John woke up groggy and out-of-sorts when his alarm clock started its incessant buzzing. Never again, he told himself as he crawled out of bed and shut off the annoying sound. Never again would he let himself get talked into a late night gaming session with McKay. They'd played the Ancient computer game until almost two am when Rodney received a call from Chuck there was a power spike in one of the lab areas. McKay had hurried off, muttering about incompetent scientists, to deal with the problem.
Now he sat on the edge of his bed trying to work up enough energy to move. Rodney was used to being up at all hours. John found he needed the sleep more than another chance to crush McKay's villagers into the ground. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, and with a groan, headed for the bathroom.
He showered, shaved, and dressed in a sort of haze before he stepped out of his quarters in search of coffee only to be nearly run down by a couple of people hurrying to join the gaggle of scientists and Marines staring out the door onto the balcony at the end of the hall. It took his still half-asleep mind a moment to realise something was happening outside, and maybe he should find out what it was.
John wandered over to the group, curious what could be so entertaining so early in the day, and stopped when he saw the large white flakes falling past the window to accumulate in a fluffy, white pile against the door. He told himself he shouldn't be that surprised, the days were decidedly shorter and it had been too cold to spend any time out on the balconies or piers for the last few weeks.
Halling had radioed Teyla a few days ago the harvest was in. Surprisingly, they'd had a good a year in spite of everything that had happened with the storm, then needing fresh seed with little time to plant a second crop. John had flown her out to the mainland for a visit the next day. He'd noticed most of the trees were bare and the air had smelt of dry leaves and wood smoke.
He glanced around at the rapturous expressions on the faces of the people nearest him. Everyone stared out the windows, smiling, their eyes wide with wonder. Like a bunch of kids, he said to himself.
Growing up in California, winter meant finding a jacket to wear when outside in the evening and the surfing season went into high gear. He hadn't experienced a winter with snow until he was stationed in Kandahar.
"We should make some Christmas decorations," he heard one of the scientists say. "Maybe ask Doctor Weir if we can go to the mainland and find a good tree."
"I wonder if anyone brought some Christmas music," another voice said.
"Do you think the mess cooks could make Sufganiyot?" someone else asked.
John stepped back from the window and headed for the transporter and the mess hall. He hadn't thought much of Christmas since the divorce. Nancy had enjoyed Christmas, all the color and bustle. He'd known the holidays had been hard for her, they were usually stationed far away from her family. John hadn't minded the distance as much, it was the perfect excuse to avoid his father. Something for just the two of them had been enough for him the first few years they were married. Until assignments kept him away from home more and more often and Nancy started going home to spend the holidays with her family. One year she simply didn't come back.
After the divorce, if he happened to be on a base at the time, the holiday meant little more than carols played over the base radio system for a couple of weeks and better than usual food in the mess.
He walked into the mess hall and saw the rest of his team already seated at their usual table, eating. Ford sat facing the window talking about something that made Teyla sitting across from him smile. Rodney sat with his back to the window, bundled in the same brilliant orange fleece sweater he remembered him wearing in Antarctica. A tiny part of his brain couldn't help feeling smug when he saw Rodney hunched over his breakfast looking as sleep deprived as John felt.
John hurried through the mess line, including a cup of the much-needed coffee before heading over to the rest of the team. He sat down across from Rodney and his earlier humor vanished when he saw the dark circles under McKay's eyes.
"Did you get any sleep at all last night?" he asked, not bothering to hide his concern.
"Some," Rodney replied as he finished his toast. "The power surge you heard about turned into two more. Got to bed around five."
"Was it snowing then?" Teyla asked, turning enough to look out the window behind her.
Rodney shrugged. "No idea. Wasn't near any windows." He glanced behind him and hunched his shoulders. "I hate being cold," he muttered into his coffee cup.
That explained the orange fleece, John thought to himself as he started eating.
"You will all have to come to the mainland for the Festival of Light," Teyla said a few minutes later.
"Festival?" John asked.
"It is tradition," she replied. "On the longest night of the year, it is a time to reflect, and light candles to ward off the long winter's night. Families exchange small gifts, there is food, storytelling, an opportunity to come together as a community."
"Sounds good," John said then gave Teyla a puzzled look. "This is a different planet from Athos. So, when is the longest night?"
"Three days," Rodney said never looking up from his plate.
John stared at him in amazement and noticed Ford doing the same. Teyla sipped her tea with a tiny smile and said nothing.
"What?" Rodney asked glancing up as the others fell silent. "It wasn't that hard to figure out based on the summer solstice and we were here for that."
Teyla nodded. "Halling and the other elders reached a similar conclusion."
"All right," John said, "we'll plan on attending the Festival, assuming we aren't off-world."
"I will let Halling know. I have spoken to Doctor Weir about the festival. She will inform the rest of the expedition members they are welcome to join in the celebration."
"Speaking of gifts," Ford said, and John could see a mischievous glint in his eye, "we should do a Secret Santa. Just the four of us."
John watched as Rodney grimaced and silently finished his eggs. Teyla gave Ford a puzzled look while Ford's grin beamed across the table. John was surprised to find he liked the idea. Maybe it was time for Christmas to mean something other than roast beef that was actually properly cooked instead of tasting like dried shoe-leather, he told himself.
"What is a Secret Santa?" Teyla asked, setting her teacup down as she looked around the table.
Rodney groaned and tried to stand but John tugged on his jacket sleeve keeping him in his chair and smiled.
"A Secret Santa is a sort of gift exchange," John explained. "You are given the name of someone and you give him or her a gift. The fun part is you're not supposed to say who your gift is for until the day of the exchange."
"I … see," Teyla replied and glanced from Ford to Rodney. "There is a similar tradition amongst my people, but it is something only for children."
"There, see," Rodney said haughtily and pulled his sleeve out of John's grip. "It's for kids. No reason for adults to participate."
John pursed his lips. While he might agree the idea of a Secret Santa exchange was a bit silly, it was a good kind of silly. After what the team had been through the last few months, he thought to himself, it would be a nice bit of team building as well.
"Oh, I don't know," John drawled as he sat back in his chair. He saw Rodney's shoulders tighten as he spoke. "Could be fun." John hid his smile as Rodney glared at him.
Teyla swallowed a bite of purple fruit. "I agree, Major," she said.
John watched as Ford and Teyla both turned to Rodney. John counted down from five in his head waiting for McKay to respond.
"Fine, whatever," Rodney said with a scowl as John's mental count reached zero.
"Cool!" Ford said and stood. He went back to the food line for a clean cup, came back to the table, and pulled a pad of paper and a pen from his shirt pocket.
"Came prepared, I see," John said as Ford scribbled on a piece of notepaper.
"Yes, sir," Ford replied. "Knew you guys would like the idea." He gave Rodney a sideways look and continued writing. "My unit in Iraq had an exchange every year. Everyone had a good time."
Rodney made a humph noise and finished his coffee.
Ford tore the paper into four pieces, crumpled them up, and dropped the crumpled pieces in the cup. "If you get your own name, put it back and draw again," Ford said and held the cup out to John.
John glanced at the name he'd drawn as Ford passed the cup to Teyla who smiled slightly at her piece of paper. Rodney sighed and pulled a name out, frowned, and stuffed the paper in his jacket pocket.
"Okay," Ford said as he took the last bit of paper and did a double-take before pocketing his paper as well.
"When do we exchange our gifts?" Teyla asked.
"One week," John said and stood. "That will give everyone time to think of something, and it won't interfere with the light festival."
"We need a tree, too," Ford added.
"Don't push it, Lieutenant," John told him as he saw Rodney about to bolt. "One week, we'll have a team night, make some popcorn, see if anyone brought a Christmas movie."
"It sounds like it will be a fun evening," Teyla said as she stood and cleared her dishes.
"Oh yeah, thrill a minute," Rodney grumbled as he cleared his own dishes and left the mess hall.
Ford made a face as he watched Rodney leave. "Guess I'm not that surprised he's a bit of a Scrooge," he said, probably louder than he meant.
"Lieutenant," John said, the warning clear in his tone.
Ford ducked his head. "Sorry, sir."
"Scrooge?" Teyla asked as they left the mess hall.
"Ford, I'll leave you to explain that one," John said as he turned toward the transporter.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney exited the transporter and hurried down to his lab before he could be wrangled into any more festive exuberance. He'd done his best to ignore most holidays, and Christmas in particular, since his college days. His classmates never could understand why he hated going home for the six weeks between the winter and spring semesters. For them, it was a time to kick back, relax after winter finals, and be a bit spoiled by their families as they came home for the first time in months.
For Rodney, it meant a month and a half of listening to his parents fight, while at the same time putting out the image of the perfect nuclear family. He was spared the hypocrisy of church services, but his mother still insisted on dragging them to any number of social events for which he and Jeannie were supposed to look smart and say as little as possible.
Once he'd graduated, it wasn't hard to avoid the family holiday scene, he could always claim a project was at a critical stage and he couldn't get away. Not that his parents tried very hard to get him to come home. He'd exchange a card and a small gift with Jeannie, but even that stopped after the fight over Jeannie's decision to choose marriage and family over a physics career. For him, the holidays became a chance to get more work done once everyone else had gone home. The thought of dealing with Earth holidays never crossed his mind once he came to the Pegasus galaxy.
He closed the door to the lab and pulled the scrap of paper out of his pocket. He stared at the name scribbled in Ford's surprisingly neat handwriting and wondered what he was going to do. Of the three potential people he had to get for a gift exchange, this was quite possibly the worst. He had no idea what to give as a gift and stuffed the paper back in his pocket. He checked his desk for anything from Radek that required his attention then wandered over to the work table.
He sat down, booted up his combo-computer, reran the power usage numbers, and frowned as he pushed the computer away. He'd spent part of his late night in between dealing with calls from the control room, checking and rechecking his math with the same result. They had a problem. No matter how many times he did the math, the answer wasn't going to change, he told himself.
He scowled at the computer as he crossed his arms over his chest to think. Assuming their current usage rate, and no more huge drains on the system, they had three months, maybe four, before the naquadah generators were completely spent and the city went dark. He rubbed his forehead in an attempt to stave off the headache as he considered their options.
They'd have to cut back on usage, that was the simplest option. Move people back into a smaller area, use less power. It would mean people doubling up on rooms again. He would not be popular once that was announced, he thought with a frown. They'd have to shrink the lab areas as well. Fewer questionable experiments needing special set-ups, the botany team wouldn't be able to expand into the neighboring labs where they wanted to try growing hydroponic plants, either.
"Won't be enough," he muttered to himself as he typed a few commands into the computer.
It had taken the science teams more than a month to cobble together a new transformer to replace the one blown out when they'd tried to streamline the power systems. While it worked, and Elizabeth was able to move the displaced Marines back into the affected crew section, it wasn't efficient and would have to be one of the first things shut down.
"Great, the scientists and the Marines will be mad at me," he growled as he rubbed a hand over his face. "Maybe they'll all be infected with the Christmas spirit and won't kill me outright." He pulled the computer closer and set to work on a report to Elizabeth laying out the steps they'd need to take to conserve what power they still had.
There was another option, one that could work, but there were at least two problems. One, he wasn't sure Elizabeth would agree and two, he didn't know if he could find what he needed. He booted up another computer and started a search through the Ancient database to locate the raw materials he'd need to build a new generator.
He'd been working for a couple of hours when the door to the lab whispered open. He glanced up long enough to see John enter the room before he went back to glaring at the computer running the database search.
"If you're making faces like that, it can't be good news," John said as he came over to the work table balancing a pair of coffee cups in one hand. He handed one of the cups to Rodney, snagged the stool on the other side of the table with his foot, and sat down across from him. "What's wrong?" he asked with a smile. "Still upset how I beat you last night?"
Rodney grimaced as he took the cup and nodded his thanks. "Enjoy your hollow victory while you can," he said as he swallowed some of the coffee and set the cup aside. "We may not be playing the game for much longer."
"Oh?" John asked. He must have picked up on Rodney's mood as he stopped grinning and asked, "What's the problem?"
"You're familiar with all of the power problems we've been having?" Rodney asked.
John gave him a steady look. "It's not something I'm likely to forget anytime soon," he replied. "Seeing as how you were nearly blown up trying to fix it."
Rodney winced at the reminder but plowed on. "Between what happened with the transformer blowing up, then everything that happened in the Entry Room and the control chairs, we've depleted the naquadah generators more than expected. We still don't know how the city did all of the rerouting, but it's taxed the system even more and the power leaks are getting worse.
"Add to that you blowing up one of our generators to stop those nanites --"
"I didn't hear you complaining at the time," John pointed out.
Rodney waved off the interruption. "And throwing one of the portable generators through the 'gate to get rid of that energy monster. And nearly depleting two more of the portables when Grodin sent everyone out to the Entry Room in the transporter, we don't have many options left."
"Okay. But you have a plan right? Some way to create more power?"
Rodney shook his head and typed a new query into the computer. "Haven't you ever heard of the conservation of energy?" he asked impatiently. "Energy can be --"
"Neither created nor destroyed," John finished for him. "You know what I meant. How do we fix this?"
Rodney glared at the computer. "Since we can't seem to find any Zed-PMs and Grodin is still researching the 'gate addresses given to us by the other Elizabeth …" He took a deep breath and glanced over at Sheppard. "We're going to need another power source to keep the city running."
John leant back on his stool. "You're sure the generators we have are that bad? I thought they were supposed to last forever."
"Nothing lasts forever," Rodney retorted and picked up the coffee cup. "The dual control chairs drained a lot of our power. Power we really didn't have to spare. I thought the problems with the grid were better once the city rerouted the power back into the city after," he waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the southwest pier, "but we're back to having the same spikes and drops as before. Maybe even worse as a few of the spikes have blown out some systems. That wasn't happening before."
"Okay," John drawled. "What do we have to do to recharge the generators?"
Rodney frowned. "You aren't getting it. We can't just recharge a naquadah generator," he said. "Once it's depleted, that's it. We need to build new ones."
"And you can build a naquadah generator?" John asked, the skepticism clear in his tone.
Rodney glanced down at his hands still holding the coffee cup. "It's ironic, really," he said after a few seconds. "General Hammond wanted to punish me for what happened with Teal'c. It turns out, that may be exactly what saves all of us."
John leant forward with his arms resting on the work table. "I don't get the joke."
Rodney looked over at him and saw his serious expression. "I've told you about Teal'c, haven't I?" Rodney asked with a frown then remembered their trek through the Redwood Forest. "Oh, yeah, you were kind of out of it at the time." He fiddled with the coffee cup for a moment before draining it. "Teal'c was trapped in the 'gate buffer after a freak accident. I was brought in …" He paused for a moment then shook his head. "I guess I was really brought in to make sure Carter failed," he mumbled more to himself than to John. "I never thought of it like that before …"
He stared at his hands, lost in thought, until he felt a tap on his arm and looked up to see John watching him, a worried look on his face. Rodney gave John a slight smile, set the coffee cup aside, and continued, "Anyway, after Carter succeeded in saving Teal'c, I was sent to Russia - as part of a technology exchange, was the official reason - for their help getting Teal'c out of the 'gate buffer. Really, I was shipped as far away from the SGC as General Hammond could send me. I think they believed me when I said I had no idea what Colonel Simmons was really up to, but …"
He twisted his fingers into a knot as he replayed the meeting with Hammond and Carter in the SGC conference room. He gave John another tiny smile. "I spent the next year helping the Russians build their own naquadah generators. So, yes, I can build one, or several if we need them. The problem is finding the naquadah to power them." He pointed to the computer still running the search through the Ancient database.
"If the stargates are made of naquadah, there has to be a source for it somewhere in the Pegasus galaxy," John said.
"Maybe," Rodney replied. "Or maybe they used up all of the mineral here which is why they started exploring the Milky Way galaxy in the first place."
Neither of them said anything for a few moments.
"What about that other mineral you found," John suggested as he set down his empty coffee cup.
Rodney glared at him in disgust. "Could you be any more vague?"
John glared right back. "That stuff Volkov and Kavanagh were fighting about a couple of months ago. On that planet where you sent the pirates --"
Rodney shook his head. "We don't have much more than a few grams of it, and while it's close, we need actual naquadah for the generators to work."
"Have you asked Teyla? Maybe one of the Athosians knows of a source."
Rodney shrugged. "Maybe," he admitted but didn't believe Teyla's knowledge or sources would be much help this time.
John started to say something else but was interrupted by the radio. "Weir to Sheppard."
"Peter thinks he may have found information on two of the 'gate addresses given to us by … well, me. Can you find the rest of your team and come to the conference room?"
"We'll be there in five," John said. "Sheppard out." He turned to Rodney with a smile. "Maybe we won't need to build one of those generators after all," he said as Rodney shut down his combo-computer and followed John out of the lab.
"Teyla, Ford," John said as he tapped his earpiece. "Meeting in the conference room in five."
"Yes, sir," Ford replied quickly followed by Teyla's acknowledgement.
Rodney activated the sensor for the transporter and stepped inside.
"So, what do you think?" John asked as they walked across the balcony to the conference room. "Any chance Grodin found proof there really are a few spare ZPMs hidden out there?"
Rodney shrugged. "The list did include the planet with those kids," he replied. "So we know at least one of the addresses was legit. If we have any hope at all of finding one, those five planets the other Elizabeth gave us could be our only chance. Otherwise, we're stuck with plan B."
John grimaced as he touched the sensor for the conference room doors. "Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of," he muttered.
Rodney walked into the conference room and found Grodin and Elizabeth already there. He took a seat next to Sheppard and glanced back at the door as Teyla and Ford entered.
"Thank you for coming," Elizabeth said as Teyla and Ford found seats at the triangular table. "As you know, the search for a ZPM to power Atlantis is a high priority --"
"Higher than you think," Rodney mumbled to himself.
"What was that?" Elizabeth asked as John jabbed an elbow in Rodney's ribs.
"Nothing," Rodney said with a fake smile. "Just agreeing with you."
"Right," Elizabeth said, and gave Rodney a long look before turning back to the rest of the room. "As I was saying, the search for a ZPM is a high priority and the list given to us by the other Elizabeth is our best chance of finding one." She turned to Grodin sitting next to her. "Peter, you said you had information on two of the planets on the list?"
"Yes," Peter said as he stepped forward and tapped a series of keys on his tablet. Information from the Ancient database flowed across the screen mounted on the wall. "The first planet, Dagan, we're still researching. All we've found so far is mention of a group called the Quindosim who were charged with protecting an object they called the Potentia."
"And you think that's a ZPM?" John asked.
"It's possible," Grodin replied with a nod. "The information we've been able to find so far indicates an unnamed Ancient travelled to Dagan with a rare and important object and tasked the local population with protecting it."
"Could it have been this Janus the other Elizabeth mentioned?" Weir asked.
Grodin shrugged. "There's no way to know for sure. The data on Dagan is fragmentary. As I said, we're still searching for more information."
"What about the other planet?" Teyla asked.
Grodin tapped his computer again and different data began to stream across the screen. "The Ancient database calls this planet Lurra."
"I know this world," Teyla said. "My people have traded there many times."
"Have you ever heard them talk about the Ancients?" Elizabeth asked.
Teyla shook her head. "The village is a few miles from the stargate, near the mountains. There are no ruins nearby or other evidence the Ancestors ever inhabited the planet."
"Well, they wouldn't necessarily need to live there," Rodney replied and looked around the table. "We're assuming the sole reason for hiding the Zed-PMs in the first place was as a sort of failsafe. A way to keep Atlantis safe from the Wraith but still usable by any Ancients that returned to the city later. If all they wanted was a place to hide the Zed-PM, it could be anywhere on the planet."
"If it could be anywhere, how do we find it?" John asked.
Rodney sat lost in thought for a moment before he snapped his fingers several times and looked up at Grodin. "Are there any elements that make up a Zed-PM that aren't found on this Lurra?" he asked.
Grodin read something on his screen and looked up. "Yes, there are three minerals we know are present in a ZPM that are not found on the planet."
