AR-23 was, as the double digit implied, a minor team. First Lieutenant Smith joked, late at night, that they were the assistant’s assistant. They were never to go off world without another team and they were certainly never given any mission critical responsibilities. They were an Air Force officer, a linguist and a scientist. Throughout the history of the Stargate program this was considered a winning combination, almost a cliché. Today, it felt like a cruel joke.
“I’m saying,” Dr. Trott said, hurrying beside Lt. Smith, “If we’re going to be jerked around like this we should actually try to do something meaningful with our time.” He was sweating slightly in his tac vest as Smith made excellent time up a rocky hill towards their destination.
“And for the last time, Doc: no. We are not going to break protocol to go exploring in the alien ruins.” Smith said. Behind them, Ross sighed. Off duty the two were fast friends and went along with each other’s quirks with a tact that had at first surprised the linguist. On mission, however, the two fought like cats and dogs.
“Dominance behaviors,” Ross mumbled to himself. He felt he had picked up plenty from the anthropologists after all this time stationed on Atlantis. The two in question swiveled around to glare at him. Ross put his hands up in surrender and kept walking. No point in getting drawn in.
“We get asked to go offworld to back up someone’s backup and it turns out they don’t need us at all.” Trott argued. “We’re not even doing menial work, Smith!”
“If you want to dig a trench so bad, be my guest. Go ask Colonel Sheppard for some work, you know he’d think of something.” Smith’s voice sounded sly as he added, “Or you could go ask Dr. McKay.” Both Ross and Trott shivered at the thought. And they both punched Smith in the arm for the suggestion. “All right, all right.” Smith said, laughing.
It was better when they were laughing, Ross thought. More like how it was back home, when they felt safe and comfortable. Still, they plodded on until they caught up with AR-1. It was prestigious enough to be offworld with AR-1 that even Trott’s whining was half-assed. Before they stepped through the gate Smith had been excited, even eager, to prove their team’s value to Atlantis’ premier reconnaissance team. Impressing Sheppard would be hard but doable – impressing Dr. McKay was a non-starter.
“And it’s been on the list for three months and we still haven’t gotten around to it.” The trio could hear Dr. McKay loud and clear. The man had never learned how to be quiet. They trudged the last few yards and finally met up with the rest of the Atlantis personnel on planet.
“I know Rodney,” Sheppard said, exasperated. “I said we’d take a look today, didn’t I?” Sheppard looked over at AR-23 with something approaching relief. “I was just waiting for our backup.” Sheppard said brightly. McKay looked them over with a sour glance.
“And you people are who, exactly?” McKay asked.
“AR-23, sir.” Smith replied, with as neutral face as he could manage.
“Uh-huh,” McKay said. He turned to Sheppard. “They said 23! I didn’t even know we had that many teams now. You’re asking the janitors to be our guard now?”
“Now, Rodney, didn’t you just say you wanted to go exploring the alien ruins today?” Sheppard asked.
“I said I wanted to explore the ruins safely, not get kidnapped by the first Wraith who pops in through the Stargate.” Rodney snapped, giving Smith, Trott and Ross an evil glare. He snapped his fingers at Trott. “You, what do you do again? You’re not a botanist, right?”
“High energy particle physics, Dr. McKay. And I work with the Ancient Tech Lab under Dr. Zelenka.” Trott said.
“One of Zelenka’s!” McKay yelled at Sheppard. “What if we need someone who can think while we’re in the ruins?”
“These guys will do fine, Rodney,” Sheppard said, smiling at them. Ross felt the smile like a wave of sunlight across the face. Sheppard wasn’t old enough yet for the smile to be anything but boyish. “And you do want to explore the ruins today, right?”
“Fine, fine, let’s roll the dice and see what happens.” McKay said. He stood up and started gathering his things.
“Alright guys, slight change of plan.” Sheppard explained. “Rodney and I are going to go explore those ruins on the other side of these hills. Teyla and Ronon have already gated back to Atlantis and given our report to Elizabeth. We’ll explore the ruins for a few hours and then gate back together, ok?”
Smith nodded. “What about protocol, sir?” He asked. Trott tried to contain the urge to strangle him. Fortunately, Sheppard just smiled.
“This isn’t our first rodeo, son, and if anything goes wrong I’ll be with McKay.” Sheppard paused and added, “And you guys, of course.” This he said with a more dubious tone.
“Yessir,” Smith said. The only thing he liked more than rules was following orders. Ross rolled his eyes as McKay and Sheppard walked down the hill towards the ruins. The sun of the alien world was inching towards the horizon. It was going to be a long evening.
“See what I mean.” Trott said, “They’re perfectly fine gallivanting into unknown ruins. With their luck they’ll probably find a cache of ZPMs or something.”
“The military commander of the expedition and the head of the science division get to do what they like, Trott.” Ross tried to explain. It wasn’t fair, but that’s how it was. Trott grimaced and sat down heavily in one of the makeshift camp’s chairs. Smith scanned the surrounding treeline a few times before sighing and sitting down beside Trott. Ross looked up into the darkening sky and settled in for unrelenting boredom.
An hour later, the ground shook. Trott had been half asleep and was drooling heavily onto Smith’s tac vest. Smith, for his part, seemed perfectly fine with the arrangement and had been quietly talking to Ross about improvements for the rooms they all shared. Communal living was a common choice for the Ancients, apparently, and the Expedition had found as many three and four bedroom apartments as they had singles. It suited the nature of the reconnaissance teams to share, at least at first. AR-23 had been living together for a year and a half now.
They all felt the ground shake. Trott sat up abruptly and Smith got to his feet. They had checked in with Sheppard not 20 minutes ago. Smith grabbed his radio.
“AR-1, this is AR-23, we just felt the ground shake from our position in base camp. What’s your status, over?” Smith asked. There was nothing from the radio but static. “Repeat, this is AR-23, what is your status, over?”
“Shit,” Trott said. He started gathering his things and a spare tablet from their supplies.
“Cave in?” Ross asked as he prepared to leave.
“Could be anything,” Smith said darkly. “Alright, I want to make serious time, people. Move out!”
And AR-23 ran towards the alien ruins.