Chapter 15: Gracious and Prudent
Evan looked up from his desk to see Doctor Prudence Darnell standing in his doorway, looking both determined and hesitant at the same time.
"Doctor," he smiled slightly, half rising from his chair before she waved him back down, moving forward quickly to take a seat in his visitor's chair. "What can I do for you Doc?" Lorne asked, leaning back in his own chair comfortably.
"I wish to visit M4R-322," Prudence announced purposefully. She had a challenging look in her eyes like she was already poised to counter the arguments she thought he'd make against that. She'd completed her firearms training successfully - with his help, which Lorne knew still rankled - and was certified for off world travel. Certified but still uninitiated which made her request interesting.
"What's on M4R-322 that requires your presence?"
"From my research of the Ancient database, the best source of middle era written Ancient dialect," Doctor Darnell explained, her expression turning earnest. "If I'm to build an effective Ancient translator, one that doesn't require someone to still have a basic level of understanding of the language to interpret the results, then I need to include as many dialects as I can."
"There's more than one version of the Ancient language?" Lorne asked, curious and charmed by his first real view of her as the science geek he knew she must be to do the job she'd signed up for.
"Language is fluid Major," Prue explained, leaning forward a little as she continued. "In your lifetime you might notice the emergence of a handful of words that didn't have meaning when you were a child. Multiply that out by thousands of years and you can begin to appreciate just how much a language can change over time. And it's not just the changes in vocabulary. Syntactics, semantics, pragmatics – they allow for infinite meaningful combinations of a finite set of symbols that can change dramatically even in a hundred years."
She got more animated, less formal in her word choice when she was passionate about something. That was what struck Evan as he listened. Maybe more like the real her and less the facade she seemed to feel was necessary when dealing with him? Why she felt that need was a conversation for another day, when he was feeling a little braver or a little more reckless, depending on how you looked at it.
"And you need to include all the versions in your translator," Lorne concluded, nodding thoughtfully.
"As many as I can find enough examples of, yes," Prue confirmed.
"Why can't you get all this from the database?" Evan asked. "Didn't the Ancients keep a dictionary or something similar?"
"I said the change was fluid Major, but it's gradual too," Doctor Darnell explained. "The Ancients were no better at keeping track of the various versions of their language constructs and history than we've been. If the changes had been rapid history would reflect them but over such a long time frame no one would have noticed or thought the emergence of a single word worthy of note."
"Like the frog in boiling water," Lorne suggested with a quick grin. "Heat him up slowly enough and he cooks before he works out the climate's changed."
"A cruel analogy but accurate, yes," Prue agreed, amusement lending a light to her dark eyes. "I took the liberty of speaking with Doctor Weir and she agreed that my reasons for visiting M4R-322 are valid."
"Which is why you're here," Lorne concluded.
"Doctor Weir indicated that you were in charge of the off world mission schedule," Prue explained needlessly, suddenly looking nervous again.
"Relax Doc," Lorne swivelled and tapped a few commands into his computer, bringing up his master schedule. Quickly running through it he found an opening. "Captain Cheeseman's team have a free slot middle of next week." He moved to type in Doctor Darnell's mission into the timetable.
"Oh," Prudence shifted in her chair, frowning at the back of his computer screen. "I was hoping ...," she trailed off.
"Hoping what?" Lorne paused, his fingers hovering over the keyboard as he met her eyes.
"I was hoping I'd be able to accompany your team Major Lorne."
She was back to the formal tone but it didn't fool him this time. "You finally find something to like about me Doc?" he asked, eyes twinkling teasingly.
"Yes, no ... whether I personally like you or not is immaterial Major," Prudence stumbled through her words, giving him an exasperated glare.
"Sorry, right, of course not," Lorne couldn't keep the smirk completely from his face. Rattling her was becoming one of his favourite amusements - because she was just so damn earnest and serious. "Then what is material Doctor? Because I'm sure there's a reason you want my team to escort you."
"You have the gene," Prue said simply.
"Yeah, me and about half the expedition at the last count," Evan countered. "Including at least one member of every off world team."
"Not naturally," Doctor Darnell persisted, rushing into further speech before he could comment. "Those numbers are much lower Major. I know there's no real way of measuring proficiency when utilising the gene but the evidence clearly shows that natural gene holders are successful at operating unfamiliar Ancient technology far more often that the artificial gene holders."
"Don't let McKay hear you calling him artificial," Lorne quipped, earning a faint smile from Prue.
"So, will your team take me to M4R-322?" she asked hopefully.
"Let me get this straight," Evan began. "You want to look for examples of an older version of written Ancient but you also think there might be Ancient tech there so you want me along to switch things on for you? Because if that's it, you know Colonel Sheppard is much better at that stuff than I am and I'm sure he'd be happy for his team to escort you."
"Not Ancient tech as much as doors that might need opening," Prue smiled suddenly, "and correct me if I'm wrong Major but didn't you free Colonel Sheppard's team from an Ancient jail recently, one the Colonel couldn't get out of himself?"
"We should think about restricting access to those mission reports," Lorne muttered, thinking quickly. He didn't want to set himself up as the person to go to if you wanted to get in somewhere that needed the gene but at the same time if he tried to shift Doctor Darnell's mission on to Colonel Sheppard he'd definitely hear about it. The last thing he wanted was for his CO to think he was avoiding a mission to avoid a woman ... that wasn't what was driving him but that's how it would come over and any protest he made would just make that impression stronger.
"For the record Doctor, McKay was pretty sure that door was only operable from the outside. No special gene skills required." He looked at his master timetable again quickly, already knowing when his next off world mission was scheduled. "We're running training tomorrow but my team could escort you the day after. Is that acceptable?"
"Yes it is Major," Prudence pressed her lips together but Evan knew she was seconds away from grinning triumphantly.
"No promises on getting you in somewhere if it turns out to be locked away," Lorne cautioned.
"Of course," Doctor Darnell stood, Lorne's manners having him getting to his feet too. "Thank you Major."
"No problem Doctor," Lorne returned, waiting to sit down again until she'd nodded and then turned to leave with an extra spring in her step. Typing in the new mission he then sent a message to Doctor Weir to confirm that the requested mission had been scheduled, along with notifications to his team and a request to Doctor Darnell for a mission briefing paper on M4R-322. First off world missions were memorable, not always positively – just look at what had happened on his. Still, he was looking forward to seeing how Prudence handled herself when it was no longer just theory and training.
"I hear you're taking Doctor Darnell off world," Colonel Sheppard commented as he took a seat for the regular update meeting Lorne insisted on him attending.
After six months John was more than convinced that he could leave the running of the city in Lorne's hands and find it in exactly the same state when he got back. He'd be happy to pass on the updates but the Major did his version of Atlantis military 2IC in his usual studious, quiet manner, to the point that John felt a little like a naughty child whenever he attempted to skip out of various tasks. Occasionally Sheppard thought of reminding the Major that he was in fact the leader of the entire military contingent of a small city and didn't have to attend anything he didn't want to, but he knew Lorne would just nod patiently before pressing on with whatever it was he thought John should know. It was a small thing to listen as Lorne gave him a run down on various things - the man was never boring, usually just picking out the exceptions or giving John a heads up on what could be emerging issues for any of their personnel. John had quickly concluded that Lorne was invaluable to the city and it'd be best for his own sanity to just let the other man do what he thought was necessary.
"Yes Sir. I added a mission to the roster this morning," Lorne acknowledged, looking surprised John would know that so quickly.
"Elizabeth mentioned it," Sheppard said casually. He paused and then spoke again. "So ... you and Doctor Darnell are getting along now?"
"I wouldn't say that we ever didn't get along," Evan replied, shifting in his seat as he shot his CO a look before returning his attention to his data pad. "With the added mission I'll have to put back evaluations for the last group of recruits a couple of days."
"That's fine," John dismissed, finding the temptation to rib his 2IC too strong to ignore. "So Darnell isn't painful anymore?"
"You're not gonna let me forget that, are you Sir?" Lorne looked momentarily pained before he regrouped. "Doctor Darnell takes her work pretty seriously Sir ... understanding that has alleviated some of my initial concerns."
"Right," Sheppard smirked, amused by the formal tone. "You are allowed to have personal feelings about the civilians Major - good or bad. I regularly tell McKay he's a pain in the ass and he's all the better for it."
"I'll take that under advisement Sir," Lorne said blandly. "Now, about the new recruit evaluations. I took the liberty of setting aside some slots in your calendar for you to meet with each of them individually."
"Of course you did," John muttered, slumping back in his seat. He saw the amusement Lorne was holding back and sighed. Maybe trying to get a rise out of Evan hadn't been a good idea - especially since he'd been hoping to palm those evaluations off on the Major. "Do I need to do all of them?" he asked plaintively.
"First impressions are important Sir," Lorne reminded him. "Plus it's good for morale for everyone to see you taking a personal interest."
"Of course it is," Sheppard retorted. "Fine, set up meetings with all of them. And if something comes up," please God, let something come up! Sheppard thought, "then you'll be taking over."
"Yes Sir," Lorne agreed easily.
"Okay, what else?" John listened to the rest of Lorne's weekly report with interest.
Lorne was already standing in the usual place on the Gateroom floor with his team in attendance when Doctor Darnell rushed in from the corridor, weighed down with a large backpack.
"Sorry Major," she huffed out, shifting the pack in an effort to get more comfortable.
"You got your whole lab packed in that thing?" Lorne nodded his head towards her gear.
"Pretty much," Prue smiled suddenly, looking up at him with an earnest expression. "I just didn't want to find out I needed a particular reference and not have it."
"Looks like there'll be no chance of that," Evan returned. "You do realise you'll have to carry that pack for a few hours, right?" The briefing she'd prepared showed no habitation near the gate on M4R-322, the nearest signs of life being at least a couple of hours away. The UAV had shown a heavily forested planet and although the hike would be long Lorne had decided it made more sense to leave the Jumpers back in Atlantis.
"Yes Major," Darnell said patiently, her excitement at the coming mission evidence. Nothing Lorne could say was going to dent that so he just nodded and shifted his attention up to the control room.
"We're ready down here," he told Chuck. "Dial it up." Reed and Coughlin moved forward until they stood just outside the kawhoosh zone, Lorne hanging back to remain beside Doctor Darnell.
Prudence watched the lights circle the gate, her expression unreadable. Evan saw the usual awe and enthusiasm but hers was coloured by other emotions he couldn't name. The plume of water burst out and then settled back - Lorne would have missed it if he hadn't been watching her. She looked sad ... and resigned. Frowning he moved a little closer, instinctively shifting into protective mode. "You okay Doc?" he asked in a low tone.
Her eyes leapt to his, the darkness lightened so that he realised abruptly they were brown and not black like he'd originally thought. The sadness lifted and she summonsed up a smile. "Seeing this," she gestured to the gate, "never fails to remind me of what's been lost."
"Lost?" Evan thought he knew what she was talking about but wanted to hear it in her words.
"The gate builders ... what they were and what they could have been if they'd taken a different path," Prue said quietly.
"And if the Wraith hadn't come along," Lorne added. "I like to think they'd be happy if they could see the city active again."
"They would be," Prue said with certainly.
"Since we'll never know, let's go with that then," Lorne smiled slightly, nodding to the wormhole again. "You ready ... because keeping that open is chewing up power and we don't want McKay down here ragging our asses."
"I heard that Major!" Rodney called down from the control room irritably.
"Oops," Lorne said insincerely, raising a genuine smile from Doctor Darnell.
"I'm ready Major," she said confidently, resettling her pack and striding forward.
"Coughlin," Lorne motioned for the Sergeant to go first, Reed falling into step beside him. The two men disappeared through the wormhole as Evan moved to walk beside Prudence. That look of sadness crossed her face again before she shook it off, stepping through the event horizon a millisecond before Lorne did himself.
On the other side were the trees they'd expected to see, surrounding the small clearing the gate was situated in. Reed immediately pulled out his scanner and walked a small circuit, looking for energy sources or signs of life. Coughlin did the same thing visually, checking the immediate vicinity for threats, while Lorne remained close to Doctor Darnell.
"All clear Sir," Reed reported. "Nothing interesting on the scan."
"Right," Evan turned to look at Prue. "So, which way Doctor?"
Prue looked upwards, noting the position of the afternoon sun heading towards their right and what would have been west back on Earth. "That way," she pointed in the opposite direction. "The database indicated the ruins are illuminated by the rising sun's rays," she explained.
"Poetic," Lorne commented, with a faint smile. It was the same direction as the settlement the UAV had spotted which made sense enough that Evan was happy to proceed. "Coughlin, you and Reed take point," he ordered, the four falling into the same arrangement they'd walked through the gate in. "Did you get off world back home much?" Evan queried as they walked.
"Not really," Doctor Darnell replied. "Doctor Jackson usually checked out anything with links to the Ancients."
"Ah," Lorne nodded. "What about after Daniel ... highlighted all the problems in that helpful way of his?" Evan asked, tongue in cheek. It was a fact though that usually when they found something Ancient of interest it was in the midst of trouble with the natives or the Goa'uld, ending up a one shot deal from a study perspective.
"I spent most of my time at the Ancient outpost in Antarctica," Prue offered. "King Arkon did let a small research team look at the ruins on P88-013 too."
"Really?" Lorne's brows rose in surprise. "I've been there," he explained when she looked at him curiously, hoping she wouldn't ask him what had happened.
"The columns date back millennia. In fact they're the source of much of my current knowledge about the differing dialects," Doctor Darnell launched into an animated description. "Initially it was believed the stones were carved by one individual but further research suggests that was impossible."
"Don't they make predictions about things that haven't happened yet, going on the timeline?" Lorne asked.
"We believe so," Prue smiled," and no, we don't know how that's possible. The evidence King Arkon gave us corroborates too many of the predicted events for it to have been random chance."
"So someone, maybe more than just one person, could see the future?" Lorne asked sceptically.
"That would be the easiest explanation," Prue replied.
"But you don't think so?" Evan picked up on her lack of agreement.
"No," the scientist agreed. "I have my own theories but so far no evidence to back them up. Part of my motivation for coming to Atlantis was to find that evidence."
"Well, good luck with that Doctor," Lorne said lightly.
"Thank you Major," Darnell returned, a small smile gracing her lips. It was one of those 'I know something you don't know' smiles and it had him wanting to question her more, while at the same time thinking he might not like what she came out with. Deciding to leave it for the time being he let silent descend and turned his attention to their surrounds.
They settled into a comfortable pace that chewed up the ground faster than Lorne would have guessed the Doc could sustain. Not because she wasn't fit - she was however much shorter than his entire team, and needed to take more steps just to keep up. Her face reddened and she was showing the effort in the pace of her breathing but she strode forward relentlessly, to the point that Lorne found himself impressed by her stamina and determination. Not that the later surprised him, he'd seen personal evidence of that in how she'd called him up on almost every detail when she'd first arrived in the city.
He made everyone take regular breaks, standard practice even more important in the heat of the planet. He wasn't sure what the temperature was but it felt about a hundred degrees and that was under the canopy of shade producing trees. No hike from the gate was ever endless even though some of them felt like they would be, and eventually the trees on M4R-322 began to thin a little. Moments later they found their first sign of prior inhabitants.
"Oh," Doctor Darnell rushed forward, dropping her pack on the ground as she knelt in front of the small stone plaque that looked too much like a tombstone for Evan's comfort.
"What is it?" he asked, standing guard over her, Coughlin and Reed also taking up defensive positions.
"Directions," she said absently, tracing a finger over the notches, her eyes focussed intently.
"What, like a street sign?" Lorne asked in surprise.
"Yes," Prue said, glaring at him in a very clear 'keep quiet, I'm trying to concentrate here' look.
"Neat," Evan murmured, moving away a little to give her some room.
Doctor Darnell spent a few minutes hovering in front of the stone before she stood, dusting off her knees, her expression thoughtful.
"So what does it say?" Lorne asked.
"Essentially it tells travellers to talk to the leader of the village ahead," Prue revealed.
"That's ... not really helpful, is it?" Evan pointed out blandly. "What if there aren't any people living there anymore?"
"Maybe it's like a treasure map Sir," Reed suggested with a grin. "Like on National Treasure!"
"Good movie," Coughlin commented knowledgeably. "Point A tells you to go to point B and when you get there it tells you to go to point C."
"We get it Sergeant," Lorne said, amused. "Let's hope we don't find anything that complex at the village." He looked around, deciding it was as good a place as any. "Take a break - with any luck we can still get there before it gets dark."
Coughlin and Reed moved to their packs, getting out water and rations in an easy routine that showed how often they'd done the same thing in the past. Doctor Darnell rummaged in her pack too but instead of turning up with food and water she pulled out a large sheet of paper and moved back to the stone.
"Doc - break time," Evan insisted, taking out his own water and drinking quickly as he walked over.
Prue ignored him, carefully placing the paper over the stone and then using a black crayon to scribble over the sheet, starting at the top.
"If you don't take a break you'll regret it later," Lorne told her.
"And if I don't get an impression of this now it'll be too dark later," Prue insisted. Glancing up at him she raised one of those expressive brows of hers at him pointedly. "You could help by holding the paper so I can work with both hands."
