that would mean they'd need a waffle iron, wouldn't it."
"Could get Eggos," Sheppard decided, reaching for the laptop to snap down the lid.
McKay was ahead of him though, muttering, "Let go!" as he moved the computer out of reach.
Weir, looking rather like a beleaguered mother, interrupted the important discussion with, "Shall we get on with this?"
Everyone sat back, looking ready, with the exception of one. Rodney still stooped over his computer, madly typing, paying them no mind. They waited for him to complete his thought.
He didn't stop.
"Rodney," Weir called.
"Hmmm," Rodney voiced, still clattering away.
"Shall we begin?"
"Sure," Rodney muttered, not slowing. "Now that the Colonel has managed to sashay into our meeting and we've confirmed the fact that the mess hall is bereft of either pancakes or waffles…"
"McKay," Sheppard growled.
When Rodney finally raised his eyes, he caught Sheppard's expression and let out an, "Oh," and then, "Very well." And with a put-upon sigh, he closed down the program, and shut his laptop.
Now that everyone was ready, Weir nodded to Teyla, and the Athosian began. "I have received information from Supai," she began. "As you know, I have found excellent trading partners on this planet, and a rich source of information gathered from throughout the worlds." .
"Yeah," Sheppard put in. "We've dealt with them before."
"Haven't turned up much of interest," Rodney commented, looking bored. "I think the last tidbit we received from them resulted in us finding a planet with… trees. Oh! What a surprise."
Sheppard suppressed a smile.
Teyla dipped her head toward the colonel and continued, "They have gained knowledge of something on Tusayan."
"Tusayan?" Sheppard tried the name.
"P5H-997," McKay rattled off. "Captain Ozette's team explored there a few months ago. Found nothing." He fretted at the corner of his laptop, as if itching to open it again.
"The discovery is recent," Teyla went on. "A hunting party from Tuweep uncovered a doorway. They believe it was designed by the Ancestors."
"To weep?" Sheppard tried this name as well.
"P8L-745," McKay informed.
"They are traders and hunters," Teyla told him.
Ronon grunted. "Tuweep was heavily culled by the Wraith. The few who escaped now survive by harvesting what they can from the uninhabited worlds – game, fruit, information. Sell it elsewhere."
"The Tuweepans are good people, poorly used by the Wraith," Teyla explained.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! You said something about a doorway," McKay stated, raising a hand. "The Twerpers found an Ancient doorway on P5H-997?"
"Tuweepans," Teyla gently corrected. "And yes, that is the information we received."
Looking a bit aggrieved, McKay went on, "That's all they could say? A doorway?"
Teyla stiffened a bit. "They copied the three symbols that were found near it." She opened the folder, displaying the rough papers within. The first was a map. She pushed that aside to reveal pages with symbols scribed on them.
"Ooo!" McKay exclaimed.
Ronon made a "Harrumph" sound.
Sheppard leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest and tried not to look bored.
Weir leaned closer. She touched the closest paper. "This one says 'power'." She pushed it aside to find the next. "And this is a symbol for 'solar system'."
McKay leaned over his laptop to grasp one of the papers that was half-hidden under the others. "This…" he said, stubbing a finger at the written symbol. "…is the same symbol used to designate a transporter!"
Sheppard furrowed his brow and settled all his chair feet on the floor. "A solar-system wide transporter?"
McKay, still leaning toward the symbol, turned toward the colonel. "Oh," he started, a smile quirking his lips. "We gotta go there." Beaming, he glanced from Weir to Sheppard, then from Teyla to Dex.
Teyla, looking eager, added, "Finding a transporter that could send a passenger anywhere in a solar system would be a helpful asset."
Ronon frowned. "Why would they need it if they could just use a Stargate to reach other planets?"
Rodney shrugged. "There are several livable planets in that solar system, some more so than others. P5H-997 is the only planet with a Gate." He pointed to one of the papers in front of Weir. "This symbol says 'power'. This transporter probably needed a lot of power to work. I mean, it's gotta if you're transporting people from planet to planet." And a grin lit the doctor's face.
"And if the device needed a lot of power…" Sheppard stated, seeing where McKay was going.
"There is possibly a ZPM at the location," Weir completed.
"But didn't Ozette's team check out the planet?" Ronon asked.
"Yes," McKay responded with a snap. "But if the ZPM had been powered down and insulated in some way to escape detection, and if the team searching the planet didn't do a thorough job of it…" and he drew out that thought looking toward Sheppard. "…it may have been missed."
Sheppard pursed his lips. "Well," he drawled, "Seems to me that we should pay a visit to this place. I'm pretty sure that we could make use of a transporter like that." He tried to ignore Ronon who had suddenly stared at the ends of his dreadlocks.
McKay smiled even wider and glanced to the expedition leader. "So… Elizabeth?" he tried.
Weir gave a curt nod. "Agreed," she conceded. "Go check it out."
"You never know," McKay returned. "We may leave through the gate, but come back an entirely different way."
Weir sighed, letting her eyes fall upon Ronon, who had suddenly decided to suck on his hair. She tore her attention away from the sight as she commented, "Just as long as you all come back, that's all I ask."
