They find Atlantis’ food production wing in the aftermath of a medium level seaquake. Quite unexpectedly, the disruption opens up several sections that had previously remained flooded through both the city’s relocation within Pegasus and her inter-galactic flights. Dr. Zelenka and his squad of structural engineers are beside themselves.
The green-houses – as opposed to the medicinal greenhouses David and his fellow botanists have been utilizing for years – can be run on complete automatic. David supposes it makes sense, as little as the Ancients had wanted to occupy themselves with mundane matters at the later stage of their evolution.
Intense study of the mechanisms reveal that four different settings are available: Crops of any kind can be ready for harvest after seven, five, two and one month(s). “The downside is that the speedy crops won’t taste like much,” Katie reports after the engineers have determined that the machinery of at least one complex should still work and David’s team has sifted through all the information available – unlocked by a password they found taped to a wall, of all things. Dr. McKay had ranted a lot about that one, not least because “SECURITY!!” and “WHY COULDN’T ANYONE ELSE HAVE BEEN THIS THOUGHTFUL!!”
The upshot is that the size of the expedition is roughly three-hundred people instead of two million. They don’t need the factories that appear broken beyond repair – or, at least, beyond the time available to Dr. McKay and his people to fix them. The complex they have uncovered muddy but mostly intact can produce crops for thousands.
“Trade,” Mr. Woolsey says. “Emergency relief,” Col. Sheppard says. “Coffee!!” Dr. McKay says.
It takes a bit of reprogramming. Under normal circumstances, different complexes would produce at different speeds. The Ancients would not have had cause to squeeze it all out of one set of modules, which is what the expedition needs. After the Daedalus has dropped off the seeds they requisitioned and they’ve received some more in good faith from the Athosians, David’s team initiates growth of grains and fruit and vegetables – and, yes, tea and coffee – in all four different rates available to them.
The crops Atlantis harvests after the first month that Col. Sheppard has the marines stock don’t taste like much. Mr. Woolsey still throws a party. “Independence!” Katie cries. Instead of depending on grain and the like from the Daedalus, they will even be able to send groceries back with them to distribute between the Tau’ri’s Milky Way allies.
Gradually, David’s team establishes a cycle. The monthly crops are stacked for disaster relief. To David’s dismay, the storerooms filled with bland but nutritional cargo are always empty by the time the next harvest comes around. “Not that difficult with the amount of planets in two galaxies,” Lt. Col. Lorne tells David and pats him on the shoulder.
The tri-monthly output is set aside for mission rations and low-level trade. “Can we set the MREs on fire now?”a marine asks, but a grimacing Col. Sheppard decrees those packages need to remain part of the jumpers’ emergency supplies.
Five months’ harvest becomes what gate teams take with them for higher-level trade. It also becomes the infirmary’s back-up source for medicine and the mess hall’s primary source of ingredients. The first time David lets 1st Sgt. Higgins pick what he wants is the first time anyone on the expedition has seen the hardened man cry.
The seven-months-cycle is reserved to provide for diplomatic meetings and feasts. David will forever regret that the crops weren’t yet ready for Teyla and Kanaan’s wedding, but there will be others, and birthdays, and anniversaries.
It’s also for the good coffee that, to David’s everlasting glee and relief, he no longer has to tiptoe circles around Dr. McKay to drink.