Rodney turned to John with what he knew was a self-satisfied look. "That's how we find it," he said. "I can program a scanner to search for those three minerals. We find the minerals, we find the Zed-PM."
"Those minerals make up only a small portion of the ZPM. It could be difficult --" Grodin started to say.
"Difficult, yes," Rodney interrupted with an impatient wave of his hand. "But not impossible."
"John?" Elizabeth said. "It's your call. Which planet do you think we should search first?"
John leant forward in his chair, resting his arms on the table. "You're sure you can find a ZPM by searching for something other than the power signature?" he asked with a look at Rodney.
Rodney nodded. "Just give me some time to configure the scanner."
John studied his hands for a moment then sat back with a nod. "All right, I say we go to Lurra. Teyla knows the people and that will give Grodin and his team more time to research Dagan and this Quindosim."
Elizabeth smiled. "Agreed, Major," she said. "Since Rodney needs time to sort out the scanner, your team can leave in the morning."
"I should mention it is probably winter on Lurra now," Teyla said as she stood from the table.
"How cold are we talking about?" Ford asked.
"We will need to wear several layers," she replied. "The winters can be harsh."
"Lovely," Rodney muttered sarcastically. "I hate being cold. Had more than enough of winter in Russia and Antarctica."
"Ford, check the stores and see what winter gear we have and make sure everyone," he glanced at Rodney and Teyla, "is properly outfitted."
"Yes, sir," Ford replied.
"There is some good news," Teyla said as the conference room doors swung open. "The stargate is in an open area. We will be able to take a puddle jumper through and there is a clearing not far from the village where we can land. We will not have to hike to the village in the frigid temperatures."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
"No, no, that is wrong," Zelenka said as he read the code off the computer screen. "Manganese is still present in that combination. It will result in false positive."
Rodney growled under his breath. He wasn't sure which he hated more, a backseat programmer or a backseat programmer who happened to be correct. He went back through the code and removed the manganese-based minerals and read through the code again.
"Are you sure this will work?" Zelenka asked. "The amounts of these minerals necessary to build ZPM are minuscule, the scanner may not be able to detect them."
"Of course it will work," Rodney said dismissively. "It should work," he amended with a glance at Zelenka. "There's no reason why it wouldn't work." He wasn't sure who he was trying to convince with his last statement.
Rodney looked up at the knock on the lab door and found Ford standing there, several bulky items of clothing in his arms.
"Hey, Doc," Ford greeted as he entered. "Got your extra gear for the trip to Lurra."
Rodney looked at the heavy coat and other items with distaste.
"What is this?" Zelenka asked as Ford dropped the items on Rodney's desk.
"Apparently, it's winter on the planet," Rodney explained. "Have I mentioned how much I hate being cold?" he asked with a glance over at Ford.
"Teyla said the temperatures can drop ten to fifteen degrees below zero at night. Sometimes it may not get above freezing during the day, either," Ford added, and Rodney thought he looked far too pleased with himself.
"Rodney, if there is snow, the scanner may not --"
"It'll be fine," Rodney snapped, his patience wearing thin. "Get out, both of you," he growled. "I have work to do before I leave for a planet where I'll likely to freeze to death."
Zelenka glared at him before he threw up his hands and walked out of the lab.
Ford stared first at Rodney, then at Zelenka's back as he left. "Is there a problem?"
"My only problem is too many people in my lab," Rodney snapped with a pointed look at Ford.
"Okay, okay, I'm going," Ford replied. "Major Sheppard wants us in the gateroom at 0900," he said as he left the room.
"Finally," Rodney muttered, walking over to check the door was locked. He stopped at his desk long enough to finger the military-issue red coat and snow pants. There was also a pair of thick gloves, snow goggles, waterproof boots, and thermal underwear piled on the desk. He dropped the red coat back on his desk with a resigned sigh.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and felt the crumpled up piece of paper with the name of his gift recipient and rubbed at his forehead as he walked back to his work table. As if he didn't have enough to worry about with the power issues and the possibility of hypothermia, he still needed to figure out what he was going to do about the ridiculous Secret Santa exchange.
"What did I get myself into?" he grumbled as he stared around the lab, at a complete loss as to what to give as a gift. He wasn't sure which was worse, trying to come up with a gift idea or worrying about what sort of gift one of his teammates would give to him.
He stuffed the slip of paper in his trouser pocket and went to the back of his lab where he kept various odds and ends in case they ever proved useful and sorted through the different drawers and containers to see what he could find. Maybe he could make something that would pass as an acceptable gift, he thought as he dug through the various crystals, bits of metal, and assorted oddments.
An hour later he'd assembled a small pile of items including housings for various Ancient devices, several crystals for various systems, some copper wire, and a piece of a meteorite he'd found a few years ago while exiled in Russia and kept in a drawer in his desk. He sorted through the items thinking of and discarding several ideas before he hit on one that seemed both acceptable as a gift and possible to make with the items on hand.
The laser cutter in the Geology lab made quick work of the meteorite, cutting the stone in half and then polishing it to bring out the texture of the underlying crystalline structure. He took the polished stone back to his lab and used a hammer and a pair of pliers and started to reshape a piece of copper from a broken bit of housing.
It might not have been the same sort of work required to fix some of the city's systems, but it was delicate and required a certain amount of concentration. It gave his mind something specific to focus on for a little while. By the time he needed to stop and join the rest of the team for dinner a few hours later, he had made a good start on the project and felt slightly better about the odds the gift would be acceptable and not laughed at once it was done.
John glanced back at the rear of the jumper when he heard clumping footsteps and the swishing sound of waterproof fabric rubbing back and forth as Rodney entered the jumper bay the next morning. He turned back to the console and grinned as he heard McKay grumbling as he entered the shuttle, his coat unfastened and a pair of snow goggles dangling from the strap around his neck.
"Maybe we should try our luck on Dagan instead," Rodney said as he half sat, half fell into the co-pilot's chair, the heavy waterproof boots making him clumsy. "Chances are it has to be warmer than Lurra."
"How did you ever survive growing up in Canada?" John asked with a smile as Ford and Teyla joined them.
Rodney scowled at him as he tried to get comfortable in the chair. "I told you once before I endured winter. Besides," he added as he pulled off his gloves and punched the 'gate address for Lurra into the console between them, "Toronto temperatures rarely dropped lower than five below."
Ford snorted as he settled in the seat behind John. "That sounds pretty cold to me, Doc."
John laughed as the jumper lifted off and the automatic systems dropped them down into the gateroom. "He's using Celsius, Lieutenant. That would be about twenty-three degrees Fahrenheit."
"Oh," Ford replied.
John saw Elizabeth standing on the balcony in front of the control room, her hands on the railing. "John, good luck," she said over the radio.
John gave her a wave out the windscreen as the jumper pivoted and entered the event horizon.
Snow billowed up around them, obscuring their view, as they came through the 'gate on Lurra. John heard Rodney grumble something as he pulled back on the control sticks and hovered above the 'gate. Stark was the first word that came to mind as John banked the jumper into a slow turn and they had their first look at the planet.
The few trees in the distance were leafless with black trunks, their spindly branches were a contrast to the brilliant white snow on the ground. He didn't see any evidence anyone had recently visited the stargate, the snow was unmarred by footprints. Without trying to walk through it, it was hard to tell how deep the snow was, but John didn't see any evidence of grasses or low plants and suspected the snow had to be at least a foot deep.
The sky was grey and overcast with thin watery sunlight peeking through the clouds. As the jumper slowly rotated, John saw a line of darker clouds building on the horizon.
"Oh, very nice," Rodney groused as he looked out the windscreen. "Can't understand why everyone doesn't move here."
"You are not seeing the planet at its best," Teyla replied. "At the height of summer, everything is green, the weather is warm, the trees full of fruit. The people in the village have learnt to mine metals from the mountain and are skilled artisans and craftsmen as well as hunters and farmers."
John looked out at the bleak landscape and had to admit he agreed with Rodney. "Anything from the scanner?" he asked as he pointed the nose of the jumper toward the sky and they flew above the trees, heading toward the mountains in the near distance.
Rodney fumbled at his vest pockets and pulled out the Ancient scanner. He powered it on and tapped at the screen. "I've got life signs," he reported. "A large group near the mountains straight ahead --"
"That would be the main village," Teyla said.
"Another smaller group about ten kilometers to the east." He glanced behind him at Teyla.
"That is likely one of the hunter's camps," she replied. "There are several animals the Lurrans hunt for meat. The skins are used to build temporary shelters and make clothes. Even if we cannot find the ZPM, it might be worth talking to Yev about a trade for food."
"Yev?" Ford asked.
"She is the leader of the village."
John nodded. "Not a bad idea."
Rodney tapped the screen again. "The rest of the readings are scattered, probably animals."
"You said you could configure the scanner to find the ZPM," John said with a glance over at Rodney.
"Yes, but the Zed-PM is small, the elements are going to be trace amounts. I've refined the scanner as much as I can, but we still need to be close to it before the scanner will pick anything up."
"Great," John grumbled as he piloted the jumper toward one of the clusters of life readings. "You kind of left that part out. Teyla, you said you knew these people?"
"Yes, Major, I have traded with them many times."
"Never had any problems?"
He caught a glimpse of Teyla shaking her head. "No. They are good people."
"All right, I'll drop you and Ford off at the village ahead. Rodney and I will go on the to hunter's camp. See what information you can find about where the ZPM might be hidden." He glanced over at her. "And if the opportunity comes up, ask about trading for food, too."
"How are we supposed to find out anything on something hidden thousands of years ago?" Ford asked as he zipped up his coat and buckled the tabs.
"Ask about stories," Rodney suggested. "Chances are anything these people know will be wrapped up in myths."
"We'll meet you back here in a couple of hours to compare notes," John added as he landed the jumper in a clearing. Snow billowed up around them as the jumper settled and John waited a few moments for the tiny particles to drift down again before he opened the rear hatch.
A blast of frigid air shot through the shuttle and Rodney grabbed for his gloves as Teyla and Ford adjusted their snow goggles over their eyes, pulled up the hoods of their coats, and headed out the rear door.
John closed the hatch once they were clear and watched as they trudged through calf-high snow to the treeline where he could see a thin trail of smoke climbing into the air. He watched as one of red-clad bodies turned back and waved before disappearing into the trees.
John glanced up at the sky as he lifted off and headed in the direction of the camp. "We might want to speed this up," he said with another look up at the sky. "The weather looks like it could turn soon."
"Just what this planet needs, a blizzard," Rodney muttered.
John glanced over and shook his head then checked the HUD and pointed the jumper in the direction of the hunter's camp.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Teyla followed in Ford's footsteps as he broke a trail through the creaking, crunching snow that came up to her knees. There was an occasional soft thump as snow fell off a branch. Otherwise, there was nothing but silence. She had never been on Lurra during the winter before. Halling or her father made a few trips during the cold months to trade for meat or skins, but she'd never made the winter trip herself. She silently agreed with Rodney that being cold was not something she enjoyed even with the expedition issued winter gear.
She looked around trying to find a landmark she recognised in the snow-covered woods between the stargate and the village. She spotted the mountains slightly off to their right, skipped forward a few steps, and tapped Ford on the arm. When he didn't respond, she tugged harder.
Ford stopped and turned around. She couldn't see his eyes behind the snow goggles but could read the question in his body language.
"The village should be just over there," she told him and pointed slightly to their right.
He nodded and adjusted course.
Ten minutes later, they stopped at the edge of the village made up of several stone buildings. Teyla looked around but there was no one outside who could tell them whether or not Yev was in the village or the camp. She shivered as a gust of wind blew past and concluded anyone in the village would want to be near a warm fire and not out in the blustery weather.
She pointed toward the far end of the village. "That is the pub. It is the most likely place to find someone who could direct us to Yev."
Someone had tried to remove the snow from the main street. Ford helped her step over the deep drifts near the edge of town and they walked side-by-side down the cobbled main road toward the long low building at the far end of the village.
Teyla led the way through the small space dug into the berm of snow outside the low building and stopped outside the door. She stamped the snow off her boots and trousers as best she could then led the way inside. Warmth and the smell of roasting meat wafted out the door as she entered with Ford on her heels.
Several heads turned to look toward the door as Ford pulled it closed behind them. Teyla lowered her hood, opened her coat, and let the goggles hang around her neck as she looked around the room. The men and women seated at the assorted tables wore at least two layers of shirts, one tight against the skin while a second was longer and loose, thick leggings made of some sort of brown leather, and high boots. Several also wore fur-lined leather vests and every chair was draped with a leather coat lined with more fur.
"Teyla! By my eyes and ears! What are you doing here?" a big bear of a man roared from behind the bar. "We heard about Athos and thought the worst."
"Hello, Teg," Teyla said with a smile as she grasped Teg's outstretched hands in hers. "It is good to see you well. This is my friend, Aiden," she added, nodding to Ford standing beside her, his own hood and goggles off. "We have come from Atlantis."
Several of the men and women in the pub stood and offered their hands or gave Teyla hugs. She noticed Ford nervously watching the crowd and reached out to squeeze his hand. "They are good people," she whispered to him before another woman pulled her into a hug.
Once the joyful greetings were out of the way, most of the people in the pub returned to their own conversations and Teyla and Ford turned back to the bar.
Teg pulled two mugs down from a shelf and filled them with a dark beer from a tap. He handed each of them a mug, filled his own, and held it up. "To unexpected meetings," he said with a smile.
Teyla held her mug up for the toast. Ford hesitated a moment before he followed her lead. She smiled at Teg then Ford and took a swallow of the beer. "As good as I remember it," she said and set the mug down.
"I was able to trade for some new malt," Teg told her. "Did Halling …"
Teyla nodded. "Halling is well," she told him. She put a hand on Ford's arm. "We are all well, thanks to Aiden and his people. They have awakened the city of the Ancestors and saved my people from the Wraith."
Teg turned to Ford and held up his mug again. "Good fortune to you and your people, Aiden," Teg said and knocked his mug against Ford's. Teg took a long swallow of beer. "Tell me before you leave, I will put up a keg for you to take back with you."
Teyla swallowed more beer and nodded.
"But you aren't here to drink my beer, are you," he said with a knowing look as he set his mug down.
"No. There is something I need to discuss with Yev. I was not certain if she would be here or at the camp."
Teg nodded and jerked his head to his left. "She's in her office," he told her. "Go on through."
"Thank you, Teg," Teyla said as she finished her beer and turned toward the door on the other side of the pub.
"The village leader conducts business from the local pub?" Ford asked in a whisper as he followed her across the room to a narrow door.
Teyla shrugged. "It is the pulse-point of the village. Everyone comes here and everyone knows Yev can be found in this room."
Teyla knocked, then opened the door and stepped into the room. A desk and chair backed against a frost covered window opposite the door and a long sofa and two chairs sat on either side of the fireplace in the corner of the room with a long oblong table between them.
A woman with brown hair braided in a crown around her head looked up from the book she was reading when the door opened. She set the book on the desk and stood.
Teyla smiled as she strolled across the room to the desk. "Yev, how are you?" she asked as she grasped Yev's hands.
"Teyla Emmagan, I am surprised and pleased to see you! We had heard Athos was culled and no one survived."
Teyla let go of Yev's hands and forced down the dart of sorrow. "Many of us survived, thanks to our friends from Atlantis," she said and nodded to Ford. "This is Lieutenant Aiden Ford. He is a member of a group of people who have reclaimed the Ancestor's city."
Yev smiled at Ford and held out her hands. He grasped them awkwardly. "Welcome, Lieutenant Aiden Ford," she said.
"Thank you, ma'am," Ford said with a smile of his own. "Aiden is fine, ma'am."
"In that case, Aiden, you may address me as Yev." She gave Ford's fingers another squeeze.
Yev let go of Ford's hands and gestured to the sofa next to the fire. "Let us sit and you may tell me what brings you to Lurra."
Teyla and Ford sat on the sofa, Yev took one of the chairs on the other side of the fireplace. Teyla heard a soft knock on the door, then Teg entered with a platter of dried meat and fruit as well as plates, napkins, mugs, and more beer. He set the items on the table between them, and with a nod to each of them, left again, closing the door behind him.
"Please," Yev said as she held out the platter. "The meat is smoked hreindyr, the fruit is dried orangello."
Teyla took several pieces of the meat and fruit and made a mental note to warn Rodney about the potential for citrus when he and John returned to the village.
Yev waited until they had taken a few bites then asked, "Are you here for trade, Teyla? I thought Halling usually came in the winter. You made it clear as a child you did not enjoy our cold weather," she added with a smile.
Ford grinned over at her. "Do not tell Doctor McKay," she said, the warning clear in her tone when she saw the mischief dancing in his eyes.
Ford laughed and drank more beer.
"We have recently learned the Ancestors may have hidden something on Lurra that could help defend Atlantis from the Wraith," Teyla said to Yev, ignoring Ford as he tried to stifle his laughter.
Yev frowned. "What sort of object would the Ancestors simply leave behind and why leave it here?"
"It is a powerful crystal," Teyla said. "We believe the Ancestors were trying to protect Atlantis many years ago and hid these crystals until they could return. These people," she pointed to Ford, "are descendants of the Ancestors. If we can find the crystal the Ancestors kept hidden here, it is possible they may be able to defeat the Wraith once and for all."
Yev sat back in her chair. "You are sure such a crystal is hidden on Lurra?"
"Yes," Teyla replied. "The source for this information was certain it would be here. Can you think of anything, any old stories or legends that spoke of the Ancestors and such a crystal?"
Yev steepled her fingers together and rested her chin on her hands. "There is one story, about an old woman who lived in the mountains, long ago. Long before this village existed." She turned to Ford. "At one time my people lived in the mountains, not in the flatlands. The Wraith could not find us then, and the caves were deep.
"The woman lived in a cave in a valley high in the mountains. Hunters would bring her meat and wild fruit. In exchange, she would heal simple wounds. It is also said she could foresee attacks by the Wraith, giving the people enough time to hide in the caves to escape the cullings." She looked from Teyla to Ford. "The stories never say the woman was one of the Ancestors or anything about a crystal such as you describe. It's a story we tell to children before bed."
"McKay did say any clues we might find would be in old stories," Ford murmured in Teyla's ear.
Teyla nodded and said to Yev, "Is there anything else you can tell us about the woman or where she supposedly lived?"
Yev shook her head. "There are several versions of the story. Some say she lived in a cave not far from here. Others claim it was farther away, on the other side of the mountains. Some versions of the story state she lived near the sea and not in the mountains at all."
Ford frowned. "Well, it was worth a shot," he said as he finished his dried meat.
"I regret I cannot be of better help, Teyla," Yev said.
Teyla smiled. "There is no reason to apologise. Hopefully, our friends have had better luck."
"Friends?" Yev asked.
"Yes. Two others from Atlantis have a flying ship. They went up to the hunter's camp to see if anyone there had any suggestions on where we might look for the crystal."
Teyla saw Yev's open expression change to concern before she was finished speaking.
"What's wrong?" Ford asked before Teyla could say anything.
Yev stood and walked to the window. "You say they are in a flying ship?"
Teyla followed her to the window, Ford on her heels. "Yes. Is there some danger?"
Yev pointed out the window. The sky, which had been grey when they'd arrived, was now dark with heavy clouds hanging low against the mountains. "There is a storm coming," Yev explained.
"How serious is this storm?" Ford asked.
Yev looked over at him, her eyes sad. "This time of year the snows can last for days. Teyla, if your friends do not return soon …"
Teyla ducked her head as she looked out the window at the looming clouds.
"Major Sheppard is an expert pilot," Ford said from behind her. "I'm sure they'll be fine."
Teyla wondered if he was trying to convince Yev or himself. She felt a shudder down her spine as she watched a strong gust of wind blow snow across the window and rattle the glass in the window frame.
John kept one eye on the HUD with the life signs reading as he piloted the jumper farther into the nearby mountains. He had to adjust their flight path more than once as the increasing wind buffeted the shuttle and threw them off course.
