Eat Your Heart Out, Peggy Fleming

by Domenika Marzione

There were many and myriad advantages to having trade relations with Warrat. The Warrati were prosperous, always happy to see them, and generally couldn't care less about the Ancients. They had natural resources in abundance, including some mineral that wasn't naquadah but could fake it if you hummed a few bars, and they were one of the few planets without near-deer. Which meant that Atlantis could trade Pegasus's most common meat source for a rare mineral. Which in turn made them look like geniuses back on Earth.

While not normally prone to being (at all) concerned with what higher thought of him, John was a few weeks out from getting captured and held prisoner by his AWOL lieutenant, the one he'd earlier failed to either apprehend or kill, and it was maybe time for a few genius moves. Especially with the Daedalus on its way back to Atlantis soon.

Unfortunately, being Warrat's most favorite trading buddy was not all skittles and beer.

"We're going where?!?!" Rodney did that thing where he flung out his arms (without spilling a drop of coffee) and the distance between his eyebrows and his chin increased by several inches. "Why us?"

Next to him, on the far side of the still-waving coffee mug, Teyla sighed. John wished he could imagine that she was sighing at Rodney.

"Why can't Lorne's team go?" Rodney went on. "Or some of the marines?"

"I can't give all of the shitty missions to Lorne," John said. Lorne had spent the last few months defending John's empty chair and keeping Atlantis safe; he deserved at least this. "And we're taking marines anyway."

"What's wrong with Warrat?" Ronon asked, not looking up from where he was demolishing a piece of lasagna roughly the size of Switzerland.

"It makes Antarctica look like Barbados," Rodney replied, which got him a raised eyebrow from Ronon. "It's solid ice. They live in igloos."

"It is unpleasantly cold," Teyla admitted, which was a nice bit of understatement. John had been looking for Tauntauns the first time they were there.

"Why do they live there?" Ronon asked between bites.

"It's too cold for the Wraith," John answered with a shrug. He poked at what was left of his own lasagna, digging out the bits of sausage to eat. It was actually made in Atlantis -- a group of Eastern European scientists, dismayed at the quality of sausage sent from Earth, had petitioned Elizabeth to let them make their own -- and arguably the most successful joint military-civilian operation in the city.

"The Warrati have not been plagued by the Wraith for many generations," Teyla said. "They live without fear of attack."

Ronon grunted approval; no Wraith was a good enough reason for him.

"They live without being able to feel their feet," Rodney groused.

"It'll be fine, McKay," John assured. "Just remember to bring toe-warmers this time."


Unlike Teyla, Ronon had steadfastly refused to draw uniform parts from the storemasters. It wasn't as if the marines couldn't find items his size; after keeping guys like Maguire and Ortilla and Toussaint and Booger dressed, the supply sergeants were masters of every gradation of 'jumbo.' It wasn't because nobody had offered, either, although the marines were pretty impressed with Ronon's leather outfits and took his refusals as reasonable.

That was all before Warrat, though.

"Are you sure you don't want to pick up a parka?" John asked as they congregated by the foot of the stairs in the gate room. They had to wait for the marines, who were presumably en route from the meat lockers by the commissary kitchens. "I really don't think that what you've got is going to be enough."

Ronon, wearing a Pegasus-woven knit shirt under his vest and duster, held up USMC-issue gloves. "Got these," he said, tone clearly indicating that he thought that this was enough of a compromise.

Next to John, Rodney snorted disparagingly. Rodney, of course, was dressed in a dozen layers of fleece, thinsulate, down, and whatever else he'd had since Antarctica. He already had his knit cap on and fur-lined hood up and he looked like a grown-up version of Randy Parker in A Christmas Story. Or a bowling ball.

Ronon obviously did not lack survival instincts, but he might have perhaps fine-tuned them a little too much during his time as a Runner -- when there were no Wraith involved, he was sometimes a little too cavalier for John's tastes. So John combated that as best he could -- appealing to Ronon's pride.

"If you get hypothermia," he warned, "I'm going to send you home on a stretcher. Carried by marines."

Ronon looked at him like he wasn't sure John really meant the threat. John did and, more importantly, he was able to look like he did. Ronon, in turn, looked like he was about to back down and go off to maybe get a hat when the door to the gate room opened up and Teyla, wearing an unzipped parka over warm clothes, entered leading a parade of  deer-carrying marines.

"Are we ready to depart?" Teyla asked and Ronon's posture changed. John figured the Warrati had extra sweaters and they'd pick something up there.

"Let's get out of here," he said, then looked up to where Salker was standing on the balcony. "Let 'er rip, Lieutenant."

Salker passed on the order to the sergeant at the DHD and John pulled his knit cap out of his jacket pocket and put it on. He zippered up his parka and put on his gloves as well, but held off pulling up the hood until they were through the wormhole and the loss of peripheral vision became the better choice over losing the tips of his ears.

"God, I hate this view," Rodney muttered as they stood on the bluff where the stargate was located and waited for the marines to finish coming through. "Why is there never anything useful in temperate climates?"

John refrained from pointing out that the Wraith had pretty much laid claim to almost all of the temperate parts of Pegasus. Instead, he just put on his sunglasses; it was a cloudy day, but the overcast was still bright enough to reflect painfully off of the snow and ice.

"I like the view," he said instead, mostly to be contrary but also because he did. It reminded him of Antarctica the same way it reminded Rodney, but from the air and away from McMurdo and there was a certain kind of peace he associated with that solitude, one that had been essentially missing from his life since then.

"Where's the village?" Ronon asked from behind them. He'd put on his gloves and had buttoned up his coat and John considered himself magnanimous for not giving him an "I told you so" smirk.

"It is down below, slightly to the left," Teyla answered, voice a little muffled by the Athosian scarf covering her face like a niqab. "The snow and ice effectively hide it from view."

Warrat was almost entirely comprised of igloos and above-ground tunnels and wind-breaks; on a map it would look a lot like a maze, but it really was pretty hard to see if you didn't know what you were looking for.

"Ready to go, sir," Lieutenant Murray called over as the wormhole closed.

The marines were closer to the path that led down to the village, so they took the lead and John and his team fell in toward the middle. The march down to Warrat was fairly reasonable as far as average distances from stargates to villages went -- although with the wind and cold it certainly felt longer -- but John still wished that they could have taken a jumper. It was how they'd initially found the place -- life signs readings coming up on the display during a training flight with Markham -- but it wasn't how they'd arrived after that first time. The jumper was heavy and the ice, while thick, was of unknown depth and strength and the Warrati were petrified that the jumper would crack the surface and disappear beneath. John was fairly sure it wouldn't, but there was no point in either taking the chance or making their hosts fret, so Warrat was a foot-travel-only planet.

Alvo and Sina, the leaders of the Warrati, were waiting for them by the time they arrived at what passed for the front gate. Warrat looked like a maze from above, but more like a garrison from ground level with the high, thick walls of snow-packed ice. John had made his way toward the front of the group as they'd drawn closer and got through the (mercifully brief) greetings without Teyla needing to rush to his aid. The Warrati were enthusiastic and friendly, but ultimately practical -- standing around outside for lengthy ceremonies was not encouraged in a place where the summer highs were still well below freezing.

Warrati hospitality instead focused on getting you out of the wind and into possession of a cup of hot liquid; John made sure the marines -- who'd been quickly relieved of their near-deer burdens -- were provided for before accepting his own large wooden mug of broth. Unsurprisingly, the non-deer portion of Atlantis's exports to Warrat involved powdered drinks and soup mixes; the SGC was happy to ship ramen and Swiss Miss to Pegasus for rare minerals.

"Are you not chilled?" Sina asked Ronon, neck craning to see up. The average Warrati was pretty short -- even the tallest guy in town came up to John's armpit -- and Sina was not a giant among her people. She was like Teyla, though, in that her physical height had nothing to do with her stature and Alvo frequently deferred to her with a twinkle in his eye. They had been together for forty-two years, Alvo had told John when they'd first met, and he'd never have thought he'd be so happy as to win one argument a decade. "Were you not told that our hearts and hearths are the only warmth on this world?"

Ronon had been jogging back and forth between the front and the rear of their procession in order to work up some body heat, but the flush in his cheeks wasn't from activity anymore now that they were seated. They were inside one of the giant igloos and it was 'warm' enough for John to drop his hood if not take off his hat, but Ronon had no head protection whatsoever and was the only one not removing at least one layer of protection.

"Of course we told him," Rodney answered before Ronon could reply. "He just didn't believe us."

Sina called to someone in their own language and a boy who probably only came up to Teyla's waist came running over with a mass of rough-spun cloth that looked bigger than he was.

"We have very little that would fit you," Sina apologized with an amused grin as Ronon accepted the bundle awkwardly, holding it up to figure out how to make use of it. "It was not designed to be worn, but I think you'll be able to make do."

There was a hole in the middle of the cloth and Ronon was encouraged to stick his head through like a poncho. John suspected that he was wearing the equivalent of a pup tent -- the Warrati sometimes draped fabrics over the roofs of their igloos -- but chose not to seek confirmation beyond the giggles of the boy who'd brought it over.

Once they got settled on the fur-covered benches that made up the Warrati furniture, they got down to the less formal conversation, which was really galactic gossip. The Warrati didn't get any visitors, but they did travel off-world; nonetheless, they didn't have nearly the social network Atlantis did and were voracious consumers of information. Early on in the relationship, Elizabeth had encouraged John to talk up the possibility of trading ice to other worlds -- refrigeration essentially not existing in Pegasus beyond the odd 'cold room' or cellar in the more urban places -- but it had thus far been a hard sell. The Warrati weren't sure anyone would actually trade for ice -- John kind of got their point; to them it was like selling dirt plus Atlantis refused to buy any -- and most of their trade was with places that had developed their habits and cultures around not having extended storage capabilities. (The Athosians' wondrous reactions to the portable fridges they'd brought from Earth came to mind.) The Warrati also weren't too interested in extending their commercial footprint -- the more places they went, the more likelihood that the Wraith would find them there -- and so marketing to places that could make use of iceboxes wasn't something they were eager to do. And so John went through the usual exhortations to try something different and then let Sina guide the conversation back to which worlds had prospered, allied, or fallen prey to the Wraith.

"We have found much of your prized metal," Alvo said once the catching-up part of the program was concluded and everyone had finished their welcoming mug. There'd be a proper meal later, but it was business first, especially because the Lanteans had shown up with a surfeit of goods.

"Yeah?" John asked, a little relieved. The not-quite-naquadah (shortened to NQN at some point because the military had never met an acronym it didn't like) was hard to find and hard to mine when it was found; there had been times when Atlantis had had to accept other minerals (which they really didn't need in large quantities) or, worse, extra fish in exchange. The ramen-to-fish exchange rate was very high and the marines were very limited in their seafood repertoires. John liked salmon steaks as much as the next guy raised in a sequence of land-locked states, but even he'd gone strictly carnivore for a month after the Great Salmon Run of '06 had ended. "I'm glad."

Across the large, low-ceilinged room, Murray and his marines were under siege by the Warrati children, who were shrieking with laughter and holding up prizes they'd collected -- candy, mostly, and the odd ball-point pen. Not that they had anything to write on besides their own skin, but they loved the click-click of the pen tips and were transfixed by how the stylus appeared and disappeared.

"One day I hope we may see what you use it for," Alvo went on, shaking his head in bemusement. NQN was far more stable than the real thing and the Warrati had never accidentally discovered its explosive properties. It was also a muddy, dull gray and completely unsuitable for either jewelry or tools. The Warrati priced the stuff so low because they had no idea what to do with it besides use it in alloys with more valuable metals; they thought the Lanteans were a little crazy for trading for it at all, let alone happily trading such rare and unique items as they did.

Rather than try to explain that they used it for warhead tips, back-up generators, and pleasing disapproving bureaucrats, John simply shrugged and gave Alvo a 'what can I say?' kind of dopey grin as if he wasn't sure why it was so important, either.

Rodney, who was constantly experimenting on the stuff, might have had a more informative answer, but he was sitting about as close as you could get to the fire without being either a heat-hog or potential kindling, having an animated discussion with a guy John recognized as the Warrati's chief mining engineer. Warrati technology was pretty much still at levers and pulleys, but Rodney seemed to respect their willingness to learn and, once you actually got him to Warrat, he was usually kept busy and entertained. Which in turn was why, despite looking like an aggrieved marshmallow with the emphatic-but-limited-range-of-motion gesturing, Rodney wouldn't be pressing to go home before it was actually time to leave. And why they'd chosen to bring one of Weapons Company's platoons -- the closest thing Atlantis came to combat engineers, they had the strength and knowledge to help make Rodney look like an aggrieved marshmallow who could perform miracles.

Teyla, on the other hand, was in for a much tougher task as she was introducing a somewhat-thawed Ronon around to the various Warrati families. John wasn't sure what was up with that -- ever since around the time Rodney had been blowing up solar systems, Teyla had decided that Ronon needed to start making friends beyond his team. Not that John didn't think Ronon needed friends (or that hanging out with people who blew up solar systems was necessarily a good thing), but Teyla usually wasn't so... aggressive in that department. Or maybe it was just that John's own sense of not-quite-desperation hadn't let him notice it as much when it had been him being dragged around on Atlantis's behalf.

Either way, he was distracted from Teyla's attempts at social networking by Alvo, who wanted to get down to the nitty-gritty of trade and exchange details before the big meal was served. This sort of basic negotiation was something John had gotten fairly good at over the years, entirely by trial and error and not wanting to make the same mistake twice after fucking things up with the Genii. (The lesson that kept on teaching him.) He'd trade for as much NQN as the Warrati had, accept a small amount of either ore or fish because the Warrati felt better when Atlantis traded for something they deemed useful, and they'd see what was left over after that. It was better for Atlantis if he brought home untraded ramen or neoprene work gloves rather than an extra dozen sacks of fish. Nobody wanted to see that much salmon ever again and, as Elizabeth had explained to him during a crash course in economics, it was better for Atlantis to treat their tradable goods as a limited resource and not something they just needed to unload for whatever they could get for it.

By the time they were all summoned into the communal dining igloo, John and Alvo had come to an agreement pending inspection of the goods to be exchanged. It sounded like they wouldn't be taking too much of their own stuff back to Atlantis with them, which was fine by John.

Lunch was, unsurprisingly, mostly fish-based. The Warrati did have some vegetation -- in the summer, when it was safe to move around for more than a few hours without fear of death by exposure, they harvested some grasses and herbs that managed to grow here and hunted something that was probably related to a boar if the meat it produced was any indication. There were also bears, which was where they got their furs from, but John didn't know too much about that resource stream; he'd let Teyla take care of the hunting talk since that was her thing.

After the meal was over and everyone had relaxed a little, the commerce began anew. John followed Alvo -- and in turn was followed by a parade of his own people and Warrati miners -- through the tunnels that led toward the mines. He wasn't really at risk of hitting his head on the ceiling, not the way Ronon and some of the marines were, but John still walked a little stooped because there wasn't that much clearance. The Warrati carried small oil lamps and the Lanteans used their flashlights, although there was some help from without the translucent ice-and-snow covering.

"It has gotten dark out," Sina said to Teyla, who was walking behind John. "It should be brighter even here; I fear a storm."

John didn't turn around, but he kept his ears perked; getting snowbound here would not be any kind of fun.

Sina's bad feeling was confirmed when they did emerge out of the tunnels; near the horizon, the overcast had gone from bright to almost purple.

"How much time before that rolls in?" John asked Sina.

"You will not be able to return to the Ring before it begins," Alvo answered and John turned to look at him. Alvo was pointing to the edge of the front. "See the blue border? The hail will be the size of fists."

John's hand was much larger than Alvo's, but the latter's fist still promised a world of hurt if made of ice.

"Great," he sighed. "Any idea how long it will last?"

Their mission had been scheduled for seven hours and they'd expected it to take about five or six. It was now almost hour four, which meant that a storm of any duration would have them missing their return time.

"You will need to overnight here," Sina said. "It will not pass before dark and it will be too cold to travel before dawn."

