All Art By Lily
Betaed by Lyn
It’s not so much the heat as the humidity.
John figured just having that thought meant that his brain was turning to overheated mush. Worse, this world had no concept of a stray breeze. Forty five minutes of slogging behind Rodney McKay had proven that. The only consolation was that even Ronon and Teyla – known the base over as having unnatural levels of endurance - looked as wilted as he felt.
“Mysterious energy reading number who-really-cares-at-this-point is now coming from that direction.” Rodney trudged to halt and gestured sloppily off to the right. “And if there is any justice in the universe, it will lead to an air conditioned bunker, staffed by beautiful babes bearing frosty beverages.”
“There is no justice in the universe, McKay.” John absently burst his friend’s bubble as he eyed the thick, chest high grass that was between him and the overhanging trees Rodney had indicated. Just great. At least nothing appeared to be moving in there, so hopefully he wasn’t about to lose a limb. He brushed through it anyway with his P-90, just in case, before stepping off the ancient path.
“Yeah, life’s a beach, and then you die,” Rodney was muttering in response, interspersing commentary with the sounds of gulping water. John mentally marked hydrating off the list of things to remind him to do.
It took several moments to actually push aside enough of the thick brush to see to the other side, and what he saw didn’t look good. The ground dropped off pretty quickly, though it looked mostly navigable. The bottom though was lost amid shadowy green gloom and moss-covered trunks.
“Are you sure there aren’t any life signs?” He tossed the question in Rodney’s direction.
“What? You don’t think I’d tell you if there were?” Rodney demanded, his gestures making the darkened pools of moisture beneath his armpits more obvious.
“This signal has changed directions four times, not including this one. It’s starting to feel like someone’s screwing with us. Have you at least figured out anything about what type of signal it is?”
Rodney shook his head. “No. But what did you expect? It, and this world, was filed under Unknown Alien Technology in the info dump from Elizabeth. Of course I don’t know what it is. This is completely new. Or new to us. This could be the way it is supposed to work.”
Ronon moved in next to John and took a turn looking over the edge. “The forest is overgrown; even the path is almost lost. All we’ve seen since we got here is ruins. Maybe whatever is it is broken.”
John stared down into the shadows. “Maybe. It’s just that I can’t help but feel like we’re being herded somewhere.”
“Again,” Rodney was at his most exasperating, “maybe that’s just how it works.”
“Yeah, that’s kinda the way traps work, too, Rodney.”
“Oh, come on. Since when are you Mr. Voice-of-Negativity? Part of our mission here is to track down advanced technology, and to –”
“Seek out new civilizations and to boldly go – I get it. But for once I’d like to not get caught in the trap.”
“We are not far from the gate.” Teyla was the voice of reason. “Perhaps we should return for reinforcements?”
John allowed some of the tension to drain away, and then gave the surroundings a good once-over before gesturing toward the gully. “Nah. We’ll check it out first. Who knows? Maybe the signal will change again and lead us to a nice breezy beach someplace.”
Richard Woolsey looked up from his computer screen. Chuck was leaning half in and half out of his office. It was days like these that Richard wished the office had an actual door, as opposed to just an opening. That way, people would have to be completely in or out.
He pushed the thought. “Yes, Chuck?”
“Sir, the Daedalus has arrived in orbit and is requesting permission to dock on the East Pier.”
“Tell Colonel Caldwell, permission is granted. Also, please notify the duty Offload & Resources officer.”
“Yes sir.” Chuck continued to hover in the doorway.
“Was there something more?”
“Uh, yes, sir. There is a Dillon Everett who requested an immediate beam in. He says that he needs to speak with you right away.”
Richard frowned. The name was familiar, but he didn’t recall anything extremely urgent that couldn’t have been communicated via comm. “That’s odd. Is he one of the replacement staff?”
Chuck’s expression gave nothing away. “I don’t know. He’s sort of waiting out in the control room.”
Richard’s brows rose toward his non-existent hairline. “Well, then. I suppose there is no time like the present. Send him in.” He took the moments while he awaited his guest’s arrival to tidy his work surface. Putting objects in the proper order helped him to clear his mind for the task ahead. No amount of desk tidying however could prepare him for the man who stepped into his office, leaning on a cane.
“Mr. Woolsey,” he was greeted by his smiling visitor. “You’ll never know how surprised I was when I heard you’d gotten and kept this post.”
