"Where did you say you met these people, again?" John Sheppard glanced over at Elizabeth Weir as the Stargate's final Chevron clicked into place. He'd only returned from the mainland a few minutes ago, but had arrived to find an entire military team on standby, and Elizabeth preparing for a journey through the Stargate.
Weir smiled at him, hands clasped over her TAC vest, as the blue matter stream erupted into the center of the Atlantis Gate Room. "They contacted us. According to Major Lorne, they've know of Atlantis's, er, existence, for some time."
"Existence as in 'before nuclear bomb' or after?"
"As in after. I believe their explanation was the same as the one that tipped off the Genii."
"Oh, well, that makes everything all right then," John replied.
"Don't worry, Colonel. Apparently they come highly recommended."
"Yeah, well so did Lucius Lavin. I don't think we have to be reminded how that turned out."
Elizabeth's mouth twisted into a frown. "No, we don't."
"You said Lorne made the contact."
"Yes. He reported in an hour ago, while you were gone. They approached his team on M1M-136—Neron, I believe it's called by its inhabitants—looking for trading partners. According to him, they're harmless. And apparently, descendants of the Ancients."
"Well, that explains…this…" he nodded at the hastily cobbled together military force. He had a sneaking suspicion that had he not come back early, they would have left without him.
"Don't worry, Colonel. We wouldn't have left without running it by you first," returned Elizabeth, one eyebrow raised.
He tossed her a wry grin, masking his surprise. After three years, he would expect people would know him well, but…was he really becoming that transparent? "Well, better safe than sorry."
"With that in mind…are you sure you want to come along? Considering the last Ancient 'descendants' we ran across…"
A shadow crossed her face, and John hesitated, hating the reminder. But it was a necessary evil—Elizabeth had never been good at putting her own welfare above the expeditions' aims of discovery and exploration.
"Well," she replied after a moment, "these people don't appear to be of the Replicator variety. Major Lorne stated they passed all scans and tests with flying colors."
"Oh, well if it was with flying colors—wait…they're not trying to ascend, are they? Because I'm not really that eager to meet up with that type of descendant, either."
"I HOPE not," came an exasperated reply behind them. "If I find out I've just handed Zelenka a new biolab full of wondrous discoveries because I was forced into a meeting with 'release your burden' wannabes, I'm holding you personally responsible."
"I'll bear that in mind," Elizabeth said with a quirked smile.
Rodney McKay stopped strapping on his vest long enough to make a face. "I wasn't talking to…never mind. We have any idea how far away this settlement is?"
"Lorne told us a short walk from the gate."
"Short as in pleasant walk, or short as in 'civilians and scientists should have brought a jumper?'"
"Somewhere in between, I think."
"Which means if you faint from hunger and exhaustion, it wouldn't be too much trouble for the rest of us non-civilians to carry you," John said with a grin.
"Oh yes. Highly amusing. I'll have you know that the last time we went for one of these 'short walks' I had blisters the size of golf balls."
"You did bring a change of socks for this, right?"
"You know what…!"
"Doctor Weir?" interrupted the soft voice of Teyla Emmagan. The Athosian had entered the gate room alongside Rodney and Ronan Dex, the fourth member of John's team. "I believe we are ready."
Elizabeth exchanged a knowing glance with Teyla, who had an uncanny ability to single-handedly get the others on her team back on task. "Thank you." She turned to John. "Are you ready, Colonel?"
"Now that I'm caught up, sure. What's not to like about marching into a situation with no idea what you're getting into? My favorite kind of day." John raised his P-90, nodding at Elizabeth, who responded with an excited smile. "Let's go make some new friends."
M1M-136 was cold—a great deal colder than John had expected, despite the relative warmth of his military issue jacket. The wind was biting, dropping the already frigid air well below freezing, and the effect was immediate on the team, many of the marines pulling out of their protective stances to preserve body warmth.
"Oh come on!" Rodney complained, his jacket already pulled up over his mouth. "Lorne couldn't have mentioned we'd be traveling to Antarctica on this little expedition?"
"This isn't Antarctica," John replied, pulling his own weapon in a little closer to his body.
"I know, been there!"
"Yeah, me too—and not in a secret underground bunker with heaters around every corner."
Rodney glared at him over the top of his coat collar.
"How far did Lorne say it would be?" Ronon's husky voice had a little edge to it, probably because of the cold, though with Ronon you could never really tell.
"Not too far, I think—a short march from the gate," replied Elizabeth, red patches spreading across her skin.
"Not short enough," mumbled McKay.
John ignored his colleague's griping and tapped the radio set in his ear. "Major Lorne, this is Colonel Sheppard. Report your position."
A hiss of static greeted them; John turned to Elizabeth, who watched him apprehensively. "Lorne, I repeat, this is Sheppard. Report your position."
Nothing came across the common radio channel except more fuzz. A high pitched whine behind him indicated Ronon had switched his gun from stun to kill, and for once John wasn't all that sorry for the Satedan's aggressive tendencies.
Footsteps approached from the distance; Ronon moved alongside him swiftly, shielding Weir. The marine detail raised their weapons, the anticipation of attack, ingrained in all of them, replacing the surprise at the change in temperature. John felt his own blood begin to pulse, warmth spreading through him, as the footsteps drew closer.
A familiar voice cut through the crisp air and John eased his finger from the trigger. Evan Lorne broke through the tree line, his own weapon at the ready, though his handsome young face wore none of the tension of the others around him. "Ma'am."
Elizabeth nodded at him, a small smile on her face. "Hello, Major."
"Sorry for the lack of radio contact—I thought I heard you calling out, but something in the atmosphere prevents short range radio frequency transmissions."
"No radio—was any of your other equipment affected?"
"No sir, just the radios. They pick up interference about ten feet from the DHD."
John relaxed a bit more; some of the other marines eased their stances, though Ronon remained observant and cautious. "How far away is the camp?"
"The village is about 100 paces to the East. Within shouting distance, at least."
John nodded, motioning to two of the marines. "Stay within radio range of the gate, in case we need to call home." He turned to keep pace with Lorne, who was already moving away, the rest of the group following. "So what's the status of our new 'friends'?"
"They call themselves Immarians, sir. Their home world is on the outer edge of the galaxy, but they apparently travel around Pegasus in search of trade and alliance."
"And you mentioned they had ties to the Ancients?" asked Elizabeth. "How closely descended are they?"
Lorne turned, his appearance outwardly placid, though with a hint of good-natured kindness. "I don't believe they're close to the real thing, Ma'am, but they share a lot of traits with them. They have technology and equipment that is similar to items we've found in Atlantis but they don't refer to themselves as Ancients. They treat them in the same manner a lot of people in the Pegasus treat them."
"As the Ancestors," said Teyla quietly.
"Sort of? But they don't seem to revere them, as some of the cultures we've found. It's more like they consider themselves directly related."
"Oh, well, it's good to know they're not arrogant," Rodney chirped from beneath the wall of his turtleneck. "Only related."
Lorne's congenial grin faded a tick, but he pushed forward through the sparse, tall trees, leading the group down a hill into a well-hidden dell, where a few wood built cabins, puffing gray smoke, were nestled at the bottom. Two marines stood guard outside one of the cabins, acknowledging Lorne and John as they approached.
"Through here, Ma'am," Lorne said, opening the door and stepping in before Elizabeth. She glanced over at John, a twinkle of excitement in her eyes. He shook his head at her, letting her pass before him into the warmth of the tiny room.