Author: TIPPER
Parts: At the moment, 18, but I might divide it up differently as I post.
Status: Completed (unbelievable, I know, but it is!)
Characters: Sheppard and McKay are the heart (because I love them so), but Teyla, Weir, Ronon, Beckett, Caldwell and even Hermiod have pretty big roles.
Spoilers: All of Season One. Season Two up to Inferno. Off the top of my head, definite references to Before I Sleep, Epiphany, Sanctuary, Aurora and Trinity. Especially Trinity. If there are others, they're really minor.
Feedback: Yes please! It's the only thing that keeps me going! Well, that and copious amounts of Diet Coke.
Acknowledgement: NotTasha, as always—she's totally to blame.

A/N: I managed to avoid reading spoilers for all the episodes of this season but one. I accidentally read something about Inferno, which I regretted (because I hate being spoiled!). But, at the same time, it lodged a scenario into my brain (sort of like the way reading the spoiler for Sanctuary twisted inside my crazy brain and disgorged A Show of Trust.) So, yeah, there are a number of common elements, but I hope this is still unique enough to stand on its own. I was going to wait until Inferno aired to start posting, but, heck, they're not even remotely similar at first so...

A/N2: I am absolutely and totally clueless when it comes to physics and the hard sciences, even more so than the soft ones. Why I decided to write something like this, I don't know. To all astronomers, astrophysicists, and engineers, please forgive me and, seriously, don't bother to correct me when I really start to wing it, I probably won't understand anyway.

Description: When the shield device around an Ancient space-station begins to break down, it traps more than just our heroes...it traps the Daedalus.


The rubber Haz-Mat suits were damned uncomfortable. And thick to boot. Horribly, horribly thick. And hot. And heavy. And the smell…

And who was the sucker carrying the big, overloaded pack over his suit on the planet o' rust? Yup. Just call him Sherpa McKay. Why did Zelenka convince him to take that stupid third laptop battery? How long did he think they'd be gone? And why did he listen? He so needed to stop listening to the Czech. Problem was, he often got so impatient arguing with Zelenka—especially when the annoying man started spitting out half his words in his face-drenching language—that he'd just throw up his hands and agree just to stop him talking. Three batteries. Big ones. Felt like he was carrying lead bricks in there.

McKay shifted inside the suit for the fifth time, adjusting the straps of the pack, trying to get to an itch that was just killing him on his shoulder. Didn't help they were wearing the flak vests underneath—he couldn't get through both the rubber and the vest's straps.

Sighing heavily, he tried to refocus on the datapad in his arms, the plastic faceplate of the damn suit making the small information blurring past look even more blurry. Although, that wasn't the only thing giving him a headache. He was trying to scan for power sources and information about the planet beneath their feet, but very little was actually registering, despite the fact that the datapad was attuned for Ancient tech—hell, half of its inner-workings were pieces from Atlantis equipment.

It was frustrating, and McKay didn't like frustrating. It suggested failure, something he refused to accept...

Then again, who could blame him. The planet was a dust bowl, flat and boring, rust-colored from ground to sky, the wind swirling it around their heads in huge brown whorls. When he'd first seen it through the MALP's camera, it had reminded Rodney of the monochromatic images sent back from the Mars Rover Spirit, but only if the same had broadcast from inside a massive gas cloud.

"You know..." Sheppard had said, tilting his head at the images on the screen. "Kinda looks like the color of an old brown Yugo I had once, after it had been left out in too many rainstorms."

"Really?" Rodney had said, glancing at him. "You had Yugo?" His eyebrows had perked. "Why?"

Sheppard had ignored the patronizing tone.

Still, the database on Atlantis had provided information on a scientific outpost on this planet, one that was studying alternate sources of energy, which made it too important to ignore even after discovering that the air on this planet's atmosphere was toxic. The only explanation was that the outpost was underground, but the database gave no information about how to find it. Still, why have the gate above ground when the air was unbreathable.

"Although," Chuck had noted, tapping away at his keyboard controlling the MALP as they'd looked around, "the readings do indicate the atmosphere is not immediately toxic." He had sounded oddly cheerful about this fact.

"Not immediately toxic?" Sheppard had repeated. "What does that mean?"

"That the air could be breathed for a short time, perhaps a few hours, before the effects of breathing it in would overcome the respiratory system and kill you." The tech then shrugged. "There is oxygen there, just not enough to sustain a human being for an overly long time."

"Sounds awesome," Sheppard had replied dryly. "Can't wait to check it out."

And so they were here. Looking for a secret entrance to an underground outpost that may or may not still exist, surrounding by air as thick as French onion soup, with nothing registering on his equipment and sweat pooling in places that no one wanted sweat to pool.

Sheppard, meanwhile, was currently plodding along at Rodney's side, ignoring the scientist's constant grumbling (McKay was well aware most of his thoughts were actually being muttered out loud, but he didn't care). Ronon and Teyla were behind, backing up the colonel, and all three were on sharp alert, peering uneasily into the glittering rust-colored mist blanketing them on all sides.

