"In the mythology of Oceanic peoples, Forever has always existed. So has Darkness, and so, too, the Sea." - Oceania/Polynesia creation myths by Daphne Elliot
Major Lorne was never asking to accompany Lt. Colonel Sheppard's team on a trading mission again. Ever. Sure, the seaweed-like plant that the overly friendly people of P3X-475 cultivated in their vast collection of floating farms was both nutritionally sufficient and would make great sushi, but the stargate was situated on the only piece of actual land on the entire world, and connected to the village by means of a complicated system of rope bridges, strung between huge, prehistoric tropical trees. It was impossible to carry any large equipment or weaponry, and using a puddle jumper was out of the question. There was simply nowhere to park it.
Lorne spent the first five klicks between the stargate and the village indulging Dr. McKay's ranting, and the last five ignoring him in a not-at-all-childish fashion. He just barely managed not to glare at the smugly smirking Sheppard.
Dr. Parrish got along surprisingly well with Ronon, which Lorne was determined to not let frighten him. But Ronon seemed to possess an unreasonably large amount of information on Pegasus Galaxy plant life, including which plants were edible, which were medicinal, which were hallucinatory, and which could be used to kill people. Sheppard seemed almost calmed by this information. Lorne, on the other hand, prayed for a quick end to the mission so he could get his scientist as far away from the crazy alien as possible.
"The jumpers can hover, you know. And while they don't exactly float..." McKay said, as if they didn't know.
Lorne caught the tail end of an eye roll from Sheppard, before the Colonel said, "Can it, Rodney. It's not that far," for the fiftieth time. McKay huffed and snapped and said something that was most likely inflammatory in French; which was patently unfair, as no one else on either team spoke French. Teyla smiled indulgently at Lorne's long-suffering sigh.
Lorne glanced back to check on Reed, easily holding his own on the ropes. They'd left Billick and Edison back at the gate with the big guns. The villagers had reported that the Wraith had been here recently, but hadn't been very forthcoming on why no one on the planet had been culled. Lorne stopped briefly to wipe the sweat from his forehead, then reached down and hauled Parrish up from where the botanist had slipped through the bridge. Again. Through the thick branches and the huge, flat leaves, they could just make out the edge of the village.
The Rangi lived in large, treetop lodges. Thick, knotted ropes trailed down from the high platforms, leading to smaller platforms on lower branches where wooden boats floated in the endless sea. Unlike most of the cultures they encountered in Pegasus, or the Milky Way for that matter, the Rangi were neither patriarchal, nor matriarchal. They seemed to hold no notions of gender roles at all. Everyone shared equal workloads, from caring for the children to pulling in fish and vegetables from the ocean. The men and women dressed in identical, tight-fitting clothing that resembled a one-piece bathing suit and was made from some light weight fabric that somehow managed to keep the Rangi from overheating in the cloying tropical humidity. As the Atlantians approached, tiny, blue not-monkeys and children in brightly-colored bathing suits swung from the branches above them, giggling and cackling down at the overdressed and sweating group.
McKay swatted at a not-monkey above his head and muttered something about leashes and planets full of children. "Rodney," Sheppard said, in that voice that always made McKay bristle yet, thankfully, shut up. "Hiya!" he called out to the welcoming party standing on the platform at the end of the bridge.
A stately woman dressed in green bowed low, then stepped forward and extended her hand. "Colonel Sheppard, we are blessed by your return."
"It's great to be back, Meela." Sheppard took her hand, clasping it gently between his. McKay snorted, then gasped and grumbled. Lorne glanced over to see McKay holding his side and glaring daggers at Ronon. Sheppard took no notice and smiled warmly as Meela stepped back and gestured at her colleagues.
"Aleria has graciously volunteered to share tales of our history." The petite woman in red bowed deeply. "The constructs left by the Ancestors might be of interest to you." At this, Rodney choked and coughed and had to be reminded to keep quiet, again, by Ronon's elbow. "And Delyn has agreed to show our kola farms to your Land-Keeper." The man in the deep blue bathing suit smiled brightly at Parrish, who all but bounced with excitement.
"Great," Sheppard said. "We're looking forward to it. Teyla, Rodney, you're with me. Lorne, Ronon, keep an eye on Parrish. Reed, stay here and keep an eye out for trouble. Stay in radio contact, check-in every hour."
With nods and yes sirs, the group split up. Sheppard, Teyla, and McKay followed Meela and Aleria across another bridge to a distant clump of trees, while Delyn gestured at the ropes leading down to the water. Ronon immediately swung out and began shimmying down the side of the tree. Parrish approached the ropes slowly and glanced hesitantly at the water below. Lorne patted him on the back. "Come on, Doc. You climb trees all the time," he said. Parrish made a whimpering noise, but obliged and began clambering down the rope. Lorne nodded once to Reed, then followed.
Three hours later, Parrish was making nearly orgasmic noises in the background as Lorne checked in, echoed by McKay on Sheppard's end. The Rangi not only had Ancient technology hidden inside huge, hollowed-out trees, but apparently some sort of defensive capability that McKay needed at least a day to figure out, since their host's explanations were largely mythological. They spoke of the protection of their world in terms of Darkness and the Sea, capital letters clearly audible. Parrish, meanwhile, had determined the kola an incredibly viable food option and for the past hour had been begging Lorne to convince Sheppard to let them stay longer. Delyn wanted to show them the fish farms further out, which interested Ronon more than the not-seaweed, since it apparently involved a moderate amount of skill and ceremony to kill and then wrestle the ten pound fish back to the trees.
