Rating: PG for mild language
Summar: John's immediate reaction was the "holy crap, we're on an alien planet" exclamation never turly uttered in all heart-felt glory until now. Takes place some time between season two and three.
A/N: Yes, another story. But let me explain. Oh please let me explain. Why won't you let me explain! Yeah, moving on... This one is another flash-fic for Flash-fic that was never posted. I'd wanted to draw a picture for it, procrastinated, and thus missed the deadline. After further procrastination, I finally got around to drawing the picture, and am incredibly happy with it (for once) so on with the fic!
Not Too Bad, Not too Bad at All
John's immediate reaction was the “holy crap, we're on an alien planet” exclamation never truly uttered in all heart-felt glory until now. What came out of his mouth was tempered down to just a breathy, “Holy crap!” No delayed reaction, no feeling like he'd stepped into a Renaissance fair, and no “it looks just like earth except for those two moons over there.”
This was science fiction without the fiction: walls of metallic rock with a liquid blue-quicksilver shine topped by a serrated edge of spired peaks, like spears or turrets. Arches of rock formed bridges connecting the two sides of the alien Grand Canyon buried at the bottom under teal-colored trees that dwarfed redwoods, and peeking out from behind one of the walls was a blue Saturn and it's Mars-like little brother. The team was able to see it all from their perch on one of the upper bridges where the air wasn't quite the right temperature for giant trees to grow, just giant bushes like furry aquamarine spiders gone belly-up.
John was immediately smitten, then immediately cautious. He'd read a good amount of Sci-fi of the kind that opted for man-eating jungles, where vegetables were more likely to eat you before you ate them. Images of giant poison-barbed spitting flowers, Venus fly-traps that preferred human-sized red-meat, and flesh-eating clouds of gnats danced in his head. Why not? They'd already encountered man-eating moose, those rabbit-poodle things that liked blood, and psychic whales. There was always something, and that was just on the earth-like planets.
“We should stick close together,” John said, lifting his P-90 to be level with his collarbone. “Real close.”
The slope of the bridge was gentle for the first quarter mile, morphing to precariously steep the rest of the way. They skidded and jolted down the incline, dislodging spider-shrubs and spooking clouds of insects that even Ronon cringed away from. The bridge brought them to a narrow pass, and the pass opened into a valley of giant trees with maple leaves metal bright and about the size of John's spread hand. The 'path' guided them more gently than the bridge into the forest that shrunk them to the size of ants forced to scale over roots big as hills buried under blue-green moss. The temperature had to be a good seventy-five to eighty degrees, not too bad with a breeze blowing.
“The botanists are going to spontaneously-combust when we tell them about this place,” Rodney muttered. Then added louder, “I'm still not getting any kind of an energy reading. The database called this place an observatory so I'm thinking along the lines of a planetarium or museum. Sure we can't dump this one on Lorne?”
“Hell no,” John quickly replied. Potential good or potential bad, he wanted to know what this planet had to offer beyond Ancient structures and no energy signatures. Hell, he wouldn't even mind shooting a few giant Venus fly-traps, because he wasn't sending anyone to a potentially hazardous planet he wasn't willing to hazard himself.
“How about we go back for a puddle-jumper, then,” Rodney said. “Fly to the place. I'm sure there's a clearing or two we could land in. I would think that preferable to stepping on some seemingly harmless flower that turns to be the baby of a giant, ambidextrous, sentient... Ga!”
John whipped around training his weapon on the cat-sized creature currently snuffling around Rodney's boot. It was like a furry teal dragon with transparent wings attached to spindly forearms, stretched in width to the lithe hind legs. It seemed quite enamored with Rodney's boots, chirping at them while blinking dark blue orbs so inquisitive there was no way this thing could be anything but sentient.
Rodney stood stalk-still and panting, clenching and unclenching his fingers. “G-g-get... get... get it away from me!” he wheezed. More of the furry dragon-things scampered down from the red-barked trees, clinging to fine layers of blue-green moss. Others bounded out from behind spider bushes and shrubs resembling giant green Koosh-balls. They scampered and clamored around Rodney, sniffing at his boots, his legs, a few swatting at his boot laces.
Ronon raised his blaster and Teyla her P-90 when a few of the flying furries scurried around them.
A low rumble pulled John's attention to the trees where dark blue orbs roughly his size blinked down at him from out of the shimmering foliage. “Um... maybe we shouldn't be too hasty. Never know who's mommy we might upset.”
