John came through the 'gate, wet, dirty and exhausted; the members of Major Lorne's team following behind him didn't look any better. Three days playing hide and seek in a forest with daily downpours had that effect, John thought with a wry smile as he watched Lorne's team stumble through the 'gate.
"Get your team cleaned up and checked out, Major," John said as the 'gate shut down. "We'll debrief in a couple of hours."
"Yes, sir," Lorne replied, and looked down at his muddy uniform with a grimace.
John turned away from the 'gate and caught sight of Rodney standing at the end of the ramp near the stairs leading up to the control room. He frowned when he noticed McKay didn't have his cane with him.
Carson will kill him, John thought to himself as he followed Lorne's team toward the exit.
The past eight weeks had been tedious while Rodney's broken leg healed, the injury meant the team was grounded until he was healthy again. John had hoped for a light at the end of the tunnel two weeks ago when Carson had taken the cast off Rodney's leg, only to then find out Beckett still wouldn't clear McKay for 'gate travel until he could walk without the cane.
Teyla had been happy with the situation. Once she knew Rodney was going to be all right, she'd spent most of the past several weeks travelling back-and-forth to the mainland, helping with the planting, and spending time with the Athosians. After Carson had cleared him for light duty, Rodney had holed up in his lab, tinkering with one Ancient device or another and hounding the new scientists. John, however, had been at loose ends and decided to use the forced downtime to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the new Marines.
Special Ops missions and deployments in Afghanistan or Iraq didn't do much to prepare someone for the new realities of travelling to other planets, and potentially being food for aliens. John had already sent a few Marines, men and women, back to Earth on the Daedalus who had washed out of his Pegasus galaxy training program.
"Training mission went well, I see," Rodney commented as John stopped next to him. He made a face as Lorne's team trooped past him, leaving a trail of muddy footprints across the floor and out the nearest door. "Maybe you should have Lorne and his team go to the botany labs before they shower. It looks like Parrish could get some interesting samples."
"It's the rainy season on Ymber," John replied, and automatically slowed his pace to match Rodney's limping gait as they left the gateroom. "Teyla forgot to tell me that part when she suggested the planet as a good place to run search and rescue drills."
John could tell Rodney was trying hard not to laugh, so he decided to turn the tables. "Does Beckett know you're wandering around without your cane?" he asked, and hid a smile as Rodney's humor dried up. "That's what I thought."
"I can walk just fine without it," Rodney replied with a scowl. "Carson is just over-cautious."
John stopped and stared at McKay, who had one hand surreptitiously braced against the wall, with a raised eyebrow. The slight itch at the back of his head from the mental link told him Rodney wasn't as fine as he wanted John to believe.
Rodney leant his shoulder against the wall, crossed his arms over his chest, and glared back.
John shook his head and started walking again. "It's on you when Beckett catches you."
Rodney grumbled something under his breath, and John smiled.
"Let me get cleaned up and I'll meet you in your lab after the debriefing. I want to hear all about your hot date with Katie Brown."
Rodney ducked his head as he followed John into the transporter.
"You didn't cancel on her again, did you?" John asked with a frown. "That's the third time."
"I was in the middle of a project," Rodney replied defensively.
"What? I was!"
John tapped the map on the back wall of the transporter. "What's the problem? She obviously likes you, though I'm beginning to wonder why."
The transporter opened on the corridor for their quarters, and John led the way down the hall to his room.
"She seems nice, and I don't want to screw things up," Rodney said as John opened the door to his room and glanced over at him. "I don't exactly have the best track record when it comes to women," he admitted softly.
John suspected Rodney was thinking about Allina and shook his head. "I need to get cleaned up, and you need to get off that leg before Beckett sees you. I'll find you later. We'll figure out a way for you to not screw things up with Katie. Starting with actually having a date."
Rodney gave him a weak smile and wandered back to the transporter, one hand brushing the wall to keep his balance.
Showered, and in a clean uniform, John stopped in the mess hall long enough to find something to eat, then met with Lorne's team in the conference room. They spent the next hour reviewing and dissecting everything that had happened over the last three days on Ymber.
"Major, other than two of your men spending most of a day lost in the woods, you and your team handled yourselves well," John said as the meeting wound down.
