Unseen Enemy

Chapter 1: The Colonel and the Astrobiologist

"Ow! I wasn't ready for that one."

"Lydia, in the real world, the bad guy does not yell, 'Hey, get ready, I'm about to hit you over the head with a club.' Now, get up, dust off your cute backside and let's start again."

"Why did I let you talk me into this?" Sheppard just gave her that boyish grin she could never resist.

John and Lydia were together in the gym, early in the morning. He had offered to teach her some self-defense tactics. Even though such training was available to all Atlantis personnel through formal instruction, and even though Lydia already had some experience, John had felt he should offer her some, let's say, more 'individualized' private lessons. They had been having sessions for a few weeks now; John was impressed by her talent and progress, but he wasn't about to tell Lydia that, not just yet. If he was stingy with praise, then she would work harder and become more proficient. It certainly wasn't because he enjoyed teasing her, certainly not because she looked incredibly sexy in her tight workout clothes, all sweaty and with her wavy red hair hopelessly uncontrolled by a ponytail, and certainly not because of how cute she looked when she got mad at him for knocking her down for the umpteenth time.

As Lydia got back on her feet, the door to the gym slid open. Turning at the sound, John was surprised to see Teyla enter.

"Oh, I am sorry, John, Lydia, I did not think this room was in use. No one's name was on the sign-up sheet."

"Oh, yeah, sorry about that," John replied. "Lydia and I were up anyways and I figured we'd grab a chance to get in a workout." Well, another kind of workout. They'd been up early for something besides breakfast. John gave a sideways glance at Lydia and then found himself unexpectedly blushing, like he'd been caught doing something wrong by his parents. Huh? But as Teyla gave him that all-too familiar arch of her eyebrow, he understood. Teyla was imposing, and observant, and…her opinion and approval mattered to him, no matter how confident he himself felt in his relationship with Lydia.

"No matter. I see there are many other slots available today. I'll come back later," Teyla replied, apparently gifting Sheppard with a quick exit. "But," she added, not able to help herself: John seemed about ready to push her out the door, "Lydia, if you ever consider learning it, I would be happy to introduce you to the art of the bantos rods. The Colonel is becoming quite good at it." Lydia smiled at Teyla's gentle dig. There were times when John did deserve to be knocked down a peg.

John straightened up, and gave a look of mock offense to both women. "Becoming good? And, what's wrong with what I'm teaching Lydia?" he countered, but his hazel eyes belied his good humor. Teyla and Lydia then exchanged a look, one that said to John, 'you're getting ganged up on, Women: One, Sheppard: Zero.' He decided to cut his losses and change the topic.

Grabbing his gear, John gave a 'you win' smile to Teyla and turned to give Lydia a quick kiss goodbye. "Seems like a good time to get back to work. I'll see you later for mission prep."

"What mission prep?" Lydia looked puzzled. "I'm going away for a few days to MM1-864, for a combination meet-and-greet/science expedition. Where are you going?"

"Same planet, same reasons."

"Wait a minute. You just said yesterday that you don't have a mission until next week."

"I did, but I got Lorne to swap with me." John was up to something, Lydia was sure of it.

"Why?"

If Teyla wasn't still with them in the gym – would she ever leave? – John would have answered, "Because I want to make love to you in the Jumper while everyone's off exploring the planet," but instead he said, "Because that mission is supposed to take a few days, and I don't want to be away from you all that time, and because, damn it, I'm military commander around here and I can throw my weight around and get missions reassigned so that I can be with my…erm, uh…girlfriend." There, he managed to get it out, with breath left to spare. Lydia suppressed a grin and choked down a giggle. Teyla looked at John, thinking it was about time he said those words out loud, and in front of other people. Then, to John's great relief, she left them alone.

Lydia did her best to put on a serious face. "Well, OK, I guess I'll see you in the Gate Room at 1400 hours. I'll be doing prep work in the lab until then, with some of my colleagues. Lots of kits to prepare, for biological, entomological and botanical samplings. Supposedly, MM1-864 is a gold mine for us PhD types. Now remember, you just said you don't want to be away from me, so I hope you're willing to help out! Lots of kneeling in the dirt to collect plants, and lay traps for small animals, and set up insect collection nets!"