Another strong gust hit them and the jumper veered toward the side of the mountain again, just missing several trees as John pulled them back on course. He noticed Rodney sitting tight-lipped in the co-pilot's seat and said, "Relax, it's just a little turbulence."
Rodney glared over at him and muttered, "Remind me to start work on that shield when we get back."
John checked the HUD and angled them into a low valley where he could just make out a large stone cabin and several smaller structures that almost looked like teepees. He circled the buildings a few times before he found a flat, open space where he could land. He noticed several fur-clad people come out of the stone building, probably curious about the sound of the jumper flying over, and watched as he brought the ship in to land.
"Let's go meet the welcoming committee," John said as he stood and made his way to the rear of the jumper. He pulled on his gloves, settled a pair of snow goggles on his face, and pulled up the hood of his coat. He checked to make sure Rodney was equally ready then opened the rear hatch.
The blast of cold air hit them as soon as the hatch opened and John could hear Rodney grumbling under his breath as he followed John through the knee-high snow back to where several people waited near the buildings. One of the larger fur-clad bodies waved toward them and pointed to the large stone building in the center of the small clearing.
John waved his acknowledgement, turned to check Rodney was still behind him, and led the way to the building. The large fur-clad body stood at the door waiting for them and held the door open once they'd stomped off the snow clinging to their legs and feet. The door was shut and secured behind them and John was pleasantly surprised how warm the interior of the building felt. He pulled off his hood and let his goggles dangle as he looked at the men and women around him as they shed their fur-lined coats.
The inside of the building was one large room. A wood stove stood in the middle of the room providing both heat and a cooking surface if the bubbling pot on top of the stove was any indication. A long table behind the stove held various dried foods as well as several bottles, glasses, and other dishes.
It wasn't hard to tell the ten people in the building were all related. They ranged in age from late teens to middle age and all had the same reddish-blond hair and blue eyes.
"Hello," John said amiably. "My name is Sheppard. This is McKay." He pointed to Rodney busily pulling off his gloves and stuffing them in a pocket of his coat.
"Prin," replied the person who'd led them to the building. He pulled down his own hood, and John saw a man of about fifty with the same red-blond hair, flecked with grey at the sides, and a thick beard to match. "You must be lost, Sheppard," he continued and sat on one of the benches beside a table. "Did your ship get blown off-course? The village is in that direction." He pointed west.
"Nope, not lost," John replied with an easy smile as Prin gestured to the bench on the other side of the table. John unzipped his coat and sat down with a nod.
"But we are looking for something," Rodney added as he perched on the edge of the bench next to John.
"Oh?" Prin asked, and John could hear suspicion in his tone.
"McKay," John chastised.
"What?" Rodney retorted. "Teyla said the people here were trustworthy. We need to find that Zed-PM and with the weather out there," he pointed back toward the door, "we need all the help we can get."
"Teyla?" Prin asked, his expression changing from wary to hopeful. "Teyla Emmagan? You know her?"
"Yes," John replied, clearly confused. "We helped most of her people escape the Wraith when they attacked Athos." He conveniently left out the part where he'd woken the Wraith in the first place.
Prin's face broke out into a wide smile. "That is some of the best news we've heard," he said and waved his hand at one of the younger men standing near the long table near the back of the room. "I have known Teyla and Halling for many seasons. When we heard what happened on Athos, we feared they had all been culled. They were all saved?"
John nodded. "Halling and most of the Athosians live in a village not far from the city. Teyla lives in the city and is part of my expedition team. She's down at your village with another member of our group talking to Yev."
The young man brought three shot glasses and a bottle over to Prin and set them on the table beside him.
"This is my middle son, Mica," Prin said as he opened the bottle and poured a pale yellow liquid into the glasses. He handed one of the glasses to John, then Rodney, and kept the third for himself. "It's mead," Prin explained as Rodney gave his glass a suspicious look. "It will warm you up," he added with a smile. "To new friends," Prin said as a toast and drained his glass in one swallow. He refilled it from the bottle then leant back on the bench.
John sniffed the contents of his glass then took a small sip. While not as sweet as the mead he'd tried once in college, the drink did as advertised and he felt a warmth radiate out from his stomach to his fingertips as he took another sip.
"The alcohol content must be off the chart," Rodney murmured as he set his mostly full glass aside.
"What is it you are looking for again? Zed --" Prin asked as he swallowed half of his glass of mead.
"Zed-PM," Rodney supplied. "It looks like a large red and yellow crystal," he held his hands a little less than two feet apart, "about this long."
Prin and Mica exchanged a look. "I've never seen such a crystal," Prin said.
"It may have been hidden on the planet a long time ago," John said.
"Thousands of years ago, actually," Rodney corrected.
Prin frowned. "What makes this object so important?"
John studied Prin's face for a moment and held up a hand when Rodney looked like he was about to jump in again. "You've heard of Atlantis?" John asked after a few moments. When Prin nodded, he continued, "That's the city I mentioned before. We have reason to believe the people who originally built Atlantis, the Ancients, hid a power source for the city, a Z … Zed-PM, here on Lurra."
Prin looked around the tent. "Never heard anything about the Ancestors coming here," Prin said. He glanced at a few of the older men and women in the tent. They shook their heads as well.
"What about Yana?" a woman roughly the same age as Prin asked.
"Yana?" John looked from the woman to Prin.
"It's a bedtime story for children, little more," Prin replied.
Rodney shook his head. "Not necessarily," he stood and spoke to the room at large. "As I said, this object may have been hidden here thousands of years ago. It would make sense the only records to survive are folk tales."
The woman stood from her table and came over to stand next to Prin. "Yana is said to have lived in the high valley," she pointed toward the mountains, "and was a wise-woman. According to the story, she was a healer, able to heal all sorts of wounds, even the wheezing sickness."
"But they are just stories," Prin said as he poured more mead. "There is no way to know where Yana lived, assuming she was a real person."
"There are the cave drawings," Mica said softly from where he stood behind his father.
Prin started to say something, but Rodney jumped in first. "What sort of drawings?" he asked.
"All sorts of things. Buildings, people, some weird things, too. Animals maybe," Mica replied.
"You've seen them?" Rodney asked and leant forward eagerly, his hands braced on the table.
Mica nodded. "Shyan …" Mica paused for a moment, and John thought he saw a blush creep up the young man's cheeks. "She likes to look at the drawings, study them, figure out what they mean. She always wants sketches to take back with us so she would make me draw some of them for her."
John watched as Rodney patted at the pockets of his tac-vest until he found a pencil and a pad of paper. "Can you draw one of them for me?" he asked and handed over the pad and pencil. "It could be exactly what we're looking for," he added with a look at Prin then John.
Mica hesitated a moment before he took the pad and pencil, found a nearby bench, and sat down to draw.
"What makes you think this power source you're looking for is here?" Prin asked with a glance at Mica as he poured himself more mead. John marvelled at how little the drink seemed to affect him.
Prin stared at John's glass with a slight frown and John took another small sip. "Let's just say we have really good intel," he replied, trying not to gasp as the alcohol hit the back of his throat.
Prin shrugged and drank more mead.
Rodney sat back down beside John and fidgeted with the pockets of his tac-vest as he threw occasional glances at Mica, still slowly drawing.
"Here," Mica said a few minutes later as he handed Rodney the pad. "It's not very good," he admitted. "Doesn't do the real drawing much justice. Shyan is a much better artist."
John could tell Rodney wasn't listening. He stared open-mouthed at the pad for a moment before he swallowed and looked over at John.
"Major," he whispered, his eyes wide, and handed the pad to John.
John glanced at the drawing and then up at Mica. He could understand why McKay was shocked. "You said this was drawn on a cave wall?"
Mica nodded. John could see he and Rodney were making him nervous as he twisted his fingers together and glanced at his father.
"Sheppard?" Prin asked and pushed Mica slightly behind him. "What's wrong?"
John shook his head as he turned the piece of paper so Prin could see it. "This is a drawing of Atlantis," he said, showing him the crude sketch of several buildings with a large tower in the middle.
"How often do people go to this cave?" Rodney asked. "How much of it has been explored?"
Mica gave his father a startled look. "Not many go there," he finally answered. "It's kind of hard to get to, even in the summer. It's almost impossible in the winter. After a few big snowstorms, the pass is completely blocked.
"As for exploring, Shyan and I have only been in the first room, that's where most of the big drawings are." He pointed at the paper in John's hand. "That picture is near the back wall of the cave. It is very detailed. There are tunnels leading out of the room, with more drawings on some of the walls, but we've never ventured very far down them. The tunnels bend away from the entrance and there isn't very much light."
"We have a ship," Rodney said and pointed toward the door. "Could we fly there?"
"McKay," John drew out the name.
"What? This is important, Major. It could solve a lot of those problems I told you about yesterday."
"I get that, but --"
"We need that Zed-PM," Rodney whispered, his tone serious. "If we don't go now, that cave," John saw him swallow nervously before he took a deep breath and continued, "that cave will be off limits until Spring, whenever that might be. Certainly too late for us."
"You did hear the part about the cave, didn't you?" John asked, a touch of concern in his voice. "Are you sure you want to be the one to go?"
Rodney swallowed and looked away. "We need that Zed-PM," he replied as he crossed his arms over his chest and looked at the ground. "Someone has to go and we're already here."
Prin studied both of them for a few seconds, then said, "If this power source is that important, you should go now. There has already been heavy snow in the mountains, the cave opening may already be buried. Your ship could make the journey and still leave enough time to get back out of the mountains before the worst of the storm hits."
John glanced at the window as a gust of wind rattled the frame. Rodney was right, they did need the ZPM. But was it really there? He couldn't believe the Ancients would just leave a ZPM lying around in a cave, it couldn't be that easy. He suspected the cave drawings were some sort of map or at least a set of clues for finding the device.
Which meant they needed to see the cave for themselves.
He glanced at Rodney, weighing their options and the odds of getting to the cave and back before the worst of the storm hit. It wouldn't be just his neck he'd be risking flying through a potential blizzard, he reminded himself. He toyed with the idea of telling Rodney to stay in the camp with Prin while he checked out the cave alone but knew the idea would never work. If the artwork was some sort of a map, he'd need McKay to help figure it out. He was also sure Rodney would never agree to John going alone.
John stared at Rodney a moment longer then scrubbed a hand through his hair and sighed as he made his decision. It was probably foolish, and Elizabeth would read him the riot act when she found out, he told himself. But if they came back with a fully charged ZPM …
"How do we find this cave?" he asked Mica.
"If you follow the river north from here, that will lead you up into the mountains and to the next valley," Mica said as he pointed to the pad still in Rodney's hand. McKay handed over the paper and Mica spoke as he drew. "The cave is on the west side of the valley," he explained, the pencil quickly sketching a map as he spoke. "In the summer, it takes half a day to hike from here to the cave." He held out the pad showing a crude map drawn on the paper.
"If the storm arrives early, you may not be able to return to the village," Prin warned as John studied the map. "We will be here and this cabin has withstood many storms. We can secure your ship and you can wait out the snow with us."
"All right," John said and stood. "We'll radio Teyla and Ford and let them know about the cave." He waited as Rodney jumped to his feet and started to zip up his coat. "A quick check is all we're after here," he continued with a hard look at Rodney. "We check the cave, make sure of the drawings, and mark its location. We'll come back once the storm is past, with the right equipment, and explore the cave further." He looked at Prin near the door as he adjusted his goggles and pulled up his hood.
Prin unbolted the door. "Safe journey, Sheppard," he said as he held out his hands.
John wasn't quite sure what to do as Prin grasped his two hands. "We will wait for you to return." Prin pulled up his fur hood and opened the door.
John felt the cold almost immediately as he stepped outside. What light they'd had before had turned flat and grey with the gathering clouds and the wind swirled the snow around them. "You're sure the weather is going to hold?" he asked as Prin followed them outside.
Prin studied the sky for several moments. "The storm is moving fast," he replied. "It will snow soon. However, you should have an hour, maybe two, before it becomes severe."
John held up his hand in farewell then led the way back to the jumper. Once back inside with the hatch closed, he threw back his hood, sat in the pilot's chair, and keyed the jumper's radio as Rodney settled in the chair next to him. "Sheppard to Ford."
"Ford here, sir."
"We found the hunter's camp and might have a lead on the ZPM," he said as he started checking the panel in front of him. "We're going to do a little recon and then meet you in the village."
"Major, we have been warned there is a storm coming," Teyla said over the open channel.
"Yep, we heard the same thing. Prin thinks we have a couple of hours so we should be able to do a quick check and get back to you before it gets too bad."
"We'll be here, sir."
"Be careful," Teyla added.
"See you guys soon, Sheppard out."
John turned to Rodney as he fidgeted in the co-pilot's chair. "What's the problem?" he asked as he ran through the last of the preflight checks.
"Just how hard is it to fly through a snowstorm?" Rodney asked as he gazed out the windscreen at the snow blowing around them. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea."
"After everything you said in the cabin, now you're having second thoughts?" John said with a glance at McKay. "We should be fine," he assured as he powered up the engines. "Even if we get caught as the storm comes in, we can always head for space to avoid the worst of it."
"Good point," Rodney replied with a last look at the cabin and settled back in his chair as they lifted off.
It didn't take long to find the river and only twenty minutes to find the valley. John constantly checked the sky as he maneuvered the jumper into the small valley at the end of the narrow mountain pass. Even with the inertial dampeners, he could feel the wind buffeting the ship as he fought to keep it on course.
"That must be the cave," Rodney said and pointed at a deep split in the side of the mountain.
John glanced at the dark clouds building ahead of them and frowned. "I'll land as close to the cave as I can. We need to make this quick, I think that storm is almost here."
Rodney glanced from John to the looming clouds outside and nodded.
Snow billowed up around the jumper as John found a flat area to land and it took a few moments for them to realise the snow falling gently down wasn't just from their landing.
"Five minutes," John said as he pulled on his gloves. "We check the cave, record any drawings, and leave. I'll mark it on the HUD and we can come back once the weather clears. That ZPM has been here for thousands of years, a few more days won't matter."
Rodney found the video camera in his pack and John grabbed one of the large flashlights from the storage bin over the rear benches then led the way outside. He wasn't prepared for how hard the wind was blowing and reached back to grab Rodney's sleeve when McKay staggered down the ramp behind him.
They hadn't gone more than a few dozen feet before another fierce gust knocked them both to the ground and John decided they needed to get out of there. The snow had increased in just the few minutes since they'd landed from gently falling flakes to near white-out conditions and the wind, caught in the bowl created by the surrounding mountains, blew in unpredictable gusts and eddies. This was far worse than he'd imagined as he struggled back to his feet and looked around. He couldn't see the cave or the jumper any more and his only thought was to get them both back to the ship as quickly as possible.
He pulled Rodney to his feet and kept a hold on his arm as he retraced their steps back to the jumper. The last thing they needed was to get separated. Rodney stumbled into him as another wind gust pushed him from behind and John had started to wonder if he was heading the right direction when the dark outline of the jumper finally came into view.
He fumbled the remote out of a pocket, pushing the button to trigger the hatch as he hurried the last few steps back to the ship. The rear hatch had barely touched the ground before he was pushing Rodney inside ahead of him and toggling the door to close again behind them.
"So much for a couple of hours," John said as he shed his tac-vest, coat, and gloves, and headed for the cockpit. "We need to get out of here, now."
"No argument from me," Rodney replied, pulling off his own vest, coat, and gloves as John hurried through the preflights. "This might have been a very bad idea," he admitted softly.
John glanced over at Rodney and saw he was more than a little nervous as he watched the snow come down even harder. He couldn't deny they were in a bad spot, but he'd agreed to the idea of checking the cave. He knew all they had to do was get above the storm and they'd be fine.
"Relax," he said. "Like I said, we'll head for space, radio Teyla and Ford to be ready for us to pick them up, then head for the 'gate."
A rogue gust of wind pushed the jumper off course just as John lifted off and he forced the shuttle back in the right direction, narrowly missing a tree in his efforts to get the jumper above the storm and away from the valley's unpredictable wind gusts.
John decided the best way to counter the unpredictable wind was to spiral his way up as the ship gained altitude instead of trying a brute force path straight up. They were near the mouth of the valley when another gust hit them and John wasn't able to correct their course in time to avoid the rocky outcrop in their path. He heard the screech of metal as the bottom and side of the jumper bounced off the rocks and back into open air.
"Damn," he muttered and ignored McKay's sudden deep breath and his fingers clenching on arms of his chair.
John wrestled the ship back on his previous course and tried to gain more altitude only to find the controls sluggish. "Something's wrong," he muttered. "We're losing power. I think that collision damaged the port drive pod."
Rodney gave him a startled look and checked his own panel. "It's not the drive pod," he replied. "There something wrong with the power converter." He stood from the co-pilot's chair and staggered back to the rear of the jumper, falling to his knees near the bulkhead door as another gust of wind buffeted the ship. "If it's just a matter of rerouting …" He let the sentence hang as he pulled himself to his feet and opened the control box.
"Still losing power," John reported with a hasty glance behind him to see what Rodney was doing. "The starboard pod is losing power now as well."
He heard Rodney growl something under his breath as he checked and realigned various crystals. "How's that?" he asked a few seconds later.
"Still not enough," John replied. "Port pod is dead, starboard is at thirty percent."
He heard Rodney mumbling under his breath as he turned back to the console in front of him trying to keep the jumper airborne. The ship was hit with another wind gust and the warning lights on the HUD went from amber to red as the starboard pod failed completely.
"Rodney! We're losing altitude," John yelled as he tried to keep the nose of the jumper level so they were in a somewhat controlled glide.
"I know, I know! The power converter is too damaged. All we have is battery power. Give me a second to find something I can reroute."
He didn't have any attention to spare to check what Rodney was doing with the control box. Even though the jumper had inertial dampeners, and the snow falling past the windscreen completely obscured his view, John knew the nose of the jumper had dipped and they were in freefall. If he couldn't find a way to level off their descent, this reconnaissance mission was going to end badly.
"McKay! I need power! Anything you can give me!"
"I'm working on it, Major," Rodney shouted back.
John could hear the fear in Rodney's voice, but to his credit, he didn't give up. He risked a look behind him to see Rodney, with a white-knuckle grip on the control box as he fought to keep his balance, frantically pulling crystals from the control box, giving each one a quick glance, then putting it back.
Nothing changed with their power situation as far as John could tell, both pods were still dead.
"Can't risk it," he heard McKay mumble and glanced over his shoulder again.
Rodney ran the light stylus over a section of the box, shook his head, and tried a different section. The next set of crystals must have told him something as McKay pulled his hand back, and John saw him close his eyes for just a second before he let go of the box, pulled out two crystals, realigned something in the box, then put the crystals back.
The jumper shuddered as both pods sputtered to life. John checked his board, saw that he had minimal power to both pods even as he pulled back on the controls in front of him in a desperate attempt to keep them from augering into the valley floor nose first. He heard Rodney fall behind him, but didn't have time to check on him as he fought to keep the jumper from crashing.
He managed to get the jumper levelled off slightly but one glance at the flickering HUD and he knew it was too late.
"Hang on!" he yelled and pulled back on the controls again. The response from the ship was hesitant and sluggish as what little power Rodney had been able to reroute was used up. John had just enough time to wonder what systems McKay had cannibalised before the shuttle hit the ground, bounced, then slammed to the ground again. The last thing he saw was the side of a mountain looming up in front of the jumper. He desperately tried to get the ship to turn, then knew nothing as his head hit the bulkhead next to his seat.
Teyla and Ford exchanged a look as Ford tapped off his radio. She knew finding the ZPM was critical to the survival of Atlantis, but for John and Rodney to risk being caught in a snowstorm seemed reckless.
"They'll be fine," Ford told her again and walked back over to the fireplace.
Teyla wrapped her arms around her chest as she turned back to the window and watched as the snow started to come down harder. She remembered their harrowing trip back from the mainland with Doctor Beckett during the lull of a hurricane and John telling her once he wouldn't have tried to fly through the storm, either. Now, it seemed he would have to do just that.