“Colonel Everett.” Richard rose to his feet belatedly to shake the other man’s hand. “It’s good to see you’ve… recovered.” The man before him looked 70 years old. The file that the IOA had gone over before he’d been assigned to lead the battle for Atlantis while the city was under Wraith siege had shown a man in his forties.
“Please…have a seat.” He gestured toward a guest chair.
“Thank you.” Everett sank into the proffered seat. “Funny thing about the Wraith feeding – it tears the body down, but leaves the mind sharp. It took time, but I managed to get back on my feet.” He gestured with the cane. “Relatively.”
“Congratulations. That’s good to hear.” Richard was genuinely happy for the man. He would not wish the Wraith brand of accelerated aging on the worst of offenders. But that did not explain what the man before him was doing on Atlantis.
Wraith war veterans didn’t get special dispensation to travel to another galaxy on a billion dollar ship on a whim. And on the off chance the political stars aligned and he did – there would have been a memo, fanfare – something. Judging from his aged appearance, and lack of uniform, he wasn’t there in a military capacity, either. Richard settled back into his chair and waited.
“This is probably what you’re looking for.” Everett spoke easily into the silence as he extended a small device toward him. “I think you’ll find everything there. The short of it is: I’m your new Homeworld Security liaison.”
“I beg your pardon?” Richard was certain he would have remembered being told that O’Neill was thinking of sending a ‘liaison’ to Atlantis. If nothing else, his contacts within the IOA would have given him some indication. Unless . . . .
“Don’t worry. I won’t be a part of your chain of command. Think of me as an… ambassador.” Everett gave him a cheerful smile then pushed himself up from the chair. “I’ll leave you to go through those documents. We can talk later.”
“I’m certain of it.” Richard moved to plug the USB storage device into the side of his computer before the other man had taken more than a few steps toward the door.
“I don’t like this place, Sheppard. It’s too quiet.”
John looked in Ronon’s direction. The big guy was moving cautiously over the thick, mossy undergrowth, checking behind every tree and bush on their right flank.
“Maybe the animals prefer to be where it’s brighter,” John suggested, though he didn’t believe it himself. Tall trees had overgrown the gully, blocking much of the sun from above. There was also something different about the quality of the air at the lower elevation, and the humidity didn’t seem quite so crushing.
Teyla met his gaze with an uneasy look of her own.
“McKay?” John called to the other member of his team. “How much farther?”
“We’re getting close. Very close,” McKay murmured, his eyes locked on something on his monitor.
“How long, close?” John wanted to know. His Spidey sense was pinging like crazy. He’d personally taken on the task of checking out the life signs detector. But like Rodney had said, there wasn’t anything large enough to register as humanoid.
“How about right now?” Rodney stopped and pointed at another wall of green.
John moved cautiously toward it, crunching underbrush as he went. These vines were more stubborn than the leaves had been. Ronon moved in and enthusiastically hacked away at the thicker sections with his sword. John had always thought the sword was cool in a Conan the Barbarian kind of way, and appreciated that Ronon had brought it along.
“It’s a cave,” McKay announced when the sword clanged against a rocky surface. Ronon continued to chop away at what was more obviously the opening, making way for Rodney to get in closer to the cleared area. “Or at least, it looks like it’s a cave.”
“You think it’s something else?” John asked. “Wouldn’t be the first time, as I recall.”
“There isn’t a time dilation field covering the opening, if that’s what you’re afraid of,” Rodney shot back.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to step into another time.” Sheppard really couldn’t resist the urge to yank Rodney’s chain.
“That wasn’t completely my fault, you know.”
“I’m just say–”
“We should leave.” Something in the quality of Teyla’s tone stopped John in his tracks. She wasn’t looking at him, but staring at something on the newly uncovered section of the cave’s outer wall. He moved in to get a better look.
Ronon was already there, and dragged aside the last of the branches. “She’s right.”
John squinted at the whatever-it-was that looked like it had been branded or carved into the rocky surface. It reminded him of a stylized “Z” with horns and fangs. Weird. “What is that?” He reached up toward the symbol then caught himself. No touching strange alien things no matter how innocent they looked. That was a lesson he’d learned and relearned a time or two.
“We must go.” Teyla turned abruptly and started back the way they’d come. John looked after her. He hadn’t seen Teyla so spooked in a long time. Ronon was already following her.
“Come on, Rodney.” He set off after them. Half his team was leaving; he and Rodney would have to go, too. They’d work out the whys on the way.
“Something’s happening,” Rodney called, halting them all.