"Sure," Evan squatted at the back of the stone, replacing her left hand with his. His fingers brushed hers as they switched positions and he felt the now familiar jolt of inconvenient awareness that flowed from her to him. Ignoring it he kept his eyes focussed on what he was doing, not wanting to see an answering awareness in her eyes. Or would it be worse to look and not see his reaction reflected in hers?
"Keep it straight Major," Prue instructed, shifting the paper until she was happy with its position.
"Sorry," Lorne murmured, letting his eyes rest on her face as she went about her task with single minded focus. All that intensity and enthusiasm was ... hot. "Don't go there," he reminded himself even as he continued to watch her intently.
"All done," she finally announced, tugging at the paper to get his attention. "Thank you Major," she said briskly, carefully rolling up her imprint before standing and again brushing off her pants.
Evan ignored that too - no way was he checking out her attributes, even if she was inadvertently drawing his eyes to them with all that brushing. "Any time Doctor," he said, voice sounding nice and casual, despite his thoughts. Picking up his water again he held it up in a wordless reminder that she still needed to take a break. "Five minutes," he announced before heading back to Coughlin and Reed.
She didn't complain, drinking some water and then pulling out a power bar which she pocketed in favour of repacking her stuff and hefting it back over her shoulder, letting out an inadvertent groan when it settled into place.
"Oh, for crying out loud," Lorne shook his head, striding back over and holding out a hand. "Give me the pack Doctor – no arguments."
Prue looked at him for a moment, assessing him for who knew what motives. When she silently shrugged off the pack and handed it to him he could only conclude that she'd found nothing to object to. "Thank you Major," she said quietly.
"Don't get used to this," Lorne felt the need to defend his chivalrous action as just being practical. "You get one free one so learn from it - next time you'll carry whatever you pack, no matter how bad your shoulders hurt."
Turning away before she could comment, Evan strode back to where Coughlin and Reed were standing, watching the proceedings.
"Not a word," Lorne cautioned grimly, grabbing his own pack and quickly adjusting the straps so he could wear it on top of Doctor Darnell's.
"Wasn't going to, Sir," Coughlin said, innocent expression firmly in place.
"Don't think it either," Lorne shot back, giving both of his team mates his 'command' face and ignoring the fact that they looked more amused than inclined to take him seriously. "Let's move out," he said briskly, taking point himself this time.
Doctor Darnell rushed forward to catch up to Lorne, Coughlin and Reed bringing up the rear. Lorne set a brisk pace, keen to get to the village before dark. Hopefully they'd find someone who knew where Prue's Ancient writing's were or at the very least could give them a friendly place to stay.
Evan spotted their potential first contact – a woman - before they were spotted in return. Slowing his pace he approached cautiously.
"Ah ... good afternoon," he began after making a 'clearing his throat, trying to get attention' noise.
"Greetings to you," the young woman replied, a friendly smile appearing on her face as she took in their appearance. "You are travellers from the great city?"
"The great city?" Evan repeated.
"The Ancestors home of old," the woman expanded. "Your uniforms are familiar to me, by description from those of the settlement who travel off world for supplies we cannot grow ourselves."
"Oh, right, sure," Lorne was surprised their notoriety had extended so far but decided to hold off on judging that as a potential problem. "Yes, we are travellers from Atlantis. My name is Major Lorne." He gestured to each of his team as he continued the introductions. "Sergeant Coughlin, Airman Reed. And this is Doctor Darnell. She's the reason we're visiting today." He nodded for Prue to explain her purpose.
"The records of the Ancestors mention a site of learning that used to be on this planet, probably more likely to be just ruins rather than a structure after so long," Prue explained in a calm and open tone, her manner relaxed and very much different to what Lorne usually saw from her. "We are trying to learn more about the language of the Ancestors and I was hoping to find someone here who could take us there."
The woman listened, thoughtful after Prue finished her explanation. Shaking her head she began "I'm sorry. I know of no ruins near here. There are those among us much older than myself though, my grandfather included. Perhaps he will know of what you seek."
"We'd really appreciate the chance to ask around," Lorne took command of the conversation and the direction of the mission again. "If you could escort us to your settlement and introduce us to someone in authority we could discuss how we might be able to help your people as well."
"Help from those who reside with the Ancestors?" the woman asked, smiling. "It would be a privilege. Please, follow me."
Lorne exchanged a glance with Coughlin, getting a shrug in return. Since his gut was also telling him there was nothing to worry about so far, Evan put a hand to Doctor Darnell's back, urging her to walk with him. "Once we get to the settlement you go nowhere without me Doc," he ordered in an undertone.
Rather than protest his highhandedness Prue nodded. "Of course Major," she agreed.
"Okay, now you're starting to freak me out Doc," Lorne muttered, shooting her a frustrated glance. "First with the pack and now this ... usually you'd be arguing with me by now!"
"Perhaps you underestimate me Major Lorne," Prudence suggested primly. "I don't argue for form and I'm certainly intelligent enough to realise when an action is the most logical and reasonable approach, even one I didn't suggest myself."
"That's more like it," Lorne grinned. "Not sure I'd know how to act if you stop trying to put me in my place Doctor."
"I'm sure you'd work something out Major," Prudence returned smartly, turning her attention back to their guide.
"The settlement is just through here," their escort announced, pointing through the trees.
They followed, being led onto a dirt path with small, stone huts flanking both sides. It was a small settlement but had the feel of permanency about it.
"Kara, who do you bring to us this day?" An old man stepped from one of the larger huts, walking forward slowly.
Lorne watched his approach, amazed because the man had to be the oldest individual he'd personally come across in Pegasus – and probably the oldest any of the teams had met if he was any judge of age. He had long, gray to almost white hair, wrinkles on top of his wrinkles, and blue eyes that looked washed out as though the colour had faded over the many years he'd lived.
"Visitors from the city of the Ancestors Grandfather," their escort, Kara, replied happily, almost skipping forward to hug the old man.
"Then you are welcome here," the man replied. "I am Teneo. Welcome to Devario."
Beside him Evan heard Prue's faint gasp. When he glanced at her she looked pale, her eyes seemingly stuck in the wide open position.
"Doctor?" he queried, concerned.
"Doc?" he repeated when she didn't reply, her eyes still fixed on the old man's.
She wasn't just ignoring him – Evan was convinced that whatever had put that look on her face had grabbed her entire attention, and clearly that wasn't a good thing.
"Prudence," Lorne put his hand to her back, moving closer. As soon as his hand made contact she jerked backwards, stumbling into his side. Instinctively he wrapped an arm around her, steadying her until she made it clear she was okay. Letting her go he stepped forward.
"My name is Major Evan Lorne," Evan did the introductions quickly, his attention still more on the woman standing just behind him. "Sergeant Nate Coughlin, Airman Dan Reed, and Doctor Prudence Darnell."
"It is a pleasure to meet you Major Evan Lorne," Teneo said formally.
"Just Evan," Lorne returned, smiling. "The rest of that is my rank and family name."
"And does your name have meaning?" Teneo asked curiously. "My name means to persevere, to endure." He smiled as he continued. "I have wondered for many years now if my mother had a premonition of my longevity when she named me ... or perhaps in being labelled with such a name there was no other outcome but for me to see an age most of my people fail to achieve."
"Ah, I'm sure Evan does mean something, I just –"
"Gracious," Prudence spoke up. "Evan is a Welsh version of John so it means gracious."
"Doctor Darnell is one of our language experts," Lorne explained.
"And are you gracious Evan?" Teneo asked.
"I'd like to think so," Lorne replied, modesty giving his face a little more colour.
"Gracious means characterized by charm, good taste, and generosity of spirit," Prudence volunteered, her expression suddenly more relaxed. "I'm still trying to decide if Major Lorne can claim all of those traits," she added, a teasing light entering her eyes.
"Hey, I'd think about your own name before you go casting stones there Doc," Lorne shot back.
"Prudence," Teneo repeated. "And are you prudent Doctor?" he looked from Evan to Prue and back again, a small smile gracing his face.
"Yes," Prue said simply.
"Clearly we have different definitions then," Lorne retorted.
Teneo laughed, the sound young and fresh in a way that had Evan chuckling too. "We would welcome you regardless but I suspect you come to our planet with a specific purpose," he said more seriously.
"Doctor Darnell believes there are examples of early writing done by the Ancestors somewhere around here," Evan explained. "We were hoping you or someone else in the settlement would know where they are and be willing to direct us to them."
"Why do you wish to see these writings?" Teneo looked to Prue for an answer.
"Our work here is difficult because the language spoken by the Ancestors isn't our language," Prue explained. "It's my job to create something that can help everyone translate written Ancient with ease and accuracy and for that I need as many examples of the Ancestor's work as I can locate."
"We won't disturb the Ancestor's site," Lorne took up the explanation again. "Doctor Darnell will record what she finds without damaging anything and then we'll be on our way. And regardless of whether you agree or not, I'd be happy to discuss the various ways that help from Atlantis might assist your settlement."
Teneo thought for a moment and then nodded. "A worthy purpose and a generous offer," he said simply. "I know of these writings ... there are ruins of the Ancestor's buildings an hour's walk from here. You will stay with us tonight and I will direct Kara to escort you in the morning."
"But -," Prue began.
"It will be too dark to walk the path long before you could reach the ruins Doctor," Teneo's tone was fatherly, a strict almost reprimand for a child who was pushing the limits.
Prudence looked at him for a moment, silent, before nodding wordlessly.
"I am sure you would like a short rest before the evening repast. Kara, show our guests to our visitor rooms," Teneo requested of his granddaughter.
"Of course grandfather," Kara stepped forward again, bouncing excitedly. "I'm so happy you're staying," she exclaimed, taking Prue's hand and urging her forward. Since Lorne had no wish to be separated from her he had no choice but to follow along, listening to the girls gushing with half an ear, the rest of his attention on looking for potential threats.
"We're going to miss check-in," he told Coughlin when the other man fell into step beside him. An hour to the ruins, an hour back, plus the four hours they'd spent walking from the gate. Even with the mid morning check-in time, they'd struggle to get back to the gate in time. "You and Reed will have to go back to the gate at first light, tell them we'll be delayed."
"Sir?" Coughlin never liked it when Evan separated the team, even when it was necessary.
"This place is harmless," Lorne shrugged. "I think I can protect our civilian without you guys."
"I know you can Sir," Nate returned. "But who's protecting you?"
"Doctor Darnell's not a bad shot," Evan joked. "I'm not sure she wouldn't rather shoot me though."
"That's not what she was thinking when you took her pack Sir," Nate replied. He did that bland, innocent face so well Evan couldn't tell whether he was joking or just making an observation. Either way, he didn't want to talk about it.
"She'd have slowed us down Sergeant," he excused. "I'm sure she was just happy to give her shoulders a rest." The two men fell silent, following Kara inside her grandfather's house.
"Here it is!" Kara pushed open a door towards the centre of the structure, throwing her arms wide to encompass the space around them. It was one large room with partition like dividers that separated the space into four quadrants, each with its own sleeping pallet. Big on space, short on privacy. Great.
"Is this okay?" Kara suddenly looked uncertain.
"It's better than we usually get, so yeah, it's okay," Lorne reassured her.
"Please, take a few moments to renew yourselves," Kara invited. "I will see to the evening meal – if you return to the front where we came in you will find us."
"Thank you Kara," Prudence said gratefully.
Kara grinned before turning and hurrying from the room. Once she was gone Prue moved immediately to the furthermost quadrant, the one that would give her as much privacy as she could achieve in the open plan room.
Evan nodded for Coughlin and Reed to choose their bunks for the night, taking the remaining place next to Doctor Darnell. Shrugging off the packs he'd been carrying he dropped his on the bed before approaching Prue.
"Here," he held out the pack.
When she moved to take it, he didn't let go, watching her tug before she frowned, looking up at him. "Major?"
"What was that?" he asked her in a low tone.
"What was what?" she returned innocently.
"That reaction from before," he persisted. "You looked like you were about to keel over!"
"It was nothing Major," Prue dismissed, tugging at her pack again. Lorne let it go this time, grabbing her wrist when she turned away.
"No, it was something Prudence," he used her first name deliberately, glad when her eyes shot to his. "You might not want to admit it but I know what I saw."
"I ...," she shook her head impatiently. "It was silly Major ... the name he gave for the settlement. It reminded me of something from the past. I'm sorry if my conduct was less than professional. It won't happen again."
"Get off your high horse Doc," Lorne drawled, dropping her wrist. "This isn't about being professional and you know it. I can't make you give me the full story but if this mission goes FUBAR and I find out you knew anything that could have helped I'll have your ass shipped back to Earth before you can say Ancestor. Are we clear?"
"Yes Major," Prue said, meekness sitting on her shoulders unnaturally.
"Good." Lorne glanced back to where Coughlin and Reed were sitting, the two men clearly ready to be on the move again. "We'll clear out, give you the chance to freshen up and you know ...," he waved a hand vaguely. "I'll be waiting for you in the corridor though, so don't take too long."
Prue nodded, standing where she was until he'd walked from the room, gathering Coughlin and Reed in his wake. And then she sat on the bed and buried her head in her hands.
Chapter 16: A different kind of pressure
Lorne was at the point of pacing up and down the hall before Doctor Darnell emerged from the team's shared room, her purposeful expression firmly back in place. Yes, there was that facade Evan was becoming too enamoured of cracking.
"Major," Prue kept her voice deliberately bland.
"Doctor," he returned, equally formal. Moving forward he led the way back to the front of the dwelling where Teneo and his granddaughter waited.
They'd set up at the side of the house, under a wide open roofed area. The table was low to the ground, requiring Lorne and his team to sit on mounds of thankfully soft underbrush. Settling himself across from Teneo, Evan tried not to pay too much attention to Prue, who, despite her standoffishness, had decided to sit beside him. She didn't talk to him, instead directing her attention across to Kara and her grandfather. Coughlin chose the place beside the old man leaving Reed the remaining place beside Lorne. The stage set, Evan looked up to see Teneo watching him curiously.
"Tradition dictates that before taking sustenance we choose something from the day to acknowledge as a gift from the Ancestors," Teneo began.
"We have something similar back home," Evan acknowledged, "where most of us come from anyway. We call it saying grace – usually we give thanks for the meal and the company."
"Well then," Teneo smiled, clearly pleased to have found something in common with his visitors. "I will start. It won't surprise you to know that for some years now I have daily thanked the Ancestors simply for another day of life. Today I add to that and thank them for the gift of visitors from their own fair city."
Lorne wanted to go next – make the obvious response to that as his own thanks - but the gentleman in him won out and he glanced at Prue, raising his brows in a silent invitation.
"Thank you Major," Prudence said softly. Her expression turned thoughtful as she let her eyes meet Evan's. It was like his existence wavered for a moment – as though he'd dropped off to sleep and awoken what felt like an instance later only to find that hours had passed. "I thank the Ancestors for the fact that there is still a connection between their time and ours, stronger in some than in others," Prue finally spoke, her words seemingly for Lorne alone. He frowned, wondering why she'd chosen a veiled reference to the ATA gene and those who possessed it.
"Yes," Teneo smiled. "We all feel that connection in our own way Doctor." He turned to Lorne, smiling at the way the younger man was looking at his companion. "Evan," his smile grew when his guest didn't immediately respond, requiring him to repeat the address. "Major Lorne?"
Evan blinked, turning his gaze back to Teneo. "Sorry," he muttered, realising suddenly that while he'd been considering Prue's words he'd been staring at her with little regard for their audience. Hoping his face wasn't as flushed as it felt Lorne tried to focus on the task at hand. "Right ... ah, I thank the Ancestors that we've finally come to a planet where the locals are welcoming instead of wanting to shoot us ... or worse."
"It sounds like you have many stories to tell," Teneo commented.
"You have no idea," Lorne replied emphatically. Nodding his head at Nate he silently urged his second to continue with the ritual.
"I thank the Ancestors for an understanding family," Nate said simply.
Looking like he wanted to ask more, Teneo instead nodded at Coughlin approvingly before turning to Dan Reed curiously. "And you, young man?"
"Ah ...," Dan looked at his CO, silently begging for inspiration. Evan glanced at Nate and then back to Dan, the suggestion clear. Dan grinned, nodding. "I thank the Ancestors for my friends," his eyes sparkled with mischief as he continued "even the annoying ones."
Nate narrowed his eyes but Lorne saw the humour there – as a team they had rank and therefore a hierarchy, but Coughlin no more than Lorne wanted to stand on that every second of the day. As such, particularly during social engagements like the one they were currently involved in, the men more often acted like three friends rather than a military team.
"I will finish grandfather," Kara said. "I thank the Ancestors for giving me a home here when mine was destroyed." Pressing a kiss to the old man's cheek, the girl jumped up. "I'll bring out our meal," she said, hurrying off before anyone could offer to help.
"She says the same thing every day," Teneo murmured to Lorne. "We are creatures of habit, both of us."
"Her home was destroyed?" Lorne queried.
"It was," Teneo said sadly, "and her entire family culled or slaughtered by the Wraith. Not here," he added when Evan glanced around at the surrounding homes where other families were also taking their evening meals. "I found Kara on a nearby planet that had been devastated by the Wraith and brought her here."
Prue sighed, her expression saddened. "It has happened on too many worlds," she said, Lorne wondering how the scientist would know that. "Kara was lucky to have someone to look after her and give her a home," Prue continued, smiling at Teneo with approval in her eyes.
"Kara calls you grandfather," Evan noted.