“Easy for you to say!” Rodney hissed.
John felt a tug at his boot string. “No, it isn't.” He looked down to see a dragon-furry undo the laces with one tug. “Hey!” It scampered away at his bark, squealing a high, chittery noise that John could swear was laughter. A second furry undid the other boot. “What the hell!” It also scampered away, laughing. John released his weapon and crouched to retie the strings. The moment he straightened, the two bounded forward, undid the work, and bounded back.
John rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I don't think they're going to hurt you, Rodney.” He bent, tying the laces. When the creatures hurried forward, John stomped his foot and they took off, squealing in baby-critter delight.
Ronon pulled a power bar from his pocket, unwrapped it, and tossed it to the litter that converged like sharks at a feeding frenzy.
Rodney bristled, momentarily forgetting his own entourage. “Oh, smart move, Tarzan! Feed the animals with the sharp teeth and claws. Now they'll never leave us alone!”
Ronon just shrugged. Rodney had a point, though. They started moving and the kiddies followed, which was oddly not an unfamiliar scene. No different than any other world where the children of villages that had yet to evolve past using pitchforks as weapons would surround the four aliens with their magic fighting tools and strange clothes, hoping for stories about alien worlds and alien monsters.
Ronon continued tossing pieces of Powerbar to the creatures who eventually caught on that the food was located in the pockets of the two-legged aliens' 'skin' (or so John mentally translated). One got brave, shimmying up Ronon's coat to start digging through the pockets. As soon as a power bar was produced, it took off with the others chasing.
The rest caught on. It was hard to walk with so many cat-sized bodies using you as a tree. John finally just stopped and spread his arms, letting the creatures root through his vest, pulling out survival gear that they dropped to the ground when it was deemed inedible. Luckily, his backpack was too tightly buckled and sealed for even the kiddies' tiny claws to snake into.
“Ah, what the hell! Shoo, shoo!” Rodney complained, flapping his hands at the creatures climbing him.
As soon as all curiosity was satiated, John stuffed the discarded equipment not carried off back into his vest. “Relax, Rodney, they're just kids trying to get to know you.”
“I hate kids,” Rodney sneered, “whatever the species.”
“Get used to it,” Ronon said. “We watch them, then we can know what to avoid.”
So far, it seemed there wasn't much they needed to stay clear of. Vines as thick as John's wrist tangled around the base of the tress, fat with bulbous violet, red, or blue flowers: swollen at the base, with pinky-thin petals at the top like a tiny hat. The furry-dragons liked to rip then from the vines and tear into them with hungry childish abandon, squirting violet, red or blue juice all over their faces – nature's Kool-Aid. It smelled nice, like strawberries.
Some of the Koosh-ball bushes were peppered with tiny yellow flowers like a cross between daisies and butter-cups. The spider bushes sagged under the weight of dark blue hibiscus smelling of honeysuckle. The entire planet smelled nice, perfumed with flowers, water, and something like sandalwood. The furry-dragons jumped into the bushes scaring up a flurry of dragon-flies the size of John's hand, wings transparent but tinted prismatic in swirling liquid patterns -tie dye.
“This world is lovely,” Teyla said, rubbing her thumb over the waxy petal of a blue hibiscus.
John rolled his eyes up toward the trees where sunlight flashed off more massive sea-dark-orbs watching them with a lot of mistrust and plenty of warning. “Yeah... that's what I'm worried about.”
“It's been our experience,” Rodney said, “that beauty in nature usually belies danger. Take the monarch butterfly – lovely wings but I wouldn't try to eat one.”
“But there are some things beautiful for the sake of beauty,” Teyla argued. “To attract the eye...”
“So it can eat you later,” Rodney muttered.
Teyla narrowed her eyes. “Flowers do not attract to kill. They attract to spread their pollen. There are dangers on all worlds, but you cannot judge a world by that danger or you will miss all else it has to offer.”
Both made a good point, but for the sake of survival it was better to see the danger first then come back later to smell the alien roses.
The mommy and daddy furry-dragons let curiosity get the better of them, and lowered their massive heads on their sinewy necks to regard the two-legged things with dubiety but no real hostility. Be nice to the kids and the parents would be nice to you. A few of the kiddies had taken to scurrying up his or Ronon's back and leaping from their shoulders in a short glide to the blue-green spongy ground. Where the creatures walked, the team walked. If they avoided anything then team would have avoided it, except the furry-dragons avoided nothing, not even the Venus-fly traps the size of John's head.