"Thank you, sir," Lorne replied.
John sat forward in his chair, his arms braced on the table. "Anything else, gentlemen?" When he received four head shakes in response, John continued, "In that case, I think we're done. I'll let Doctor Weir know you're up in the mission rotation."
Lorne nodded and quirked a quick smile. "I'll make sure Walker and Coughlin take remedial map reading before our next mission, sir," he replied with a glance at the two men in question.
As the meeting broke up, John listened to Lorne's team as they left the conference room still teasing Corporal Walker and Sergeant Coughlin for getting lost. A quick stop in Elizabeth's office to let her know how the training mission went, then he would go find Rodney in his lab.
He saw Radek and Chuck poring over something on a computer screen as he crossed from the conference room to the walkway leading to Weir's glassed-in office and paused. He didn't hear anything that sounded like an immediate threat, crossed to the open office door, and tapped the frame.
Elizabeth waved him into the office, and John sat in one of the chairs facing the desk.
"So how did the training mission go?" she asked.
"Other than the wet weather, it went okay. I think Lorne's team will be a good tactical unit. We've needed one since Markham's team …" John let the sentence trail off.
Elizabeth looked down at her desk, and John knew they were thinking the same thing. The members of the original expedition had been close-knit thanks to the fact they thought they'd never see Earth again. The losses before and during the siege still hit close to home even months later.
"Anyway," John continued, "They handled themselves well during the search for Ford and during drills."
Elizabeth nodded. "Good. Chuck and the 'gate team found a couple of new planets in the Ancient database while you were gone. We need another team for survey missions."
"Should we be doing all of this exploration?" John asked, his tone and expression serious. "You said yourself, we're trying to keep the fact Atlantis survived the Wraith attack a secret."
Elizabeth nodded. "That's true, but the reality is, we don't have much choice. The need for food and trade partners aside, there are people back on Earth expecting the exploration of the Pegasus galaxy to continue now that we have more personnel. We're just going to have to do the best we can to not tip off the Wraith."
John sat and contemplated the bowl at the end of Elizabeth's desk for a moment. "Speaking of team rotations …" He left the sentence hanging as he glanced over at her.
Elizabeth shook her head. "You need to check with Carson. I've seen Rodney hobbling around without the cane, but as far as I know Carson hasn't cleared him yet. I don't like the idea of sending your team off-world when you're still a man short, anyway. I need to know Rodney is healthy before I even consider it."
John knew she was right. He wouldn't take McKay off-world until he was ready, but he wanted to get back to the real work. Training missions weren't the same as exploring new planets.
"I hear Ronon has started instructing some of the Marines in hand-to-hand," Elizabeth said after a brief pause. "Does that mean he plans to stay in Atlantis?"
John leant back in his chair. "I don't think he's made a decision one way or the other yet," John replied. "He saw Teyla training some of the Marines in Athosian stick fighting and offered to teach anyone interested in the Satedan techniques. I didn't think it would be a problem."
Elizabeth nodded. "He does seem to be settling in more. I understand Teyla took him to the mainland when she left a few days ago."
John nodded. "I think he was getting a little stir-crazy in the city. I'm hoping the fact he's curious about the mainland means he's coming around to the idea of staying."
Elizabeth studied him for a moment. "I hope you're right," she said, and glanced up at the door.
John turned to see Chuck heading across the bridge.
"Sorry to interrupt," Chuck said as he stood in the doorway and held up two folders. "You wanted to know when we had the preliminary data on those two new planets."
Elizabeth waved him into the office. "Anything interesting?" she asked as she took the folders.
"The Ancient database didn't have much on either planet. The first one, P2R-483, appears to be grassland. No pollution or energy readings to show any sort of human presence. The MALP did pick up a lot of plant and animal life. The database didn't have much to add, just some notes on mineral resources."
"Stackhouse is set to leave for P3R-849 tonight," John said as Elizabeth passed him the folder. He gave the report a quick scan. "Looks like Lorne's team has a new mission." He looked up at Elizabeth with a smile. "At least it doesn't look like it's been raining."
"And the other planet?" Elizabeth asked.
Chuck smiled slightly. "The other one, P9X-291, could be very interesting."
"Oh?" Elizabeth looked up.