Around them, some of the Warrati were scurrying around and returning to the tunnels. Warrat could withstand a storm, but preparations presumably still had to be made. Rodney, who had been giving a lecture of some sort to some of the miners, hurried over after his audience disappeared.

"What's going on?" he asked, concerned. "Are we going to--"

"We will be fine," Teyla cut him off. "We will just be delayed in our return home."

Rodney didn't look mollified in the slightest, but he didn't say anything else.

"Sir?" Murray began as he walked toward John. "Should I send a few men back to warn Home Base that we'll be late?"

John shook his head no. "I don't want to have your marines racing against time," he said. The stargate was in the same direction as the oncoming storm, so they'd be running toward trouble. "We'll get a radio check once we miss our call-in time and we'll explain then."

Elizabeth hadn't said anything, but John knew that his team was still very much on a short leash when it came to showing up late. Forget the three-hour grace period; there'd be a transmission from Atlantis within a half-hour of their scheduled return time.

"If our radios work in a storm," Rodney muttered.

"They'll work," John assured, even if he knew no such thing. But the alternative wasn't really one he wanted to explore. If Atlantis called and nobody answered, Elizabeth would have a company-sized SAR team (she'd demand two; Lorne would talk her down to one) out looking for them and John did not want his marines trying to forge their way through an arctic blizzard while their quarry was perfectly safe in the Warrati village.

Near where the marines were idling, Ronon was pacing back and forth. This time, John didn't think it had anything to do with being cold. Being trapped on a planet, even one that was untroubled by the Wraith, was probably pretty high on Ronon's list of nightmares.

"Is there anything we can do to help you prepare?" John asked Sina and Alvo. "We've certainly brought enough strength with us."

The marines would be happy for something to do, but Ronon maybe needed to be kept busy. He'd be high-strung enough once they were stuck inside waiting out the storm.

"Of course," Sina said with a smile; John wondered if she understood what he was really asking for. "We appreciate the offer."

Sina had not been the first or the only to notice the harbinger of bad weather and Warrat was already a hive of activity before they began. Most of the preparations turned out to be the snow equivalent of sandbagging; they built extra wind-breaks and packed snow around the igloos. Generations of waiting out storms had taught the Warrati where the weak parts of their architecture were and where the snow drifts were likely to accumulate; John and Rodney helped fortify shields against the tunnel exits being blocked while Ronon and the marines were doing heavy lifting on the other side of the village and Teyla was inside doing something John didn't know.

"If the hail is heavy and sustained, there will be damage no matter how well we prepare," Alvo explained as they walked in the tunnels, passing miners carving out ice blocks of various sizes and strengths. "We will patch as best we're able and do a more thorough job tomorrow."

John's watch beeped five minutes before their scheduled return time. He'd intended to go look for open ground -- the village was not in a direct line of sight from the stargate, but he'd figured he'd have a better chance in one of the courtyards -- but the wind had picked up and ice was starting to fall at such a rate that he had to stay shielded on the lee side of an igloo wall. The sky above was now dark and his protection wasn't that good, and so while he didn't want to risk missing anything by being indoors, he couldn't risk standing outside for half an hour.

Twenty minutes after their missed check-in, he heard his radio crackle.

"--el Shep-- --rea--?"

John ran outside into the ice storm, shouting back into his radio. "This is Sheppard! Do you copy?"

He was getting pelted by ice cubes the size of marbles, the sound of them impacting on the igloos and ground and his hood making such a racket that it was hard to hear the weak transmission. He held his gloved hands over his hooded ears and closed his eyes to try and focus.

"We --py --due --qui-- --tance?"

"We're fine!" he screamed. "Local blizzard! Do not send rescue. Repeat: do not send rescue! ETA 1100 AST tomorrow!"

Another garbled radio transmission and John hoped it sounded like they understood. If this was just the opening front, this storm was going to be a bitch. He repeated his previous transmission and then heard something indecipherable except for the fact that it was Elizabeth's voice.

"Tomorrow!" he shouted again. "Everyone stay home! Sheppard out!"

With that, he ran back toward the tunnel entrance he'd left from, dodging around the protective barrier and then the more usual set of barriers used to keep the tunnels from the wind. Rodney and Ronon were both waiting for him.

"Do you think it worked?" Rodney asked, sounding less worried than Ronon looked.

"We'll find out," he said with a shrug. "At least we know they heard us."

"Which is different from understanding us," Rodney pointed out, but turned and gestured back down the tunnel. "You should get back inside and get changed. Did you bring a dry shirt to change into? Are you overheated? That could be worse than freezing."

"I went to Arctic Survival School, Rodney," John replied, amused at the fussing. "And I even passed."

Rodney's snort was all he had to say about what that meant as far as anything important. Ronon watched the two of them with the same "I'm with stupid" expression that Teyla sometimes wore; he'd probably picked up from her. Which wasn't flattering, from either of them, but under the circumstances was better than the thinly-disguised panic from before.

Teyla was with the marines and Sina in the communal dining igloo; they all looked dry and settled and were sitting on the fur-covered benches with mugs of tea. An impromptu clothesline of damp brown t-shirts rimmed the room; during the mission briefing, John had put his foot down when it came to the marines and their machismo -- everyone brought snivel gear to change into and out of.

"I'm glad everyone's cozy," John drawled as he accepted a mug from Sina. The marines grinned at him.

He downed the tea as quickly as possible, then stripped down to remove his own sweat-dampened t-shirt and replace it with a dry long-sleeve one under his various layers. He missed the fantastically warm fleece he'd worn at McMurdo, but the SGC was getting serious about military personnel adopting and enforcing the Pentagon's ban on wearing synthetic fibers missions and so it was now relegated to leisurewear inside Atlantis. On the other hand, the marines had been issued flame retardant long underwear to don under their regular togs in cold weather, which John (and Lorne) thought gave the Air Force a too-rare victory in the inter-service fashion wars.

Waiting out the storm was going to be boring and everyone was going to get restless; the Warrati checked in with them regularly but were spending the time with their families and checking for storm damage and so the Atlantis contingent was essentially left to their own devices. Under different circumstances John might have let the marines amuse each other by their preferred method -- attempting to beat the shit out of each other -- but instead he told them to stick to cards and keep the impromptu workout sessions to a minimum.

While the mission had been scheduled to be over in time for everyone to be home for afternoon tea and cookies, this wasn't the first time a short trip had gone haywire and the marines were remarkably well-prepared for that eventuality. Most of them had brought their toys -- iPods, video games -- and several had brought reading material. Murray was plugged into his iPod while reading a Neal Stephenson novel and there were at least two copies of various Dan Brown novels floating around along with some comic books, magazines, and the inevitable dog-eared copy of Gates of Fire. Horton was reading a textbook, which John found both amusing and unsurprising and figured would attract Rodney's attention before too long; Rodney had what he thought were subtle plans to convince Horton to give up the marines, get his graduate degrees, and come back to Atlantis and work for him as an engineer. Rodney being about as subtle as a foghorn, however, Horton had picked up on the ploy and amused himself (and pretty much everyone else) by playing hard-to-get. Presently, however, he could study uninterrupted; Rodney was working on his laptop and had his headphones in.

The storm's rage was evident from inside their igloo. The hail pounded against the ice blocks with a ferocity that made everyone think of gunfire and the occasional chunk of ice came through the sheltered smoke-hole, splashing in to the bubbling kettles of soup or clanking off the sides. Everyone turned with each one, looked at the roof again, and hoped for the best.

Teyla spent a lot of time meditating -- being trapped in an ice cube with this crew probably required being in touch with your center -- and then working on something that might have been crocheting or lacework and that nobody made any sort of comment about because, lacework or not, Teyla could hurt them all. Ronon was with a few marines holding cards and presumably being taught poker; John figured Gunny VanLeffern would make sure there was no actual money being wagered. He didn't care about the porn or the illicit booze, but he did take the city-wide prohibition on gambling for cash seriously, especially concerning marines -- very few things could fuck up a unit worse than money and nobody's wives were around for that more damaging option.

For himself, he had a book and his iPod, but only made a cursory effort to pay attention to the former and didn't even dig the latter out of his pack. He dozed for a while, circled the room to make sure the marines knew he was still paying attention, and let Murray try to explain the plot of the Stephenson novel, which turned out to be far less ironic considering it had the word "snow" in the title. Rodney bothered Horton for a little bit, which became the group's entertainment, and then settled down to give a mini-lesson on whatever Horton was reading about. John understood it only so far as that everything sounded familiar and yet he didn't remember how to do any of it himself. Nobody else paid them any mind except Ronon and John, not for the first or fifth time, wondered what Ronon's plans had been on Sateda before the Wraith had come.

"How're we doing?" John asked Teyla, who was taking a break from her craftwork to people-watch, as he dropped down next to her. "Nobody's broken anything, the marines haven't seduced anyone's daughter -- that we know about -- and Rodney's more disappointed than relieved that the locals have left him alone. I think we're doing okay all considering."

Teyla smiled, as much for his attempt at levity as for the fact that she knew all too well what their track record was when it came to why and how they'd missed check-in times. "We are doing well," she said, but then her smile faded. "I hope that the lack of further radio contact means that your message was understood."

She'd heard a fragment of what had gone back and forth between John and Atlantis and been filled on for the rest by Rodney.

John grimaced. "I hope so, too," he said. "Even if they sent someone out here, I think they would've taken one step through the gate, realized we were just snowbound, and turned around and gone home."

He wasn't all that sure that there would have been an immediate about-face, though, which was why he hadn't turned his radio off and tried not to venture anywhere that didn't have a direct line of sight to open sky. A few months ago, sure, but maybe not since he'd turned getting ambushed on 'friendly' planets into a hobby.

"Everyone will be safe," Teyla said. He looked over at her and she raised her eyebrows as if daring him to challenge her.

"Yes, ma'am," he said instead, since lacework or not, Teyla could hurt them all.

Alvo returned well into Warrat's evening to say that the storm had passed. It was an unnecessary announcement in so far as they had all noticed that the percussion against the roof had slackened off and the amount of snow that fell through the ersatz chimney had steadily diminished, but it was still welcome news. Even better news was that, after the first cursory look, there seemed to be no serious damage.

"Your presence has proven a boon, Colonel," an upbeat Alvo said as he drew from one of the broth kettles. "The work of you and your men has saved us much toil. We will do a more thorough survey come sunlight, but even our oldest buildings seem to have come through without needing emergency repairs."

"I'm glad we turned out to be more of a help than an inconvenience," John replied, shaking his head when Alvo offered him the ladle. Like everyone else, he'd brought an MRE. The broth, which was eerily like miso right down to the seaweed-like grass bits floating in it, wasn't bad, but he'd been drinking it all day. And, besides, the Warrati didn't so much have indoor plumbing as they had not-completely-outdoor plumbing. "We'll try to be out of your hair early tomorrow nonetheless."

After making sure that they were comfortable, Alvo wished them all goodnight and promised that the rest of the evening would undisturbed. "Everyone tends to prefer their own hearth after a storm like this," he explained.

Due to the harsh conditions of their planet, the Warrati tended to spend a lot of time cooped up with each other; John would have figured that the passing of a storm would have sent everyone scattering for some chance at creating greater personal space, but he realized he wasn't the best judge there.

They all went to sleep fairly early -- before midnight AST -- mostly out of boredom. Everyone brought their sleeping bags, which had come out earlier so that they weren't all restricted to sitting on the benches. There were rushes underneath the rugs on the floor, but it was still covered ice. Since the benches were wide enough to sleep on, once bedtime preparations had begun they drew lots after John announced that Doctor McKay got one of the benches as did Teyla. He knew that Teyla would be annoyed by the special treatment, but he also knew that she slept poorly in very cold conditions and that the marines would get all fussy if Teyla was stuck on the floor while some of them weren't. John ended up on the floor, which he would have chosen anyway, and the marines thought better of him for it.

Come the morning, he was woken up by Rodney nearly tripping over him. "Watch it, McKay," he muttered, rubbing at his eyes. He'd slept fitfully, waking several times before dropping off for good.

"Who told you to park so close?" Rodney groused back. Coming first thing in the morning from an uncaffeinated McKay, that was practically an apology and John took it as such.

The light coming through the smoke-hole was definitely post-dawn, so he sat up. The marines were still mostly out, although the ones that were up were starting to poke their brethren now that John was moving around. Someone must have tried to wake Murray, since John could hear VanLeffern growl to leave the lieutenant alone followed by Murray muttering that the lieutenant was up.

Marines were marines no matter where they were, so there was a certain orderliness to the process of getting ready for the day. One of the Warrati brought them a large kettle full of ice to melt and they all drew warm water for shaving and then hot water for instant coffee. (The similarity between Rodney and the marines first thing in the morning -- especially the ones who didn't want to wait for the water to heat up and poured the instant coffee packets directly into their mouths -- was something John enjoyed as a private joke; neither side would appreciate the comparison.) By the time Sina and Alvo joined them, everyone was dressed for the march back to the stargate.

There was a small breakfast put out -- a gloopy porridge everyone but Teyla ate with enthusiasm -- and then it was back to the mines where they'd been headed yesterday when they'd first noticed the storm. The tunnels were much brighter today with the sun shining and John pondered sending a few marines back to the gate early to check in with Atlantis, but decided to wait to see how much they were going to have to carry back.

There were a dozen or so men banging away in the ice quarry near the entrance to the tunnels where they emerged, shouting to each other as they molding and measuring ice blocks of various sizes and shapes.

"The damage we've found has thus far been more in appearances than in foundation," Alvo explained as he followed John's gaze. "But eventually the ugly becomes more dangerous than unsightly, so we try to repair and replace as soon as we see the signs."

"Know the practice," John agreed. "At least you've got plenty of building materials to hand."

Would that repairs in Atlantis were so easy to make.

"Indeed," Alvo agreed with a smile. "Also, it keeps our young occupied and out of trouble. And our not-so-young as well."

John grinned and looked behind him at his own collection of trouble-prone. The marines looked deceptively innocent in their sunglasses and watch caps, amusing themselves by blowing smoke rings in the frigid air with their breath.

"Hunh."

Behind John and next to Teyla, Rodney was fiddling with his PDA. Or, really, just staring at it as he wasn't taking his gloves off.

"Have you found something, Doctor McKay?" Teyla prompted when Rodney didn't say anything else.

"The PDA must not like the cold," Rodney said after a beat. "Or else it's the proximity to so much NQN ore. It's showing nonsense."

John cocked an eyebrow at Teyla, who returned his look with a matching one of her own. "What kind of nonsense?"

Alvo stood on his tip-toes to try and see what was on the display; the Warrati knew that the Lanteans were seeking out remnants of the Ancestors' culture, but were ignorant of how much they'd found or how close a connection there already was. The PDAs, therefore, were no more or less bizarre than the radios or video games.

"It's superimposing a map over the current one," Rodney said, pointing at the screen with a gloved finger. "As if we were standing on top of another city."

Ronon appeared at John's side. "Like when you fell into the hole?"

"I didn't fall into a hole," John replied a little indignantly. "I triggered a secret entrance."

"You fell into a hole," Rodney said. "And yes, like that. Although not like that because this is either frozen circuitry or not Wraith."

Warrat had been run through the Ancient database before they even knew the planet had a name or a population; John had been looking for an uninhabited planet for flight lessons. The database, useless as always, hadn't even recorded that Warrat was an iceball, let alone that it had people. Obviously, it wouldn't have mentioned anything about subterranean architecture.

"Is something wrong?" Alvo asked, concerned and anxious. "Are my people at risk?"

"I doubt it," John assured. "It could just be our technology misbehaving because of the weather."

That didn't seem to mollify Alvo much and John really couldn't blame him.

"Hey, McKay, you think we can get a definitive answer between 'nonsense' and 'standing on top of a city' here?"

Rodney looked up and gave him a baleful look. "Take out your PDA and look, Colonel."