He glanced at the colonel's face, seeing the unhappy twist of Sheppard's mouth as he scanned for danger. He just happened to catch a line of sweat drip down the side of Sheppard's face inside the mask. Well, Rodney thought, at least I'm not suffering alone.

Funnily enough, that cheered him up quite a bit.

Almost smiling now, he nearly missed Teyla calling his name over the radio.

"Doctor McKay?"

He turned, seeing that she had stopped a few feet behind and was staring down at something to her left. Turning in that direction, he quickly understood the sour look on her face as the smog thinned a little with a gust of silent wind.

Bones. At least four skeletons, and one of them a child. They were white, almost perfectly preserved in the toxic atmosphere.

He gave her a shrug, not knowing what to say or do. Her response was only to nod sadly, though he knew she was thinking the same thing as he. Why had those people come here and, when the atmosphere started to make them choke, why didn't they leave? The DHD, as far as they could tell, was functioning perfectly. They'd already checked it.

And they hadn't been the only bones they'd found.

"I don't understand this place," Ronon muttered over the radio. "Why did they come?"

"Religious reasons?" Teyla answered. "Perhaps a belief that there was something more here?"

"Is there?" Ronon asked.

"There better be," Sheppard answered darkly. "And I'm hoping it's worth it."

McKay didn't disagree. At the same time, his instincts told him it was. The Ancients had hidden the entrance too well for it not to have value. The MALP had shown no structures on the planet within five hundred yards of the Stargate, but there was no rubble either, which would have been the case had it been destroyed by the Wraith. Something was here, and the Ancients had gone to a lot of trouble to make it hard to find.

They'd already completed two circuits around the Stargate, hoping to trigger something or for something to show up on his datapad or on the Ancient life signs detector. Something must…

"McKay." It was Sheppard this time, and the scientist turned around to find the colonel staring at his feet. There was a touch of wonder on his face.

The ground was glowing beneath his feet. Very faintly, but definitely glowing, like the emergency lights lining the aisles of an airplane, forming a path to be followed. Looking down at his own feet, McKay realized his were glowing as well. Together, the two men looked at Teyla and Ronon...but there was nothing for them.

"Gene activated?" Sheppard said.

"Looks like," McKay said, though how the path sensed their presence through the rubber soled boots he had no idea. He looked from his feet back to his datapad, and his eyes opened a bit wider. Suddenly there was a lot more information scrolling down the screen. And not just information about a power source—it was if whatever was blocking his ability to scan the planet was being lifted, and he was being given the ability to see straight down into the heart of it.

Sheppard saw the opening expression on the scientist's face, and just watched as McKay stepped forward some more. More of the pathway brightened. Symbols were becoming visible. But Rodney was paying little attention, focused completely on the data streaming past.

And disappointment grew. This didn't make sense.

Teyla had walked forward, tilting her head as she tried to read the meaning of Ancient writing on the path.

"Haven?" she asked, pointing at one of the symbols.

Rodney heard, but didn't reply. He was too absorbed by the datapad. Something was wrong with all of this.

"McKay?" Sheppard called, the tone an order to pay attention to Teyla.

"Huh?" McKay looked up, saw Sheppard's look, then turned his head towards Teyla. She was still pointing, and, when he glanced at the symbol, he nodded. "Yes. Haven. Exactly. Um," he squinted at the ground, and took another step. More symbols lit. "It reads...uh... A place to hide...something... haven...something..." he grimaced, shaking his head. "We should record a copy for Elizabeth."

"Any warnings?" Sheppard asked, the tinny radio not hiding the tension in his voice. Pretending not to hear it, McKay turned in a circle, lit up a few more symbols, did a quick translation in his mind, then shook his head.

"Not that I can see." He glanced at Sheppard, "Nothing about a one-way trip, anyway."

The colonel's eyes narrowed slightly at the reference. "You sure?"

McKay stared at the hazel eyes boring into his. Finally, he looked down, and reread the Ancient written on the path again—to show he was not rushing this time.

"Yes," he stated, looking at the colonel again.

The colonel still didn't look convinced. "Just translate as much as you can for us," he ordered.

So they can make their own decision, McKay understood. The lack of trust didn't sting as much as it used to. He knew he deserved it.

McKay heaved another sigh, and shifted his pack. "Fine. Then keep walking—see if you can get them all to light. I've got a few partial sentences here."

Sheppard did as he was told, and, in moments, the path was lit all the way from where they stood—about half way from the back of the Stargate—to the entrance McKay was now certain was at the other end, though it was still invisible. McKay hugged the datapad to his chest as he walked up and down the symbols, reading them. Teyla followed behind—she was recording them with a video recorder, along with McKay's translation.