The planet of Tusayan was rather like many they'd seen in their travels – offering a passing resemblance to the forests of southwestern British Columbia -- filled with ferns and firs. There were no current residents on the planet – Wraith cullings, over several generations, had devastated the population and, just recently, had completely emptied the hamlets of all souls – and no one cared to fill the vacancy.
A strange series of poles greeted them as they stepped through the wormhole. The structures had been erected near the gate – in an attempt to keep the Wraith from entering in their darts. Apparently they had served their purpose, for the structures remained standing and had thwarted any plan of entering with a jumper. McKay had pointed out, when the situation had been described to him, that someone could easily take down the poles and make their own lives easier.
Teyla had refused this idea – saying that the poles were placed as a reminder to lives lost. The team would walk.
Why hadn't the Wraith removed the poles themselves? Why bother? They'd made short work of the residents on foot. The poles proved rather useless and perhaps the Wraith had left them as a testament to folly. In any case, the planet was empty now and they had no reason to harvest it any longer.
Sheppard and the others stood at the foot of the Stargate's platform, staring up at the poles with their garish decorations. The tall wooden structures were adorned with bits of hanging metal—twisting and clattering in the breeze. Broken branches were strung from cords, clawing at the air. Glass bottles – broken and jagged -- glinted as they spun about on chains, and strange shapes hung, clothed in the remnants of Wraith clothing.
"Seems that they managed to kill a couple of them," Sheppard commented, cocking his head as he watched the macabre scarecrows sway in the breeze. The bits of metal rattled above them, chains squeaked -- sounding out of place in the otherwise quiet world.
Teyla nodded, staring up at the adornments. "It is noted that the Tusayans, many years ago, managed to kill two of the Wraith."
"How'd they do it?" Sheppard asked, knowing how difficult it was to kill one of those creatures, and by the looks of the surrounding architecture, this civilization looked as if it was caught somewhere in the USA's 19th century.
Teyla explained, "They sent a hillside of rock down onto the wraith."
"Anyone can get lucky," Ronon put in. "The Wraith allowed themselves to be in that position. They are overconfident." He shrugged and walked under the hanging construction, as if the cacophonous ghoulish things were an everyday sight.
Edging back toward the gate, Rodney pointed, asking, "Those are bodies? They dug the Wraith out, strung them up and left them to… hang there?"
Teyla nodded, remembering the 'shrine' that the children had erected on M7G-677. "It is likely." She ducked as she walked under the display, not looking up as she went through. Rodney and John followed – moving quickly as the whole thing squeaked and rattled above them.
They made their way past vacant buildings. It was one long street, lined with two-story buildings with a wooden walkway in front – all weather-beaten and about to fall to pieces. A balcony ran along the length of the second level on both sides of the street. Paint peeled to reveal pale wood beneath. Signs that had once adored the storefronts hung helter-skelter, or lay broken on the walkway.
Curiously enough, the windows remained intact. "Why do you think that'd be?" Sheppard asked when McKay pointed it out.
"No punk kids to smash them," McKay decided, as he stepped onto the creaking walkway. He peered through the glass into the empty and overturned interior.
"Looks like a ghost town to me," Sheppard commented as he stood beside McKay, looking out into the surrounding area.
"Ghosts?" Ronon asked. "You are suspecting ghosts?"
"No," McKay answered abruptly. "It's a name for abandoned towns like these." He cupped his hands around his eyes as he looked into the next window. "Seems that they sold mining equipment here," he stated. "This planet does have certain interesting ores that might have been valuable at some time."
Ronon simply kicked open a rotting door to look within. McKay threw him an annoyed look, but Dex didn't seem to care, poking around in the strewn stuff that had been left behind. He toed at the debris, finding nothing of note.
Rapping on the window, Sheppard pointed to Ronon in the room, and gestured for him to come out. And so, they continued down the 'main street' of empty buildings.
"So," McKay started when they reached the end of the row of buildings and faced the forest. "How far is it?" He hoisted his pack into a more comfortable position. "I mean, I'm all for a little exercise every now again. Well, the less the better really, but it's okay as long as we keep it short." He stopped talking and fiddled with his scanner to avoid any further clarifying.
"According to the map," Teyla informed, as she held it before her. "It is approximately three miles in this direction."
McKay groaned. Ronon looked unenthusiastic. Sheppard nodded, stating, "I hope the route is fairly level. I'm not in the mood for mountain climbing."
Ten minutes later, McKay was sniping as they struggled up over the rugged hillside – ever upward. "I hope the route is fairly level," he mocked as he climbed over another boulder, grasping onto the supple branches of a convenient fir. Heather-like vegetation coated the stones and refused to be scraped away in spite of his abuse.
"Could be worse…" Ronon started, but was cut off instantly by both Sheppard and McKay.
"Don't!" they shouted in unison.
"I was just going to say…" Ronon tried to explain.
"I know what you were trying to say," Sheppard explained. "But you should know that the quickest way to make things worse is to say outright that things could be worse."