"A sign of respect," Teneo chuckled, "or her way of reminding me how old I've become." His smile dropped as troubling memories took over. "Do you have family Evan?" he asked almost wistfully.
"Sure, back home," Lorne replied easily.
"A mate? Children?" Teneo persisted.
"Ah ... no," Evan shrugged. "A military life so far from where we came from originally doesn't lend itself to that kind of lifestyle," he added, the old man's expression urging him to explain.
"And in the city of the Ancestors?" Teneo asked intently. "Your people are all military?"
"Not exactly, but we're under constant threat and no one wants to bring their family into that," Lorne explained. "Those who want marriage and children eventually go back home ... I don't – not at this stage anyway." The conversation had gotten unexpectedly personal but it wasn't the first time he'd had to open up a little in order to explain the customs and beliefs of the people he was representing. Alliances and agreements sometimes depended on how well teams from Atlantis could show who they were - beyond the firepower and capability to put a dent in the Wraith's activities in the galaxy.
"I see," Teneo nodded sadly. "Then let me share some of my own story with you Evan."
He paused when Kara returned with a platter of bowls – a hearty stew made from local vegetables – and placed one in front of each person before retaking her own seat. To murmured thanks they all took a few moments to enjoy the simple but tasteful fare before Teneo spoke again.
"You see before you a changed man, Major," Teneo deliberately used Lorne's rank. "It truly is the work of the Ancestors that I am here to talk to you this night, for my early years were spent giving my services to whichever army seemed best able to use them against the Wraith. I was much as you are Evan – a soldier first and foremost – and were it not for Kara here I would have remained so, expecting fate to eventually catch up with me. Instead I abandoned what I was to give her a home and in return discovered all that I had sacrificed without stopping to consider its value."
"You never had a family of your own?" Nate asked, appearing captivated by the story.
"I believed that it wasn't for one such as I – that I had no right to claim a connection to anyone when I could be killed by the Wraith at any time," Teneo inadvertently echoed one of the arguments Lorne always used when pressed about his own choices and the similarity bothered Evan more than he'd care to admit.
"Instead you have many more years of life to look forward to," Kara declared, smiling at her adopted grandfather.
"Yes," Teneo agreed. He shifted to glance at Coughlin curiously. "Are your circumstances different Sergeant? You have a family, a mate?"
"Ah," Nate glanced at Lorne before answering. "I'd call her a girlfriend but yeah, I do, back home. It just seems pointless to me to fight for your country if you don't have anything more personal there to fight for as well," he admitted. "Don't get me wrong, it's hard to be so far away that it's months between visits but it's not forever and my girl really does understand why we do what we do."
"Then you are very lucky Sergeant. And you?" Teneo asked Reed.
"Too young," Dan grinned winningly. "I'm not opposed to the idea but I want to shop around before I make a purchase ... ah, trade with a number of vendors before settling on one supplier," he added when Teneo looked confused.
Teneo burst into appreciative laughter. "Well said, young man," he congratulated, still smiling. "For some of us a great deal of ... shopping around," he tested the unfamiliar words with a smile, "is required before we find what we seek." It seemed like he'd deliberately left questioning Doctor Darnell until last. When he turned his attention to where she sat silently beside Lorne, Prudence smiled complacently.
"A woman needs a little mystery," she said simply, earning another chuckle from Teneo.
"I can see that," he said sagely. "Well, my granddaughter and I thank you all for your candour ... and for your patience towards an old man."
Coughlin smiled, looking like he still had plenty of questions to ask their host. He shifted so that he could talk to Teneo, sparking the usual subset of small talk for a gathering of people dining at a single table.
"That's it? That's your answer?" Evan muttered to Prudence.
"Are you commenting because you want to know my real views on romance Major, or because you're annoyed you didn't think of giving a similarly vague answer?" Prue kept her own tone low enough to not be overheard.
"Ah," Lorne glanced at the others, noted that no one was paying them specific attention, and then turned an intent look back on Prue. "Let's say yes to the first point - as a matter of academic curiosity - and hell yes on the second point Doctor."
"Academic curiosity?" Prue's dark eyes sparkled, her amusement apparent. "Well, far be it for me to stand in the way of anyone's academic development Major." As she let her eyes dwell on Evan's, it seemed as if they darkened, their depths as mysterious as she'd declared, drawing him in until he was only peripherally aware of what was going on around them.
"Connections are important ... for the small part in the continuum of life that we each represent, and for the contribution we make to the entire picture," Prue began, her voice soft but sure. "I believe a large part of that picture is about what we can be when we're lucky enough to find someone who compliments and thus strengthens us. But I agree with you in one respect Major Lorne ... timing is as important as being given the opportunity to meet the right person in the first place – because sometimes what we contribute to the big picture is much larger than our individual concerns. We must put what we want aside to ensure we fulfil our ultimate purpose and hope that the grand scheme gives us a second chance when the timing is right."
Lorne kept his eyes on her as he thought over what she'd revealed ... and it was a 'reveal' – an insight into her he was surprised she'd shared with him. She believed in there being a right person for everyone ... but she also believed in sacrificing finding them for the greater good. Evan wasn't sure he could agree on the first point, despite the evidence provided by almost every friend he'd ever made during his career, but he certainly agreed with the second. At the end of the day he'd sacrificed that 'normal' life to have the career he was pursuing.
That they had such a fundamental belief in common threw him ... because the attraction was there, on his side and if he wasn't mistaken on hers too. If it had just been a simple attraction he could ignore it but, being in an honest mood, Evan had to acknowledge that the buzz of connection he'd experienced the few times he'd touched Prudence Darnell felt like a lot more than simple attraction. The trouble was, he had no idea what the more was and even less idea on whether he should risk trying to find out.
"You think me foolishly romantic," Prudence said ruefully when Lorne remained silent, casting him a sideways glance before resolutely turning her attention away.
"Not at all ... maybe I'm a little surprised to find we actually agree on something Doctor," he admitted.
"And now you're humouring me Major," she said with a shake of her head.
"No," Evan had his hand over hers where it rested on the low table before he'd thought about it, "I'm not." This time the surge of electricity between them wasn't surprising - it just confirmed what he'd been thinking which only worried him more.
Prudence tensed the second his hand made contact with hers, her eyes shooting to his. When he felt her instinctive withdrawal, rather than let her go Lorne turned the light touch into a firm but gentle clasp of hands, keeping them in contact.
"Major?" Prue's voice trembled slightly as she tugged on her hand a second time.
"Doctor," Lorne smiled, watching as she glanced down at their hands. He could almost see the calculation going on in her head – get more 'forceful' in trying to break his hold and cause a scene, or relent and put herself in the position of having to find out why the hell he wanted to hold her hand in the first place.
"You know, I'm not opposed to hand holding as a rule Major, but now is hardly the time to be engaging in anything personal," she said, casual amusement firmly in place.
"She's good," Evan thought, his smile deepening. If he hadn't heard the nervousness, seen the faint blush colouring her skin, or felt the pulse galloping at her wrist, he'd have been convinced she was unaffected. "If that's an invitation Doctor, I'd be more than happy to take this conversation somewhere a little more private," he returned, deliberately challenging her bluff.
That pushed Prue over the line – when she tugged on her hand this time Lorne knew to let go before he was the one making a scene. "I was right Major – gracious doesn't fit you at all!"
"You wound me Doc," Lorne put a hand to his heart teasingly. When she glared at him he sighed, turning abruptly serious. "You're right Prudence – this isn't the time or place to talk." Her posture softened somewhat at that, until she registered what he said next. "We do need to talk though, so I'll warn you now. Don't tell me you didn't feel whatever the hell that was when I touched you because we both know it would be a lie."
"On the contrary Major, there is nothing about our prior interactions that requires further conversation," Prudence said forcefully. "I would prefer you to keep your arrogant delusions to yourself."
"See, now I know I'm on to something here," Evan didn't take offense. "Ever hear the phrase 'the lady doth protest too much'?"
"Hamlet?" Prudence laughed suddenly. "You're using Shakespeare to win an argument?"
"Whatever works Doc," Lorne replied piously. He paused for a moment, considering his options. "Look," he cast her an earnest, open gaze. "I'm not looking to complicate anything here – and honestly, I'm no more happy about this than you are. I don't want anything from you Doctor, but you have to admit, there is something going on between us. I just ... I need to understand what so we can put it aside, okay?"
"Very well," Prudence agreed after looking at him silently for long enough that he really began to wish he knew what she was thinking. "As long as you realise this can't go anywhere Major."
"I think you've made that abundantly obvious Doctor – my ego gets the message loud and clear," Lorne replied pointedly. "I think I can control myself ... if you can."
"Never in doubt," Prue said confidently.
That pretty much killed any hope of a casual conversation between them. Lorne tried to tune in to what Nate and Teneo were talking about while pretending he wasn't still too aware of Prudence.
"How long did you have to study to learn the language of the Ancestors Doctor Darnell?" Kara asked her.
"For a very long time," Prue replied, her tone kind and open to further questioning. "And please, call me Prudence."
"Prudence," Kara repeated almost reverently, still excited to be visiting with people from the Ancestor's home. "Would everyone have to study for that long?" she queried hopefully.
"You have an interest in learning Ancient?" Prue deduced, smiling approvingly.
"Grandfather has many stories to tell of our Ancestors," Kara admitted with a smile. "None about the ruins you seek ... he inspires me to want to search out signs of where we came from. Your arrival will have people coming from outside our settlement to study. I would like to have a part in that."
"I'd be happy to teach you some basics," Prudence offered. "I can set up a tool we use called a computer so that you can continue lessons once we return home."
"Really?" Kara asked excitedly. When Prue nodded, the young girl turned to her grandfather, tugging on his arm to get his attention. "Grandfather ... Prudence is going to teach me the language of the Ancestors!"
"Learning is never wasteful," Teneo commented, happy in the face of his granddaughters excitement. "We would not impose on your time however," he added, looking to Lorne.
"You won't be," Evan reassured the old man. "We have tools Doctor Darnell can give you so that Kara can still learn after we return home. We'll have to come back from time to time to recharge ... ah, make sure they still work, but the rest of the time you won't need us to be here."
"What seems like magic to us is but part of day to day existence for your people," Teneo murmured, his eyes on Kara as she turned back to Prudence, full of questions. "I would like that kind of life for my granddaughter when ...," he trailed off, looking back to Lorne, the rest of that sentence easy to read. "... when I pass on as eventually I must."
"I'll speak to our leader," Lorne promised, understanding the man's need to provide for his granddaughter after he was gone. Doctor Weir wasn't exactly in the habit of taking in people from other planets but the Athosian's were a precedence Evan thought he could use to argue a case for Kara. And the idea of young people from their allies living and studying in the city for a time made sense if it led to better cooperation across the galaxy.
Teneo's eyes brightened with the faint sheen of tears Lorne pretended not to notice. He simply returned the other man's grateful nod and turned his attention away to give Teneo the chance to regain his composure. In all likelihood the hopes Teneo had for Kara's future were why he'd insisted on observing their pre dinner ritual of thanks as well as why he'd told them about his past as a warrior, and asked the questions about family beliefs it had sparked. Teneo wanted to know what sort of people he'd potentially be leaving his granddaughter's welfare to.
"That was very nice of you Major," Prue commented in an undertone as Kara jumped up to clear away their bowls.
"He's old and worried about how much time he has left," Evan excused his actions in an equally low tone. "I don't blame him for seeing an opportunity and trying to make the most of it."
"Yes, but you didn't have to go so far to alleviate his concerns," Prue persisted.
"It won't be up to me Doctor," Evan looked at the woman who was quickly becoming a thorn in his side. He didn't want someone to always agree with him but Prue called him up on everything, sometimes forcing him to step up when he'd much rather keep his actions in the background. "Doctor Weir will decide if Kara has a future with us. I'll just bring her case to notice."
"You are an annoying contradiction Evan Lorne," Prudence declared irritably. "One the one hand you won't take a compliment you've earned, but the rest of the time you deliberately provoke me about the various aspects of your character I should find likeable."
"Why thank you Doctor," Lorne returned in a pleased tone.
"That wasn't a compliment!" Prue would have stomped a foot if she'd been standing.
"Contradictions are good," Lorne grinned before adding "after all, a guy's gotta have a little mystery."
"Touché Major," Prue struggled for a moment before giving in to her amusement.
The next morning Lorne rose just after dawn and left the team's shared room quickly and quietly. Truth be known he'd slept poorly, when he was sleeping at all, too aware of Prudence sleeping only an arm's length away. Retiring for the night felt awkward and Lorne hadn't missed the way Coughlin and Reed just barely hid their amusement. To his mind their conclusions were more than a little unfair ... Prue was an attractive woman who'd garner attention from any number of guys in Lorne's shoes. Coughlin already had a girl and Dan was too young to consider Prue as his type but Evan didn't have either of those excuses – so really it was only natural that he'd take notice. Although, come to think of it Lorne wasn't sure how old Prue actually was – maybe Dan wasn't that far off the mark. No – she was mature in a way Dan hadn't acquired yet, in a way that probably wouldn't attract the younger man. The fact that Lorne found that conclusion reassuring only added to his troubled mood.
As he made his way to the front of the dwelling, Evan wished for the first time that he'd taken the time to check out her file, preferably before he found himself personally interested in her. He could hardly go back and look at it now because that would just be abusing his position for personal gain. It was only circumstance that he hadn't read her file anyway – Prudence had actually been approved to come to Atlantis with the initial expedition but had been delayed and missed its departure. From what Doctor Weir had told Lorne, Prue was asked to stay back and finish another project before leaving for the Pegasus galaxy once communication had been re-established, which was why he'd ended up in the city months before she had.
"Greetings to you Evan," Teneo's voice broke Lorne out of his reverie.
"Good morning," he replied, moving to sit on the porch step beside the old man. Looking down the dusty street at the early morning signs of life in the settlement Lorne smiled. "Looks like it'll be a nice day."
"Yes," Teneo agreed. "Perfect for a walk in the woods."
"I'll be sending Coughlin and Reed back to the Stargate," Evan announced. "We need to update our people ... our leader, Doctor Weir, tends to worry when anyone misses a scheduled check in."
"Understandably so," the old man sighed. "There are too many dangers and too few who have the resources to counter them."
"You didn't miss it – the fight, the challenge – when you left it to take care of Kara?" Lorne asked curiously.
"No," Teneo said simply. "I won't mislead you though ... it was difficult to see others leave to fight and not return, knowing that I had put mine and Kara's lives ahead of making the contribution those others were making. Changing my thinking for Kara was a challenge, one I never regretted answering."
"She's a bright girl," Evan offered. "I can't make any promises but just from observing her learning with Doctor Darnell last night I think she'll do well with us."
"You will do your best," Teneo said with conviction. "We have not known each other for long Major Lorne, but I am certain that you are a good man."
Lorne didn't know what to say to that so he said nothing for a few moments before speaking again. "When I know Doctor Weir's decision I'll come back and let you know."
"Thank you Evan," Teneo rested his hand on Evan's shoulder and Lorne could feel the way he trembled slightly.
"I might not have responsibilities like you have with Kara but I understand the need to look after your family," Lorne said once the other man had returned to his contemplation of the settlement around them. "I have a sister I'd move heaven and earth for if I had to. Lucky for me she has a husband to do that for her."
"They wrap themselves around your heart until you have no choice but to love them unconditionally," Teneo murmured.
The two men fell to an easy silence after that, letting the gradual arrival of full daylight carry on around them. After some time Teneo stirred himself and glanced at his companion. "You did not sleep well," he announced.
"Ah ... no, but not because of the accommodations or anything," Lorne hurried to add. "Habit I guess ... not relaxing too much in unfamiliar surrounds."
"Leadership carries responsibility," Teneo agreed. "And in the presence of a woman as appealing as Doctor Darnell I believe, were I younger, I'd have difficulty sleeping easily as well."
"She's ah ... we're ...," Lorne shook his head, jaw clenched. He wanted to say they were 'just friends' but were they? Just, or at all - he felt dishonest using the 'friends' label to put the other man off, and to call Prue a colleague would be an insult to both their intelligences. "The hell if I know what we are," he admitted with a harsh chuckle.
"Possibility is often disguised as a problem requiring a difficult solution," Teneo smiled when Lorne shook his head again. "You don't survive years of fighting the Wraith without having keen observational skills Major. You have a personal interest in Doctor Darnell." Before Lorne could say anything Teneo held up a hand. "Forgive me for being a nosey old man – my granddaughter tells me off daily for asking too many questions. It amuses me greatly to remind her that at my age I cannot spare the time to wait for someone to volunteer the information."
"I bet that doesn't go down too well with her," Evan commented, amused.
"No, but she is too kind hearted to be harsh with me," Teneo replied. "I believe you also are too kind hearted to admonish me and so I will beg your indulgence for a moment more. Since my hope is that you will play some part in Kara's life I would urge you to see the possibilities alongside the problems Evan. Take it from me – time is fleeting and opportunities even more so. Some can disappear in an instance, leaving only a lifetime to count the cost."
"There's a story there too I think," Lorne deduced, focussing for the moment on what his companion was revealing about himself rather than why.
"There is," Teneo sighed. "I hesitated too long and Alyssa paid the ultimate price. Kara reminds me of her sometimes ... and perhaps I wouldn't have been so inspired to change if not for what I'd lost."
