Evan was in the middle of an equipment requisition form—apparently fighting self-healing space vampires chewed through bullets pretty damn quick, who could've guessed?—when someone knocked on the door to his office. Before he could even get out the "Come in," the door slammed open.
"Major," one of the scientists—female, no accent, light brown hair, what was her—Simpson, that was it; her first name started with a V but damned if he could remember it—said breathlessly. "We might have a lead on a ZPM."
Right, AR-4 had just come back from…some planet Evan couldn't remember. "A lead on a ZPM?" he repeated, in case he'd imagined it. Sure, they had one now, but another would be good. Another would be great.
Simpson nodded. Her face was flushed, her eyes were shining, and really, really, these scientists were weirdly enthusiastic about their things. "Someone that Leyrto knows on M5T-993 collects stories—I'm not sure whether he was a—anyway, we figured we'd go check, since the Athosians wouldn't recognize the importance, and we have the 'gate address for a planet that ought to have one, though we don't know anything about it. It's in our reports but we thought you ought to know immediately."
"Where's Stackhouse?" Evan asked, since in theory the report ought to be coming from the team leader. Maybe that was a Milky Way thing.
She went red. "I didn't even think, I'm sorry. It's just—a ZPM, Major."
So she had either pushed past him in the hall, or begged until he gave in. Evan felt kinda sorry for Stackhouse. "Does Major Sheppard let you do this sort of thing?"
"Sometimes?" Simpson shifted from one foot to the other, then blurted, "Well, he doesn't stop McKay from doing it."
They'd have to take a physicist or an engineer to wherever they were going. He'd seen Simpson getting into arguments with Kavanagh and not losing her temper, which made her pretty unique in the science department—Zelenka had explained that it was because Kavanagh insulted people's work, which was apparently a bigger deal to scientists than being called idiots on an hourly basis; he'd gone on to add that even Dr. Weir didn't like Kavanagh, although Evan couldn't figure out whether that was "even Dr. Weir, who still wants to fix things with the Genii" or "Dr. Weir, who walks on water," but he'd met Dr. Weir once back when she worked at the SGC and it seemed like it took a lot to piss her off, so either way, someone who could tolerate Kavanagh sounded like the kind of person who could probably be relied on not to accidentally say the wrong thing at the wrong time and cause utter mayhem.
("We almost had ZPM a few weeks ago," Zelenka had said disconsolately. "Then Rodney accidentally told some"—he'd gestured, drawing a set of what might have been really absurd curves in midair—"cultist that we weren't Ancients. Next thing they knew, it was back to Atlantis with nothing but bruises." Evan had made sympathetic noises and wondered whether McKay was actually worth everyone's time.)
Simpson was competent, and he'd take reliable over brilliant on a routine mission any day. And she had been on the team who'd found out that there might be a ZPM.
"Major?" she asked worriedly.
"How'd you like to be on the team to M-whatever it'll be?"
"Me?" Simpson's eyes went huge, and then—aw, shit—kind of adoring. He knew that look a lot better than he was really comfortable with. "You're taking me on a mission to look for a ZPM? But—Dr. Zelenka, or—or your botanist, even."
"AR-2's botanist," Evan corrected, but at least that was an entirely different kind of uncomfortable than woman-I-barely-know-showing-way-too-much-interest-in-me. And anyway, maybe she was just interested in the ZPM. "Doc Zelenka prefers not to go offworld, he says, and I really think this is more the kind of thing that someone used to machines instead of plants ought to be doing."
"Oh, right, of course," said Simpson. He really wished she'd stop looking at him like a bar of chocolate.
"And you found out about this maybe-ZPM. It seemed fair, I guess?" Evan gave her his best not-interested smile. "I could grab a physicist or an engineer from somewhere else, but I don't think we have straws for them to draw."
"I'm not complaining," Simpson said. She'd toned down the adoring a little, thank God, so it looked like the smile had worked. Maybe the straws comment, the it's-just-easier-this-way. "I'll, uh, I'll just…go and—Dr. Zelenka had me trying to do something to the puddlejumpers, so you'll let me know when you need me, major?"
"Yeah," said Lorne, already radioing for Teyla Emmagan as Simpson closed the door behind her.
