The room was as vast as the gateroom. Starkly bright pyramid shaped lights in half hexagon shaped formations accent the high up ceiling, casting spotty lighting at best over the large area. It’s second story opened up onto the main floor with railings that looked like all the railings they’d normally find around the city and it’s floors were outlined with highlighted tracks of lighting that evoked notions of the gateroom staircase accompanied with the occasional pillar light or giant ‘floor’ to ‘ceiling’ wall sconces that have become lovingly nicknamed “chicklet lights”. Just in case you got lost in the dark in here up on the second floor. And jutting out into the room on the second floor were ramps where previously silent vehicles had laid in wait. But only one laid there now, while three more of its companions were being tended to on the main floor. Atlantis’ jumper bay, during the daytime, never exactly went unused. But today, it wasn’t exactly being underused either. Two jumpers were out on training flights with a couple of new ATA-capable pilots that came through the Stargate two weeks ago along with Team Atlantis’ newest Lieutenant, likewise ATA-capable.
Although her ATA sensitivity was far more extravagant than anyone else’s in the formerly Lost City of the Ancients. That fact was mostly due to this particular Lieutenant’s reason for being there in the first place: she was half-Ancient. But that didn’t necessarily earn her any friends in the city nor did she want any more than the ones she already had. It did however award her a place on the top team; again, that didn’t necessarily earn her any friends in the lost city nor did she want any more than the ones she already had. Lieutenant Ursula Kenmore and Major Evan Lorne push a heavy cart weighted down with two stacks each of three large grey metal crates over to the open back of the first puddle jumper on the main floor. Stationed on the jumper’s ramp, Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and his teammate Ronon Dex unload the stacks of crates as Doctor Rodney McKay makes an inventory log of every crate they haul in and Teyla Emmagan shifts each crate into its proper place on board Jumper One, Colonel Sheppard’s favorite jumper.
“Why do we have to do this again,” Kenmore asks.
Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon look at each other. The two men look severely like they really want to roll their eyes and Teyla just looks like she’s waiting for the time when she has to step in and break up whatever may happen next, which in her limited amount of experience with the newly arrived Lieutenant could mean as much as collapsing buildings if not testing the tempers of her already short-fused fellow teammates.
“There are civilians who need these supplies on a planet we’re friendly with,” Sheppard explains, acting and feeling like he had done it for the fifteen-billionth time even though it was only the first.
“We didn’t have to do this back at the SGC,” Kenmore comments more to herself than to anyone else, but it was loud enough for all of them to hear.
McKay can’t take anymore and speaks out from his spot inside of the jumper…
“Yeah, we’ll you’re not back at the SGC,” he hoped that stung as much as he wanted it to, “We’re sort of on our own here and things happen a little differently out here considering that we don’t have a planet Earth to rely on. We have to play nice with all of our little friends.”
“Hey, we have to play nice back on Earth too. We haven’t been the only ones with Stargates. The Russians had one too you know. Imagine having to kiss Doctor Zelenka’s ass just to get a computer from him.”
McKay hesitates; she did have a point and an unpleasant visual to go with it.
“Don’t get me wrong,” the Lieutenant goes on, “We’ve helped out the other planets we’ve been on back in the Milky Way, but we never had to actually go out and deliver the goods. Usually the SG teams were reserved for exploration and first contact scenarios, it was the research teams, the scientists, that delivered the peacekeeping stuff and kept up the good relations.”
“Yeah, well we have to deliver these supplies our selves. The good relations on this planet are a little…tricky. Their leader is a woman who put us—,” the Colonel catches McKay shooting a glaring look at him as Sheppard drops a crate at Rodney’s feet. Sheppard takes the hint, “me,” he corrects, “on trial for our crimes against the whole of the Pegasus Galaxy.”
“That’s nothing,” Kenmore tells him, “We were put on trial too for our ‘crimes’ against the Milky Way.”
McKay looks like he’s going to relish this, he knows she’s wrong, “And who put Earth on trial?”