"I'm sorry," Evan murmured.
"No, I'm the one who is sorry Major," Teneo returned. "It wasn't my intention to lower your mood with my stories. I am sure it is old age that makes the past seem closer than it has in years."
"Don't worry about it," Lorne said, turning his head as footsteps sounds from the hallway behind them. When he saw who those feet were attached to, Evan jumped to his feet.
"Good morning Major," Prudence said briskly, turning to Teneo and repeating her greeting as the old man also stood.
"Doctor," Evan returned, pushing the conversation he'd had with Teneo from his mind. "Ready to go look for Ancient ruins?"
"Very much so," Prue agreed, a genuine smile softening the lines of her face. "How soon can we leave?"
"You don't wish to eat beforehand?" Teneo asked.
"I -," Prue began.
"Grab something now Doctor," Lorne broke in, his 'that's an order' unspoken but there nonetheless. "I'll rouse Reed and Coughlin so they can head back to the gate and check-in." Turning to Teneo, Evan softened his approach. "If you could instruct Kara on showing us the way we can make sure we don't take up too much of her day."
"Of course Evan," Teneo agreed. "I'll see to that now."
Lorne nodded, watching the older man walk unhurriedly back inside before directing his attention back to Prue. "I'll just - ,"
"Nate and Dan are already on their way down," Prue interrupted him.
"Oh ... right," Lorne nodded, glancing at her before looking away, wishing like hell that Teneo hadn't brought up his 'relationship' with the good Doctor Darnell because thinking about what the other man had said was making him feel more than a little awkward again.
"Did you sleep well Major?" Doctor Darnell asked.
"Not particularly," Evan replied honestly. "You?"
"Unfamiliar surrounds sometimes trouble me as well," Prue offered, "but this time I was able to get sufficient sleep."
"It wasn't the unfamiliar surrounds keeping me awake Doctor," Lorne waited until she looked at him. "Yeah, you know what I'm talking about," he thought.
She was saved from having to respond by the arrival of Coughlin and Reed, already geared up and ready to head back to the gate.
"Tell Doctor Weir we should be able to wrap this up today," Lorne instructed. "Then hold position at the gate. I'll radio progress updates, depending on what we find at the ruins."
"Yes Sir," Coughlin replied. "Be careful Sir," he added.
"We'll be fine Sergeant," Lorne insisted confidently.
Nodding Coughlin motioned for Reed to precede him, the younger man throwing Lorne a grinning salute before the two men strode off down the road, disappearing from sight.
"So ... it's just us now Doctor," Lorne announced.
"Us and Kara," Prudence reminded him.
"Right," Lorne grinned. "Okay. You – eat," he said, shifting around her and heading for the door.
"What about you Major?" Prue demanded.
"I need to grab my gear," Evan reminded her. "But it's sweet that you're worried about me."
Her frustrated growl and yeah, there it was, a little stomp of the foot, accompanied him up the stairs.
The trek through the trees to the ruins was as pleasant as the early morning had suggested it would be. It wasn't as hot as it had been walking to the settlement the previous afternoon and a light breeze shifted the leaves above their heads, creating an ever changing pattern of shadows on the forest floor.
Kara and Doctor Darnell carried on an animated conversation as they walked, covering everything from the Ancient language all the way through to basic computer operation. Kara was a quick study, even without a background in anything earth related, and would make a good test case if they ever did want to take a more active view on forming alliances within the Pegasus galaxy.
With only 'guard' duty to perform – hardly taxing given there appeared to be nothing to threaten the peace of the trees but a few noisy birds – and no requirement to participate in the conversation, the walk left Lorne too free to dwell on his own thoughts. He'd always prided himself on being in control ... on taking control when the need was there. Even in situations where it wasn't possible to be calling the shots Lorne still took as much of a hand as he could in controlling the impact. It was a part of who he was. Even with Prudence (he wasn't sure when exactly he'd stopped calling her Doctor Darnell in his head – probably not a good thing) he felt compelled to redirect when it felt like he was headed somewhere he didn't want to go. She'd do something that would show him a different side and he'd react in kind and it would all feel just a little too ... chummy, hence him countering at the first opportunity with a comment he knew would irritate her. It was as though he had to keep reminding her that the two of them really had nothing in common.
"The ruins are just up ahead," Kara announced, drawing Lorne back into the present.
Moving forward he took point, rounding a bend in the path that abruptly opened into a small clearing. The trees had found their way inside and shorter versions of the tall specimens around them were growing in places, overrunning what the Ancients had created so long ago.
"Oh," Doctor Darnell rushed forward, dropping down beside another of those small signs like the one they'd found the previous day.
"What does it say?" Lorne asked, moving to stand beside her.
"Sanctus locus eruditio," Prue murmured, getting to her feet. "It's announcing this as a place of learning."
"A pity they didn't learn how to make it a little more impervious to the elements," Lorne muttered under his breath, following Prue as she began picking her way through the ruins.
From what he could tell the site had been hit by the Wraith, probably a cruiser from space, a long time ago and then left to become a collection of Ancient building material overgrown by nature. He was pretty sure there was nothing there of value but he knew there was no way Doctor Darnell was going to concede that quickly.
"Kara, you might as well head back," he told the young girl. "It's gonna take a while for Doctor Darnell to look at everything."
"Of course, thank you Major," Kara looked momentarily disappointed and Lorne grinned.
"Trust me," he said. "This isn't the part of the learning experience you want to get involved with straight up. Plenty of time later to discover that research sometimes involves looking at a whole lot of nothing for a really long time."
"I heard that Major," Prue said, even though she appeared to be fully engaged in taking pictures. "The Major is right though Kara. You should go home – I promise to give you an overview of anything interesting I find when we return."
"Very well," Kara smiled again. "You'll be able to find your way back?"
"That's the kind of thing they teach guys like me," Evan said easily. "Thanks for showing us the way."
"You're welcome Major, Prudence," Kara nodded to each of them before leaving them alone in the clearing.
"Anything I can do Doc?" Evan asked after watching her document the entire site with her digital camera first.
"Can you take impressions?" Prue asked, holding up a role of the same waxy paper she'd used to make a marking of the sign the previous day.
"I have some experience with crayons so sure, I can do that," Lorne quipped, amused. He could have offered to sketch the ruins for her but since she'd decided he was barely capable of welding a crayon effectively he wasn't feeling exactly charitable. Besides, using those skills would reveal more of himself than he wanted Prue seeing.
"And what experience would that be exactly?" Prue queried, handing him some paper and a large black crayon.
"My oldest nephew likes to colour," Evan said with a shrug. "I usually have to claim the black crayon before he can use it to obliterate every picture in his book." Heading for the nearest stone with any kind of marking on it, Lorne tilted his head assessingly, deciding it must have been part of the exterior wall. "Tell me something Doctor. Why did the Ancient feel it necessary to carve out stuff all over everything? It's kinda childish don't you think? Like a bunch of kids drawing on the walls."
"That's a relatively simplistic question for something that's actually quite complex," Prue replied, stopping to watch him create a crayon rubbing of the wall section. Satisfied that he was doing it right she moved her own work to the next segment she wanted to document.
"How so?" Lorne persisted.
"The Ancients had more than one purpose when determining how to augment their structures Major," Prudence explained. "Some was designed to instruct or inspire exploration – such as the carvings here. Some was purely for decoration."
"And sometimes they were warning people off," Lorne finished. Putting aside his completed sheet he ripped off another piece of wax paper and placed it where the first had left off. "Although clearly the Wraith weren't included in that."
"You think the Wraith were responsible for the destruction here?"
"Yeah, from the way these slabs have been broken apart I'd say Wraith cruiser at the very least," Lorne replied. "One thing I do know is that there won't be any doors for me to open here – ATA gene required or otherwise."
"No," Prudence agreed sadly. Arching a brow at Lorne she added "but there are many more planets I wish to visit Major. I've only just begun my investigations into the Ancient database."
"Well that's a relief Doc," Lorne quipped sarcastically. "You had me worried that this would be my last foray into on-duty colouring."
"You seem to be a natural Major so perhaps there's some hope for you after all," Prue returned, a smile playing over her face.
"Major Lorne," Evan's radio crackled to life.
"Go ahead Sergeant."
"We reported in to Atlantis as ordered Sir," Coughlin replied, his voice ebbing in an out a little with static, due to the distance between Lorne and the Stargate. The two men had made good time back to the gate, covering the distance in three instead of the four hours they'd taken on the way in. "They've got a bit of a situation going on back there Sir."
"What sort of situation?" Lorne queried, straightening abruptly.
"Doctor McKay is trapped in a Puddle Jumper at the bottom of the ocean Sir," Coughlin reported. "Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Zelenka have gone to rescue him."
"Does Doctor Weir want us back there?"
"She said there was no need Sir," Nate replied. "Doctor Weir indicated that by the time you and Doctor Darnell could get to the gate the emergency will have passed. They want you back there as soon as it's feasible."
"Okay, dial them back and let them know we're on our way. Give them an ETA of around five hours," Lorne decided, getting an acknowledgement from Coughlin before closing off the channel. "Time's up Doctor," he announced.
"I can remain here if you need to return to Atlantis Major," Prue offered, continuing with her work.
"No you can't," Lorne countered firmly, walking over to her. "We don't leave people off world alone Doctor, so pack it up."
"There are still several hours of work to document this site Major," Prue protested. "Are you suggesting we aren't as safe as all evidence suggests we are?"
"There's no such thing as one hundred percent safe Doctor," Lorne said grimly. "Since this is your first mission in Pegasus I'm willing to cut you a little slack but let's get one thing straight. You come off world with my team, you follow my orders – there's no debating or negotiation Doctor."
"That doesn't leave any room for me to inform you of things you might not realise are important!" Prue retorted stubbornly.
"Is there anything here that will help your translation program?" Evan asked patiently.
"No, but this is still an important -," Prudence admitted reluctantly, rushing to explain further.
"So we'll send another team to record that importance," Lorne broke in impatiently. "Correct me if I'm wrong Doctor but it's not your job to do that, so unless there's something here that does directly relate to why we came in the first place, our mission is done."
Prue's face was an open book at that point – Evan could see her waring with herself, wanting to protest further but smart enough to realise it would impact on her inclusion in later missions. Then she abruptly relaxed, giving him a wordless nod before gathering up her gear.
They walked back to the settlement in silence, neither willing to give any ground. Lorne didn't necessarily want an apology – an acknowledgement that the chain of command was important and applied to everyone would do just fine. Teneo and Kara greeted them when they got there, Lorne quickly explaining their departure and promising they'd at the very least send another team to finish what Prue had started.
"It has been a pleasure to host you and your team in our home Major," Teneo said formally. "We wish you well in all your endeavours."
"Thank you for your hospitality Teneo," Lorne replied. "I'll send word on that other matter we discussed ... but don't be planning on needing it any time soon."
"At my age you stop planning and just act Major," Teneo returned, chuckling when Evan cast him a pained look, carefully keeping his eyes from Prue's.
"Okay, Doctor?" Lorne raised a brow, silently asking if she was done with her own farewells. Prue responded by hugging Kara and Teneo quickly and then walking down the steps, passing Evan with her head held high and continuing down the street without him. She'd formed a bond with the two quickly, something that surprised Lorne given her generally serious - prickly with him - nature.
"Problems Evan?" Teneo asked curiously.
"Ah, not exactly," Lorne replied. "Doctor Darnell wanted to stay but it's not our usual practice to leave anyone behind."
"I see," the old man smiled. "She is very ... passionate about the things she sees value in."
"That's one way to describe it," Lorne said a little evasively. "Thanks again for welcoming us Teneo - we'll be in touch." Spinning on one heel he took off after Prudence, cursing Teneo for coupling in his mind the fiery side of Prue with thoughts that had nothing to do with her being stubborn and opinionated. He could imagine too easily Prue directing that passion at him when it wasn't about digging her heels in over something she saw as vitally important.
Catching up with Prue, Lorne sent her a pointed look. "We keep the team together unless ordered otherwise Doctor."
"I wasn't aware of that rule Major," Prue retorted, "but I'll keep it in mind next time you're being a jerk."
"You do that," Lorne muttered, picking up the pace just enough to stretch her stride to the limit. It was petty and counterproductive when her breathing picked up and he had to listen to her panting as she hurried to walk beside him. Their silence and the way Prue was clearly avoiding looking at Evan drew some curious looks from Coughlin and Reed but Lorne's narrowed glance warned them not to comment on it.
Back on Atlantis Lorne was quickly drawn into a briefing on what had happened with the newly rescued Doctor McKay. By the time that was done and he'd briefed Doctor Weir on the findings from his mission and the need for another team to finish documenting the ruins, Prue had long departed. And while Evan briefly contemplated tracking her down for that talk, he went with putting it off for the time being. He was smart enough to know you didn't approach a woman with a 'we need to talk' proposition when she was already pissed at you.
Instead he found himself digging through his things for the sketch pad he'd brought with him and never used. Atlantis was full of artistic inspiration but short on time and he'd never felt compelled to challenge that, to make a place for art. Something about M4R-322. something about Teneo and Kara and the conversations he'd had with Prudence, had sparked that compulsion. With pencils and sketch book in hand Lorne set out for the nearest secluded balcony. Sitting for a time absorbing the view he eventually took a deep cleansing breath, picked up a pencil, and began to draw.
Chapter 17: The Long Hello
Lorne picked himself up off the floor, hand clutching his neck where Doctor Weir had struck him. His breath still came in laboured intakes, his throat feeling constricted. "Where the hell did she learn how to do that?" he ground out rhetorically, holding a hand down for Coughlin.
"I guess this Phebus knows a thing or two about hand to hand combat Sir," Nate commented once back on his feet, touching the back of his head with a wince. While he moved to assist their other two downed team mates, Evan activated his radio to report in.
"Lorne to the Control room."
"Go ahead Major," Colonel Caldwell replied. It hadn't sat well when the Daedalus commander had first ordered them to subdue and restrain Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Weir – now, having Caldwell in charge instead of Weir or Sheppard just felt ... wrong.
"We failed to apprehend Doctor Weir," Evan reported, his voice sounding a little raspy. "Whoever's in control has much better than average combat skills. I'd advise caution in approaching her Sir." He shared a rueful look with Coughlin before he finished it. "She took down my entire team Colonel – in about five seconds and without breaking a sweat."
"Well, now that you've taken away her element of surprise the rest of our teams might fare better," Caldwell replied briskly. "All non essential personnel have been confined to quarters Major. We have three lone, unexplained signals - near the armoury, over on the south west pier, and in the science labs. Take the south west pier Major - Ms Emmagen and Ronon have the other two positions covered."
"Yes Sir," Lorne did a quick check of his men to make sure they were all up to it, getting determined looks in return. They were ready. "We're on it Sir," he confirmed before closing off the signal.
The previous week had been very busy in the city ... for once Colonel Sheppard's team had found something off world that was unexpected in a good way. Another 'Atlantis' – some of it damaged and some buried so that only the central tower remained visible. Unlike their version of the city this one had a fully stocked armoury – drones and jumpers – and a newly depleted ZPM, helped into that state by Rodney McKay. After negotiating an exchange of assistance from Atlantis the people had agreed to hand the ancient technology over.
It was a boon that lifted spirits in the city even as it resulted in a record number of trips through the gate in one day for Lorne and his team. It had been a good kind of busy – making the trek on foot from the gate, picking up a new jumper with a back section fully loaded with drones, and flying it back to Atlantis. The work of cataloguing and supervising the installation of the new weapons into their drone control room was satisfying on a number of levels, although Lorne sincerely hoped they wouldn't need to use their new arsenal any time soon.
He'd been busy enough that he genuinely hadn't had a chance to catch up with Prudence since they'd returned from M4R-322. She hadn't sought him out for that chat either, which didn't surprise him ... what was unusual was that she hadn't submitted her usual spate of requests, given the Daedalus was due in. If he'd known that all he had to do for a reprieve from her questionning his procedures was threaten her with a 'private' conversation, he'd have done it the week she arrived in the city!
Lorne and his team checked corridors as they made their way to one of the outermost piers, Evan still shaking his head in dismay over the turn of events. He'd actually brought one of the aliens back to the city himself! Sure, Ronon and Teyla had been along for the ride and Colonel Sheppard had approved the retrieval, but even with that Evan still felt responsible. He'd thought from the start that it was a bad idea giving anyone, even a purportedly friendly alien, the ability to control one of them ... that it was a scenario that just screamed disaster. Now the aliens had turned out to be the opposite of friendly all he could think was that they really should have known better. But what was done was done, and now they just had to deal with the consequences. And a day wasn't long compared to some of the crises they'd faced in the past.
Then the lights abruptly went off, leaving them in total darkness and Evan had to chuckle. A day wasn't long but a lot of damage had been done in less time. Switching on the light on his P-90 and shining it down the corridor, Lorne glanced over at Coughlin. "Drop back with Cheung and cover our six."
Nodding, Nate motioned for Cheung to join him, the two slowing so that a substantial gap opened between the teammates. That way, if someone jumped out at them it wouldn't be possible to take out the whole team in one strike.
"Lorne to the Control Room."
"We're down here in the pitch black Sir," Evan began. "Anything we should know?"
"One of our alien visitors took out the power room – including backup systems Major," Caldwell replied, clearly annoyed. "Doctor McKay is fixing it, but for now proceed with extreme caution."