John was the best pilot in Atlantis, she told herself. He knew what to do. She reached out a hand and rested it on the window at the wind rattled it. She hoped their best was going to be good enough.
Yev laid a hand on Teyla's arm. "Come," she said and motioned to the fire and the long sofa. "I'm eager to hear more about your new friends and how you escaped the Wraith."
Teyla smiled slightly and allowed herself to be drawn away from the window. She knew Yev was trying to divert her mind from her worry and silently thanked the other woman for the distraction.
She sat on the sofa next to Ford and accepted the mug of beer Yev held out to her.
"Jinto and Wex were playing outside one night near the end of our winter," she began, and told Yev about meeting John for the first time. How she, Halling, and Colonel Sumner, along with several other Athosians, had been culled by the Wraith. How Sheppard had brought the rest of her people to Atlantis to escape the Wraith attack before mounting a rescue mission to save those who had been captured.
"It sounds like your John Sheppard is an honorable man," Yev said once Teyla was done.
"He is," she replied. "They all are," she added with a nod to Ford. She toyed with the half-empty beer mug in her hand, rolling it back and forth in the palms of her hands. "Yev, have you heard of this cave they are looking for?"
Yev nodded. "It is one of the places, Yana, that's the old woman in the stories, was thought to live. Some of the more adventurous young men and women have made the trek to the cave, and a few of them have tried to decipher what the drawings on the walls could mean."
"The adventurous ones?" Ford asked. "Is the cave dangerous or something?"
Yev shook her head. "The cave is merely a cave, or several caves really, there are supposed to be many tunnels. However, the cave is in a high valley above Prin's hunting camp.
"It doesn't surprise me he told your John Sheppard about it, some of the hunters have been known to take shelter in the cave if they are caught by a rainstorm in the valley during a hunt." She paused, lost in thought for a moment. "I suspect it was Mica, though, who actually told him about the cave." Yev chuckled. "His sweetheart convinced him to make the trip many times this past summer."
She gave Ford a smile. "As I said, the caves are safe enough. I haven't heard of wild animals using them for instance. It is merely difficult to reach the area at certain times of the year."
The awkward silence in the room grew and Teyla cast about for another topic to keep her mind off the storm. Remembering John's suggestion about food, she leant forward on the sofa and said, "Since we have some time, would it be possible to discuss a trade?" she asked as she finished the beer and set the empty beer mug on the table in front of the sofa. "According to Halling, it was a good harvest this year. Would it be possible to negotiate a trade of grain for meat assuming the hunting has been successful?"
Yev sat back in her chair with a smile. "Prin and his family are up at the last camp now. They were set to close the cabin for the season when he sent word of a large herd of wild hreindyr in the area. They were going to stay an extra few days to work the herd. If the hunt went well, we should have plenty of meat to trade."
In far less time than Teyla expected, the trade of grain for meat was negotiated and she was back to worrying about whether or not John and Rodney would be all right. She felt a hand on her arm and looked at Ford.
"They're fine," he told her in a whisper. "Major Sheppard only radioed an hour ago. Give them a little time to get back here."
Teyla nodded absently as her attention drifted back to the window and the heavy snow now falling. "I am not so sure," she replied, not bothering to hide her concern. "The storm is getting worse."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
John opened his eyes with a groan and for a moment wasn't sure his eyes were really open. The cockpit was completely dark. No light came from the console, and when he tilted his head slightly, he noticed the windshield was blocked by something. It took his fuzzy mind a few long seconds to realise the window was covered with snow.
He knew he was sitting in the jumper's pilot seat, he could feel one of the tiles digging into his skull where his head rested on the console in front of him. He just couldn't remember why he'd decided to take a nap in the ship, especially when it felt so cold.
The thought trickled through his mind the jumper was never cold, there were environmental controls that kept the interior at a comfortable temperature. Someone should probably do something about that, he told himself even as the slight breeze he felt coming from behind him helped to wake him up further.
He groaned again and rubbed his aching head as memory flooded back. The storm. The crash. Rodney standing at the control box trying to find more power so John could keep the jumper from crashing.
Where was McKay? The thought forced him to sit up enough and check the rear of the jumper. As soon as he tried to move, a stab of pain across the left side of his chest warned him he probably had at least one broken rib and he really shouldn't be making any sudden movements. He groaned again as he carefully leant back in the chair and closed his eyes when his head started to spin.
He waited out the vertigo, and mindful of his ribs, kept his breathing as normal as possible. He opened his eyes again, and when the cockpit proved it was no longer going to dip and sway, he shifted just enough to see into the rear section of the jumper.
"Rodney?" he called, his voice thin and slightly breathy. "Talk to me, buddy."
The rear of the jumper was just as dark as the cockpit, and John let out a frustrated growl when he couldn't see anything, much less where McKay was or how badly he was hurt. His own head and body ached so much it was hard to tell anything through the link, but he thought he felt the itch at the back of his skull telling him McKay was at least still alive.
"Light. Need some light," he muttered and pushed a few of the dead tiles in front of him with his left hand while he kept his right arm pressed against his chest.
"Damn it!" he yelled and slapped at the console. His ribs did not appreciate the sudden movement and he bent over in the chair, his head resting on the console again, as he tried to get the pain under control.
He was still hunched over, both arms wrapped around his chest, when he heard a groan from the back of the shuttle. John carefully sat up and angled his body around in the chair.
"Rodney?" he called again once he had the pain under control.
"J'n?" McKay mumbled. "Are we dead?"
"Don't think so," he replied, keeping his sentences deliberately short.
"Dark," Rodney said a few moments later. "Can't see." John frowned at the obvious statements. Rodney was never one to merely state the obvious. Scenarios of serious head injuries started dancing in John's head as he heard movement coming from the rear of the jumper.
"Yeah, I noticed that," John replied. "How bad are you hurt?"
"Umm, not really sure," Rodney mumbled, and John heard more shuffling movement. "Arm hurts," Rodney finally said.
John tried to stand and decided that was a bad idea when another wave of pain hit him. He settled for spinning the chair around as best he could so he could see part of the rear area. "Anything else?"
"Headache," Rodney said a moment later.
John heard more movement then saw a small beam of light illuminate the rear of the jumper and shakily dance around.
"Uh oh," Rodney mumbled, and John saw the light dance higher then disappear presumably as Rodney stood and moved away from the front of the ship. "That's not good."
John heard more rustling and a groan from the back of the jumper.
John rubbed at his own aching head wondering what else could go wrong with a simple mission to locate a ZPM. Before he could ask what the current crisis was, Rodney staggered into the cockpit, his right arm cradled awkwardly against his chest and his coat only half on, the right sleeve dangling empty. John's coat was looped over his left arm and he had one of the large flashlights in his left hand.
"Here, get this on," he said and dropped the coat in John's lap as he propped the flashlight on the console above the mini DHD. The beam gave John enough light to see the bruise already forming on the side of Rodney's face as he headed back into the rear section and he heard McKay rummaging around some more.
John picked up the coat and managed to get the coat half on before his ribs protested the movement and he paused, trying to get his breathing back under control.
Rodney came back with their backpacks in his left hand, kicking a few cases from the cargo netting ahead of him. He dumped the packs in the chair behind John's and glanced over at him. "You need to get your coat on," Rodney told him shortly. "The hull is breached. We're losing heat."
John grimaced at the thought of moving again. Rodney must have seen the look and stopped beside John's chair. "How bad?" he asked as he helped John get the coat on and zipped up.
"Ribs," John admitted through clenched teeth. "Pretty sure … they really are broken … this time."
"Looks like you cracked your head, too. You're bleeding."
John reached up and felt something sticky near his left temple.
"Don't do that," Rodney admonished, slapping his hand. "You'll make it worse. I'm almost done. Just wait a minute."
John leant back in the chair and closed his eyes.
"Ow! Damn it!" Rodney yelped a few minutes later.
John instinctively tried to move at the sound and groaned, clutching at his chest. He watched as Rodney dumped two sleeping bags on the floor behind the rear two chairs, turned around and grabbed several of the cushions from the rear seats, dropped them on the floor next to the sleeping bags, then triggered the bulkhead door to close.
John heard a low growl come from Rodney as he opened an access panel and manually closed the door, jarring his right arm in the process. John watched as the blood drained from his face and he sank into the co-pilot's chair, clutching his arm to his chest, rocking back-and-forth.
"What's wrong?" John asked and pointed to Rodney's arm still curled against his chest.
"I think I broke it again," he finally said and stopped rocking. "Considering we should be dead, I guess I can't complain." He glanced over at John. "Why aren't we dead, by the way?" he asked.
"You found just enough power … I could level off." John tried to take a deeper breath and winced. "Do I want to know … what systems you … cannibalised … to do that?"
"Not really." Rodney glanced up at the supplies piled in the chair behind John. "I really hope I grabbed the first aid kit," he mumbled as he stood and searched the pile one-handed.
John glanced at the large green box near the top of the pile. "Rodney," he said, drawing out the name, "what did you do?"
Rodney ignored the question as he rummaged through their meager gear. "Which one is the first aid kit?" Rodney asked as he shifted more of the supplies around.
"It's the green metal box on the floor," John replied. "Where did you … find the power?"
Rodney pulled the box free of the pile, set it on the jumper's mini DHD, and opened it.
"Here," he said and handed John one of the large antiseptic wipes, "You're a mess."
John did his best to get the blood off, then sat still while Rodney finished cleaning him up and bandaged the cut.
"It doesn't look that bad," Rodney said once he was done. "Shouldn't we tape your ribs or something?" he asked as he dropped the roll of gauze back in the kit. "Isn't that what you're supposed to do when they're broken?"
John started to shrug and thought better of it. "They don't feel … displaced," he said. "Not much … we can do. Just have to be careful … not move around."
"You sure?" Rodney asked skeptically. "My head is killing me and I don't think it's all because of this." He pointed to the swollen knot John could see just above his eye.
"I'm sure," John retorted impatiently. He'd reached the end of his rope as far as McKay's fussing was concerned and decided to turn the tables. He carefully scooted to the edge of his chair and held out a hand. "Let me see … your arm," he ordered. "If it's broken … we need to set it. Before it gets worse."
Rodney hesitated a moment then sighed and shrugged out of the coat. The bruise above his eye stood out in livid detail as the rest of his face paled when he moved his arm. He shifted the first aid kit out of the way left-handed and laid his arm on the DHD.
John gently pushed up the sleeve of his uniform shirt, trying to be careful, but he heard Rodney hissing and felt him trying to jerk his arm out of John's hold. John grimaced when he saw the bruising running from Rodney's wrist to almost the elbow and could tell from the slight bulge just behind his wrist, the bones were indeed broken.
John let go of the arm and sighed. The bones would need to be set, there was no question. He had no idea how long it had been since the jumper crashed or how long it would take for someone to find them. If he didn't do something now, it would be worse later if Beckett had to re-break it in order to set it properly.
"Well?" Rodney asked once John was done.
John shook his head. "It's broken." He glanced over at Rodney. "You know what I have to do, don't you?"
Rodney blanched and started to pull his arm away. "This is going to hurt a lot more than a couple of broken fingers, isn't it."
It really wasn't a question and John knew it. "See if there's an emergency splint in there." He pointed at the first aid kit.
Rodney stared at him for a moment longer then dug through the kit again and set the brace, not much different from a wrist brace, beside the flashlight.
"It would be easier … if you were lying down," John said as he took a practised hold of Rodney's wrist and rested his right hand near the bulge, "but since that's not going to be possible … at the moment …" He gave Rodney a quick glance. "Brace yourself," he said.
John felt the bone grind back into place at the same time he felt a spike of pain go through his head and heard Rodney yell. He took a moment to get his own pain and breathing back under control before he opened his eyes to see Rodney slumped in the other chair cradling his arm to his chest.
"You all right?" John asked and tapped Rodney on the knee, the only thing he could reach.
McKay nodded slightly, but he didn't move and he didn't open his eyes for a few minutes.
"Let me get the brace on your arm and then put your coat back on," John said and waited for Rodney to hold out his arm.
John tried to be as gentle as possible, but Rodney still hissed and glared at him as he tightened the straps for the brace. "Find the pain meds," John said once he was done and Rodney had his coat on again.
Once they'd both taken several of the pills, John sat back and watched as Rodney tried to flex his hand a few times, winced, and curled the arm to his chest. He glanced over at John but didn't say anything in answer to John's questioning gaze and instead fiddled with the dark tiles on the console.
John let him be for a few moments then asked the question Rodney had been avoiding. "Where did you find the power … to get the pods going?"
He saw Rodney's shoulders tighten as he bent down, pulled his combo-computer out of his pack, and plugged it into the console. "It was the life support," he mumbled never looking at John as he handed John his gloves and tossed his own on the console. He tapped on the computer keyboard, read the information on the screen, and pursed his lips.
"You drained --"
"It was either that or the inertial dampeners," Rodney retorted, finally looking John in the eye. "I thought we would need the dampeners more."
John couldn't really argue with that. Chances were, if Rodney had cannibalised the dampening system, they'd both be puddles on the jumper floor instead of merely cut and bruised with a few broken bones. "Okay. I can see the logic in that," he said amiably.
"Thank you." Rodney tapped a few more keys, then crawled under the console and opened the access panel.
John heard him muttering as he pulled out a few crystals and set them next to John's feet.
While Rodney worked, John tapped his earpiece, "This is Major John Sheppard. Can anyone read me?" he said and listened to the dead air through the earpiece. There wasn't even any static much less the welcome voices of Ford or Teyla.
He tried activating the communications for the jumper instead, but the tiles remained stubbornly dark.
"If you're trying the jumper's radio, don't bother," Rodney said from under the console. "I've already disabled it and rerouted what power there was into the life support."
"Any ideas why the personal radios aren't working?" John asked as he sat back in his chair.
"Could be interference from the storm," Rodney suggested. "There might be a mineral in the surrounding rock that's blocking the signal." John heard him grunt and looked down to see another crystal added to the pile in the floor next to Rodney's side.
McKay spent several minutes working under the console, then he put the crystals back, and crawled out from under the console, a worried crease in his forehead.
"So?" John asked as Rodney sat in his chair and typed something on the computer. "How bad is it?"
Rodney ignored him as he typed and frowned at the computer before sitting back in his chair, closing his eyes, and rubbing at his head.
"McKay?" John said, his patience starting to run out. "Spit it out. How bad?"
"Bad," he finally replied. "I tried to reroute any remaining emergency power into the life support systems." He glanced at the cushions and sleeping bags. "I bought us a few hours at most. After that, it's going to get really cold in here."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Teyla watched as darkness descended in the village and a few lights in the neighboring buildings glowed from snow-encrusted windows. She shivered slightly in spite of the roaring fire behind her and listened as Ford paced and tried once again to reach John or Rodney.
"Major Sheppard? This is Ford. Come in." He glanced over at Teyla. "Doctor McKay? Please respond." He shook his head and tapped off the radio. "Maybe it's just the storm messing up the signal," he suggested. Teyla could tell he didn't believe that any more than she did.
"Something happened to them," she said sadly. "Otherwise they would have returned by now."
"Yeah," Ford agreed as he stopped next to her.
"Teyla, Aiden," Yez said as she entered the room. "I've talked to Teg, he has a room you can use for the night."
"Thank you, Yev," Teyla said with a smile. "Is there no way you can get a message to the hunter's camp? Maybe they simply decided to wait out the storm there."
"I'm sorry, Teyla," Yev replied. "If Prin needs to send a message, he has one of his sons run down with it." She took Teyla's hands and led her back to the sofa near the fire. "Let's hope you are right, and they stayed at the camp. I've asked Teg to bring in some supper for us," she added as the door opened and Teg appeared with food and more beer. "We will eat and sleep and see what fortune the morning brings."
Teyla ate what was on her plate, barely tasting the meat and vegetables, as worry gnawed at her stomach.
"We need to have a plan to look for them in the morning," Ford said later that evening once Teg had damped down the fire in their room, lit the candles, and left them with a pleasant good night.
Teyla shook her head. "First, we will need to go to the stargate and let Doctor Weir know what has happened." When Ford looked like he was about to interrupt, she held up a hand and continued, "If we are correct and something has happened to them and they are not merely waiting out the storm at the camp, we will need assistance from Atlantis to find them. If the jumper crashed, they are likely injured. A ship, in the air, would cover more ground, more quickly, than we could on foot."
Ford toyed with the end of one of his pack straps for a moment. "I guess you're right," he finally said. "I just hate doing nothing."
Teyla laid down on her bed and pulled the blanket and fur-lined comforter over her. "I understand," she said, "I, too, dislike inaction."
Ford blew out the candles and climbed into the other bed.
For a long time, she lay still, listening to the sound of the wind buffeting the pub and trying not to think about John and Rodney stranded in such weather. The jumper would protect them from the worst of the storm, she told herself. She heard Ford tossing and turning in the other bed and suspected he was having no more of a restful night than she was.
She must have slept at some point as she woke to the feeling of someone shaking her arm gently. "Teyla? Wake up, Yev was here," she heard Ford tell her and opened her eyes. Pale sunlight lit the room giving her enough light to see Ford standing next to her bed.
"What has happened?" she asked as she pushed back the heavy blankets, climbed out of the bed, found her boots, and followed Ford as he opened the door.
"Not sure," Ford replied as they left the room. "Yev just said they'd had news from the camp and to come to her office." He looked over at Teyla. "She did not look happy," he added as they crossed the nearly empty taproom on the way to Yev's office.
Teyla entered the office and saw a young man with reddish-blond hair standing by the fire. A coat dripped from a frame near the fireplace and his hair was slightly damp. Obviously, he'd been out in the storm. She glanced out the window and was surprised to see the snow had actually stopped and the sky was almost clear.
She wandered over to the window and was shocked to see the berms of shovelled snow they'd climbed over the day before were completely hidden. She estimated another foot of snow had fallen overnight and her hopes sank as she wondered how much more snow had fallen in the mountains.
"Teyla," Yev said from her chair next to the fireplace, "this is Mica, one of Prin's sons."
"Hello, Teyla," Mica said with a smile as he stepped forward and grasped he hands. "My father has told me about you. He was relieved when Sheppard told him you and your people had survived the culling."
"Hello, Mica," Teyla replied and nodded her head toward Ford. "This is my friend, Aiden." Mica gave Ford a nod and a smile as he let go of Teyla's hands and squeezed Ford's in greeting before letting go and taking a step back.
"I have a message. From my father," Mica said and looked down at his boots. "He sent me as soon as the storm passed." Mica swallowed nervously and glanced up at Teyla. "He wanted you to know we never saw Sheppard's flying ship return yesterday. He fears something may have happened to them on their way to see Yana's cave."
Teyla and Ford exchanged a worried look.
"You are sure they did not pass the cabin during the night?" Teyla asked. "The jumper is not loud, it would be easy to miss in the chaos of a storm."
Mica shook his head. "Father offered to put them up if the storm got bad. A few of us waited outside until past dark in case they came back. We never saw the ship come back. Father is certain they must still be up in the valley."
"We need to alert Doctor Weir," Teyla said, and glanced out the window at the deep snow in the street. Walking back to the stargate would not be easy.
"That may be difficult," Yev said. "This is only a quiet moment, the storm is not finished with us yet. See," she pointed to the gathering clouds on the horizon, "that will be here later today. If you cannot find your friends by this evening, there may be nothing we can do to help them."
"I do not understand," Teyla said. "Can we not simply wait for another lull?"
It was Mica who answered. "The snow is much heavier in the mountains." He turned to Yev and added, "Father and the others should be here by early this afternoon with the rest of the meat." He looked back over at Teyla and Ford. "Father knew you would want news of your friends as quickly as possible and sent me ahead. It may be too late already if the pass is completely snowed over."
"We have another flying ship," Teyla told him. "If we can reach the stargate, we can alert our people. They can send help."
"I can --" Mica started to say before Yev stopped him with a raised hand and a frown.