John took a minute to answer; it was slowly dawning on him what 'fun' science stuff he was getting himself into. "Well, uh, I really think I'd be better at…looking handsome while standing guard against…" Lydia, laughing, cut him off "…a hoard of rabid mice that might attack us? A swarm of killer bees?"

"Ha, ha, good one, yeah, that's good. But you just remember who can fly you the hell out of there if you are being chased by alien monsters." Lydia nodded in agreement; John was an outstanding pilot, in any galaxy.

"And speaking of flying," John added, "It's too bad MM1-864 has to be reached by Jumper and not via a Gate. I mean, we located a Space Gate that gets us somewhat near the planet, but it'll still take us 9 hours to get there."

Lydia sympathized. "Yes, I was really disappointed when our Gate couldn't lock onto MM1-864's."

"Well," John continued, "according to the Ancient database, the planet had an active Gate and a fairly thriving population. Granted, that entry hasn't been updated in 10,000 years, but Teyla and Ronon recognized the name of these people – the Mirin – and they think they were friendly trading partners at least within recent memory."

"Dr. McKay said the Gate might still be there, but out of order for some reason, maybe due to a natural disaster or mechanical failure, or even a war. A lot can happen in 10,000 years." Lydia's voice trailed off.

"Including a Wraith invasion…"

"John Sheppard," Lydia chastised, "you know full well that we sent out an unmanned drone to scan the planet. Nothing there looked alarming, just humanoid life forms, various animal and plant life, etcetera, etcetera. I'm an astrobiologist; I think you can trust my expert opinion on this."

"And," she added, feeling suddenly mischievous, "I don't think you would let me go there if you thought there was the remotest chance of running into any Wraith."

"Well, Dr. McKenzie, isn't that a sexist comment! John said with a sly grin. "Would you really want me to interfere with your ability to do your job? Are you saying you want my permission to go?" His eyes were twinkling. He loved to draw her into a good bout of bantering, but he also knew that Lydia had set him up. He leaned over and pulled her to him, his arm firmly encircling her waist.

Lydia leaned into John's chest, enjoying the warmth and ease he projected. At 5' 4", she was petite enough to nestle her head against his chin. "In any other situation, I'd smack you and any other guy – maybe even Mr. Woolsey – if they tried to tell me what mission I could or could not go on, because of my sex. But, as you say, you're the military commander and you can throw your weight around. And I definitely am in favor of a boyfriend who can give me inside info on dangerous planets and keep me the hell away from them."

John wasn't quite ready to end their animated 'back-and-forth.' "You know, you did choose to come to Atlantis and explore another galaxy and strange planets. You knew in advance it could be dangerous – deadly even. You're not scared or anything, right?" he teased.

Lydia gently pulled herself from his arms and beamed up at him. "I'll always still need the handsome guy with an automatic rifle protecting me."

With a boyish smile, John kissed her on the forehead and walked out the door while Lydia…eyed his butt appreciatively. As she prepared to leave as well, she found herself musing yet again about how much better things were now between them.

It was several months since John had been rescued from Earth. He had fully recovered from his physical injuries and seemed to be managing better emotionally, too. After he had miraculously saved Teyla's life after the debacle at the Ancient lab, something had returned to him – hope, confidence, a sense of purpose? Lydia couldn't quite define the reason why, but she knew John was happier than she had ever known him to be. And, he was no longer leaving their bed to walk alone at night through the City, running away from his demons. Mind you, he hadn't become Mr. Talkative Guy who always wanted to share feelings – and she was sure he never would be – but the desperation she had felt in him before, his painful need to literally cling to her when they slept together – all of that was gone now. Their relationship had finally reached the 'normal' stage, but even better. Slowly but surely, John and Lydia were rediscovering what had attracted them to each other in the first place months ago, when they were at the flirting, bump-into-you-by–accident stage. They were attractive, smart and athletic. Each had a great sense of humor and a healthy streak of non-conformity. Lydia knew they were a good match, and she was pretty sure John felt the same way. Which made her very happy.