"Acknowledged Sir, Lorne out."
They continued walking forward. Reed had the hand held scanner out so they knew their target was still at the same location. Holding out a hand Lorne silently requested the ancient device, the screen lighting brighter as soon as he touched it. Through narrowed eyes Evan assessed the display. Working out roughly where someone was located wasn't difficult with the big dot blipping 'I'm here' at you – except Atlantis had multiple levels and the display wasn't great for determining which one the blip was on. That required an extra ... edge. Focussing for a moment, Lorne quickly decided they had to go up a level.
"This is kind of strange Sir," Reed commented in a low tone as they walked silently up the stairs.
"What's that?" Lorne looked up from the scanner to his young team mate, the other man's face just illuminated by the reflected light from both their torches.
"Walking around in the dark Sir," Reed explained. "I think I've been too spoiled having everything switching off and on just because we're there."
"That is one side of the ATA gene I don't mind having," Lorne agreed with a grin. Looking down at the screen again he held up a hand, gesturing to the next opening. "Coughlin, get ready," he ordered via radio, his voice low and businesslike.
Holding up three fingers for Reed, Lorne turned that into two and then one in a silent countdown to action. On zero they rushed through the doorway, Lorne first, Reed right behind him, guns raised.
The feminine gasping, almost scream that greeted them had Evan cursing even as he lowered his P-90.
"This is a restricted area," he said forcefully. "What the hell are you doing down here?"
"Research, Major," Prudence Darnell said, her face pale.
"Without permission Doctor," Lorne shot back grimly. "I could have shot you!"
"I hardly think so," Prue's eyes moved to where Dan was standing behind Lorne, his expression neutral. "Unless you're in the habit of shooting first and asking questions later?"
"We've got a situation going on right now and no one knows you're down here, do they?" he demanded. When she looked guilty Lorne just shook his head, turning away before he said something he regretted. Tapping his ear piece he moved to the doorway, looking out into the corridor as Coughlin and Cheung shifted forward to make their presence known. "Lorne to Control Room."
"We've checked out the south west pier Sir," Lorne reported. "Doctor Weir and Colonel Sheppard aren't here."
"We're still registering another life sign at your position Major," Caldwell replied.
"Yes Sir," Lorne agreed. "One of the scientists is down here doing a little ... independent research Colonel."
"I trust they've been suitably reprimanded Major," Caldwell's tone was part impatience, part disgust.
"They will be Sir," Lorne promised, turning back and looking directly at Prue.
"Very well," Caldwell acknowledged. "Doctor McKay is still working to get power restored. We've just had a report from Ms Emmagen that Doctor Weir is at the base of the central tower. She could probably do with some back up."
"On our way Sir," Lorne returned, closing off the channel.
"We'll talk about this later," he told Prudence. "For now you'll come with us until I can find a safe place to put you. And you'll do exactly what I say Doctor, no arguments."
Prue nodded wordlessly, quickly gathering her laptop and books and stuffing them into her back pack. Lorne gestured for his team to follow him, Coughlin moving to flank Doctor Darnell on Evan's signal. Lorne might be frustrated with her but there was no way he wanted her to get hurt – even though part of him thought Prue could do with an object lesson, for her own safety.
They made quick time, Prue keeping up without complaint. When the lights came on abruptly they were all disorientated for a few seconds until their eyes adjusted.
"Keep moving," Lorne urged, switching off his torch and picking up the pace again.
They were still a fair way from the centre of the city when the doors in front of them slammed closed, bringing their forward motion to an abrupt stop. Evan swiped a hand over the controls but nothing happened.
"What's wrong?" Coughlin moved forward, Prue shifting to look around his arm.
"Door's locked," Evan said simply. "We'll go back the way we came, try another route."
They retraced their steps down the corridor to the nearest staircase but again, the door that would let them into it was closed in front of them. Evan tried to open it without success. "Lorne to the Control Room," he said briskly.
"Go ahead Major," Chuck's voice greeted him this time.
"Have the doors leading into the central tower been locked down for some reason?" Lorne queried.
"Not exactly Sir," Chuck replied. "Doctor Weir has engaged a city wide lock down – we've got teams stuck all over the city. We were about to contact you to let you know the situation."
"How long to fix the problem?"
"Doctor Weir put a pass code on the system Sir," the gate technician reported. "Doctor McKay's trying to break it now but it could be a while."
"Right," Lorne grimaced, eyes tracking up and down the long corridor they were now trapped in for the foreseeable future. "Okay, let me know when the situation changes."
"Yes Sir," Chuck said briskly.
Closing off the channel, Lorne looked at his team. "Might as well get comfortable – looks like we're gonna be here for a while."
"Problems Sir?" Coughlin asked.
"The situation's escalated," Evan confirmed. "Doctor Weir's locked down the whole city. If McKay can't break her code we might have to wait until these aliens leave naturally."
"That could be hours," Nate glanced at Prue before looking back at his CO, his concern obvious.
"Doctor Beckett thought the imprint wouldn't last more than a day ... work out a strategy for the essentials, assuming that estimate as the worst case," Lorne ordered, both men having military practicality in mind. Nate nodded, motioning for Cheung to go with him to check all the rooms between the two doors they were trapped between. When they returned Evan was sure his second would have a plan that included sleeping arrangements and 'facilities' in case they were trapped for a number of hours.
"Reed, stay with Doctor Darnell," Evan ordered.
"Where are you going?" Prue asked hurriedly, looking like she wanted to go with him.
"To double check the doors," Lorne didn't give her a chance to protest, turning on a heel and heading off down the corridor.
Once there Evan quickly laid a hand on the control pad and actively tried to tap into what he thought of as his awareness of Atlantis. After so many months in the city he no longer paid attention to the hum Atlantis made in his head – it was just another background noise like the sounds of the city shifting continuously as it floated on the ocean. As soon as he tried to take notice he knew immediately – the city wasn't happy. Not in an emotional sense, not in a sentient sense. In the 'all systems are functioning as normal' sense. For the first time the static was disjointed - the opposite of harmonious. For the first time he could actually discern the differences in the tones made by the individual systems. If it were possible to take one overall 'health' reading for Atlantis, Lorne was sure the result would be firmly in the red.
Glancing back down the corridor to make sure again that he was far enough away from the others not to have an audience, Evan steeled himself, leaning against the wall as he closed his eyes and tried to dig deeper.
It was the lockdown of course ... closing off sections of the city, stopping systems from talking to each other. It was a necessary defensive capability but not one that sat well with the natural flow of the city's design.
"Can I get around the lockdown – open this door?" Lorne thought clearly, trusting whatever it was about the gene and the city's design that allowed them to operate things through mental interfacing.
The tone of the humming in his head shifted low, the volume dropping.
"Yeah, I didn't think so," Evan muttered. Once again it wasn't down to him – he'd have to wait for someone else to find a solution. Not his favourite place to be but at the same time Lorne had trust in the people he worked with to find that solution. "Don't worry – McKay will fix this soon," he thought, reassuring himself as much as he was trying to encourage the systems to continue running independent of the usual cooperation between them. Not being able to help was one thing. Being stuck in a corridor for hours was something else again.
Taking his hand off the console Lorne turned, stopping abruptly when he saw Prue standing only a few steps away, her posture indicating she'd been there a while.
"I told you to stay with Reed," Evan said impatiently, striding forward with the intention of walking around her.
"No, you told Airman Reed to stay with me," Prue countered, nodding to where the young man stood a few feet away, looking uncomfortable.
"Don't play semantics with me Doctor," Lorne retorted, still intent on leaving her there, with whatever observations she seemed intent on making left unsaid.
"Just tell me - what were you doing before?" Prue had the audacity to grab his arm when he tried to pass her, the electricity rising between them enough to stop his feet.
Lorne shot her a heated look as he pulled his arm away, directing his attention to Reed. "Go back and help Coughlin and Cheung," he ordered his team mate.
"Yes Sir," Reed glanced at Prue and then back to his CO before swiftly turning and striding up the corridor. Lorne waited until he was out of earshot before rounding on Prudence.
"You really don't get it, do you Doctor?" he said grimly.
"Get what?" Prue asked, holding her ground as Evan strode forward until they were toe to toe.
"What do you think would have happened if it had been our alien visitors who'd found you down here working alone?" Lorne demanded. "Because I don't think they'd have said hello and left you to your business! Now I know you're not stupid so I can only conclude that you think the rules don't apply to you."
"I just wanted to look at one little thing," Prue said defensively. "It wouldn't have taken long and I didn't think there'd be any harm in coming down here."
"And it was so important you couldn't wait to observe the proper procedure?" Lorne shot back. "Were you not paying attention the past few months Doctor, or during the time you spent working at the SGC? Because clearly you haven't noticed that things have a way of happening around here! If you don't follow the rules and one of those things happens to you, we won't be able to help you. You could be gone, just like that," Evan snapped his fingers an inch from her face, startling her.
"I wasn't – it was just - ," Prue broke off, her eyes shimmering with tears in the face of his uncharacteristic anger. "You're right," she admitted, looking away. "Sometimes I get so caught up in solving the mystery I forget to pay attention to what's going on around me. I'm sorry Major."
"Yeah, well you should be," Lorne retorted. Part of him wanted to hold on to the satisfaction of being in the right, of harnessing his anger to deliver the message she needed to hear, but in the face of her obviously genuine remorse he had to let it go. "I'll have to file an incident report," he said with a sigh, stepping back to give her a little space. "Colonel Caldwell will expect it and he's the kind of guy who'll check. It's end up on your record."
"Don't worry about it Major. I deserve the formal reprimand," Prudence looked up at him earnestly. "You won't let this influence any future requests I might make for access within the city, will you?"
"No," Lorne replied, pinning her with an intent look. "Just do me a favour Doc – ask me first next time. If you've got a good reason and you give me the chance to send a proper escort with you, you'll get to do your research."
"Thank you Major Lorne," Prue smiled softly.
"Okay, let's get back to the others," Lorne said decisively, moving to step around her again.
"Not yet!" Prue grabbed his arm again, her grip firm. "I just ... I wanted to ask you about what you were doing with the door Major."
"Nothing," Lorne said dismissively, looking down at her with a blank expression.
"It didn't look like nothing," Prue insisted, holding her ground.
"You want to talk about things that aren't nothing?" Evan deliberately crowded her, taking perverse pleasure in the way she swallowed nervously, retreating a few steps until her back was pressed against the wall. "Because I'm more than ready to have that little chat Prudence."
"You'll tell me what you were doing?" her eyes narrowed as she considered him, looking for some kind of catch in his expression.
Lorne frowned, gaze sharpening. "You want to know that badly?" he asked in surprise.
"I - ," Prue looked at him uncertainly. "Maybe you're right Major Lorne ... maybe this isn't the time."
"Don't back down now Doctor," Evan deliberately accentuated her title, a not so subtle dig at her using his rank and name to put a perceived barrier between them. "We're likely stuck down here for hours yet. What else is there to do but talk?"
Prudence looked up at him for a few moments, the two of them captured in the growing silence between them. "Very well Major," she eventually agreed.
"First up, Prudence, you're gonna have to drop the 'Major'," Lorne said insistently. "Go on, try it out," he urged when she remained silent. "Say my name ... E-van ... say it."
"Evan," she repeated dutifully. She didn't put any kind of inflection on it but Lorne still felt the satisfaction of hearing her say it.
"That wasn't so hard was it?" Evan grinned when she glared up at him. "This is going great so far."
"You're being an ass again Evan," Prue said primly, but a spark of amusement lit her eyes. "And for the record, I prefer Prue, not Prudence, if you're insisting on first names."
"Duly noted ... Prue," Lorne did put an inflection on his enunciation, drawing her name out like a delicacy he'd never tasted before and found he really liked.
"So tell me, what was that little routine you did at the door all about?" Prue asked. She was still leaning back against the wall and Lorne was still standing just a little too close, the heat shimmering between them almost palpable.
"Uh uh," Lorne held up a hand in a classic 'stop' signal. "This is one of those times where it's not gonna be ladies first." His movements controlled and deliberate, Evan ran a finger softly down her cheek, both of them feeling the spark trailing his caress. "You ever get that kind of feedback from anyone else Prue?" he asked in a low tone, his eyes locked to hers.
"Not for a really, really long time," Prue admitted, "and not like ... not like this."
"I'm attracted to you," Evan said it bluntly. "I don't want to be, but I am."
Prue tensed, her expression shifting to nervousness. "This can't happen Evan," she protested, shaking her head. "I can't ... I'm not in a position to form any kind of personal relationship with anyone. I just ... I can't."
"Why not?" Lorne demanded, forgetting in the face of her denial that he wasn't looking for a relationship either.
"There are things I need to do here," Prue explained. "I can't let myself get distracted." Her words were a dismissal, but she did nothing to move away, even though he wasn't holding her there in a physical way.
"You can ignore this?" Evan cupped her cheek gently, leaning down until his lips hovered over hers, until she felt the warmth of his breath caressing her. "Stop me," he murmured.
"I -," Prue instinctively leaned into his palm, never breaking his gaze.
The moment was frozen in time ... as he looked deep into her eyes, cataloguing the varying shades of brown in her irises and watching the emotions rising. Longing. Desire. Fear. Despair. Determination.
With a groan it was Prue who broke the stalemate, her hands rising to his hair as she pulled his mouth down to hers. The kiss rocked him to the core, wiping out the memory of every other kiss he'd ever engaged in, clichéd as that sounded. He'd meant to challenge her but ended up being challenged himself. She was fire ... pure energy ... and she made him feel lighter and at the same time more connected to life than he ever had before.
Kissing Prue was captivating and tense. It scared the hell out of him, but he wanted more.
Wrapping his arms around her, Evan pulled her into his embrace, turning them both until it was he who rested against the wall, her weight pressing him there. Everything else became background ... the fact that he was still on duty, the awareness of his team at the other end of the corridor, the hum of the city heightened along with all his other senses. He didn't consider for a second that an impulse he hadn't meant to be a serious gesture had gotten way out of control.
"Caldwell to Lorne."
The radio in his ear was a rude awakening. Tearing his lips away from Prue, breath coming in harsh pants, Lorne stared down at his partner in crime, both of them speechless.
"Caldwell to Lorne. Please respond."
The colonel's tone was more insistent now. Prue tried to step away from Evan and for a moment his arms wanted to keep hold of her. They looked at each other again before he reluctantly let her go, turning away and tapping his ear piece. "Lorne here. Go ahead Sir."
"Is everything okay there Major?" Caldwell asked.
"Yes sir," Lorne said blandly, determined not to mention the delay in responding unless he was asked to explain it.
There was a moment's pause and then Caldwell spoke again. "I wanted to give you a progress update Major. Doctor McKay is still some time away from resolving the lockdown. In the meantime Doctor Weir's ... Phebus has rerouted the fire suppression system and is threatening to release halon gas into crew quarters. She wants Colonel Sheppard – Teyla already has him restrained but we're stalling until Doctor McKay can hack the code."
"That's not the update I was hoping for Sir," Lorne said grimly, feeling the tension rising inside for a different reason. Sheppard seemed to have a knack for getting himself into life threatening trouble - and here they were again, the Colonel with a gun trained on him. "I wish there was something I could do to help."
"Stand by Major," Caldwell said briskly. "As soon as we've got the system up again your team can proceed to Teyla's position."
"We'll be ready for your signal Sir," Lorne acknowledged, waiting until the other man had closed the channel before turning back to Prue. "They're still trying to open the doors," he offered that explanation in a casual tone, even though he felt anything but casual.
"You tried to override the lockdown, didn't you?" Prue's brows arched as she worked out part of it for herself. They were keeping their distance now – the gap between them like a castle moat with sharp teethed predators just waiting for one of them to make a misstep.
"I came across something a while back that suggested with practice there was more we could do with the ATA gene," Evan explained, deciding he owed her as much honesty as he was comfortable with.
"You've been practising?"
"Ah ... not exactly," he admitted, shrugging. "Given the current situation I couldn't see the harm in trying something I wouldn't normally try. Clearly I do need that practice."
"I can see that," Prue agreed with a smile. Her expression turned thoughtful as she considered what he'd told her. "Was there anything more about increasing proficiency with the gene?"
"I never followed it up," Evan laughed when he caught her disapproving expression. "Hey – I'm a busy guy. Unlike you I don't get to just follow any whim that strikes my fancy."
"Maybe I could look into it for you?" Prue offered uncertainly.
Lorne should have seen that one coming. She was a scientist after all ... but since it was something he really should have followed up, in some respects her offer let him off the hook. "Sure, okay," he agreed.
They fell silent again, back to looking at each other. Finally Lorne sighed, breaking the silence. "You're thinking that kiss was a mistake, right?"
"Aren't you?" Prue countered.
"You got me hot enough to forget where I was," Evan admitted honestly, "so, no, regret isn't at the top of my list right now."
"Oh," Prue looked dumbfounded enough that Lorne laughed.
"You weren't expecting that, were you?"
"No, not really," she looked away, frowning. "I'm – I can't change my mind on this Evan. I know – I kissed you, and I can't ... I don't want to deny that I'm attracted to you too."
"That's big of you," Lorne returned with understandable sarcasm. "I'm not sure I wouldn't have preferred a little less honesty!"
"I'm really sorry Evan," Prue said miserably.