Shocked, McKay peeks out from the inside of the jumper at her, “The Nox are peace-lovers. Why would they put anyone on trial for anything?”
“The Goa’uld. I don’t know whether or not you realized this Doctor McKay, but we sort of had a knack for really pissing them off. I think it might have had something to do with our whole blowing up Ra therefore sending the rest of the System Lords into a feeding frenzy for as many star systems as they could get a hold of and helping to start a Jaffa rebellion that led the System Lords to subsequently start massacring people in grand sweeping bloodbaths on nearly every single planet in the galaxy just to maintain their death grip on interplanetary slavery,” she commented with a sarcastic smile on her lips.
“Oh,” Rodney answered back weakly then he takes a moment to get back his strength of snark and says, “And when did this trial supposedly happen?” He still knew she was wrong.
Kenmore looks over at Lorne and the man quips off without hesitation and without even noticing his companion’s looking at him, “She can’t tell you.”
Kenmore makes a fake gun shooting at him gesture with one of her eyes shut and a click sound out of her mouth.
Sheppard and his team temporarily stop in their work and stare at Lorne.
“Why not,” Rodney asks indignantly. He hated being left out of anything, he looked like he was on the verge of stamping his foot and calling for his Mommy to make Lorne and Kenmore start playing nice with him.
The two soldiers look at each other then look back at the others.
“We can’t,” they answer in unison with Kenmore shrugging.
That was not the answer the others had wanted to hear.
Kenmore addresses Sheppard as McKay retreats back into the jumper to try and figure a way of getting this little tidbit of information out of her, “So who’d you get done up for?”
Sheppard doesn’t see the harm in answering her honestly.
“The Wraith,” he tells her as he unloads another crate from her and Lorne’s cart and sets it down just inside the jumper then he stops and leans on the crate’s top; actually, there were a lot of people they had been responsible for over the years.
Kenmore shrugs it off and the rest of them go back to work.
“The Hybrids,” he goes on, “the Replicators…bad guy Asgard.”
“Well, we’ll match your Replicators with ours, we’ll check your Asgard with the Ori and well, as for the Hybrids, we’ll see ya’ the Super Soldiers,” suddenly she laughs, “and raise you Ba’al.”
Sheppard wasn’t sure this was so funny, this wasn’t a game. At least not what they’ve been through in the Pegasus Galaxy.
But McKay can’t let the challenge slide, “And we raise you…we really don’t have anyone.” McKay’s voice trails off as he realizes that their retrovirus-created Lieutenant Michael Kenmore could pretty much match Ba’al, but that would only lead to Kenmore raising them again with Anubis most likely and they really didn’t have anyone that could match Anubis. He leans a little bit against Jumper One’s ramp’s frame; well there were those aliens they met attacking the Daedalus when the ship kept going through variations of its self in different universes. Maybe those guys could match Anubis, the team really hadn’t got to know anything about them other than they were a whole new race of people that another variation of the Atlantis Expedition somehow managed to piss off in another reality and they were really hard to kill…oh and there were a lot of them. The other Sheppard’s F-302 squadron barely kept all of the alien forces in check, it was their own Sheppard’s help onboard the Daedalus and the ship’s own surprise appearance and reappearance that ended up tipping the scales in Atlantis’ favor. Huh, trying to figure out this tit-for-tat stuff was actually pretty hard…
With the cart now empty, the Lieutenant and Major take up its handle again and start to tug it back away from the jumper. On the other side of the room, safely away from the farthest reaches that the hole in the jumper bay floor can recess, Kenmore leaves Lorne beside the cart and walks back to the jumper and up its ramp.
“Friendly relations aside,” she comments, “this still sucks.”
She passes between McKay and Teyla inside the interior of the puddle jumper’s rear compartment and takes up her usual seat on one of the plush and rather comfy gray vinyl-covered benches.