John frowned and did just that. The display popped up immediately, looking jumbled and confused. The PDAs usually gave clear two-dimensional readings with no allowances for vertical space; it was one of the reasons John didn't like using it except when it had to. But this wasn't that. "Okay, so mine's going nuts, too."

He tilted his so that Alvo could get a better look, not that the man would understand any better than John did. Ronon loomed over his shoulder to get his own peek.

Rodney walked around in a large circle without looking up; it drew the attention of both the marines and some of the Warrati doing structural examinations nearby. He looked up sharply. "Do you feel anything?"

"I feel cold, Rodney," John replied exasperatedly, although he knew what was being asked. "Don't you think I would have said something if I had? There's nothing here."

"Except maybe there is," Rodney replied. "The question is what it is and why we haven't noticed it before."

John had a pretty snappy comeback to that, but never got to use it because his radio chirped.

"Colonel Sheppard? Do you copy?"

Pocketing the PDA, he turned away from the group. "This is Sheppard. What's the news, Lieutenant?"

"Just checking in, sir," a relieved voice replied. It sounded like Paik's Seoul-by-way-of-Knoxville drawl. "We tried raising you earlier and got no response."

Which meant that the SAR had already been activated and was probably standing in the gate room ready to go. "It's been crappy weather here, but it's fine now. We're all good and should be heading home shortly. No need to send in the cavalry."

"Colonel?" Elizabeth's voice now. "Are you sure that there's no problem?"

"We're fine, Doctor Weir," John assured. "Just had to wait out a blizzard."

"Elizabeth?" Rodney butted in, "Is Zelenka there?"

"I am here, Rodney."

"What were the results of the temperature tests for the PDAs?"

"What?! Do you need precise or estimate? They were fine at 100 Kelvin, but if you need--"

"No, that's fine," Rodney cut him off. "Run this place through the database again and get the least moronic person from G-2 you can find who can read the untranslated notes on mining facilities. We should have known that the Ancients would have had something next to a naquadah mine."

Around John, everyone was watching and listening with various degrees of confusion. Teyla, Ronon, and the hovering-nearby Murray were the only ones who could hear both sides of the conversation, which didn't necessarily make things any clearer. Alvo and the other Warrati were hanging on every word and expression, understanding none of it and fearing all of it.

"Doctor McKay believes that there may be some sort of outpost left behind by the Ancestors," Telya explained to Alvo as Rodney and Zelenka and Elizabeth continued their conversation over the radio. John half-listened to everyone, floating on the steady stream of words. "Something abandoned long ago and buried deep under the ice."

Alvo shook his head slowly. "Underneath our village?"

"It seems so," John said.

"Not underneath," Rodney called over. Apparently he'd been half-listening, too. "I don't think we're standing on top of anything except ice."

By the time Rodney terminated the radio chat with Atlantis, the mission to Warrat had morphed from a trade exchange to a scientific exploration and a jumper was en route.

"It's not going to land," John assured Alvo and the recently-arrived Sina. "It's just going to circle overhead. Doctor McKay thinks that last night's storm might have uncovered something the Ancestors left behind."

It was an oversimplification, but John wasn't sure he himself understood what the full story was.

"And we'd like your permission to look for it," Teyla added, giving a sharp look to John that he took as a rebuke for not asking before the fact. She was right, of course, but Rodney had been a half-step ahead of him for the entire conversation and he'd barely been able to help Lorne keep Rodney from turning the already-assembled SAR team into pack mules for a massive expedition.

"Is it harmful?" Sina asked. "And of course you have permission to look."

There was a very slight emphasis on the last word and John understood that there would need to be another discussion before it was decided what would be done with what was found. Nobody seemed to doubt that something would be found, least of all Rodney.

"We do not believe it will be harmful," Teyla answered.

"And thank you," John added, then gestured over his shoulder toward Rodney's general direction. "If you'll excuse me for a moment."

He left Teyla and Ronon with Alvo and Sina and went over to Rodney, who was back to wandering around without looking up from his PDA while the marines kept close enough to make sure he didn't wander into any trouble.

"McKay!" he called out. Rodney looked up and John crooked a gloved finger. "C'mere."

Rodney trotted over.

"What's going on?" John asked. "In small words so I can explain things to Alvo and Sina without sounding like an idiot."

"There aren't words small enough for that," Rodney told him blithely.

John made a face. "What's up with that map? What's it a schematic of and where is it?"

"I don't know yet," Rodney answered with a sigh. "The superimposed image doesn't change when you move, not the way the actual map does. I think it's being broadcast from somewhere else on this planet, like a beacon."

Rodney had asked for a jumper that could circumnavigate the planet and re-do the scan that had been done last year. "Could it be another Antarctica?"

Rodney shook his head no. "If it had had any kind of weapons control capabilities, the Wraith would have destroyed this place from space. It probably looks like the Antarctic base, but my early guess is that it's either a mining outpost or maybe a research facility geared toward working with the NQN."

John nodded; it made sense. "So is this going to help us fight the Wraith or just be intellectually interesting?"

Better to ask now, before anything was found. Once Rodney got his eyes on the prize, he would be impossible to pin down for an accurate assessment.

"Those aren't mutually exclusive categories, Colonel," was the retort. "If they had a means of refining NQN down to the real stuff, then it's going to be both. We don't know where the Ancients got their naquadah to build the stargates."

"All right," John said, looking past Rodney back to where Teyla and Alvo were watching him. "Let me go make nice and finish the business we actually came here to complete. Don't wander off."

He jogged back toward Alvo and Sina.

Teyla and Ronon had been explaining what they understood, so all John had to do was confirm that he didn't think the village of Warrat would be at all disturbed by whatever was found. "It could be on the other side of the planet," John said.

"In which case it would not even disturb your most distant hunting grounds," Teyla added.

"We have no intention of making a mess of your world," John repeated, since that seemed to be the root of Alvo and Sina's concerns. "There's nothing we're going to find that would be so important as to justify doing that."

Rodney might disagree, but Elizabeth wouldn't and ultimately she would be making the call.

"You have never given us reason to doubt your word," Sina said with a nod.

A jumper appeared on the horizon about fifteen minutes later, flying straight for the village. As promised, it didn't land, but Eriksson hovered close enough to the ground so that Rodney could climb aboard the lowered ramp. The Warrati watched, transfixed, as it rose into the air again and into the bright blue sky.

Actually completing the commercial transaction they'd shown up for was totally anticlimactic. John threw in some extra pairs of neoprene gloves to thank the Warrati for their hospitality the previous night and continued forbearance with today's activities. The marines loaded up their packs with NQN, zinc, and fish and everyone prepared to march back to the stargate.

"We'll stop by as soon as we figure out what we've found and where it is," John promised. "Maybe you'll come take a look."

Alvo looked both curious and cautious. "Flying in your machine would be most wondrous, if it's safe."

"Colonel Sheppard is a most careful and competent pilot," Teyla assured. She might have been stepping on Ronon's foot when she said it because Ronon did not mention that John had gotten them shot down the other month, even though he clearly wanted to.

The hike back to the stargate itself wasn't bad. Even loaded down with heavy minerals and large frozen fish, the marines moved at a brisk pace and, with Rodney gone, there was no need to slow them down. They could see the damage the storm had wrought -- the ground was pitted and craggy where it wasn't covered in fresh snow -- but it didn't present too much of an obstacle until they had to slow down to ascend the bluff that housed the stargate itself.

Elizabeth and Lorne were waiting for them when they got back into the city.

"Welcome home," Elizabeth said, frowning wryly at the marines carrying the frozen salmon.

"Glad to be back," John replied, unzipping his parka. He left his hat in deference to his unruly hair. Teyla undid her scarf and Ronon fought himself free of his tent-turned-poncho. "I miss anything fun?"

"Just the usual, sir," Lorne said, but the expression on his face said otherwise and John wondered how much of his original radio conversation had gotten through.

"You didn't want to join Rodney on his quest?" Elizabeth prompted as Zelenka could be heard in the hallway directing mineral ore traffic.

"I spend enough time in jumpers with Rodney being a backseat driver," John retorted. Next to him, Teyla smiled knowingly. "I'm going to go clean up. If you need me, I'll be on radio."

By the time Rodney returned to Atlantis -- which Elizabeth insisted upon instead of letting him have an expedition unit plus escort as per his request -- John had showered, changed, eaten a lunch that was both fish and broth-free, and gotten the full story of the absence-related shenanigans from a deadpan Lorne who probably would have had an easier time of it if he'd been stuck on Warrat with his own team.

"It's an underground facility," Rodney began as he entered the small conference room. John had dragged both Lorne and Polito along for both moral and tactical support and Zelenka was there to back up Rodney. John didn't miss the look of shared suffering Lorne and Zelenka exchanged. "It's about three times the size of the Antarctic base and is probably at comparable depth beneath the surface. It's on top of a vein of NQN, which makes sense if it was meant for refining or experimentation. None of the nitwits from G-2 have been able to come across any reference to Warrat in the database, which I suppose isn't their fault, but the amount of data we have on mining in general and naquadah in specific is disappointing and completely out of proportion to what we have on, say, stringed instruments. Which is just unforgivable. We could--"

"How far away from the Warrati village is it?" John half-shouted after the second time Elizabeth failed to break into the running monologue.

"About three hundred kilometers," Rodney replied, sounding perplexed as to why that information was relevant to the conversation. "As the crow flies -- or the jumper, to be accurate. There are mountains in between, so it's probably not passable on foot."

"So the Warrati don't have anything to worry about," Elizabeth prompted.

"Not unless we destabilize something and blow up the planet, no," Rodney retorted, then paused as he realized what he'd said. "Which is perhaps not how I should have phrased things. So I'll just stick to 'no.'"

"I believe Alvo and Sina will be pleased to hear that," Teyla said mildly.

The rest of the meeting was mostly along the same lines as the opening salvo. Rodney had collected a pretty impressive amount of information from a couple of hours hovering over Warrat, but as usual he was prone to trying to leverage that into something bigger than he could really chew and John's job (with Lorne and Polito doing the heavy lifting) was to keep his plans based upon hard data and not speculation. Setting up an exploration and development expedition on Warrat was going to be a logistical nightmare on par with the original Antarctic base -- except that they didn't have a tenth of the resources the SGC had had when kicking that into motion. Nor any LC-130s to get all of the equipment there without three dozen round trips in a crammed jumper.

Plus, and this was always the hardest part when Rodney got excited about a new project, there had to be prioritization. Rodney would have them all drop everything to make this happen and they couldn't. Not Science -- and here even Zelenka joined in the leash-yanking -- and certainly not over in Little Tripoli. Not when they were still processing everything they'd learned both from the Wraith and about the Genii spy network from the adventures with Ford's team.

In the end, they agreed to a pair of missions to scope out what would be necessary in order to reach the underground facility (and defend it, but Rodney really wasn't paying attention to that part) in exchange for Science giving up one off-world expedition. Rodney gladly took the two-for-one exchange, but John knew that Polito and Lorne would have probably agreed to a far steeper price to be rid of having to saddle anyone with the job of escorting Doctor Williams to M5J-965.


John didn't go on the first trip back to Warrat, mostly by choice. He'd been busy, sure, but nothing that couldn't have been put off if he'd really wanted to go. But he didn't; spending the afternoon with Rodney at his most imperious, reduced to frequently-belittled cab driver with his only breaks coming by parking the jumper and wandering out into the brisk Warrati air... rank had its privileges. Or, as the official explanation went when Rodney asked, the lieutenants needed flight hours.

He missed the second one entirely by choice, but a more professional kind of choice -- two days prior, Comp Sci's Griffin had cracked the rest of Jace's codes and, through them, Ford's database of Genii hideouts and depots. There was going to be a raid and the only way it could happen was if they had two jumper pilots, which in turn meant that it couldn't run simultaneously with the Warrat mission since that also required two jumpers and they didn't have that many experienced military pilots without including both Sheppard and Lorne. Getting a better sense of how well the Genii were recovering from their last set-to and how thoroughly Atlantis was being watched was important enough that it was a no-brainer for Lorne to put himself on the flight roster for Warrat, freeing up Paik, the best pilot besides Sheppard, to run the raid with John.

All of which meant that when it came time to reconvene the ad hoc committee to decide what to do with Warrat, John was working solely from the reports and not any opinions formed first-hand. Now, granted, that was how most decisions got made, but here Rodney was inclined to view John's absences as a kind of betrayal. Especially when he'd found out who'd be leading the marines for the second phase of the excavation.

"I don't see what your problem with Lieutenant Cadman is," John said mildly as they picked up trays in the commissary. "She and her marines are the best ones for the job."

It was so perfect a match as to be serendipitous -- apart from the fact that McKay couldn't stand to be in the same room as Cadman. The excavation needed an explosives expert, which Cadman was and which she was teaching her platoon to be. It was an off-world mission and they were always trying to figure out ways to get Cadman's platoon outside the city since she couldn't be sent on combat-likely missions. And the timing couldn't have been better since Weapons Company's Second Platoon was currently Little Tripoli's least favorite after Beinhof's little accident had forced the unofficial 'understandings' between the marines and officers to be replaced by barracks checks and the temporary destruction of the marines' booze enterprises. Beinhof wouldn't be going, of course, but it would give the rest of Cadman's platoon some time and space to prove to their commanders and fellow marines that they could be trusted.

"It's..." Rodney trailed off, because hell if he was actually going to say out loud that he was embarrassed. John wondered how he socialized with Beckett; double dates had to be a bitch. "Why can't I have Horton's platoon?"

"Because they've got other things to do," John said as he eyeballed the menu whiteboard. "And it's not Horton's platoon. It's Lieutenant Murray's platoon, or Weapons Company Third Platoon if you want to be formal."

Rodney ignored the correction. "I'd feel more comfortable with Horton there. He's got a rare gift."

Horton did and John considered him a not-insignificant reason for why he'd managed in the first year of Atlantis. But that did not change the fact that Cadman's platoon was best for the job and Rodney wasn't going to start cherry-picking which marines he worked with and which he didn't.

"I'll make sure that gets put in his fitrep," John said, then turned to the marine behind the counter. "Surprise me, Sergeant. Just remember that I control your professional destiny."


"Fire in the hole!"

John covered his ears with his hands, even though he already had ear protection, and squinted against the sun shining off the ice. The explosion was impressive, sending a column of ice shards straight up into the sky like Old Faithful and a blast wave of tiny ice crystals across the tundra. John turned so that it skimmed over his back instead of over his face. He'd learned that lesson the hard way after the first one.

Once the danger of being nicked by high-velocity ice had passed, they all moved back into the blast radius to inspect the results.

"I told you, McKay," Cadman said once they were at the lip of the crater. "Less is more when you're blowing up ice."

Rodney, looking a little ridiculous with his sunglasses that looked like World War I aviator goggles and a ski mask, made a noncommittal noise.

"Bucket crew!" Gunny Wilder called from the other side of John. "And bring the extra rope!"

They were digging a hole down to the facility the old-fashioned way -- one detonated charge after another. If there'd been anything like an elevator to get down to the place, nobody'd been able to find it in the schematics. Which would have been just like Antarctica, too. They were importing one from Earth on the next Daedalus run, so this was the creation of its shaft as much as it was about making do in the interim. Once they hit bottom -- or top, depending on how you thought about it, they'd cut a hole in the roof and hope they weren't damaging anything important. Rodney was appalled at this 'caveman' approach, but he lacked a better one, especially after nobody would agree to use the Daedalus's transporters to beam directly down. (Not that Rodney wanted to wait that long anyway.)

John really didn't have a lot to do as he waited for the marines to rappel down, clean out the hole, measure the depth and the distance to where they thought the roof was, and set the next charge. He'd come out today only because Rodney was starting to get a complex as this would have been the fifth mission and John hadn't yet visited. Nevermind that there had been and would be dozens of projects Rodney ran off-world that John had never graced with his presence; that he had been there for the conception and had no interest in how it turned out deeply offended Rodney to the point that it was starting to affect their team missions.

("It's a mining facility, McKay, not a baby." "You are totally missing the point." "Apparently.")