"You are tired and your animals are nearly spent," she told him. "Both of you need to rest for a few hours." She turned to Teyla. "I'll see if I can find someone to drive you to the Portal," she said and left the office.
Teyla caught a glimpse of the slightly more crowded taproom through the open office door and Yev talking to three men at one of the tables near the bar.
"We need to gather our packs and coats," Teyla said as she left the room and crossed the taproom. She could feel several pairs of eyes watching her as they ducked behind the bar and through the door that led back to their room.
"Drive?" Ford asked once they were in the narrow hallway.
Teyla nodded as she entered the room, pulled on her coat, and looked around for her gloves and goggles. Halling had told her once about the large sleds the Lurrans used to carry meat down from the hunting grounds or deliver trade goods to the stargate.
"The Lurrans have domesticated several animals to assist with various tasks," she said as she buckled her tac-vest and shrugged into her pack. "One such task is pulling a sort of high sled as a means of transportation usually bringing back meat from hunts."
Ford nodded as he put on his winter gear then led the way back to the office.
As they walked back through the taproom, Teyla felt even more eyes watching her as several people whispered to one another. She glanced around the room and was surprised at the number of somber expressions on the faces looking back at her. They think Rodney and John are already dead, she realised as Ford held the office door open for her.
Yev came back into the office a few minutes later, an older man with curly white hair and a white beard nearly down to his chest, following in her wake. "Teyla, Aiden, this is Klaus. He is the only person I could find willing to risk the weather to take you to the Portal."
Klaus waved a dismissive hand at Yev as he walked over to Teyla and Ford. "This is a tiny storm, not much snow left in her," he said as he grasped both Teyla and Ford's hands in greeting.
"Klaus, you always think a storm is tiny," Yev told him with a patient smile. "And I've never understood why you always refer to storms as 'she'."
Teyla saw the twinkle in Klaus' eye as he turned back to Yev. "Because the only thing more temperamental than the weather is a woman. Just look at your auntie. We've been married nigh on forty cycles and I still haven't figured out all of her moods."
Klaus gave Teyla a pat on the arm as he walked past her and back to the door. "This time I'm right. You'll see! The sled will be ready in a few minutes. It takes time for boys to add a second team to the harness."
"Second team?" Teyla asked as they followed Klaus out into the taproom.
Klaus signalled Teg to pour him a mug of beer. "You'd better pour one for these two youngsters as well, Teg. They'll need it to keep warm on the ride out to the Portal."
Ford looked a little dubious as he took his mug. "You're sure your sled will get us there?" he asked. "The snow is kinda deep."
Klaus laughed. "To the Ancestors," he said and tapped each of their mugs with his. "No problem. My hreindyr are good, strong animals. Good sleigh, too."
Teyla saw Ford's eyebrows rise at the word sleigh and couldn't understand why he would be so surprised. She'd told him the Lurrans used such sleds for transportation.
The door of the pub banged open, a boy of about twelve hurried in and stopped in front of Klaus. "All done, Papa," the boy said. "The hreindyr are eager to be off, they like the snow!"
Klaus thumped his mug back on the bar. "Come, come!" he said with a wide grin as he pulled on a red coat lined with fur. "Time to go." He hurried out behind the boy, clearly expecting Teyla and Ford to follow him.
She heard Ford choking on his beer and turned back to him. "Is everything all right, Lieutenant? You are acting very strange."
Ford grinned as he zipped up his coat and pulled on his gloves and goggles. "It's … he looks just like --"
Teyla opened the door and another blast of cold wind blew through the pub before Ford could finish his sentence.
Outside a sled waited with eight hreindyr pawing eagerly at the ground.
"No way!" Ford exclaimed with a laugh as he walked all the way around the sled. "There are even bells!" He jingled the bells lining the harness for the hreindyr.
Teyla looked at the high red seats and metals runners, not seeing what was so special about the vehicle; she'd seen dozens like it on many different worlds. She climbed into the back of the sled as Klaus sat on the front bench and picked up the reins. "Lieutenant?" she called over the jingling of the bells as the hreindyr shifted in the harness. "We need to leave."
"Yeah, yeah," Ford replied still grinning. "It's a real Santa sleigh! How cool is that?" He sat down beside Teyla and she pulled the fur-lined blankets up around them. Klaus called something to the animals and the sled jerked into motion.
She wanted to ask who this Santa person was and why he apparently gave secret gifts with a sleigh, but the spray of snow and the howl of the wind as the sled seemed to fly over the pristine snow was too loud to allow for any sort of conversation.
It was late morning when Klaus drew the hreindyr to a halt near the DHD. "Here we are all safe and sound," Klaus said as he jumped off his bench and helped Teyla down.
"Thank you, Klaus, for getting us here so quickly," Teyla said as Ford started to dial the stargate.
"You are welcome," Klaus said with a smile. "If you need help finding your friends, you let me know."
The wormhole formed with a whoosh and Ford tapped his radio. "Ford to Doctor Weir. Come in, please."
Teyla stepped over to Ford and tapped her own radio.
"Lieutenant? This is Weir. You're overdue for your check-in. We were beginning to worry."
Ford closed his eyes. "We had some problems with the weather, ma'am," he replied.
"What kind of problems, Lieutenant? And where is Major Sheppard?"
Ford took a deep breath. "Doctor Weir, I'm sorry to report …" He paused for a moment and looked over at Teyla. "Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay are missing, ma'am."
There was a long silence over the radio then, "Is Teyla with you, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, Doctor Weir. I am here."
"All right, you two need to come back and tell me exactly what happened."
"Ma'am, we need to start a search," Ford argued.
"I agree, Lieutenant. Before we can do that, I need to know what's been going on."
"We will return momentarily," Teyla replied before Ford could continue the argument.
"Very good. Weir out."
Teyla saw Ford glaring at her as she tapped off her earpiece and adjusted her hood. "We were losing valuable time arguing," she told him.
Ford didn't say anything in reply as he headed for the stargate and disappeared.
Teyla felt a hand on her arm and turned to see Klaus standing next to her.
"I'll wait here until you either come back or send word," Klaus told her. He squeezed her arm and added, "We'll find them, you'll see."
"Do not wait too long," she said with a glance at the looming sky behind them. "Yev did say the storm was not finished."
Klaus gave her a dismissive wave. "Yev worries too much, just like her mother. I'll be fine."
Teyla followed in Ford's footprints as she walked to the edge of the shimmering pool. Just before she reached the wormhole, she turned, gave Klaus a final wave, then stepped through the event horizon.
Just a heads up, since tomorrow is New Year's Eve (in my corner of the world at least) there will not be a chapter update this time tomorrow. Hope you all have a safe New Year's Eve and a Happy 2019! The next chapter will post Tuesday night.
John shifted carefully in the pilot's chair and tried to think. "What's the temperature … in here set for?" he asked as he pulled his gloves back on. "If we lower it … that could give us more time."
"Don't you think I would have considered that?" Rodney snapped and rubbed at the brace on his arm. "I've already adjusted the system to keep the cockpit at seven degrees," he continued, his tone conciliatory as he glanced at Sheppard. "That's about forty-five Fahrenheit to you."
John glared at him. "I knew that."
Rodney shut the computer down and stuffed it back in his pack.
"We're going to have to conserve whatever heat we can," Rodney said as he stood and dug through the supplies piled on the chair behind John until he came up with the case of MREs. He handed one of the meals to John and found another for himself as well as a couple of bottles of water.
The first rule of staying warm, John remembered from his cold weather survival training, stay fueled. John idly wondered if the civilians with the Stargate Project received the same training before arriving in Antarctica, or if Rodney was simply hungry.
Once they'd finished eating, Rodney stood and surveyed the rest of the items he'd salvaged from the rear of the jumper. John watched as he straightened out the cushions on the floor behind the co-pilot's chair then propped a couple more against the bulkhead wall. "Hopefully, the cushions will protect us a bit from the metal leaching out heat," Rodney told him when he noticed John watching him.
John nodded even as he eyed the floor with trepidation. He knew they had a slightly better chance of survival if they were sharing body heat, but the thought of how much it was going to hurt getting out of the chair and down on the floor gave him second thoughts. Maybe they could each take one of the sleeping bags and stay in the chairs, he thought and zipped his coat a little higher.
"No," Rodney said, never looking at John, as he zipped the sleeping bags together.
John frowned. "No, what?" he asked, completely confused by the non sequitur.
"You're thinking of staying where you are," Rodney told him impatiently as he climbed to his feet. "The answer is no. I'm not going to freeze to death because you're afraid to move."
John glared up at him as McKay stood next to his chair. "It's not a question … of fear," he retorted.
Rodney held out a hand. "I'll help. The sooner you move, the sooner we can try and warm up a little bit. I'm already freezing here."
John studied him for a moment and saw Rodney was shivering slightly and he wasn't wearing any gloves.
"All right, fine," John said and grasped the outstretched hand.
Contrary to his tone, Rodney was gentle and patient as John slowly stood from the chair. Getting down on the floor was every bit of a trial that he expected. He heard Rodney grunt in pain as he took John's weight with both hands to help ease him to the floor, but McKay didn't let go until John was all the way down.
"Hang on a second," Rodney said as he wedged another of the cushions between John's left side and the bulkhead. "That should help protect your ribs, too."
John leant back against the cushions and watched as McKay shoved the case with the food and water against the back of the co-pilot's chair and set the first aid kit and the flashlight on top of it. He was about to sit down when John said, "Your gloves."
"What?" Rodney asked as he held up the sleeping bags.
"You aren't wearing … gloves," John repeated and pointed at the console.
McKay grabbed the gloves off the console, sat down, and pulled the sleeping bag up over them both. He managed to get the left glove on, but the right wouldn't fit over the brace and he eventually gave up as he tugged the sleeping bag higher.
With their shoulders touching, John could feel the slight tremors running through Rodney's body as he shivered. "Relax," he said gently, "You tense up … you're going to be colder."
Rodney glared over at him.
"I'm serious," John said.
McKay huffed out a breath and John watched as he took a deep breath and tried to relax.
"So, what are we supposed to do now?" Rodney asked a few minutes later.
"Bring a deck of cards?"
John felt Rodney shift against him and glanced over to see him rubbing the brace. "How's the arm?" he asked.
"It hurts." Rodney looked down at the brace on his arm. "If we ever meet any Ancient engineers, I plan to have a few words with them about putting an access system in the rear compartment where someone has to stand during who knows what sort of situation to effect emergency repairs."
John started to laugh and grabbed his side. "Don't. Don't make me laugh. It hurts."
"Sorry." Rodney looked at his hand again. "The inevitable cast is going to complicate a few things."
"I hadn't finished making …" He paused. "Something," he finished with a sideways glance at John.
John grinned. He suspected he knew exactly what Rodney was trying not to say. "Making something, 'eh?" he teased. "You didn't seem interested … in the whole Secret Santa idea … when Ford brought it up."
Rodney shrugged. "I changed my mind, I guess." He looked around the cockpit. "Of course, if someone doesn't find us soon it won't really matter."
John sobered at that thought. "Teyla and Ford … will find us. They knew where … we were going. Someone will be able … to tell them how to get here."
"Assuming they can get here. Didn't that Mica person say the pass got snowed over in the winter?"
"Then they'll go back to Atlantis. Get Markham or Stackhouse. Fly in another jumper."
Rodney stared at him. "So they can crash on top of us?" he exclaimed. "If you couldn't control a jumper in this storm, how is anyone else going to do it?"
"They'll wait … until the storm is over," John said patiently. "How long … can a storm like this last?"
"There was a storm in New York a few years ago, dumped three meters of snow over six days," Rodney told him as he pulled the sleeping bag higher. "We'd better hope the storms here don't last that long. There's also the problem of actually finding us. Chances are the jumper is completely buried by now."
John did the conversion in his head. Ten feet of snow in less than a week. McKay was right, they had to hope this storm wasn't going to be that bad. "If they have a jumper … they'll be able to detect our life signs. Ford knows … what to do."
Rodney didn't reply and they fell into another silence.
John concentrated on keeping his breathing even as he thought about Rodney's comment about the jumper being buried. He'd tried to turn the ship at the last minute when he saw the side of the mountain looming in front of them. The fact they were both sitting there and the cockpit was intact told him he'd managed to alter their flight path enough to avoid a head-on crash but suspected the ship was wedged up against the mountain.
Probably what breached the rear section, he thought to himself as he felt Rodney lean against him. If there was a mineral blocking the radio signal, would it prevent the scanner from detecting life signs as well?
McKay would know, but John didn't want to ask. On the off chance Rodney hadn't already thought of the possibility, he didn't want to worry him more than he already was.
How long could they wait for rescue? If the jumper was buried, and the mountains blocked more than just the radio signal, how long should they wait before trying to hike out? He shook his head. Who was he kidding? There was no way he'd be able to hike down unknown terrain with broken ribs. Just moving from the chair to the floor had been enough to convince him any other movement was a bad idea.
He sighed. No. Their best, and frankly only, hope was that Ford and Teyla would find them, buried or not.
He felt Rodney shift again and turned his head to find McKay slumped against his arm with his eyes closed. "Hey," he said and poked Rodney's side with his elbow, "no going to sleep."
Rodney opened his eyes with a glare. "I wasn't sleeping. I was thinking."
"Think with … your eyes open," John told him. "What were you … thinking about?" he asked a moment later.
Rodney sighed and sat up slightly. "Niagara Falls."
John turned and stared. Of everything Rodney could be thinking about while they were stranded in a blizzard … "Okay. I'll bite. Why Niagara Falls?"
Rodney sighed. "I spent most of my life living less than a hundred and fifty kilometers from it and I never went to see it."
"Ahh," John said and glanced at McKay before he looked down at the sleeping bag covering their legs.
"What was that look for?" Rodney said with a scowl.
"There was no look," John replied. "There's a few things … I regret, too."
"It's not regret as much as a --"
"Disappointment?" John offered. "That's still … regrets."
"Fine," Rodney said and huffed out a breath. "Just wish I'd gone, that's all."
"Tell you what, assuming we survive this … and find a way to contact Earth … we'll go to Niagara Falls."
"I was being serious," Rodney snapped and crossed his arms over his chest.
"So was I," John told him and frowned when he noticed Rodney wasn't wearing a glove on his right hand. The fingers were red and looked slightly swollen. He tugged the sleeping bag a bit higher.
Rodney stared at him for a moment and must have seen the sincerity in his expression. He relaxed and leant against John's arm again. "Assuming Ford and Teyla somehow manage to find us," Rodney mumbled as he pulled the sleeping bag up around his neck.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
The change from the blustery weather on the planet to the warmth of the gateroom was a bit of a shock as Teyla came through the 'gate behind Ford. She brushed the snow off her arms and pushed back the hood of her coat.
"Teyla. Lieutenant. In my office, please," Doctor Weir said from the balcony above them.
Teyla unzipped her coat and pulled off her gloves as she followed Ford up the steps and across the bridge to the glassed-in office.
"All right," Doctor Weir said once they had their packs and coats off and were seated in the chairs in front of Weir's desk. "Tell me what happened."
Teyla listened as Ford told her about the stories of Yana and the possibility John and Rodney had found the cave where the ZPM was presumably hidden.
"They went even though there was a storm coming?" Doctor Weir asked, surprise clear in her expression. "That doesn't sound like John. It certainly doesn't sound like Rodney."
"Major Sheppard stated they were only going to make sure the stories were true, then return to the village until the storm passed," Teyla replied in defence of her missing teammates. "They thought they had enough time before the storm reached them."
Ford sat on the edge of his chair. "I'll get Sergeant Markham and we can take a jumper back to the planet."
Weir shook her head even as Ford finished speaking.
"We must do something," Teyla argued.
"I agree, but I can't authorise taking another jumper back to the planet."
"Why not?" Ford demanded, then looked down at his feet when Doctor Weir gave him a hard look. "Why not, ma'am?" he repeated, moderating his tone.
"Two reasons. One, we've already got one crashed jumper on the planet. A jumper that was flown by our best pilot, by the way. I doubt Sergeant Markham or Sergeant Stackhouse would fare much better in the weather conditions you've described."
Weir held up a hand and Ford closed his mouth.
"Two, neither of them are here. Markham and his team are back on M3R-937 wrapping up the survey of the super-volcano and Sergeant Stackhouse's team has another week on P2J-883 while Doctor Corrigan investigates the building where you and Rodney were held captive." Weir glanced at Teyla as she finished speaking.
Teyla did her best to hide any reaction to the reminder of Rasha and what had happened while assisting Stackhouse's team as she exchanged a concerned look with Ford.
"Doctor Beckett?" Ford asked, his lack of confidence at Beckett's skill as a pilot evident in his tone.
Doctor Weir shook her head. "No. I don't think it's a good idea to ask Carson to pilot a jumper in a blizzard. However …" She tapped her earpiece. "Carson, this is Elizabeth. Can you come to my office, please?" She listened for a moment then tapped her earpiece again.
"He'll be here in a few minutes," she said to Ford and Teyla. "In the meantime, Lieutenant, the only team in the city right now is Sergeant Thompson's. He's still evaluating potential team members and doesn't have a scientist in place, but I don't think that will be an issue with a search and rescue mission."
"No, ma'am," Ford replied as he stood. "I can go talk to him now. Get his team up to speed and prepped."
"Good idea," Weir agreed, and Ford left the office just as Beckett arrived.
"Where's he off to in such a hurry?" Carson asked with a smile as he stepped in the office.
Teyla watched as he glanced from her, then behind him to where Ford left the control room at a near run, then back at Doctor Weir. "What's happened, then?" he asked, his expression shifting from humor to concern in the time it took for him to cross from the door to Weir's desk.
Teyla glanced at Doctor Weir then said, "We suspect the jumper Major Sheppard was flying … crashed during a snowstorm."
Teyla saw Beckett swallow hard and clench his hands behind his back. "Was Rodney with him?"
"Has anyone been able to reach them on the radio?" he asked in a near whisper.
Teyla shook her head. "Lieutenant Ford tried. We are not sure if the lack of response is due to interference from the storm or …"
"Or if they cannot respond," Beckett finished for her.
"I'd like you to go back with Teyla, Lieutenant Ford, and the search team," Doctor Weir said. "If by some miracle they are still alive, chances are they are going to need your help."
"Aye," Beckett replied. "I'll get my people ready. We can leave in thirty minutes." He gave Teyla a nod, then left the office.
Teyla stood as well. "I would like to return to the planet, now," she said as she pulled on her coat. "Yev and the others may be able to help with the search."
Weir frowned. "I'm not sure it's a good idea to go back alone."
"I have known these people for many years, Doctor Weir. I trust them. There is no danger." She could tell Weir wasn't convinced and was saddened how suspicious the Earth people could be at times.
"The Lurrans use sleds to navigate in the winter," Teyla said and sat back in her chair. "Klaus drove us to the stargate and said he would wait for word from us. He is probably still there. Since it will take some time for Lieutenant Ford and Doctor Beckett to prepare, I would like to return to the village and ask if a few others with sleds would be willing to help with the search. Without a jumper, sleighs are the fastest mode of transport on the planet. At the very least, they will hopefully be willing to bring our people from the stargate to the village, saving valuable time."
Weir studied Teyla for a few moments, then nodded. "All right," she said. "I'll hold Ford and Carson here until we hear back from you."
Teyla nodded and stood. "It was roughly thirty minutes from the village to the stargate. I will try to contact you in less than two hours with news." She picked up her pack and left the office.
Doctor Weir followed her out of the office, and Teyla heard her ask Chuck to dial Lurra. She went down the steps, zipped up her coat and put on her gloves then stood to one side of the stargate. As soon as the wormhole formed she pulled up her hood and took a step forward.
"We'll be waiting to hear from you," Weir said, and Teyla turned and waved before she stepped through the event horizon and was hit with a blast of wind as she came through the other side.
"It's getting a bit blustery," Klaus said in greeting as he took her arm until she found her balance. "Where is your friend?" he asked as the wormhole shut down.