Chuck nodded. "Sensors on the MALP detected a structure not more than a few kilometers from the stargate. We managed to get a few grainy pictures," Chuck nodded at the folder in Elizabeth's hand.
Elizabeth opened the folder, looked at the images and passed them over to John.
"From what we could tell, the building appears to be in pretty good shape," Chuck continued. "The information in the database only noted basic information about the planet itself. Nothing on why the Ancients were interested in it or if they found anything when they were there. It was a little strange, actually."
"Oh?" Elizabeth looked up from the file. "How so?"
Chuck pursed his lips. "The information we could find was fragmentary at best. Like reading a redacted mission report."
"What do we know about the building itself?" Elizabeth asked as she handed the rest of the file over to John.
"The MALP couldn't get much in the way of detail due to the trees, but Doctor Zelenka thought the building might be Ancient in design."
"There's an Ancient building on this planet and no record of it in the database?" John asked.
"That's what it looks like, sir," Chuck replied. "Like I said, the information in the database was weird. We enhanced some of the better images and Doctor Zelenka took them down to Doctor McKay to see if he could confirm whether or not the building really is Ancient."
John and Elizabeth traded a look.
"I don't suppose you could talk him into sending someone else?" Elizabeth asked half-heartedly.
John shook his head. "If that building is Ancient, he's going to want to go see it for himself."
Elizabeth sighed. "You're probably right." She looked back at Chuck. "Is the planet populated?"
"We think so. There are no settlements near the 'gate or the structure. The building and the stargate are close to an ocean." He pointed to an image of waves pounding the side of a cliff. "The MALP did detect evidence of what might be a village in an open area farther inland and closer to the mountains."
"How far is the Ancient structure from the settlement?"
"About thirty kilometers."
"Not too close, but not that far away, either," Elizabeth said with a glance at John. "That could be a problem."
"The mountain range is extensive," Chuck continued. "There are some foothills only a few kilometers from the Ancient building. The trees make it difficult to get reliable data closer to the structure. The MALP detected life signs in the forest, but we can't tell if it's people or animals. We didn't find any evidence of other villages closer to the forest or the cliff …" He trailed off with a pensive glance at the folder in John's hand.
"What's wrong?" Elizabeth asked.
"The forest is pretty dense. We only got the images of the building because it was relatively close to the 'gate. There could be people living in the trees, we just can't detect them."
"I could see if Ronon wanted to come with us," John suggested. "That would give us an extra man in case we run into trouble." And I can see how well he works with Rodney and Teyla in the field, John added to himself.
He hadn't mentioned his idea of including Ronon on his team to Elizabeth yet. He wanted to make sure Dex planned to stay for one thing, and for another, he wasn't sure she would agree. Not yet, anyway.
Elizabeth shook her head. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."
John frowned as his suspicion was confirmed. "He's not going to do anything to jeopardise Atlantis."
"I know you trust him, John, but I'm not quite there yet."
John sighed as he remembered having a similar argument when Teyla's people first came to the city. While he agreed with the idea of being cautious, Ronon had already been in the city for a little over two months, how much longer would it take to convince Elizabeth he wasn't a threat?
He felt Elizabeth watching him and looked up at her. "You said yourself, he hasn't made a decision whether or not to stay yet," she told him. "I'm thinking of what's in his best interest as much as I am the safety of Atlantis."
She waited for John's reluctant nod then looked back up at Chuck. "Are Teyla and Ronon still on the mainland?"
Chuck nodded. "She should be checking in soon. It sounded like the planting was almost done when she called yesterday."
Elizabeth nodded and closed the folder. "All right, I'll send Major Lorne's team to P2R-483."
"Food sources aside, it could be a good Alpha site," John said.
"Agreed. Please let Major Lorne know to have his team in the conference room at ten tomorrow morning."
John nodded and stood. "What about the Ancient building?"
Elizabeth sighed. "We'll talk about that tomorrow as well. Hopefully, one of us can convince Rodney we don't need to go right away. The building has been there for thousands of years, another few weeks won't matter."