Teyla didn't know anything more about the world—the computer system was calling it M2D-219—than Leyrto had been able to tell his team. Since she was there already, and because she ought to have a good idea of the answer, Evan asked her whether she thought she or Leyrto should go with them.
"Me," she said without hesitation. "If you require a negotiator, I have the full authority of my people to lend to your request. Or, if the owners are hostile, I am perhaps more capable of defending myself than he."
Evan thought about it for all of three seconds—two and a half of which were taken up remembering that Stackhouse had told him Teyla'd once fought a Wraith and almost won armed with nothing more than a stick she'd grabbed, and the remaining half a quick vivid flash of bare coppery-brown limbs moving like a dance and stopping half-inches away from beating the shit out of his marines—and said, "Sure." She was on Major Sheppard's team, anyway; apparently Sheppard did the impossible every week or so, and when he wasn't it was only because McKay already was, so his team was probably solid, even if the man himself had the self-preservation instincts of a kid in a store full of partly-poisoned candy.
He looked through his files and found an explosives expert—Lt. Cadman, who normally headed AR-3—and a sniper—Sgt. Thomas from AR-4—and radioed them, Simpson, and Teyla to arrange a mission briefing.
It wasn't until he heard a muffled "Four—? Lucky son of a bitch" from someone passing by in the hallway outside the briefing room—someone who hadn't expected to be heard, because even though some of the scientists seemed to think so, the U.S. Military didn't actually take idiots—that Evan realized his handpicked team was all women, and all of them were at least fairly attractive.
Going out into the gateroom and making an announcement on citywide explaining that Simpson had as least as much right as anyone else in the science department to be there, Cadman was very good at her job, Thomas could be on her way to becoming the next Simo Häyhä if she had the chance, and Teyla could probably kick all of their asses at once wouldn't really be a good plan.
Five minutes after the briefing let out, when Rodriguez made a crack about "Lorne's harem," Evan couldn't really bring himself to interfere when Teyla gave the marine, who had to outweigh her by about a hundred pounds, a look that made him go pale.
This team really hadn't been his brightest idea ever. Memo: Marine Corps not accustomed to Amazons. In future, pick only guys or disfigured women for teams.
M2D-219's stargate was inside a building—about a hundred feet in diameter, looked like, with steep rows of seats circling it up to about thirty feet, and a domed ceiling arching in from the tops of the seats. Directly facing the stargate, there was an arched doorway leading into a passage under the seats—the only exit he could see, and also the only decoration. Nothing was moving. The air was humid and dense and still.
Simpson frowned over one of her scanners. "The carbon dioxide levels are higher than the MALP's readings," she said.
Evan looked around the building. The walls and seats were very smooth, made of closely-fitted blocks—he couldn't see any shadows marking edges. There were no windows. "Did the MALP go outside?"
"No," she said, frowning.
Cadman looked up at the ceiling like she was trying to figure out the best way to blow a fifty-foot dome from ground level, and if he asked she'd say she was just wondering as a theoretical exercise, sir! He made a mental note not to let her get too bored. Thomas wasn't going to be a problem, at least; she was almost statue-like, alert but calm.
Teyla said quietly, "I do not recognize this style of construction. None of the worlds my people trade with have anything like it."
"Does it look old to you, or just me?" he asked.
She ran one slim hand along the edge of the stargate, skin rich and warm against the sterile grey of the stone. Contrast, and he wished for a second he had something to record that with for later. "Yes. Very old."
"I really do not like these carbon dioxide readings, major." Simpson still sounded calm, but she didn't sound too happy about being calm, or being there at all.
"Right," Evan said. "Is it the building or the planet?"
Simpson gave him an exasperated look. "How the hell should I know?"
He shrugged. "That's an Ancient scanner, right?"
"They weren't omniscient." She started walking towards the door, scanner held in front of her. Evan looked at Thomas and jerked his head in Simpson's direction; she ran a few steps and caught up with the scientist easily. The other three followed. "Hm."
"Hm?" Hm didn't sound good.
"Stronger," Simpson answered. She was one of the people who went quiet when they thought about things, seemed like—safer in the field than Look at this, major! but not nearly as easy to understand. Evan wondered if the science department had anyone who was a cross between her and Parrish or Zelenka, and, if so, who the lucky bastard was who'd ended up with just the right amount of information in convenient bite-sized packages.
"Dangerous?" Thomas asked.