According to Cadman, the odds of them getting into the facility today had been 25% before the first charge had gone off and were now up to about 65%. The first one had gotten them a crater ten feet deep, although they seemed to be moving in five foot increments now since Rodney hadn't been able to give a precise depth and Cadman didn't want to blow a hole in the roof. The marines were using ice picks and chisels to keep the sides clean as much for their own comfort as for the future elevator and they seemed to be enjoying the hard work. John, however, was bored off his frozen ass. There wasn't anything for him to do manual labor-wise and Rodney and his minions were disinclined to entertain him. He would be tempted to take the jumper out for a cruise around the planet except that with Eriksson only staying long enough to deliver his cargo, John's jumper was the only emergency vehicle and surest point of contact with Atlantis; the mountains between here and the stargate made their handheld radio transmissions iffy and dependent upon the time of day and weather.

He could go back to the jumper and just hang out -- eat his lunch, read, listen to some music -- until Paik showed up to relieve him, but he didn't want the marines thinking he couldn't cut it in the cold.

He did get to go back to the jumper on occasion -- Charlie Company was carrying out three more raids today and there were updates. On those occasions, the marines practically rooted for him to get inside and stay there as long as he wanted so long as he returned with news. The marines wanted to know that their brethren had 'gotten some' and the details thereof. It was partly regular marine pride, partly a desire for revenge, and partly envy; John (and Lorne and Hanzis) were well aware of the fact that while Cadman's platoon were very good combat engineers -- the best in Atlantis by a long shot -- they were also not engineers by MOS. They were infantry and while 'every marine a rifleman', the boys of Weapons Company Second Platoon were acutely aware of the fact that they were not going to be treated like regular infantry as long as they had a female platoon leader. They didn't resent Cadman per se -- not when Appleman's marines had been held back because their platoon leader was incompetent and not when they still had their own portion of exfil-under-fire moments -- but they were aware that they were different and that different wasn't better. Cadman knew it, too, and handled it with tremendous grace and ingenuity. None of which meant that she was expected to return from her TDY back on Earth or that her marines would be heartbroken at the news she was going.

Before that, though, the marines were seemingly content to be told that Charlie had recovered more explosives than they were currently using to blow holes in the ice.

John was already back in Atlantis when he found out that his day wandering aimlessly around on the ice would have to be repeated. Cadman's marines had gotten within a meter of what was presumed to be roof, but it was too late in the day for them to investigate further. Which meant that they would definitely be getting into the facility on the next trip out and Rodney had expressly and explicitly demanded that John tag along to initialize any systems and power the place up.

"What if I have stuff I need to do here?" John asked Elizabeth. "I have a battalion to run, don't I?"

Elizabeth gave him a look that clearly indicated what she thought of both that defense and who really ran Little Tripoli. John wouldn't necessarily disagree, but he did have work to do and there were other natural ATA gene carriers who could be punted out to Warrat to serve as a human light switch.

Nonetheless, come Tuesday, John found himself back on Warrat. He brought Ronon and Teyla, the former because he was getting cabin fever and the latter because she'd never seen them open up an outpost before. Teyla wasn't as outwardly reverential of the Ancients as most of her people -- even less so after a year-plus of living in their city and seeing their shoddy galaxy-building -- but she still held a bit of wonderment at their creations and John maybe wanted to borrow that a little. The Ancients had been selfish and thoughtless and had quit when the going had gotten tough... but they were also capable of some pretty amazing feats and while he couldn't see them through Teyla's eyes, he could maybe let her remind him of something besides their failures.

Also, Rodney didn't bark at Teyla when she asked what he was doing.

This time around, Ronon was dressed for the occasion. He was wearing a parka over a sweater and if he perhaps had grabbed a pair of the marines' underoos, John wasn't going to say anything. Teyla was once again looking like an especially elegant Jawa, but she was warm and there was no shame in that. The marines thought she looked cute and said so, since apparently she looked less dangerous when all you could see was her eyes.

The first few hours were a repeat of the previous excursion since the marines had to chip away at the remaining ice by hand and very small amounts of C4 and then switch over to power tools once they hit the panels that made up the roof. Rodney and Cadman both had been hoping that they'd hit a part of the roof that was just ice and not the panels -- the Antarctic post was essentially an ice cave, but it did have a network of panels that served as both insulation and protection -- but they hadn't and Rodney hadn't fought very hard to dig a new hole since there was no guarantee that the same thing wouldn't happen all over again.

"When do we go down?" Ronon asked as they watched the first marines rappel down through the newly-cut hole.

"Once they verify that there's actually space to move around down there," John answered. Parts of the Antarctic base had been blocked off, the ceilings of some of the caverns having collapsed at some point millennia past. There'd been plans to excavate them, John remembered, but they'd been back-burnered to the point of forgotten once Daniel Jackson had found them a way to get to Atlantis. He idly wondered if anyone had bothered since.

The marines hit bottom and turned on their video cameras; John and Ronon followed Teyla over to where Rodney and Cadman were watching the monitor set up for the purpose.

The leatherneck commentary was a typical mix of pragmatism and juvenilia -- Sergeant Ochoa's attempt at an Australian accent as he filmed the intact walls and powered-down consoles led to a digression on whether Crocodile Hunter had ever gone to the Arctic which in turn led to Baxter wondering if Pegasus had penguins which in turn led to Gunny Wilder barking at them all to shut the fuck up and work.

Within fifteen minutes of the comedy routine, it was obvious that they were all going down -- the place was intact, if dusty and colder than a witch's tit. It still took more than an hour after that before John was asking Staff Sergeant Carnagel not to tighten the harness any more or he'd be singing soprano once he started his decline.

There were a handful of 1970's B-movies that went through his mind as he moved himself carefully down into the now-illuminated pit, but mostly he could hear the anticipatory hum of Ancient tech. It didn't sound anxious or eager or excited, just ready. Ignoring the marines watching him with thinly veiled curiosity, he took a slow walk around. He doubted that they'd entered into a key working space or any sort of master control area, but that ultimately wouldn't make a difference in terms of getting the place powered up.

"Well?" Rodney prompted as he waited impatiently for the marine untangling him from his harness. "Get on with it."

It wasn't matter of having to actually do anything, more just stopping ignoring the gentle queries against his mind. As usual, it took a second for him to register that the hum he heard was now audible to everyone else as the first systems started powering up and a light flickered on.

"Everyone stand by the hole until we know nothing's coming down," Cadman ordered her marines. "You, too, McKay."

Rodney reluctantly pulled back, looking at John for him to exclude him from Cadman's command. But he didn't.

"Sir?" Cadman prompted.

"I know," John answered, stepping backward a couple of strides so that he wasn't too far from the group collected in the ray of sunshine from topside. He didn't think he was in any danger, but he also knew that the control mainframe could only tell him about the technology and not the ice.

The consoles flickered on first, since they were on the primary systems, and then the lights. There was a thump and a shudder and snow dust fell from the ceiling, making everyone press together tighter and urge John to withdraw to their safety, but it was only the life support systems kicking in and so he waited where he was until it was clear that the only thing coming down was snow from the vents.

As the marines started moving equipment and scientists down into the facility -- a delicate process with plenty of both and a sixty-foot drop -- John wandered carefully around, avoiding Rodney, who was scurrying around like a kid in a toy store, and Ronon, who was just kind of looming.

"What?" John finally asked him after the fourth time Ronon followed him across the room.

"Nothing," Ronon replied, looking him over as if he were checking for something. He turned away and went over to where the marines were unloading a pallet from the surface.

The room they'd entered into was large, about the size of one of the rooms in Atlantis they used for warehouses, and very high-ceilinged. It reminded John a little of the hangar at Williams, but maybe mostly because of the cold. There were a few consoles, not all of which had turned on in the initial power-up. He decided to wait until Rodney asked him to work on them rather than try on his own; Rodney would only demand that he try again, tone insinuating that he hadn't tried hard enough the first time.

"This seems such an inhospitable place to live and work," Teyla said as she joined him in one of the near alcoves. "Did the Ancestors choose it for the same reason as the Warrati?"

John shrugged, although the gesture was probably unnoticeable under all of his layers. "The only outpost we have of theirs on Earth is in a place like this," he said. "They could have chosen any climate on the planet they wanted and they went for 'under ice.' It's where they put the control chair and all of the drone weapons and everything. I don't know if they didn't mind the cold or if they had strategic reasons. There or here."

"At least it is warmer than the surface," Teyla mused. "Although I do not think I would like to be so far from the sun for such a long time. It is depressing and perhaps a little disturbing."

"Most of the people with the initial expedition worked in Antarctica before they came to Atlantis," John said helpfully. "Elizabeth, Rodney, Beckett, Safir -- they all were down there for a while. Might explain a lot."

He didn't add that Ford had come from Antarctica, too, but he suspected Teyla knew anyway. She forgot almost nothing of what she was told about Earth and their lives there and John was sure that Ford would have told her about it.

But Teyla had pushed her scarf down to her chin and so he could see her smile playfully. "Were you not there, too?"

"I was in Antarctica," John confirmed. "But not at the outpost. I was at McMurdo, which was totally different. It was above ground, near the water, had real people and looked like a real town. Sort of. People got a different kind of crazy there."

Teyla gave him one of her indulgent smiles. "I see."

Any defense he could have offered was lost as they were interrupted by the terrified squeals of Doctor Istvan as she was being lowered down.

Rodney came over to them as they watched Istvan get unharnessed by the marine she was clinging to with a death grip.

"Why I thought the transporter would be a better idea," he sighed in annoyance. John and Teyla shared a knowing grin -- Rodney had gotten better, but he was still not quite fearless. "We should be good to look around soon. There's not much left to be moved down and set up."

It actually took about fifteen minutes before Cadman, entirely out of frustration, released a team of marines to serve as escorts. Rodney tried to decline the company, but Cadman smartly told him to take it up with John, who thought that safety in numbers was probably a good idea until they got a better sense of the condition of the place.

Judging by the schematics they'd first seen in the Warrati village, the facility was built in a similar style to the Antarctic base -- large, irregularly-shaped rooms crammed next to each other with very few hallways or corridors between them. They had chosen to drill down in the southwest corner of the facility -- at least that's what it looked like on the map they'd gotten from the beacon -- as much for convenience as out of any concept of the actual feng shui if the place. It was the closest corner to the stargate.

After confirming with Cadman that she understood both her mandate and the mandate of the scientists, John gestured for Ronon to let Rodney off the invisible leash and they departed. Through the doorway leading out of the room they'd descended into (Entry Point One) was a smaller, roughly crescent-shaped room with only one console and weak lighting. Rodney, one eye on his PDA and one on where they were going, didn't bother to ask John to force the initialization of the console and instead gestured with his free hand that they continue.

There were two doorways at the far tip of the crescent and they waited for Rodney to choose. John thought the buzz of Ancient tech was louder from the right -- more consoles, probably -- but Rodney, after deliberating long enough to get a prompting "Sir?" from Sergeant Ansbacher, the team leader of their escort, chose left.

"Holy fuck... sir," Muldoon said as they entered. John was inclined to agree.

The room was massive, reminding him of nothing so much as a football stadium -- long and oval and walls that slanted outward like stands above a ring of consoles. "I think we're standing in the end zone."

Asnbacher muttered agreement.

"I think this might be the main research nexus," Rodney said, completely unnecessarily.

"Lot of stuff," Ronon rumbled. "Any of it work?"

John was waiting for Rodney to answer, but Rodney was apparently waiting for John. "What's your PDA say, McKay?" John finally asked. There weren't any lights blinking and it all felt pretty null, like it wasn't there at all. But being a human divining rod was ultimately no better than being a human light switch and he didn't want to spend the afternoon playing Horse Whisperer. "You're the expert."

Rodney sighed. "It's all deader than Elvis."

"That's a no," John elaborated for Ronon, who was still waiting for an answer he understood.

"Go back and tell Cadman to start moving everything in here," Rodney told Muldoon, who looked over at John for confirmation before heading off. "We'll set up in here. Once Istvan stops hyperventilating, she'll be able to run diagnostics and see why nothing came on when you power the station up. I doubt we'll be able to fix anything today, but if we can find data crystals, then we can take those back to Atlantis to work on."

"Does this mean that you'd like to stay here or should we move on?" Teyla asked as Rodney pulled his tablet out and started scribbling with the stylus.

"Of course we're going to move on," Rodney replied, not looking up. "Not even Takahashi needs supervision to plug things in."

Before they moved on, however, they took a long tour around the room. If they'd entered in an end zone, then it was around the 30--yard-line that the ice on the upper part of the wall started to display streaks of dark gray beneath it and by the 40-yard-line, they were looking at almost entirely rock walls that continued to the other end zone and past the far wall. They were next to a mountain, so it made sense geographically. It was a little warmer as they moved away from the ice part of the room, which wasn't bad. The place was still much colder than Antarctica's base had been, but the Antarctic base had been bizarrely warm for being under ice. Maybe this one would hit that same almost-comfortable zone now that the lights were on and someone was home.

Rodney sheathed his tablet around the defense's 30, heading straight over to something that looked more like a roll-top desk than an Ancient console. Considering how much tech was in the room, John considered making it this far without stopping a definite first down.

Rodney tried to lift the desk-thing's cover, but it didn't budge and so he started feeling around for something.

"What are you looking for?" John finally asked after Rodney had been a few moments with the frottage. At the far end of the room, marines were rolling the first cases into the end zone area. He could hear Cadman yelling in the crescent room, for something and not at someone.

"A panel," Rodney said, voice strained because he was stretching. "There should be a panel covering up the control crystals and the key mechanism. We've seen these kinds of construction in Atlantis. They look kind of like display cases in a jewelry store, but they seem to have been used to store experiments. They were all over the shielded rooms. We ended up moving them out because they took up too much space."

"Hold on a second," John said, hurrying over to where Rodney was reaching behind the case. "Hold on. So what's in here is going to be dangerous?"

The shielded rooms were where they put anything that couldn't be easily controlled or dismantled. They were effectively soundproofed against Ancient tech; not even he could hear anything inside.

Rodney stopped reaching and sighed. "Your logic sometimes astounds me. This--" he waved a hand around "--is not a shielded room. It is open-access and mostly built out of ice. The very definition of low-security. These cases are not going to contain anything anyone was worried about walking away or blowing up."

John really thought his logic was less suspect than the Ancients' threat assessment skills, but stepped back nonetheless. "If you blow anything up, we're going home."

"I'm not going to blow anything up," Rodney groused, then yelped with triumph. "Ha! There it is."

He crouched down and made a face as he stretched, then frowned and stood up. "Ronon, can you move this forward a little bit?"

Ronon stepped forward and examined the case, looking for leverage. The side was pretty flush, so he just ended up grabbing on to the back edge and pulling. Nothing happened for a long minute, then the console unstuck with a shudder and jerked forward, knocking Ronon off-balance and forcing Teyla to jump back a few steps.

Rodney pushed past Ronon and pulled out his Swiss Army knife, digging it in at a point John couldn't see and prying his panel loose. John moved to the other side of Ronon to get a better vantage point; the wall directly behind the console was ice and, judging from the bits stuck to the back, had fused it to the wall. Beneath Rodney's panel was a smallish square with three colored crystals nestled in their slots. Rodney pulled out the green one and stuck it into an empty slot, then peered around to the front.

"Anything?"

Teyla shook her head no. "There is no change."

"Of course it would be a C model," Rodney muttered as he pulled the green crystal out and put it back in its original slot. "This place has got to be the equivalent of Siberia."

"Where they put the pains in the ass?" John asked mildly.

Rodney shot him a nasty look over his shoulder. "Where they stick the scientists who make the unfortunate mistake of being too brilliant for other people's comfort," he retorted as he tugged on the recalcitrant blue crystal. "And give them crappy equipment with which they still save the world."

John had only heard about Rodney's Siberian exile through gossip, all of which made Sam Carter and General Hammond look like saints for not shooting Rodney outright, so he suspected the truth was somewhere between Rodney's version and everyone else's.