Even from several feet away, John could see the way Rodney’s hand-held lit up. There were energy spikes all over the place. That meant something; he needed to know what.
“What is it?” He moved back toward Rodney and the cave.
Rodney stopped pushing buttons suddenly, and looked toward the darkened maw. “Do you hear something?”
“Yeah….” The sounds were vaguely familiar. “Sounds like something with wings… could be… bats?”
“A lot of bats. Maybe we should go.” Rodney was already backing away.
“Yeah.” John placed himself bodily between the cave and his friends, and adjusted his grip on the P-90.
“Maybe we should….” Rodney looked at the hand-held and his expression turned to one of horror.
John caught a glimpse. No explanation was needed. He slammed into the other man, urging him back the other way. “Run!”
Woolsey removed the storage drive from his laptop and headed out to the control room. It seemed that for the time being, Atlantis would have a new occupant. At least until he could figure out what was really going on.
“Where is he?” He stopped near Chuck’s station, and looked about the operations center. There was an air of being busy while also watching for his reaction to their surprise guest. The city rumor mill was nothing if not predictable.
“He’s out there.” Chuck gestured through to the balcony on the control level. Everett stood gazing out at the ocean, his cane resting against the railing. Richard wondered just how much of a pawn he was in all of this.
“Arrange to have quarters assigned for him – something near a transporter with adjoining office space.”
Richard then started across the control room. He checked the movement as the chevrons on the gate began to illuminate.
“Unscheduled off-world activation!” Chuck announced loudly.
He did a quick about face. “Do we know who it is?”
“It’s Dr. McKay’s IDC.” Chuck looked to him for instruction.
“Lower the shield,” he authorized.
“Atlantis, this is Sheppard!” The colonel’s voice was nearly lost amid the sound of weapons fire. “As soon as we’re through, raise the shield!”
“Acknowledged.” Richard nodded toward Chuck then moved quickly toward the railing for a better view of the gate. He wanted to ask what sort of trouble they were having, but knew that his questions would have to wait until the team was safe. Sheppard would not respond to such questions before then.
Almost immediately, the puddle rippled as first Rodney then Teyla stumbled through, aiming back toward the event horizon, weapons drawn. With another wet sounding splurt, Ronon slid through on his back, clutching his blaster two handed while he fired on something Richard couldn’t see near the upper portion of the puddle. Lastly came Sheppard, in a posture similar to Rodney and Teyla.
“Now!” Sheppard yelled the instant he cleared the rippling surface.
But it was already too late.
Something black and oily looking slipped through, narrowly missing the top of Sheppard’s head. Mere moments later, the shield hummed into place. Richard’s eyes widened in shock as the oily blob reformed into a flying creature and arched upward, heading directly toward him. He ducked as it flew past.
The security forces that had approached the gate to back up Sheppard’s team refocused their attention on the city’s uninvited guest. It wove between control panels and personnel – cries of alarm erupted as people scattered to avoid the path of the creature.
“Don’t shoot up the control room!” McKay was yelling at the security contingent. Richard silently concurred. They were still working through some of the problems that had arisen during the entire Earth ordeal, never mind the nightmare tangling with the Pegasus variety Asgard had caused.
Someone swung a laptop, before receiving a sharp reprimand for nearly hitting someone else. Everett at some point must have come back in from the balcony, because he tried for it with his cane and missed.
Ronon growled in frustration, obviously struggling to get a good shot. Richard knew from personal experience that the man’s aim was impeccable. He wasn’t sure why he had yet to pull the trigger.
“Set it for stun!” Sheppard ordered, and it all became clear to Richard as the Satedan did something with his weapon and then re-aimed at the creature. Almost as if it realized that something had changed, it altered direction and headed directly toward Ronon and the gate team.
Blue light flew from Ronon’s weapon, stopping the creature mid air. It jerked slightly as it impacted with the stunning blast, and then emitted an eerie, high-pitched screech before it crashed to the floor.
Sheppard, Teyla & McKay surrounded the still flopping animal, weapons aimed, while Ronon repeated the motion that changed the setting on his gun. Just as he re-aimed, a flash erupted from the bat-like creature. It then whooshed into a cloud of blackish smoke that completely enveloped the team.
Ancient alarms sounded, blaring throughout the control room. Richard could only stare as the doors began to slam shut one after another. The visual aura of the city’s shield appeared, rising upward as it encased all of Atlantis. As final testament to their lack of control, all of the Ancient control screens went dark.
To Part II