The silence of the night
is the winters delight
snow that muffles the sounds
are billions of snow flakes
~Ron Schmidt- Cold Silence, verse 1
"Just to reiterate…" Rodney's voice was slightly breathless but he still managed to convey his level of annoyance through his tone. "We're walking through knee deep snow!"
John exhaled hard, the fog from his breath momentarily swirling around his face and clouding his sunglasses. Without hesitating, he continued trudging forward. "Yes, Rodney, we noticed. Thanks."
"Fine." Rodney snapped back. "Then one question begs to be asked: WHY?"
"The Teldarans have supplied us with valuable intelligence in the past," Teyla smoothly interjected, "when they asked that we come to see them, they must have a good reason."
"And that reason isn't waiting for the spring thaw," John added, allowing a slight tone of annoyance creep into his voice.
"Should've brought a Jumper," Rodney muttered.
"In case you forgot," John replied, as he pushed through a particularly thick drift of snow, "the screwed up magnetic fields on this planet nearly crashed the Jumper last time."
"Please!" Rodney retorted. "It's simple, planetary, magnetic fields. I can compensate for that in my sleep!"
"Then why didn't you fix it then?" Ronon broke the self imposed shroud of silence he seemed to carry with him more often than not.
John heard Rodney stop abruptly. He looked back in time to see the scientist turn towards Ronon.
"I didn't have time! Colonel Flyboy over there couldn't keep the damned thing flying straight, not to mention smoothly, so I could take readings."
"Well excuse me for trying to get us back to Atlantis in one piece, instead of one million," John retorted.
"I'm not risking that again," John pointed at Rodney, "not when the village is an easy hour hike from the gate."
"Which brings me back to my original statement!" Rodney snapped. "We're walking through knee deep snow. Since when does that qualify as an 'easy hike?'"
John silently conceded that small point to Rodney as he tuned out the burn in his calves and kept walking. Whatever the Teldarans had, better be good. "Look on the bright side, McKay. At least we have cold weather gear."
"Right," Rodney's voice was thin with irritation. "Boots with fifty pound soles and thick gloves I can't even move my fingers in."
John glanced over his shoulder as Rodney threw back his parka hood and pulled his hat off. "I swear this thing is made of wool." He scratched his head. "How many times do I have to tell people that I'm allergic to wool? He scratched again for good measure before shoving the hat down on his head.
"The boots aren't fifty pounds, McKay," John rolled his eyes and kept going. "Besides, you need the tread so you don't fall on your ass. The last thing I need is to carry your injured butt back to the gate."
"At least I wouldn't be wading through the snow," Rodney shot back.
The retort John had ready died on his lips at Ronon's quiet but insistent hail. He'd known his friend long enough to know that when Ronon used that tone, something was up. His grip on his P-90 tightened as he stopped and looked back. "What is it?"
Ronon drew in a deep breath through his nose and let it out slowly as he looked around. His hand fell to his holstered gun at his side, but he didn't draw. He sniffled once and absently brushed his other hand over his nose before slowly turning in a circle.
John glanced at Teyla who shrugged.
"I sense nothing."
"Wanna let us in on what's up, Big Guy?" John insisted quietly.
Completing his circle, Ronon met John's gaze and shook his head slightly. "Thought for a moment…"
"What?" Rodney interjected.
"Thought something was watching us," Ronon answered.
"Something?" Rodney cocked his head, "something as in a villager who's tagging along to keep us company or something as in a bloodthirsty predator that's intent on making us into a hot lunch?"
Ronon shrugged. "Something."
"Great, thanks so much for that." Rodney muttered annoyingly.
John's gaze lingered on Ronon for a moment. His brows furrowed. "You sure it's okay?"
Ronon cocked his head slightly. "No."
John grimaced. "Great."
"I vote we head back for the gate," Rodney spoke first but John didn't answer as he continued to mentally weigh their options.
"We are closer to the village than to the gate," Teyla reasoned. "If it is indeed a wild predator, we are safer continuing on, than turning back." She pointed to the thinning tree line ahead of them. "If I remember correctly, at the end of these trees is a large ice field and beyond that, great rocks, more trees and the village. It is not far."
John nodded thoughtfully. They'd only seen this route to the village once, and that had been from a Jumper. But, leave it to Teyla to memorize the terrain. He took a deep breath and raised his P-90. "Village it is. Ronon keep an eye on the six. McKay watch the Life Signs Detector for anything moving out there that isn't us."
"Hello?" Rodney pulled out the detector and waved it. "Ancient tech? Suffers from the same problems as the Jumper."
"You said you could compensate for the interference in your sleep," John countered, "so, start compensating."
"While I'm wading through knee deep snow?"
"Multitask, Rodney." John's answer was short. "I'm on point. Let's go." John started off through the thin trees again. He debated taking off his sunglasses for at least the tenth time since they'd entered the woods. Thin enough to let sunlight through, the slivers of glare off the snow constantly had him squinting. He decided to leave them in place as he reached the tree line and stopped, his gaze travelling over an impressive expanse of clear snow.
Rodney walked up next to John. "Probably a glacial field. Left over from this planet's last ice age… which could be now," he added sarcastically.