With the blue crystal inserted, the console came to life with a hum that John could hear both with his ears and in his head. It was a quiet hum, just an 'I exist' and not anything actively interested in interfacing with any Ancient genes, which was the usual reaction for anything that didn't require ATA activation.

Rodney stood up, a little unsteady for having been crouching so long, and Ronon grabbed him before he could teeter too badly. John followed them around to the front of the console, which opened up at a light tap of Rodney's hand and revealed a glass-like case containing four objects of irregular size.

Down at the other end of the room, there was a crash as something fell. They all looked over, but apart from Dr. Istvan needing marine help to upright the case she'd knocked over, everything seemed to be under control.

"Hunh," Rodney chuffed, holding up his PDA. "I think this might be a sample case."

"Samples of what?" John asked hurriedly. "And answer that before you touch anything."

"That's a little hard to do, Colonel," Rodney sighed, "considering that the samples are all sealed."

John matched him put-upon look for put-upon look because they both knew that Rodney had some decent educated guesses that didn't require breaking any seals and they could both rattle off a list of misadventures that had come about by not being more careful of what they opened.

"Well?" Ronon asked, breaking the silence.

Rodney blinked first. "At least one of them might be liquid naquadah."

"Liquid naquadah," John repeated slowly. He'd read enough about the Goa'uld and the Jaffa and the Stargate Program to twig. "Like 'staff weapon juice' kind of liquid naquadah?"

"Among other purposes," Rodney agreed, gesturing with the PDA. "I can't say if it's been weaponized or, if so, whether it's at the grade the Goa'uld were able to achieve. Not without testing it."

"Which you aren't doing here and now," John said quickly, already wondering what kind of tools Cadman would need to move the stuff. They had EOD equipment back in Atlantis, but it hadn't been brought. Then he had a nasty thought. "Did opening up the case do anything to it?"

"Relax, Colonel," Rodney scoffed. "It's much more stable than naquadria -- the Jaffa couldn't have used it as a fuel cell otherwise. Properly contained, it's practically inert. It's not exactly a ticking time bomb."

There was a lot of wiggle room in that dismissal, but John was willing to go with it for now. Staff weapons were the Goa'uld equivalent of AK-47s -- reliable, durable, idiot-proof -- and he'd never read anything about spontaneous combustion being a problem with them.

"Does this liquid naquadah have any any other purpose beyond weapons?" Teyla asked, eying the case carefully. She knew that they traded with the Warrati in the hopes of getting NQN and that there were great plans for the NQN if they could harness it, but even John was a little hazy on what, exactly, Rodney (or Sam Carter or anyone else) had in mind. At least beyond the weapons, which he was perfectly happy to restrict himself to in terms of attentions paid.

"It's got limitless potential," Rodney answered, warming to the subject. "It is efficient beyond belief -- a little bit was able to send General O'Neill to another galaxy. That we could use it to facilitate travel or power the city without another ZPM -- it's not as good as a ZPM, of course, but short of finding another one of those, it's about as close as you can get to a workable alternative."

"If you can get it to work," Ronon added, not missing what Rodney had chosen not to say.

"Well, yes," Rodney agreed reluctantly. "But most of the reason why we haven't is that it's practically impossible to get our hands on it in sufficient quantities."

Ronon made a face that indicated that he might believe there was more to the story. Rodney recognized it, too, and held up the PDA again so he could pretend he didn't.

"The others are also some kind of naquadah derivatives," he went on. "But probably NQN and not refined very much."

"Still'd be fun to play with," Cadman said from behind Rodney, who jumped a little in surprise. John had seen her approach but hadn't said anything. She smiled at him, maybe for allowing her to sneak up. "Sir."

"How's it going, Lieutenant?" John asked as Rodney muttered indignantly. The scientists looked to be settled -- relatively so, at least -- and there had been progressively less banging around from that side of the room.

"We're on to the part of the program when everything's where it's supposed to be and someone remembers that the extra USB cable's back in Atlantis, sir," she replied with a shrug. "Came by to ask if I can send some of my budding videographers around to start taking pictures. Although if we've got naquadah here..."

"Which you are so not touching," Rodney retorted. "I'm claiming it on behalf of the Science Division."

John was reminded of the Bugs and Daffy cartoon where they stumble into Ali Baba's cave after the wrong turn at Albuquerque.

Cadman gave Rodney the kind of annoyed look an on-duty lieutenant really shouldn't be giving the head of the Science Division but she got away with because of their shared history. "I wouldn't dream of poaching, sir. I was merely going to suggest that we keep one of the cameras here if you're going to be opening up sample cases."

Getting video was a big part of today's project -- Doctor Walid had been extremely emphatic about how much and what sort of footage would be needed for the computer-generated reconstruction and John knew that Cadman knew how much her CO wanted footage for intel purposes and how they'd end up structuring security if people were going to be at the outpost for any duration.

"We'll let Doctor McKay take pictures here," John said before Rodney could reply. "You set your boys free and let them get what they can. Just tell 'em to keep the 'crikeys' to a minimum and to stay out of trouble."

Cadman grinned. "I think Gunny's already taken care of that, sir."

With one last longing look at the case with the liquid naquadah, she jogged back to where her marines were waiting by scientists who were comfortable enough to ignore their protectors. Cadman would need to leave a few marines behind to keep watch, but they'd brought half a dozen mini-cameras and the rest of the platoon could get a decent survey going.

"You ready to move on?" John asked Rodney. Behind him, Ronon looked very eager to do just that.

"But--" Rodney pointed to the case.

"Nobody's going to touch what's inside," John promised. "Including you."

Rodney gave him a measuring look and John could see the little hamster wheel in motion as Rodney debated whether a cavalcade of bullshit would get him what he wanted. Deciding not, he nodded and gestured. "Let's go."

Teyla led the way and Ronon unsubtly walked right behind Rodney so that there would be no stopping to peruse the contents of the other cases. They made it to the far side of the room (touchdown!), by which point the stone walls had receded behind a layer of ice, and a doorway. Beyond the door was a junction with three openings across from them.

"Which way should we go?" Teyla asked.

Rodney held up his PDA and waved it around a little. "This way," he said, pointing to the middle cavern.

This had been the least well-lit of the passageways and John was totally unsurprised to realize that the darkness only grew as they passed through the uncomfortably narrow corridor -- Ronon made shush-shush noises with each step as his parka scraped the walls at his shoulders.

"Should we turn around?" Teyla asked once they had followed a curve -- probably the rear wall of the right-hand room -- around and into blackness. The only illumination was from the backlight of Rodney's PDA until John and then Teyla pulled out their flashlights. Ronon followed suit.

"No," Rodney said, fumbling one-handed with his tac-vest pocket to retrieve his own flashlight. "Maybe there's a light switch we can find or something. The readings here are off the chart. "

"That why?" Ronon asked, pointing his flashlight at the far wall.

Across the room -- which was far bigger than John had suspected from the way the air currents sounded -- there was a.... machine, he guessed, since this was the wrong place for a pipe organ. It looked like something out of Willy Wonka and not just because it had elaborately curled pipes coming out from a body that glowed iridescent when their flashlight beams hit it.

"Oh my god," Rodney hissed. "We're definitely going to need a light in here."

"That's your naquadah?" Ronon asked, testing out the word.

Rodney nodded, not saying anything. He took a step toward it, transfixed. Everyone reached, but it was Teyla who grabbed him first.

"Wait," she instructed, pointing her flashlight down at the ground. "You must look where you are going."

There was a deep crack in the ice a few feet away, not a large enough chasm to fall into all the way, but certainly enough to get a leg trapped. It ran most of the length of the room, splitting it not quite in half. Rodney shuddered, no doubt imagining the likely broken leg should he have sallied forth.

John stepped back, then turned carefully, moved a couple of feet along the curved wall so that he could see the junction they'd come from, and tapped his radio. "Lieutenant?"

"Sir?" Cadman responded immediately.

He gave her directions to where they were. "We're going to need a couple of lights and do we have anything that can bridge a gap of about fifteen inches?"

Cadman took a minute to reply. "Give me five minutes, sir."

There was nothing to do but stand in place and shine their flashlights around while they waited, so they did. The far wall was covered in pipes, plus at least two more of the naquadah tanks, and two consoles that were either disabled, broken, or the fussy kind that wanted direct contact before they'd initialize because John couldn't sense them at all.

They heard the marines before they saw them, a rhythmic thump-thump of bootsteps and equipment cases. Cadman had come -- no surprise, she wanted to see this, too -- and brought three marines bearing tripod lights and what looked to be corrugated steel plates. It was a tight squeeze to get everything through the narrow passage and then past the bodies already inside, but everyone managed.

"They'll wobble a little when you stand on 'em, sir," Sergeant Baxter warned as he set down the plates. "But they'll hold."

With the bright lights flooding the room, the place looked entirely different. Far less Lovecraftian, for sure. The pipes lost their sinister shadow and instead looked like something that might be found in the lower depths of Atlantis -- except for the ones filled with the antifreeze-like ichor that was apparently liquid naquadah. Those still looked a little too much like something from a hive ship.

"Is this stuff stable as is?" John asked once it was safe to cross over to the far side of the room. He'd intended the question for Rodney, but it was Cadman who answered because Rodney was tuning out everything but his PDA and the naquadah.

"It should be fine, sir," she said, stepping forward and then back so Ochoa could move the cord from the light to a less trip-inducing place. "It's been stable for millennia and naquadah's not very photosensitive. The real risk will come when we siphon it."

Bringing it all back to Atlantis was probably an inevitability -- he didn't see Rodney wanting to set up a permanent workspace here. "How hard's that going to be?"

He did not want to have another exploding solar system on his hands. If a couple of drops could enable intergalactic travel, a couple of gallons might send them back to Earth the long way. And, unlike Doranda, this planet had people on it.

Cadman shrugged. "Not too bad, sir. It's sort of like moving gas or jet fuel around -- take precautions and there's practically no risk."

He smiled weakly -- Cadman wasn't as bad as Rodney, but she'd blown up too much stuff in Atlantis during her tenure for him to feel really comforted by her assurances.

It took Rodney about another fifteen minutes before he acknowledged the existence of anyone, so transfixed was he by what John had started calling 'the naquadah still' in his head.

"We need to take video before we move Klimatov and Sullier in here," Rodney announced, oblivious to the fact that John hadn't been party to the entire running monologue in his head. "They'll need the 'scope and possibly the ma--"

Whatever Rodney had been about to say was drowned out by a blaring alarm.

"Report!" John barked into his radio as Cadman jumped the chasm and grabbed Rodney, dragging him over the tiny bridge to the near side of the room, ready to evacuate should it prove necessary.

"It's nothing sir," a marine answered back immediately. "Doctor Takahashi--"

The alarm cut off abruptly.

"Doctor Takahashi just got her crystals crossed, sir," the marine went on in a quieter voice. All of the marines had the vocal equivalent of an eyeroll down pat. "She's undone what she did."

Rodney pulled away from Cadman with irritation, but it wasn't directed at her. " Takahashi! What did you do?"

"Don't bark at me, McKay. The lighting console has a Mu-seven configuration, but putting the fourth crystal in the reverse position did not turn on the focus lighting," a clipped British voice replied. "Instead the entire room brightened about ten thousand lumens and then dropped precipitously. And then the alarm sounded."

Rodney made an aggravated noise and slapped his free hand to his forehead. "You shorted the place out? We've been here, what, two hours? And you've already blown a fuse?"

Next to Teyla, Ronon was watching Rodney with open amusement. John was amused, too, but he didn't want Rodney yelling at him for laughing at and not with him, so he kept it to himself.

"There is still ambient light," Takahashi retorted, sounding unfazed. "And the consoles we've initialized are still active."

Cadman exchanged a look with John, then tapped her own radio. "Gunny, anyone report a brown-out?"

John wasn't on the platoon channel, so he just waited for Cadman to shake her head no.

"Is Kriegman close by?" Rodney asked, sounding a little defeated.  

"I'm four rooms away with some of the marines, Rodney."

"Fine," Rodney sighed. "Takahashi, don't touch anything else. I'll be right there."

He then turned to Cadman. "Don't you touch anything, either. I'll be back in a minute."

Cadman held her hands up in surrender as Rodney stalked off.

Once he was gone, Cadman turned back to the room. "Ochoa, video. Start clockwise from over there," she said, pointing to the far corner. "Baxter, counter-clockwise from right next to the Colonel."

John moved to the left because he didn't want to be on film.

"Freeman, you're on stills," Cadman continued. "Make sure you get clear pictures of all of the levels over there. And don't fuck up the ISO again."

"Won't, ma'am," Freeman sighed with the air of someone who has been reminded of a mistake by everyone in the platoon at least twice, then dug out his camera and checked the settings carefully.

They were obviously going to be here for a little while and John wondered if he shouldn't take Teyla and Ronon and go explore some more. It was going to be cramped, especially with the marines moving around and the imminent arrival of equipment and more scientists. Plus, he really didn't want to stand around and watch Rodney bitch at his minions or at Cadman any more than Ronon and Teyla would -- especially because, unlike them, he'd be expected to referee. In choosing discretion over valor, it was probably wiser to go before Rodney got back; he wouldn't want to be left behind and he wouldn't want to go and his displeasure at having to make the choice would not be pretty. It wasn't so much about him being self-absorbed (which he was) but that Rodney totally failed to appreciate how boring all of this was to anyone who didn't understand it. John was sure that whatever they got out of the liquid naquadah would be very exciting and he'd be all for sitting around while Rodney's people figured out warhead payloads. But in the interim, it was not much better than watching cricket or curling or soccer or some other game where the fanatics insisted that it was really, really fascinating once you understood the rules.

"You think you can corral the scientists in here?" John asked Cadman. She'd probably be happy enough to stay that she wouldn't mind babysitting. He looked at his watch. "We've got... a little more than six hours until the other jumpers are here for the pick-up, so they've got five more hours down here. Four and a half if they're really pissing you off."

"And three if they set off any more alarms?" Cadman grinned, clearly pleased at the permission to stay. "Understood, sir."

John looked over at Teyla. "You up for some more exploration?"

Teyla looked as much relieved as eager; she, too, appreciated Rodney's enthusiasm for Ancient science but failed to share it. Ronon pushed off the wall he'd been leaning against and waited for Teyla to navigate around the cables on the floor and the marines carefully shooting video.

They never got through.

John was starting to gesture for Teyla to precede him out of the room when everything went white and then black. And then white again as he realized that he was half-buried under ice. It was a slow realization, hazy and heavy with the lassitude that came with having been knocked out, and not before someone was pulling at his leg and his parka and rolling him over and shouting his name.

"Colonel?" It was Cadman, face bloodied from half a dozen cuts, and she sounded like she was speaking from under the sea. He met her gaze and nodded, but she didn't look pleased by what she saw and called over to someone he couldn't see while still lying on his back. He tried to sit up but she put her hand flat on his chest and he stilled.

He was cold and wet from the ice, so time must have passed and he raised his arm to look at his watch, but couldn't see it because his left forearm was wet with water and blood and there wasn't enough light. He looked up and realized that the room was much dimmer -- not dark as it was before the lights, but one of them was out.

Sergeant Baxter appeared behind the crouching Cadman, stepping over John's legs and coming to his other side. The two of them lifted him carefully by his armpits, dragging him over to the wall and leaning him against it.

"Stay there for a minute, sir," Cadman said, sounding louder than before. His hearing was coming back. Cadman still reinforced the words with a gesture and John nodded. He was feeling less out of it, but wasn't sure he trusted himself to stand just yet. Cadman and Baxter moved away and he got an unobstructed view of the damage. Teyla was being half-carried by Ronon toward John and it wasn't until they got to him that John could see the bloody gash on Ronon's forehead. It was deep and long and John thought he saw bone and Ronon had one eye closed against the blood streaming from it.

Ronon let Teyla, conscious but looking battered, slide down with little grace and then reached for some of the ice to pack the wound and staunch the blood flow. He used another handful to clean his face. His movements were coordinated and head wounds always bled a lot and so John would be inclined to just say that Ronon had a hard head, but he also knew that Ronon had trained himself to function no matter what and thus didn't rule out a skull fracture or a concussion.

