Disclaimer - Not mine.
A/N - I really didn't expect this to be up so soon, but I can't figure out what else to do with it, so - read and enjoy. Oh, and if anyone has a good idea for a title, do let me know. I'm stuck. Please review! Thanks.
Carson brushed another piece of jungle detritus from his eye and tried not to look too irritable. He had been so temperamental on this trip that even Rodney had been annoyed. The heat, and the humidity, not to mention the millions of bugs that had decided he was a virtual smorgasbord, were getting to the doctor. After the fifth time that his complaints had drawn looks of increasing annoyance from the normally collected Lorne, he'd taken the hint. Since then, Beckett had been quiet. He'd even tried to be helpful, as far as his limited jungle hiking skills allowed.
"Nearly there, Doc." Lorne said. He sounded much calmer now; much more his usual self.
"Ah, it's not so bad." The Major insisted. "I've been places worse than this."
"Aye, me too. Doesn't mean – never mind."
Lorne grinned. He clapped a hand on the doctor's back. Apparently Beckett's efforts to shut up had not gone unnoticed – or unappreciated. "Don't worry about it. We'll get you there in one piece. Oh-" the Major dug around in a side pocket of his pack, producing a small, squat can. "Try this."
Beckett took a closer look. Bug spray. He stared at it reverentially, and sprayed the recommended dose on and around himself. It smelt peculiar, but the number of mosquito-esque creatures around him dropped instantly. "Thank you."
"Not a problem."
The Major was off to the front of the pack before Beckett could add anything else. He and Thomas were leading the group, with McKay and Beckett protected in the middle. Sergeant Lawrence and the new kid – Carson had already forgotten his name – brought up the rear. They had been walking for nearly four hours. The small town was on the other side of the narrow jungle strip. It was, apparently, a sight to behold. That, and the promise of medical wonders, were all that had persuaded Beckett to come along. Well, the doctor though, the sights, the learning opportunities, and the idea that I might be able to get Rodney to leave me alone for a while! He scowled at his friend, who walked alongside with an ambling gait.
Rodney glared back at him. "Well it's not my fault you gave in."
"I suppose, but it's your fault for everything else."
"Like the fact that that I'm getting bitten alive!"
Beckett stopped himself from saying anymore. He took a deep breath, and quickened his pace. It would not do for the mission to be ruined by a doctor who could not control his temper. Behind him, McKay stared, open-mouthed at his irrationally short-tempered friend. Lawrence stopped next to him.
"He really hates this weather, huh?"
Rodney shrugged. "Don't know what he's complaining about. Scotland's nothing. Gets much colder in Canada."
Just a few paces ahead, Carson caught the whispered conversation. He grinned, relieved to be finding something funny on this godforsaken planet. Just then, as he was about to sink into self-perpetuated misery once more, Lorne held up a hand. The Major straightened up, and marched into a clearing. Carson followed nervously. He stopped dead.
"Oh my God." He whispered.
It truly was one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen. The harsh jungle suddenly gave way to lush fields and grasses, plummeting on one side into a canyon. A massive river cascaded over the edge. The waterfall had to be nearly as big as Victoria Falls. To the right, a small path heralded the start of civilization. A gate stood across it, linked to the subtle fencing that the township had installed along the town's perimeter.
The first buildings were just visible from their vantage point. They were made of huge stone blocks, five or six times the size of a normal house brick on Earth. Carson managed to close his jaw finally. The rustic feel – thick plates of terracotta slate for the roofs and lush 'gardens' used to grow vegetables and fruit at every opportunity – made this look like something from a dream.
"Pretty amazing, huh, Doc?"
Lorne's grin was soon mirrored on Carson' face. "Aye, it is at that." The doctor stepped forward to peer tentatively down at the canyon. It plunged away from him, dizzyingly high. Beckett stepped away quickly.
"Yeah, McKay did that too." The Major confided.
Carson's grin widened. It was easy to become lost in that sudden distance. All too easy. Then, of course, the next thing you knew was that the water's crashing surface was rushing up to meet you. He shivered at the idea.
They quickened their pace now that there was no jungle to fight through. The path meandered lazily through the thick trees, but it was so picturesque, catching sight of the waterfall at every opportunity, that Beckett found it hard to care. He was transfixed by the place. It was only McKay's insistent chatter, now that he was not out of breath, which kept the doctor attached to reality.