“This is still a gracious and friendly gesture well needed to these people,” Teyla tries to smooth over; it was going to be a hard trip if she did not, “It is our agreement as part of this alliance to aid and protect them, to help them. It was our promise.”
Kenmore gets comfortable, without looking up, “They’re farmers with pitchforks,” she says, “they know they suck.”
Teyla rolls her head away from Kenmore. As a member of one of those races of so-called ‘farmers with pitchforks’ in the Pegasus Galaxy, she was insulted. She looks towards Sheppard with her frustration. They all do. Sheppard takes in all the unhappy expressions about Kenmore looking back at him from his team and he looks over at Lorne. Lorne holds up his hands in the universal gesture of ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’.
“That’s just the way she is,” Lorne tells him as quietly as he can while still being able to be heard by Sheppard.
That was not what Sheppard had wanted to hear, but…he nods and turns back to his team. He gestures with his head for the rest of them to get to their usual positions, but he feels no less trapped for being the one caught in the middle. John kept telling himself that that was one of the many prices of command, but it still didn’t make him resent the situation even less. Woolsey had made it quite clear in his office at the end of that first disastrous day with Kenmore that she was on Sheppard’s team and that was it. She wasn’t leaving it, wasn’t being transferred to another team; she was quote “Too valuable to be squandered there”. But still…John makes his way to the jumper’s front and sits down in the pilot’s seat.
After a moment, the jumper hums to life.
Lorne waves at Jumper One as its ramp begins to rise.
“Have a nice trip,” he calls out to it.
Jumper One’s ramp closes shut and the vessel rises a few feet off the ground.
* * *
The wormhole wasn’t any bumpier a ride than expected, but the exit was a bit tight. Actually, drastically tight. A dense forest of alien pine trees crowded around the planet’s Stargate. It was a miracle Sheppard managed to maneuver the jumper into the only available space, between a couple of spindly teenage saplings just beyond the Stargate’s initiating flourishes range, in time. In the little craft’s cockpit, Sheppard breathed a hefty sigh of relief braced against his console. He took a moment as his friends and teammates recovered from his slamming on the brakes and veering the jumper as sharply as he did then he eases his torso back from the jumper’s controls and pilot’s console and keys in the sequence that tells the stopped hovering ship to lower to the ground. For the moments as the jumper settles down onto the bright green, ankle deep grass below it, he wondered if this was the planet’s leader’s idea of sarcasm. They had not been informed that it would have been easier to just activate the wormhole and shove people pushing the crates of supplies through into the area. That there really wasn’t enough room to fit a jumper into this Stargate’s area.
Finally, with the jumper firmly on the ground and parked, Sheppard lowers the ramp and the team starts unloading the crates out of the jumper into the wooded area’s tremendously small clearing a few feet off to the left of where they were parked and just a few feet further out of an activating Stargate’s range. Okay so this was sarcasm, it had to be. The clearing around the Stargate was even more ridiculously smaller in person than what quick glimpse was given through the speeding jumper’s window. Only a few other saplings were growing a small distance, enough for the Stargate’s flushing’s suction sort of action when it activated to clear it, behind the gate. Everywhere else, full grown trees, two hundred or so feet high, crowded all around them and towered over the Stargate, making even that large structure seem dwarfishly small and of course them tinier still.
Kenmore takes a crate and drops it a few feet farther than some of the other stacks they’ve piled up, starting a new pile. Ronon, placing his own crate on one of the stacks they’d already started, pauses to watch her for a moment. Sheppard puts down a crate beside his friend’s.
“Why is she here,” Ronon asks him, “We don’t need her.”
Sheppard looks up and watches Kenmore lean against the crate she’d just sat down and wipe her forehead. Yeah, his friend was right, but…
“Woolsey says we do.”
Ronon glances over at Sheppard. That was a weak answer.
“Do you always believe what Woolsey tells you,” he asks.
Sheppard eyes his friend, but doesn’t say anything. It wasn’t like it had been his choice to keep her around, half-Ancient DNA or not. He supposed he could tell Ronon what Woolsey had said about the matter, the specific case the former attorney had pled, but would that really work with Ronon.