"Fine with me," Sheppard said, pausing to snap, "Rodney! Remember that conversation about not insulting the natives?" Lorne could almost hear McKay rolling his eyes. "One more hour, Major, and then head in. I want to be back through the gate by sundown," Predictably, McKay began to complain, but Sheppard cut the radio off before Lorne heard more than, "Colonel, I need at least--"
Ronon shrugged and reached out automatically to grab the back of Parrish's vest and pull the overbalancing scientist back from the edge of the boat. Parrish dragged a chunk of seaweed with him and held it up to Lorne's nose. "Doesn't that smell fantastic, Major?"
"Sure," Lorne said, choking a bit at the overwhelming scent of sea and salt. "Fantastic. So, how soon can we start making our own sushi?" Parrish just grinned at him and turned back to Delyn, question after question flowing out of his mouth. Lorne shook his head indulgently.
"What's sushi?" Ronon asked.
Forty-five minutes later, Delyn was showing them where the fish liked to hide, while Ronon stood precariously in the boat, ready to spear one for the oceanographers to study. Lorne opened his mouth to warn Parrish back from the edge, where he was once again threatening to tip the little boat over, when his radio suddenly blared to life.
"Colonel, we have gate activity. Three Wraith darts headed toward the village."
It was at that moment that Parrish leaned further over the side and Ronon hurled the spear into the water and the boat promptly tipped over and tossed them all in the sea, and Lorne missed whatever order Sheppard had given.
Lorne sputtered and coughed up salt water. He looked around for the others and spotted Parrish struggling to free himself from some free-floating seaweed. He grabbed Parrish by the vest and dragged him closer to the boat. "How long will it take us to get back," Lorne asked. Before Delyn could reply, Ronon growled, "Too long," and pointed in the direction of the trees. They couldn't see the darts yet, but that unmistakable whine was getting closer. When they'd headed east to the fish farm, Delyn had put them in open water, right between the stargate and the village. Lorne's team would be the first thing the Wraith saw.
As the first dart became visible over the trees, Parrish suddenly grabbed a handful of seaweed and shoved it at Lorne, shouting, "Major!" just as Ronon grabbed Delyn and shoved him under the upside down boat. Lorne grabbed one end of the seaweed and tossed the other end to Ronon. Together, they covered the upended boat, then took deep breaths and ducked under the water.
Parrish was still gasping when Lorne popped up into the small pocket of air between boat and ocean. His breath was hot and quick against Lorne's cheek as he clung to the Major's shoulders. "Shh," Lorne whispered, as if silence would do any good.
The shrill whine of the darts got closer and closer, until Parrish was shaking and clenching his teeth together and clutching Lorne's shoulders hard enough to leave bruises. Lorne met Ronon's cold gaze over Parrish's head, then looked over at Delyn's wide, fearful eyes and tried a reassuring smile. The camouflaged boat shook as the darts passed overhead, and Lorne sent a silent prayer out to whoever was listening that the Ancient defense system that McKay had been drooling over was what had been keeping the Rangi safe from the Wraith, and that it would continue to do so.
After a few moments of silence, Lorne nodded to Ronon, who ducked underwater and disappeared. He reappeared a few seconds later and said, "Village is gone." Lorne's heart seized in his chest and Parrish made a strangled, gurgling noise before Ronon decided to elaborate. "Not destroyed. Gone."
One by one, they swam out from the boat and surfaced outside. Lorne looked around and saw what Ronon meant. The huge smattering of trees where the Rangi had built their village had vanished. The long line of trees leading from the stargate was still there, but petered out as it neared where the village had been. The rope bridge wouldn't be visible by air, and Lorne found himself hoping the Wraith wouldn't try to put troops on the ground near the gate, because they would surely find the evidence of the Rangi civilization, unless that too had vanished.
"The Ancient tech," Lorne said, and it wasn't really a question, but Ronon nodded anyway. "It makes the village invisible." He turned and grinned at Delyn, who was awed and speechless, and Parrish, who grinned back at him and said, "Well, that's certainly handy."
"Darts," Ronon said, succinctly, and shoved Delyn back under the boat.
Parrish and Lorne followed, seconds before the darts zoomed by on their return trip. This time, they waited until their radios crackled and Edison's voice said, "Stargate deactivated. All darts accounted for. They're gone."
Lorne breathed a sigh of relief, echoed by Parrish and Delyn, and said, "Well, that was surprisingly easy."
"Jinx!" Parrish gasped, just before Ronon pushed him back under the water.
They were soaked to the bone and covered in sticky not-seaweed by the time they made it back to the trees. The village had magically appeared a few minutes after the Wraith had left, sparkling into existence on the horizon. Delyn's mouth dropped open and Ronon grinned and Lorne looked over at Parrish to see the scientist's eyes shining. Oh yeah, he thought. Definitely one of their better missions. Then he immediately thought, jinx jinx jinx, and smiled as he activated his radio.
"Colonel Sheppard," he said. "Could you meet us at the dock, sir? And bring Doctor McKay." Lorne grinned. "There's something I think he'd like to see."
Feed Packmentality Visit Packmentality Return to Writercon Archive Main