"Don't keep doing that," John said, not sure how loud he was speaking. But Ronon obviously heard him and paused in his snowball making. "There's first aid stuff in my pack.... wherever my pack is."

"I have as well," Teyla said weakly. "You may need my scarf to tie."

Baxter and Ochoa dragged Freeman, biting his lip to keep from howling in agony, over to them; Freeman's pant leg was cut open and bloody and John, worried about a compound fracture, leaned forward carefully to look. His balance wasn't great, but it wasn't so awful that he teetered. He'd be able to stand in a couple of minutes.

"It's his knee, sir," Cadman said, concern all over her face as she followed her marines over to where they were now all congregated. "Blood's just from a flesh wound."

"Okay," John said, leaning back as Ochoa built a snow mound over Freeman's bad knee to keep it from swelling and then stood up to look for something. "Now what the hell happened and do we have contact with anyone else?"

The obvious answer was that there'd been an explosion, probably from the direction of the football field room -- the liquid naquadah still on the far wall was intact, at least to the point where it hadn't exploded on them. Which in turn meant that Rodney had either been at the epicenter or walking toward it. John let the fear for Rodney's safety -- and the other scientists, and the marines -- well up and then ruthlessly quashed it. It didn't do anyone any good right now.

"No contact so far, sir," Cadman replied. "Early sit-rep is that we're trapped in here -- the passage out either collapsed or is full of ice blown outward by the blast. Or both; it was a pretty big bang."

Ochoa returned with both hands full; one was holding John's pack and he handed it over; John accepted it and immediately started rooting around for the bandages. Before he could dig out everything he wanted, Baxter held up a water-sealed kit from his own pack.

"We're good, sir," he said. "Fletcher'd kill us if we didn't."

Ronon didn't protest when asked to sit down and be tended to; John filed it away for celebration at a further date. In the meanwhile, he cleaned off his own bloody hand and then realized that the wet on his face was blood as well as water and ended up having Cadman cover up a cut with a band-aid. She patched him up and then moved away so that Ochoa could get by. He was carrying more snow so that he could re-pack Freeman's knee after wrapping it.

Cadman reappeared a couple of minutes later, as Ochoa was rebuilding his snow mound. She was dusting snow off of her parka front. "The obstruction's complete and runs at least three feet deep," she said. "We can start digging with e-tools, but it's going to take time."

John nodded, then started preparing to stand. He still felt off, but he'd only know how off once he stood. "We have to establish commo, find out where everyone else is." He got to standing without any wobbling and Cadman stepped back from where she'd been prepared to grab him. "See if anyone can get to the surface and call for help."

Baxter was kneeling at an awkward angle to be able to see Ronon's wound in the light.

"Did the other light break?" John asked.

Cadman shook her head no. "It fell over in the explosion -- must've landed on Ronon's head -- and was sparking a little," she said. "I killed it until I could check that the naquadah was still contained."

"Is it?"

"Seems to be, sir," she replied. "We can set the light up over by the landslide if we want to start digging or...."

"Or," John prompted, because he recognized the look on her face. It was the same one Rodney got right around when he was about to suggest something that had a 50/50 shot at either saving the day or getting them all killed.

"Getting through the wall might be easier, sir," she said, gesturing behind John. "If it's a regular wall, then we know roughly how thick it is--" she gestured, holding her hands apart to estimate, "--and it might save us a lot of time digging."

"Will digging through ice be easier than through snow?" Teyla asked from the floor. "Do we have the tools for such a job?"

The e-tools the marines carried were pretty all-purpose, but John wasn't sure he wanted to try them as ice picks.

"Wasn't talking about digging," Cadman said with a shrug.

"You want to blow a hole in the wall," John realized. "Weren't you worried about sparking lamps a minute ago? And now you want to detonate some C4?"

Cadman had the good grace to look embarrassed, if not actually contrite. "I'm not saying it's the safest option, sir. But if that obstruction's much more than three feet, then our progress is going to be slow enough that it might be the better option."

John rubbed his face with his hand and then looked at his watch. Less than an hour had passed since the explosion. "We're five hours from missing our ride home. If any of your marines are able to make it to the jumper, then we've got even less time before the cavalry shows. Let's try not to take the crazy risks before then."

He ignored the irony of him being the one to suggest the prudent option.

Cadman nodded her obedience. "Ochoa, Baxter, you're up first with the digging."

Ochoa first retrieved the fallen lamp -- the edge of one open shutter panel slicked with Ronon's blood -- and set it up at the edge of the passage. He turned it on warily, jumping back when it sparked. But it only sparked once and then just hummed and apparently that was just fine. John followed Cadman and Ronon to the mouth of the passage as Baxter and Ochoa dug out their e-tools and adjusted their knee pads and created footholds for themselves as they climbed to the top of the heap.

"You and I'll get next," John told Cadman, who nodded. He turned back to the room and to Teyla and Freeman, who both had near-matching expressions of discomfort. "How's the knee, Sergeant?"

"Hurts like a motherfucker, sir," Freeman answered, chin up as if he were being accused of softness just because his leg had been splinted. "I'll deal."

"I have no doubt," John assured. "The pain's probably a good thing -- partial ligament tear instead of all the way through."

"Yeah?" Freeman chuffed. "Good."

"And how are you doing?" John asked Teyla. She looked like crap and he wanted to ask Cadman if anyone had taken a look at her or just let Ronon growl protectively.

"I am fine," she replied. John cocked an eyebrow. "I am perhaps less fine than usual," she allowed with a wry smile. "But I will be able to move when it is necessary and to help dig when it is my turn."

John really had no intention of giving Teyla a turn, although partnering her with Ronon might be an equivalent action and would save face. Hopefully, though, it wouldn't come to needing a third pair of diggers.

"Good," he said. "I'll hold you to that."

He stood up again, carefully because toppling over would not be a good morale booster, and rejoined Cadman and Ronon, who were packing shoveled snow around the base of the lamp tripod to stabilize it. There wasn't any point in trying to help since they were almost done, so he just took a moment to get a good look around at their temporary prison. Apart from the passage, the only area that looked disturbed was the wall adjacent to it, where Ronon and Teyla had been standing. The other side of the crevasse, the side with the still, was untouched and the steel plates they'd used as a bridge were still in place, albeit shifted over.

The explosion had filled the passage mouth with snowy powder and jagged chunks of ice, which thankfully didn't seem to be too tightly packed judging by the ease with which Baxter and Ochoa were scooping. The pair was trying to be efficient in their excavations, letting gravity do as much of the work as possible, and ice tumbled down the pile and clattered to the ground. Ronon, and sometimes Cadman, kicked the larger chunks aside.

"Can we shoot our way out?" Ronon asked after a while.

John, who'd been wandering back and forth between the digging and Teyla and Freeman, making sure neither of them tried anything like walking around without someone to help, froze in place. "I'm sure the bullets would clear out some of this, but probably not enough to justify possibly shooting anyone on the other side trying to get to us."

Ronon gave him a look that was either an accusation of intellectual deficit or an expression of doubt that there was anyone alive on the other side to help. "I meant mine," he said, patting his holster.

"Same thing," John replied, walking the rest of the way over to the passage. It was almost a half hour, which was about as good a point to switch places as any. Baxter and Ochoa had made headway, but early indications were that it was going to be a very long dig.

"Maybe up top, sir," Cadman said thoughtfully, gesturing to where the two marines were starting to dig a tunnel in the space between the ceiling and the pile. "It won't clear enough space for a body, but it might get through to the other side. We'd at least know how much digging we've got ahead of us and possibly be able to re-establish radio contact."

John wasn't wild about the idea -- there was too much ice to assure that there'd be a straight shot all the way through and the last thing they needed was either a ricochet or, again, to shoot someone digging from the other side. But everyone was watching him and they looked hopeful.

"Try it," he said with a shrug. "But keep it on stun. We don't need more accidents."

It wasn't the craziest thing he'd ever authorized. Or done.

Baxter and Ochoa, clearly worn, half-slid down the pile. Ronon climbed carefully, mindful of the footholds and the bandage on his head. Once he was balanced, he unholstered and climbed up further, leading with his blaster. He shuffled forward a little on his stomach, scrabbling to find a better foothold, and then settled.

They heard the first shot, then a cloud of snowy powder came rushing out and Ronon coughed. A lot.

"You okay?" John called up.

A second and then a third and then a fourth blast were the answer. Which meant that Ronon was fine and they were really buried in here. A fifth blast and then a sixth and John was about to tell Ronon to call the experiment a failure when he heard music in his ear. Not actual music, but something that under the circumstances was just as good.

"-- die here. This would be ironic, even in the poetic way instead of the 'you poor shmuck' way, but I'm not sure I'm ready even for poetry. I wonder if--"

"McKay?" John fought back a smile. Rodney sounded awful -- weak or just defeated -- but he was alive and that's what mattered right now.

Cadman, standing next to him, grinned in relief.

"Oh, god, is that supposed to be some kind of final flourish? The last voice I hear is the one--"

"McKay!" John almost-bellowed. "Quit with the soliloquy-ing and give me a sit-rep."

"You're there?" Rodney asked, still sounding light-headed and weak. "That's good. I don't want to die alone."

"You're not going to die, McKay." John tried to sound exasperated, if only to be able to hide his concern. "You always say that and you haven't yet."

If he were injured, if he were the only one to survive the blast, then there was no easy way to get to him. John had been hoping for the best-case scenario -- the rest of Cadman's platoon and all of the scientists were safe and working to get this group free -- but now he downshifted to match his plans with what was actually going on.

"This time I think I might actually follow through," Rodney said. "There's an awful lot of blood."

Ronon dropped down from the snow pile and landed roughly. Behind John, Teyla had made her way from where she'd been sitting.

"Ansbacher?" Cadman suddenly called into her own radio, turning and walking away from John with her hands over her ears. Baxter and Ochoa, who'd gone back to the main room, reappeared by her. "What the hell is going on?"

John tuned her out. "Where are you hurt?" he asked Rodney.

"Where am I not?" came the answer, half-giggle included. "The marines wrapped me up like a mummy, but I can still see the blood. I may be in shock."

"He always thinks he's in shock," Ronon murmured. Teyla shushed him.

"There are marines with you?" she asked.

"We're here," Rodney said, which wasn't exactly an answer to the question. "Some less here than others. Takahashi may be dead. I'm not allowed to go over and look. The marines yell at me if I move around. They're not allowed to yell at me, are they, Colonel?"

"Yeah, they can," John said. "They're in charge."

Rodney made a disappointed noise.

Behind Teyla, Cadman had finished her radio conversation and was waiting to talk to him. John switched off his radio for a second. "Keep him talking," he told Teyla, then went over to Cadman. "What's the situation?"

Cadman rattled off the injuries (mostly serious except for the marines, who had been the furthest from the blast), the status of the rest of her platoon and the other scientists (the marines and those traveling with them were fine, although contact had been sporadic and was currently down; the scientists and marines in the first two rooms were status unknown), and the locations (everyone was effectively isolated from each other and from Entry Point One).

"The entire junction is collapsed," she went on, pointing to the snow and ice pile behind Ronon. "We're looking at at least another five meters of horizontal digging, sir."

He knew what she wanted to ask and knew that while it was no less dangerous, waiting was no longer an alternative.

"How can we minimize the risk?" he asked. He didn't want the injured scientists in the football field to die, but he didn't want to kill everyone else -- and possibly the Warrati to boot -- trying to save them.

"We build a blast wall, sir," Cadman replied, gesturing with one hand. "Pack the tanks with a layer of snow, use the bridging sheets like they were SAPI plates, and then pack in more snow. It'll take a lot of time, but it'll do the job."

John looked at the wall with the still, then at the mound of snow and ice. The room was maybe five or six meters wide. Amply protecting the network of pipes would indeed take a lot of time, but not protecting them was a risk he hadn't been prepared to take... before he knew that there were critically injured.

"I know I've occasionally been a little reckless in Atlantis, sir," Cadman went on. "But I can do this without endangering the naquadah. The room's big enough."

In his ear, he could hear Rodney prattling on to Teyla about his PDA getting damaged. He pulled out his own -- hating himself for not remembering it earlier -- and turned to the wall Cadman was going to breach. The schematic wasn't really meant to serve as a blueprint, just as a guide for orienting the life signs, but estimated well enough. "There's supposed to be nothing on the other side," he said. "But it's not registering the cave-in, so we may be looking at snow on the other side, too."

"It's a chance, though, right, sir?" She looked across at the still and the naquadah, then looked up at him. "I can do this."

"Then get it done," he said, nodding.

As Cadman called Baxter and Ochoa over to first re-locate Freeman and then help her set up for the demolition, John rejoined his own team.

"Listen to me, Rodney," he began, speaking loudly and slowly. "There's going to be an explosion. Cadman's going to breach the wall and we're going to make our way to you guys."

Judging from the schematic, there was a back door from the room they'd be entering into, which was the original right-hand choice back at the junction. That back door led into one of the few hallways, where they could maybe find the rest of the marines and definitely get into the football field room through another wall breach. After that, well, at least they'd all be together and either they'd figure out a way to get through to the entry room or they'd be easy to find when the rescue showed.

"You're letting Cadman do what?" Rodney yelped. "Next to all that naquadah?"

"We have to get out of here, McKay," John replied evenly. "It's nothing you wouldn't have suggested were you the one here with us."

"Yes, but that would have been me," Rodney said, sounding much closer to himself than earlier. John wondered if he should tell Cadman to tell her marines to annoy Rodney for his own well-being; he always responded well to distractions. According to what Cadman had been told, Rodney had faired relatively well in the blast compared to the others -- he'd still been far enough away to have been spared the full impact. But he was still being classified as 'priority' for an evac, which meant that the marines didn't think he'd be okay for very much longer.

"You can't always be the star of the show," John told him, then switched channels to tell Ansbacher to get everyone away from the wall they'd be breaching. It would take them some time -- the wounded were difficult to move and hard to care for. It was why they hadn't suggested that the marines start working on a way into the entry room.

Cadman was ready in five minutes, most of which was spent by Baxter hacking a little crevice in the wall. "I erred on the side of extreme caution, sir," Cadman said. "I figured we could widen the hole by hand if necessary."

It wasn't necessary.

The explosion echoed around the room like they were inside a bell, making their ears ring, but that was the worst of it. A couple of the chunks of ice that flew across the room clanked off of the naquadah still, but nothing cracked. They moved back over the crevasse -- maneuvering Freeman proving to be no easier the second time -- and, after Ochoa verified that there was, in fact, open space on the other side, through the jagged hole. The hole was close to the floor and they had to go through on their belly or back; they were going to drag Freeman through, but he insisted that he could low-crawl on his own and he did, dragging his splinted leg behind him. On the other side, the lights were out, too, and Ochoa slipped back into the still room to retrieve the two portable lamps.

John and Baxter were closest in height, so they each took an arm and pulled Freeman upright, supporting him as he hopped along. He whimpered a little with each impact of his foot, but said nothing. With Ronon and Teyla on flashlight duty, Cadman worked her radio to try to raise the rest of her marines and John, the only one who could use the PDA, had to give directions. There were signs of damage all around -- cracks in the walls and floors, panels and ice fallen from the ceiling -- but nothing impassible.

They first went to the spot that would be the second breach point, letting Freeman catch a break and sit down again. Teyla, too, although she seemed to be improving with activity.

"You get started here," John told Cadman as Ochoa set up the lights again. "We'll go rendez-vous with the rest of your men and bring them back here."

Cadman nodded. "Aye aye, sir."

Baxter and Ochoa looked at him hopefully. "I need you guys to stay here," he said. "Freeman's too big for Teyla to move on her own."

He was worried about more than just a sudden desire to relocate Freeman, but everyone understood and there was no need to make a point of it.