Kenmore, in her own little world a small distance away from the other members of her assigned team, lowers her arm from wiping her forehead as she stares down at the ground next to the crate she had just started to lean against. Her damp sleeve slips past her view. It was funny how much sweat had built up for what three, four minutes of work. The last time she sweated this bad with so little effort was that hellhole night over the southern Baghdad countryside. She smiles for a moment at the crazy memory. Thirty-two Apaches against four Republican Guard divisions, 40,000 men, well-hidden in territory they knew well. Giving the opposition the unmitigated advantage of damn good cover. At night too. And by the end of that night, one of their own had been shot down and the remaining thirty-one Apaches had been forced to turn back, leaving the Guard practically untouched. Which couldn’t be said for the Apaches, almost each and every one had sustained damage. Ursula remembered throwing a tearful, cursing tirade when she’d finally landed and took a look at the hits her baby had taken. And she’d only gotten more irate when the morning’s light got even better and she finally got a good look at her Longbow’s wounds. Yep, their intel about that place had been pretty crappy then. And judging by the way Sheppard had slammed his baby’s brakes coming out of the gate, some things never change no matter what galaxy you were in.
Suddenly a smell comes to her and she wrinkles her nose at it. It’s both rank and cloyingly sweet…but strange enough it’s familiar as well. Kenmore looks around her. The more she catches the smell in her nostrils, the more the sense of familiarity engulfs her and continues to elude her. Kenmore straightens up and starts sniffing the air around her. More and more.
Sheppard places another crate down on the one he had placed just moments before and looks up at Kenmore again. He sees her suddenly stand up with an odd expression on her face like she knows something’s off but can’t put her finger on what. Usually when Teyla had that look on her face, her Spidey-sense was telling her something bad was coming.
“Something’s up,” Sheppard nudges Ronon as the Satedan sets down another crate on top of the stack he’d already started.
Ronon looks up at Kenmore again too and sees her starting to sniff the air. He glances at Sheppard beside him and Sheppard returns the look. The acknowledgement is silent and doesn’t require any sign of agreement. Both men walk over to Kenmore.
“What is it,” Ronon asks.
Kenmore ignores him and turns in every direction she can following the scent. Sniffing. Turning in circle after circle after circle. It was dizzying watching her. She mouths words to herself, not saying any of them, and moving her lips and turning so fast Sheppard can’t catch a single word. Then she slows. She transitions from series of small sniffs to single long deep inhales of the air around her. Her eyes drift off to the left of their landing zone to the start of a large path that leads away from their clearing, finally tracking the scent. Her eyes wide with recognition…and something else.
“Burning,” she tells them.
Suddenly she bolts down the path. Ronon quickly pursues with Sheppard following him.
“Kenmore,” Sheppard yells.
God damn it. Not again.
Kenmore doesn’t slow up. She desperately runs down the path, pushing herself hard. She can hear the others following just as hard behind her, but her mind wasn’t on them. She knew that scent now and she has to reach it, has to stop it. A low branch from another alien tree that bore a striking resemblance to a stripped birch struggling to fill in what gap had managed to happen between two pine trees smacks into her forehead, but she pushes beyond it. The terrain is so reflective it felt like she was running the same small indistinct stretch of it over and over like she was trapped on a treadmill. Her desperation to go somewhere anywhere that let her know she was gaining any distance starts to overwhelm her. And suddenly she breaks onto the crest of a hill with nothing but an eroded drop on the other side of it…and stares in horror at the scene before her. Ronon, his long-legged strides had practically matched her smaller but more determined ones, comes up beside her within seconds and stares at the scene beyond. Sheppard comes up between them and can’t believe his eyes. After a moment, Teyla runs up to the small measure of free ground before erosion on Kenmore’s other side and McKay comes to a stop behind Teyla; they too stare in shock at the scene before them.
“Oh my God,” Kenmore breathes.