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooo oooooooooooooooooooooooooooo ooooooooooooooo

Many hours later, in space…

"Oh, thank God!" exclaimed Rodney, as the Jumper entered the orbit of MM1-864 and engaged the cloaking device. "I don't think I could have sat on one of these seats for much longer. The Ancients were good at a lot of things, but chairs, not so much."

"Well, McKay," drawled John. "I'm glad you're glad. Now make sure you get that Gate operational, because I don't want to spend another 9 hours on a return trip having to listen to you!"

"Sheppard, do you doubt my technical expertise?" McKay's hackles were raised. "I'll have you know that, in just the past year alone, I single-handedly fixed…"

"I'll take your word for it, Rodney." John had learned from painful experience to cut McKay off fast when he started in on a rant. "Just live up to your genius reputation and get it fixed before dark! None of us wants to spend an overnight here, unless you like camping out under the stars."

"I do," piped up Lydia impishly, taking a chance at flirting while surrounded by co-workers. She could sense John's amused smirk even though his back was turned.

"Well, I don't," countered McKay. "You outdoorsy types can revel in the bugs and the damp and all those rocks digging into your back…"

"I'll take that as a "Yes, sir, Colonel, sir, we'll all be home for dinner." McKay harrumphed in reply; he'd eat an orange before he'd ever call Sheppard 'Sir.' "Ah, here we go," John declared. "That clearing looks like a good spot to set us down. From the life sign scans, I think we're far enough away from the main settlement that was detected in the earlier recon. Hopefully, we won't be noticed when we disembark, or during our trek to the village." He quickly added, "And, I don't want to hear it, McKay; you knew from the briefing on Atlantis that we'd have to walk a ways."

Sheppard was ferrying a fairly large expedition on this mission. He, Dr. McKay and Dr. McKenzie were accompanied by a botanist, an entomologist, two Marines for security purposes, and a young lieutenant who would be a back-up pilot in case anything happened to Sheppard or McKay. Not that they expected anything to go wrong.

MM1-864 was, as Lydia had said that morning, a dream planet for science geeks. Volcanically-derived soil, temperate weather, and a variety of geographic features had created a near-perfect environment for a thriving population of flora and fauna. The human inhabitants were blessed to have such a hospitable planet to live on (as long as you ignored the possibility of Wraith attack, which unfortunately threatened most planets in the galaxy). Teyla and Ronon had briefed Woolsey and Sheppard on what little they knew. MM1-864 had been trading with its Pegasus neighbors until about 50 or 60 years ago, at which point their "Ring of the Ancestors" had inexplicably stopped working. Prior to that time, the population – the Mirin – had been known for their excellent crops and other agricultural products such as lumber, rope, basketry, herbal concoctions, and the like. This reputation was echoed by the records (albeit 10,000 years out of date) in the Ancient database. From a practical rather than scientific standpoint, the planet, in addition to being a scientific bonanza, could be a valuable source of fresh food, for which the citizens of Atlantis were always clamoring.

Sheppard landed the Jumper with just a slight bump – for which McKay and his chair-numbed backside were very grateful. "OK, everybody, let's gear up," ordered John. "And remember, you do not need to take most of your equipment with you now. We need to meet the locals first before you start crawling all over the place running tests and experiments and what-not." Sheppard got a glare from Lydia with that comment – 'don't you dare piss off us science geeks', she was clearly saying.

Sheppard was starting to regret swapping missions with Lorne. But it was way too late now! Feigning enthusiasm, he headed purposefully down the Jumper's gangway. "Another 'meet-and-greet', people, my favorite kind of mission. Let's do it right."

TBC….. OK, every story needs a "set the stage" chapter, and this is it. More plot developments, angst and team 'whumping' to follow over the next several days. Please read and review; I especially would like to hear what you think of Lydia. I've never written a story with a romantic interest as a main character. Thanks!