He'd upset her and wanted nothing more right then but to fix it – he just didn't know how. What he did know was that there was no point in pushing her. If he'd ever seen someone more determined to stick to their guns he couldn't recall them now.
"Don't worry about it," he focussed on reassuring her and getting them both on an even footing again. "I can't promise to forget that kiss Prue – but I won't mention it again unless you want me to, okay?"
"Ah," she frowned, clearly looking for some kind of trick in what he'd said. "Okay. Thank you ... Major."
"No problem, Doctor," Evan sighed, regretting the necessary return to their earlier formality. Gesturing for her to precede him, he urged her to walk down the corridor with him. "Maybe someday you could tell me about that other time Doc," he suggested in a low tone, referring to what she'd said about feeling a similar spark to the one they shared between them.
"Maybe," she agreed after a moment's pause.
Back with the rest of his team Lorne endured the curious looks from Cheung and Reed and the knowing ones from his second, all without offering any kind of explanation for why he'd taken so long to deliver his 'reprimand' to Prue. As soon as the lockdown was lifted they were on the way to the central tower, Lorne dropping Prue off at her lab when they passed it, after ordering her to stay there until he said otherwise.
It annoyed him that they arrived at the scene literally a second too late, just in time to see that Teyla had the situation well in hand. On top of his confusion over what had happened with Prue it put him in a grim faced mood. His team debriefed with Colonel Caldwell, one of the last functions the Daedalus commander would perform before returning leadership to Doctor Weir. One thing they could all agree on was that in future it wouldn't matter what circumstances were offered – there'd be no more free trust of unknown aliens, ever again.
Finally the longer than usual day was done and Lorne and his team were free to grab something to eat in the mess hall. "I'll see you down there," he told Coughlin. "I just need to do something else first."
"Of course Sir," Nate said knowingly.
"Can it Sergeant," Evan ordered, seeing exactly where the other man's thoughts had gone.
"Canning it Sir," Coughlin returned. "But with all due respect Major – if you wanted to invite Doctor Darnell to join us we'd all be cool with that."
"Good to know Sergeant," Lorne said evasively, throwing his 2IC a narrow eyed gaze before heading off. It didn't improve his mood that Nate had been right – he was going back to Prue's lab.
When he got there and saw that she was distracted enough not to notice him, he stood in the doorway and just watched her. How had someone so small and ... aggressively neat and orderly gotten under his skin like she had? With her hair pulled back in that bun, not a single strand daring to defy the order she'd created, the minimum of makeup adding hints of colour to her features, she looked more like a stern and serious teacher than someone who'd travel a galaxy away in the pursuit of greater linguistic understanding.
He'd told Prue he didn't want to be attracted to her and it was true - he didn't want the complications the kind of attraction he felt for Prue was likely to bring. And he hadn't changed his mind about other things either. He didn't want someone relying on him with no guarantee that he'd be there to live up to it. But ... given that he was 'lusting' after Prudence Darnell he could admit to wanting nothing more right then than to mess up that neat facade of hers and see what she was made of underneath.
"Doctor," he finally alerted her to his presence expressionlessly.
"Major," Prue looked up, smiling uncertainly. "Was there ... did I forget to do something?"
"Ah, no," Evan moved into the room a little. "We just finished debriefing and I thought ... since you spent all that time with my team, you might want to join us for dinner ... if you're not doing anything else."
"That's very nice of you Major," Prue smiled. Closing her laptop decisively she rose and joined him. "I'd love to eat with your team."
"Great," Lorne stopped short of offering her his arm, the two of them walking to the nearest transporter with a space between them that felt unnatural to Evan. In the mess hall he moved quickly to the servery, waiting for Prue to make her choices before serving himself. Carrying their trays to where Coughlin and the others sat, Lorne motioned for Prue to have a seat before sitting down next to her.
"Any word on Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Weir?" Prue asked.
"Doctor Beckett said the Colonel is already free of Thalen," Lorne replied. "Phebus is still holding on but Carson thinks it'll only be a couple of hours now before she's gone."
"If I ever volunteer to let some badass alien take over my body, put me in the brig Sir," Reed joked, getting a laugh from everyone.
The conversation flowed freely after that, Prue asking questions that showed a genuine curiosity in the lives of his men and getting open replies in return. She got on well with all of them and that fact just illustrated the inherent problem Evan now faced. He had a serious attraction for a woman who'd admitted to being attracted to him too – one who intrigued him, who fit him in ways that surprised him. She made him think, she challenged him, she annoyed the hell out of him, she was mysterious and secretive and that bugged the hell out of him too. If he had any sense he'd run for the hills and never look back.
"Major?" Lorne looked up to see Prue watching him, a concerned look on her face.
"Sorry Doctor," he glanced at his team, all of whom were watching him. "I guess I spaced out there for a second. What were you saying?"
"Sergeant Coughlin said Phebus struck you," Prue explained. "I asked if you were okay?"
"I'd forgotten all about that," Lorne lifted his chin, putting a hand to his neck and wincing a little.
"That's a pretty impressive bruise Sir," Nate pointed out, everyone else able to see the large discolouration covering the base of Evan's neck.
"Yeah, Doctor Weir packs a lot of force when she'd angry – I'll have to remind Colonel Sheppard of that next time his team goes missing," Evan joked.
"Maybe you should get Doctor Beckett to check that you're okay," Prue suggested, still looking at him with concern.
"I'm fine Doctor," Lorne insisted. "Stop worrying."
She gave him a forced smile, looking ready to say more.
"He really is fine Ma'am," Nate said. "It might look bad to you but it's all relative. You should have seen him when we came back from M77-273."
"Bullet wound," Lorne told Prue casually, throwing Coughlin a pointed look. "Another one that looked worse than it was, right Sergeant?"
"Ah, yes Sir," Nate quickly agreed.
"And have the rest of you suffered similar injuries?" Prue asked curiously.
"Us?" Nate exchanged glances with Dan and Jimmy before turning back to Prue with what could only be described as a shit-eating grin. "Not a scratch on any of us Ma'am." It was true too – Elizabeth had bested all of them but Lorne was the only one wearing visible evidence of it.
"So it's just Major Lorne who's accident prone," Prue concluded, looking at Lorne with a hint of teasing challenge in her eyes.
"How do you know they're not all injury free because I threw myself into danger to protect them?" Lorne demanded, ignoring the protests from his men.
"Is that what happened Major?" Prue asked quietly, her eyes drawn to the vivid blacks and blues on his neck.
"No, but if you want to talk accident prone, check out Colonel Sheppard's record," Evan suggested with a smirk. "I look like a yellow bellied coward in comparison."
"I just might do that," Prue returned. Standing with her now empty tray in hand she smiled at each of his team mates before directing her attention back to Lorne. "If I want to return to that restricted lab I have some important paperwork to fill out," she announced, faintly teasing.
"Good idea Doctor," Evan said, straight faced.
He watched as she thanked Coughlin, Reed and Cheung for including her in their meal and then bid them all farewell; then continued watching as she hurried away, disappearing out the door.
"If you don't mind my saying so Sir, you should ask her out," Nate suggested in an undertone.
"Funny, I was just thinking exactly the opposite," Lorne retorted.
"You like her," Coughlin insisted.
"Maybe, but that doesn't mean I want to do something about it," Evan pointed out.
"You really don't want someone to come home to Sir?," Nate seemed genuinely puzzled by that.
"No," Lorne slapped his 2IC fondly on the back. "We can't all be as well rounded as you!"
Nate flushed – Lorne hadn't lowered his voice for that one and Reed and Cheung both piped up with their own views of their team mates 'well roundedness'.
Evan let them go on for a few minutes before standing himself. "I'll see you all tomorrow," he said, grabbing his tray and making his escape. He needed to think ... even though he was pretty sure there was no way he was going to rationalise Prudence Darnell into a nice, neat corner of his mind. But he'd give it a damn good try just the same.
In this episode Rodney says that Caldwell is there one week out of six ... this is different to the schedule for the Daedalus that I worked out previously but honestly, I can't see how Rodney's statement could be right given what else we know about the trip between Earth and Atlantis. It takes eighteen days to get there (Weir says so in Intruder) so both ways this is 36 days, or 5.1 weeks. So even if they'd go all that way and only stay a week it still doesn't work – unless they literally turn around and head straight back without spending any time on Earth. So I'm declaring Rodney's words null and void and sticking with my own schedule.
Chapter 18: Between Hello and 'Goodbye'
"Lieutenant Cadman," Lorne greeted Laura with a smile. The Daedalus had arrived the previous day but with the Phebus and Thalen 'incident' they'd delayed the return and transfer of personnel – which meant the new rotations hadn't even begun and already Lorne was behind.
"Sir," Laura smiled back.
"How's Earth?" Evan asked, falling into step beside her.
"As far as I could tell, good Sir," Cadman replied without her usual enthusiasm.
"Is that a note of dissention I'm hearing Lieutenant?"
"Yes, no ... maybe," she admitted. "To you I guess that sounds a little ungrateful, doesn't it Sir?" Laura looked up at him apologetically. "At least I get to talk to my family in person on a regular basis."
"You do," Lorne agreed. "You also get to spend almost three weeks out of every six on a ship travelling through space. That's quite a trade off for those phone calls Lieutenant."
"You wouldn't do it Sir?" Laura asked curiously.
"What, live on the Daedalus?" Lorne asked, frowning when she nodded. "I'm a pilot Cadman. Does being stuck in a flying brick sound like something I'd enjoy?"
"They do have F302's on board Sir," Cadman pointed out with a small smile.
"Oh, well that's all right then," Evan said, tongue in cheek. "I'm sure Colonel Caldwell wouldn't mind me taking one out for a joy ride every now and then."
"Yeah, you're right, the F302's aren't really a selling point," Laura said with a laugh.
"No," Evan agreed. "Sounds to me like you earn those phone calls Lieutenant. Now, where are you headed?"
"Infirmary Sir," Laura replied. "Jennifer and I are meeting for lunch. You're welcome to join us Sir, if you don't already have somewhere else to be."
"Thanks Lieutenant," Lorne accepted her invitation, keeping pace as they turned a corner and entered the busy area.
"Laura!" Jennifer turned from her work with a welcoming smile, taking a moment to look her friend over before moving forward to hug her.
"Jenn – you look tired," Laura said, looking at her friend in concern. "You haven't been burning the candle at both ends again have you?"
"Night shift," Jennifer said simply. "It always throws my sleep out of wack the first few shifts back on days."
"You ready for lunch?" Laura asked hopefully. "Major Lorne is joining us."
"Major!" Jennifer turned to where Evan stood a few steps away, giving the girls some room to catch up. "Just the person I wanted to see."
"Ah ... why is that Doctor?" Lorne asked hesitantly.
"Prudence mentioned that you'd taken a nasty blow to the throat yesterday Major," Jennifer said, snapping rubber gloves into place as she approached him.
"Prudence?" Evan asked, dumbfounded.
"Doctor Darnell," Jennifer clarified with a roll of her eyes. "She mentioned it in passing during our book club meeting this morning. Said it was the worst bruise she'd personally seen. You know, you really should have come down straight away Major. There's not much we can do for a bruise once it's shifted from red to black and blue."
"There's a book club on Atlantis?" For some reason that fact struck Lorne as the most noteworthy thing he could comment on.
"Yes Major," Jennifer confirmed with a half laugh. "We meet once a month to discuss one of the novels the Daedalus brings in for us. It's open for anyone to join. Now, do you want to take a seat up here," she patted the nearest exam bed, "so I can make sure a memorable bruise is the only thing you have to worry about?"
"Not especially," Lorne replied, earning an exasperated look from Jennifer and an amused laugh from Laura, who was watching the two of them with barely concealed interest. "Fine," he muttered, lifting himself onto the bed.
"You'll need to unbutton your shirt Major," Jennifer pointed out patiently.
"Right, sure," Lorne quickly popped the buttons but left the shirt hanging open, wishing he'd taken the time to put on an undershirt that morning. He felt a little uncomfortable baring his chest with Cadman standing nearby but there was no way he was going to ask her to leave and reveal an unexpected level of modesty. Instead he pinned her with a stern look when she opened her mouth to say something. He didn't need any wisecracks from her, especially when he'd been caught on the back foot like he was. "It's really nothing Doc," he told Jennifer. "I can't believe Doctor Darnell even mentioned it to you."
"She was worried," Jennifer said, shifting the shirt off Evan's shoulders and out of the way before gently raising his chin. "Prudence wasn't wrong – this is quite a bruise you have here Major." Jennifer moved on from her visual examination, pressing her fingers carefully to his throat. "You have a little swelling around the pharynx. Any pain when you swallow?"
"Some," Lorne admitted, trying not to wince when she continued to manipulate his neck, shifting to turn his head from side to side carefully and watching for any reaction from Evan.
"No muscle damage," Jennifer continued. "Lucky for you Doctor Weir hit you high. Any lower and she'd have struck you directly in the larynx and you'd be giving all your orders via sign language for the next few days."
"Yeah, lucky me," Lorne drawled.
"Doctor Weir hit you Sir?" Laura knew a situation had gone down in the city the day before but the nitty gritty details hadn't fully made the rounds as yet.
"To be precise Lieutenant, an alien entity called Phebus hit me while she was using Doctor Weir's body to finish up a war she didn't care had ended centuries ago," Lorne replied blandly.
"I'll say one thing, life on Atlantis never gets boring, does it Sir?" Laura quipped.
"It certainly doesn't," Evan agreed. Turning back to Jennifer he raised a brow. "Are we done here?"
"You could use a cold compress tonight to reduce the swelling," Jennifer suggested. "Alternatively I could give you some anti inflammatories and mild pain killers. Aside from that it's just a matter of waiting for the bruising to fade over time."
"I'll pass on the drugs Doc," Lorne dismissed the need, "but I will try the compress if I need it later." Jumping down from the bed he pulled his shirt back into place and quickly buttoned it.
"Right – so, lunch?" Laura declared, grabbing Jennifer's arm as soon as the other woman had disposed of her gloves.
"Hang on," Jennifer stopped to remove her white coat and then hooked her arm through Laura's, the two matching their stride's to Evan's.
"So, who's this Prudence you both mentioned," Laura asked curiously as they walked down the hall. "Have I met her?"
"Probably not," Jennifer answered before Lorne could. "She's more of a workaholic than I am – mostly she's been building a proper translation program for Ancient and Wraith. Actually, apart from book club I think she keeps to herself."
"But she knows the Major here enough to be worried about his welfare," Laura directed her comment to Jennifer to avoid the whole 'trying to grill a senior officer' thing.
"I suppose so," Jennifer glanced at Evan curiously. "Major?"
"My team escorts a lot of the scientists off world for their pet projects," Lorne knew he had to give Laura something or she'd keep digging until she drew blood. "Including Doctor Darnell. That's not why she mentioned my injury to Doctor Keller though – she was doing some research way off the grid when the thing with Phebus and Thalen went down – ended up stuck with my team when Phebus locked down the entire city."
It was all said very matter-of-factly but Laura's gaze still sharpened. "She sounds interesting. I'd like to meet her," she announced.
"There's always movie night next week," Jennifer suggested as they walked into the busy mess hall. They all grabbed sandwiches and found an empty table, sitting down before Jenn continued. "Maybe I could invite Prudence to our next one. I'm sure Claudia won't mind. You could come too Major, so she's not being invited into a room full of strangers."
"Forget it Doc. There is no way I'm gonna be the lone male in your girl's night thing," Evan said with a smirk.
"Don't be a coward Sir," Cadman challenged. "If it makes you feel better I'll invite Carson too, okay?"
"So you're still seeing the good Doctor Beckett?" Lorne asked. "How's that going Lieutenant?"
"It's fine, considering we don't see each other most of the time," Laura shot back. "Don't change the subject Sir."
"What was the subject again?" Lorne asked innocently, earning a laugh from Jennifer when Laura groaned impatiently.
"Movie night, Major," Jennifer piped up, smiling at both of them.
"Okay, fine, email me the details," Evan caved, shaking his head. "But put on a chick flick and I'm out of there."
"We won't. Better yet, you can choose the movie yourself Major," Jennifer offered.
"Excellent," Cadman smiled triumphantly and Lorne knew with certainty that somehow he was going to end up regretting this one.
It was an interesting thing to both want to bump into someone while at the same time hope that you didn't. Lorne wanted to see Prue if for nothing else than to check that he wouldn't end up feeling awkward or worse, replay that kiss in his head every time she was anywhere near him. Strangely he didn't want to see her for exactly the same reason ... if it turned out he couldn't stop that rerun then he'd be forced to think about how to handle it, and the less time he spent thinking about Prudence Darnell the better for his peace of mind.
In the end the choice was taken out of his hands when Prue sought him out a couple of days after the lockdown.
"Major," she said after knocking on his door.
"Doctor," Lorne stood, running his eyes over her instinctively but discretely. Yeah, she was still too attractive for his mental wellbeing and he still wanted to strip that facade from her so he could see the real her underneath. "What can I do for you?" he asked easily, letting none of what he was thinking show.
"I actually wanted to talk to you about scheduling some time to try a few things with the Ancient gene," Prue replied. "I've been looking into that reference you made about practice."
"Already?" Lorne's brows rose sharply. "Now I feel like a lazy assed slacker Doctor."