Finding the rest of Cadman's platoon was easy compared with everything else that had gone on in the last couple of hours -- once in the hallway, their radios were functioning normally and Cadman had been in contact with her men since that point. They'd all assembled and retreated to just past the blast zone and east of the crescent room. John and Ronon got directions from Gunny Wilder, but John still needed the PDA to translate those directions into something useful as the marines were still oriented on the axis of the original layout and the path they'd taken to get where they were was no longer viable. The marines were less than three meters from the south entrance to the football field but it might as well have been a mile.

When found, the marines turned out to have been spending the time much as John's group had been -- trying to dig their way toward the shaft to the surface. They had made progress in the sense that there was a lot of displaced snow and ice, but they had seen no signs of being close to the other side.

"We established contact with the marines near the explosion straightaway, sir," Wilder explained as they watched marines pack up. He had taken off his gloves and his hands were raw from already having taken his turn. "But they were tied up tending to the wounded and we gave 'em half an hour to handle that. Then we couldn't re-establish contact. Haven't gotten a peep out of anyone in the first two rooms, so we don't know if they're hurt or on the surface calling for assistance."

John hoped for the latter, but expected the former; the two rooms -- Entry Point One and the crescent room -- were on the other side of the walls of the football field and Ansbacher had told Cadman that those two sides had been blown out and then caved in. It had been a short-term blessing -- the ceiling collapse had essentially served as fire suppressant, quenching the flames from the exploded consoles and keeping the room from filling with smoke. But it also made getting out that much more difficult. From either side. There weren't any backhoes in Atlantis, let alone anything that could be packed into a jumper for easy transport to Warrat.

"We have to get into that area," John said, as much to himself as to Wilder. Cadman could get them into the football field and they could see if there were alternate ways of getting to the shaft, but he didn't think they had either the time or enough C4 on them to go on a wild goose chase and he didn't want to destroy too much of the base to achieve their objective. Forget about research needs -- the walls were the only thing holding sixty feet of ice from crashing down on top of them and every one they breached was that much less support. "Let's go meet up with everyone else and then we'll see how much we have to do to get home."

The four scientists didn't really need any prompting to leave their toys behind as they made their way back to Cadman, who had done what she needed to do and was just waiting for their return.

This breach was not nearly as low-key as the one that had freed them from the still room, but it didn't take out so much of the wall that John worried about either stability or the fate of anyone on the other side. They moved through quickly -- Freeman neither asking for nor receiving a chance to make it on his own -- and into the football field, which looked like it had seen a few too many Superbowl parties or maybe was the set for an alternate ending to Black Sunday.

They had breached at about the fifty-yard line, so they got an immediate and thorough appreciation of the scope of the damage. The air smelled of smoke and explosive and the peculiar odor that Ancient building material had when it burned; the room was comparably warm and humid and there were streaks of black (char) and red (blood) on the floor along with puddles of water. The explosion had been on the southern end, to their left as they entered from the breach, at maybe the 15-yard-line, but the damage was extensive on that entire side, especially in the end zone, where a network of consoles had been. A few were still intact, but most had been damaged and a few were unrecognizable except as steaming hunks of metal.

At least the lights were on, albeit dimly.

With a nod from John, Cadman started giving orders to the marines who'd come through with them, getting additional lights set up and helping with the injured. A bloodied Sergeant Ansbacher did not hide his relief at seeing the new arrivals.

In preparation for the breach, the wounded had been moved to the far side of the northern end of the field. But while they had been moved to around the 20-yard-line, Rodney was closer to the 30. He was sitting up, wrapped in a sleeping bag, and leaning against the wall where it was exposed rock. He looked pale and miserable until he saw Ronon, who'd come in before John or Teyla.

"Cadman didn't blow up the place," he said as John approached. "Good."

Up close, Rodney looked both better and worse than he'd sounded. He was pale under the soot and blood smears on his face and looked a little unfocused compared to his usual intensity, but he didn't look like he was in more pain than he could stand and, under the circumstances, that was enough.

"You good, buddy?" John asked, crouching down next to him.

"No, I'm not good," Rodney replied, annoyed at the stupidity of the question. "I don't want to die here. I don't want anyone else to die here, either."

"Nobody wants anyone to die here," John replied, standing up. Seeing if anyone already had was his next stop. He looked over at Teyla, who nodded. "I'm going to go check on everyone else. I'll be back in a few."

Ronon followed him as he returned to where Cadman and Wilder were standing. The four of them then went on a quick tour given by Ansbacher, starting with the wounded (thankfully, no dead yet) and ending with the blocked-off exit in the southern end zone. In between was the blast site, which featured dripping ceilings and the smoking hulks of what had once been consoles.

"There was no warning, sir," Ansbacher said once they were done, huddling in the end zone. "Doctor Takahashi had left it alone like Doctor McKay said and was working on her laptop and then... boom."

"Nothing anyone could have done," John said, not for the first time and not for the last. It would be a while before the immediate actors -- Ansbacher, Rodney, the other marines and scientists -- accepted that as the truth that it was. "We're dicking around with ten-thousand-year-old toys and the Ancients weren't big on manuals."

Ansbacher nodded, out of duty if not necessarily belief, and left them to return to his nursing duties. Takahashi was the worst off, but Klimatov and Sullier were far from stable, either, and they needed constant care with the group's limited supplies.

"We're gonna have corpses by the time they dig us out, sir," Wilder said in a low voice, gesturing with a slight tilt of his head toward the makeshift care center.

John nodded in sad agreement, really not wanting to get into the 'this is why we need corpsmen with every platoon' debate since everyone was on the same side there and that wouldn't necessarily have made a difference here. Nonetheless, while all of the marines were trained for first aid and cold-weather survival, this was beyond their skills. Instead of answering Wilder, he pulled out his PDA, which felt like a dodge. "How much C4 do you have left, Lieutenant?"

As usual, it took a second for him to orient himself on the life-signs display, mostly because it kept fine-tuning itself with so many people to count. He waited for it to settle and looked up at Cadman to wait for her answer.

"Personally, sir? About enough to boil a cup of tea," she replied with a frown. "Pool us all together and we might have enough for another breach or two. Depends on how much has been used up already."

The marines had used small bits of explosive to level out the shaft and more of it was being used now in small fires to warm the room and melt and boil water for cleaning and treating the wounded.

The display stopped flickering and John held it up to look. "How many people do we have in those two rooms?" There were seven dots on the far side of the wall.

"Three marines, four scientists," Wilder replied, peering over at the PDA. "You got 'em all, sir?"

"For now," John replied, because the PDA had its limits when it came to life signs detection. The detector had the same map it had been showing since it popped up in the Warrati village, so while it now did reflect their current position within the outpost, it didn't register the cave-ins or the blockage. Plus the two-dimensional display couldn't handle the difference between someone hanging from the ceiling, standing or sitting in place, or lying on the floor. "They're not moving."

The seven dots were not directly next to the walls, which would have definitely put them underneath the rubble as the walls had been blown out, but they were not spaced in any formation that looked organized, so it was probably necessary to assume that nobody was in a position to either tend to the others or go to the surface for help. They could all be buried under snow and there'd be no way to tell.

"Fuck," Wilder sighed.

"Is there a point we can go around or through, sir?" Cadman asked. She was at a poor angle to see the display and so he turned the device toward her. "Not so much around, I guess. We picked the corner so that it would be hard to lose and now that's coming back to bite us in the ass."

The advantage of making Entry Point One a place with limited access points and an absolute location within the outpost was that it would make it easier for the scientists to keep track of where they were. But now those were disadvantages with all of those limited access points currently off limits.

"We should go through this section," Cadman went on, pointing to a part of the caved-in area that corresponded to the crescent room. "There was less stuff in there, so we're not going to have to worry as much about what's going to get moved around on the other side. Plus there's only two dots and they're not that close."

"Unlucky bastards were probably on their way in here," Wilder said.

John, sparing a glance over his shoulder to where the scientists were being treated, thought it was probably yet to be determined whether they'd been unlucky or not.

"What about making the cave-in worse?" he asked. He didn't know much about this kind of stuff and it bothered him. Not that he didn't trust Cadman -- it was a little late in the game to have those kinds of doubts -- but he had nothing to add to her knowledge and it made him feel helpless and that, in turn, made him uncomfortable.

"We'll have to poke around, sir," Cadman agreed. "See what the existing structural damage is like. But judging from what it looks like from here, this is going to be less of a traditional breach and more like leveling earthworks -- it's not going to rock the ceiling as much. It'll have other drawbacks, but that's a tradeoff we'll have to make."

John nodded. "Okay. You get started on your poking around and let me know what we've got." He looked at his watch; they were down to three hours before the scheduled retrieval. It was even odds whether they'd missed a check-up call, although if they had it wasn't soon enough for there to be a reaction -- it would be hard to tell on the PDA, but there were no obvious signs that there was anyone else in the area. If there was going to be a call, John expected it to be much closer to the scheduled arrival time and just intended to make sure that everyone was ready to leave. Elizabeth had finally started to relax about him and Rodney going out for long periods at a time and this had been classified a very low risk mission. That this was turning into a mission where they really could have used a check-in call was ironic the way most everything in Pegasus was.

Cadman went off, calling to various marines to move lights and bring over tools and dig this or that out of their packs. John went back to the other side of the room, checking in again with the marines tending to the wounded ("nobody's really stabilized, sir, we're just trying to use the snow to slow everything down enough to matter"), the healthy-but-terrified scientists, and then back to where Teyla and Ronon were with Rodney. He explained what Cadman was up to in more detail than he answered Rodney's questions about how well his own people were doing, letting Rodney distract himself with critiques of John's listening comprehension skills and Cadman's structural engineering talents.

The waiting was uneasy for everyone. Teyla, still looking like she'd been tumbled in a clothes dryer, went over to help tend to the injured and Ronon paced around like the caged animal he probably felt like he was. He, too, ended up by the wounded, proving somewhat helpful judging by the bouts of activity that followed his too-low-to-be-overheard conversations with Ansbacher and Wilder.

Twenty minutes later, Cadman trotted over to John and Rodney.

"It's going to be tricky, sir," she began, crouching down because John was sitting on a patch of exposed stone after Rodney had bitched about him looming. "The snow and ice is packed at a density that should be easy to move, but there are consoles and panels buried in there, too. The Ancients did run vents and cables through the ice, so there's more composite detritus in there as well. If we didn't have two dots on the other side, I'd just say 'to hell with it' and blow it out, but..."

"You can't tell how much ceiling damage there is," Rodney said. His voice was starting to go in and out, as did his attention. Which was why even though he looked like he was going to say more, he didn't.

"Not directly on top, no," Cadman agreed. "But judging from the spidering on this side, I'm inclined to say that it's not too bad. If we're going to cause a secondary collapse, it's going to be by the original blast site."

John looked at the distance from the area where Cadman's marines were still working to where the original explosion had been and then from there to where everyone else was situated. The latter distance was great enough that John didn't think that anyone would be at risk from anything coming down so long as it wasn't an avalanche, but he had no idea how likely an avalanche was or if Cadman knew, either.

"If it doesn't work or if we end up just blockading ourselves in further," Cadman went on, "they're going to have to dig a new hole from the surface anyway, probably over there." She gestured northeast, in the direction of the hole in the wall they'd made to get into their current location.

"If it doesn't work, they're going to be defrosting us like a Butterball," Rodney said, not looking at them. He was watching Ronon do something to Doctor Sullier.

"Thank you for skipping over every option but the worst one," John told him wryly. "As usual."

John knew that Rodney was probably more accurate with his fatalism than usual, but this was not the time to admit it.

"Sir?" Cadman was waiting for permission.

"Don't make Major Lorne have to defrost us, Lieutenant," John said, gesturing with his chin toward the other side of the room. "Get us out of here."

"Aye aye, sir." She stood up and walked off, calling for her marines to cough up whatever C4 they were still carrying.

Teyla approached as they watched Cadman. She was carrying a field mug from someone's pack, walking carefully because its contents were steaming. "Here, Rodney," she said, stopping at his side and moving gracefully to her knees. "You should drink this."

MRE parts had been floating around all along; there was a wheat snack bread wrapper by Rodney's hip that had been there since they'd arrived and the scientists Wilder had been shepherding were all nibbling quietly.

"Is it coffee?" Rodney asked hopefully, not yet taking his arms out from under the cover of the sleeping bag.

"No," Teyla replied. "It is Gatorade, I believe."

Rodney shivered in revulsion. John didn't blame him -- hot Gatorade? -- but under the circumstances, he was prepared to force Rodney to drink it.

"There are worse things they could be heating up for you to drink," John warned.

"Name one," Rodney challenged, but he pulled his arms free nonetheless so that he could accept the cup. His hands were cut up and both of his forearms were wrapped in gauze while his tattered sleeves had been loosely taped so they'd stay in place; he'd already explained that he was sitting on the shredded remains of his parka. He took an experimental sip and winced. "Oh, god, that's awful."

"Drink it anyway," John told him, then looked over at Teyla. "You have something?"

She nodded. "The marines are quite insistent that everyone who can consume something warm should do so."

"Good," John said. He was about to ask how she was feeling when there was a loud crash over at the other side of the room and everyone looked over. Three marines had dislodged one of the consoles from the wall and were moving it to the other side of the end zone.

"What are they doing?" Teyla asked.

"Clearing the way for more demolition," John answered. "Although I'm not sure about the snowman over there."

He was sure it was something else, but that's what it looked like they were doing.

"Blast barrier," Rodney said. He was holding the cup with both hands in his lap. John gestured with his chin for him to drink more and Rodney made a face, but did. "We're far enough away that it shouldn't be more than a breeze so long as she doesn't use too much, but..." he trailed off, looking at the prone bodies of the wounded a couple of meters away.

"Drink, Rodney," Teyla exhorted.

John got up and wandered over to the business side of the room, mostly out of curiosity but also because his ass was getting frozen sitting down. Ronon was already there, helping the poor man's bucket brigade -- in the absence of buckets, the marines were carrying the snow on fallen ceiling panels -- and Cadman was in a corner measuring and shaping the explosive.

"How's it going?" he asked.

She looked up with a grim expression. "I'm not sure we'll have enough, sir."

He let his surprise show. "How much more do you need?"

They'd used some, but they'd also brought extra... which was probably still in the jumper on the surface.

"If that was just ice and snow, we'd be short," she replied. "But we've got at least two consoles in that mess, the reflector panels, building material..."

Another panel-load of snow came rushing by him and he stepped forward even though he hadn't been in the way. "I thought we were taking it easy on account of the casualties on the other side."

"We are, sir," Cadman agreed, "but they're on the far side of the room and we still need enough to penetrate this mess."

The marines weren't so much building one line of snow barrier as interlocking walls at different distances from what would be the blast site.

"What do you want to do, then?" he asked. There was no easier spot to work on; the second choice was not a very good one.

"We can try with what we've got and hope that it's enough to at least get the big objects out of the way," she said, holding up the ball of C4. "Or we can use the liquid naquadah."

He held up his hands. "Wait a second. Doesn't a tablespoon of that equate to a Hellfire or something? Haven't you and McKay been treading on eggshells all day because of that stuff?"

"A lot less than a tablespoon, sir, and I had no intentions of detonating it."

He cocked an eyebrow. "What were you planning on doing with it? Drinking it?"

"Building a prototype staff weapon, sir." Cadman gave him a wry smile. "On par with a cannon instead of a rifle. That vial that McKay wasn't willing to share before would make an excellent fuel cell."

"You're insane," he said, mostly meaning it.

At the other end of the room, there was a loud cry of pain, followed by scurrying around and agitated conversation. Someone was getting closer to dying and nobody here could help them.

He sighed. "Go talk this over with McKay."

Cadman jumped up and ran as if doing a steeplechase race -- including the water trap -- over the growing snow berms and across to where Teyla and McKay were sitting. John followed at a slower pace, going around instead of over the obstacles. By the time he got there, McKay was back to waving his arms and not spilling his cup contents.

"You're crazy!" he was yelping. "I don't care what Dahlsson's been teaching you on the side! Colonel, was this your idea?"