John didn't say anything as he left the office with Chuck on his heels. He doubted anything was going to stop Rodney from getting to that planet as soon as possible. Ancient building aside, he had the sneaking suspicion McKay was just as eager to get out of Atlantis and back to exploring the galaxy as he was.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney walked into the conference room the next morning and headed over to John and Teyla sitting on one side of the triangular table. He made a point of walking without the cane and made sure the limp was as inconspicuous as possible. If he had any chance of getting to the planet to see the building for himself, he would need to convince John and Elizabeth, not to mention Carson, that he could walk normally.
"Rodney, you are walking much better than the last time I saw you," Teyla said as he sat next to John.
"Can you tell Carson that?" Rodney asked, and glanced at the door as Major Lorne and his team entered the conference room.
"Colonel," Lorne said as he sat on the other side of the table. "Hey, Doc," he added, and smiled at Rodney then nodded a greeting to Teyla.
Rodney nodded back as Elizabeth passed out file folders to both teams.
"Major Lorne, you've had a chance to review the preliminary information on P2R-483?"
"Yes, ma'am," Lorne replied. "I'd say the planet looks like it could be a potential backup for the Alpha site."
"Colonel Sheppard and I agree," she replied. "You and your team will need to bring back as much information on the planet as you can."
"The area around the 'gate looks wide open," Lorne said as he looked at the images in his folder. "We could cover more ground in a jumper than on foot."
"Colonel?" Elizabeth said with a look over at John.
"Lorne could use the stick time," John agreed and turned to Lorne. "It's out of warranty, Major," he added with a smile. "No joy riding, and don't get any dents in the bodywork."
"Copy that, sir," Lorne replied. "We'll bring it back with a full tank of gas."
"Which leaves P9X-291," Elizabeth said as she opened the other folder.
"I've been studying the images the MALP sent back," Rodney said before anyone else could jump in. "And I've translated some of the symbols over the door. If I'm right," he looked from John to Elizabeth, "this is some sort of Ancient archive."
"You're sure?" Elizabeth asked as she looked at one of the images. "The pictures aren't very clear."
"Reasonably sure," Rodney replied, then paused. "At least fairly sure," he admitted, then glowered across the table as one of Lorne's team members snorted.
John frowned. "If this is an Ancient archive, why was all of the data removed from the database."
Rodney shrugged. "No idea. Maybe they were afraid the Wraith would find out about it? Look, the point is, the symbols are definitely Ancient. And from what we can see of the building, it looks surprisingly intact. We need to go see what's inside."
"I agree. However, are you going to be able to walk that far?" Elizabeth asked. "According to the MALP data, the building is several miles from the 'gate."
"I'll be fine," Rodney said shortly, ignoring the dull ache in his leg.
"There's no hurry, you know," John said, and Rodney could see the concern in his expression. "It's not going anywhere in the next few weeks."
Rodney frowned. "You can't know that. It's on a cliff, one good storm could send it over the edge and into the ocean."
"I don't think --" Elizabeth started to say.
"Ever hear of Ernest Littlefield?" Rodney interrupted with a glare at Elizabeth.
Elizabeth pursed her lips and looked down at the table. Rodney took that as a 'yes'.
"Well, I haven't," John said into the silence.
Rodney looked over at John. "Who he is doesn't matter. The point is when SG-1 found him, they also found this device. Doctor Jackson described it as a sort of three-dimensional book."
"Okay," John drawled.
"He never got the chance to really examine it or learn what it contained because the building it was in fell into the ocean during a storm. The knowledge of four alien races lost forever." Rodney looked from John to Elizabeth. "We need to find out what's in this archive. Before it's gone for good."
"We could send another team," Elizabeth said.
Rodney scoffed. "Who else knows Ancient technology as well as I do?"
"Doctor Zelen--" Elizabeth started to say, but Rodney interrupted.
"Radek hates going off-world," Rodney said shortly. "Besides he'll likely miss something, and then I'll have to go anyway."
Elizabeth studied his face for several seconds. "You need to be cleared by Doctor Beckett first," she said. When Rodney started to protest, she added, "I've already discussed this with Colonel Sheppard. Your team is short a fourth member as it is. Technically, I shouldn't send any of you off-world until a replacement is assigned."
"You have to be kidding! We're not going to go because of a head count?" Rodney fumed.
Elizabeth frowned and Rodney felt John kick him under the table.
"McKay," John hissed.