Simpson looked up from the scanner to give her what seemed like a pretty biting look, which meant Evan didn't have to say No, carbon dioxide is the latest trend in breathing. "Not lethal," she said, "but unless I'm wrong it would not be a good idea to stay outside too long, if at all. It might be coming from under the building, or something, though, so we're just going to check."
"Uh," Evan said.
"Just very quickly, major," she said, turning around and giving him a pleading look. "If there's a ZPM out there—"
"Ten seconds," Evan said against his better judgment. "I'll be counting. Cadman, you and Teyla fall back to the gate and start dialing. Thomas—"
"There's nobody out there," Simpson said, checking her lifesigns detector.
"Thomas, fall back with the other two."
"Sir," she said, and went.
Evan stepped up to take her place, then realized Teyla hadn't left. "Teyla?"
"I am curious," she said, and if he hadn't been so distracted being amazed that Teyla was curious about anything he would definitely have told her "curious" was a really bad reason to hang around in potentially lethal amounts of anything.
Simpson opened the door; all three of them held their breath.
M2D-219 had trees with trunks that were somewhere between brown and purple, dark under the acid-green leaves—brighter, hotter than most greens, maybe cadmium lemon mixed with a splash of viridian—growing through a swamp that was a color Evan had never seen water before, a sort of burning-bright aqua.
Simpson's scanner beeped loudly and started flashing red at the same time the mosquitos attacked.
He and Teyla managed to get the door closed before more than a few got in, but the few were more than enough. Simpson's scanner was still beeping, and it didn't take a Ph.D. to know that was a bad sign. Teyla smacked one of the bugs that had somehow latched onto her arm, but they left the rest behind. Thomas hit the last symbol and the gate flared into life; Cadman, who had breath to spare, radioed in to Atlantis; and they tumbled through the gate.
Teyla wiped about two inches of crushed bloodsucking bug off her arm and looked at it with interest. "I do not think it would be advisable to return to this planet immediately," she said mildly.
"No shit," Cadman said.
"So something went wrong," Evan said to Zelenka. "You might want to have someone look over the MALP that checked out M2D-219 for us, since Doc Simpson said right away that it didn't match—it wasn't just once we opened the door."
"Already doing so," Zelenka said, looking up from his computer. "Last time it was checked there were no problems, this says—that was three days ago. I will check again now."
The MALP, Evan saw belatedly, was already in the lab, Zelenka picked it up and started poking at it as he said, "No thanks necessary—the MALPS are for the protection of the gate teams, after all; makes sense that—hm."
He started muttering to himself half in English, half in Czech, entirely in science as he checked wires and panels. After a few seconds Evan decided he didn't need to be there, and left.
Half an hour later Zelenka's voice crackled in his ear. "Major Lorne?"
"I have run every check I know of on the MALP. Nothing seems wrong."
"American movie. Never mind. Thanks for checking."
So that was weird.
Evan's team—his regular team, not the Amazons—met for an informal briefing on M8H-258 that evening at dinner. When they'd covered the mission objectives and what they expected to find, Reed said, "How did today's mission go, sir?" in a voice that had overtones of harem.
"Almost choked on carbon dioxide the MALP didn't pick up, and then got swarmed by mosquitos the size of small birds," Evan said. "Not really my idea of a good time."
"Minnesota in space?" Kaufman asked.
The other three men gave him strange looks.
"I grew up in Minnesota. We used to say the state bird was the mosquito." Kaufman shrugged. "Bad joke."
"Dr. Amato would probably be interested in seeing the planet," Parrish said.
"Who? Uh, I mean why?" Evan asked. He had a clear mental image of Amato, but no idea why the hell anyone would want to wander around M2D-219 for fun.
Parrish turned one of the vaguely apple-like fruits from some planet AR-3 had been to last week over between his hands. It was dark violet, and looked surprisingly small with Parrish holding it. "He's an entomologist. I would think giant mosquitos would probably interest him."
"Right. I'll ask him before I finish the report for Dr. Weir." Evan picked up his own not-apple and took a bite.
The Daedalus was due in two days, so Evan figured it'd be safe to wait for Dr. Weir's opinion. Maybe Major Sheppard, but—Sheppard. Dr. Weir would probably be a lot more sensible about it.
Amato, when Evan asked him about it, was thrilled at the thought of giant bugs, which just proved it took all sorts.