Movement from the giant furry-dragons and the wind rustled the leaves into a whispering frenzy, not unlike distant ocean waves. Sunlight didn't just glitter, it undulated the way light will on the bottom of the ocean floor. Ronon scaled the roots, standing like the king of the mountain, and figured out how to slide back down on slick moss like a skater sliding on a hand-rail, except with a lot less finesse. He didn't fall, just stumble until he found his footing. The furry-dragons caught on quick to the game and played along. Teyla wandered to and from the shrubs and vines, craning her neck to smell the flowers or peek between the branches to see what might be living in them, but never touching. They all knew better than to touch. Rodney was preoccupied with dodging furry-dragons and insects.
They crossed a river flashing brighter than any river John had ever waded through. It was crystal clear in the literal sense, and the rocks so metal and polished he had to slip on his sun-glasses just to kick through the ankle-high water. The furry-dragons took nose-dives, arching up with dark silver, six-flippered catfish in their tiny snouts. It was Ronon's turn to get in on the game, standing rock-still, staring at the water with the intent of staring at a target he was about to shoot. He suddenly burst into motion, crouching then snapping rigid with a squirming mutant catfish in his hand that he tossed to the nearest dragon.
“For two seconds, I thought he was going to eat it,” Rodney said close to John's ear. “Raw.”
John hauled himself up on the other side of the river, grabbing Rodney's wrist to help the man do the same. “He was forced to live on the run, Rodney, he wasn't born in the wild. He'd cook it first. Either that or hit you with it. I'd go back to the Conan jokes. He saw the Disney version of Tarzan and I doubt he'd appreciate the comparison. The whole loin cloth thing seemed to bug him, possibly because he saw that manipulated photo of him on Dr. Casper's laptop.”
Rodney shook his foot free of water. “That woman is scary. She once pasted my head on a chimp's body and sent it as an attachment with her memos.”
John wiped his mouth to hide a flicker of a smile. He still had that picture, not to mention a few others of a similar nature, locked safely away in an encrypted file.
The land was getting a little hillier with moss-buried roots. They passed beneath arches, parting through curtains of pale-green lichens intricate as old lace. John was mesmerized by a rainbow array of glow-in-the-dark flowers peppering the underside of a root.
“Are we there yet?” Rodney whined.
“You're the man with the tech that would tell us, McKay,” John replied. “The valley hadn't looked that big and the database had said to keep heading straight. Other than that, we'll get there when we get there. Don't make me ask Ronon smack you with a fish.”
“At least nothing has tried to eat us, yet,” Teyla said with a small smirk.
Rodney stumbled over a hidden... something. “Oh, you did not just say that! Why don't we just stick a sign on our backs that says 'Eat me' while we're at it!”
“Because I doubt man-eating life-forms can read English, Rodney,” John said. “And will you relax. If the biggest animals who have yet to show any kind of real fear toward haven't eaten us, then we're probably sa -” there was a brief, sick sensation of falling when he plummeted into the ground, sinking into a liquid the consistency of pudding. He flailed, searching for purchase – the ground, a log, anything - but his hands encountered only mud that melted between his fingers. He clawed at it, digging, trying to pull himself up. The pudding oozed down the collar of his jacket and shirt, pushing up his nose and trying to squeeze into his mouth. Increasing pressure pushed against his chest like a giant fist trying to crush him out of existence.
Something bumped into his should before tugging at his backpack that dug into his armpits when he was pulled upward out of the sucking, relentless mire into fresh air, and dumped on the soft ground. He sucked in a lungful of air and a little goop that he coughed back out.
“Thanks,” he rasped. He swiped clear goop from his eyes and blinked at himself reflected in the ocean dark globe of giant furry-dragon's eyes. The eyes blinked back, then the head lifted to vanish within the shimmering leaves.
John gaped and the spot where the giant head had been.
“Guess we know the natives are friendly,” Rodney said, slack-jawed.
They paid closer attention to the baby furry-dragons, sticking to the roots and testing any suspicious looking dips in the ground. John's boots sloshed and his clothes refuse to stop dripping a combination of water and – as Rodney put it – transparent snot. Whatever that stuff had been, it was starting to itch. The moment they came to another glass-clear river with a good enough depth to jump into, John jumped, hunkering down and scraping slime from his clothes and skin. The others hopped from polished stepping stone to polished stepping stone configured in a way that could only be man-made.