John shook his head no, attention on where Ansbacher and another marine were practically burying a moaning Takahashi in snow. "We're running out of time for sane ideas, Rodney. As long as it's possible, I'm willing to entertain it."

"Get Istvan over here and find the vial," Rodney told Cadman. "If it's damaged, we may not be able to try it at all. What did you have in mind for an accelerator?"

John left them to plot either their rescue or their doom, going over to where Ansbacher was now being talked to sternly by Wilder. He waited for Wilder to catch his glance; this wasn't a chewing-out, it was a pep talk and John trusted Wilder to judge whether the CO's reinforcement was either necessary or wanted. Wilder saw him and gave him a tiny nod and John approached at a saunter.

"You get anything to eat, Sergeant?" he asked, already knowing the answer. Wilder slipped away without a word.

"No, sir," Ansbacher replied. Ansbacher was young for an Atlantis marine, had probably just gotten his sergeant's stripes before he'd been recruited into the Stargate program. He'd still ended up a team leader and that meant something; today's actions had only reinforced that selection. But that didn't change the fact that he was maybe twenty-four and was unofficially charged with keeping four critically wounded people alive with little training and less supplies.

"You should go steal someone's M&M's or something," John said. "You've done enough to deserve better than jalapeno cheese."

A weak smile from Ansbacher. "I like the jalapeno cheese, sir."

"Go eat something, Sergeant," John said with a bemused shake of his head. "We're about to kick for a sixty-yard field goal and I'm going to need you ready for whatever happens after."

He patted Ansbacher on the arm and then went back toward where Rodney was sitting, his lap now covered with bits and tools. Cadman and Istvan were sitting on either side; Teyla had gone to sit by Takahashi and was singing quietly to her, petting her forehead soothingly. The others seemed to be more or less stabilized, even if that simply meant a controlled decline.

Rodney was starting to diminish, too. He was paler and his motor skills were degrading -- Rodney never fumbled anything when he was working, but he was having trouble holding the items on his lap when he tried to pick them up.

"You guys ready yet?"

That got him a dirty look, which was the intended reaction. "No, Colonel," Rodney said. "Our violent disincorporation is not yet at hand."

"Optimism, McKay," Cadman said, not looking up from where she was apparently threading something through the naquadah vial.

"The sudden reduction to a fine mist is probably less depressing than sitting here dying slowly," Rodney offered with a mocking smile.

"That's keepin' the spirits up," John said with as much sarcastic pep as he could muster. "Carry on."

He crossed the room to the closest of the snow barriers, which was at about the south forty-yard-line. "Are we going to have to move anyone?" John asked Carnagel, gesturing over his shoulder. Rodney was the closest, at the north thirty, with the seriously wounded still at the twenty.

"No, sir," Carnagel replied, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. "This last berm should be more than enough."

It took twenty-five minutes, the addition of Doctor Kriegman to the mix, a makeshift soldering iron, a disassembled tool that John had no idea what its normal function was, parts from a P-90, scrap (including crystals) from some of the destroyed consoles, and a lot of shouting to get something Rodney was satisfied with. Cadman had done the actual work with him giving directions both necessary and really not for every single step of the process; John knew how much Rodney must have hated to give up the assembly and how badly off he must be if he didn't even make a cursory protest when Cadman started the first steps without him. Rodney's state was confirmed when he called John over.

"We need your PDA," Rodney said, which was a little weird because it was usually 'I need.' "Mine got destroyed in the explosion and we need the energy readings. What does yours say?"

In any other situation, Rodney would have simply demanded John's PDA and not even explained why. That he was asking for John to call off the readings -- numbers he didn't fully understand and could only translate from Ancient -- was not a good sign. John read off the numbers without comment.

"They going to blow us up?" Ronon asked once Cadman and Istvan had relocated to the far side of the berm network. Rodney necessarily had to stay behind, but he did have his radio so that he could continue to direct matters from afar. They were on the same channel as John's radio, so he could hear Cadman threaten to turn hers off if Rodney kept it up.

John shrugged. "That or get us out of here."

"Okay."

Wilder joined the two women to help sight the 'cannon', which looked less like a cannon and more like a slide projector with compensation issues.

While they were doing that, John went over evacuation procedures with Ansbacher and the other marines who had been serving as medics. If the worst happened and they were all buried (or blown up), then there was nothing to be done. But if the failure were less drastic, then getting the injured as well as the healthy scientists out into the hallway and away from the football field might need to be done quickly. If it worked and they weren't sure how long they had to get through to Entry Point One, that, too, would need to be clearly planned out. John went over the details of what would be included in the medevac request with Ansbacher, since he was in the best position to know. The wounded were placed on stretchers, including Rodney, who howled in agony when he was shifted, and then all they could do was wait.

"We're about as ready as we're going to get, sir," Cadman said over the radio.

"You are cleared hot," John said, wishing he could be up there and knowing why it wasn't either necessary or a good idea. "Fire when ready."

Teyla was standing next to him and he looked down at her. She smiled wryly at him; they'd been through a few of these together already.

"On my mark, Gunny." Cadman counted down from five, then gave the command.

There was a whistle and a whine and then a flash of greenish light and then a roar as the tons of ice and snow and metal and god knew what else exploded outward. John watched and waited for a blast wave that never really came and then tried to see what had happened. There wasn't much visible at all -- the steam and snow dust hid the entire end zone area in a fog -- but the noise of falling and breaking was loud.

"Lieutenant? Report!" John bellowed, taking long strides toward the first barrier. Behind him, the marines who'd been crouching over the stretchered wounded were starting to rise slowly, prepared to drop down again if the roof started to fall.

"We're fine, sir," Cadman hollered back, coughing.

John signaled a few of the waiting marines to get over there and help out.

"Well?" Rodney asked from his stretcher.

"Give it a second, McKay," John told him, not turning around. "We aren't mist and we aren't Butterballs. Let's take our victories as we get them."

The couple of minutes of anxious waiting felt like far longer; he fought the urge to ask Cadman for a report.

"We're through!" Istvan's voice rang out like a bell. "Colonel Sheppard, we can get through!"

That was enough for Ronon to hurdle over the first barrier and run toward the newly created breach. John signaled for the marines on stretcher duty to wait and for the others to start knocking down the barriers. He gestured for Teyla to precede him and then turned back to Rodney.

"You'll see in a second," he said, smiling at Rodney's outraged impatience overwhelming his injuries for at least a couple of minutes. "Chill."

"I've been sitting on ice for three hours!" Rodney called after John as he followed Teyla past the marines. "I'm beyond chilled!"

The crowd around -- and in-- the hole parted for John as he approached. It wasn't a great passage, but it got them into the crescent room and so it got a passing grade anyway. Wilder appeared from behind the mountain of snow and debris, dragging an unconscious and snow-covered Sergeant Wallace with help from Carnagel.

"He's been out and on the floor for hours, sir," Wilder said. "They've all been -- knocked out by the initial blast. We've got one trapped under a console that I'm afraid to move. We've lifted it off him, but his leg's all twisted around."

John nodded, then turned back to the room. "Ansbacher!" he bellowed, not trusting their radios to be heard over the din.

Ansbacher appeared within a minute.

"Get up to the jumper and call in the medevac," John ordered. "Tack on six 'priorities' and one 'urgent-surgical' in addition to yours and tell them that I'll fly the first load out. Go!"

Ansbacher fled toward Entry Point One.

John turned back to Wilder and Cadman. "Rack up the wounded by priority near the shaft, get the civilians in one place, and get everyone the hell out of there. The able-bodied can wait down here -- it's going to be a while before they'll get back to Atlantis and we don't want them clogging up the shaft once the jumpers get here with the baskets. It's warmer than the surface, anyway. Nobody goes back to look for anything, nobody plays with anything but themselves, nobody gives you any shit. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," Cadman replied.

Four jumpers -- the entire operational fleet counting his own -- landed fifteen minutes later. John was already on the surface, waiting by his jumper when they came in. The ramps dropped and doctors and equipment-bearing marines poured out. The neon-orange bucket litters were run out and attached to the motorized rope-and-pulley systems they were using to get in and out and Safir, who'd be handling triage and field care, rode the first one down along with the giant medical duffels.

Lorne jogged over to John, zippering his parka as he went. "Beckett's going to fly the first one back so he can run things from Medical," he said, gesturing to the jumper where Carson was pacing up and down the ramp, cold and impatient, with Metzinger trying to stay warm and out of his way. They were training new pilots, but none of them were ready to fly urgent missions yet. "You're supposed to be second because Doctor Weir wants you and McKay back in the city."

Rodney wasn't going to be on the first jumper out and probably not the second, either, depending on Safir's triage and the configuration they'd gone with in turning the jumpers into ambulances. "I don't know what she thinks I can do from there except debrief," John sighed. He understood, but he wasn't ready to go yet, not until the medevacs were done and maybe not even until everyone else was packed up for home.

"The most exciting thing going on this afternoon has been Gorshuk calling for marine assistance to track down a lizard that escaped from Life Sciences," Lorne said. "And then we got a nine-line that requires every ship we've got. Nobody knows what the hell's going on except that there's been an explosion."

Which meant that Elizabeth was anxious and feeling helpless because she didn't have a clue what had happened or who was hurt.

"If you take the second run," Lorne went on, "Doctor Weir'll get a chance to see that you're safe and you'll still have to come right back out. We're not getting out of here in under eight trips, even if we leave the equipment for another day."

They both turned because the first two baskets were being raised. Takahashi and Sullier, wrapped in blankets, IV or blood bags resting on top. The marines waiting at the top shifted them on to standard litters and ran them over to Beckett's jumper where Metzinger oversaw the final transfer and then the ramp went up. Carson wasn't a natural pilot by any means, but he could pull this off smoothly and did, the jumper disappearing behind the mountains and into the sun.

The baskets were already being sent back down and John looked back at Lorne, who nodded at him. "I'll see you in a few, sir."

John jogged over to Eriksson's jumper and greeted the lieutenant, telling him to go find Lorne, who would no doubt tell him to wait inside John's jumper and stay warm. Clayton was the doctor assigned to this jumper and he grimaced in greeting.

"You might want that cut over your eye looked at later," she said, gesturing with one gloved hand. "You look a little ill-used."

The marines rushed gurneys containing Doctors Klimatov and Vachsler, who'd been the one stuck under the console, over to the jumper two minutes later. John ran up to the cockpit and started the pre-flight while they were transferred to the beds. Clayton gave the all-clear and he raised the ramp, taking off before it had fully shut. The trip back to the gate was short enough that he started dialing the gate immediately, waited ten seconds and then started with his IDC.

"The shield is down, Colonel," he heard. "You're cleared for entry."

As expected, Elizabeth was waiting on the catwalk when the jumper came through the wormhole. He gave her a brief wave of acknowledgement as he waited for the automatic pilot to bring them up to the jumper bay, where marine orderlies were waiting. The casualties were transferred, Clayton disembarked, and John dialed up the gate address for Warrat before Elizabeth could ask him to stay for a couple of minutes.

"Colonel?" Elizabeth's voice came over the jumper's intercom as it hovered over the still-open bay doors. "You'll stay in after the urgent cases are returned?"

It wasn't really a question. "Yeah," he sighed.

He passed Paik's inbound jumper as he flew back to the site. Flying over the Warrati village below, he could see lots of brown dots, which were undoubtedly the villagers wondering what the hell was going on. Someone would have to stop by and talk to Sina and Alvo, but it wasn't going to be him.

There wasn't much time to talk to Lorne once he landed again. Eriksson was piloting the next jumper out and then he or Lorne would have to go unless Paik got turned around fast enough. So John sped through the basics -- naquadah processing plant, gallons of the stuff sitting around, intentional and unintentional demolition, who had been handling specific tasks.

"So we're going to have to drain the naquadah, do a risk analysis, then either close the place up or clean it so that the scientists can come back," Lorne said when he was done, since Lorne understood as well as John did that there were going to be immediate requests to do something. "How badly is Engineering going to want back in here?"

John thought of Rodney's possessive glee. "Very badly," he said with a grimace. Even without the accident, the plans for this place had been such a nightmare.

Eriksson's jumper had been loaded and took off.

Rodney was brought up on the next round, along with Wallace, who was still unconscious. Rodney's fear and curiosity were no longer enough to sustain him; he was lying quietly, disinterested in his surroundings, and the stillness made him look frail. Lorne looked over at John, the silent question of whether John wanted to take this jumper trip on his face. John shook his head no -- he wanted to, but it was better that Lorne take this trip and come back before John had to go so that there was someone around to make decisions up on the surface.

Paik didn't get back until after Lorne had returned to the city and John turned him right around with the next load. Eriksson arrived with Radner in tow, who in turn took over management of the evacuation. John's excuse to stick around thus undone, probably by Lorne but possibly by Elizabeth, he told Dave to send the next ones to his jumper and got ready to leave.

Back in Atlantis, John followed the gurneys down to Medical, which was running at the sort of briskly efficient chaos level he'd seen more often as patient than spectator. He followed a nurse into a quiet exam room, washed his face and his arm, and got his mostly dry wounds cleaned and re-bandaged. Birgita gave him an update on who was in surgery and who was still getting worked on and how they were handling bulk cases of hypothermia. It was all under control, which was different from 'everything will be fine', but it was what he could expect and he thanked her.

"How is everything?" Elizabeth asked when he walked into her office and dropped down in a chair. It still felt a little strange, a little luxurious, to feel warmth and softness -- not that her chairs were even that nice -- after a day of being constantly uncomfortable. He felt naked in only his uniform.

"It's doing," he answered, since she hated it when he gave her platitudes. "They have what they need to do what they can."

Elizabeth found that not much more comforting than John had when Birgita had said it.

She didn't ask about Rodney, since she knew he would have said something if he'd had anything. Instead he summarized what had gone on and what would be the likely outcomes and, over the din of the constant alarms for incoming wormholes and the outgoing return flights, they agreed that nothing could be decided right away except that someone should go to Warrat and explain to the locals why Atlantis was staging jumper relay races over their heads.

There was irony in the fact that the last jumpers were returning at about the same time they would have been coming back had nothing gone wrong and only the regular ferry service had been required, but nobody saw the need to point it out.

Atlantis had a resiliency that everyone knew not to dwell on too closely, so regular programming resumed almost immediately after the crisis had passed. Science was certainly used to functioning without Rodney around and the flip side of Cadman's platoon not going off-world too often was that they had no missions to cancel or guard duty or ready-room shifts to rearrange because they were operating at diminished capacity. The only missions to be canceled were John's, since Rodney would need a couple of weeks of convalescence and rehab and it took five days to convince Ronon to just lie down for the damned body scan so he could be put back on active duty.

In the interim, there was paperwork. John spent more time in Lorne's office than Lorne did, especially since some of John's missions had to be completed by someone and Lorne had already had a busy week planned. The IOA and SGC were understandably aflutter about the liquid naquadah, the latter already scheming for how to get as much of it as possible sent back to Earth despite the fact that they'd steadfastly refused to send anything naquadah-related to Pegasus under the pretext of concern for the safety of the Daedalus.

("They want us to roll it through the stargate like O'Neill did that champagne magnum," Elizabeth sniffed. "I foresee grave difficulties in extracting it from the outpost. At least until they can come up with adequate compensation. Or a few drones.")

There were a few blissful days when John did not have to think at all about naquadah or Warrat or the fact that one of his sergeants had knocked up a local girl, but then Rodney was cleared to resume his duties -- he'd been working unofficially for days, much to Carson's dismay and frustration -- and it started all over again because Rodney's clearance for off-world travel came shortly thereafter and from there it was only a short leap to demanding to go back to Warrat.

Their first mission was not to Warrat. It was to a warm planet that served them near-deer and cider and wanted to trade apples for protection from the Wraith.

Their second mission was a compromise -- follow Rodney's spikey energy readings in return for not going back to Warrat. Of course that turned a little pear-shaped what with the sanctuary and all and John spent his first few 'meditation' sessions focusing on the thought that this was completely not what he'd meant when he'd asked for a break from having to think about the fucking naquadah.

feed me on LJ?


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28 January 2008