"He stayed in the city to muster a search party," Teyla replied. "I am afraid we are going to need help finding our people," she added as Klaus led the way back to the sleigh. "The ship we had hoped to use for the search is unavailable. I am hoping some of the others in the village will be willing to drive us into the valley where we think Major Sheppard's ship crashed."
Klaus helped her into the back of the sleigh. "Not many will risk the weather changing on them," he told her as he climbed in the front and picked up the reins for the hreindyr.
"That is my fear," she admitted in a whisper.
Klaus must have heard her and turned around. "Don't you worry. I know a few hardy souls who don't mind a bit of snow and wind. Prin, for one, and I'm sure some of his other family will help if they're back from the hunting camp."
She nodded, and Klaus turned around, slapped the reins, and the sleigh jerked into motion as Klaus pointed the hreindyr back toward the village.
Forty minutes later, she stood in Teg's pub surrounded by two dozen men and women. She was grateful to Yev for bringing so many of the villagers together so quickly. However, she was also well trained in reading emotions and could tell many of the people in the pub were skeptical of the idea John and Rodney were still alive.
"I am here to ask for your help in finding two of my friends," she said as the crowd settled at various tables around the room. "I am sure most of you have heard by now that two men from Atlantis are missing and it is assumed their flying ship crashed in one of the high valleys."
"They were fools to go up there during a storm," a voice in the back of the room stated. "Why should I risk my neck and animals to go find them?"
Yev stood next to Teyla and glared at the corner where the voice originated. "You should be ashamed of yourself, Luka. I seem to remember several times you managed to get yourself into trouble only to need the rest of us to rescue you."
"He asks a good question, Yev," a woman Teyla didn't know replied. "The next wave of the storm will be here soon. Should we risk more lives in what is most likely a fruitless search to recover bodies?"
Teyla turned to the woman. "I understand your hesitation," she said. "You do not know Major Sheppard or Doctor McKay. I can only tell you if the tables were turned, if one of you were stranded in that valley, they would both do whatever was necessary to assist in any way they could."
The woman studied Teyla's expression, then sat back in her chair, shaking her head. "The pass may already be inaccessible," she said, and Teyla heard several of the others murmur in agreement.
"We will not know that for certain until we get there," Teyla countered and looked around the room, hoping to see someone willing to volunteer.
"Can you be sure they are still alive?" Prin asked into the silence a moment later. "If we had some way of knowing your friends were only injured and not dead …" He let the sentence peter out.
Teyla clasped her hands in front of her. "We have not been able to reach either Major Sheppard or Doctor McKay through our communication devices," she admitted. "I am uncertain if the cause is due to the weather, damage to their equipment, or," she swallowed, "or that they perished."
She saw several of the people give their neighbors knowing looks and start to whisper again.
"What I do know is Major Sheppard is an excellent pilot," she added, pitching her voice to override the murmuring. "If something catastrophic did happen, forcing his ship to crash, he would have done everything possible to make sure he and Doctor McKay survived." She jutted her chin out the same way she'd seen Rodney's when he was challenged. "I believe they are alive. I believe they are waiting for us to find them. There are others, men and women from Atlantis, who also believe they survived and will be here soon to look for them.
"I am asking for your help to save two lives. Speed is of the essence, it has already been half a day since they left Prin's camp. You know the area, you have sleds that can move much faster than walking. And you are good people. I do not believe you would turn your backs on others in such dire need."
She heard a mug bang down on the bar behind her and turned to see Klaus stand. "Well said," he told her as he stopped at her side. "We're wasting time," he told the crowd. "There are two people stuck up there waiting for help. I'm going. How many of you will come with me?"
Teyla watched as the crowd looked around the room, each clearly hoping someone else would be the first to volunteer.
A few moments later Prin stood. "I'll go. They went because of the stories they heard while under my roof."
Mica jumped to his feet. "I'll go as well, Father. I know the valley and Shyan and I found a shorter route out of the village that doesn't involve following the river."
Two others sitting at a table near the front of the room slowly stood as well.
"Thank you," Teyla said with a nod. "The Atlanteans should be ready soon. We will need to meet them at the stargate."
Klaus patted her arm as he turned toward the door. "I'll just check the boys have switched out my teams," he told her. Prin, Mica, and the others followed him out the door and Teyla heard several shouted orders to prepare more sleds.
Teyla turned to Yev. "I have one other favor to ask," she said as Yev led her back to the bar.
Yev nodded. "What do you need?"
Teyla took a deep breath. "I must assume both Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay sustained injuries in the crash, though I have no idea how severe those injuries may be. Lieutenant Ford is bringing a doctor with him when he returns, but we will need somewhere for him to work and a place where Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay can recover."
Yev smiled at her. "That is not a problem." She waved to a middle-aged man standing against the far wall, deep in conversation with a woman roughly the same age.
The man came over to the bar and Teyla noticed he walked with a slight limp.
"This is Garen," Yev said as the man stopped next to her. "He is our healer."
Garen grasped Teyla's hands in greeting. "Very impassioned speech," he told her, his tone gruff but warm, and she was oddly reminded of Doctor Beckett.
"Teyla and her friends are going to need your rooms, and possibly your help, once they find their missing people," Yev told him.
Garen nodded. "I expected as much," he replied. "I've already told Hala, my wife," he nodded to the woman he'd been speaking to before Yev summoned him, " to get things ready. I've dealt with a few cases of exposure in my time," he told Teyla with a smile and thumped his leg with a fist. "When you get them back here, bring them to the house with the red door."
"Thank you, Garen," Teyla said.
"You're welcome," he said shortly. "Now go, you don't have much time to waste before the next storm gets here."
Teyla hurried outside to find Klaus and the others lined up and ready to leave. Each of the five sleds had a team of eight hreindyr and she was pleased to see one of the sleds held several of the fur-lined blankets as well as other supplies piled on the rear seat.
Klaus handed her into his sleigh at the front of the line with a smile and a wink before he climbed in the front and slapped the reins as he called out to the hreindyr. The sled set off with a jangle of bells echoed by the sleighs behind them and they quickly left the village behind.
The path to the stargate was easier this time with the snow already compacted by their two previous trips and the sleds sped along, cutting the time out to the stargate nearly in half.
Klaus pulled the hreindyr to a halt a few feet from the DHD and Teyla jumped down and hurried over to the device. She dialled, and once the wormhole engaged, she tapped her radio. "Doctor Weir? This is Teyla."
"Teyla, you're early," Weir replied. "Were you successful in obtaining help from the Lurrans?"
Teyla glanced behind her at the five sleds scattered around the clearing, the hreindyr pawing the ground. "Yes, Doctor Weir. I have five sleds waiting here. One of the young men, Mica, believes he knows a quicker path to the valley than the one Major Sheppard took. He has agreed to show us his … shortcut."
"That's good news! I'm sending Lieutenant Ford and the others through to you now. Find them, Teyla. Bring them home."
"I will do so, Doctor Weir. Teyla out."
A few moments later, seven people bundled in heavy coats bustled through the stargate and walked over to the DHD. She recognised Ford first from the way he moved. Thompson was easy to spot as he was so much taller than the others. Doctor Beckett and his two assistants she could identify from the medical gear they carried and the two Marines watched the clearing, and the Lurrans waiting near their sleds, with wary attention.
She led them over to the Lurrans and quickly made introductions.
Ford pulled down his goggles and looked around at the waiting Lurrans. "Thank you," he said simply. "We know you're risking a lot to help and we appreciate it."
"You can thank Teyla," Klaus told him. "She gave them quite the speech."
"We need to hurry," Prin interrupted with an unhappy look at the sky. "The next storm will be here in a few hours, and will reach the mountains sooner."
"How long have they been up there?" Beckett asked as he lowered his goggles and looked around at the group.
"It was late afternoon yesterday when they left the cabin," Prin said.
Beckett looked up at the watery early afternoon sunlight and Teyla saw the worried look in his eyes.
"Doctor Beckett?" She asked softly.
"They've been up there nearly a day," he said. "I don't know, lass."
"Do you have a life signs detector?" Teyla asked.
"Aye, I do," Beckett replied, and pulled down his goggles as he pulled the small scanner from one of his vest pockets. He fiddled with it for a few moments, cursing under his breath as the device seemed to flicker on and off. "How do you tell people from everything else on this thing?" he muttered and pushed several buttons on the device.
"I don't think that's the right screen, Doc," Ford said, looking over Beckett's shoulder.
"Yes, thank you," Beckett replied peevishly. "I don't know how many times I have to tell you people, these Ancient devices rarely work for me." He tapped at the screen again and held it out for Ford to see.
"Okay," Ford said, a finger hovering near the screen. "This looks like us." He glanced out toward the mountains. "There are several other dots in the mountains, a few are even clustered together. Any of them could be Sheppard and McKay."
"Or none of them," Teyla heard Beckett mutter under his breath.
"Mica," she called and waited for the young man to step forward. "Which direction is the valley and the cave?"
"From here? The valley is in that direction," Mica said, pointing behind him and to the right.
She glanced back at Beckett and Ford hoping that would help them narrow down the life readings on the scanner.
Beckett and Ford studied the scanner then looked over at Teyla. "There doesn't appear to be any readings coming from that direction," Beckett said softly. "That whole section is just … empty."
Even with the coat, sleeping bag, and John next to him, Rodney couldn't seem to stop shivering even as he pulled his hood lower and curled farther under the sleeping bag. He didn't think it was his imagination that the cockpit felt colder than it had before. He knew there hadn't been much power left in the batteries to run the life support for very long and since he could now see his breath when he exhaled, he assumed the system had finally stopped working.
Which meant they didn't have much time left, he realised.
He glanced over at John and frowned when he saw Sheppard's eyes were closed. There was something wrong with that, he knew, and it took a few seconds for him to realise John was asleep.
"Hey," he mumbled, and poked John's arm. "You're the one who said no sleeping." When John didn't respond right away, Rodney pulled back slightly and shook his arm harder. "John!"
"Wha?" John slurred. "Lee'me'lone." He batted at Rodney's hand where it was still shaking his arm.
Rodney sat up further when he heard John wheezing slightly. "Come on, Sheppard, you have to stay awake."
"Yeah. Open your eyes, Major," Rodney replied and tried to sound stern, but it sounded more like pleading even to his own ears.
John opened his eyes slowly and Rodney waited for John to focus on him before he stopped shaking his arm.
"That's more like it," he said when John kept his eyes open and he settled against John's arm again.
"How long?" John asked hoarsely. He coughed and groaned as the movement jarred his side.
"How long what?" Rodney countered. "How long have we been here? No idea. Long enough for the life support to stop working." He sat up enough to unzip his backpack and pull out a couple of power bars. "Here," he said and handed one over to John. "Probably should eat something." He tucked the sleeping bag back up to his chin and nibbled at the energy bar as he cast about for something that would keep them both awake.
"Christmas was the one time a year when my parents at least tried to be civil toward each other," he said a few minutes later. He refused to look over at John, but he felt Sheppard shift against him.
"I was about ten when I realised it was more about the importance of playing happy families for my father's business associates and my mother's committees than it was about me or Jeannie, but for a few weeks at least, living in my parent's house was tolerable."
He blew out a breath and shifted closer to John. "One year, Jeannie and I even got to ride on one of the floats in the Santa Parade." He smiled slightly and lost himself in the memory.
Jeannie had been so excited to be in the parade. She'd bounced around the house for days before Sunday arrived, pestering him about what dress she was going to wear and how she wanted her hair braided. She'd pouted when he told her it wouldn't matter what she wore since she'd be wearing a coat, but it didn't stop her for long.
It had been a fun day, he thought with a smile. They'd even been on television!
"Santa Parade?" John asked, pulling him back to the present.
Rodney nodded. "World's oldest holiday parade," he said with another smile. "Older than the Macy's Parade in the States. Bet old Macy stole the idea from Eaton's anyway. One of Dad's clients owned the float and they needed a bunch of kids to wave at people along the route so we got to be in the parade."
He looked up and noticed John's eyes drifting closed. He shook John's arm again. "Hey, baring my soul here," he chided. "The least you could do is be awake for it."
John's eyes opened slightly and Rodney knew he was losing the battle to stay conscious. "Wha' hap'n'd?" John asked.
Rodney gave him a questioning look.
"Don' lik Chrs'mus now," he explained.
"Oh." Rodney looked down at the brace on his arm. "By the time I was twelve, my parents stopped pretending. If anything, the fighting got worse. Once we left home, Jeannie and I would send cards, sometimes a gift. Even that stopped a few years ago."
He didn't want to think about that last fight with Jeannie. She'd told him he was going to be an uncle. He'd responded by saying she was throwing her life away. She'd slapped him across the face and told him to leave and not come back. It was the only time she had ever hit him. Four years and counting, he thought with a sigh. Four years of basically being alone in the world. Until he'd been recruited for the Atlantis project and had met John and the others, he didn't even realise he was missing something.
"I don't hate Christmas," he said softly. "But it's a time to spend with family and I haven't really had one for a long time."
He looked over and saw Sheppard's head resting on the cushion beside him. "Hey!" he shook John's arm again.
"'M aw'k," he muttered but didn't open his eyes.
Rodney scooted a bit closer and sat in silence watching the light in the cockpit flicker. It took several long seconds for him to realise it was the flashlight dying. He turned his head slightly and watched as the light flickered again, then went out.
If there was one thing worse than freezing to death, it was freezing to death in the dark, he finally decided. He pushed at the sleeping bag enough to get his right hand clear, reached out, and clumsily hit the side of the flashlight a few times until it flickered back to a dim glow.
He was mildly surprised how much hitting the light with the brace made his hand hurt and stared at it for a few moments. His fingers looked pale, almost white in the dim glow from the flashlight. The thought tickled the back of his mind he should probably be more worried as he pulled the sleeping bag back up to his chin and rested his head on John's shoulder.
"That can't be good. Need my hand," he mumbled as he curled on his left side.
He felt John moving next to him and a moment later felt pressure against his fingers.
"Where's … glove?" John asked as he pressed Rodney's fingers between his gloved palms.
Rodney winced at the pins-and-needles feeling in his hand. "Couldn't get it on over the brace," he replied.
John frowned at him. "Keep hand … under blanket," he said as he let go.
Rodney awkwardly wedged his hand between his chest and John's side as he cast about in his mind for something else to talk about.
He was about to ask John about Christmas in California when he looked up and saw Sheppard's eyes were closed.
He sat up slightly and shook John's arm. "John? John? You said Ford knew what to do and would find us soon. You have to stay awake."
This time no matter how much Rodney shook him, John didn't wake up. He pulled the sleeping bag up to his chin and rested his head against John's arm.
"I don't want to go to Niagara Falls alone," he mumbled and gave John another shake. "You said Teyla and Ford would find us. You can't go and die on me now, Sheppard."
He lay against John, fighting the same pull of sleep. He tried forcing himself to think about a different solution to their power problem, but his mind refused to focus and instead he found himself drifting.
When the flashlight flickered out again twenty minutes later, neither of them were awake to notice.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Carson looked up from the scanner, unable to hide the sorrow he felt as he tapped at the screen. He knew Teyla and Ford didn't want to hear Sheppard and Rodney may already be dead, he didn't want to consider the possibility, either. But the scanner wasn't giving them any reason to think otherwise.
"There has to be an explanation," Ford said. "Other than …" He snapped his fingers and turned to Teyla. "Do you remember the cave-in?" Ford asked her. "How the radios didn't work inside the mine?"
Teyla nodded. "Doctor McKay said it was because of the copper blocking the signal."
"Right!" Ford replied and pointed at the scanner. "What if something like that is going on? The radios and the scanner both don't work? What are the odds of that?"
"I don't know, lad," Beckett said. "I want to think they're still alive as much as you do, but we have to consider --"
"No!" Ford shook his head. "They're still alive. Something's wrong with the scanner, that's all."
"Son, we have to be ready --"
Ford glared at him and shook his head.
"I'm sorry, but I'm not going to risk my animals on a maybe, and a thin one at that," one of the Lurrans said. "I was willing to help if there was a chance your friends were still alive but your own technology is saying they're most likely dead."
"We don't know --" Ford started to say.
Teyla put a hand on his arm. "We understand," she told the Lurran.
The man nodded and turned back to one of the sleighs waiting nearby.
"Wait!" Beckett called and waved at one of the medical technicians standing nearby. "You're going back to the village, aren't you?" he asked the Lurran.
"Yes," the man said, his tone clearly wary.
"Would you be kind enough to take David and some of our medical supplies back with you? Maybe help him find a suitable place we could use as a field hospital of sorts."
"Garen as offered his house and expertise," Teyla said and looked at Carson. "He is their healer. He told me he has dealt with cases of exposure in the past and would prepare a room for us to use."
"I can take you to Garen," the Lurran replied with a nod.
"Thank you," Carson said to him then turned to the tech standing next to him. "David, go with him. Make sure the room is warm, find a way to have warmed blankets and saline waiting in case they are badly off."
"Yes, Doctor Beckett," David said and followed the Lurran back to one of the sleighs. He loaded the equipment he carried onto the backseat of the sleigh and sat down in the front just as the Lurran called out to his hreindyr and the sleigh headed back to the village in a cloud of snow and the jingling of harness bells.
Teyla turned to the other Lurrans. "Lieutenant Ford may be correct," she told them, "the Ancestors' device is not perfect. There may be a technical reason for the lack of life readings. I still believe they are alive and need our help."
"Good enough for me," Klaus said and glared at the other Lurrans. "Prin? You and Mica coming? What about you, Oleg?"
"I'll go with you," Prin said after a slight hesitation. "Mica, you should go back --"
"I'm the only one that knows the shortcut, Father," Mica countered as he jutted his chin out at a stubborn angle Beckett thought very reminiscent of one Rodney McKay. "I want to help."
Prin studied him for a moment then nodded. "All right. Your mother is not going to be happy, but all right."
"Oleg?" Klaus asked.
"I said I'd help and I meant it," Oleg growled peevishly from the back of the group.
"All right," Ford said. "Mica, since you know the way, you take the lead. Daley, you and Tate go with him." He waited for the two Marines to acknowledge the order.
"I'll follow Mica," Prin said. "If he gets into trouble, I want to be close by to help."
Ford nodded. "Thompson, go with him. Teyla, Beckett, and I will ride with Klaus. Oleg, can you carry Beckett's assistant along with the extra supplies?"
Oleg grunted something Ford took to mean 'yes' and the Lurran stumped back to his sleigh.
Beckett helped Teyla into the back of Klaus' sleigh, tucked his medical bag under the seat, and sat beside her as Ford took the front seat with Klaus. Teyla pulled up the fur-lined blanket as Klaus shook his reins and the sleigh moved with a jerk as the hreindyr set out at a steady trot following the other two sleighs.
They made good time while still near the 'gate and the village but once they were in the low hills, the sleighs slowed down. The snow was much deeper in the hills and the animals slowed from a ground-eating trot to a slow plod. Carson watched Ford's shoulders tighten as the sleigh slowed to a crawl.
Klaus must have noticed as well. "I think I know where Mica is leading us," he hollered over the sound of the crunching snow and jangling bells. "It may seem slow, but we are making good time. Should reach the high valley well before dark."
Ford gave him a stiff nod but didn't relax.
From what Carson had been told, he knew the assumption was something had happened to cause the jumper to crash. He looked up at the darkening clouds and felt the wind blow against the side of the sleigh, pushing it slightly off course. The hreindyr tossed their heads as the snow swirled around them and the sleigh shuddered again.
He remembered the perilous flight back to Atlantis during the hurricane and how the jumper had bounced and shuddered as they flew through the edge of the storm. He told himself Sheppard was an experienced pilot and if they were forced down, John would bring the ship down in such a way they would survive the impact.
That just left surviving until they were found and if there was one thing Carson knew about Rodney McKay, he was a survivor. He had lost count of the miracles McKay had pulled out of his proverbial hat since their arrival in the Pegasus galaxy and he was counting on his friend having at least one more up his sleeve.
