Chapter 2

John stepped through the 'gate and cast a quick glance around him. He stood on a set of flagstone steps that led down to a roughly circular area paved with the same stones, before giving way to manicured lawn. The stargate area appeared to be the central feature of a large, cultured park that was obviously well tended. The blue-green lawns spread as far as he could see, interspersed with trees and bushes and flagstone pathways that meandered through the park. To his left a large pond glittered in the warm sunlight and reflected the brilliant azure sky. John found himself blinking at the peculiar sight of very alien plants growing next to others that forcibly reminded him of Earth. He stared momentarily at something that looked like a cross between a Venus Flytrap and a fir tree, which towered over a bush that resembled Daphne. The imitation Daphne even had the same heady, honeyed scent, which was attracting some large purple insects. As he watched, an appendage from the flytrap tree snapped out and devoured one of the hovering insects.

John gave himself a mental shake and clicked his radio twice, the all-clear sign for his team to come through. He'd be damned if he'd let anyone else step into an unknown situation first, even with the MALP's intel. Teyla stepped through and John once again found himself admiring the easy grace with which she carried herself. Ford came through next. The weapons expert had a resigned look on his face, which was unusual. Ford loved 'gate travel and he was normally enthusiastic when he stepped offworld. The reason for his weary demeanour came through the 'gate a split-second later.

"…pony-tailed git wouldn't know a sound scientific principle if it bit him in the rear end!" McKay, in full snark.

John returned his full attention to scanning for threats and let the tirade become background noise. He was amazed McKay could talk from one side of the rippling blue event horizon to the other- he still held his breath when he stepped through. The only reason he still didn't close his eyes was because he didn't want to look like an idiot in front of the marines in the 'gateroom. Well, that and he didn't want to walk into an unknown environment with his eyes shut. It'd been just over seven months since he'd first stepped through the stargate, and despite General O'Neill's endorsement of it, 'gate travel still gave him the willies. Not as much as it had that first day, but that first time had been a whopper. They needed a sign above the SGC 'gate: Watch your step, the first one's a doozie. At least this wasn't a one-way trip to another galaxy.

"McKay." After the whole super wraith mission, John was starting to give the scientist a bit more credit in the field; but most of the time he still expected the well trained, efficient responses of military personnel and it irritated him when he discovered the scientist not paying attention. Instead he was still talking, looking around him like a tourist.

"Hmm?" he looked at John, but made no other move.

"The life-signs detector?" John allowed a little of his irritation to show in his voice.

"Oh! Yes, yes." McKay exploded in a flurry of disorganised movement as he hurried to locate and retrieve the life-signs detector from his tac' vest. "And.. yes! We've hit the mother lode. Massive energy readings coming from that direction." He clicked his fingers twice and pointed in the direction of one of the larger pathways.

"Okay. Let's go." John shifted his grip on his P-90 and led the way. Ford and Teyla followed immediately, while McKay had to trot to catch up.

"Hey, do you think they'll have coffee?"

They walked over half a mile until the tailored landscape of the park ended abruptly in a tall, delicately wrought iron fence through which John could see glimpses of grey, domed buildings. John slowed as he approached the large gates at the end of the path. They must have a kick ass surveillance system hidden in the park; John hadn't seen anything out of place but they were obviously expected. At the head of the pathway stood a tall man with an official stance, flanked by six soldiers with their weapons raised. He brought his P-90 up. Teyla's gun near his right shoulder was comforting, and he knew without looking that Ford had his P-90 at the ready. Rodney held his Barretta with a moderate amount of professionalism. John just hoped the scientist didn't have to shoot as he had failed to sidestep and as a result was pointing the 9mm at John's shoulder instead of the soldiers ahead.

"What do we do?" McKay hissed.

"Don't shoot me, for starters." John retorted. Rodney realised his error and sidestepped to the left. "Just relax." John told him, although he had to admit that being outmanned and outgunned was hardly conducive to relaxing. He warily sized up the soldiers. They had some serious weaponry, guns that reminded John of the Genii rifles, only larger. They were dressed in plain brown tunics over tight fitting black pants and black steel capped boots. They looked professional and they handled their weapons with the easy grace of people who were comfortable using them. They were in trouble. Damn. If it came to a fire fight, John didn't like the odds.

He brought his attention to the tall man standing in the centre of the soldiers. He was several inches taller than John, and had short hair around the side of a bald pate. He was dressed the same as the soldiers only instead of the tunic he wore a long flowing royal blue robe, that was fastened tightly to his chest by a complicated criss-crossed leather thong. He had an imposing manner, and John really didn't care for the expression on the man's face. John sighed. He hated diplomacy. He sucked at it; just look at the Manarian debacle.

"Hey. How're ya doing?" Nope, Mr. Frosty was still giving him the evil eye. "My name's Major John Sheppard. This is Lieutenant Ford, Teyla Emagen and Dr. McKay." He gave them the most earnest smile he could muster with six guns pointed at him. Silence reigned. "Er. We came through the stargate from a place called Atlantis. We were hoping to meet you nice people and maybe open trade negotiations."