"Working through the Ancient database is kind of my job Major," Prue said, amused. "Although I admit I couldn't find the specific research you mentioned, there are enough hints here and there for me to think you might be on to something."
"Really?" Evan didn't offer up his source – the idea of telling Prue that he didn't know where that reference was in the database because he regularly went to a hologram for help just didn't do it for him. "So you want me to practice?"
"Something like that," Prue smiled. "I'll work out a process for experimentation so we'll know with scientific authority if practice actually does deliver results."
"Sounds like fun Doc," Lorne drawled with teasing sarcasm. Since he couldn't literally 'run for the hills' to avoid Prue, he wasn't opposed to torturing himself by spending some dedicated time with her – which either made him crazy or a glutton for punishment. "When do you want to get started?"
"Do you have a regular block of free time?" Prue asked hopefully. "To give this the best chance of success we really need regular, frequent sessions."
"Now you're pushing it," Lorne shook his head. "I don't even need to check my schedule to tell you that's bordering on impossible, unless you want to meet me before my morning run."
"What time would that be?" she asked curiously.
"Ah – usually around oh five thirty hours," Evan admitted.
"You get up at five thirty every morning?" Prue asked incredulously.
"It's quiet," he said defensively. "Less people around looking to skip paperwork and make their requests in person. Besides, have you ever seen the dawn here?"
"No," Prue admitted.
"Okay – meet me tomorrow morning at oh five thirty hours and we'll take care of that oversight too," Lorne suggested. "I can give you half an hour for this gene practice thing."
"Five thirty," Prudence said again.
"Not a morning person I take it," Evan added that fact to the facts he was accumulating about her.
"Morning's usually when I regret not going to bed early enough the night before," Prue admitted ruefully.
"Your choice Doctor," Lorne said with a shrug. "It's either early mornings with me or you're gonna have to find a different gene holder to be your guinea pig."
"It was your suggestion initially Major and I'd like you to follow it through," Prudence said decisively. "If you can get up early every day then so can I. Tomorrow morning it is."
"Central Tower, balcony on level fifty," Lorne instructed. "It's got the best view," he added when she looked at him quizzically.
"Central Tower level fifty," Prue repeated dutifully. "See you then Major."
Nodding, Lorne watched her walk out, already looking forward to showing her one of his favourite sights on Atlantis. "Because you're being helpful," he told himself, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that it was more than that.
It was as quiet as he'd promised, the darkness just starting to give way to those first traces of light that always preceded the sun's rise. The air was crisp and clean too, encouraging the taking of long deep breaths that left him feeling revitalised and full of the energy he'd need for his run.
"Major?" Prue stood inside the balcony entrance, looking at the bench where he sat uncertainly.
"Hey," Lorne grinned up at her. She looked half asleep but she was there on time when he'd half expected to have to radio her a wakeup call. "Pull up a pew," he invited. "The show's about to start." Her hair was still pulled back tightly but she was dressed casually – the uniform he'd never seen her out of replaced with track pants and a t-shirt, leaving her looking softer, less purposeful. He liked it ... too much.
"Thank you Major," she said, lowering herself gingerly to sit beside him.
"Do me a favour Prue," he said softly, his eyes directed out to the horizon. "I'm not on duty and neither are you. Let's leave the ranks and the titles for when we are, okay?"
"Okay," she murmured.
Glancing over at her he smiled to see her watching the horizon intently. Resting his back against the wall he focussed on where the sky was gradually lightening, the dark blue shifting into a paler, almost purple before the fire of reds and yellows pushed through. At first a tiny arc of colour, Lorne remained silent until the sun had grown to a half circle, until dawn had relinquished its hold on the day. Engrossed in nature's display, wishing like he did every day he'd watched it that he could capture its inspiration on canvas, it took Evan a while to realise that Prue had stopped watching the sunrise in favour of watching him.
"Inspiring, right?" he asked, trying to read the expression in her eyes.
"I think you've finally managed to surprise me Evan," Prue murmured, still watching him intently. "This side of you that's captivated by something as simple as a sun rising. It's not exactly ... soldiery."
"And what would be soldiery Prue?" Evan leaned his head against the wall, directing his gaze up to where the sky was still holding on to some of the dark. "Cleaning my gun? Beating up on something? Because you've seen me doing those things too, near enough."
"You're right," Prue shook her head. "I'd hate it if someone pigeon holed me based on the fact that I'm a scientist."
"So, no protractor in the top pocket then?" Lorne quipped, craning his head to look across at her. "No coke bottle glasses?"
"No," Prue agreed with a laugh. She paused, thinking, and then spoke. "Why the sunrise Evan?"
"Because it's not just a simple sunrise," he tried to explain. "It's the sun rising in a place so far from home that most people would find it hard to conceptualise. And yet, even here, that simple daily event endures. I like the continuity in that."
"When you put it like that I can see the appeal," a slight smile played over her face, drawing his attention. "Even in the midst of conflict there are still things that create a feeling of peace."
"Exactly." She got it ... the balance that existed if you looked for it, the grey that black and white always created. In a small way that meant she got him too. The warning bells were ringing but he pushed them away in favour of finding out more about her. "The sunrise does that for me. What about you?"
"That's easy," Prue grinned. "Finding clues, solving the puzzle left by those who came before us. That's my continuity, and my peace."
"Understanding what they wrote so long ago puts you one step closer to understanding yourself?" Evan guessed.
She nodded, her smile dropping away. "That's the plan anyway, one I've spent a long time following."
"You'll get there," Evan said with conviction.
"I hope you're right about that too," Prue replied, turning her attention back to the ocean, now lit by a full circle sun hovering just above the horizon.
"So, did you work out how we're doing this practice thing?" Evan asked, standing and holding down a hand to her.
"In a general sense," Prue took his hand and let him pull her to her feet before letting go again. She almost lost her balance, swaying closer to him before settling back on her heels, smiling weakly. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Evan said simply. "Your turn to lead Prue."
"You might regret saying that," Prue said enthusiastically, seemingly forgetting herself as she grabbed his hand again and almost dragged him from the balcony.
Evan glanced down at their joined hands as they walked, wondering how he got himself into these situations. Maybe his Mom was right – maybe if he wasn't always so intent on being Mr Nice Guy he wouldn't be where he was right now – staring down the barrel of another friendship with a woman. This one irked because for the first time there was something inside urging him to make it more.
"I was thinking we'd try something simple to start," Prue was saying. They'd taken the nearest transporter from the level fifty balcony to the science labs, arriving at hers a few moments later.
"Something simple," Lorne reminded her when she stopped abruptly, dropping his hand and throwing him a startled look.
"Sorry Major," she muttered, surreptitiously wiping her own hand on her sweat pants.
"Yeah, that's not gonna get rid of the tingle," Evan thought, amused. "What do you have planned?" he asked, getting them back on track.
"Right," Prue crossed to her laptop and quickly logged in, calling up a program she'd written the previous day. "I've created an interface to the controls for this room – since you tried to open a locked door without success I thought it would make a good experiment, because we'll be able to see progress." She pressed the enter key and the door of her lab swished closed, locking them inside. "Okay Major ... try and open the door."
Crossing to the control panel, Lorne did the usual swipe and think open, not surprised when nothing happened. Glancing over at her he raised a brow expectantly.
"Try again – ah, be more forceful," Prue waved a hand at the panel insistently.
"Right," Lorne muttered, turning back to the door. "And I guess it doesn't matter that I feel like an idiot."
"Not especially," Prue answered briskly. "Please, just try again."
"Fine," Evan stared at the control panel. "Open," he kind of yelled the command in his head, placing a hand over the panel. Apart from getting a startled burst of static from the city at large his efforts didn't generate a result. "Maybe you need someone with a stronger gene," he suggested. "Like Colonel Sheppard."
"Despite what you might have been told Major, I don't believe we have a reliable way to determine a person's capability with the ATA gene," Prue replied. "I don't think sitting in the command chair is an indicator of anything other than a person's willingness or prior experience with unleashing weapons capable of massive destruction."
"I haven't sat in the command chair so I'll have to take your word for that," Lorne admitted.
"You haven't?" Prue seemed surprised. "Then we need to add that to the list of things we could practice."
"I don't think Doctor Weir will approve the use of ZPM power for your experiments Prue," he told her carefully. "Let's just stick to the simple stuff for now." Looking back at the door consideringly, he frowned. "I don't think just trying harder to open this is going to work – the system is designed so that commands like locking down a section or a door can't be overridden."
"Then what would you suggest?" Prue asked.
"If you can't get in from the front, look for a back door," Lorne narrowed his eyes, thinking it through. Putting his hand back on the panel he closed his eyes, keeping his face turned away from Prue so he could concentrate.
"Do I have access to environmental controls?" he thought to the city.
The burst of static he got felt like an affirmative so Evan kept going.
"Switch off the oxygen in Prue's lab," he commanded.
The city hum turned discordant with obvious reason.
"Turn it off – don't worry, we'll be okay," Lorne commanded again.
The sucking of air through the vents sounded loud in the quiet of the lab.
"What are you doing Evan?" Prue asked, hands hovering over her keyboard.
"Trying something," Lorne replied distractedly, keeping his focus on his connection to the city. "Don't unlock the door yet okay."
The hum of the systems got more discordant as the oxygen level dropped until, with a whoosh, the doors opened, letting in a rush of air from the corridor outside.
"Thanks," Lorne thought to the city, turning back to Prue with a grin on his face. "How was that?"
"You cheated Major," Prue accused, crossing her arms over her chest pointedly.
"I don't recall you setting down any rules Prue," Evan shot back. "You said open the door," he waved a hand at the doorway. "I opened it."
"By fooling the systems into activating environmental safety overrides," Prue stared at him incredulously. "How is that practising using your gene?"
"Ah," Lorne thought for a moment. "I accessed the environmental system from a door panel – does that count?"
"N -," Prue broke off, frowning. "Actually, yes. How did you do that Major?"
"Natural charm," Lorne smirked when she glared at him. "Look, I don't know the mechanics of how the systems work, but they're all connected to each other, right?"
"Yes, but that doesn't mean you can run whatever you want from any interface," Prue insisted. "There are protocols in place to stop that – they should have stopped you from doing what you just did."
"I don't know why they didn't," Lorne held up his hands in a classic gesture of innocence. Internally he was regretting the momentary desire to impress her – he'd learned something valuable about the city but in the process given Prue a mystery he knew she'd be determined to solve. "Maybe the city likes me," he suggested with a grin.
"The city is an inanimate object," Prue said, exasperated. "It doesn't have feelings!"
"I'm sure you'll work it out Doc," Lorne smiled when she glared at him. Glancing at his watch he sighed. "Time's up though ... unless you want to run with me."
Prue looked tempted by the opportunity to grill him some more but ended up shaking her head no. "I need to retrace all the commands that went through the door controls," she said instead. "See if I can work out how you linked two systems that shouldn't be able to talk to each other from here."
"Maybe next time then," Evan bounced lightly on the balls of his feet, stretching out his biceps one arm at a time before raising both arms over his head to loosen up his upper body. When he dropped them again he caught Prue literally ogling him – there was no other word for the way her eyes tracked from where his t-shirt had ridden up a little to his chest before returning to his eyes. She blushed when she realised he was watching her, turning away and busying herself at her computer.
"Thank you for your cooperation this morning Major Lorne," she said, all formal and businesslike. Lorne struggled not to show his amusement, sure she'd be less than impressed that he found her embarrassment endearing.
"No problem Doctor," he said. "Let me know when you want to do this again."
"Tomorrow, same time – here in the lab," she looked up, "if you can?"
"I'll see you then," Lorne agreed. "Don't work too hard," he added, raising a hand in a casual wave before he took off in a slow jog. "Well, that was interesting," he thought, not sure what to make of the morning's activities.
The city hummed happily – in its inanimate object way – and Lorne chuckled. What the hell would Prue make of that?
Chapter 19: Could this be goodbye?
In keeping with his 'run for the hills' philosophy, when Prue's request for a return to M4R-322 came through Lorne quickly assigned her to Ryan Cheeseman's team. It wasn't like she hadn't been there before and Teneo would look after Prue – the old man would have done so anyway but had even more incentive to be good to the teams from Atlantis since Lorne had informed him that Doctor Weir approved Kara for a future placement in the city.
Evan thought nothing further of it, not even on the day of Prue's mission. They had the movie thing with Cadman and Doctor Keller that night and he hadn't picked a movie yet. He hadn't checked with Cadman or Doctor Keller on whether Prue had accepted their invitation and it wasn't something that came up the previous three mornings they'd met for gene practice. She hadn't managed to work out how he'd opened the door the first time and made him agree not to cheat again, ignoring his protests that using any means to achieve an objective wasn't cheating.
So, back to movie selections. As he considered what to choose it occurred to Evan that what he picked could reveal something about him, if he let it. So, definitely nothing with romance in it – no way was he watching anything remotely couple related in a room that included Laura Cadman and Prudence Darnell.
He was tempted to pick something serious, like Kingdom of Heaven, but he could almost hear his Mom's voice admonishing him to choose something that the girls would like too. They had a list of DVDs new to the city – mostly films that had been in the cinema early the previous year. Trouble was he didn't pay enough attention to movie releases to know what most of them were just based on their titles. But as he looked down the list a title jumped out at him and he grinned. "Perfect," he murmured, reserving his selection to make sure it would still be there later.
"Major Lorne to the Control Room."
They were common words and yet Lorne knew immediately. Prue was still off world and something had happened. "On my way," he said, closing his laptop and hurrying through the door.
"It's Captain Cheeseman," Doctor Weir told Evan when he strode into the control room. "He wants to talk to you."
"Captain, Lorne here," Evan said briskly, eyes on the open wormhole below.
"Sir," Lorne could hear the reluctance in the young officer's voice. "Teneo specifically asked me to contact you ... his granddaughter and Doctor Darnell haven't returned to the settlement. I can't raise them or Corporal Casey on the radio."
"Where were they?" Evan asked.
"They were supposed to be at the same ruins you took Doctor Darnell to the first time Sir," Cheeseman replied.
"But they aren't there," Lorne concluded grimly.
"No Sir," Cheeseman confirmed. "Barker and I just returned from checking it out. There's no sign of them."
"Right, stand by Captain," Lorne motioned for Chuck to cut the connection. "Permission to take my team through Ma'am."
"Granted Major," Doctor Weir replied.
Nodding, Lorne strode away, fingers already at his ear as he radioed Coughlin, Reed and Cheung to meet him in the Jumper Bay. M4R-322 might be heavily forested, making a Puddle Jumper impractical, but there was no way Evan was wasting four hours walking to the settlement.
He flew the Jumper through the wormhole a few minutes after the call had come in, spotted their welcoming party and circled to land at the edge of the clearing. It was Teneo himself who waited for them, grim faced and looking for the first time since Lorne had met him like the warrior he must have been years before.
"Major, thank you for coming," Teneo said as Lorne stopped, his team ranged out behind him.
"No problem. Did Kara or Doctor Darnell give any indications they intended to go somewhere else?" Lorne asked.
"No," Teneo replied. "When Prudence and I compared notes on her arrival, she realised there was a sector of the ruins you didn't see during your previous visit. That was their only destination today."
"Did you check this other part of the ruins?" Lorne asked Cheeseman.
"I thought we did Sir," Ryan said, uncertain in the face of a superior officer's all purpose approach. "We didn't see any signs that anyone had been there at all."
"Right, so no signs of trouble, but Kara and Doctor Darnell are nowhere to be found," Lorne summarised grimly.
"You will go and look for them yourself?" Teneo asked hopefully.
"I will," Evan returned. "We will."
Turning to Cheeseman and Barker, he gave brisk instructions for them to remain at the gate and then motioned for his team to return to the Jumper. In the air all they could see were the tree tops, miles and miles of them stretching out into the distance.
"We won't be able to make out much on the ground," Coughlin commented, taking the seat behind Lorne as Reed sat in the co-pilot's chair. Jimmy, quiet as usual, waited for everyone else to settle before taking the last seat.
"We won't need to just yet," Lorne pointed out. "We'll fly to the ruin site coordinates, run scans until we find something, and then ..."
"And then?" Nate asked.
"And then I'm landing this ship whether there's a spot for it or not," Evan finished grimly.
"Doctor Darnell probably just lost track of the time Sir," Reed suggested. "It wouldn't be the first time."
"No it wouldn't," Lorne agreed.
"But then they'd have answered their radios," Cheung pointed out quietly.
Nodding, Evan called up the HUD, checked his position and made a slight correction.
"Not if they're inside the ruins," Reed countered, sticking to the positive. "A lot of them are shielded."
"True, so let's not second guess ourselves," Lorne slowed his approach, hovering over the ruins as low to the trees as he could get. Accessing the scanners – which included a Jumper sized version of the hand held life signs detectors - he focussed on getting a reading off the ground below.
"Anything Sir?" Coughlin asked.
Lorne held up a hand, wordlessly requesting quiet, as he let the Jumper 'talk' to him. "They're not down there," he murmured after a few moments of searching.
"You can tell that from the HUD?" Reed glanced at the display himself, trying to puzzle it out.
"They can't have gone far," Evan continued, ignoring Dan's question. Circling their starting position in an expanding spiral he kept his thoughts tight. "Human life signs. Shielded structures. Underground chambers." That's what he was looking for and when the Jumper passed over a section of trees about an hour's walk from the main ruins he knew he'd found something. "There," he announced, pointing to the HUD and a section of particularly dense tree cover.