"Okay," McKay licked his lips, "This is what I've got. Elizabeth will do a better job of this, but I think it reads..." He blew the air out of his cheeks, and pointed to the first symbol, "Welcome to...I think it's pronounced...Asimbabbar? Wait, that can't be-"

"No," Ronon said with wonder. "I know that name."

"You do?" McKay asked. "How?"

"It's a myth. A childhood fairy tale about a cave filled with gold that protects you from the Wraith. When I was a Runner, some folks would swear they could sell me the address to its location. I knew, though, if it were real, they would have gone themselves."

"Did you say, Gold?" Sheppard said.

"I don't know the name," Teyla said. "But we have a similar childhood story. We called it Allambe. A hidden place filled with gold, jewels and magic."

"To be honest," Sheppard said then, "we have a few myths like that, from El Dorado to the Cave of Wonders. But I suppose every myth has to start somewhere."

"What else does it say, Rodney," Teyla asked him.

McKay had been working as they'd chatted, looking up a few symbols he hadn't immediately known. "Um, okay. Welcome to Asimbabbar, a place of study and learning and strength? Um...for those returning, may it provide...answers and truth. For those seeking...a place...to hide...may it be a haven until you are...found. Uh, may it always...something...for those in need...until...peace happens?" He sighed heavily, and looked at Sheppard, "That's it."

"Peace happens?" Sheppard arched an eyebrow, visible even inside the suit, "Awfully sixties, McKay."

"Look, whatever, there's no warning here," McKay said, indicating the ground. "Frankly, what this says isn't what is bothering me right now."

Sheppard's eyebrows lifted at that, obviously confused. "What? What are you talking about?"

McKay indicated the datapad, "According to these readings, this planet is solid, Colonel. And I mean solid. It's made up of heavy elements, as all planets are, but the metal content of this one... Incredibly high quantities of lead, gold, iron, platinum..." He shook his head, looking up again, "Unless the Ancients have perfected some method of transporting massive amounts of metal of that weight that I don't know of, there is no way they built an outpost inside this planet. It's next to impossible. It's just too solid."

"You telling me they didn't mine ores?" John replied, frowning a little. "Surely they could have..."

"Yes, of course they did," McKay interrupted. "But not on this sort of scale. Look, Colonel, you can find these elements anywhere—they're very common—and in places where they're not so bogged down with other incredibly heavy elements. I'm just saying that the power requirements necessary for a mining or drilling operation on a planet like this would have to have been astronomical. It's basically one enormous metal ball with a sheet of rock surrounding it. Why would they waste that kind of power and time?"

Sheppard frowned more deeply. "So what are you saying?"

"I'm saying...there's no outpost under this planet's surface."

A short staring contest ensued, until Sheppard finally broke it with: "Are you sure?"

McKay opened his mouth to answer, then closed it with a soft sigh.

"Well, No. Not exactly. Just...it's very unlikely and—"

"Then we stick to the plan."

"But I don't like—"

"There's obviously something here, McKay," Sheppard said, indicating the glowing path beneath his feet. "A haven, if your translation is correct."

"What if it's a lie? To draw people here to die?" Ronon asked then, looking to where they'd seen the last pile of bones.

"Why would the Ancients do that?" Teyla asked.

Ronon had no answer to that, but he clearly wasn't happy. McKay had to agree with him.

"Well, we won't know until we find out what is at the end of this path. So, let's find out," Sheppard said. "After you, Rodney."

McKay sighed and started walking along the path.

It ended almost abruptly about a hundred yards further, and McKay frowned, studying the nothing before him. Without waiting for the others, he tucked his datapad under one arm, and pulled off a glove.

"McKay!" Sheppard's voice admonished him. "What are you doing?"

The scientist glared at him. "What?"

"Toxic atmosphere ring a bell?" Sheppard asked, pointing a rubber gloved finger at the rusty sky.

"It's poisonous, not corrosive. I'll be fine." McKay glanced at his hand, ignoring the fact that it was beginning to tingle a little. Of course, the skin breathed as well, to a degree. Still, as the tech had said, not "immediately" toxic. Stubbornness and anger overcame caution every time.

Reaching forward, to where he guess the entrance to be, based on the path at his feet, he stopped only when he felt cool metal beneath his palm. A smile lit his face, and he closed his eyes.

Hello, he thought, Anyone home?

The metal shivered and he opened his eyes...to find a door before him, painted a similar rust red to the planet. Smiling, he backed up and watched as the rest of the structure became visible, as if someone were pulling off a heavy cloth from a piece of antique furniture. The invisibility cloak rippled as it faded, leaving behind what could only be described as...

...A big, ugly, red box.

"Hunh," McKay said, eyebrows lifting. "Well...that's surprisingly dull."

"Funny," Sheppard said, "I was going to say, it was kinda...." his eyebrows waggled inside the suit, "'rust'-ick."

The three glares he got in response could have melted that rubber suit right off.