Ronon paused, glancing from Sheppard (who glared) to McKay (who was still struggling at the rock) to Teyla (who offered him a smile). "I didn't realize they were so superstitious," Ronon commented to the Athosian.
"They have their…" Teyla paused, watching McKay struggle. He had managed to get one foot up at the top, and one hand firmly onto a branch, the other clutching a handful of the weedy, heather-like groundcover that seemed to be everywhere. His hind-end waggled in the effort to draw himself over. "…their quirks," she completed.
Ronon snorted, and offered a helping hand to the doctor, shoving his rump forward. McKay let out an "Eeep!" but made it to the top of the latest obstacle faster than he would have on his own. He turned to Ronon, not sure if he should be furious or thankful.
"Let's keep moving, little man," Ronon said, his voice a low rumble as he easily scrambled up the rocks that had given McKay so much trouble.
McKay sputtered for a moment, but finally came back with, "Yes, let's." He watched Ronon moving onward. "It's a lot easier when you have long legs and arms," he stated, brushing the irritating heather from his hands. "A lot easier. I'm just sayin'."
In response, Ronon squatted down and offered McKay a hand. With a sigh, Rodney accepted the help and was hoisted up over the next rock. Ronon gave him a grin, thumped him on the chest and continued on their quest.
"He's not even winded," McKay complained under his breath as he looked up, seeing the route yet ahead of them. "Hey, it looks like there's easier climbing there," he stated, pointing to a bare patch that scarred one side of the hill.
Ronon stepped back, and checked out the indicated area. "The hill's unstable. Gravel would be hard to walk across -- no traction." He pointed. "The rocks above keep slipping down." He indicated a top-heavy looking ledge that overlooked the bald spot. "Don't want to get caught up in that if it gives way."
"God forbid," McKay responded, trying not to sound annoyed at being corrected.
If Ronon noticed, he gave no sign. He slapped McKay's shoulder (nearly toppling him) and continued on his way.
Looking irritated, McKay turned to Sheppard and muttered, "Why does he have to keep mauling me?"
Ronon, just ahead, chuckled. And the group continued onward.
Once they had made it to the bare top of the hill, they continued across the crest – until they came to a downward slope, and they'd still not reached their destination.
"Oh, give me a break," McKay grumbled, snatching the map from Teyla. "Haven't these people ever heard of topographical markings? Really, if we had known about this we could have skirted the whole issue and gone around this mound. Look!" He pointed. "There's a valley down there. We could have avoided all this climbing. We could have come through there."
"They may have had their reasons," Teyla commented. "The path around the hill would be longer."
"But easier!" McKay added. "If we had an easier trail, we'd make better time."
Ronon corrected him, "Easier is usually the worse possible choice. Harder the trail, the less likely you'll be followed." He glanced down at the valley that surrounded them. "There could be something there that we are unaware of."
Groaning, McKay sat down, massaging his foot through his boot. "I bet they just sent us this way to make it harder on us," he grumbled petulantly. "Or maybe there's something they didn't want us to find. When we go home, we take the valley."
Sheppard sighed, glancing down the opposite side of the hill, finding it just as steep as the side they'd just surmounted. "We stick to the map," he finally decided.
"Fine," McKay grumbled, getting to his feet. "But if I fall on my face…"
"We'll pick you up," Ronon conceded halfheartedly.
"Might drag you a bit," Sheppard added, slapping his friend on the shoulder, and striding forward, ready to begin their downward path.
McKay remained a moment longer, shaking his head in disbelief. "They keep hitting me," he complained to Teyla, who waited for him. "I bruise easy. Don't know why they have to do that."
Teyla smiled in return, understanding the friendly actions and realizing that McKay, in his own way, did too. She gestured for him to get on his way, and with a sigh, Dr. McKay complied.
The team made better time on the downward slope, sliding and scrambling on the rocky hillside. They were nearly at the bottom when Teyla called them to a stop, announcing that they were nearly there. McKay, who had struggled at the back of the pack, forced his way forward to examine the map, then took the lead as they closed on their quarry.
"It must be around here somewhere," Rodney muttered, as he glanced around the area, holding his scanner out in front of him. "I mean as much as we can trust this map – it should be right about here."
"The map has been accurate to this point," Teyla reminded.
"Yes," McKay agreed, "Except for the fact that it failed to mark out the hill."
"All right then," Sheppard declared. "Fan out and see what you can find."
They kept close as they searched. Rodney, John and Teyla moved about in patterns, pressing back the scraggly trees that grew in the harsh soil, searching the hillside for the hidden door.
Ronon didn't participate in the search. Instead, he stepped back, moving further down the hill and providing cover. It wasn't as if they'd seen any sign of trouble, but the former runner was rarely comfortable when his team was on an unfamiliar planet. He moved further away, scuffling at the steep terrain until he found something strange. A little further examination, and he realized he'd found the remainder of an ancient trail.
He stopped moving for a moment, staring his feet. "Hey," he said softly.
"Hey, what?" McKay snapped back.
"A path," the Satedan stated. He looked up, following the trail with his gaze until he spotted it. "And a door."
TBC - see, it's just getting started