"I'm not seeing it Sir," Reed admitted, squinting at the display.
"Take the controls," Evan ordered, the ship responding immediately by transferring commands to Reed's position. The young man grabbed the stick, the Jumper lurching for a second before Dan had control and righted it.
"Sorry Sir," he muttered, flushing a little.
"No problem," Lorne stood, putting a hand on Reed's shoulder. "All I need you to do is keep it steady Dan. Can you do that?"
"Yes Sir," Reed responded confidently.
"Good man," Lorne motioned for Coughlin and Cheung to follow him into the back section.
"You're not gonna do what I'm thinking you're gonna do, are you Sir?" Nate asked.
"That depends Sergeant," Evan pulled open one of the storage units, pulling out a large coil of rope and some basic climbing equipment. "Were you thinking we were going to drop a rope and abseil down there?"
"Yes Sir," Nate grimaced uneasily.
"Then yes I am," Lorne agreed with a casualness that belayed the seriousness of the situation. "The trees are too thick to give us any other option."
Coughlin looked like he was going to protest for a moment, but then he nodded, and grabbed some more gear for himself. Lorne looped one end of the rope through the arm of the back section bench and tied it off, testing to make sure it was secure. Threading on the descender that would help control his speed, he looped the rope behind him, for the extra friction it would create in case something went wrong. Glancing up Lorne did a quick visual check to make sure Coughlin was also ready.
"Brace yourself," he called out to Reed, seconds before he slapped the rear hatch release. The large shape lowered to hang from the Jumper, dragging the back end down. They all stumbled forward before Dan righted the ship, bringing it level again. "Be ready in case we need you to haul us back up quickly," he told Cheung, throwing the other end of his rope over the edge.
The young man nodded, taking up position where the ropes were tied off. "Ready Sir," he said.
"I'll go first," Lorne told Nate, moving carefully to the edge of the Jumper where the hatch hung down at a sharp angle. Testing the rope one last time Evan walked down the hatch until his feet hit the edge. Then he dropped, lowering himself slowly to the trees. It got tight as he let gravity help him through the foliage, the branches grabbing at his vest and dragging across his back. Once clear of the canopy, amidst the enormous trunks, it got a little easier, until he ran out of rope a few feet short of the ground. Lorne dropped the remaining distance, staggering a little at the fall but righting himself quickly as he radioed the Jumper. "I'm clear. Your turn Sergeant."
Lorne paced away from the drop zone, walking a circle through the trees rather than waiting for Coughlin.
"Sir?" Coughlin's voice called out to him.
"Through here," Lorne called back. The sound of rustling underbrush grew closer and then Nate appeared. "This way," Evan said, moving forward again.
Coughlin said nothing, falling in beside his CO, eyes on the shadows around them. "This place is a little creepy," he commented after they'd been walking through the trees for a few minutes.
"That it is," Lorne agreed. As they walked Evan continued to feel it – a hint of something at the edges of his mind that he hoped was a similar kind of static to what he got from the city. If it wasn't then he was in all likelihood leading them on a wild goose chase. He was at the point of thinking he'd done just that, tense with the worry that Prue and Kara were somewhere hurt or worse while he mucked around in the woods, not helping at all.
But then the feeling began to grow. They were getting closer ... Evan was sure of it when the trees began to thin a little, replaced by stone columns of Ancient origins. They rose into the air, the messages carved on them a mystery to him. They weren't the source of the mental static so Lorne kept walking, pulling out the ancient scanner once he thought they'd be in range.
"Over there," he nodded to their right, shifting direction, his eyes on the display. There were more columns, closer together and showing signs of damage, some broken with segments resting on the ground, others leaning and appearing to hold each other up.
Evan stopped, the scanner showing a power source all around them, rendering it useless for narrowing down where they should search. "Whatever it is, we're directly above it," he told Coughlin. Pulling out his radio he switched to the standard off world channel all the teams used. "Lorne to Darnell. Please respond." Not getting a response he switched channels, trying again. "Lorne to Darnell. Respond." Still nothing.
"Okay, so that was a long shot," Evan muttered, putting the radio aside.
"What now Sir?" Coughlin asked. "Should we start a search grid?"
"No," Lorne turned away, closing his eyes, harnessing his worry and his escalating fear for Prue's wellbeing into trying to pinpoint the focal point of the systems he could feel were there. He just needed to try harder.
"Sir?" Nate said uncertainly.
"Wait," Lorne said forcefully, staying where he was.
"Sometimes you're a very strange man ... Sir," Nate muttered, watching his team leader's actions with a puzzled frown.
Lorne ignored his second, straining to listen mentally for something that would help him. When one direction seemed to draw him more than any other he took off again, hurrying through the trees with Coughlin close on his heels. Evan saw the column, freshly broken, lying across a section of ground that had been cleared recently to reveal a concrete trapdoor. The door itself was abandoned to one side.
Skidding to a halt Evan took it all in ... the heavy column blocking the way, a standard issue boot commonly worn by everyone on Atlantis sticking out on one side.
"Prue," her name whispered from his lips as he froze.
Coughlin was the one to move forward, circling the column and squatting down. "Casey, Sir," he said sadly. "He didn't make it."
"Damn it!" Lorne moved to Nate's side, looking down at the body of another young officer who wouldn't be going home, his chest crushed by the weight of stone carved millennia before he'd been born.
"It must have fallen fast," Coughlin observed, quickly shrugging off his jacket and pausing a moment before respectfully covering Casey's body while Lorne stood by in silent regret. It made Evan sad and angry ... none of which would help him find Prue and Kara ... as usual he had to push everything aside to concentrate on their immediate concerns.
"To fast to avoid ... or Casey was trying to help someone," Lorne pointed out, dropping to his knees, his torch in hand. "Where are the girls?" he added, shining the light into the chamber below. The sounds of stone shifting against stone echoed up to them. "Prue?" Lorne yelled. "Kara? Are you down there?"
"Evan!" Kara's young voice was awash with relief. "Oh, thank the Ancestors you found us!"
"Is Prudence down there with you?" Lorne felt like his blood had slowed its pace through his body as he waited for Kara's answer.
"She is but I can't rouse her," Kara sniffed, voice thick with tears. "It's really dark down here and your friend ... Corporal Casey ... he wasn't answering me. I didn't know what to do."
"We're here now and we'll get you out of there," Lorne promised. "Are you hurt Kara?"
"No, I was already on the ground when everything went wrong," Kara replied.
"That's good," Lorne said reassuringly. "I need you to help me work out how badly Doctor Darnell is hurt, okay?"
"What should I do?" Kara asked uncertainly.
"Can you find Prue's pulse for me Kara – press your fingers to her wrist until you feel her heart beat?"
"Okay," there was a pause before Kara spoke. "I can feel it Evan."
"Okay," Evan felt the relief washing over him almost like an adrenalin low. "I need you to count beats for me – don't stop until I tell you to," Lorne pulled up his sleeve to reveal his watch. "Starting ... now." He watched as fifteen seconds seemed to crawl by. "Stop! How many did you count?"
"There were thirty two beats," Kara replied. "Is that good?"
One twenty eight beats per minute when it should have been between sixty and a hundred? No, that wasn't what he'd been hoping for.
"Shock?" Nate suggested.
"Maybe – early stages," Evan cast his second a worried glance. "It's okay for now," he called down to Kara. Pulling out length of nylon cord, Lorne tied it around his torch and then edged cautiously closer to the opening. Shards of stone and dirt scattered to the floor below, accompanied by the sounds of Kara coughing. Evan froze, waiting until silence returned before carefully lowering his torch into the hole. "I'm dropping my light down to you," he called out. "When you get it I need you to examine Prue, see if you can find any obvious injuries. Don't move her though, okay. Just do what you can without disturbing her too much."
"Okay," Kara's voice shook but she grabbed the torch when it was in reach.
Evan waited where he was, his own heart rate increasing again. He was nervous ... enough that his mind was blank. There was now and that was it – he wasn't willing to think about the after if it turned out Prue was badly hurt. He'd thought during the lockdown that Prue needed an object lesson to appreciate the concept of danger ... but this was much bigger and a hell of a lot scarier and he regretted the thought ever crossing his mind.
"I can't find anything," Kara called out after a few minutes. "She feels cold though and her breathing is shallow. What should I do Evan?"
"Just stay with her," Evan replied. "If you've got a jacket or something similar cover Doctor Darnell to keep her warm. You're doing find Kara. Hold tight okay – I'll get you out."
Getting up carefully, he retreated a few paces, eyes on the column covering half of the opening. The stone entrance was cracked where the column had struck and the column itself was also cracked down the middle. None of it looked that steady, making anything they did a risk.
"I need to get down there," he announced decisively.
"I don't think that's a good idea Sir," Coughlin has also been checking the state of their problem. "In all likelihood we'd end up having to rescue you too."
"The Daedalus will take hours to get here and it doesn't sound like Doctor Darnell has that kind of time - if she isn't already in shock, the longer we leave her down there the more chance she will be," Lorne pointed out grimly. "Flying any engineering equipment in here is out of the question and bringing it in on foot will take hours so, same problem. I'm going down there," he turned away, moving to where he'd dropped his pack on the ground. Rummaging through it he ran inventories in his head, what he had on hand as well as what they usually carried in the back of the Jumper.
"Reed," he radioed their team mates. "We've found them," he gave Dan their position. "Bring the Jumper directly over us and use our ropes to lower down all the rest of the rope we have." The broken column creaked, ominously loud, more shards of stone falling away. "Make it snappy," he told Reed, feeling the urgency.
"Yes Sir," Reed replied.
Coughlin watched as his CO circled the nearest trees assessingly, obviously looking for the sturdiest one to tie off against. "Forgive me for saying this Sir, but would you be doing this if it were anyone else down there?" he asked quietly.
Lorne shot him a narrow eyed gaze before returning to his inspection of the trees. "I'd like to say yes but honestly, I don't know," he replied. "We're not involved Nate - Prue and I - if that's what you're implying."
"You don't need to be to have feelings for someone Sir," Nate pointed out. "The getting involved part would just be the outlet for what's already there."
"I'm not leaving her down there to die," Evan's voice was too harsh and he cleared his throat before speaking in a more reasonable tone. "Now, are you going to help or continue commenting on my love life?"
"I'll remind you that you called it that later Sir," Coughlin told him, knowing his CO well enough to predict that he'd try to step back from any admissions in the cool light of day.
"Sir, the rope is on its way down to you," Reed's voice over the radios drew their eyes upwards.
"We see it," Lorne shifted until he was directly underneath the slowly lowering bundle. Grabbing it he guided the rope to the ground, quickly unravelling it and giving one end to Coughlin. "Tie it off," he ordered, taking the other end and moving back to consider the underground chamber opening again. "Wait," he stopped Nate, reconsidering his options. "That won't work – too much risk we'll bring the edges down if we rest any weight against them. We need something like a barbeque spit," he decided, looking around for fallen tree limbs.
Finding what he needed, he and Nate quickly rigged up a simple spit, like that used to cook a pig over an open fire, using more cord and most of the cable ties they had on them to secure each end together. This one was much bigger than a standard spit rig, each crisscrossed end a fair distance from the edge of the opening, a sturdy log placed to rest over it.
They'd tied the rope to the middle with the descender device threaded through, and Lorne had the other end ready to toss down. "Okay," taking a deep breath, Evan lifted himself onto one end of the log, Nate at the other end providing a counter weight. Rising slowly, Lorne walked the log like a tight rope until he reached the middle.
"You do realise this is insane, right Sir?" Nate said, watching his team leader with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"But not as insane as if you were doing it," Lorne pointed out distractedly. "You outweigh me by about fifty pounds." At the middle of the log, Lorne squatted carefully, wincing as it bounced a little with his weight resting in the centre. "Kara, move away from the entrance. I'm on my way down to you," he called out.
"Be careful!" Kara called back.
And then it was all down to nerve ... and muscle. Evan bent low, grabbed the descender and slowly transferred his weight from his feet to his hands. He stopped once all his weight was on the rope, his boots gripping it below. And then, one small space at a time, Lorne carefully made his way down the rope, manoeuvring around the collapsed column along the way.
The darkness blinded him for a few moments until his eyes adjusted and he could see. When his feet touched the ground his heart was pounding again - not from the exertion though. It was nerves building the closer he got to finding out how bad the situation was for Prue. This was definitely one of those 'what you don't know can't hurt you' times ... but he had to know. Looking around for Kara he was her waving his torch in the far corner. And then Evan was there, at her side, without any recollection of how he'd gotten there, dropping down to where Prue lay stretched out on the floor.
She was still ... deathly pale. For a second he thought he was too late, until he saw her chest rising and falling in time with her shallow breaths. Shrugging his pack off Evan ripped the first aid kit out, opening it quickly. He took her blood pressure first – it was a little low, another sign that she could be in shock.
"What happened?" he asked Kara, moving on to carefully check Prue over. His hands were sure now that he was doing something active to help her.
"Prudence found a kind of map at the ruins," Kara explained, her hands gripped together as she watched him. "We followed it here – the entrance wasn't even that difficult to find. Corporal Casey helped us clear away the dirt – he levered the cover off too."
"How'd you get down here?" Lorne queried, continuing to run his hands down Prue's arms and legs until he was sure she didn't have any broken bones. Carefully he unzipped her jacket and shifted it out of the way, pressing gentle fingers to her ribs, still looking for the reason for her unresponsiveness.
"There was a ladder," Kara said. "Prudence insisted that I go first because this is my home. I was already on the floor when I heard a loud crack and then a creaking sound. Prudence was halfway down the ladder – I think Corporal Casey was trying to help her back up. They were yelling and then there was a boom and they stopped and I heard something crash to the floor."
"The ladder," Lorne concluded.
"I called out to them for a long time but they didn't answer. It took me a while to work my way across to Prudence. I didn't see what happened when she fell," Kara sniffed swallowing back her tears. "I'm sorry Evan."
"Not your fault," Lorne told her sincerely. Looking up at her he frowned, seeing the tear tracks down her dust covered face, her red rimmed eyes. "You did a good job of keeping it together Kara."
"Is she ... is she going to be okay?" Kara looked at Prue worriedly.
"There are no signs of other injuries," Lorne told her, "so I'm guessing she hit her head." Cupping Prue's head, he carefully felt for a bump, knowing he'd found it when she moaned, shifting to get away from the pain. "Prue," Evan said insistently, shifting to cup her cheek. "Wake up for me okay?"
"Evan?" Prue's eyes fluttered open and then she looked at him in the torchlight, frowning. "What are you doing here?"
"Rescuing you," he said, running his thumb across her cheek. The relief was immense ... just seeing recognition and intelligence and that spark that was 'Prue' in her eyes.
"Me?" Prue looked confused for a moment but then her eyes sharpened. "Corporal Casey!"
Evan shook his head, letting her read the tragic news in his eyes.
"Oh God," Prue's breath hitched and she coughed weakly.
"Hey," Evan moved his hands to her shoulders to brace her. "Don't think about it ... not here." She swallowed hard, focussing only on him. "Not here," he repeated firmly. "We need to get you home now ... you and Kara."
"Okay," she whispered, pressing her lips together as she struggled to control her emotions.
"Are you hurt, apart from your head?"
Prue shifted, wincing a little, but not worryingly so. "I don't think so," she reported.
"No back pain? No chest pain?" Lorne persisted.
"I can feel where I hit something," Prue's voice sounded a little stronger. "It hurts but I'm okay." She tried to lift herself up, slumping back to the floor with a groan. "I want to sit up."
Evan wasn't convinced it was a good idea but in the same position he wouldn't want to be the only one stretched out on the floor. Working an arm under her he carefully raised Prue's upper body, shifting so that he could brace her and give her something to rest against. "Okay?" he murmured close to her ear.
"Dizzy," she admitted weakly.
"Just give it a minute," Lorne settled her back against his chest and wrapped his arms loosely around her, the tension he'd been holding inside beginning to lose its hold as he realised that she was going to be okay.
"How are you getting us out of here?" Prue asked, already sounding steadier.
"Ah ... I was kind of focused on the getting in part," Evan admitted.
"You came down here without a plan for getting out again?" Prue was disapproving and Lorne grimaced, glad she couldn't see his expression.
"Of course not," he said evasively. "In fact, if you're ready to go I'll just radio for my solution right now." Not waiting for her to comment, Evan kept an arm around her as he shifted to pull out his radio. "Reed, bring the Jumper as low as you can and have Cheung lower our ropes down to Coughlin. Nate, rig up a cradle – we'll raise Kara first, using the setup we've already got up there. We'll have to risk using the edge for Doctor Darnell so I'll come up with her to assist."
"Yes Sir," both men replied briskly.
"See," he told Prue as he closed off the channel, "got it covered."
"You just made that up on the spot!" Prue accused.
"Maybe, but can you prove it?" Evan challenged, the fact that he was smiling slightly a harsh contrast to how he'd felt less than an hour before.
Kara's laugh drew their attention to her. "My grandfather was right," she said, smiling. "You two were made for each other."
I used wiki for information on climbing equipment and symptoms of shock ... the Jumpers do have an open arm rest thing that you could tie a rope onto though - at least according to what they show of the back section in '38 Minutes'.