If they didn't get a response this time, it was probably going to get ugly. John waited tensely for a moment.

"You come from Atlantis, the city of the Ancients?" Mr. Frosty rumbled. John lowered his P-90 slightly and nodded to the others to do the same. He looked expectantly at the Lakeeshan delegate who, in turn, indicated to his soldiers to lower their weapons. John breathed a small sigh of relief.

"Yes, we do. We found your 'gate address in their database." John thought going into details about alternative timelines and ten thousand year old Elizabeths might stretch his credibility somewhat, so he stuck to the abbreviated version.

"We thought we may be able to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement." Teyla stated warmly, smiling in that gentle manner designed to put people at ease.

"Maybe even become friends." John added, grinning at the tall official.

Mr. Frosty sized them up one more time, then barked "Follow me," and turned on his heel and stalked off. John looked at his team, raised his eyebrow, and shrugged.

"I guess we follow him." He said wryly, and turned and marched off after the tall Lakeeshan, eyeing the soldiers warily as they fell into formation around the Atlanteans.

As they walked through the gates and entered the city's outskirts John once again examined the tall Lakeeshan. The man was steadfastly ignoring the newcomers. He'd said nothing since his brief command to follow and John was starting to get a bad feeling about it. Well, more of a bad feeling. Or was that a worse feeling? Anyway, it was starting to piss him off. He increased his pace slightly so he could walk beside the tall man.

"I didn't catch your name?" The Lakeeshan continued to ignore him. John tried again.

"So, just out of interest, how did you know we were here? I'm guessing you weren't out for a morning walk." Good one, John. Yup, he'd look happier scraping shit off his shoe.

"I'm sure they had sensors in the park, Major." Rodney replied in his best "you're-an-idiot-why-do-I-bother" voice. John sighed. Rodney had been extra snarky at him since Allina. Perhaps he had gone a little too far stirring the awkward scientist. John wasn't an idiot, despite Rodney's allusions. He knew enough to recognise the insecurity and sensitivity beneath McKay's bluster and snark. John bit back a smile. McKay was just so fun to tease though. And yes, John had already surmised that the there had been a sensor array of some sort in the park, but he wanted to form some sort of connection with the aloof Lakeeshan.

"Thank you Rodney." John growled, and threw a warning look over his shoulder. Turning back to the man next to him, he asked brightly "So, where are we going?"

Mr. Frosty heaved a suffering sigh and stopped in front of a tall grey building. The square, flat structures they had walked past up to this point had the ramshackle look of warehouses. This one was different however, and from what John could see ahead, they were approaching the more inhabited regions of the city. The building itself was a strange design. The first thing that leapt to John's mind was that it resembled a cross between an Ancient outpost and the White House, but lacking the colour of either décor.

"Before I introduce you to the council, you must submit to a medical examination. You will not be permitted any further unless you concur. We must protect ourselves from any diseases you may be carrying."

For a moment John was so fascinated by the man's sneer on the word 'diseases' that the context of the sentence didn't sink in. Then... hey! He wasn't quick enough though. Rodney exploded.

"What medical examination? I'm not going to get poked and prodded by some alien witchdoctor! I'm more likely to catch a disease than give you one! Do you know how many forms of bacteria are passed on intravenously? What methods of sanitation do you use?" John glanced at him. He could see his own doubts over the proposed 'medical examination' reflected on McKay's face. His own mind automatically presented him with several unsavoury scenarios, and Rodney exercised his imagination in this area far more than John did. Still, medical exams were standard practice in Atlantis, and it appeared to be a standard practice here too. He turned to the agitated scientist.

"Calm down, Rodney." He ignored Rodney's protests of 'how can he calm down' and turned to Mr. Frosty. He was uncomfortably aware that the soldiers were shifting their grips on their weapons. He didn't like this at all. Give him a fighter jet and a blue sky any day of the week. He understood the rules of engagement then. Diplomacy? What rules of engagement? Half the time he lost track of the actual goal, what's less the rules. He'd come to discuss ZPMs. How did he end up at medical exams?

"Perhaps if you would provide some more information. What do these examinations entail? We would be comfortable submitting to a reasonable check up." God bless Teyla. John settled for scowling at the Lakeeshan.

Mr. Frosty answered Teyla's question, but kept his gaze on John.

"The examination is not invasive. It involves gathering some basic medical data on you; some blood tests, some body scans. The tests are for your benefit, as much as ours. It will allow us to treat you if you should require any medical assistance while you are in our city. It will also ensure that you are not vulnerable to any diseases we may carry. It is as much for your protection as it is ours. You will remain conscious, and you will be permitted to keep your weapons." His was saying the right words, but his tone was even colder and more condescending than before. And John didn't like the way he said they could keep their weapons. It sounded like he didn't consider them a threat. He squared his shoulders slightly, and determined not to let Mr. Frosty's tone nettle him.

"Lead on McDuff." Oh yeah, Earth term. Oh well. Mr. Frosty got the gist and lead them into the medical centre.

"The saying is "Lay on, McDuff" for those of us that have actually read a book, Major." Rodney sneered as he swept past. John scowled and followed him into the darkened doorway.