John had been right about the structure not being much farther. They scaled to the top of a root and stood – John shivering until his teeth chattered – staring at a mammoth, Greek-like structure cross-bred with a mansion of the kind built by the stupidly rich on tropical islands. The first level was enclosed, the second level open like a giant veranda. The whole thing was carved out of the mountain side, all intricate pillars, windows, balustrade and ivy-choked walls exploding with fat flowers.
Ronon led the way to the ridiculously large metal doors that groaned open without much effort for him. Inside, everything was polished to a mirror shine and choked with dust. It was a chamber with three rooms on the right and left, all empty. No tech, not even a table. Rodney consulted his PC tablet and scowled.
“Okay, what idiot who is probably ascended but shouldn't be coined this a freakin' observatory.”
“P-p-probably someone who could see the f-f-future and knew it would p-p-p-is-s you o-o-o-ff. Or w-w-was the Ancient eq-q-quivilant of a hippy and this was his c-c-c-commune,” John said.
“Either way, it's a good place to hold up,” Ronon stated. It was his not-too-boldly-putting-it a way of saying that John was freezing his ass off and they had better get him warmed up.
Rodney found the stairs to the second level and they headed up to where the air was fresh and dust free, but the floor littered with dead leaves and sticks. The furry-dragons followed them joining the ones already playing up top, jumping from the balustrade to glide to the nearest branch, then back as the parents watched. Teyla kicked away some of the debris while Ronon enlisted Rodney's reluctant help in gathering wood. John headed to the nearest room, stripping off his sodden clothes then wrapping in the brown blanket Teyla normally used for her bedding, just until John's sleeping-roll dried.
A reasonably-sized fire was going by the time John padded barefoot across the cool, slick stone. He laid his stuff out to dry, then hunkered down as close to the flames as safely possible. There hadn't been any formal plans of camping overnight, but John had told Elizabeth that it was a possibility and not to panic if they didn't come back until the next day. The day had been growing late, anyways, and John had had no intentions of dragging his team back home in the dark if night came early on this world.
John's skin finally dried, and the warmth of the fire seeped into the blanket to soak through his skin. His muscles started to unwind, and his arms relaxed their bruising press against his flanks. He breathed in smoke-scent and the sweeter smells of the forest, feeling his ribs move beneath his skin as they spread. Teyla sat on one side, Rodney the other, close without touching to let their warmth join with his. Ronon sat across from them flicking dead twigs into the fire. A furry-dragon was sprawled limp over his shoulder, asleep. John could feel another of the little monsters curl up against the small of his back. A third was using Rodney's thigh as a pillow.
“This isn't too bad a planet,” Ronon said.
McKay snorted. “If you ignore the giant... everything, plus hidden pot-holes of quicksand.”
“Seeing as how the giant everything hasn't eaten us,” John replied. “No, strike that, saved my life...” he glanced toward the balcony, did a double, then scooted around for a full view beyond the balustrade. “I think I know why this is an observatory.”
Everyone turned with him and breathed a collective sigh of awe.
They could see everything from where they were camped. Over the trees, even over the mountains to the serrated peaks forming the canyon wall on the other side. And the sunset – it was one hell of a sunset, the richest colors John had ever seen. White gold flashed like fire off the sharper edges of the metal mountains where the sun had vanished, trailing citrus yellow and orange, apple red, Passion fruit pink going into plum that melted to the blue-violet of a night-sky crowded with stars. Blue Saturn and it's Mars-like buddy hovered just above the peaks, massive but gentle, bright against the deepening black.
That's when it hit John. Really, really hit him.
They were on an alien planet, in an alien galaxy. The realization wasn't new just... more. Stronger, tangible, pure, untainted by reminders of Earth. An alien pine tree was still a pine tree momentarily skewing his perceptions until, sometimes, he utterly forgot to recall that he was on another world.
This world wouldn't let him. Furred dragons took to the air trumpeting calls and wheeling on the breezes, the deepest colors of sunset John had ever seen painting their wings like stained glass. He could have sworn planets could be amused, and that this one was grinning smugly at him, swelling with pride over the things that it had shown him, and that it had been able to please.
“Yep,” John said. “This planet's not too bad at all.”