"That's not the only reason I'm concerned," Elizabeth told him with a pointed look and held up a hand when Rodney opened his mouth. "However," she added, "while it goes against my better judgment, the planet does seem safe. And this could be a treasure trove of Ancient information that we need to investigate before it's too late."
Elizabeth looked at John, who gave Rodney a sideways glance, then nodded.
"If Doctor Beckett agrees that you're ready, your team can leave this afternoon," she finished. "For a preliminary survey only," she added as Rodney started to stand. "Let's find out what we're dealing with and go from there."
"Fine," Rodney replied and made sure he didn't use the table to help him balance as he straightened.
Elizabeth turned to Lorne, "The side of P2R-483 with the 'gate is dark at the moment, Major. Your team has a go in twelve hours once the sun is up again."
"Yes, ma'am, we'll be ready," Lorne replied and stood. His team followed his lead as the meeting broke up.
"Rodney, Carson is expecting you in the infirmary," Elizabeth said.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney sat on the edge of the infirmary bed, his arms crossed over his chest, and his face set in a frown. Beckett sat on a stool in front of him, holding his left foot in one hand.
"Have you been doing the exercises I gave you?" Carson asked as he probed Rodney's lower leg and carefully bent his ankle.
"Yes," Rodney answered. He hissed and flinched when Beckett found a tender spot along the scar on the inside of his leg.
Carson looked up at him. "This can't be rushed, Rodney. If you want that leg to heal, you have to give it time."
Rodney threw his hands in the air. "I've given it two months! I need to get back to work."
"Are you using the cane?" Carson gave him a hard look, and Rodney knew they both knew the answer to that.
"Sometimes," he hedged.
Carson shook his head and sighed. "That leg is still weak. You need to be careful and not overdo things. You try to do too much, too soon and you will set your recovery back weeks."
Rodney glared at the wall behind Carson's head. A part of him knew Beckett was right. His leg did still ache at the end of the day if he'd been walking around more than usual.
On the other hand, he also knew the Wraith were still out there. They'd been lucky the last several months, but it couldn't last forever. Sooner or later, they would find out the truth, and Atlantis would be in the cross-hairs again. He'd spent part of the last eight weeks working on a new design for the shield emitters that would allow them to use the cloaking device and the shield at the same time, but he was still a long way from having a testable prototype.
The idea of an undisturbed Ancient archive was worth some risk. Whatever was there, the Ancients thought it was important enough to hide it. He needed to see it. He knew he wouldn't be able to do everything alone, and was willing to accept that he would need help once they had an idea what was there. But for that first look, there really wasn't anyone else they could send.
"I need to do this," Rodney said. "The Wraith are going to come back, and one Zed-PM isn't going to be enough to hold them off for long. We need to see what's inside that building and there's no one else who can get the information we need."
Carson let go of Rodney's foot and leant back on the stool, his arms crossed over his chest as he studied Rodney's face. "I'll speak to Colonel Sheppard and Elizabeth," he finally said. "I don't really like this, but as long as you take some precautions, you shouldn't do too much damage to yourself."
Rodney looked at Carson, not sure he heard right. "Thank you."
"There are conditions," Carson told him, his expression serious. "You need to take regular breaks, don't overexert yourself. No carrying of anything heavier than your pack. With that much walking, your leg is going to hurt, regardless. You need to keep it elevated when you aren't moving. Take the pain medication with you and use it." He leant forward on the stool and whispered. "For John's sake as well as your own."
Rodney felt a stab of guilt at the reminder of how his plan would affect John. He'd spent most of the last eight weeks dealing with his own aches and pains, he hadn't thought much about how his broken leg would impact Sheppard. He suddenly wondered if part of the reason John kept taking the new Marines on training missions was so he could get a little relief from the headache and the itch caused by their mental link.
Carson tapped his knee. "I've had a few talks with John over the past weeks," he said as if reading Rodney's mind. "He's dealing with the effects of the link, but let's not make things worse for him if we can help it."
"Carson --" Rodney started to say.
Beckett held up a hand. "John is fine. Just take care of yourself. For both of your sakes."
Rodney put his sock and boot back on, nodded, and carefully stood.
"All right, then," Carson told him, "off with you. Before I change my mind."