He snapped out of it, ready to bark something irritable at Rodney, before realizing that they had arrived at their destination. "Oh my God."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Is that all we're going to get out of you today? I keep telling everyone, there's less reason to believe in God than there is to believe in the Tooth Fairy."
"And that is why Lieutenant Hadley hates him." Lawrence muttered, gesturing over his shoulder to one of Atlantis' newest recruits.
"Christian?" Beckett asked.
The sergeant nodded. "Catholic."
If the scenery by the town gate had been beautiful, the town itself looked spectacular, to a certain eye. The heavy stone blocks they had glimpsed before were in evidence everywhere. The front doors and the windows were all constructed with thick, dark wood that looked weathered enough to have been in place for centuries. Shops were advertised by hanging wooden signs, suspended from the stone walls. They were split between ground level and raised sites, where wooden steps lead up to long decks and carefully designed balcony entrances.
The people were milling about, between loaded market stalls and homes. Everyone seemed to have their front doors wide open – even those who were patently rich. The stalls themselves were filled with the freshest fruits and vegetables. Several also had interesting wooden hand-crafted objects. Carson followed Lorne, who was taking a closer look at the produce. The doctor examined some of the mystery wooden items. One looked very much like a flute.
"It's a very nice thing, ain't it?"
Carson jumped, surprised by the broad accent. It reminded him of London. "Aye – yes, it is."
"Can let you have it at a good price…"
It seemed that the persistence of stall holders was truly universal, as Carson found himself being persuaded of the flute's charms. He had to admit, the man knew what he was doing. And the flute itself was a well-worked instrument. Whoever had made it, had managed to incorporate a twisting vine leaf along its entire length. The vine bloomed just before the end of the flute, presumably imitating the music that was supposed to come from it.
"You're a musician, Doc?" Lorne asked, innocently.
Carson shrugged. "Not really."
"Ah, don't be silly! You look just like a musician to me!" the stallholder said. He got extra points, the Scotsman decided, for enthusiasm.
"We can trade for things here, y'know." Lorne whispered. "Did you bring anything good?"
"Spare powerbar, I think." Carson said.
The stallholder's ears pricked up. "That them weird things that come in shiny wrapping? I'll trade you the flute for two of them." He'd traded for one with the first Atlantean team to visit his town, and found them inexplicably delicious.
Carson shook his head. He didn't like to part with the required stash of supplies that every Atlantean brought with them off-world. One spare powerbar would not be enough. Yet the doctor found himself regretting that fact as he stared down at the pretty flute. Lorne rolled his eyes, and held out a spare bar of his own.
"Here." The Major said. "For the greater good."
Carson grinned. He handed over the two bars, and eagerly received his flute in return. "Thanks."
"You won't regret it! Fine piece of merchandise, that!"
The stallholder's cries rang in the ears of the two men as they walked away. Lorne gestured towards a small building that seemed to serve as a café.
"Hungry, Doc? We have a tab."
Carson found himself agreeing unexpectedly. As he walked into the small café, the doctor reflected that he would have to thank Rodney for this particular trip. The feeling of contentment that had washed over him on completing the trade for his wooden flute was increased when the young (and very attractive) woman who obviously served as waitress for the café delivered two steaming cups to their table. Lorne grinned at him and raised the glass.
"Tastes just like coffee, Doc."
He sniffed at it experimentally. "Aye, smells like it too." Carson said.
He sipped the drink, and found it wonderfully layered. Not only did it have a smooth, slightly woody flavor, but there were also hints of something like cinnamon and other spices. Much better than the cheap stuff the Daedalus kept delivering to Atlantis. Carson chuckled to himself. He wondered if Rodney's enthusiasm for this township had anything to do with the contents of the cup in front of him.
The break was very welcome, in truth, and as Lorne explained, very much a part of every visit they'd made so far. It was customary amongst these people – who called themselves Kaledian – to take a brief sojourn after walking such a long way. They had almost been offended when the first group of Atlanteans – SGA-4, if Beckett was not mistaken – had tried to refuse their offers of refreshment. Lorne sat forward to talk, more animated than Beckett had seen him in some time. It seemed that the residents of the town were not just willing to trade, but had actually suggested it first.
Perhaps it was the peace and quiet that lulled them into a false sense of security, or the idea that these people could be so utterly charming, but neither man was prepared moments later when the world seemed to explode.