John nodded absently. Even through his sunglasses, he squinted slightly at the intense glare from the sunlight off the snow. In the distance, across the field, he could see large rocks, supporting McKay's theory that the land had been scoured clear by a retreating glacier that had left the giant rocks where they sat.
Suddenly, the sound of Ronon's gun powering up instantly grabbed John's attention. He turned, instinctively bringing his P-90 to bear. "What," he hissed quietly, but the echo of snarls and low growls answered his question for him. Abruptly, memories flooded over him. Snarls, growls, the stink of carrion breath, pain… "Can't be," he whispered.
Ronon's words confirmed John's thoughts, but he wished they hadn't.
"Not again!" Rodney whispered emphatically. "Once was enough, thank you!"
John was inclined to agree. The memories of their capture and the gladiatorial combat they were forced to endure at the hands of the Wraith, were still too fresh in his mind. Fighting the Malneks, which he roughly equated to wolves on steroids, had nearly cost him and his team their lives. Abruptly, a loud howl echoed through the trees.
"They're tracking us," Ronon observed with cold clarity. "They're on our scent. No way we're going to lose them in this."
"The village is not far," Teyla insisted. "We must try to reach it before we are surrounded."
"Works for me." John twisted to his right, gun coming to bear as another yapping snarl grabbed his attention. "That was a lot closer." He looked at Ronon. "Take the point, I'm on the six. Move!" he hissed emphatically. John pushed Rodney ahead of him as they left the trees and set out over the glacial field. Roughly a hundred yards in the distance, the rocks and another tree line almost beckoned to him. If they could just get to the trees or even the rocks, they could mount some sort of defense; ambush the Malneks, kill them or at least drive them off.
John pushed his fatigued legs harder as he half ran through the deep snow. Ahead of him, his team wasn't doing much better. Ronon seemed to have the least difficulties but Teyla, being shorter, was clearly struggling, as was McKay who was never in that good of shape to start with.
John twisted and looked over his shoulder, his eyes widening as a pack of Malneks emerged from the trees and leapt through the snow after them. Whether it was their lighter weight – although they looked to weigh nearly as much as a small person – or just the simple fact that they were more accustomed to the snow, he didn't know. What he did know is that a dozen or so of the beasts were rapidly eating up the distance between them and his team. "Move it!" John shouted and pushed on Rodney's back once more, before he stopped, turned and faced the approaching pack.
John risked a glance back at Ronon who'd stopped and drawn his gun. "Go! Get to the rocks! You can cover me from there!" He stared at Ronon a moment longer, before the big Satedan resumed his course towards the rocks, Teyla and Rodney right behind him.
John refocused his attention on the approaching Malneks, who'd slowed their pace and seemed to be measuring him up. He lowered the angle of his P-90 and sent three shots into the snow in front of the lead animal, but the Malneks weren't deterred. They fanned out, but still advanced.
John's gaze narrowed as he switched back to full automatic. Bracing his feet, he fired on the lead Malnek. His shots echoed around them as he dropped the animal in its tracks. Backpedaling, John tried to follow his team but if moving forwards through the snow was tough, then backwards was nearly impossible.
Another Malnek leapt past the dead one and snarled as it bound through the snow after him. John glanced right then left as the other Malneks followed its lead. He fired again, dropping another one, before turning and making a run for it. Ahead of him, his team was nearly to the rocks and could provide him cover if he could just stay ahead of the pack for a few more seconds…
Teyla's urgent hail grabbed his attention and he looked up. It was at that moment when he heard a loud rumble in the distance, but growing in intensity.
From her perch on a large boulder, Teyla was frantically pointing up the mountainside and his gaze followed her gesture uphill. At first, his mind couldn't process what he was seeing, but that only lasted a second. The cloud of snow moving at him, with a roar to rival a freight train, could only mean one thing.
"Holy…" Putting his head down, John charged through the snow, the sound of Ronon's gun picking off the following Malneks, the only thing reassuring him.
Rodney's voice was edged with panic, but still it encouraged him to move faster. He more than heard the roar of the avalanche, he could feel it reverberate through his chest and that only fueled his urgency. From his peripheral vision, he could see balls of packed snow tumble by him; the leading edge of something much more serious but his vision was tunnel like as he focused on one thing; the rocks. Ahead and not far, they were inviting, almost beckoning him to find shelter in their shadows. "Get down!" he ordered his team, his breathless voice still holding a note of command. Not one of them moved for cover, but he lacked the strength to insist. Every scrap of energy he had was routed to his legs to keep moving, his lungs to keep breathing and his body to keep pushing forward at all costs. But, as the snow got ever deeper, he realized he was losing a battle with time.
Looking up the mountainside, he saw an enormous wall of snow racing towards him and in a moment of cold clarity, he knew he'd never outrun it. He threw his arms over his face, just as the pounding wall of white hit him.
One time, he'd been caught in a particularly bad wave surfing Trestles in California. The water hitting him felt like a giant moving wall and this was no different. Like the ocean, this wave of snow rendered him equally as powerless.
Washed down the mountain, John only had one thought.
Hope they made it to cover.