They were in the mountains when it started to snow. Carson watched as the flakes gently fell and settled on the backs of the plodding hreindyr.
Ford leant over to Klaus and shouted, "How much farther?"
Klaus looked to his left then pointed to his right. "That's the pass," he yelled back. "The valley is just beyond it."
Ford turned around to Teyla and Beckett. "We're almost there," he told them over the howl of the wind. "Try the scanner now."
Beckett nodded and pulled the device out of his vest pocket. He powered it on and flipped through the various screens of data until he found the one for life signs and was rewarded with two blips on the screen only a few kilometers away. He looked up, about the share the good news when the two dots vanished.
"What?" Ford asked, seeing Carson's hopeful expression. "Did you get something?"
Beckett shook his head and tapped at the screen again. "I thought there was something, just for a moment," he said. "It's gone now, though." He could tell Ford wanted him to say Sheppard and Rodney were still alive. "I don't know, Lieutenant."
He heard Ford growl low in his throat and twist back around in his seat. He glanced at Teyla and felt her squeeze his arm.
It was another forty minutes before the sleighs cleared the pass, the hreindyr slowed almost to a stop in the deep snow, and they entered the valley. Klaus drew the hreindyr to a halt. Ford jumped out of the sleigh and Carson noted the snow came almost to his waist.
"The cave is over there," Mica said as he plowed through the snow and stood at Ford's side. Carson turned to his left and could barely make out a dark depression in the side of the mountain. He didn't see any sign of the jumper near the cave.
"Maybe something happened either on the way here or when they tried to leave," Teyla suggested. She stood on the seat of the sleigh and looked around the valley. "Wait," she said, "I think I see something." She stopped in her slow turn and pointed toward the far side of the valley. "Do you have a set of field glasses?" she asked and looked down at Ford.
"I do," Thompson said. He pulled open one of his vest pockets, pulled out a pair of small binoculars, and handed them to her.
Teyla took them with a smile of thanks and focused on the valley wall again.
Carson noticed Ford had his own binoculars pointed at the same area.
"Well?" Carson asked a few moments later when neither Ford nor Teyla offered an explanation.
"There is an unusual mound near the base of the mountain in that direction," Teyla murmured and looked down at him. She peered through the binoculars again. "It is difficult … Yes!" she said and looked over at Ford for confirmation. "The mound is rounded just like the shape of the jumper."
"I think I can see part of the rear section," Ford added. "It looks to be intact." He put his binoculars away and jumped back in the sleigh. "At least, I don't see any large pieces lying nearby."
They drew up next to the ship a few minutes later and Carson felt his stomach twist as he climbed out of the sleigh and had his first look at the jumper. The front of the ship was buried up to the roof in a snowbank with the port side jammed up against the side of the mountain. It looked to him as if Sheppard had tried to avoid hitting the rocks head-on and was only partially successful.
Carson followed as Ford made a slow circuit around the rear of the jumper and saw the long tear in the side of the ship.
"That's not good," Ford said.
"No," Beckett replied grimly.
A hull breach in this weather dropped the chances Sheppard and Rodney were still alive almost to zero. Carson touched the edge of the gaping hole with one hand and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he had his professional mask in place.
"We need to get inside," Beckett said with a forced calm. "How do we get the rear hatch open from out here?"
Ford patted at his vest and found the remote. He pressed the button and Carson glanced at the rear hatch.
"It should work," Ford muttered and pushed the button again. "It's possible the hatch or the remote mechanism sustained damage in the crash." He glared at the sealed hatch.
"There's a manual control, isn't there?" Carson asked. "Some sort of backup?"
"The manual release is inside," Ford pushed the remote button again. "There's no way to get inside without the remote."
Carson threw his hands in the air. "There's already a hole in the hull, is there not?" he said impatiently and realised he sounded just like Rodney.
Ford nodded and gave Beckett a baffled look.
"Well, make it bigger, man. Big enough for someone to squeeze through and release the hatch for the rest of us."
"There are tools with the other supplies in Oleg's sled," Klaus said and headed back to the parked sleighs.
He came back a few minutes later with a pair of axes. Ford took one, nodded at Thompson to take the other, and they soon had a rhythm as they slowly tore the hole in the side of the jumper wider.
Carson used the time to organise the medical supplies.
"Jason, once I get inside, try to keep the others out of the jumper," Carson said in a low voice. "If they're still alive, we'll need to move quickly to keep them that way. If they're already gone …" He let the sentence hang.
Jason nodded. "There is that old saying when dealing with hypothermic patients."
Carson nodded. "They're not dead until they are warm and dead. Yes, well, let's just hope it doesn't come to that, shall we?"
"I think they've almost got the hole big enough," Jason said, and Carson watched as Teyla said something to Ford and took a large flashlight from Corporal Daley. Aiden nodded and he and Thompson stood back as she carefully climbed through the hole. Carson saw the glow from the flashlight dancing around the interior of the jumper and a few seconds later he heard a grinding noise as the hatch opened.
"They are not in the rear section," Teyla reported as she came down the ramp. "However, the door to the cockpit is sealed."
Carson felt part of the weight in his gut lift. If the cockpit wasn't breached, he told himself, they may still be alive.
"Lieutenant!" Carson called and stepped in front of Ford as he charged toward the ramp.
"They need help, Doc," Ford growled and tried to move around Carson.
Beckett blocked him again and held up his hands. "That's what I intend to do, son," he said kindly. "But I can't do that with all of you standing in the way. Stay here. I'll let you know when I need you."
"Aiden," Teyla added and touched his arm. "We need to wait."
Ford glared at Beckett for a moment longer then stepped back.
Teyla handed the flashlight to Carson. "Let us know what we can do to assist you."
The afternoon sun was at the right angle to offer some light as Carson moved through the rear section of the jumper. He glanced at the snow-covered benches and the open control box, its light stylus hanging down beside it, as he hurried to the front of the ship and knocked on the door.
"Major Sheppard?" he called. "Rodney? If you can hear me, it's safe to open the door." He didn't wait more than a few seconds, and when the door didn't open - not that he really expected it would - he turned toward the open hatch. "Aiden? Where is the manual release for the door?"
"On the left side as you're facing forward. There's a manual release at about chest height."
"Got it," Beckett replied. He dropped the flashlight on one of the benches and pulled the handle to open the door.
The doors cracked open slightly then stopped. Carson cursed under his breath then jammed his fingers in the narrow gap and pulled the doors open. He stood for a moment, stunned at what he found in the cockpit. All he could see at first were two hooded heads, one lying against what looked like one of the cushions from the rear benches and the other resting against the first, both of them covered with a shared sleeping bag.
"Màiri, Màthair Dhè," Beckett muttered and knelt in the doorway. He carefully pulled back the sleeping bag and found Rodney curled on his side lying against Sheppard.
Beckett dug through the bag at his side and found a stethoscope. Neither of them so much as twitched as he unzipped first Sheppard's and then Rodney's coat and listened for any breath sounds or heartbeats. He took his time to make sure he wasn't wrong, then zipped the coats back up and rubbed at his face with one hand.
"Doc?" Ford asked in a whisper from the rear of the jumper.
Beckett sat back on his heels, turned, and smiled. "They're alive, lad. However, getting them out of here is not going to be easy." He looked around the narrow space between the rear seats and the bulkhead. "Jason, we need the spare blankets."
Jason nodded and ran from the jumper.
"Aiden, I could use some of that help you were offering," Carson said as he stood and stretched his back as Ford and Thompson came through the shuttle. Teyla followed behind them.
"What can we do?" Ford asked.
"We need to get them back to the village as quickly as possible. I don't have the equipment to help them here but moving them is also dangerous."
Ford glanced at the bodies huddled on the floor. "What's wrong with McKay's hand?" he asked and pointed to the brace.
"His arm is probably broken," Carson replied absently. "That's not what has me concerned." Carson bent down and gently picked up Rodney's hand. "He couldn't get a glove over the brace and there are signs of frostbite," he replied to Ford's puzzled look.
"Here are the blankets," Jason said, and Ford passed them over to Beckett.
Carson bundled Sheppard and Rodney in the large blankets then stood.
"All right, we need to be fast, but careful," Beckett said to Ford. "We need to get them out to the sleds as gently as possible. No sudden movements or jostling. Possible broken bones aside, and I suspect the Major may have broken ribs from the way he's wheezing, they are suffering from moderate hypothermia, a wrong move could send them into cardiac arrest."
Ford swallowed then nodded.
"Once we have them in the sleds, someone needs to act as a support, holding them steady and providing additional warmth," Carson continued.
The process of getting Sheppard and McKay out of the jumper took more time than Carson may have liked, but they finally had Sheppard loaded on Prin's sled with Ford holding him against his chest and both of them wrapped in another of the fur-lined blankets.
"Thompson," Ford said as he shifted his hold on John, "salvage whatever you can from the jumper, especially the food and survival gear. Don't forget their packs, either."
"Yes, sir," Thompson said with a nod.
"Jason, go with them, lad," Carson said as Ford pulled the blanket tighter against the falling snow. Jason dropped his medical gear in the back of Prin's sleigh and climbed in the front.
"Go," Beckett ordered. "We'll get Rodney and be right behind you."
Ford nodded and Prin shook his reins. Beckett was pleased to see the sleigh set out at a slow but steady pace with none of the jerking or other sudden stops or starts they'd had on the way up to the valley.
Thompson and Oleg carried Rodney out of the jumper and settled him against Carson in the back of Klaus' sled. Teyla wrapped a blanket around both of them before she sat in the front next to Klaus.
The trip back through the pass and down the mountain was just as slow as the trip out. Teyla informed Beckett she had explained the necessity for careful movement to Prin and Klaus as Sheppard and McKay were bundled into the sleighs. The Lurrans took her seriously and were doing everything possible to make the trip as smooth as possible.
They were almost out of the hills, not too far from the village, when Carson felt Rodney move slightly against his chest.
He looked down and was surprised to see Rodney's eyes open.
"Rodney?" Carson called softly and waited for a reaction.
Teyla must have heard him and turned around. When she saw Rodney was awake, she smiled and leant back to touch his leg, the only thing she could reach.
Rodney didn't respond to either his name or Teyla's tap on his leg. His gaze wandered slightly before Carson felt him sigh and saw him close his eyes again.
Carson felt Rodney breathing against him and relaxed.
"Doctor Beckett?" Teyla said.
"He's still with us, lass. Let's get him back to the village, then I'll be able to tell you more."
It was snowing heavily by the time the sleds reached the village and Garen's red door. Teyla guessed almost a foot of snow had fallen in the village since their departure that morning. Thankfully, Garen or someone had kept the area around the house clear of snow and the men waiting just inside the door for their arrival were able to easily maneuver John and Rodney out of the sleds and into the house.
Teyla followed as Rodney and John were carried down a short passage off the front room and into the room at the end of the hall. She felt the heat coming from the room in waves and glimpsed two beds against the wall opposite the large fireplace before Beckett turned and held up a hand.
"I know what you're about to ask and the answer is no," he said, his expression grim. "They were doing none too well before we found them, the trip back in the cold took its toll as well. I need to get them stabilised and treat their other injuries." Beckett glanced over at Ford as he joined them. "Go. You both need a hot meal and some warming up yourselves. I'll let you know when you can see them."
Ford started to say something, but Teyla put a hand on his arm. "We will go to the pub," she said to Ford as she squeezed his arm. "Teg will have something for us to eat and then we will return." She gave Beckett a fleeting look and waited for him to reluctantly nod before he disappeared into the overheated room and closed the door.
Ford turned to Thompson and the two Marines waiting near the door. "Thompson, stay here," he ordered. "If something happens, find Teyla at the pub."
Thompson nodded and shed his heavy coat. "Yes, sir," he replied and settled in a chair near the hallway.
"Where are you going?" Teyla asked as she stepped outside and found Klaus and his sled waiting.
"Klaus agreed to take me to the 'gate. We need to report in and let Doctor Weir know what's happened and that we will need a jumper to get them home." He turned to the two Marines standing behind them. "Daley, you and Tate come with me. Bring the supplies we were able to salvage from the Major's jumper and the two backpacks."
The Marines acknowledged the order with a nod and started loading the cases on the ground near Garen's red door into the sled.
"I'll be as fast as I can," he said to Teyla. "Hopefully, Beckett will let us in to see them by the time I get back."
"Be careful, Lieutenant," she said.
"Don't you worry none," Klaus said as Ford climbed into the front seat of the sled. "This won't last much longer."
Teyla shook her head at his pronouncement as he slapped his reins smartly on the hreindyr and the sled headed out of the village.
After a hurried meal at the pub, Teyla asked Teg to wrap up a bundle for her to take back to Thompson. She balanced the basket in one hand and listened to the muffled silence all around her as she crunched through the still gently falling snow on her way back to Garen's house.
She brushed the snow from her coat as she entered the house and saw Thompson still sitting in the same chair near the hall. She doubted he had moved since she'd left and took it as a good sign everything was going as well as it could behind the door.
"All's quiet," he said as she gave the closed door a worried glance. "There was a bit of bustle with basins of water a little while ago, but nothing since then."
She nodded and set the basket on a table near the fireplace in the front room. "I have brought you something to eat," she said as she hung her coat on a peg next to the fireplace.
"Thank you, ma'am," Thompson said and moved the chair next to the table and opened the basket.
"Teyla," she told him as she sat on the edge of another chair near the fireplace. "We have known each other for several months now, Sergeant, please call me Teyla."
Thompson nodded. "Derek," he replied as he pulled a flask and the wrapped bundle from the basket.
"It is called a pasty," Teyla explained as Thompson unwrapped the food. "It is hreindyr meat, vegetables, and spices baked in a crust."
"It's good," Thompson said after swallowing a bite. "Maybe we could get the mess cooks to make these."
She left Thompson to his meal as she stared at the wood snapping and popping in the fireplace and tried not to worry as she glanced down the hall where Doctor Beckett and his two assistants, along with Garen and his wife, Hala, worked behind closed doors.
She wasn't sure how much later it was when Ford returned. Thompson had finished the pasty and was back in his chair by the hall. The fire burned a little lower on the hearth, and she felt warm for the first time all day, so she assumed Ford had been gone at least a couple of hours, possibly longer.
"Any news?" Ford asked as he came into the room, hung his coat on a hook next to Teyla's by the fireplace, and rubbed his hands together.
Teyla shook her head. "No one has come out of the room since you left for the stargate," she told him. "What did Doctor Weir say?"
Ford frowned. "Stackhouse isn't due to check in for another couple of days, so no way he's getting here any time soon. Markham's team is scheduled to be back sometime late tomorrow. She'll send him with a jumper as soon as they get back and are cleared."
Ford wandered over to the window and pushed back the heavy curtain. "Klaus was right about one thing, the snow has almost stopped. Hopefully, that means Markham won't have any problems when he shows up." He let the curtain fall back and glanced down the hall.
It was another twenty minutes, according to Ford's watch, before the door opened and Hala came down the hall. Her face was pink and her clothes were damp with sweat from the heat in the room at the end of the hall, but she smiled as she entered the front room and Teyla felt the knot in her stomach loosen.
"They are holding their own," she told them without preamble. "Garen and your Doctor Beckett are still working to get them warmed up, but it appears you found them in time."
Ford blew out a breath of relief and rubbed a hand over his face.
"Your Doctor Beckett says you may step in for just a moment then you must get some rest yourselves."
Hala turned and led the way back down the hall and opened the door.
Doctor Beckett met them near the door in his shirt sleeves, looking tired and sweaty. "You can stay a wee moment only," he told them as he led them over to the two beds opposite the fireplace.
Teyla stepped between the two beds and had her first good look at her teammates taking in the IV lines and the oxygen cannulas with a glance. John was propped up with several pillows, a cut over his eye held closed with steri-strips, while Rodney lay almost flat with his right hand braced by several more pillows to keep him from moving it. One of Beckett's assistants removed the damp cloth covering Rodney's hand and Teyla saw the skin was flushed except where several small blisters peppered his fingers.
Both men were dressed in the close-fitting shirts the villagers wore and covered with fur-lined blankets. Despite the blankets and the fire, Teyla saw John and Rodney shiver from time to time.
Both of them had red cheeks as if from a fever. Rodney had a painful-looking bruise over his left eye and his fingers looked swollen as well as red. She reached out to touch his hand but pulled back when Rodney groaned and twitched his hand against the pillows. He groaned again and tried to curl his hand to his chest when the medical technician tried to replace the cooled cloth with a warm one.
"Careful, lass," Beckett told her as he waited for Rodney to relax then nodded to the technician to try again with the cloth. This time Rodney only flinched slightly as the cloth touched his skin. "His fingers have a bit of frostbite. His hand is going to ache for a few days."
"But they're going to be okay?" Ford asked from the other side of John's bed.
Beckett nodded. "They're a bit peaky right now, but barring any sudden complications, they should recover without any lasting effects," he said with a gentle smile. "They're both almost back to a normal core temperature and that was our biggest concern. The Major has a couple of broken ribs, luckily they weren't displaced either in the accident or on the way back here. His nose and cheeks are a bit frost nipped but the redness should be gone in a day or two. The cut on his head was superficial."
He turned to the other bed. "Rodney managed to break his arm again. I suspect John tried to set it in the jumper, but I will need to take a better look with x-rays once we're home. He will most likely need surgery to make sure the bones are properly realigned and will heal correctly."
He looked from Teyla to Ford then back at the two beds. "They cannot tolerate any more cold at the moment," he said, his tone serious. "So unless we plan to stay here for the winter, we'll be needing a jumper to get them home. No more sleigh rides for these two."
"Way ahead of you, Doc," Ford said. "I talked to Doctor Weir a little while ago. Sergeant Markham can be here late tomorrow or the day after to take us back to the 'gate."
"I will speak to Yev about clearing a space for the jumper to land as close to the house as possible," Teyla added.
"I think we can impose on Garen and Hala for a day or so longer," Beckett replied. "Sleep is the best thing for them right now," he added with a not so subtle glance at the door. "You two need to get some rest as well. I don't need any more patients at the moment." He shooed them back toward the door. "You can come back in the morning."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
The fire had been banked once Sheppard and Rodney had warmed up and the room had cooled slightly as the evening moved into full night. Garen had had a third bed brought in the room and Carson lay against the far wall listening to the night sounds of the house as it creaked and the steady breathing of his two patients, his two friends.
He had known as soon as he'd accepted the position of Chief Medical Officer, one of the primary rules of medicine, never treat family or friends, would be impossible to keep. With a little over one hundred expedition members, and later adding the Athosians on the mainland, the Atlantis population was barely two hundred people. He knew everyone, was on a first name basis with most of them, and a few had become friends.
Which meant his heart tripped a beat any time he received a call from Elizabeth telling him one or more of those friends or acquaintances needed help.
He heard a murmur coming from one of the other beds and he recognised the sound of Rodney dreaming. He sat up with his back braced against the wall waiting to see if he needed to ease him out of a nightmare. The murmuring stopped on its own a few seconds later and Carson went back to his own ruminations.
Rodney and John had been lucky once again, Carson thought to himself and remembered a conversation he'd had with Sheppard after Rodney's accident with the transformer.
"A little luck? Have you met us?"
"Aye, and for all the trouble you two manage to find, you're both still alive," Carson remembered telling him.
"How long can we keep pushing our chances? One of these days I may not find him in time."
Carson sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair. How long, indeed, he wondered.
John had been in the worst shape by the time the sleds arrived back at the village, the hypothermia exacerbating the issues with the broken ribs. Rodney had opened his eyes a few times in the hours Carson and Garen had worked to warm both of them up again. He was never quite lucid, but Carson took it as a good sign McKay was improving. John, however, had yet to do that much and Beckett was starting to worry about possible complications.
This was the bane of becoming friends with members of a first contact team, he reminded himself and crawled out of bed; sleep now forgotten as he padded, barefooted, over to the other two beds. If anyone had asked, he would have told them he was merely checking his patients. The reality was he needed to make sure his friends were both alive and were going to stay that way.
He stopped next to Rodney's bed and gently took his left wrist, checked his pulse, then laid a hand on his forehead, avoiding the purple-blue bruise. He nodded to himself as Rodney's pulse was normal and he no longer felt cold to the touch. Carson walked around the bed and checked Rodney's right hand. His fingers were no longer the angry red from earlier and were almost back to a normal color except for the sprinkling of small, opaque blisters across his fingers.
He patted the hand gently and was adjusting the blanket covering Rodney when he heard a wheezing cough from the other bed. He turned to Sheppard's bed, relieved to see John's eyes finally open, and helped support him as he coughed again.
"Believe it or not, Major, the coughing is good for you," he murmured as Sheppard groaned and shuddered with each spasm.
"Carson?" John said in a hoarse whisper once the fit had passed. "When did you get here?" He looked around the room with a puzzled expression. Carson wasn't sure how much he could see, the fire didn't give much light. "Where are we?" he asked as Beckett handed him a glass of water.
Carson settled Sheppard back against the pillows and adjusted the IV line. "All right?" he asked and waited for John to nod. "You're in Garen's house in the village," Beckett told him, taking the now empty glass. "Do you remember what happened?"
John nodded and rubbed his chest. "Jumper crashed," he mumbled, then gave Carson a startled look and tried to sit up. He grabbed for his side and groaned as he leant back against the pillows and tried to get his breathing under control.
Beckett tsked as he helped John settle back in the bed. "Rodney is going to be fine," he said before John could ask. He pointed to the bed beside them. "He's right here. Bit of a lump on his head, some frostbitten fingers, and a broken arm I'll put a cast on as soon as we're home." He watched as John studied Rodney sleeping in the next bed. "And you have two broken ribs, as you've just discovered, not to mention a whole raft of bruises. So I wouldn't move around so much if I were you. You're both lucky to be alive and I intend to keep you that way."
John sighed and leant his head back against the pillows. "How did you find us?" he asked with another glance at the other bed.
"Some local knowledge and a lot of that luck I mentioned. Must be something in those Irish genes of yours," Carson replied with a smile as Sheppard's eyes start to droop. "The important thing is we did find you and you both will be fine. A jumper will be here later today or tomorrow to take us back to Atlantis." He pulled the blanket back up over John's chest. "Go back to sleep, John. You're both going to be fine."
Carson started back to his own bed but stopped when he heard John mumble something. "What was that, Major?" he asked and came back to the side of the bed.
"Red," John said with a tiny smile.
Carson frowned and looked around the bed. "What's red?"
John opened one eye and lifted his arm enough to point at the other bed. "Cast. Make it red."
Carson smiled. "I'll see what I can do. Go back to sleep."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney was aware of several people moving around him and speaking but couldn't be bothered to investigate what had everyone so excited. He was warm for the first time he could remember since the jumper crashed and that was enough for the moment. A tiny part of his mind warned him feeling warm and sleeping when the jumper was so cold was probably a bad idea, but he couldn't be bothered to care. The voices around him could deal with any problems for a change, he decided and started to drift off again.
He was on the edge of sleep when he felt himself being picked up. He groaned and struggled out of the grip around his back and under his legs. He was capable of walking, he didn't need to be carted around like a sack of laundry, he mentally ranted. And right now he wasn't interested in going anywhere except back to sleep.
"Doc, I think he's waking up again," a voice above him said, and Rodney wondered how much of what he'd been thinking had actually been said out loud.
"Rodney?" he heard. The voice sounded like Carson which was strange as he didn't remember Beckett in the jumper when they'd crashed. "Rodney, can you hear me?"
"Mmm," he mumbled and tried to curl on his side. A corner of his mind told him John was supposed to be beside him and wondered where Sheppard had gone.
"I'll take that as a yes," Carson said, and Rodney felt a hand on his arm. "We're moving you and John to the jumper. Just relax and let Sergeant Thompson do the work."
Jumper? Rodney thought with a frown. He didn't want to be back in the jumper. The jumper had crashed. The jumper was cold and he hated being cold. He did not want to go back to the jumper now that he was finally warm again.
"All right, Derek lad, let's try again," Beckett said a moment later. "Careful with his arm."
Rodney felt himself lifted again and his right arm tucked securely against his chest as someone wrapped a blanket around him.
"The jumper is in the street just outside," Beckett said as Rodney felt himself start to move. "Sergeant Markham has Major Sheppard there already and is waiting for us. We need to get moving. I don't want either of them exposed to the cold for any longer than necessary."
Rodney cracked his eyes open when Beckett mentioned John. He had a glimpse of an open red door just before a blast of cold air hit his face. He shut his eyes, groaned as the cold penetrated the blanket he was wrapped in, and felt himself start to shiver in response.
"That's it, lie him down on the bench," Carson said. His tone changed as he called something toward the front of the ship. "Joseph, lad, get the hatch closed."
"Yes, sir," Rodney heard Markham reply. A few seconds later, the cold wind stopped blowing in his face as the hatch whispered shut.
Rodney felt someone next to him and opened his eyes long enough to see Teyla kneeling on the floor next to the bench he was lying on. She smiled when she noticed him watching her, pulled up the blanket covering him, and squeeze his arm. "We are returning to Atlantis," Teyla told him as he started to drift. "You will be home soon."
Rodney growled in frustration as he dropped the spoon again, splattering the cast with oatmeal for the third time. One more reason to hate oatmeal, he thought to himself.
He heard Sheppard clear his throat and glanced over at the next bed to see John holding out his napkin. He took the cloth with a grunt and scrubbed the oatmeal off the cast. "Tell me again why my cast is red," he said as he pushed the bowl away and picked up the juice glass with his left hand.
"It's festive," John replied with an easy smile as he finished his own breakfast.
Rodney snorted and finished the juice. "Next time I break a bone, I want to be awake when Carson fixes it. Blue, green, and now red. Is there something wrong with a plain white cast?"
"Colors are more fun," John told him. "And I didn't pick the other ones." He gave Rodney a serious look. "Let's hope there's not a 'next time' for a while, okay?"
Rodney saw the concern behind the comment and nodded. Two days in Garen's house plus another three in the infirmary and he was more than ready to escape Carson's clutches and get back to work, though he wasn't sure what he was going to do.
He stared down at the cast and his fingers. The cast was bad enough, extending up his arm almost to the elbow. His fingers were the bigger issue. He could finally see the individual joints again as the swelling from the frostbite went down, but it still hurt when he tried to bend them and he didn't trust his grip to pick up anything heavier than an eating utensil. He glanced at the oatmeal splashed on the table in front of him and reconsidered the idea he could even use his right hand to eat.
He tried to flex his fingers and winced as he thought about his other problem. He and John had missed the festival on the mainland. The ridiculous Secret Santa exchange was supposed to be that evening and his project had only been half done before their ill-fated trip to Lurra. He could barely manage to eat oatmeal; he had no idea how he was going to finish his gift in time. He was still thinking about how to finish the work when Carson came over to their corner of the infirmary.
"I have good news," Carson said as he stopped beside Rodney's bed. "I'm releasing both of you this morning."
"Finally," Rodney muttered. Hopefully, he could get back to his lab and finish his gift. He knew no one would blame him if the gift were delayed, but he didn't want to show up empty-handed if he could help it.
Carson pursed his lips but said nothing as he picked up Rodney's right hand. "The blisters are almost gone," he said as he examined each of his fingers. "Your fingers should heal without any scarring or loss of dexterity. You were lucky the frostbite was superficial." He looked up at Rodney. "Are your fingers still feeling numb?"
Rodney shook his head. "No, just stiff."
Carson nodded. "The joints may ache for a few more days. Ibuprofen will help. I'll have some ready for you before you leave. Make sure you take it."
"And don't be pushing yourself, either. You'll do more harm than good if you try to do too much with those fingers. Let Radek and Peter deal with any repairs for the next few days."
Carson turned to John, "And you, Major, are not to be doing anything strenuous for the next few weeks. Give yourself a chance to heal before you go running laps or taking on the Marines or Teyla and her fighting sticks. Normally it would go without saying, but since it's you two, that means no 'gate travel, either."
"Don't worry," John replied with a tight smile. "I've had broken ribs before. Not going to rush things."
"It's part of my job to worry about you lot," Carson replied. "Young Aiden and Teyla will be here soon with some clothes. Once you've changed, you can go." He patted John's leg then walked back to his office.
Rodney watched Beckett walk away and carefully bent his fingers in toward his palm. He winced and dropped his hand to his side with a frustrated sigh.
"What's the problem?" John asked.
Rodney gave him a puzzled look. "Would you like the list alphabetically or in order by biggest problem first?"
John glared at him as he carefully moved to sit on the edge of his bed. "You know what I mean. You've been staring at your hand and making faces ever since you woke up this morning. What's going on? Carson says you're going to be fine."
"It's nothing," Rodney said. He glanced at John, saw he was still waiting for an answer, and sighed. "I didn't get something done before we left and I'm running out of time to get it finished."
"Ahh," John mouthed and gave Rodney a knowing look. "We can put off the gift exchange for a few days, you know. The others won't mind."
"So I can hear Ford make more comments about me acting like a Scrooge? No thanks." He shook his head. "It's almost done," he added when he saw John's frown. "I'll figure something out. Don't cancel the party on my account."
Before Sheppard could say anything else, Ford and Teyla came into the infirmary carrying two small carryalls. Ford dropped one of the bags on John's bed and pulled a DVD from inside his BDUs with a flourish. "Corporal Daley let me borrow this, sir," he said as he held up the DVD. "My cousin loved it."
Rodney shook his head as Ford grinned. He picked up the bag at the end of his bed and went to change. The sooner he was out of the infirmary, the sooner he could figure out how he was going to finish everything in time for the party.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney leant back from the work table and felt several vertebrae crack as he stretched from the hunched position he'd been in for the last several hours. It had taken some creative thinking and a lot more time than it should have, but his gift was finally finished. The long, narrow strip of polished meteorite was held in place by a thin piece of copper hammered flat, then carefully rolled into a flexible wire and worked around the stone in a barber pole spiral from top to bottom. He held up the finished piece and watched the light bounce off the polished copper.
He was rooting through a drawer in his desk for a box when there was a knock on the door to the lab. He quickly dropped the meteorite in the box and unlocked the door as he went back to the work table in search of something to tie the box closed.
"You ready?" John asked as he entered the lab. He frowned slightly as he walked over to the work table. "Still cold?" he asked and tugged one of the sleeves of the orange fleece Rodney wore.
"I'm never going to be warm again," he replied. "I hate being cold."
John smiled slightly. "I think I can agree with you on that one." He glanced at his watch then over at Rodney. "Ford and Teyla went to get drinks and the popcorn from the mess hall. They won't let me carry anything, so I came down here to drag you back up to the conference room, gift or no gift."
Rodney gave John an impatient glare as he slowly worked a piece of wire around the box and tied it into a bow. "Told you I'd get it finished in time," he said and held up the box.
"What? No wrapping paper?" John teased as they left the lab.
Rodney shook his head. "Don't push it, Sheppard. I still say this is something for kids, not adults."
"And yet you were the one worried about getting his gift finished in time. At least pretend to have fun," he said and gave Rodney an odd look.
"What now?" he asked and touched the sensor for the transporter.
"Nothing," John replied. "Come on, we don't want to be late."
"You have got to be kidding," Rodney exclaimed as he walked in the conference room a few minutes later. He turned to John and pointed at the table in the corner. "I thought you told Ford no tree," he said and stared at the small tree decorated with snowflakes cut out of bits of paper. "Are those barrel lights?" he asked, and stepped closer to the tree. He found several small flashlights balanced precariously on various branches.
"Yeah," John said with a smile. "Ford was almost as busy as you this afternoon."
"Where did it come from?" he asked as he set his box next to the other three gifts under the tree and studied the plant.
"Ford talked to Zelenka. It's on loan from the botanists."
Rodney reached out a hand to touch one of the decorations, but John grabbed his hand and pulled it back. "Might not want to do that," he said as he let go. "Ford found out the hard way the tree has thorns."
Rodney bent forward and noticed the long pointed thorns hidden around the leaves. He curled his fingers into his palm, stepped back from the tree, and wandered over to the salvaged jumper bench seat someone had converted into a sofa.
It didn't take Ford and Teyla long to return, balancing popcorn bowls and drinks in their arms. They set the snacks on the table in front of the makeshift sofa and Rodney noticed three of Ford's fingers were sporting bandages. He eyed the tree again with suspicion as John and Teyla joined him on the sofa. Ford pulled up a chair and set the DVD on the end of the table.
"Do we view the movie first or exchange gifts?" Teyla asked once they were settled.
"Presents!" Ford said with a grin and glanced at John.
Rodney shifted uncomfortably on the sofa. The moment he'd been dreading ever since Ford suggested the idea of a Secret Santa had arrived. He reminded himself John, Teyla, and Ford were friends, family even. They wouldn't actively want to hurt or embarrass him. He shrugged when he saw John watching him.
"All right, Lieutenant," John said with one last glance at McKay. "Since this was your idea, you should probably see your gift first."
"Yes, sir," Ford agreed and looked from John to Rodney to Teyla in eager anticipation.
"Who had Aiden?" John asked and looked at Rodney then Teyla.
"I did," Teyla said. She walked over to the tree and picked up a thin narrow package wrapped in a scrap of cloth.
Ford unfolded the cloth and held up the gift. Rodney saw it was a small knife with a leather sheath and a handle made of bone or antler. He remembered the knife as the one Teyla had in her boot when they'd been kidnapped by Rasha.
"It's beautiful," Ford said as he turned the knife over in his hands.
"My father made it for me," Teyla explained. "The handle is made from the antler of a hart. To my people, the antler symbolises harmony with one's surroundings. I hope it will be such a totem for you."
Ford turned the knife over in his hands again. "I … thank you, Teyla." He looked up at her with a smile.
"You are most welcome, Aiden," she replied.
John waited for Ford to set the knife aside then said, "Ford, who did you have?"
Rodney was surprised to see Ford's cheeks flush as he stood and picked up a small envelope from under the tree. "Umm, I had you, sir," He said and handed John the envelope.
John gave Ford a reassuring smile as he took the envelope and tore it open. He looked inside, gave Ford a startled look and dumped a small metal disc into the palm of his hand.
"It was my grandfather's, sir. He got it while serving in Korea. Gave it to me the day I earned my commission."
"What is it?" Teyla asked as she peered around Rodney at the disc in John's hand.
"It's a challenge coin," John replied, holding up the coin for Teyla and Rodney to see. Teyla gave him a puzzled look and he explained. "The idea started in World War I as a way for members of a unit to identify each other. Later, it became a sort of game. Someone would call for everyone to show their coin and if you didn't have yours, you had to buy a round of drinks for everyone else." He studied the coin and glanced over at Ford. "Are you sure you want to part with this?"
Ford nodded. "When my grandfather gave it to me he said he was proud of me and that he was giving the coin to a man who would serve with honor." Ford ducked his head. "I think he would agree I'm giving it to a man who serves with honor," Ford finished and looked John in the eye.
John swallowed. "Thank you, Aiden. It means a lot."
Ford nodded and smiled. "Glad you like it, sir."
John flipped the coin over in his hand a few times then put it in his trouser pocket. "Umm," he stopped and cleared his throat. "Teyla's next."
Rodney twitched where he sat then got up and handed Teyla the box tied with a bit of wire.
"Thank you, Rodney," she said with a smile as she untwisted the wire and opened the box. She stared at the contents of the box for several seconds making Rodney feel uncomfortable.
Maybe he should have told John he needed more time, he thought and watched as Teyla looked over at him, her expression inscrutable.
"It is … beautiful," she finally said and held up the copper and meteorite charm dangling from a length of leather cord. "What is it made from?"
"Umm, the copper is from a bit of Ancient tech. Don't worry," he hurriedly added as Teyla gave him a startled look. "Not that kind of Ancient tech. The stone is from a piece of meteorite I found in Russia a few years ago."
"And you brought this meteorite to the Pegasus galaxy?" she asked as she pulled the cord over her head and settled the charm in the hollow of her throat.
He shrugged and sat back on the sofa between Teyla and John with his arms crossed over his chest. "It was one of the few nice memories from my time there," he admitted.
Teyla stood and faced Rodney. "Thank you, Rodney, for my gift," she said as she bent forward and touched her forehead to his. "I will treasure this piece of your home galaxy, always."
"You're, umm, welcome," he said with a hesitant smile.
"I guess that only leaves you, McKay," John said as he carefully stood, picked up a rectangular box, and handed it to Rodney.
He studied the box from all sides before carefully lifting the hinged top and pulling out a small wooden toy shaped like a pickup truck. "You made this?" he asked as he studied the toy from all angles and spun one of the wheels.
"I did," John replied. "I asked Teyla to talk to Halling and find a piece of wood I could use and I borrowed the tools from Zelenka. I've been working on it when you were asleep. Carson was not thrilled with the idea of wood chips in his infirmary at first, but then I explained what it was for and we figured out a way to minimise the mess. He hid it in his office when you were awake. Finished the detail-work and sanded it this afternoon."
Rodney studied the truck again. The area for the windows was cut out and he could see a tiny steering wheel in front of the carved bench seat. The grill, headlights, and taillights were picked out in fine detail and even the bed of the truck had been hollowed out and the edges for the tailgate were carved in the back just above the square where a license plate would sit.
"Why a pickup truck?" he asked absently, marvelling at this heretofore unknown talent of John's.
"Because," John replied and paused. Rodney picked up the serious tone in Sheppard's voice and looked up at him. "It's more than just a toy. That is my truck. Back on Earth." He draped an arm over Rodney's shoulders and pulled him a little closer. "That is my promise to you that when we make contact with Earth, and I have every confidence we will make contact with Earth again someday, that I meant what I said in the jumper. We will go see Niagara Falls and any place else you want to visit. Got it?" he asked.
Rodney nodded and looked down at the truck again. Maybe Secret Santa wasn't such a childish idea after all, he thought to himself.
"How about the movie?" Ford asked a few minutes later. John nodded, and Ford bounced up, loaded the DVD into the conference room computer, and started the film.
"Out of all the versions of this movie, this is the one someone brought from another galaxy?" Rodney muttered as the splash screen came up on the large conference room screen and the opening credits rolled.
"Are you kidding?" Ford replied with a grin. "This is one of the best ones! It's fun and it has Kermit the Frog."
"There is a frog named Kermit?" Teyla asked.
"You have no idea," Rodney muttered with another glare at Ford. "Someone could have brought the Alastair Sim version, it's a classic. But no, we have A Christmas Carol … with muppets."
"What is a muppet?" Teyla asked as the opening song began.
"That's all on you, Ford," John said with a smile as he sat back, his right arm still resting on Rodney's shoulders.
Ford tried to explain why puppets of various animals interacting with people was considered normal in the film but Rodney could tell Teyla was bemused by the whole thing and probably thought they were all a little crazy as a result.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
"Admit it, you had fun tonight," John said as they stopped outside the door to Rodney's quarters a few hours later.
Rodney reluctantly nodded. "Fine. Yes, it wasn't as bad as I expected it would be. I might even be willing to go through the whole thing again next year."
John smiled and headed toward his room. "I'm going to hold you to that, McKay," he called over his shoulder.
"That was sarcasm, Sheppard," he retorted automatically.
John turned around and gave Rodney a measured look. "No, it wasn't," he said simply.
Rodney stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and grasped the wooden car. He smiled slightly.
"'Night, Rodney," John said easily as he turned and walked away.
Rodney walked into his room and closed the door. He pulled the carved truck out of his jacket pocket and sat on the edge of his bed. He turned the toy over in his hands, thinking about what John had said, what he had promised.
He held the truck for a few more minutes then stood, cleared a spot on the shelf under his diplomas, and set the truck where he would see it any time he entered the room.
As he crawled into bed, he wondered if John would be game for a road trip if they ever got back to Earth. He'd never been on one before. Not with family.